Seven men and a black direwolf stood on a hill overlooking a large town. Their leader, Kashi was absorbed in thought on how to approach, troubled by the high activity he could make out from his position.
“I thought the entire Delta had been taken over by pirates?” He asked.
“Yeah, but Lew Creek is the only town with waters deep enough to permit travel with anything larger than a rowboat,” Lason said.
“If one wants to travel from any town in the delta to the north, they must disembark at Lew Creek. Only a rowboat can make it as far as Ranad,” Jero stated.
“That explains the activity,” Kashi mused.
Kashi led his men down the grassy hill to the town.
Lew Creek was much bigger than Ranad, its streets paved with cobblestones as opposed to Ranad’s bare earth. Horse-drawn carts departed the city headed towards the north.
Despite the illusion of boisterous activity, the town choked under a thick air of oppression, made obvious by the hanging heads.
Kashi eyed the people and noticed several men and women dressed similar to the bandits at Ranad. The civilians avoided eye contact with them as they went about their daily business.
“What’re you looking at?!” one such sentry yelled.
“Forgive me,” Kashi said, bowing politely. He ignored the disapproving glares from the fishermen behind him.”I wish to travel downstream and would like to hire a boat.”
The sentry scanned the queer group. His eyes lingered on Kira awhile before returning to the dark elf. “State your business.”
“Ah, I wish to acquire some ingredients from the Geruk frogs that inhabit the marshes to the south.”
“You an alchemist?”
“Only in training, kind sir.”
The sentry scratched his chin in thought. “Go to the harbour and speak with Captain Twix.”
“Captain Twix was it? I will make sure to speak with him. Here, for your troubles.” Kashi handed three gold coins to the bandit who accepted it with a large smirk on his face.
“You take care now.”
“Oh, I will,” Kashi said as he made his way towards the harbor.
“Coward,” Hektor rebuked when they had added sufficient distance between the bandit and themselves.
“There is a time for subterfuge and a time to strike,” Kashi said.
“Yer just giving excuses.”
Kashi shrugged. “Perhaps. You will learn soon enough.”
“Still, we would like an explanation,” Jero said. His words were seconded by the others, confusion in their eyes.
Kashi looked at them and nodded. “My apologies. I am accustomed to travelling alone. Tell me Jero, what do you see when you look at this city?”
“I see people who have lost hope, living everyday praying it won’t be their last,” he said, eyes narrowed.
“And you, Hektor?”
Hektor spat. “Buncha cowards. Cant stand up ‘n’ fight fer themselves.”
“Hektor!” Jero yelled, but the teen was having not of it.
“Told all of ya ta fight dem bastards, but y’all were too scar-” Blades shone in the sunlight inches away from his neck.
“I will not permit any disrespect towards the elder,” Jero said, tightening his grip on the weapons with clear intent.
“Now, now. Everyone calm down,” Lason said, coming between the two.
“This is so ugly,” Paris said in disgust.
“Who’re ya calling ugly!” Hektor shouted and made to grab Paris, but the older man nimbly hopped back.
“Huhu.. for such an ugly child to try and catch me. Words cannot describe my amusement,” he said with a dazzling smile that only set the boy off.
“I’ll murder ya!” He pounced on Paris but was stopped mid-air by a pair of hands wrapped around his mid-riff.
“Lemme go!” he cried and elbowed Lason in the face. “Oh, crap…”
Veins bulged on the bald man’s head as he gritted his teeth and bent backwards sharply slamming Hektor to the ground in a German suplex. The situation quickly escalated into a war of words and blows while Kashi, Kira, and the twins watched the exchange.
“Will you not stop them?” Alex asked. He had a light voice resembling that of a child’s.
“Not yet. Let them tire themselves out,” Kashi replied as he sat on the cobblestone ground. “Care to join me? I have prepared a few snacks and drinks from the local plants.”
“I would be honoured,” Alex said as he and his brother sat down and accepted a cup of steaming tea from Kashi. “Mmm.. most divine.”
Fifteen minutes later… “And why are you guys just drinking tea!” Iason shouted when he noticed for the first time since the bout began that a few members were missing.
Kashi looked up from his delicious tea, an indiscernible look on his face. “We were awaiting your bonding session to be over”.
There was something about the calm way he said it that doused all of the tension, and made them feel sillier than little children. They let go of each other and turned to the elf sharing the same thought. I’ll kill ya.
Kashi could see the blood lust in their eyes and smiled wryly. Why do my partners always want me dead? Meh, at least they were united.
“You didn’t tell us why you were so polite to the bandits,” Narkis said. His voice was exactly like his brother’s and Kashi hoped he did not start mixing them up.
“Ah, yes,” Kashi said. “You all looked at the citizens and their conditions upon entry, however you failed to take note of our true reason of approaching this town.”
“The bandits,” Jero muttered as realisation dawned on him.
“What’re ya talking about?” Hektor asked.
“Precisely,” Kashi said.
“Oh, sorry. I forgot some people are slower than others…”
Kashi chuckled, amused by Hektor’s expression. Maybe it was petty revenge on his part, but he had not completely forgiven Hektor for calling him a brat. “My apologies. What I meant to say was there are several more bandits here than I originally thought, and to make things worse, they are spread out acro…!” His eyes widened as a plan formulated in his head. “Jero, you said you excelled in subterfuge?”
“Yes?” Jero answered, question in his eyes.
“Could you go around town and find out how many bandits there are in total, and their approximate locations?”
The half-elf’s eyes widened. “I see. That is your plan is it?”
“What ya talking bout?” Hektor asked.
“It is good you are quick to understand. That will make things much easier.”
“Stop ignoring me!”
“Then, I will set out. Where do we convene when I am done.”
“There is an bar not too far from here,” Kashi said, pointing at a signboard a little ways down the road. “We shall await your return there.”
Jero nodded then left the group
Exhausted from the fight and yelling, Hektor plopped to the floor, forehead furrowed in anger.
“Would you like some tea?” Narkis asked Hektor, holding out a cup.
“Yes, would you like some?” Kashi seconded, innocence in his eyes.
I’ll kill ya! Hektor swore, though he accepted the drink. When the cup was only inches away from his lips, Kashi suddenly jerked upright, causing him to spill its contents.
“Let us head to the bar,” Kashi said. He looked down at Hektor whose shoulders shook. “Is something the matter?”
Hektor’s grip on the cup tightened, grinding it to dust. “Nothing… nothing at all.”
“Hmm, good.” He turned and walked to the inn, oblivious to the pair of burning pair of red eyes behind him.
Later that night, six men and a wolf sat around a table in uneasy silence. An aura the color of despair mixed with hatred rose from Hektor, causing sweat to drip down the face of everyone except the elf it was directed at.
Oblivious to the murky hatred, Kashi walked over to the bar. “Greetings. My name is Kashi.”
“Whaddaya want?” the barkeep asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Forgive me. Just wanted to ask if by any chance a Lunette passed by this town.”
The barkeep’s eyes widened, giving the elf his answer. “Why do ya wanna know?”
Kashi leaned in. “See here, let’s make this quick. I gots silver and you gots info I need. How bout we swap?”
The barkeep’s gaped, surprised by the sudden change in speech. “Ya a sly one aintcha?”
“Slicker than polished deck.”
“Fine. Give it here.” He took thirty silver from Kashi. “She took a boat two days ago heading south. Couldn’t forget her if I tried. Had the voice of an angel”
So the girl stealing his exp points for discovering new towns was a singer. “Thanks mate.”
“Good luck ta ya.”
Kashi turned around to see Jero walking into the bar. He had an air of laxness about him that impressed Kashi. No one would suspect someone who looked as laid-back as Jero was.
Kashi returned to the table as Jero joined them.
“How did it go?” Kashi asked.
“There were no problems,” Jero reported. “There are currently thirty bandits in this town.”
Iason whistled. “That’s a lot.”
“Hmph. Doesn’t matter how many pests gather. They are still pests,” Paris said.
“Did you observe their patrol routes?” Kashi asked.
“Yes. They have fifteen in the town and fifteen on a frigate docked at the harbour. They switch out every six hours but the numbers are constant,” Jero said. “The men in the town follow no strict patrol routes. They can go anywhere please within a given area.”
Kashi soaked in the information as the gears in his head began to turn, grinding out his next course of action. First day is almost over. I only have eight more days. He looked up at Jero. “Here’s the plan…”
“Please sir! You haven’t paid for that!” a vendor cried at the bandit munching down on some fried fish.
“Huuh?! Did you say something just now?” the bandit cried, his lips curling in a threatening smirk.
“No-no.. sorry, enjoy your meal.” And choke on it, you bastard!
“Haha, thanks for the meal.” The bandit laughed as he left the vendor. Man, this job is the best! I get free food, money and loads of girls. Maybe I should kill the cap and take over… huhuhu.
A figure darting into an alley caught his attention. “Hey who’s there?!” He called. When nobody answered, he drew his sword and ran into the alley. It was unerringly dark, but he edged onward fuelled by bravado. He heard the sound of shuffling feet and something metal hitting the ground.
“Found ya!” he cried and struck down but his sword was stopped mid-swing. Two glowing green orbs appeared in front of him, hovering in mid-air. He noticed the dots in their middle and realised they were eyes.
Their owner had stopped his swing with his bare hands and now gripped the sword’s blade. Try as he might, the bandit could not pull loose, but it did not matter as a second later, he was choking on his own blood.
A torch lit up the dead body as it began to reduce to petals, returning to the circle. Two elves watched the petals ascend into the sky.
“That’s the fifth one,” Kashi said.
“Ten more to go,” Jero said.
“What’s takin dem so long?” Hektor complained, tapping on his forearm.
“I don’t think assassinations can be finished in mere minutes,” Iason pointed out. “Besides, something else has been bothering me.”
“Don’t you get cold?” He asked in wonder.
Hektor looked down at his outfit. He wore only a pair of shorts under a skirt made from buffalo’s hide. His feet and torso were completely bare. “No. This is all I need.”
“Don’t come crying to me when you stub your toe.”
“How about I stab you here, right now… Baldie?!”
The moon reflected off Iason’s head with a sparkle. “Hehe, you’re really asking for it, brat.”
Sparks flew between the two, and they would have resumed fighting if it had not been for the return of Kashi and Jero.
“Ya done?” Hektor asked.
“Yes. All that’s left are the fifteen on the boat and around the harbour,” Kashi said.
“So, we can go all out?”
“As much as you want.”
Hektor grinned, his grip tightening around his axe. “Jus’ wat I’ve been waiting fer”
He led them to the docks, where two bandits halted them. “Come back tomorrow,” one of them said. They recognized him as the one Kashi had spoken to earlier. “The captain is not meeting guests right now.”
“Ah, dat so? Well, then…”
He swung his weapon with brute force onto the guard crushing him beneath the blow. Blood burst out from the impact showering him in red. “I guess I should convince him ta meet me den.”
The second bandit tried to let out a scream but Hektor grabbed his throat, choking him, then slammed him onto the ground. He jumped into the air and stomped on the bandit’s face, smashing it in.
The first bandit struggled to crawl away but Hektor bludgeoned him continuously with the axe till he died. He turned to Kashi who watched the slaughter with detached interest.
“Well done, how’s about we go finish dem up?”
They ran through the docks and jumped onto the frigate’s deck. Several of the bandits already awaited their arrival, their weapons gleaming in the moonlight.
“I leave this to you,” Kashi said as he and Kira jumped onto the bridge.
“Hah?!” the six men cried in shock.
“If I see you require aid, I will assist you.”
“Who do you think you are?!” a bandit cried and lunged at the dark elf, but he nimbly dodged and tripped up the pirate. He watched as the bandit stumbled and crashed into the bulwarks.
“If you choose to battle, then I will slaughter you without mercy.” Kashi’s eyes carried in them a threat that rung so true, the bandits abandoned any notion of fighting him.
“We’ll kill you guys first,” the bandits chorused at the remaining men.
“Huhuhu..Ya bastards can try!” Hektor cried.
“Perfect,” Iason said. “I’ve had a lot of pent up rage anyway.” He spun his lance around him as his eyes focused in on his targets.
“You are all ugly. I will grant you the honour of a beautiful death,” Paris said, brandishing a magnificent rapier.
“Irritated,” the twins chorused as they pulled out their swords.
“W-what’s up with these guys?” “They’re not normal!” “Kill them!”
The bandits charged them but the first to land an attack was Iason. He extended his lance, stabbing the closest in the abdomen then charged forward till he impaled the bandit on a wall.
He pulled the weapon free from his victim, butted the attacker then spun around, only to see a bloody pile where the attacker had been. The twins stood there, swords bloodied from dissecting the bandit.
“Uak!” a bandit cried as Paris stabbed him in the shoulder. He pulled out the weapon and flicked it, spraying the blood on the deck. The bandit made to attack him again but he quickly stabbed him in the other shoulder and flicked the blood away again. “Disgusting.”
“I’ll kill y-” The thin blade thrust through the bandit’s throat, shutting him up. The bandit fell to the ground, blood seeping out from his injuries.
Meanwhile Jero parried the blows from his attackers and countered in kind, quickly dispatching them. A body hurtled towards him from the side and he jumped over it, watching as it flew over the deck and into the river.
He looked to the direction it had come from and sighed.
“Orah ora ora ora! Dat ain’ nearly enough!” Hektor shouted as he bashed in the skull of a bandit. The bandits chosen to surround him because he was the least dressed and youngest looking of the lot.
They realised their mistake soon after.
Hektor’s axe smashed through a bandit’s sword, shattering it to bits before slamming the bandit in question onto the mast. A sword pierced through his abdomen and he looked down at it, then over his shoulder at the terrified bandit.
He grabbed the bandit and lifted him by the throat. The others lunged at him but he tossed their comrade at them. He stomped on the deck with all his might and a tremor rippled through it, tripping them.
He crushed them with his axe, then turned around to the bandit he had left on the mast.
The bandit had recovered and charged him with a sword from his fallen comrades. Hektor stomped on the floor again, but this time reeled back as shooting pain ran up his leg. He looked down to see a splinter from the deck cracking from his first stomp.
Off balance, he failed to react in time as the bandit closed in on him. “Shit!”
An arrow tore through the bandit’s head, dragged it down, and then pinned it to the deck. Hektor looked up to Kashi, who nodded. Scowling, he pulled out the sword that was embedded in his belly, wincing at the nasty wound. That’ll leave a scar.
When the last of the bandits were wiped out, Kashi walked down the stairs and rapped on the Captain’s Quarters. “I know you are in there. Come out and face me,” he said.
Kashi suddenly jumped back just as the door blew off its hinges and flipped across the deck.
“You bastards! Do you know who you just fucked with?!” a deep raspy voice threatened as a large man in an exaggerated pirate outfit stepped out of the room.
“I am right to assume you are the captain?”
“That’s right, fool! You will pay for your stupidity!”
“I will grant you fair combat. One-on-one, no interruptions,” Kashi said, ignoring his declarations. “I will also grant you the option to choose your own rules.”
“Hehe.. cocky brat! How do I know your mutt won’t kill me when you’re dead?”
“No worries,” Kashi said, patting Kira to calm her down. “She possesses more honour than you or I ever could.”
“Good then. Hand to hand combat.” Heh, with a weak body like that, killing him would be a cinch!
“As you wish,” Kashi said, removing his weapons.
A light breeze brushed past, caressing his hair. Once it died down, Kashi dashed forward.
“Fool!” the captain roared with laughter as he drew out a metallic object, its barrel pointed at the charging elf.
Kashi had far more time to process his shock than he should have as his world slowed down. He saw the discharge in the gun chamber, watched as the round bullet rotated out of the pistol and tore through the air, distorting the space around it.
This was the second time this had happened, but this time his body could at least move a bit. He bent even lower and the bullet passed harmlessly through his hair. His world accelerated once as he closed in on the surprised captain.
The captain attempted to fire off another shot but Kashi jumped onto his chest, then somersaulted backwards, simultaneously landing a kick to the captain’s chin and knocked the gun into the air.
Once he landed, Kashi kicked the still stunned captain on the side of his head, then kicked the other side, preventing him from falling. After several strikes, he spun around and delivered a rising roundhouse kick to the captain’s chin lifting him into the air.
Kashi raised his arm and caught the gun which had just landed, then pointed it at the captain when he crashed to the ground. “Perish!” he pulled the trigger and a black embodiment of malice tore through the captain’s head.
He looked up from the corpse to the men who had newfound respect in their eyes. “We have a ship. Our next destination’s Merswamp.”
“Ooh!” They cried.
Even Hektor could not suppress the smile that crept up his lips.