Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

Postby Jack Rothwell » September 6th, 2010, 10:36 am

Chapter 9

Surveillance work, Jade was quickly finding out, was boring as hell. The Captain had ushered her and the now ex-Martin Dashwood onto the streets of Ester before the sun had cleared the horizon. The pair were now leaning in the shade of a particularly ugly looking town house as the blacksmith constructed her first smoke of the day.

Leo had been uncharacteristically quiet since he’d gotten up. It was a safe bet he was stewing about the merchant in Port Lorrel and Jade wasn’t about to press him on the subject. They’d passed a half hour barely exchanging a word before the young man finally broke the silence.

“Could you roll me one of those?”

“Didn’t know you smoked.”

“More and more as the weeks go by.”

It was stress relief; he didn’t need to say it. Jade handed him the one she’d just finished and started on a second. The merc gratefully accepted a light and breathed out a lungful of tobacco. A second later his hand flew to his mouth to stifle a cough. Despite herself, the blacksmith hid a tic of amusement.

“Can’t drink, can’t smoke.” She chided him. “Is there anything you’re good at besides dancing in a square?”

Leo gave her a challenging look not unlike the one she’d given him at ‘The Laughing Troll’ several nights ago. He stuck the smoking cigarette in the corner of his mouth, took a couple of steps forward to the edge of the overhanging roof, tipped her a wink and sprang upwards. He vanished in a second.

Jade found herself indulging the merc almost against her will. She came out from the cover of the building and looked up to see the cocky grin on Leo’s face as he sat with an arm slung companionably around the chimney that marked the top of the hovel. He waved at her and gestured for Jade to join him. She tucked her unlit creation behind her ear, knelt and rubbed some of the dry soil into her palms, then jumped. She grasped the cross beam easily, tightened her jaw and pulled herself upwards. The beam creaked.

“Careful it doesn’t break.”

“Fuck you.” There wasn’t any real venom in her reply, but a crack about a woman’s weight (even in jest) couldn’t go without response. She climbed carefully to the apex and sat down next to the long-haired man, feeling an urge to push him backwards and thankful the streets were near deserted so no-one had witnessed their acrobatics.

Their vantage points offered a panoramic view (such at it was) of Ester. Since the house was located at the edge she could clearly make out the landmarks that speckled the shit-hole of a town. Two streets over; the blacksmiths, close by was the market square, on the other side were the church and the pair of taverns she found herself retiring to at the end of a long day.

Although she felt a small amount of wonder of how familiar she’d become with the town over the last week it didn’t change the fact that a potential spy had a few hundred locations to hide. The pair could easily pick out the handful of figures meandering down far away streets in the clear air of the spring morning, oblivious to the observation they were under. Unfortunately none of them seemed to be currently dressed as a murderer for hire which gave the blacksmith cause to question their current position.

A movement in the corner of her eye made her turn her head. Leo pulled a telescope from his pocket and held it to his eye. Jade nodded to herself, letting the merc sweep across the view a few times before asking.

“You see anything?”

“Just tired looking people and screaming children.” He replied. “Doesn’t help I’m not sure who the people tracking me could be.”

Jade tilted her head back and began mentally cataloguing the possible groups who could’ve had a ‘vested interest’ in Leo. She’d seen enough of Lorrel and its borders to know that freebooter organisations were a pretty common thing. Common sense dictated that a company as rich as LWD enterprises would hire the best available, and in this part of the world that was the Gewehr Wraiths; an organisation of killers for hire famed for their professionalism for completing their contracts. The group had a penchant for the dramatic (some would say self-indulgent) outfits of black, arsenals of weaponry and ruthless, underhanded tactics in the field.

Not too different from The Silver Hands, now she came to think of it.

She’d met members of the group once or twice before, after all, talented murderers needed someone to repair and build weapons for them. One of the few disappointments she’d had from her father was him accepting jobs from the Gewehrs. A bitter smile twisted her features. She wondered how her father would feel about the group she now found herself entangled with.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking this whole thing could be an overreaction. Maybe it’s just an ex of yours who wants you dead.”
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

Postby Jack Rothwell » September 11th, 2010, 9:36 am

Chapter 9 (cont.)


Leo chuckled gently despite himself “I hope you’re right, at least then I’d be the only one at risk.” Any joviality vanished in an instant as the reality of what he’d just said reasserted itself. He put the cigarette back in his mouth. A moment passed in uncomfortable silence. As Jade watched out the corner of her eye she saw the thief wrestling with some unpleasant thought.

“Look…” He began “About that little ‘discussion’ we had.” He shifted uncomfortably as if the tiles were digging into him. “I should apologise, it was wrong of me to call you cold-hearted.”

Jade was taken aback by the sudden apology. Her initial impression of Leo had been of a man incapable of being serious about anything outside of his job.
“That’s ok.” She replied “In this country of ours it seems better to be viewed as cold-hearted than viewed as weak and, besides, you weren’t the first person to say it. I should apologise for questioning your motives.”

Leo shook his head. “If you’d said that to me a few years ago you would’ve been right. That was the damning thing.” He swept an arm across the town. “Before I joined The Silver Hands I was a complete parasite. When Rufus found me I was into the business of pickpocketing old men and conning widows out of their dowries.” He slung the butt of his cigarette onto the street below. “Rufus caught me when I tried to rob him. I thought he was a harmless old man. I was wrong.”

Jade listened attentively. It was the first time she’d ever heard the man talk about his past. “What happened?”

“He offered me a job. Well… ‘offered’ is a strong word. He gave me the choice of helping him or being turned into the militia. The rate I was going I would’ve eventually wound up imprisoned anyway.”

He leaned back in his perch and tilted his head towards the sky.

“I don’t know what he saw in me but I’m grateful. Thanks to him I have a direction, a purpose.” He delivered the next line in a mutter. “Captain’s the closest thing to a father I ever had.”

“What happened to your real father?”

“He was an alcoholic who spent his time draining his wine cellar dry. At least when he wasn’t visiting the brothels.” The merc stared at his boots. “Haven't seen him in a long time.”

If there was an appropriate reply to a revelation like that, it was beyond the blacksmith’s grasp. She looked at him sympathetically and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Internally she searched around for another topic of conversation, preferably one less morbid for a cold, early morning. She stumbled across a likely subject.

“When Rufus took you under his wing did he ever teach you how to duel?”

He smiled weakly, sardonically. “He tried, I hold my own but the truth is I’ve had much of a knack for it. You must be a natural though, forged in fire and steel and all that.”

“Of course.” Jade flashed a sunny grin and stretched her hands to the sky to ease the tension of sitting in a slump on the roof.

Then several things happened in a really short space of time. The problem was the roof was really old, as its earlier creaking had testified. In retrospect it might have been a touch of luck that prevented any mishaps occurring as they had climbed to the top. As Jade leaned backward in her precarious position the tiles under her feet suddenly decided that they were taking a break and slipped neatly away. The blacksmith’s next sentence turned into a cry of surprise as the slope turned into a slide. It was Leo’s quick reflexes that saved her from taking a tumble. He snapped forward with a hand still gripping the edge of the chimney and grabbed her trailing arm before she slipped out of reach. She jerked to a halt, breathed a quiet sigh of relief and looked back up at her rescuer.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Here…”

She pushed herself back to the apex as the merc pulled. If she hadn’t been concentrating on keeping her footing she would have noticed the sudden playful look in his eye just before he gave an extra hard yank that deposited the woman squarely into his arms.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Just making sure you’re not going to fall again.” He shook his hair out theatrically. “Fear not, fair damsel, for you are safe in the hands of Dashing Leo Landau.”

“My hero.” She murmured sarcastically. She shifted in his embrace and finished pushing herself up. Of course, the move just took her further up the merc until they were practically nose to nose. Leo was showing every sign of enjoyment at this development.

“Has anyone ever told you how pretty those green eyes are?” He remarked.

“Has anyone ever told you how bloody awful that line was?” She untangled herself from the young man and planted herself back down on the chimney, tentatively stretching a brand new kink out of her back that had come from the sudden fall. She looked back over at Leo.

“Come on 'Dashing'. We’d better get back to investigating.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………..


“He headed South.”

Lucas looked up from the reports he was scanning almost laconically, these Gewehr Wraiths he’d hired took pride in their ability to sneak into places unnoticed and the awe it inspired in people. The fact that the agent he’d been dealing with the past few months was still taking the time and effort to enter his office in stealth was a sign of dedication to the image the Gewehr’s presented.

Also a sign of arrogance, at that.

Whatever the young man’s motivations Lucas wasn’t about to give him the validation of acting impressed at the display. He calmly shuffled the papers, folded them neatly and put them back in their file before responding to the assassin’s question.

“You’d do well to knock next time, Gewehr. Where exactly has he gone to?”

“Not Saus, that’s for certain. No intelligence has been turned in regarding anyone fitting his description arriving there in the last few days. Our sources indicate there are three likely towns he could’ve headed to given the direction of his exit and the tracks he made. When we factored in the location of the caravan robbery the most likely town is Ester.”

Lucas nodded at the stream of information, drumming a rhythm on his desk all the while.

“Have you uncovered any evidence that Mr Dashwood is connected to the robbery?”

“Nothing concrete sir, But we ascertained that he was travelling alone and carrying a small arsenal of weaponry with him.”

“If he travelling alone that’s probably why he’s armed.” Lucas snorted. “However, I take your point, for a man of means who could afford bodyguards that would qualify as unusual.”

The masked figure kept his rigid, attention-like stance as he continued. “With your permission my Lord, we will continue our investigation. My superior wishes to know if you have any additional instruction.”

“Nothing extraordinary. Locate Mr Dashwood and find out who he is working for. And if it should come to light that he had lied to us, I will place my trust in your organisation to resolve the situation.”

The Wraith made a stiff bow.

“As you command, My Lord.”
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

Postby Jack Rothwell » September 22nd, 2010, 7:43 am

The calm before the storm. the rest'll be on the way sooner or later.


Chapter 10

Eve strode through Ester looking like a woman on a mission. Her eyes darted to every nook and cranny, searching intently for the slightest sign of suspicious activity. People scurried past her nervously, feeling an intimidation from her that her short build wouldn’t have hinted was possible. Slate grey clouds were gathering overhead, casting a pall on the chilly morning, seemingly an outward reflection of the young woman’s moods.

The previous evening she’d nodded along to the news of Leo’s trouble with a kind of long suffering acceptance. Eve had found during her short life that reliable people were a rare commodity; more often than not the only person she’d been able to count on was herself. Although her attitude had alleviated somewhat after she’d joined The Silver Hands it still rested on her shoulders like a smug gargoyle, murmuring an ‘I told you so’ whenever the latest fuck up occurred.

It was out of love for her Captain that she ignored her first instinct to run to the stables, mount her horse and ride towards the horizon without a backward glance. If there were a group who held The Silver Hands in malcontent then the main person they’d try and knock off first would be Rufus. It was standard operating practice to assume an organised group would be thrown into disarray with the death of its leader.

Well, that wouldn’t happen while she was alive to see it.

The raven haired merc entered The Laughing Troll, pushing open the double doors with a gentleness she didn’t feel to avoid attracting unnecessary attention.

Eve often worked alone when Rufus required her to ‘run reconnaissance’. The fact was a lone woman was far less memorable than a group of menacing looking freebooters carrying blades and pistols. The hubbub in the dusty bar barely changed at the appearance of the girl. The patrons returned to their beverages with barely a mutter.

She made a spry step over to the bar and stared at the man behind it until he disengaged the client he was serving and turned his focus to her. He shuffled over with an apologetic look in his eye for keeping her waiting.

“Maurice.” She greeted him, rapping her knuckles on the wooden frame with rhythmical noise. The owner of Ester’s excuse for a main pub was a skinny, middle-aged man with advancing baldness and greying hair. His face was a pattern of worry lines which exaggerated his every expression. The creases deepened around his mouth as she smiled at the newcomer. He spoke in a slightly effeminate voice better suited to serving wine that the thick dregs that passed for beer in the tavern.

“Ms. Jerosa, glad to see you. You have a poison for today?”

He was still under the impression Eve was a student from the Tsuirakuan university to the north, taking a period of extended leave to ‘expand her horizons’. It was hardly unheard of, and she’d taken care to make sure Maurice had stayed under that false pretence ever since The Silver Hands had relocated to Ester some four months ago. The soft-hearted barman had paternal instincts for young women so far from home it seemed.

“Just a half, Maurice.” As he plonked the dainty glass in front of her she bit back a look of disgust. Eve hated acting ’girly’ even more so because she was so damn good at it. She twirled a skinny finger across the surface of the murky brown liquid as she decided on her approach.

“I’ve been out of town a few days. Is there anything new going on?”

“In this backwater?” He snorted. “No miss, just business as usual. How’s your vacation going?”

“Tedious.” She answered truthfully. “I think I may be moving along soon.”

“It’s to the good.” He remarked. “A young ’un like you should see more of the world before you settle down and become a crusty old fart like me.”

Her grin was half-genuine. She gave him a nod and planted herself in the nearest available chair. Eve cast her eyes across the room as unobtrusively as she was able. The barman was right it seemed, there were no conveniently suspicious-looking cloak and dagger types populating the place. In fact, it seemed to be under a bigger lull than usual at the sun passed its apex and signalled the start of the afternoon.

Eve gave a mental shrug and sipped her drink. Maybe Leo was just being paranoid after all.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

From the corner of the room a figure sat unnoticed by the regular patrons. Indeed, at a glance, there was nothing about him that was particularly noticeable. Above a body of unremarkable build and height was a face that would comfortably blend into a crowd on any given street. It was framed by a mop of medium length brown hair and clothes typical of a village farmhand. No-one paid him any mind as the smoke drifted out of the corn shuck pipe and further obscured his nondescript features.

Only a close observer might have noticed the bag at his feet. It was a burlap affair spun in a weave just a little too fine for a farm workers wages to afford. A really intent watcher might have noticed the way his pale eyes flickered intermittently to the new arrival in the bar. But no-one did. In a country like Farrel minding your own business came as naturally to the people as the tendency to amble when they walked and talk in a slow drawl.

In the days to come however, a great number of residents would wish they had been more aware.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

Postby Graybeard » September 23rd, 2010, 10:47 pm

I really like the way the menace is building in this. More! More!
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

Postby Jack Rothwell » September 25th, 2010, 8:12 am

Chapter 11

“So, what’s the plan?”

Rufus sat with his back to the sergeant, facing an old oaken desk pitted with knots and age and pouring over a map of Farrel with concentration etched into his gnarled features. His finger traced lines between the towns, across the roads and up to the blank spot where the Merchant’s town was due to be built. He’d barely moved from his seat since he’d sent the younger members on their errands for the day. His immobility gave him the look of a statue carved in tribute to some forgotten general of old. A crooked finger came to rest on a section of the map covered in print.

“Atawarr.” His lips barely moved. “Half a day’s ride on a healthy mount.”

Bernard looked up at the Captain’s reply, an idea dawning across his face.

“Are you thinking of Nathan Blackwater?”

“I am.”

The big sergeant turned the suggestion over in his mind.

“He’s an arsehole.”

“He’s an arsehole who owes me.”

“He does, at that. But the man makes a speciality of weaselling out of his obligations.”

Rufus scraped a hand across a patch of stubble with the noise of striking match. He finally turned in his seat and faced his right-hand man.

“That’s why I need to send my best soldier to make sure he see’s things my way.”

The sergeant stiffened, it wasn’t often he showed trepidation at his commander’s orders, but the arms dealer The Silver Hands had conducted business with before was a notoriously slippy individual. In fairness he had to be, being a man who was honest in a trade selling ‘misplaced materials’ was an oxymoron and unlikely to make for a long career. Bernard’s impressions of the man had been on a rapid downward spiral since a particular incident that took place a year ago involving a misfiring long-rifle nearly turning him into the second member of the Hands who wore an eye patch.

None of this changed the fact that Rufus was absolutely right. If things were going awry and their lives were in danger then extreme measures would have to be taken in light of the forces they could face. And if there was anyone in their country of underhanded dealings and personal agenda’s who could lay their hands on those measures; it was Nathan Blackwater.

A certainty settled on Bernard that there was no point arguing the issue.

“That won’t be a problem Captain.”

“Glad to hear it.”

The sergeant prepared himself for another day on the road.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

The rest of the day had passed relatively uneventfully for rest of The Silver hands. Jade, Leo and Eve had completed numerous circuits of the small town turning up nothing more notable than a pair of thugs scuffling in the main street with each other over the price of a yard of cloth. As the sun began to sink below the horizon the merchants in the market square made their last calls. A young group of young children took advantage of the steadily clearing space with an inflated ball that they chased around, shoving each other and laughing breathlessly.

The blacksmith sat in the midst of it all, leaning on an abandoned stall with a stick of something barbequed and rodent-like in her hand. She chewed steadily, not thinking of anything in particular (certainly not wondering too hard about what it was she was eating) as she people-spotted the denizens closing down Ester for the day.

Every day seemed the same here, the ponderousness of routine settled into the bones of the people who lived in the village. If she gave a squint and used some imagination she could picture ruts in the earth that marked out the patterns of their lives. Once again she was reminded of Solshire and how easily such a mundane place could be swept away in an instant by the wrong people with the right motivation.

Eve had arrived a few minutes earlier; she’d sat down on a rickety looking wooden bench with barely a nod to the older woman, and busied herself digging a trench into the soft earth with the heel of her boot. Jade guessed the moody merc didn’t have any news to report, but asked her anyway for the sake of breaking the silence.

“Any trouble?”

“Nothing but bumpkins.” She replied, that was all, it seemed.

Leo had scurried off somewhere some time ago pleading a call of nature. The ‘Fop’ and the blacksmith had been pleasant enough with each other since the former’s antics on the roof. He’d even toned down his flamboyant behaviour in a serious attempt at keeping a low profile. Despite her better judgement she’d caught herself stealing glances at him during the day which had little in the way of being friendly. It was his damn happy-go-lucky attitude that was beginning to wear her down. She’d chided herself; as handsome and charming as the merc was there was no time to be indulging in flights of fancy. There was, after all, serious business ahead and entertaining the addition of extra complications would be as useful as adding a lighted match to a barrel of gunpowder. If she had any issues to resolve with Leo they could wait, maybe ‘til never.

In any case, the women were stuck in the area until he returned. As a precaution, Rufus had told them to come back as a trio at sundown before the evening’s activities. Out the corner of her eye, Jade saw the young woman shift in her seat, it was clear something was on her mind. She said nothing, but simply waited until the question Eve was wrestling with finally rose out of her.

“How long did it-" She stopped, looking suddenly unsure of herself.

“Pardon me?”

“Forget it. It’s not important.”

“Doesn’t matter if it’s not. I’ll listen.”

Eve chewed her lip for a moment before taking the plunge.

“How long did it take you to become a blacksmith?” The question came out in a rush like a leak springing in a dam. Jade blinked in surprise.

“How long?” She made a clicking noise as she pondered the question. “I couldn’t tell you exactly. My dad gave me my first hammer when I was eight. I’d been pestering him for an age before he caved in. I remember the first thing he ever did was put me in front a broken down suit of armour and tell me ‘If you want to be helpful, bang all the dents out of that’.” She could almost hear the old man’s voice in her ears. “It was a complete waste of time of course. The thing was busted beyond saving. It took me three days just to get it straightened out and no-one was going to buy it afterwards.”

She set down the half-finished meat skewer (her mind, despite itself, had recognised it as squirrel) and continued her train of thought.

“I think he just indulged me at first to get me out of his hair. But I loved it. I kept coming back and pestering him for things to do in the forge until he caved and started calling me his apprentice. I think I ‘graduated’ when I was fourteen. It was the first time the old man trusted me enough to make a commission for the Port Lorrel Militia. Only a couple of swords but damn… I was proud that day. So… six years give or take, why do you ask?”

Eve shrugged; she’d listened to the tale with an unreadable expression. “Just making conversation.”

And it was probably the longest conversation the pair had ever had. Jade recognised an olive branch when she saw one.

“Ever wanted to learn?”

Eve looked up sharply, assessing the red-haired merc to see if she was being made fun of, and read the openness in Jade’s face.

“I was just thinking how it would be useful to have a trade besides… well… you know.” She conceded, looking over her shoulder to make sure no-one was paying attention to them. The only people left in the square were the handful to kids who hadn’t yet been called inside for supper. The merc drew the shortsword she’d retrieved from the hideout earlier in the afternoon and offered the blade hilt-first to Jade, who took it gently and cast her gaze over the weapon.

“I’d like to know how to keep them in good shape.”

She nodded, letting her professional eye take over. The sword was pitted with the marks of heavy use; given the youth of its wielder it was likely to be a second-hand blade. As she expected it was of solid craftsmanship; only really in need of a little sharpening. Her thoughts were icy-cool as she picked out the minute details of wear and tear. Eve looked at the blacksmith expectantly.

“Should be easy to put the edge back on this beauty.” She began digging through the deep pockets of her longcoat for an appropriate sharpening tool to use. “It’s mostly a manner of getting the angle right and not impaling your hand on the blade as you scrape it.” She moved over to the woman and sat down next to her who, for a wonder, made no attempt to move away but instead leaned forward with interest.

“Just like…” she scraped the blade “this, you see? Smooth movements, strong line in your arm. Keep to a rhythm and… what’s wrong?”

Something had changed in the merc’s face, as if an unpleasant thought had stolen across her mind.

“Where’s Leo?”

Jade opened her mouth to answer but her voice faltered. Eve was right; he’d left twenty minutes ago for an errand that should’ve taken no longer than a couple of minutes. The blacksmith cursed inwardly that she’d allowed herself to become sidetracked by her professional pride. She handed the blade back to its owner and straightened up.

“He headed down Miller’s street. We should go and check on him.”

The women left in a hurry as the sun finished setting.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

Postby Jack Rothwell » September 30th, 2010, 6:40 am

Chapter 12

The funny thing about being mugged, Leo reflected, was that it never seemed to happen when the victim was in a state of readiness. One of the things the merc prided himself on was his sense of situational awareness. He’d spent time in some of the most dangerous places Farrel had to offer; the Deshain harbour in the unfriendly waterfront district of Port Lorrel, the gambling pits of Tsuiraku-town, even the run down den of thieves laughably named ‘The Merry Minstrel Tavern’ where psychotic men were known to stab each other before breakfast. The handsome conman had negotiated all of these death-traps without a coin missing from his wallet (often with coins from other people’s unwilling contributions). So to say he was surprised when he felt a point of cold metal touch his back would have been an understatement.

He’d taken several minutes to find an appropriate spot to conduct his business and several seconds more looking over both shoulders to make sure there were no gawkers observing the call of nature. Leo had relaxed against an alley wall. His thoughts drifted without direction as they so often did when men took the time took the time to spell their name, when a rasping, slurring voice spoke up from not three feet behind him.

“Alright pretty boy. Button yourself and put your hands up.”

If nothing else Leo was silently thankful he’d concluded a second before. He took his time, the shock giving way to anger and defiance as being caught, literally, with his trousers down. He did as instructed and raised his hands with calculated slowness. He turned to face the man.

The visage that belonged to the unpleasant voice was no improvement to its harsh tones. The man with the knife had features that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a dented hatchet; a crooked nose and too-sharp chin jutted out under a beady pair of eyes pulled too close together. The pair of men who moved to join them as the merc was edged down the narrow passage were no better; their faces pulled into the perma-scowls of men who solved life’s problems with the application of their fists and drank to forget the ones they couldn’t. They were shabbily dressed with blotchy complexions; Leo guessed they would’ve looked scruffy in tailored suits.

He took all this in before a fist connected with his stomach and drove the air out of his lungs. He hit the ground in a wheezing ball, dimly aware of the irony that he’d spent all day on the lookout for spies and professional assassins only to be waylaid by a group of drunken thugs. The ‘Leader’ spoke again.

“I reckon that outfit of yours cost a pretty penny. How about you share some of your fortune with my friends and I? It would be a shame to go home to your wife with blood all over such a nice shirt.”

Leo drew a ragged breath, unable to reply as the rage continued to build inside him. He didn’t count himself as a stranger to violence, whenever he did engage in the behaviour if was rarely if ever with malice in his heart. There was no, cold, detached feeling in him now as he craned his head to look up at the mugger standing over him. Leo wanted to wipe the smirk off the bastards face. He wanted to kill him.

“Oh? A tough guy is he?”

The mugger reached down and seized Leo by a handful of his long hair. The merc stifled a grunt as he was hauled back to his feet, the blade tickled his ribs.

“Where’s the wallet chief?”

The merc gritted his teeth and gave a nod. He reached into his pocket and drew out a prettily decorated purse, fatted out with the spoils of the previous week’s escapades. The ugly thief’s eyes lit up, he snatched the money from Leo’s outstretched hand and shoved him backwards into the alley wall. He jingled the bag to the sounds of the low chuckles of the pair who accompanied him.

“That sounds like dinner to me, lads." He looked back at his accomplices with a broken-toothed grin. “I think I’ll go and get myself a steak with-"

Whatever culinary ambitions the man aspired to he didn’t get the chance to share them with his surly companions. Leo made him pay for taking his eyes off the merc by bringing his elbow into contact with the side of his head at speed. The leader rocked backwards, dazed by the blow, Leo pushed off the wall behind him and planted a foot squarely into the man’s chest, sending him staggering backwards into the thugs behind him and making him drop the purse as he fell. Leo wasted no time, he dipped, wincing at the pain in his stomach, and retrieved his property in a flurry of curses from the trio trying to reorganise themselves. He broke into a sprint and ran for the far exit to the alley, feeling a surge of elation at outwitting the clueless thieves.

And ran straight into the fourth member of the group.

A hand like a shovel lashed out at chest height as the merc got to the end of the alley, the air in Leo’s lungs took another vacation.

“Fu-”

He fell. The world turned upside-down. Leo groaned, clutching at his aching breastbone, and waited for the inevitable. From his prone position he saw the edge of four very unpleasant looking faces staring down at him, one of which brought a hand up to clutch at the throbbing side of its jaw.

“You… really… shouldn’t have done that.”

The merc was hauled unceremoniously to his feet, although from the way two of the underlings for the ‘brains’ of the operation held his arms Leo doubted they meant to help him on his way. The leader of the group waved his knife under Leo’s nose.

“Maybe I should start by carving up that face of yours. That’d teach you a lesson.” He snarled. “Then afterwards I can have my big friend Rosh here twist your arm off and beat you unconscious with it. In a town like this; it could be days before anyone bothers to look for you, right Rosh?”

The mountainous man didn’t reply, a frown crossed over the misshapen crook.

“I said; right Rosh?” He turned back to his associate.

The man called Rosh was still standing at the end of the alley, the expression he had wasn’t the sadistic good humour of his comrades, but one of puzzlement, as if someone had just tried to explain something complicated to him (in his case, probably something along the lines of ‘how to tie your shoelaces’). He rotated almost mechanically on the spot, raising a branch of an arm as if interjecting an argument. Something whipped across his cheek, hard. Rosh crumpled to the ground with a thud that made the ground tremor.

Jade stepped into view.

“I was beginning to think that big bastard would never fall down.” She said conversationally, twirling the offending knife she’d used to subdue the big man between her fingers with calculated insolence. Leo saw a vein popping out the side of the leader’s head, despite the pain he was in, he grinned.

“Oo the ‘ells is this bitch?” One of the remaining cronies approximated.

“His wife.” She quipped. “Wondering why her good-for-nothing husband is late for the meal I lovingly prepared for him an hour ago.”

“Apologies, dear heart.” Leo said, unable to stop his mouth even in the face of imminent violence. “These gentlemen were just about to send me on my way, weren’t you boys?”

The leader of the thugs snapped back to look at restrained mercenary, and then a lot of things happened at once.

With the trio’s attention focused on the blacksmith the group of thieves didn’t see Eve approaching from the other end of the alley until it was too late. One of the men holding Leo fell sideways, grabbing at the hilt of the knife stuck in his shoulder and screaming. The long-haired merc took the opportunity to push sideways and head butt the man holding his other arm, whose eyes rolled up in the head as he lost consciousness. The leader, unfortunately for Leo, recovered from his initial shock and lunged, thrusting his weapon towards the mercenary’s ribs. There was nothing for him to do but wince in preparation for the intense pain to come. At the last instant his attackers lunge turned into a fall, the blade clattered out of his hand as the cobbles came up to meet him. Leo panted, trying to breathe the fire out of his chest. The throwing knife sticking out the man’s back told him all he needed to know. Jade’s arm was still extended from her target practise; she closed the hand into an accusatory finger which she pointed at the relieved merc.

“How on Farrel did you manage to get into trouble while taking a piss?”

“I must have a talent.” Leo managed, keeping his gaze on the injured men around him and mentally retraining himself from finishing the job. He forced himself to look up at the blacksmith.

“My hero.” He said, mimicking the tones Jade had used earlier in the day.

Eve took the opportunity to dig a companionable knuckle into Leo’s ribs, eliciting a wince from the man.

“Come on blockhead. Home time.”
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Jack Rothwell
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 2)

Postby Jack Rothwell » October 1st, 2010, 7:26 am

Chapter 12 (cont.)

A cold pair of eyes gazed at the scene from a darkened corner on the street opposite. The figure was, more or less, hiding in plain sight. Since he’d taken up his position several people had walked by without so much as a sideways glance at him. There was no reason they should’ve. A dishevelled looking beggar swathed in greys rag was nearly camouflaged next to the piles of cloth and barrels he was slumped against. He’d observed Leo’s trouble, not to mention Jade’s stealthy approach, in a manner that suggested impassiveness or possibly incapacity, but as the group strolled passed him his head turned to follow.

The disguised Gewehr Wraith replayed Lucas’ orders to himself as The Silver Hands turned a corner. He’d witnessed that Martin Dashwood was not who he appeared to be, and if the women with him were legitimate business partners to the so-called ‘Grohl Trading Company’ then he was a troll. He thought of the second part of Lucas’ orders, he’d track them to wherever they were heading, find the snakes that his contractor suspected and deal with the situation accordingly.

A moment later the shabbily dressed figure got to feet with the sack in his hand, and followed the mercenaries.


END OF PART 2


This story has gone on longer than I originally anticipated. The next part will be the end of this though. Thank you to everyone who's reading this and Greybeard for his feedback. Anyone who takes the time to read and reply with have the favour returned, constructive criticism is always welcome.
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Jack Rothwell
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