Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

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Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » October 5th, 2010, 9:14 am

This'll be the last part of the story. Hopefully I'll have this finished in a month or two.


Chapter 1

Atawarr was a small fishing village that lay nestled on the edge of the Farrelian Sea some thirty miles south of Ester. And anyone who considered the Big Sergeant’s town of residence small would’ve done well to look at the tiny Atawarr. The excuse for a town covered less than a square mile of ground, and most of that was grass. Bernard galloped onto the dirt track that marked the short main street well after sunset.

A few stragglers on the road took note of the man on the warhorse (which Bernard had named ‘Betty’ after an old sweetheart of his). People usually noticed Bernard, he cut an imposing figure to anyone unfamiliar with his generally gentle personality, it was certainly one of the reasons the Captain had asked him to carry out the assignment. Even the more unruly associates of The Silver Hands became reasonable in the face of the heavy set man who stood well over six feet tall.

He clomped around until he located the stables, leading Betty inside with a word and a coin for the stable girl before he headed over to the docks where Nathan Blackwater typically conducted his business. Bernard’s bearded face was grim, he meant to deal with the weaselly entrepreneur and be on his way as soon as possible.

It was only a short walk to the dock area. The place was a sparse network of wooden planks and tiny skiffs rocking gently on the lapping waves. Several storehouses and houses closer to shacks in size patterned the waters edge. Light glittered from lamps hung wooden posts and picked out the sea in a diamond strewn glimmer, somewhere in the near distance someone played a harmonica.

Bernard paused a moment, observing the dock workers lugging crates and coils of ropes as they wound down the day. The big man accosted one individual who was too encumbered to hurry away.

“Excuse me? Sir? I’m looking for Nathan Blackwater.”

The young man strained at the cart he was pulling, but nodded towards a nondescript looking building.

“Two houses down, guv. He was home an hour ago.”

“Much obliged.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

The pewter cup finished it’s short journey by smashing into shards against the wall of the ramshackle hut.

“Excuses, bloody excuses!” Someone with a gravelly voice cried. It belonged to a cubby, pale faced man whose cheeks where flushed with anger. The second occupant in the small room knelt with his arms crossed over his head. It was all he could to shield himself from the oncoming missile. He stammered an apology.

“I’m sorry Mr Blackwater, the Lorrel Passage is a risky trip this time of year. The bandits picked off our lookout before he could raise the alarm.”

Nathan Blackwater stomped his way across the room, around rickety looking furniture and threadbare rugs. He wasn’t a tall man, but somehow his fury seemed to give him extra size. He drew back a fist as if he intended to knock the daylights out of his unfortunate employee.

“This is the first month in a year I’ll filling out the columns in red ink.” He hissed. “And all thanks to you David, perhaps you could tell me why I shouldn’t let you foot the bill instead?”

The younger man, who was barely old enough to be called that given the freckles and acne that populated his features in unseemly blotches, put a pleading tone in his reply.

“Please Mr Blackwater, there was nothing I could do. They had gun and blades. I had a mop and bucket! And someone had to look after Jimmy. The boy was really scared; it was only his first time out!”

He trailed off in the face of his glowering employer.

“Get out.”

Nathan’s eyes burned a hole in his retreating subordinates back. He stood rigidly, muttering under his breath.

“Gods send me competent workers.”

He wheeled around to sit on his armchair as the door behind him banged open again.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » October 11th, 2010, 6:55 am

Chapter 1 (cont.)

“David, I thought I told you to-“ Nathan broke off in the face of the mountainous figure standing in the frame. Bernard grinned back at him.

“Top of the evening to you!” He called brightly and stomped his way inside. Nathan shifted his features from gobsmacked surprise to a frown.

“Bernard? What are you doing here? I made it clear last time the Blackwater Company does not associate with crooks!”

Bernard laughed, but there was little humour in the sound. “If that was true you’d have to fire half your staff Nathan, yourself included I’d wager.” He sat down in a chair which made an audible creak as it took the man’s weight.

“I should have my security remove you.”

“Now, now, there’s no need for that kind of talk. We’ve prospered together in the past, haven’t we? And let’s not forget that expedition your ships made to Galiad which would’ve run into serious trouble if the Hands hadn’t been aboard. I think you owe us, Nathan.”

“By the seven Hells I do! I’ve been the subject of more than a couple of unpleasant investigations because I made the mistake of doing business with your kind. Well I’m done. I’m out. Now kindly leave, I have paperwork to do.”

Bernard was on his feet with a speed his previous movements hadn’t hinted at. Nathan found himself hoisted by the lapels before a word of protest could escape his lips and slammed into the wall behind with enough force to make the whole shack shudder.

“You listen to me.” The sergeant growled, suddenly there was no trace of his usual easygoing demeanour to be found. “My organisation has pulled your chestnuts out of the fire more times than it was justifiable. And now we’re putting together an operation to free you and every other leech from people ten times worse and you tell me you won’t help?” He banged the smaller man against the hard surface, producing a cry of pain from him. “The only reason you’re still able to do business is because of Rufus and he demands some recognition!”

“Easy! Easy! There’s no need to get physical! What does he want? Guns? Explosives? Men?”

“All of the above.” Bernard reluctantly released the man; who brushed himself down with shaking hands.

“Alright, you big bastard, alright. I’ll help you, but this is the last time. The last thing I need is the militia tracing this back to me.”

“Splendid. Thanks for your cooperation.” Bernard’s good humour came back in a flash. “Don’t worry, we’ll be discreet.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“Yeah, yeah. Come on you weaselly git, lets take a look at the stockpile.”
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » October 14th, 2010, 7:37 am

Chapter 2

It was a short trip to The Silver Hands hideout from the scene of the recent attempted mugging. It was, mercifully, uneventful for everyone concerned although the trio kept stealing glances over their shoulders as the distinct feeling of being watched had settled over them. The furtive looks revealed nothing, only a few stragglers hurrying home after a day’s work.

Eve took the lead, unlocking the barricaded door and striding inside. In the aftermath of his rescue Leo had put on his most annoying macho demeanour to cope with the girl’s mocking remarks about ‘being saved by a pair of girls’. It was clear from the blacksmith’s observations he was still in a fair amount of pain, a boot to the ribs wasn’t something easily forgot after all.

“You ok, tough guy?”

“It’s nothing a back massage from my ‘wife’ won’t fix.” He sounded strained at the attempt at humour but Jade played along anyway.

“That was part of the distraction. Don’t start getting an ego.”

“And what a beautiful distraction you were.” He managed. “Almost enough to make the pain of the kicking I received go away.”

They’d made their way inside; Eve had drummed a rhythm on the trapdoor to get to the basement where Rufus awaited them. The old captain stood with his arms folded and annoyance written on his face.

“You’re late.”

“We ran into some trouble.” Eve replied. “Ask the fop.”

“It was just a couple of knuckleheads.” Leo interjected hurriedly. “No-one will be calling the militia on their behalf.”

Rufus strode up to the wincing merc and jabbed a finger at him.

“Be. More. Bloody. Careful.” He intoned. “The last thing we need is to draw attention to ourselves before Bernard arrives back with the shipment.”

“What shipment?”

“The best kind. Explosives and artillery.” Rufus answered, turning to face the blacksmith. “We have a friend in Atawarr who’ll be helping us on that account; which means we’re now committed to seeing this through. In two more days the lion’s share of Logan’s finances will be leaving Port Lorrel, and on that day I’ll need the three of you to head the wagon that Leo arranged in that convoy.”

Jade frowned. “Are you and Bernard not coming with us?”

“We’ll meet you on route.” The Captain replied. “Our faces are known to the Militia in Port Lorrel. If we tried to accompany you we’d all be gunned down before we left the city.” His smile, for a moment, lit up his face and gave him the appearance of a younger man. “The Sergeant and I will be doing our share in this, that I promise you.”

A few hours later the younger members of the hands had been fed and briefed in detail about their respective roles in the mission to come. Despite the danger that the future held they were doing their best to relax in the relative comfort that the hideout offered.

Eve, of course, had returned to her usual spot in front of the training dummies while Rufus poured over the information obtained for him by Leo and Bernard, as if seeking for the tiniest detail that could throw his plan into disarray. Jade sat next to Leo, rolling a smoke as she reflected upon the events of the day. The paranoid feeling they’d had had faded but it was still there, lingering in the background like a tear in the wallpaper.

“I think you should stay downstairs tonight.”

Two weeks ago the blacksmith would’ve dismissed what the thief said as a weak attempt at making a pass at her. The seriousness on his face, however, told a different story.

“Alright,” She felt a touch of disappointment, in a strange way, that Leo hadn’t combined the practical suggestion with a touch of playfulness. All the Gods knew they could’ve done with lightening up the tense mood. A thought occurred.

“Where will I be staying?”

“Bernard’s bed is free, it’s big and he’s all about his cleanliness.”

“And where is Bernard’s bed?”

“He shares a room with me. I’ll behave, I promise.”

In truth, Jade (loathe as she was to admit it) had actually warmed up to the merc somewhat, certainly warmed-up enough to tease the man a little.

“Good, because I like to sleep naked.”

Her delivery was perfect, Leo’s mouth hung open. Jade stood up and patted him on the shoulder.

“Just kidding, champ.” She strolled out the kitchen.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » October 17th, 2010, 7:59 am

Chapter 3

Hours after night had fallen over Ester; a shadow detached itself from the cover of a hovel and approached the run-down building that concealed the entrance to The Silver Hands’ safehouse. It stole across the ground in a stealthy creep to head towards the heavily locked front door. It rested for a moment in front of the barrier.

The Gewehr Wraith leaned forward and pressed a hand against the entrance as if it would yield to a hard push. He cocked his head and listened, the inside of the house was utterly silent. He hadn’t expected different, although he’d seen Mr Dashwood and his associates disappear into the house hours ago there hadn’t been a sign of movement since.

He slinked around the perimeter, looking for a likely point of entry, and stopped by a large window on the ground floor. A darting glance revealed the room inside to be devoid of life. The assassin reached into his pockets and produced a small, but lethal looking object bedecked with short, sharpened blades and began cutting into the pane of glass with a faint scrapping noise.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

Leo’s eyes opened in the darkness of his room. He lay still with alarming bells ringing in his head, something had woken him up.

He listened for approaching footsteps, he squinted in the black, looking for the tell-tale shape of an approaching man, for the glint of a blade about to plunge toward his prone body. He relaxed; there was no-one there.

Jade let out a moan and rolled over in her sleep. The merc sat up quickly and fumbled for the lamp at the side of his bed. A few tense seconds passed before a low light permeated the small chamber. Leo looked over at the blacksmith.

The woman was curled into a ball; a trickle of sweat crept down her forehead as she let out an inarticulate cry and flailed at some horror only she could see. It was clear she was caught in nightmare of some kind. The mercenary watched for a moment, made a snap decision and went over. He crouched next to the bed, reached out gingerly and put a hand on Jade’s shoulder.

“Jade.” He whispered, shaking her gently. “Jade, wake up.”

The blacksmith let out a low scream and sat up violently. Leo jerked his hand away as she swung her arms at the fading images in her head. The moment passed, she stilled, finally coming back to herself as she looked around at the concerned man. She spoke to him in a quiet voice very unlike her usual, confident tones.

“Did I wake you?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m sorry.” She reached up and ran a hand through her matted hair.

“Bad dream?” He sat down on the bed next to her. Jade drew her legs up under her chin and wrapped her arms around them protectively.

“Bad memories.” She said, her face worked, trying to quell the rising tide of emotion in her gut. Leo put a comforting hand on her back; she wheeled and batted it away. She tried to snarl at him but her lips were trembling.

“Leave me alone.” Her voice cracked, the last word became a sob. Leo pulled her towards him and hugged her. She resisted for an instant, but the floodgates opened. Tears ran down her cheeks and onto the mercenaries shoulder.

It was the first since she’d lost everything that Jade had broken down in front of someone. The weight of the past and the burden of the future had finally become too much to internalise. Through the pain she felt there was the faintest glimmer of relief at the cathartic release. Leo held her tightly in the quiet.

“It’s alright. You’re ok…”

“I’m not.” She managed. “It’s all fucked-up, everything’s gone wrong. I shouldn’t even be here.” She pulled back and stared, unblinking, into his eyes. He reached a hand up and cupped her face, rubbing a thumb across the wet streak on her cheek.

“It’ll be fine.” He whispered to her. “A few more days and worst will be over with. You’re strong, Jade. You’re the strongest, most capable woman I’ve met. I can’t think of anyone better suited to be here.”

She wrapped hand around his wrist. “Gods, I’ve been trying so damn hard.”

Caught up in the moment as he was, Leo couldn’t stop himself; he leaned forward and did something he’d wanted to do for weeks, he kissed her. Realisation hit him a second later and he pulled sharply back with embarrassment written all over his face.

“Sorry. That was wrong of me to do. I don’t want you to think I’m taking advan-"

Jade clamped a hand across the back of Leo’s neck and pulled him in, the sentence he said cut off by her mouth closing on his. The pent up tension between the two suddenly coming out in a rush. She wrapped her legs around him, gasping in his ear as he ran a hand down her thigh. Her fingers buried themselves in his hair.

Left uninterrupted, things would’ve probably gone a lot further between the outlaws. As it happened, the creak of a floorboard outside the door brought them reluctantly back to reality.

“Did you hear that?” She panted, her blood thundering in her ears.

In any other circumstances the merc would’ve ignored the sound. But in light of recent events it was impossible.

“Someone’s creeping around.”

In a tremendous display of self-control, the pair untangled themselves and searched for their weapons. There was no time for further discussion, certainly no time to change out of the bed clothes they wore. Jade pulled her sword from it’s scabbard and opened the door.



OOC You knew that was going to happen sooner or later :)/OOC
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » October 26th, 2010, 1:50 pm

Chapter 3 (cont.)


Rufus had always been a light sleeper; spending most of his life in the military had hammered a state of awareness into his being that only months living with the fear of attack could, but he was also an old man who had spent most of the day straining his one good eye over a pile of informative, but tedious, documents and he was tired. As the door to his room swung silently open he didn’t stir, his chest kept the same easy rhythm of a man in gentle slumber as the assassin approached on padded feet.

The Gewehr Wraith held his breath as the Captain made an unintelligible noise and shifted on the mattress. After a moment when it became clear he wasn’t waking up, the pale-eyed man eased forward, pulling free a blackened stiletto blade with barely a whisper. He straightened up at Rufus’ bedside and raised the weapon for a killing strike…

Jade entered the Captain’s bedroom at a run, shouting a war cry. Rufus' eyes snapped open, and with reflexes galvanised by adrenalin and pure instinct he
rolled away from his assailant as the knife struck the empty space his chest had been an instant before.

The Gewehr dropped into a crouch as the Blacksmith’s swing cut the air. He sprang forward, cannoning into the woman and knocking her out of his path to the exit. He met Leo wielding his shortsword as he shot into the corridor.

Rufus had gone from fast asleep to wide awake in seconds. The clash of steel on steel rang in his ears as he began barking orders.

“Don’t let him get away! If he escapes our cover is blown!”

Jade hauled herself back to her feet and began her pursuit.

Leo would’ve been the first to admit his skill with a blade was far from exemplary, and against a trained killer it showed. Even with his quick reflexes and the reach advantage his weapon afforded him he was having a hard time keeping the Gewehr’s long, thin knife from tearing him open. Their struggles put him into a retreating, defensive position which took them into the main room just before Jade caught up with the duelling duo.

The wraith struck out with his foot and sent Leo staggering backwards. He wheeled around with a grunt and blocked an attack which would’ve sent his head tumbling from his shoulders. He weaved and dodged around his opponents longer blade, as hard as hit as a wasp. Jade snarled, her bare feet squeaking on the dusty floorboards as she strained to strike her agile adversary. Leo made a backward roll which took him to a vertical base. As he prepared to jump forward Eve passed him with a roar.

Caught between a closing trap of blades the Wraith knew he had no chance, he leapt towards the trapdoor entrance, biting down a cry as the Blacksmith’s weapon took a chunk out of the back of his leg. In a flurry a movement he closed to the distance and got a hand to the ladder.

A gunshot sounded out like cannon fire in the underground chamber; the assassin screamed and fell sideways. Rufus stood at the entrance to the corridor holding a smoking rifle.

“Search him.” The Captain growled.



OOC Just finisheing that encounter, got a load more I need to type up. On the homestretch soon with any luck.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » November 8th, 2010, 6:17 pm

Chapter 3 (cont.)

Not that checking the now ex-assassin pockets was strictly necessary, as it turned out, Rufus merely nodded at the lack of personal effects on the dead man’s body; the clothing he wore alone had been enough to cement his suspicions.

“Gewehr Wraith.” He prodded the corpse with his foot. “I’ll give Logan credit; he doesn’t fuck around.”

“Do you think he sent others?” Leo asked the question.

“If he did they would’ve probably come with this one, and I’d be so much cooling meat by now.” He replied gruffly. “Thank you, Jade.”

The Blacksmith felt a surge of pride at the Captain’s praise.

“Shall we check the perimeter?”

“You can, but it’s unlikely you’ll find anyone. That grey headband marks him as a Wolf. They’re a unit in the Gewehrs who specialise in lone operations. They slip into locations unnoticed and dispose of their targets silently. It sends a message and inspires fear in the survivors, if they leave any that is. Anyone have any idea how he managed to get inside?”

Eve stepped forward and opened her hand to reveal a pair of non-descript grey blocks which she let clatter to the floor.

“Magnets.” She said. “It’s low tech for a Gewehr, but good enough to slide a metal bolt open.”

“Sneaky bastard.” He Captain grunted. “Just leave this situation to me and the Sergeant. We’ll deal with this when he returns tomorrow. By then you’ll have other concerns to focus on.”


Chapter 4

The Captain had made an understatement as it turned out. As the Sun cleared the horizon on a new day The Silver Hands stood at the village stables going over the last details of their plan. Bernard had arrived moments earlier, looking exhausted from his uninterrupted journey, and with a pair of surly looking men who drove wagons in tow. The Captain flashed a smile and embraced the man in a brotherly fashion after he dismounted from his horse.

“Stellar work Sergeant. Did we get everything we asked for?”

Bernard, despite the rings under his eyes, let out a hearty laugh. “Of course Rufus, Nathan was very agreeable after a little diplomacy.”

He led his commander and the rest of the group to the back of the first wagon and pulled the hatch open. Rufus’ mouth went dry at what he saw inside.
“This one is for us.” Bernard remarked as the light picked out the interior. The barrels of a very big gun gleamed in the shadow.

“Ammo?”

“Two thousand rounds, all told.”

“Is it accurate?”

“Accurate enough with a big, heavy bastard at the helm to steady it. Come, here’s the second part.” Bernard marched to the second vehicle and revealed the second payload, gesturing at Jade, Leo and Eve as he spoke.

“This wagon’s for you three and our new friends to transport in the convoy.”

At a glance the wagon contained barrels full of the standard trading materials one would expect in a merchant wagon; food, grain, cloth and bags of tobacco adorned its interior. It was only when Jade, filled with a surge of curiosity, jumped into the back of the vehicle, lifted the lid off one of the barrels and pushed her hand through the surface of one that the illusion fell away.

“By all the Gods...” she whispered.

Under the lid of the non-descript container was a black soot-like substance that seemed to draw in the light around it. Jade had worked with the material before, but she’d never seen so much in one place.

“Gunpowder.” Bernard said. “Which combined with a couple of these charming fellows…” He pulled a spherical device from his pocket that looked almost as unassuming as the interior of the wagon. “…will send the guards convoy up like a firework display.”

The Blacksmith couldn’t fight the maniacal grin that was spreading across her face. The last fleeting doubts she had were evaporating in the face of the sheer amount of artillery the Sergeant had acquired. Her expression was mirrored by the rest of the group. Even Eve looked uncharacteristically cheerful at the promise of such overwhelming destruction. Jade could see she was all but straining herself not to take the incendiary from the big man’s hand. Rufus watched the scene calmly; when he spoke it was in tones of naked pride.

“If we were still in the Militia I’d have promoted you by now Bernard.” He clapped his hands together. “Right, you three know your roles in all this; and there’s no time like the present.”

Leo tugged at the overblown hat that made up the crown of his Martin Dashwood disguise and tipped a salute to the Captain.

“We’ll see you further down the road, old man.”

“You bet you will. Good luck to you all, the future of our country now rest in your hands.”
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » November 15th, 2010, 10:41 am

Chapter 4 (cont.)

Nathan Blackwater had been in a bad mood all day. He’d woken up with a moan as the memories of the previous twenty four surfaced like a sudden tsunami. In the explosion of unpleasant images he saw the loss of the latest shipment, the gargantuan bastard Bernard nearly throttling him unconscious and then taking off with half his stockpile and two of his best men. With gritted teeth he calculated it would take months to make up for the finances those losses represented. He sat at his usual desk with a dark cloud hanging over his head as he riffled through the newest batch of receipts and columns his latest transactions had created.

“Bloody bandits... bloody thieves… bloody Tsuirakuan traders…”

He angrily scratched his way through the figures of his misery, morbidly engrossed in the business at hand. He didn’t even look up when the door to his ramshackle office opened. His employees had been tiptoeing around the harbour all day for fear of a reprimand, the few who’d braved Nathan’s presence had shuffled quickly in and out, murmuring apologies as they unburdened themselves of the various bundles they carried. Nathan drew a cross through another statistical disaster.

“Just leave them on the table.”

“They wouldn’t do any good there Mr Blackwater.”

The voice was unfamiliar, the owner looked up at the man who’d let himself in. He was armed, which immediately caught his attention, particularly the way the gun barrel that was pointed at his sweating forehead. Given the Blackwater company owner’s instinct for self-preservation, the angular face, the flat gaze of the man and the athletic looking body underneath the weapon were secondary details to it.

“Who-”

“An envoy.” He replied simply. “Or an entrepreneur of sorts if you prefer.”

The man stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

“I have a business proposal for you Mr Blackwater. One you should seriously consider.”

It dawned on the unfortunate man that his day had somehow gotten worse. The two security he’d posted at the door were nowhere to be seen. There hadn’t been a sound to announce the intruder’s presence prior to him opening the shack. Nathan fought to keep the nervousness out of his voice. A question passed his lips despite himself.

“Who do you represent?”

“Someone you’ve undoubtedly heard of.” The man sat opposite Nathan with his gun still trained on his target. He leaned forward and made no effort to keep the menace from his tone.

“Amadeus Logan wants some information from you, peddler.”

Nathan swallowed; the day had definitely gotten worse.

........................................................................

Dozens of miles from the cornered trader a convoy rolled its way to Port Lorrel. At a glance it appeared like Leo had intended it, a wealthy nobleman accompanying his interests towards the city. Bandits hadn’t bothered them on the trip, but the tension running through the group was almost a living thing. Fingers gripped reins a little too tightly, mouths were set in thin narrow lines as if straining to hold back the imagined fears of the people who owned them. Silence had been the order of the day so far as the Sun reached its peak and began its run to the western horizon.

Jade rode next to Leo in his gaudy outfit. The pair stole occasional glances at each other through the haze of their own thoughts, both thinking about the mission to come, both thinking about the events of the previous evening and how to address them. Eve trailed at the back, periodically checking the rifle the captain had handed to her before their departure.

“…” Jade closed her mouth again, unsure of even how to begin. Leo absent-mindedly reached up to adjust the angle of the ridiculous hat he wore and suddenly she was fighting the urge to laugh. The situation itself was faintly ridiculous, she was stressing about a man when the pair of them could find themselves face down in a ditch tomorrow. She looked up from her thoughts and saw the faux fop staring directly at her; his expression a mirror to hers.

“Bad timing?”

She did laugh that time, and nodded in reply.

“Perhaps its something best addressed at a later date.”

Leo smiled back at her. “Then I think we’d best get this done as soon as possible.” He snapped the reins in his hands, the slightly surprised horse gave a whinny and moved into a gallop, the merc called back to the gentlemen behind him.

“Come on lads, we’re wasting the day!”
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » November 23rd, 2010, 8:16 am

Chapter 5

An hour or so later the convoy pulled through the gate that marked the main entrance of the Port. They drew barely a flicker of interest from the militiamen standing guard, who had the look of men used to staring flatly at the horizon for prolonged periods of time.

The Port was no different then how Leo had left it, despite the setting sun and the cloudy weather the streets were still a hive of activity. Jade cast her eyes around with mistrust sitting like a vulture on her shoulder; she didn’t like cities. The country girl who lived in her felt stress and aggravation at the noise, the constant flow of shoving traffic and the claustrophobic feeling that settled over her when she was surrounded by a mass of humanity. Even in her elevated position on the horses back she had to try her level best not to scowl of the crowd swimming past her entourage. A touch of envy flickered through her mind as she looked over at Leo and Eve, the pair seemed perfectly at home, the younger woman cast her gaze like a net over the streets they rode down, eagerly looking for some entertainment to pass the final hours before the fruition of Rufus’ plan.

“So what now?” Jade asked.

“Now we take our cargo to Logan’s holding area, tell them everything’s in order and proceed immediately after to a likely looking inn.” Leo replied. He twisted in his saddle to face Nathan’s men still driving the supply wagon. “These charming gentlemen are under orders to keep an eye on it this evening.”
The tow men, who’d given their names as Victor and Matthew when they actually deemed to engage in conversation with the mercenaries, reluctantly nodded their heads with the exaggerated weariness of men with tedious work in their futures.

…………………………………………………………………………………………

The drop-off at LWD enterprises was mercifully quick. The ‘aristocrat’ had fast-talked the warehouse worker with dazzling ease, and led them around the wagon they’d brought with the efficiency of a professional tour guide. The replies of Logan’s workers were short ones of affirmation at the legitimacy of the cargo they saw. No-one made a closer examination much to Jade’s relief, although when one of the men had leaned in close to a barrel of gun-powder she’d looked down at her hands and found her knuckles turning white.

She did her part, which at that moment had just been looking as non-suspicious as humanly possible. Jade couldn’t escape the feeling of being like a fish out of water in the face of the exteriors being presented by her teammates; Leo the flamboyant businessman and Eve standing stolidly by without a flicker crossing her face. The young women gave the appearance of a humourless mercenary entirely focused on the job she was being paid to do which, Jade reflected, was exactly what she was.

Not that Eve was alone in that outlook, the dusty warehouse was populated by numerous men who wore the armour and carried the rifles that were a trademark of the Port Lorrel militia. Seeing it firsthand, it was clear to Jade how far the influence of Logan’s company extended by the sight of the armed forces who were supposedly employed to keep the peace in the city and surrounding countryside. They trailed Leo without a word, hands close to their weapons as if daring him to show the first sign of trouble.

‘If they’d been as vigilant taking care of the country.’ She reflected. ‘Maybe I wouldn’t be standing here now, plotting their murders.’
It was a huge relief to get clear of the place, and to be lifted of the not-so-irrational fear that had settled in her gut of an ambush. If there had been a trap to spring, the Blacksmith considered, then that would’ve been the perfect time to spring it. In a crossfire from a dozen different angles The Silver Hands would’ve stood no chance at all.

She shivered.

“Something wrong?”

“Just nerves.”

Leo smiled, they were far enough from the storage area for him to show his warmer self now, even though the expression was strained.

“We’ll win through. The old bastard hasn’t let me down yet.”
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 14th, 2010, 11:43 am

Chapter 5 (cont.)

Sleep did not come easily to Jade that night despite Leo’s assurance. The room she lay in was weather-beaten and old; given an underscore by a chorus of creaks that tugged on her imagination. Her mind’s eye conjured up a thousand images of stealthy assassins, bandits with blackened blades drawn to silence her breath, but most of all it was the grinning face of Theodore Reks, the man whose barbaric actions had put her on the path of revenge, who was featured.

Even after weeks of hearing Rufus’ ideology, his plans to rebuild a country where others would be spared her fate, it was difficult to repress that rising tide of anger in her gut. Her eyes were fixed blankly on the knotted, oaken ceiling. She knew, despite everything she’d endured, that she meant to see Reks dead no matter what happened. Whether that meant charging into his camp with The Silver Hands new army at her back or going in alone was up to fate to decide. She’d know where he was holed up soon, she’d hadn’t been blinded to the murmured words that Leo and Rufus had exchanged that morning at the hideout, or the sheet of paper The Captain had pressed into the younger man’s hand before they’d departed. The hasty looks over his shoulders as he’d stuffed the document into his pocket had told her the rest. She’d retrieve it from his cooling body if the absolute worst happened. After all, she’ hadn’t come all these miles and faced trails that had nearly killed her just to be denied at the end of the road.

By inches, Jade closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep, as her knuckles tightened on her pillow.

………………………………………………………………………………………

She was up with the dawn, feeling strangely lightheaded but a long distance from groggy. Her stomach had bunched itself into a fist of nerves, feeling to her like it was trying to punch itself out through her chest. Today was the day.

She didn’t dress right away; there was something to do first, something to calm her hammering heart before she faced everything else. She crossed the room in her cotton undergarments to a rickety wooden desk in the corner of the small room. She unhooked the bandolier that was hanging off the back of the chair in front of it and retrieved her father’s revolver. She laid the old, beautiful gun flat on the desks surface, and unrolled the leather cylinder that was already resting above it. A row of gunsmith tool winked at her in the early light. Jade raised her hands with the air of a surgeon about to perform a difficult operation and began.

The exercise, mercifully, drained all thought from her and replaced it with blank concentration. As she broke the machine apart, oiled and cleaned it in a method engraved as deeply in her as drawing breath.

A few minutes later the gun was reassembled and whirring quietly as Jade span the chamber, she reloaded it and snapped it closed with a satisfied noise.

“It is well.”

The sword was a faster job; it was her baby after all, and never far from razor sharpness. In fact, the botched attempt the Gewehr had made to cut the head off the Silver Hands had been the first time she’d had cause to use it in months. Dust picked out by the sun seemed to swirl around the weapon, caressing it even as she drew the whet stone down the blade in long, easy strokes. It gleamed.

Equipment now attended to, she dressed hurriedly, lacing belts and unconscious grace. She assessed the final product in the streak-smeared dressing mirror, marvelling at how different her reflection looked from the woman who’d set out from Solshire three months and a thousand years ago.

The dark, red hair that had always been her vanity had grown to her shoulders, the first tiny strands of white glinted through the thick mass like intruders. The face it framed was thinner, the cheeks sunken slightly from missed meals from her time on the road. The eyes, as least, were the same, deep green ovals that had won their fair shares of hearts in the twenty four years of her lifetime. She scooped her unruly mane into a ponytail and tied it with a thin ribbon just as a knocking sounded from the door. It was Leo’s voice that carried through.

“Jade? It’s time.”

Her thin mouth drew upwards in a smile that had nothing to do with humour. She tipped a hand to the lady in the glass as if to say ‘farewell’.

“I’m ready.”
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 14th, 2010, 11:59 am

Chapter 6

In the aftermath of the madness of that day had passed and Jade finally had some time to think that she would wonder if the deck had been stacked against them from the start. Maybe it was simply something as mundane as bad luck, maybe it was fate.

The day was cold, not freezing by any stretch of the imagination, but cold enough to draw shivers from the convey that rolled its way down the main road from Port Lorrel, heading to the half-completed Logan’s Riff. Not including The Silver Hands there were four wagons manned by a total of twenty people, fourteen of which were militiamen with rifles, sharp eyes and no interest in conversation. The boss had sent them on with harsh words and dire threats of what would happen to them if the second convoy was lost. They surrounded each wagon in groups of three or four, keeping their heads on a swivel for trouble. It was a sight to deter even the most determined robber, certainly enough to illustrate to Jade how futile using the tactics her teammates had used on the first convey would be.

Martin Dashwood’s wagon sat centrally in the horse drawn conga line, flanked by Jade, Eve and one of Nathan’s men. The other sat next to ‘Martin’ with their cargo (Leo had waved away any questions about him accompanying his investment with the straightforward explanation that he wanted to see Logan’s Riff with his own eyes). The wheels turned with a slight squeak that set the Blacksmith’s nerves on edge.

They had half an hour left until they arrived at the point on the road Rufus has pointed out to them. The place where the trap would be sprung.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

At that moment two men sat on horses on a hillock that overlooked stony road that wound its way from Port Lorrel to the town under construction. The older man’s face was sternly set, fitting perfectly with the rocky background he found himself surrounded by. The near-giant standing next to him looked more nervous, only moments before the two had been having a discussion about their next move.

“Isn’t this risky?” Bernard asked his Captain.

“Yes.” Rufus replied. “But if someone doesn’t draw their attention away from the artillery then we’d find ourselves riddled with bullets before we even get out of the starting blocks.” He looked the sergeant squarely in the eye. “Besides, you’re the only one of us who can use that thing effectively. I’m too damn old to be turning the wheel on that thing.”

The object in question, which now lay freed of it’s wagon camouflage and glinting proudly in the sun, was a hand-operated monstrosity that consisted of a dozen long barrels strapped together and operated by a wheel on its side. A long trail of bullets snaking into the grass made it clear to an onlooker that the operator of that contraption could shoot all day if he had the strength, and not run out of ammo.

Since strength was the order of the day Bernard was unquestionably the man for the job. His tree-trunk like arms were the only ones in The Silver Hands that could possibly aim the gatling gun and turn the wheel at the same time. This left Rufus with the task of drawing the attention of the approaching convey so the sergeant could inflict as much damage as possible before the unsuspecting militia realised what was going on, and drawing attention away from the younger members concealed within the convey besides.

Rufus gigged his steed down the shallow incline with the empty wagon still attached to it, experiencing a moment of déjà vu as he did. Only this time they couldn’t rely on subtly and theatrics to win the day. The aged captain muttered a brief prayer under his breath to any powers that might’ve been listening and manoeuvred the wagon into position in the middle of the road. He tipped a wave to Bernard and hoped feverishly that the big man wouldn’t miss his target. The old man freed his horse and slapped it to send it galloping away. Rosh was faithful enough, and would come running when he whistled, he tipped the empty wagon at an angle as he’d done before.

The trundle of the approaching convoy was faint, but drawing ever closer. Rufus unlimbered his rifle, sat on the wagon and waited.

…………………………………………………………………………………………

Jade saw the blockade on the road and tensed; she felt Leo’s hand on his arm for a moment. A smile played across his lips, he tipped her a wink.

“Show time.” She whispered.
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