The Scorned Vigilants
From Glitchtale Wiki
- 1 The Scorned Vigilants
- 1.1 Chapter 1 - Noble Team
- 1.2 Chapter 2 - Prisoners
- 1.3 Chapter 3 - Whatever It Takes
- 1.4 Chapter 4 - Dogs Among Wolves
- 1.5 Chapter 5 - A Better Place
- 1.6 Chapter 6 - A Killer After All
- 1.7 Chapter 7 - Paradise
- 1.8 Chapter 8 - My Legacy
- 1.9 Chapter 9 - Painless
- 1.10 Chapter 10 - Take Your Time
- 1.11 Chapter 11 - Heroes
- 1.12 Chapter 12 - Someone They Believe In
- 1.13 Chapter 13 - To The End
- 1.14 Chapter 14 - No Old Vigilants
- 1.15 Chapter 15 - The Final Hour
- 1.16 Chapter 16 - Why You?
- 1.17 Chapter 17 - Audience In The Garden
- 1.18 Chapter 18 - Empty
- 1.19 Chapter 19 - Prison
- 1.20 Chapter 20 - The Noble Team
The Scorned Vigilants
A sidestory that takes place in Glitchtale's Prequels, written by Veir.
Chapter 1 - Noble Team
The rain fell heavily around him, battering the dark metal of his mask. The darkness of night and the storm hiding him from the happy people in their homes, obscuring him from the view of those that wouldn’t care to remember that people like him existed. He traveled swiftly, with purpose in his stride. His steps hardly made any sound as he traveled down the cobblestone stairs towards the river-side hovels of Amikeko’s southern great city, Ralo.
After a time of walking along the puddle-laden path, pushing through the wind and rain of the storm, he found the location he had traveled so far to reach. A sturdy wooden door laid inset into the brick and mortar of the wall of the river walkway. The water roiling behind him, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a leather envelope. Inside were the instructions for how to reach the place, as well as a key meant for the door in front of him. He tried the door once, clarifying it was indeed locked, before inserting the key and turning. A heavy metallic shifting could be felt rather than heard. He grabbed the handle and stepped inside.
He squinted against the light that overtook his vision, blinking quickly he cleared his vision of the torch light and made out three other figures. One stood to the right, another rested to the left, and finally one sat directly ahead of him. As his vision cleared he could see all three had on the exact same garments as he did. A thick black cloak and hood, boots, armor plating on the torso, thighs, and shoulders. Last but not least, a dark metal mask covering their face. Reminding each and every one of them that they were not really people. They were not individuals. They were-
“You must be our new number Four. Welcome to the Scorned Vigilants.” spoke up a cheerful sounding man from the right side of the room.
Four got a better glimpse at him now. He appeared to have been throwing his dagger into a target board and judging by the deep gashes in the board, he had been doing this for some time.
“Silence, Two.” Barked a gruff older voice, originating from the man sitting ahead of him. The man laid down the book he was reading and stood, straightening his back and standing tall.
“Your letter. Let me see it.” He ordered.
Four handed the leather envelope over. The man snatched it out of his hands and scanned the paper within quickly.
“Apologies. Can never be too careful in this line of work. This is Noble Team, currently ranked as second best among the Vigilants. As you know we are not to disclose information about ourselves, as such, you are Four from here on out. The man over there is Three.” He indicated over his shoulder to a man sitting quietly in the corner, apparently resting. “He’s Two, as you may have guessed.” Two waved at them, knife in hand. “And I am One. You report to me from now on. Do you understand?” he asked, his stance never wavering from his tall upright position. Four nodded. “Good. Come on, I’ll show you around.”
Four followed the older man, seemingly called One, to a door at the back of the room and into a short stone hallway with a room on either side.
“This is the armory, where you’ll get your standard order ax and daggers. The Company replaces them each day, so don’t worry too much if you lose one. This is the bunks, where you can sleep on extended stays. Any questions?”
Four nodded his head. “No sir.” He answered simply.
“Good. Wel-” Two burst through the door suddenly, interrupting One mid sentence, flapping an envelope in his hand.
“Ayy we got a mission! The newbie can see how it’s done on his first day!” He exclaimed.
“Hm. That’s uncommon. They don’t normally request us so quickly after a replacement arrives.” One lowered his head, apparently in thought.
“Do you get replacements often?” Four asked. One just turned his head slightly towards him. Two chuckled lightly. Neither answered.
“Very well, let’s get a move on. Four, stay in the back. Pay attention to our formations. Watch how we work and learn it. Do that and you might survive long enough to get out of this business.” One ordered, moving forward as Two jumped giddily back into the entrance room.
Four followed, and when he entered Three was already standing by the door, executioner ax in hand. Two reached inside an end table and produced a gauntlet and began strapping it to his left hand. It was dark, and appeared made of stone. Three looked at him as he finished strapping the armor on and winked.
“Alright!” One barked. “Our target today is an Integrity user. The reason we were chosen is that they’re right here in Ralo. He’s ‘wanted alive’ as you know, so do whatever you can there, otherwise, standard procedure. Last spotted at the Old Oyster Inn. Long blue hair, blue eyes, scar on the back of the right hand.”
Four frowned behind his mask at the way he said ‘wanted alive’ but kept quiet.
“Let’s move out.” One stated, opening the door and moving into the storm.
The others followed quickly and quietly, sticking to only the shadows and avoiding any lit paths. The group traveled fast given their stealthy requirements, afterall, one person seeing them could blow their entire operation. The Vigilants weren’t regarded with respect, nor were they treated well. Most only called out insults, some would throw things or even attack them. The commotion of such a scene could cause a target to flee, even in a storm such as this.
Travel was quiet as the group came closer and closer to their destination. The group stopped and gathered in an alley in a building one away from the large inn. One turned to the others and spoke just loud enough for them to hear over the storm.
“Three, Four, and myself will go to the roof here and look through the windows. If we manage to find the target in a room we’ll signal the others. Two, you climb to the roof of the inn and prepare breach and entry.”
The group cleared, Two ran off towards the back of the inn while One, Three, and Four climbed the stone. Four was fit, and strong, but first day on the job and he was already asked to climb a sheer brick wall in a heavy storm? Even being traitless as all Vigilants were, this was more than he expected. Nevertheless, they all managed to reach the roof. On the other side was Two, crouched and moving closer to the edge of the windows of the inn.
Before Four could move towards the windows, One stopped him. “Watch and learn, remember? Stay here and pay attention.” He stated before moving quickly towards the edge of the building and peering into a dark room through the window.
Three raised his hand and motioned towards One and Two before pointing at his window. Four looked inside and saw a young, lithe man with a blue ponytail writing a letter. On his right hand, harder to notice as he wrote quickly, was a large scar. Two placed himself above the window as One and Three crouched even lower against the roof of the neighboring building.
Two grabbed onto the railing of the inn’s roof. Four could visibly see his body tense up as he prepared himself. Without any more warning the masked man flipped himself down and into the window of the inn, crashing into the room. He rolled through the tumble, glass stuck in his cloak all around him as he placed himself in front of the inn’s door, blocking the escape of the integrity mage.
The young man shouted out and bolted for the window, creating a series of glowing blue platforms in mid air as he did so. Two gave chase, rushing towards him and tried to step on the first of the platforms to follow, but his foot phased through the magical object and he fell out of sight.
One raised up, dagger in hand preparing to throw it. The man ran across the sky, making platforms underneath each foot as he did so. Before One could throw his dagger, Three dashed past him, sprinting across the roof towards the Integrity mage. He hit the edge of the building, and leaped. He phased through the man’s platforms, but his hands grabbed onto the man’s waist, pulling him off his platforms. The two plummeted through the air twisting as they did so. A bolt of lightning illuminating the falling duo.
They hit the cobblestone road hard, a cry of pain screaming out, barely muffled by the roar of thunder in the sky. Below them, Three had already placed his knee on the man’s back, and his ax against the man’s neck.
As Four reached the street, he recoiled at the sight of the man’s legs. They were both twisted at unnatural angles, and the red of blood was already staining the knees of his pants.
“My legs! Please! I think they’re broken!” the mage shouted out, agony in his voice.
“Silence, filth! Be lucky that’s all I broke.” spat out Three.
Two walked out from the opposite alley, brushing his coat off and walking briskly towards them. “Looks like I made it just in time!” he shouted cheerfully. Without another word he reeled back his foot and kicked the man in the side of the head.
Four tensed up at the violence towards an injured opponent, but the others just lifted the man up and began carrying him quickly away.
One looked back towards him, “Four! Let’s go. We’re done here.”
The group traveled quickly back towards where they came from, and once they had taken refuge in the shadows closer to their headquarters, One pulled them together again. “I’ll take the target to the destination. You three head on back.”
The other two nodded, so Four followed them back to their riverside hovel. Four sat in a corner gathering his thoughts. Three sat in the opposite corner, while Two stood between them.
“Neither of you are very talkative, are ya? Well, guess it can’t be helped. Most everyone is pretty quiet on their first outing.” The man approached Four and stooped down, lowering his voice. “Three over there? He wasn’t though. On his first night he was roaring for more.”
Four didn’t raise his head. He wondered how he got here, what he did to reach this part of his life, and why was he staying a part of it. After a brief moment, Two stood and walked back away, throwing his knife into the board once more.
Nearly an hour passed before the silence was broken once more. One came into the room, rain still dripping from him as he tossed a bag to each man. Four caught it, and looked inside. In it was more gold than he had ever seen. He gulped and realized why people would do this job. He looked up at Two, who was staring at him through the metal mask they all wore.
“Welcome to Noble Team.” He said, his grin obvious behind the concealment.
Chapter 2 - Prisoners
He stood in front of a wooden door. Through the gaps of the door he could see the sunshine. He reached forth and turned the handle. The door slowly pulled back on its own, revealing a sprawling field before him. Children ran through, their faces indiscernible, though the varying colors of their hair and eyes spoke of the traited and traitless nature of the happily playing children.
“Been a while.” a voice spoke from behind him. A voice he hadn’t heard in a very long time.
Four’s eyes sprung open as the carriage jolted suddenly. His eyes raced to take in his surroundings, but his vision froze when he made eye contact with Three. The two men shared a glance, and for only a moment Four saw compassion, understanding, pain, and sadness in the other man’s gaze, before he looked back down quickly, hiding his eyes behind the mask and hood once more.
Before he could put much thought into it, Two opened a hatch on the roof of the carriage, the light of the sun illuminating his metallic features.
“We’re almost there, remember what we’re looking for newbie?” The man called down from above, his smirk almost audible.
“Yeah. A Bravery mage. The target is an associate of the Integrity user we captured previously. He is most likely on high alert, and will be on the lookout for us.” Four answered back.
“Almost word for word with the old guy, huh? Keep it up, the higher ups like people that listen well.” He snarked back before closing the hatch once more, plunging them into darkness once again.
Silence went on for a moment more, the two men sitting quietly in the darkness as the travel continued. Four almost jumped as Three broke the quiet between them.
“You know the thing you gotta worry about with Bravery mages?” He asked, his voice scratchy and almost hoarse sounding.
“The fire?” Four answered, his words more of a question than a response.
Three nodded his head back and forth before continuing.
“The ferocity.” His eyes met Four’s. “Bravery mages will fight you as long as they can, and they’ll never run. You corner one, you be prepared to kill or you won’t walk away. Met more than a few in my time in Justeco.” He spoke. Curiously, he seemed as if he was about to continue, but instead opted to lower his head once more.
Choosing to not pursue the topic further, Four also sat silently.
Once the carriage finally stopped Four broke out of the silent daze the two had sat in. As he exited the transport he realized the sun had sunk low into the sky, and would soon disappear beyond the horizon, painting the Land of Kindness orange.
“We’ll hoof it from here.” One stated, hoisting himself down from the driver’s seat with gear in hand. “Our target is in the lower class area of eastern Amikeko, located near the coast of Itov Peninsula. We have to stop the target from reaching the border of Kurago, where supposed allies would be waiting for them.”
Four listened carefully, noting that the peninsula was less than a day’s travel on foot from Kurago’s border.
One shot, or they escape then. He thought to himself.
“Newbie, stop daydreaming and move out. We’re not alone in these parts, and I’d rather not get mixed up with them.” Two almost spat the final word.
No one else seemed to question him, or have any hesitation at all, so Four curbed any curiosity on who them might be and simply gathered his gear and began walking.
Perhaps only an hour had passed, before One raised his fist in front of them, signaling a stop. He motioned quickly to a nearby alley, where the group quickly dashed into the shadows. He motioned forward, and the group followed his gaze to a building further ahead. Several Vigilants were escorting bound traitless out of a complex, with more Vigilants swarming into the building right after them.
“Immortals…” seethed Two through gritted teeth.
“Who are Immortals?” Four asked, turning to Three.
“Bastards that get the sickest of us to join them. Anyone can join the Immortals, so their numbers are larger than any other Vigilant group. They number near a hundred traitless, preying on the weak and easily manipulated to join their ranks.” Two answered, not turning his gaze away from the group as they forced the traitless prisoners to their knees.
One quickly interrupted, pointing towards another alley across from them. Several other Vigilants laid in wait, a squad of around five or six watching the movements of the Immortals closely.
“Scavengers.” Three stated quietly.
“Looking to take an easy bounty from the Immortals, no doubt.” One spoke more to himself.
The older man raised his hand to his mask and began rubbing the chin, as one would in deep thought. “We’ll masquerade as Scavengers, and slip away once we’re passed. Hopefully, none tail us to our own objective.” One whispered to his team.
The squad stalked silently around the buildings, watching the Immortals carefully and passing other groups of Vigilants, hiding and watching them patiently. As they snuck further around, an Immortal looked up in their direction. Every single one of them froze in their tracks, using the shadows to hide themselves. The man hefted his ax and walked slowly towards them.
Four looked to One, who held his dagger tightly, his body visibly tensing up from the preparation of sudden movement. The man stepped into their alleyway, his gray eyes peering into the darkness of their hiding places, adjusting to spot them. His gaze traveled over Four, before flicking back to his position. Just as the Immortal began a motion to alert the others, a group of Scavengers appeared from the shadows behind him and dragged him silently into the shadows.
No sound was heard from the direction he went, however only a moment later a Vigilant stepped forth, brushing off his cloak and walking towards the Immortals as though nothing happened.
The group took the moment to sneak further into the alley, disappearing behind a building and appearing further down the road.
Four turned to Two, full of questions.
“Scavengers hunt other groups. They don’t get much work, and as such will most likely starve. They become like this from either repeated failures or lack of work within their skill threshold. Essentially, they steal the rewards of better groups and claim them for themselves. Looks like they were trying to infiltrate the Immortals back there. Should be fun in about an hour or two.” He chuckled to himself.
“And what about the Immortals? Who are they?” Four continued.
“Weak, but many. They use their numbers to take over and surround enemies. Each man only gets a small amount of money from their successes, but the odds of you being a man that dies in that mission is lowered by the amount of men in the mission. Immortals earned their name from their mortality rate.” Two answered, beginning his march once more behind One.
“So they don’t die often?” Four followed after him.
Two laughed out loud briefly, a sharp but quick cackle. “Quite contraire. They have the highest mortality rate. They get their name because none of them ever get old.”
“There are no old Vigilants.” One barked, his gaze staying forward as he marched.
Four grew quiet, as he walked, Three taking stride behind him as the group continued to their objective.
By the time the group reached their destination, dark had just begun to fall. It was a run down area of Amikeko, full of warehouses and old abandoned structures that now belonged to the forlorn and the homeless. A single large building still stood, multiple floors housing many traitless and row-ranked traited. The five-story tower a bastion of a time when Itov Peninsula was a place of wealth and respect.
“Our target will begin moving out soon. We’ll need to work fast to catch them before they escape.” One spoke up, his voice raspy from the trek. “Three, you’re with me. Two, you enter from the back, make sure no one slips by you. Four, you stay outside, wait in the alley near the building and watch the windows. Alert us if he comes out, do your best to keep him in the area.”
Four nodded grimly, moving to his position next to the building, hiding in the darkness of the alley as One and Three ducked into the front doors. Two ran behind the building and disappeared around a corner.
Four stood, his ax in hand, waiting patiently for any sign, every one of his senses on high alert. However, all he heard was silence. Time seemed to stretch on forever as he stood there in the darkness.
Suddenly, the window of the third floor exploded into flames and glass shards. He jumped back quickly, looking up at the window, but saw no one coming through it. Inside he heard the sound of conflict followed by more explosions. Another eruption of fire blew out the second story window. The sound of battle was getting louder, and he could hear it nearly on the other side of the wall he stood on. He watched the window of the first floor carefully, his weapon poised to strike.
Before he could react, however, the brick wall next to him exploded outwards as a massive orange haired man barreled through it, flames covering his fists and colliding into Four. The smaller traitless man was shoved forward from the man’s inertia and force, before colliding with the warehouse wall behind him. The Bravery mage pulled back and looked down worried at the substantially shorter man, saw his mask, and his face contorted into anger once more. He pulled back his flaming fist and threw a blow at him.
Four raised his ax, blocking the blow with the handle of the weapon, which immediately snapped in two, blasting him through the wall behind him. The darkness of the room enveloped him quickly as he hit the floor hard. He skidded to a stop on the stone ground, gasping for breath. The room suddenly lit up, as the Bravery mage stepped inside, his fire illuminating the room.
Heavy metal hooks hung from the ceiling, attached to chain winches. The man sighed heavily and began jogging forward through the building. Four rose quickly to his feet and pulled out his dagger. Taking careful aim, he threw the bladed weapon. It hit the man harshly in the ankle, the blade biting deeply into his flesh. He shouted out in pain, but his fire flared more harshly. He took a combat stance as his eyes danced around the room, looking for his assailant.
Four used the dancing shadows of the man’s fire against him, hiding behind racks and storage deftly, getting closer and closer to the mage. The man turned back around, still scanning for the Vigilant. Four took this opportunity to rush quickly, his ax head still in hand. The mage swung around quickly, his fist flaring with fire as he did so, aimed directly at Four’s head. The traitless man ducked quickly, sliding on his knees and grabbing the dagger still in the man’s ankle, ripping it free as he did so.
The man shouted out in agony, but his fire only burned brighter. He turned back towards him and swung once more. Four twisted, his dagger in hand. The blade sliced across the mage’s arm, drawing a line of crimson within the orange flames. He gasped out and brought his hands back in on himself, his hair lighting up with orange magic for a moment before an intense blast of heat erupted in every direction. The explosion of fire launched Four backwards through the air, his head hitting the blunt end of one of the hooks harshly causing him to swing forward and impact the ground with his mask.
Dazed, he raised himself up. His vision was blurry, but he could make out the quickly growing aura of orange as the mage raced towards him. A burning impact slammed into his mask, the metal heating to a painful degree quickly as the bravery wizard’s fist smashed into him. As he reeled to the side from the blow, the opposite fist flew towards him, smashing him back the other direction. The mage grabbed his cloak, holding him upright as he slammed his fist into the metal mask over and over. The air above the metal waved from the heat, blood oozing out of the mouth of his mask and steaming on the heated metal.
The man looked at him a moment and grunted, and just before he dropped him to the floor, Four’s fist swung up and impacted his eye. The man reeled back, shouting in anger, dropping the Vigilant. As he landed on his fist he rushed forward, his fists swinging violently with no technique or grace. The mage brought his arms up to guard against the assault, before the fists glowed brightly once more and he roared, he dropped his guard and swung a brutal attack towards Four’s head. Four took the opportunity and launched an uppercut. The mage’s fist slammed into his temple just as his fist impacted the bravery wizard’s jaw. Four was launched to the ground as the mage stumbled backwards, his fire flickering as his consciousness jumped in and out.
Four jumped up quickly, leaving a splatter of blood on the ground where his head had impacted the stone flooring. He couldn’t miss his chance, and pushed his body to ignore the pain further and to abuse the strength he was granted from his lack of magic. He leaped onto a storage box and jumped off near the mage, grabbing one of the hooks hanging from the ceiling, pulling the heavy chain it was attached to down and around the mage’s throat. Four placed both feet on the mage’s back, and both hands on opposite sides of the chain and pulled with all of his might. The metal dug deep into the flesh of his hands, and the mage gasped violently for air. He grabbed at the chain, and his magic surged once more sending a flare of intense heat through the metal. Four simply grit his teeth, and pushed through the pain as his hands were scorched.
After what seemed like an eternity, the large wizard dropped to his knees, and gasped out one last time before going silent. Four dropped to the ground, landing hard and gasping out in pain. His vision faded to black not soon after.
Four jumped up quickly, his fists clenched as agony ripped through his arms. He took in his environment quickly. He was back in Noble HQ. His thoughts raced, and his breathing was quick and panicked. Looking at his hands he realized they were carefully and expertly bandaged.
“Oh hey, you’re awake!” Two spoke cheerfully. He walked briskly over to him, laying a cup of water down on a stool next to Four. “Relax, you’re in the barracks. The old man thought you were a goner, hell... I did too to be honest. But Three patched you up.”
One walked into the room. “Took down a bravery mage that was giving all three of us trouble. Not bad. Maybe you are fit for Noble Team after all.” the older Vigilant spoke up, tossing a hefty bag of coins onto the bed next to him.
“Only heard of one other Vigilant do that!” Two proclaimed.
“Who? Are they an Immortal?” Four asked, his voice raspy as he reached for the water.
“Nah, he’s the number one group. Better than all the others. A one man squad called The Prisoner. Man’s a legend among Vigilants. I heard a story once that he killed an entire camp of traited rebels alone.”
“Not likely,” chuckled One. “The same stories would tell you he was part of a traited rebel group once. Worked with a bravery mage himself they say, one of the original wizard councils turned traitor.” the older traitless man laughed a short deep laugh. “Just tall tales of course. Men in our profession will make up any tale they can to give themselves hope.”
“The Prisoner, huh?” Four thought to himself, taking a sip of the water through a small wooden straw.
Maybe we’re all prisoners here. He thought to himself.
Chapter 3 - Whatever It Takes
Four sat in the barracks of the Noble Team HQ, flexing his hands out as he stared at the scars covering them. The new marks from the burning chains adding to the multitude of wounds he’d received in the past. He frowned, remembering the mistreatment people like him had to suffer from, before fitting his gloves back over the exposed flesh.
Just as he did so, he heard a knock at the wooden door of the room. One then opened the door and spoke up.
“Meeting in the main room, new mission came in.” The older man stated simply.
Four nodded and rose to his feet before following the leader of the squad through the stone hallway of their simple hideout. As they entered the main room, Four saw that Two and Three were already waiting for them.
One tossed a letter on the simple wooden table in the center of the room. It was wrapped in the same leather that all messages from higher up came in.
“Our new target is one of a very high priority. A spy inside of the Justeco noble court. They’re a Perseverance trait, though not a very powerful wizard. A slender man in his mid twenties. We’ve been asked to handle this as discreetly as possible.”
A silence was held in the room as the men all thought heavily on what they were being told to do. The quiet trailed on until Four broke it himself.
“So, we’re to capture a Perseverance wizard in the Justeco noble courts?” He asked, waiting to follow the question up with another.
“No,” replied One. “We’re not being asked to capture the target this time...” He stated, his voice grim.
Four stepped away, taken aback. “But we’re not assassins! We’re bounty hunters!”
All three other men stood around the table, looking down at the letter. Suddenly Two turned back towards his gear and began strapping his dagger to his belt. Three brushed past Four and went towards the armory. One simply stood and looked at Four intensely.
“We’re whatever pays us best. Every Vigilant has a reason for taking the job, and most of us don’t have the luxury of placing our morals higher than what we’re fighting for. Now, make a choice.” One stated simply, his deeper voice growing stern as he spoke, handing a dagger to Four.
Four hesitated, his hand hovering as he decided on what was most important to him. Finally, he conceded and took the dagger, placing it into his sheath.
“Good. You might learn to make a living out of this after all.” One said, his voice lightening back up.
“I won’t grow old doing this. I promise you that.” Four stated as he stared at the floor, fists aching from how hard he was clenching them.
“You don’t have to promise me a thing. There are no old Vigilants, remember?” One half-asked as he patted the younger man on the shoulder. He then walked away, gathering his gear himself.
Four shuffled uncomfortably as he watched out the small window of the room they had been supplied. It was a two-story structure, once used as a storehouse for the various grains and seeds that were sold in Justeco’s market now made obsolete by the use of magical transportation. He was set as a look-out, meant to watch for anything that may be suspicious, however, he was having issues seeing much of anything through the rain that permeated the inner most areas of the continent.
Behind him, One sat silently as Two went over the information they had been gathering for the last few days.
The door swung open suddenly, causing all three men to jump suddenly as Three hurriedly rushed inside, closing it behind him.
“The target moves with a heavy guard, fifteen men, all trained traited.” Three stated, defeat in his voice as he brushed the water from his coat. “However, the guard does not follow him inside the palace walls. He goes there every day, from early morn to late afternoon.” he continued.
“Then we have no other choice.” One stated, arms crossed. We’ll have to infiltrate Justeco’s Royal Palace and take him out there.”
All four men stood in silence before Two walked towards One, looking the older man in the eyes as he spoke.
“I was hoping you’d say that.” He said, his grin almost audible behind his mask.
He rushed over to the table he had been sitting at and laid out a large map of the palace grounds.
“The walls are heavy stone with guards that patrol, but there is a sewage grate here.” Two pointed at a section of the map, trailing a small path with his stone gauntlet.
“Are there not bars there to stop people from getting in this way?” Four asked.
“Leave those to me.” Three responded.
“Looks like we got an entrance. Move carefully and avoid detection. We’ll try to get him as silently as we can.” One stated. “We’ll move in the morning, as he enters the palace.”
Four sat back, a strange numbness in his hands. Not only was he about to kill a man, he was going to do it inside of one of the royal palaces. He closed his fists, certain that something would go wrong.
Morning came faster than it had ever seemed to before. The squad had already begun moving towards the walls, carefully avoiding the gaze of any that would spot them. The cold of the falling rain crept through Four’s cloak, but the cover of the sunless day would help them achieve their goal.
As they reached the sewage tunnel that Two spoke of, Four noticed there were in fact thick metal bars covering the entrance. The squad moved quickly, reaching the tunnel and hunkering down against it. Dirty grime and water came up to Four’s waist, leaving him half-submerged in filth. He steeled his resolve as far as he could, and tried to focus on the task at hand.
Three moved to the metal bars and gripped one with both hands, leaning his body over and placing a boot on the bar next to it. The man groaned and heaved, pulling with all of his might. Four watched as the metal bent slowly apart, impressed with the man’s raw strength. Once the bars had been pulled away enough for them to enter, they squeezed through one at a time, Two in the lead and Three at the rear. Four could barely see Two beyond One, who carried a large pack on his back.
The squad trekked for what felt forever, crouched down in muck that stung the nostrils. Two suddenly stopped, and pushed upwards on what looked like a regular stone brick. However, this brick shifted easily. He lifted it and pushed it to the side before climbing through. He reached his arm back down and helped One pull himself up, before doing the same for Four.
“Openings for servants to reach the tunnels.” He said, his voice almost condescending.
Once Three had come up, Two shifted the brick back into place. Four turned and took in his environment. It was darkly lit, only a single torch burning in the area. It looked like some sort of servants area or store room, which would fit well with what Two told him. Further on, he could see a more brightly lit stairway.
“Alright everyone, boots off. Be quick and quiet.” One whispered to the group.
In unison, the group took off their boots, putting on a replacement pair handed out by One, pulled from his pack. Once the group had replaced their boots, they hid them away to the side, along with the pack that One had brought. Two carefully marked the large brick that led to their escape route with a small piece of chalk.
“Alright, let’s move.” One whispered, motioning towards the stairs before sneaking forward himself. The rest of the group followed close behind.
As the leader reached the stairs he looked around the corner carefully, seeing nothing he motioned for Two, who rapidly ascended towards the opening at the top. The man looked around the area before motioning for the others to follow. The stairwell led to a long exquisite looking hallway, paintings and small end tables with ornaments adorned the path laid out by an expensive looking red rug. Two motioned to follow, and quickly slipped along the wall.
The squad formed a line, keeping behind Two as he led them through a series of pathways, each decorated in the same manner before coming to a series of doors.
“These are guest quarters. I’d wager he spends most of his time in one of these.” He told the others.
“Alright, go by each door and check for light from within. Go.” One ordered.
The group moved quickly, each man moving towards an entrance. Three took the first door, followed by One, then Two, then Four took the last. Light came from between the cracks of the door, and he held up his thumb, signaling the others that someone was within. He noticed Three holding up the same symbol.
One looked between the two, and motioned towards Three first. The squad regrouped around him as One placed his hand on the door knob. He held his fingers out and began counting them down, on his signal the group burst into the room, finding only a female traitless maid cleaning the luxury bedroom.
Three rushed towards her, placing his hand over her mouth and signaling his hand to shush her. Her eyes were filled with terror as she looked at the squad of men, her body paralyzed by fear. One pointed at Three and then to the floor before indicating towards the other door. Three nodded, holding the woman as One, Two, and Four left the room and hurriedly moved towards the other.
One grabbed the handle, and repeated the process he had earlier. He barged in quickly as his countdown finished, only to be met with a wooden chair smashing across his mask. A slender darker skinned man with purple hair sprinted past them as One fell backwards against them. He dashed to the right, leaving the hallway towards a pair of large double doors.
Two got to his feet first and sprinted towards him as Four helped One to his feet.
“Should we get Three?” Four asked, unsure on if they should charge headfirst into the castle.
“No time!” One angrily whispered, before sprinting after the others.
One and Four burst into the room, to see Two with his hands raised. In front of him stood a sight none of them expected to see. An instantly recognizable man, the prince of Justeco and leader of the Wizard Council, Roy Goldburn, stood with a shimmering bow of magic, arrow drawn aimed right at Two’s heart. Behind him cowered the target.
“You two! Next to your friend!” As they obeyed, the justice wizard continued. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m not about to let it continue.” The prince stated with a loud confidence. “Go get the guards. I’ll keep these three here.” He ordered the perseverance mage.
As the target passed by them, Four noticed a smile on his face. All four watched him reach the set of doors and open it, only for an ax to come around the corner and embed itself into his chest. Three walked forward, shoving the man away as his ax came loose. The man fell hard onto the ground, blood gushing out of his wound.
Roy froze, his expression filled with shock. “I always thought they’d come for me…” the man uttered quietly, his voice growing softer as he spoke. Three walked forward, stepping on the man’s chest as he moved towards the others in the room, pushing the last breath out of him. Four looked closely at Three’s eyes, which almost gleamed behind his mask as he looked at Roy.
“NO!” roared the prince, snapping out of his daze. A magical arrow launched through the air, growing in size nearly to that of a log. Three jumped out of the way quickly, rolling across the ground as the magical projectile ripped the double doors off their hinges behind him.
The group moved on reflex, splitting up across the room quickly and coming at the wizard from both sides. Three ran straight forward, as Four ran behind him and to the right of Roy. One and Two both came from directions opposite of him.
Roy aimed his bow upwards and fired an arrow, which split into four projectiles in midair, curving towards each one of them as it did so. Four jumped to the side, slamming into the wall and continued running. An arrow hit Three in the center of his chest, but he ignored it and kept sprinting forward. One swung his ax behind Two, destroying the arrow aimed for him as Two blocked the arrow aimed for One with his stone gauntlet, which seemed to melt into the armor.
The arrow in Three’s chest dissipated, causing blood to gush out of the now open wound. But this only drove his crazed fixation as he hunkered down and sprinted faster towards the prince. He closed quickly on Roy, and swung his ax forward. The young mage jumped to the side, avoiding the blade and getting out of the path of Three, but only to be placed directly in the path of Four who lowered his shoulder and bashed into the justice wizard. Roy flipped with the impact, going over Four’s back and firing an arrow at One as he did so, only for the projectile to be absorbed by Two’s gauntlet once more.
One and Two both came up on Roy, swinging their axes down in unison just as he landed from his fall. The mage brought his bow up, blocking both blades, but his knees buckled beneath him. A projectile appeared on the bow, and quickly lit up bright yellow as the wizard pushed more magic into it. It fired out, exploding forward with the force of a cannon. One and Two were both thrown backwards as the arrow shot towards the ceiling, before suddenly changing direction mid flight and heading straight towards Three.
Three raised his ax and swung it at the bright projectile, meeting it just before it hit him and causing an explosion of force. Three was blasted away, his ax broken in his hands as blood continued to pour from the hole in his chest. Four jumped towards Roy, throwing a punch with his left as he held his ax tightly in his right. The prince spun and avoided the blow, smashing the bow into the back of Four’s head and firing a small projectile at the same time, catching the traitless man’s hood and shoving his face into the ground.
One and Two both charged back towards Roy, swinging their weapons one after the other. Roy blocked the attack from One, which aimed for his neck, and jumped over the attack from Two aimed for his legs. The ax swept underneath him, but before he could react Two smashed his stone gauntlet into Roy’s face, blood spattering out of his nose as he fell backwards. He landed hard on his shoulders, the air knocked out of his lungs from the impact.
The arrow holding Four down dissipated, allowing him to raise himself up. His face stung, and he realized that the arrow had cut straight through his mask and grazed his cheek. He turned back towards the others, and saw One, Two, and Three all converging on Roy. The prince was on the ground and rolled to the side, pointing his bow at the floor. A bright projectile appeared, and only continued to grow brighter. The wizard’s arm trembled with the effort, before he finally loosed the arrow pointed directly down.
The floor exploded under him, launching everyone across the room in a shower of rubble. Four rolled along the floor and covered his head in his hands. When he raised his eyes he saw Three against the wall in front of him, breathing heavily. He quickly glanced around the room, spotting One and Two raise themselves out of a pile of stone in the opposite corner. Roy also stood up, breathing heavily and covered in quickly forming bruises and cuts.
Discreet huh? Four thought to himself, picking himself up to go help Three.
Just as Four reached the injured traitless, he paused. He heard what sounded like heavy footsteps, and they were approaching rapidly from the other side of the wall. Just as he took notice, the bricks exploded as the second prince of the Goldburn lineage burst through.
Shane looked around quickly, blades forming along his arms as he did so. Spotting the injured Roy, he turned towards the traitless men in front of him as Four helped Three to his feet.
The Vigilants regrouped, standing together and facing the duo of mages.
“What do we do?” Four asked, fighting down the surge of panic. In the distance the sound of clanking armor and marching steps became audible.
“We get out, that’s what!” One spat.
“Well, how do we get out!?” Four yelled back.
“Like this.” Two answered, before sprinting at Shane.
Roy aimed his bow, and the shimmer of an arrow appeared before glowing bright yellow again, signaling the charge of a powerful blast. Shane raised his arms, and charged to meet his attacker.
Two dropped his ax on the ground, running at him barehanded. Just as Roy loosed his arrow, Two raised his gauntlet, the stone absorbing the full blast of the charged projectile into itself.
Shane tried to stop, and shouted out “Arnicite!” just as Two reached him, swinging a blow with the now cracked, rocky glove. The attack made contact with Shane’s jaw, causing the arnicite glove to split apart. A bright flash of light blinded Four, quickly followed by total blackness.
Four came in and out of consciousness. One moment being carried by Three through the tunnel they had entered from. The next being in their hideout, he glanced over at Two, squirming in agony on the table covered in maps and parchment. Blood gushed out of what was left of his arm, the hand missing entirely. Darkness overtook him once more.
He came to as their carriage hit a stone in the road. Three sat next to him, his armor and cloak removed and a heavy bandage wrapped around his chest. “Careful, you took a nasty hit to the head back there.”
Four reached up, and felt the soft bandages wrapped around the top of his skull. He peered towards the other end of the carriage and saw Two, laying with what looked like Three’s cloak draped over him.
Four rose to a sitting position, fighting back a wave of dizziness. “Well, that could have gone better.” He said in a raspy voice.
The two sat in silence for a moment before Four looked over towards Three and followed his gaze. He was staring intently at Two’s missing arm, now covered in blood soaked bandages.
Three broke the silence suddenly, speaking without taking his eyes off of the wound on his comrade.
“I used to be a gladiator, fighting in the pits. I was born there, the offspring of two slaves who fought every day. One day they didn’t come back from their fight. I was raised in the pits. And when I got free I didn’t know anything but fighting. It was an easy choice for me to be a Vigilant. I figured I’d fight until I died, and I’d take any traited I could with me.” He spoke, his voice wavering as he did so.
He paused, “But I didn’t want you guys to get hurt for that…” he finished. Four sat next to him, listening to his story.
“We all are Vigilants for a reason.” Four answered. “We just try to push through this life. Push as hard as we can, and we give whatever it takes to make it to the next day and protect what we love.”
They sat in silence next to each other. Neither one speaking the rest of the journey.
Chapter 4 - Dogs Among Wolves
One and Four sat in the barracks of Noble Team Headquarters, both silent as they listened to the repetitive thunks of Two throwing his dagger against the target board in the other room. As soon as he was capable of doing so, the man had begun practicing his dagger tossing with his remaining arm.
One and Four sat in silence from the grim reminder of their own mortality. That every mission was one of life-endangering peril. Three had taken it the hardest. He stayed only long enough to nurse the wounds of the injured before leaving once more.
Both men stood quickly to their feet when they heard the main door open. Rushing back to the entrance room, they saw Three entering with an all too familiar leather packaged envelope.
“This was lying in front of the door.” He said, voice grim.
Two had stopped in mid throw, and now sheathed his dagger and came to join the group. All four men stood around the envelope, none ready to read its contents. Finally, One reached for the letter and began reading it aloud.
“Last mission considered success. Take out traited bandit group encamped in the Svearitov Gulf.” He read.
“That’s along the eastern coast, yeah? Right along the border between Amikeko and Kurago?” Three asked.
“That’s right..” One answered before continuing. “Search for information about traitless arms dealer. Retrieving evidence is imperative.” he finished.
The group stood in silence once more, before Two spoke up.
“A whole camp of traited, huh? Guess we’ll find out if we’re as good as The Prisoner or not..”
No one responded to his remark, every man dreading the task ahead for their own reasons.
The boat rocked heavily along the waves as One struggled to pull the vessel under his command. The group had decided to travel to the Itov Peninsula and approach by sea into the Svearitov Gulf to their south, presuming it was the least guarded way into the bandit camp’s territory.
Three held on tightly to the edge of the boat, his posture clearly fighting back wave after wave of nausea. Two stood near the front, his hand holding tightly onto the rail along the bow. Meanwhile Four stood near One, eyes fixed along the coast, looking for any sign of the camp they were looking for.
It didn’t take long for him to spot a walled-off section along the shore, large logs packed tightly to form a barricade around a few buildings. The group decided to take the boat further along and trek back to the fort’s position.
After pulling the seacraft onto the shore and tying it off, Noble Team took up their axes and proceeded down the beach. Four mentioned the footprints their heavy boots left in the sand, but Two brushed away his concerns, stating how there shouldn’t be anyone within a day’s ride from here.
The fort was an old structure, made as a sort of vault during an old forgotten war. It had been repurposed by the bandits into a fortress, Two continued. Four listened quietly as he spoke, worrying heavily about the task at hand. If he was to kill an entire camp of traited, was he any better than the bandits themselves?
He was snapped out of his thoughts as One held up his hand and motioned towards nearby shrubbery, deeper into the coast. The group moved quickly behind the greenery, before One pulled aside the heavy leaves of a large fern. In front of them stood the walls of the fort, heavy logs pulled from the forest and placed deep into the earth to form a barrier to intruders. The occupants clearly didn’t want anyone in.
Peering along the top of the wall the group noticed several guard towers. However, each one was completely empty. Only birds flew around them, squawking loudly. Three pointed towards the closest tower.
“Wonder what that’s about… No lookout…” He spoke quietly.
“Perhaps a change in guard. We should use the opportunity.” One answered quickly, moving through the brush and crouch-running towards the walls.
The rest followed quickly behind, all of them laid up closely against the wood. One motioned towards the water, letting Two lead the way. The group inched closely towards the sea, finding an opening where the land met the water. One log was planted at an angle here, most likely to keep its balance from the tide.
Three went in first, followed by Four, then One, and Two last. Inside there was a large smooth-stone complex, most likely the bunker that the fort was built around, as well as several smaller wooden structures. They moved quickly towards one of the wooden buildings, careful to not let any prying eyes spot them.
The group pressed closely against the walls, One peering around the corner while Three stood on the tips of his toes to look inside a window.
“I don’t see anyone.” Three whispered.
“Me neither…” One replied.
Silence blanketed the group, broken only by the gentle sound of the waves and the squawking of the sea birds.
“Split up and search the camp quickly. If you spot anyone, report back immediately.” One ordered.
Without a word, every member went in different directions. Four decided to check the nearest guard tower and use it for a bird’s eye view of the camp. He grabbed the railings and pulled himself up quickly and quietly, rushing to the top so that no one would have the chance to see him climbing.
As he pulled himself into the small booth at the top, the first thing he noticed was the smell. A man’s body laid in front of him, their neck virtually gone from whatever wound had initially landed on them. Birds fluttered all around it, eager for a free meal. Four nearly fell back down the ladder from the shock, catching himself only at the last moment. He slid himself down quickly, eager to alert the others.
He rushed towards the center of the camp, where One and Two were already waiting.
“There was a body in the guard tower. They had their throat slit.” He spat out as he reached the others.
One only nodded as Two stood in silence. “I also found bodies in the building closest to the main gate.” Three stated as he came around the corner. “Someone beat us here.” he grumbled.
“We still need to find evidence of an arms dealer.” One reminded the group, turning towards the bunker. “And if I had to hide important documentation I know where I’d keep it.”
The group walked towards the shelter, but as they approached the entrance they could tell something was wrong. The heavy metal door of the bunker had been cut at the hinges, leaving it hanging lopsided on the frame.
One looked back at the group, before stepping into the darkness of the bunker. Two followed immediately after, followed by Three and finally Four. The first thing Four heard as he entered was the splash, followed quickly by liquid seeping into his boot. As his eyes adjusted to the new lighting, he realized it was a pool of blood, seeping from a pair of corpses behind the door. Large lacerations covered their bodies. Four moved forward quickly, stepping out of the crimson liquid.
The group stared at the bodies for a moment, before turning back towards the path in front of them. They moved ahead, going down a staircase descending deeper into the earth.
“If I remember right, there should be one central hallway leading towards the commander’s quarters, with barracks, a mess hall, and several other rooms branching off.” Two spoke quietly.
“You heard him then, keep moving forward.” One ordered the others.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they were met with a long corridor. A single torch burned in the center of the hallway, the shadows dancing from the burning flame revealing several doorways into various rooms in the bunker. The hallway was fairly wide, but still too narrow to feel comfortable with swinging an ax in, nevertheless, the group pushed on.
As they approached the torch, One removed it from its sconce and handed it to Four. “Hold this.” He ordered. Four did as instructed, and took the light source.
The group progressed, realizing that the corridor took a sharp left turn up ahead. One signaled Four to move to the back of the group, so as to avoid alerting anyone ahead of them with the light. The Vigilants moved quietly towards the corner, all of them deathly quiet as one peered around the bend.
As the older traitless looked ahead, Four felt a chill go up his spine. A warmth on the back of his neck, almost as if someone had exhaled right behind him. He turned quickly, looking into nothing but darkness leading all the way back to the stairwell they came from. He squinted hard, the heat of the torch causing the air around the flame to shimmer.
Then the shimmer moved and the torch went dark.
Chaos erupted as the group all jumped backwards simultaneously, each placing their ax in front of them and ready for the fight. But the fight never came. As they looked ahead they saw nothing but the darkness they had just come from.
“What happened??” One asked.
“I don’t know! I thought I felt something so I turned around and then the torch went out!” Four responded.
The group stood there for a moment, the only sound audible to them was their own rapid breathing. Finally, One spoke up.
“Move further down the corridor. We can’t fight well here.” he stated simply.
Having no objections, the group simultaneously moved together down the path, listening carefully for any signs of an enemy. They moved slowly, their footsteps echoing quietly off of the stone floor beneath them. Suddenly, One stopped and looked behind them. The group all turned to follow his gaze, but still saw nothing. Grunting, he turned back ahead and kept walking forward.
One pulled Four close, and whispered into his ear. “There’s a fifth set of footsteps walking behind us. On my mark, attack.” He then pushed Four away, and pulled Three close. He whispered to him as well, before doing the same to Two.
The group continued on for a bit, Four gripped his ax tightly, the wood of the handle digging into his gloves. Their footsteps echoed across the walls as they walked, and since One had pointed it out, Four also now heard the sound of another set of feet directly behind the group. Whoever was responsible was being very careful, their steps timed to match Three, who was standing at the back of the group.
Just as the group reached a pair of double doors in the wall next to them, One turned quickly hurling his dagger as he did so. “Now!!” He shouted.
The group responded in an instant, all three of them turning with their weapon in hand and swinging violently in the area behind them. The dagger flew through the air, and a shimmer moved through the shadows to dodge it. Four aimed his ax at the ghostly form, his weapon slamming downwards as fast as he could will it. But he was only met with the blade meeting the stone floor, the shock of metal on rock jolting upwards through his arms. Two and Three met with similar fates. All four of them stood quietly scanning the darkness behind them.
“There!” Three shouted, pointing towards the double doors next to them. The telltale purple glow of Perseverance magic shown from under the entrance. The group wasted no time, and exploded into the room.
Four blinked quickly, as his eyes adjusted to the bright purple light inside. As he adjusted to the sudden change in illumination, he realized that the light was emanating from a multitude of blades, dozens of them each impaled in a different person. Men and women laid sprawled throughout the room, the mess hall if he had to guess, each one stabbed multiple times by the shining purple spikes.
Looking in horror, they turned to leave back into the hallway, only for the doors to slam shut in front of them. A loud metallic clang came from the other side as Three charged at the doors. He rammed them full force, but they didn’t budge.
“What is this?!” Three shouted. “This clearly isn’t other Vigilants! So who’s doing this?!”
Four wanted to calm his friend, but out of the corner of his eye he saw one of the blades wiggle. He turned his attention to it, and at the last moment dove down to the ground as the blades converged from everywhere towards the doors.
The blades slammed into the metal of the door, piercing it as they did so. Four covered his head with his hands as he laid out on the ground. One dove backwards into the corner, as Three tackled Two to the ground.
Finally, the blades stopped flying. Four stood to his feet, checking on his companions as he did so. One was fine, but Three had multiple gashes across his back where he protected Two. As One and Four helped Three up, Two stood and approached him.
“Why did you do that?” Two asked, his voice conflicted.
“Take it as my apology.” Three answered, nodding towards Two’s missing hand.
Two raised his arm up, looking at the bandages on his forearm where the glove had exploded. He turned his back towards the others and started walking to the other side of the room as One and Four used Three’s cloak as a makeshift bandage for his torso.
“That’s no ordinary Perseverance mage.” One stated.
“Yeah. I thought Perseverance mages were supposed to be up close fighters…” Four replied.
“Mhm… That leaves me with only one idea…” One continued.
“It’s a dual traited.” Three answered for him, in between pained gasps.
The two continued bandaging their comrade in silence, and as they finished they all moved towards Two, who was standing near a door on the opposite side of the mess hall.
“This should lead to the kitchen. Through here we can most likely get to some secondary tunnels.” He called out.
“How do you know so much about this place?” Four asked him, as One took Three’s arm over his shoulder.
“Let’s just say I used to have to play around in places like this… A lot…” Two responded.
Four decided to not push the subject, and the group continued on with Two as their guide. They went through the back door, and sure enough it led to a kitchen of some sort. Moving forward they reached another door at the back leading into a skinnier tunnel than the last. As Two looked both ways he motioned left.
“The commander’s quarters should be that direction.” He called back. “But…” he trailed off. To the left, the glow of a torch was visible.
“Move as quietly as we can, get the info on the arms dealer, and get out. How’s that plan sound?” One half-ordered half-asked.
“No objections from me.” Two simply stated, before moving forward quietly.
The traitless men approached the corner that turned back into the primary corridor and looked down the path towards the light. At the end of the hallway was an open door into what looked like some sort of office. Inside of it was the torch, hovering in midair. Slowly, the door closed plunging the group into darkness once more.
They stood there quietly, listening for the sound of footsteps or any sign of their invisible assailant. Hearing nothing, Two spoke up.
“If they wanted us dead I feel like we’d already be dead. Let’s just go get the stuff and leave.”
“What if it’s a trap?” Four asked.
“Then I’ll be the one to spring it.” Two responded as he shrugged. He walked briskly down the hallway, the others following behind him.
As he reached the door, he turned to the others. “Ready?” he asked. The men nodded, their weapons in hand. Two held his ax in between his left arm and torso as he opened the door, revealing a man sitting in a regal chair behind an expensive looking wooden desk. He shifted through multiple papers quickly as the men stared at him.
He was a lithe man, his hair was black save for the long bangs covering the left side of his face which gave away the dual-traited nature of him. The hairs of the bangs started purple, but became blue about halfway down. A long scar ran down the right side of his face, going across his eye. His expression was one of boredom as he flipped through the documents. He didn’t even look at the men as they came into the room, their weapons raised.
“Who are you?” One demanded.
“Someone that’s been watching you closely since your boat first came into view out at sea. Someone that’s been judging your reaction speeds, your durability, your movements, and your arsenal.” The man stood up briskly, dropping the files on the desk in front of him. “Someone that doesn’t think you’d be worth his time finishing and one that wasn’t hired to kill you.” He spoke as he walked around the desk.
The Vigilants all lined up, their weapons at the ready as he came closer to them.
“Stop me if you want, but know that if you try this place will become a tomb for more than just traited.” He threatened, as he walked towards them slowly.
The traitless men all stood with their weapons at the ready, their hands gripping the wooden handles of their axes tightly as sweat dripped from their brows. Each one was unable to move as the dual-traited walked by them. Each one was petrified by the aura this man exuded. As he stepped out the door, he spoke once more.
“The documents you want are on the desk. Empties like yourselves should stay home. Just more dogs among wolves.” He stated, nodding his head as the door closed behind him.
Chapter 5 - A Better Place
This chapter was a collaboration between Veir and Devour.
Four sat alone in the Noble Team H.Q. His thoughts racing back to their previous mission over and over. The dual-traited man walking past them. Each man unable to do anything as he did so. Each one frozen in place as he insulted them. Frozen by fear.
Three was the first to move. He roared and lashed out, his ax hitting the door over and over. One just watched as he did so, nodding along to the sounds of the metal ripping through the wood. Two distracted himself away, looking through the documentation on the desk. Four though, had been frozen in place. Like a fawn looking into the eyes of a hunter.
Each man reacted differently, because each man knew that they were powerless there. If they had moved, they would have died. None of them could explain it, but they all knew that the man they had encountered could have killed them whenever he wanted.
If he had to explain it, it was the perfect representation of what it meant to be traitless for Four. You were powerless in front of overwhelming power. The plaything of something stronger than you. One accepted it in silent defeat, Two distracting himself with work, Three in rage, and Four in the only way he knew how.
By swallowing his resolve, and moving on. He couldn’t stop here, and he couldn’t let fear stop him either. He stood up quickly, and exited the barracks. Going to the main room, he saw Two struggling to stitch up the wounds on Three’s back. The cuts brought about by Perseverance magic making magical healing impossible, but that was meaningless to the Vigilants. They didn’t have healers or magical salvation waiting for them at home. You either survived the wounds you took or you died. This was their lives.
“Hey, wanna help me out here?” Two asked, motioning with the remainder of his left arm.
“Sure.” Four replied, approaching the duo and taking the needle from Two.
As Two guided him on the first-aid, Three made no sound. He simply laid belly down, his mask hiding all emotion from his face. But as Four finished suturing Three shuddered. At first, Four was worried he had hurt the larger man, but then he heard it. The man who had revealed his past as a gladiator was now laying in front of him quietly crying to himself.
It was easy enough to hear how hard he was struggling to stop, to suppress it all, but they had all been there at least once. This is what it meant to be like them. To be an Empty. As strong as Three was, he was still traitless, deemed useless by society. Two and Four simply stood there, neither one judged the man as both understood perfectly well. Four simply put his hand on Three’s shoulder, squeezing gently.
He wanted to say it’d be alright. But he didn’t like to lie, and he couldn’t promise anything. After a moment more Three composed himself and rose up. He covered his body back in the garb of the Vigilant uniform and hid his wounds under the thick leather of his cloak. He would make it. Not because he wanted to, but because they had to.
Life moved on. You moved with it, ready or not, or you died.
One came and left many times over the next few days. But one morning, while the others ate breakfast together in silence, their leader stepped through the front door. He looked grim. Without a word being said, everyone knew that this was the day he had another mission for them. They would move with it, or they would die.
Four wondered if One had tried to argue that they needed more time to recover, or if he was equally powerless as the rest of them. One didn't explain, and he didn't mention the injustice of it all, though it was clear through the tone of his voice when he spoke. He simply did what he had to.
"Our documents helped them find the traitless arms dealer's location. Our next job is to go there and take them out."
Them? Their lives were being puppeteered by people he didn't even know. Out loud he said, "Dead or alive?"
One didn't answer. Through his mask, his stern silence said everything.
"Not feeling very empty lately." Three muttered. "They got our souls full of blood."
"Poor bastard. Wonder what this traitless guy did to get Noble Team sent after them?" Two stood sprightly back to his feet. He yanked his knife free and shoved it into its sheath. "No rest for the best, eh? When do we leave?"
"They want the mission completed in a week." Right now, then. Four thought as they spoke. "We'll take a wagon bringing hay from the farmlands to take us there."
"Our own ride? That's unusual." Two mused.
"Yeah." He answered noncommittally. His voice was a bit gruff as he pointed at Three and said, "The carriage only has room for three. You're staying in the back. Get whatever rest you can."
Three was silent for a while, and then he grunted and nodded once, grateful. With the wounds on his back, sitting in a bumpy carriage would have been agonizing. The bedding of the hay would even allow him to sleep in relative comfort.
Small and powerless as they were in this world made of magic, there were some things— little things that meant the world—that One could do to help them after all.
The Hark District was a trading hub that had sprung up somewhere near the joined borders of Determino, Amikeko and Integreco. The roads here were built well, but as they went further the Vigilants encountered more and more people coming and going from the city. Many of them were merchants, wealthy and rounded from a life of comfort. All of them were Traited.
No one saw them, huddled together in the passenger's enclosure behind where a man Four had never met in his life drove the horses onwards. He hadn't even seen his face. Did he work for the same people who hired the Vigilants? He didn't know.
He looked over at One and Two, both comfortable in their silence. While he had guesses of his own, he knew no more about the people he had fought and bled with than he did of the faceless rider. Every day that passed, it was a bit harder to not ask why they shouldn't take off their masks, just for a moment, so he could remember them if they died. So that if something happened to him, he wouldn't be remembered as another nameless, faceless, forgotten iron mask. Tossed onto the pile of the others who came before him.
But he didn't.
Eventually, their wagon reached the Hark District. Four felt his seat lurch to a stop as they reached the gates, and suspiciously, the guards let them through without the slightest check of the wagon or its contents.
Another while later, a rough fist knocked thrice on their enclosure. Their helper didn't speak, but that was their signal it was time to leave. They had taken a turn off the main road at some point. Now they were in a part of the city that had seen better days, and a wagon like theirs couldn't stay long.
One rose to his feet with a tired grunt and clambered into the back to alert Three. Two and Four leapt out, stretching their aching legs. A moment passed, then the other two rejoined them and they ducked into the shadows. Their faceless helper left without so much as a wave or a look their way. Probably for the best. A voice said in the back of Four's mind. One that had grown louder since he began as a Vigilant. Traited as he was, he'd only look at us like everyone else does.
"The black market controls this part of the city. We're headed away from all the honest folks. We'll find their hideout further in the slums." One explained.
"A black market? In Integreco?" Four couldn't help but ask.
Three grunted in affirmation. "You should have seen the pits. The nobles that'd show up there. City officials, too. Not to watch, but... the black market pays. The city'll find a way to turn a blind eye."
"And then they get Noble Team sent after them. Must have stepped out of line." Two said sardonically.
"Or they were doing too well." Four mused. He wondered if this arm's dealer's lack of magic had anything to do with it. "At least we know it's a criminal this time."
"Take what you can get." One beckoned with a hand, signalling for the group to stay close behind him. "Time for us to go."
"Heh. Heheh…" Two couldn't help but laugh as they turned the corner and saw what awaited them. "Guys, I think this is it."
The building had once been a food storage, or maybe a large granary. Whatever it was, it had been taken and turned into something else. The surrounding walls were entirely made of metal, featureless and cold. Short but cruel spikes jutted from the top of it, promising danger to any who tried to enter from above. It looked like a small castle forged of iron, and it did not want visitors.
"Hardly inconspicuous, don'tcha think?" Two looked on, admiring the menacing building. "At least it's not flammable."
"How are we getting in?" Four asked, already checking the building for exit and entry points. One almost seemed like he was smiling from behind his mask, but it wasn't very happy.
"From the roof. Over the spikes."
One after another, they were handed long ropes to tie to the bottom of their axes, secured above the wide bump of the pommel. One demonstrated as he heaved his axe back with both arms, then with incredible strength he tossed the axe up, and the head of the weapon hooked around the edge of the roof.
It took a few tries, but Four secured his. He pulled tight and made sure it wouldn't slip. Three refused to accept anyone's help, even though the pain must have been horrible. Two hefted the length of the handle into his elbow and threw his almost just as well.
Climbing a rope was easy. Four lifted himself up, soon pulling ahead of the others, and by the time he was breathing hard he was met by endless rows of spikes the size of his hand. He stuck one hand between them, gripping the other end of the wall and feeling the heat of the sun-baked metal, and braced himself for the most difficult part of all.
Walking his legs up as high as he could, Four blew out a breath, gripped his hands tight and then kicked off. For a precarious moment, he hung in a full handstand, looking down into the spikes that were inches from his face. Less than inches.
Then he swung down onto the other side, panting hard from the effort. He quickly came around and helped pull the others up safely.
Two clapped his shoulder as he passed, impressed. Three simply heaved up over the wall and knelt to the floor, his face pale white. After they knew Two and Three wouldn't fall, One began climbing and was pulled up by Two and Four working together. They retrieved their axes and crouched low, hiding their profiles from anyone on the ground, and they were guided by One to a hatch built into the roof.
At the count of three, they swung the doors open silently and peered inside. It revealed an empty staircase, and no sources of light except for the scattered trails of light streaming in from above. One grunted, barely audible, then beckoned everyone to come close. "We want to find the basement. They specifically told me this, so I'm telling you now, too. Do not split up. It's too dangerous."
"Did they tell you why?" Two asked quietly.
"They don't know why. That's just how the last team died... except the survivor. If you could call him that."
"Oh." Four muttered. He felt cold as he stared into the swallowing darkness, imagining what might be waiting for them inside. Once upon a time, he might have thought they were just unlucky. That won't be me. He had learned, and knew with terrible clarity just how easily that could have been them. How easily one or more of them could soon be badly hurt or worse.
They moved on. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to.
With a bit of work, One lit a torch from his pack and lit the path ahead of them. There wasn't much to see but for the almost eerily featureless walls of the building's corridors, each curve identical to the last. They followed it around the bend of a wide circular chasm that may have once been a storage unit. Four couldn't guess what it was used for, now.
After a time, they reached a grey wooden door that led inside. One stopped them, silently handed his torch to Four, and pushed the door as gently as he could. The hinges shrieked. His eyes showed One was grimacing as he continued to push through. The horrible sound bounced off the empty corridors inside and came back like a tortured scream.
Unsettled by the noise, the Vigilants peered inside and into the darkness. It seemed to be empty. Four had kept his hand carrying the torch in the hallway to muffle their presence. Asking One's permission with a look, the man nodded back and brought the torch to illuminate the shadows.
It illuminated nothing. Just a stone pillar that rose up to the roof. Four turned his eyes to the floor to find an exit to the ground floor.
Instead, he found cruelty.
In the center of the room, a traited man in noble clothing sat chained with his arms bound behind him so they stretched painfully around the circular support. Hanging from above was a canister of murky water with a metal straw, like those he'd seen in rodent's cages. It was close enough to reach, but not without stretching even further in their already-grotesque position. Even in the dark, Four could see dark circles under his eyes, and dried blood from their nostrils.
The shadows from the torch flickered. Half-conscious as he was, the traited man noticed the movement, then the light, then they strained their head up to see where it was coming from. By the time he'd looked, Four and the others had already ducked out of view. It was too late to do anything about the torch. One hissed out curses from under his mask.
"Hello?" The traited man croaked out into the shadows. There was fear in his voice, but also desperate hope. "Who's there? I know you're up there. Somewhere." As he talked, Four glanced silently at One again, not sure what to do. Two had gone quiet and still. Three was shaking his head no. Don't do a thing.
"Help me. Please..!" They cried out again. "PLEASE!"
It was a horrible thing. A traited noble, beaten and tied and left to painfully starve to death. Four had never seen anything like this before. Not to the rich merchants who lived in safety and comfort.
In this moment, while the man continued to cry out for help, no one else seemed to know what to do. Not well enough to say it out loud. "We have to go down there if we want to reach the ground floor." Four said. The noble's cries gave them cover to speak.
"I know that." One muttered, clearly stressed. "The damned fool is screaming that we're here to anyone listening."
"Kill him to shut him up." Three said coldly. Two looked at him and shrugged, not disagreeing.
"Are we no better than that?" Four hissed. "The damage is already done. Would we kill him out of spite?"
Half to his surprise, no one told him off. His words were met with silence.
It was a unique thing, this moment, where what Four said next would decide if this man would live or die. But even he didn't know which choice he would make. He only knew they had no choice but to go forward.
The man was still calling out for them when Noble Team silently dropped to the ground floor, behind him, taking note of the thin layer of dark sand covering the floor. Four had his axe in his hand. He had two choices of where he could swing it.
He raised the weapon before swiftly driving it forward. The blade tore through the man’s bindings, the ropes falling limp on either side of the split. Four noticed a thin wire lash outwards before yanking downwards and under the pillar.
The man gasped as he fell from his restraints. Three moved towards him, motioning for silence as he did so. Four stared at where the wire had gone, now noticing a small hole at the base of the pillar. Focusing intensely on it, he barely noticed a quiet shifting. In an instant all of Four’s instincts screamed to get away. His body reacted before his mind did, and he pulled away just as a large net burst up from the sand, capturing One, Two, Three.
Taken by surprise, One dropped his torch as he was carried up. It tumbled to the ground and touched the black sand on the floor. To Four's horror, the material immediately caught fire, A wave of fire exploded in all directions and Four was nearly pushed off his feet from the sudden and intense blast of heat. As soon as the powder had caught fire, the central pillar started sinking into the floor, millimeter by millimeter.
From the opening in the roof, even more of the black powder began to pour from the widening gap, feeding the blaze that roared around them. It was allowed to be fed much larger, Four's brothers in arms would be cooked alive in the net.
Not thinking, Four leapt up and barely grasped the bottom of the swinging net. He dangled precariously for a second, then managed to grab on and pull himself up, bit by bit, avoiding the tangled limbs of the others as they yelled in collective confusion. Out of the mess, he was only able to hear Three screaming at him to get out alive. This was all Four's fault--he'd rather that he died trying to save them.
At the top, he'd be able to try and cut the net apart with his dagger. But the moment he reached it he knew he'd have little chance with the thickness of the ropes. He needed a serrated blade, or enough space to swing his axe, or--
There was a bright flash of yellow from below, then something shot past Four's head. A spinning circular saw-blade cut through the ropes and kept going, embedding into the wall, then fading away like dust.
In the moment that gravity stopped working, Four was able to see the traited prisoner, one side of his face covered in burns, on his knees with one hand outstretched. The glowing magic in his eye faded away and disappeared. Then Four and the others hit the ground painfully.
"EVERYBODY OUT!" One roared, wasting no time. He bounded to his feet, tore Three free from the tangles of the net, and pulled Two out with him and through the growing flames. Four followed--and simply lifted the traited man up from beneath his arms, half-dragging him through the bottled hell that this room had become. His cloak and armor protected his body from the flames, but the poor man had no such protection.
Noble Team burst through the door and fell to the floor, panting hard, choking from the smoke and glad to be alive. Two's cloak was on fire at the edges. He wearily sat up and batted it out with a gloved hand. One crawled over to where Four was, his eyes down at the noble they had… saved. The burned man let out a tired wheeze.
"Sorry… sorry." He managed to say. Four was surprised they could speak at all, in that condition. Then they said it again, three more times.
"Shut the hell up." Three muttered from the side.
"Eh… sorry for what? I wanna hear." Two raised his chin, curious what a noble would have to say to the likes of them. Not just traitless--but scorned Vigilants.
"Because--this happened because you tried to help me. And because… I'm not going to live much longer anyways. I'm sorry that I..." The man opened his one good eye, and Four could see the last bits of yellow shining there, about to disappear. "I thought all of you were bad."
The light disappeared, and the man stopped moving.
Two looked away, strangely quiet. One mumbled something--a verse meant to let the dead pass on. Three was already on his feet and staring out into the darkness beyond. Not able to stamp out his conflicted feelings of frustration, Four got up and joined him. Better than dwelling on how much of that man's life had been spent hating people like them. Better than listening to the voice that told him he shouldn't care that they had died.
"Have another torch?" Three asked him.
"Yeah." Four mumbled. He unslung his pack and reached in to get it. He opened his mouth, then after an awkward pause began with, "I'm--"
"Don't say it. You couldn't have known what would happen."
"Oh. Yeah…" Four said again. "Yeah. I guess you're right."
Two strolled up from behind them. "This arms dealer sure is something, huh? Wouldn't have got us like that if we just let 'em starve. They made that trap specially to catch people tryin' to help."
"Do you think there's more out there?" Four asked as One sauntered back to the front of the line. They looked back at him.
"Damn right there is. No one makes a trap that elaborate without a sick obsession." One reached out a hand. "Hand over the torch. I'm on point."
Four obliged. After a moment, the torch blazed again and a tiny beacon of light came into the room. The place they had entered was enormous, so large that it must have made up most of the building. Their torch only lit the few curved walls around them, catching the dim light before being swallowed by the shadows a few meters up.
The walls, Four realized, were all storage units like the one they barely escaped from alive. Four in total. Was there someone trapped in each one, waiting either to starve or burn to death if someone tried to save them?
He could feel the heat radiating from the metal walls they'd almost been trapped inside. Maybe it was better not to know.
Without a word, they descended deeper into the building. They came across a wooden door that led out of the storage room and into somewhere else, and after a tense minute of searching for traps the best they could, One told the others to stand aside and slowly opened the door.
The hinges groaned. Nothing happened. Four could barely hear it from where he was, but he swore One let out a sigh of relief.
The hallways here were wide enough that the four of them could walk in a row, if they wanted. It felt like they had appeared in an abandoned castle, or some kind of dungeon. Not an arm's dealer's base of operations. When they reached a point where the paths split, left or right, they slowed to a crawl and looked to One for a sign that he knew where to go next.
The wire One stepped into was too thin to be seen by torchlight. Before anyone knew what was happening, there was a terrifying boom and an explosion of black powder, then an axe's head the size of a carriage exploded outwards, swinging from around the corner at waist height.
Four was the first to react, and he grabbed One by the back of his cloak and tore him off his feet. The massive blade whipped at his clothing as it passed by overhead, then crashed into the wall behind them hard enough that the earth shook and dust fell down around them from the roof.
"Two? Three?" Four dared to rise to his hands and knees, looking behind him. He hadn't had enough time to save anyone else.
Sprawled out on his back, Two rose a shaky thumbs-up into the air. Three had been far enough in the back that the axe had missed him. He grabbed Two's arm and helped him to his feet. Everyone was shaken, but still in one piece.
"At least we know we're going the right way." Two said cheerfully. "Lesson learned. Hallways bad."
"We got lucky. Won't happen twice. We're going to check twice as carefully when we reach the next door." One looked left, then right, then continued down in the direction the axe had come from.
The door into the next part of the building emerged from the shadows. Four took a deep breath and stayed close, already searching the door for anything unusual.
It made him miss the plate a few steps further back. It sank into the floor beneath One's weight with a thunk. There was a bright flash of light and another explosion, and then the bottom corner of the door exploded into wooden splinters.
One's leg was knocked out from beneath him. He hit the floor, cursing and grunting with muffled pain. Four yelled out and could only watch, feeling sick.
His eyes tight, One rolled around with great difficulty and raised his torch. An iron rod glinted in the light, having shot cleanly into his leg. Three was already kneeling on the floor and inspecting the wound.
"It's not bleeding. Much. But you're going to bleed to death if you try to pull it out." He told him evenly. "If you walk on it you're gonna wish you were dead."
"We're gonna wish we were dead if we don't--" One sucked a deep breath through his teeth. "Finish the mission." He started to try and climb to his feet, but Three pressed a hand to his shoulder, keeping him down.
"We'll go. But not with you." He said sternly. "If you were standing before, you won't be once the swelling starts." One hissed another breath, then swore loudly, knowing Three was right. He leaned back onto the floor.
"Go." Their leader ordered them.
Two and Three both nodded, turning towards the door in front of them. Four looked on a moment longer, before following the others. As they approached the door, Three placed himself in front of it. Taking a moment, the larger man inhaled sharply and swung the door open.
In front of them, roughly six meters away, was a woman. Light red hair hung down in a ponytail as she tugged harshly on a thick rope. Large burn scars covered the entire right side of her face, and her frame was hidden by a large trench coat. Upon spotting the Vigilants, the woman’s eyes, one brown and the other gray, hardened immediately. She grunted loudly as she let go of the rope, a large cage on the ceiling fell open, spewing out a multitude of small metallic orbs. As the balls made contact with the ground they exploded into flashes of blinding white.
Four raised his arm to shield his vision from the explosions of light, barely seeing the woman start sprinting away as he did so.
“Go!” He roared out as he took off at full speed after her.
The heavy footsteps of Three resounded right behind him, followed by the lighter steps of Two. The trio sprinted after the woman, who ran up a set of stairs into a hallway dimly lit by a series of windows trailing along the left wall. Four leapt up, grabbing onto the railing of the stair’s walkway above and hoisting himself upwards. Three stomped upwards, taking the steps two at a time.
The group entered the hallway, and continued their chase. The woman stopped at a wooden door at the end of the hall, and turned towards them as she pulled a rope. The wall to their right dropped away to reveal several cylinders of metal, each one pointing a dark opening in their direction. Suddenly, the tubes exploded, launching out extreme concussive force in their direction.
Three was hit first, turning in the air as his back slammed into the metal wall between the window panes. Two wasn’t as lucky, his shout fading through the sound of broken glass as he smashed through the window and out of view. Four dove forward, letting the force push him ahead a bit further.
He smashed into the ground, the metal of his mask slamming into his chin as he impacted the floor. Letting no time go to waste, he pushed himself onward, tearing forward off the floor towards the woman.
Her brows jumped in surprise as Four came barreling towards her. Quickly, she turned into the door behind her, slamming it shut just as the Vigilant reached her. He quickly grabbed the handle, but the door didn’t budge. He shoved his shoulder into it, but the barricade held firm.
“Move!” Boomed a heavy voice behind him.
Four turned just in time to see Three charging forward, his shoulder down. Four jumped out of the way quickly, the larger man slamming into the door and splintering the wood apart as he did. Quickly, the smaller traitless man followed his comrade.
Inside the duo met face to face with the woman, who held a small object pointed directly at Three. The item looked like a thin piece of wood with metal attached to it, curving down into a handle near the back end. The woman clicked a metal piece on top back, and pulled the trigger on the bottom.
An explosion happened at the tip of the weapon, the bright light catching Four off guard as the sound echoed loudly. A small metal ball ripped through the air at lightning speeds, slamming into Three’s chest armor before tearing through into the flesh beneath. The larger man stumbled back, dropping his ax on the ground as he reached towards the hole in his chest, before falling backwards onto the ground.
Four looked down in shock at his friend, who laid on the ground gasping. Suddenly, Three screamed out in pain, bringing Four back to his senses. Rage filled him, and he looked at the woman once more. She had already turned her back, taking off through a workshop behind her, full of tables with each one having one of the weapons on top of it.
Four dashed forward, chasing after her. As she ran the woman grabbed at the various weapons around her, before turning to fire another shot at the Vigilant chasing her. Just before she fired, Four twisted, anticipating the attack. The projectile would travel faster than he could dodge, and so he would try to dodge preemptively. Just as he hoped, the metallic orb raced through the air where he had just been.
With each missed blast, he would gain more ground on her. Until finally, the woman grabbed two of the tools. Turning both firearms towards him, she steadied her breathing and aimed. She fired the first one, which Four dodged as he did the others, but she tracked his movement and fired again. The metal ball slammed into Four’s shoulder, throwing him in a spiral as he lost his footing. He stumbled and slammed harshly into one of the workshop tables, breaking it apart around him.
The woman wasted no time, and turned to keep running. As she got further and further away, Four raised himself from the debris of the workspace, aiming one of the same weapons the woman had just shot him with. He clicked back the top metal part, just as she had done, and pulled the trigger. The metal orb tore through the air before embedding itself in the woman’s leg. She screamed out as she hit the ground.
Four clicked again, but no orb came out. Tossing the now-spent weapon to the ground, he ran towards her once more as she picked herself up, her back to him. Four reached out, diving for her to tackle her back to the floor, only for her to turn at that moment, holding two new firearms in each hand and pointing them directly at the Vigilant.
The sound of the shots tore through the air as Four slammed into her. Something grazed across the side of his mask, and even so it felt like he'd been hit by a hammer. Another impact struck him somewhere, but the adrenaline coursing through his veins was so intense that he barely felt it. The two carried forward, then crashed into a wall, and for a moment they scuffled on their feet, close and brutally personal. Four could see with terrible clarity the vicious, desperate snarl on the woman's face, trying to get away. She tried to knee him between the legs but he twisted to the side. She tried harder and managed to shove him off for a brief moment, hobbling away and towards a door within the sides of the curved hallways around them.
With a wordless yell, Four tore back after her, grabbed her, and they both went crashing through the doors.
They entered a hellscape. Before he realized where they had ended up, Four was rushing over a balcony built into the side of the wall. He was given a terrifying view of swirling, writhing flames down below them. This was the storage room he and the others had entered from before. The fire was still raging.
The two of them hit a metal guard rail at the edge of the precipice, causing the woman to fall backwards so that half of her hung over the edge and over the roaring flames. Four's weight and his grip on her shoulders was the only thing that kept her from tumbling off and into the fire.
Instead of trying to get away, she now gripped Four's cloak with everything she had. All he had to do was tear her hands from him and let her fall. He saw naked terror in her eyes, and she turned her head to look down at the fiery death that reached for her.
Four's heart thudded painfully. The side facing him was the side of her face covered in burn scars. He could see the way they disappeared into the neckline of her jacket, and he could guess that the burns continued all the way down. A survivor of being half burned alive.
About to face that gruesome death a second time.
The adrenaline and fury inside him evaporated into smoke.
Ever since the beginning, Four wasn't like the others. He couldn't numb himself like One did, saying that murder was an unavoidable part of their way of life. He couldn't fill his heart with hatred, or convince himself these people deserved to die.
It was like that poor traited noble. Trying to judge if they deserved to have their life spared made Four feel sick. Like flipping a switch to turn off the part of himself that was human, reduced to something that could toss a terrified woman to burn to death in agony and tell himself I did the right thing. He couldn't do that, and if he ever could, he would have been twisted into something that wasn't him anymore, and something he despised.
Four grabbed the woman by the collar of her jacket, and with a heave he pulled her back from the railing and into safety. They both collapsed onto the floor. The pain of his injuries began to flood back to him, unmuted by the intensity of a fight for life and death. He could hear the woman coughing weakly from the smoke.
"Hah…" The woman managed to rise to her hands and knees. She coughed again. "I guess... I'm wanted alive."
"No." Was all Four could say right now. His mind was still a jumbled mess of thoughts and emotions. Though he was ready to catch her if she tried running again.
Instead, she seemed to understand the predicament she was in, and didn't move. "Why, then?"
Why was what Four could not put into words. "You've been burned enough already." He said, just to give an answer. Her eyes turned and looked at the large axe strapped to Four's back. The Vigilant shook his head. "No, I'm not going to kill you."
"Ah." The woman smiled ruefully, suddenly understanding. She leaned closer, looking into the eyes of his mask. "I know why you couldn't do it, Vigilant. You and I are the same."
"I'm not anything like you." Four said forcefully.
"Are we not? We are both empty souls, doing what we must to survive in a world that wishes we would die or disappear. Unless you chose to be a Vigilant?"
He met her gaze for a moment, then looked away. "No."
Hers didn't leave him. Her voice became softer. "Do you think I chose this life because it's what I wanted to become?"
Another pause. And again, he said, "No." The woman half-smiled at that, turning herself around to sit down and lean back against her arms. If she was bothered by the pain of the wound in her leg, she didn't show it. "We don't decide who we hunt. Someone else does. They stay safe in whatever castle or manor they live in, and we're the ones who die."
"Yes. It feels powerless, doesn't it?" She murmured. "I am changing that."
Four looked back at her. "What...? This is how the world works. How is such a thing even possible?"
The woman chuckled. She looked down at her leg, and Four followed it. He saw the bloody wound just above her ankle. "You did that. You're not a Justice wizard, yet you wielded the power of one." She leaned closer, her eyes twinkling. "Can you imagine it? The fear in the eyes of the traited when they see one of us with the power to deal the same violence they can do to us? Imagine their disbelief, their disgust, when they learn the weak and defenseless souls they wished to crush beneath their heels can kill them from a hundred yards. That is a world I can see in our future." She smiled. "Revenge."
The Vigilant felt cold. When he imagined that world, he saw fear and death and war. He saw corpses in the streets, and rulers locked behind their walls while their soldiers fought and common traited lost their homes to torches and gunfire, terrified of the very same people they used to oppress.
Even scarier was the part of him that liked it.
With a pained hiss, the woman rose to one foot, leaning against the wall. Four stood up as well, alarmed. "What are you doing?" He asked.
"Calm yourself. I'm a smart woman. I'll pretend I died. Let them think I perished in the fire." She told him. "I want to give you something. Consider it a gift. A returned favor."
Slowly and painfully, she led him to a room full of barrels, where the air smelled like that terrifying black powder. The sight of it set Four on edge. He couldn't take his eyes off the torches giving light to the dark room.
Hobbling, she went to the back of the room and past tall shelves that sagged under the weight of different powders and ingredients. She went past what looked like an alchemist's table, sucked in a breath as she heaved a barrel of powder out of the way, and flipped a hidden switch that caused a portion of the wall to swing open and reveal a secret compartment behind the stone. Four saw a great number of strange red sticks and corded wires. She took a large handful of the strange red substance and binded it all together.
"You know what I am, Vigilant." She said from across the room. "Knowing that, what does it make you feel when you see someone like me among so many devices made to unleash explosions and fire? Knowing that I fully intend to use it to hurt those who hurt us?"
He didn't answer, because he didn't know.
With slow stumbling steps, the woman approached him again and stuck out her hand, offering the device to him. "This is an explosive. A dozen times more powerful than if you broke Bravery arnicite of the same size. Set fire to the cord and run."
Stunned, Four simply stared at the device and the incredible destructive power such a small thing apparently contained.
"You say you aren't like me. But if you didn't have something in your soul that didn't agree with me, even just a spark, you would have killed me when you had the chance." When Four didn't move his hand, she shoved the wired pack into his palm and closed over it with his other arm. When she let go, Four kept the thing in his grip. The woman smiled evilly, approving.
"Perhaps that spark will light something up one day. Like the end of this cord." She said. "And when it does... tell them that Jevai sent you."
Jevai gave him directions to find the safe path out of her stronghold. Then he was left to travel the distance himself, exhausted and still bleeding.
It felt like an eternity, but Four eventually burst out into the sun, half-blinded even by the afternoon's light. His mind in a fog, he simply began to circle the building's perimeter, looking for the others.
"Hey!" He recognized Two's voice calling out to him. Four whirled to the source of the noise and saw the man running out to meet him. "We were starting to think you died. Guess we should have known better, eh? What happened back there?"
Two had said we. Four looked over his shoulder and saw One sitting against the wall, looking his way. Three was lying on his back. Dread gripped him when he couldn't tell if he was still alive from this far away.
"We're all alive. I was able to grab the window before I fell." Two explained. "Cut my hand pretty good. My shoulder didn't like it, either."
"And Three?" Four mumbled. He heard Two suck in a breath from behind his mask.
"He's alive. I've seen bulls easier to bring down than him. But I don't know how we're gonna fix him. Never seen anything like the hole he's got in his chest. He's not getting better."
Four finally made it over to the other Vigilants, and he sat down heavily. Everyone was broken and defeated. They were staring at him, waiting for answers. They had all almost died, and yet Four had let Jevai live. He couldn't tell the truth, even to them.
"I chased her back to the room her trap set on fire. She fell." He told them.
"Ironic." He heard One say. "A cruel death, at the hands of her own trap she built to deliver that death to others." For a moment, they all sat together in silence, except for the quiet wheezing of Three. This didn't feel like a victory. Even if Four had been telling the truth, the blood they had spent was far too great for him to call this anything but a terrible defeat.
The lie just made it worse.
"Alright. We can't stay here." One grunted. "We're just waiting to die. We need to treat our wounds or that's exactly what will happen. Two and Four, you're the only ones who can help carry Three."
Four didn't know how they were going to get back home, half-dragging Three with an arm over each man's shoulder. Beaten and bleeding, they carried forward because it was the only direction they knew how to go. They barely bothered to stick to the shadows. They were too tired to really care.
With every moment that passed, it felt like Three's gasps became a little more shallow. Whenever Four looked down, he could see the way the blood from his wounds had gone down from his shoulder and pooled at the hip of his leggings, soaking them down to his knee. He was starting to feel heavier himself.
"Hello...?" A scared woman's voice suddenly asked. Four and Two acted on instinct, turning together to protect Three behind them. One painfully stood on his legs in front of them and pointed his dagger at her, gasping, but ready to fight.
A traited woman, her eyes and hair showing her Kindness trait, gasped and took a step back. But she didn't run away. "You people look badly hurt. You need help." She said the last part almost like it was a question. Like she expected them to answer it with a no. One stayed silent, pointing his weapon at her.
"I don't want to hurt you." Taking a tentative step closer, the girl's eyes and hair glowed green.
"We don't have any money." One finally said.
"I don't want it." She answered. "You're hurt. I just want you to live."
With another step, she was close enough that the tip of One's dagger was almost at her nose. She raised a hand gently and placed it on his arm, and green magic ran down the length of his armor. Four could tell he'd tried to hide it, but One gave a sigh of relief as some of his pain abated. "My family lives in this area. We try to help traitless people who are hurt and can't find help anywhere else." Her worried eyes glanced over the four of them, assessing their injuries. "I'm not strong enough to heal all four of you alone. Please come with me."
Please. She made it sound like she would be distraught if they died. She didn't even know them. Four's mind struggled to process it.
Reluctantly, One lowered his weapon. Four had never received the help of a traited mage before. He could only imagine how the others were feeling. But it's not like they had a choice. "Help Three first." One growled at her.
The girl and her family were the only reason they all lived.
Four had been given a soft bed to lay on, and they had all been fed. He and all the others were never asked to remove their masks, but they'd been asked to leave their weapons, which were taken and kept somewhere else.
He could see Three asleep on the other side of the room, breathing deep breaths. One was able to walk on both his feet like nothing had happened. They'd helped Four, too, and even as the magic was closing his wounds he just couldn't understand why it was happening. Not once had they asked for anything. They only gave. Healing, but also smiles. Reassuring, comforting, even happy, and for no reason except to be glad four total strangers—four Vigilants—would live to see another day.
This was a world that felt ruled by cruelty and hatred. Everywhere he looked, he saw the results of that hatred, not just towards people like him but towards anyone too weak to fight back. He saw rulers hungry for power, hungry for blood, spending their lives like currency to accomplish goals they decided they wanted on a whim. Four wanted to hate this world back for what it had done to him.
He also just wanted to be happy. When he looked over at his resting brothers in arms, he felt like he belonged. He knew they would fight to the death to protect him in the same way he would do the same for them. It was a nice feeling. If he allowed himself to imagine what he wanted with this life, it would only be more of that.
He didn't want to be a pawn in a world of thousands of shadowy players, where his strength and his capacity for violence was what let him survive. Deep inside, he wanted to feel like he was making the world a better place. He wanted to be able to smile.
"I made you dinner." The woman who had found them on the streets came in through the door. In her hands was a steaming bowl of porridge, which she set on the counter next to Four. Her shining green eyes belonged to the traited. Four had been ready to believe every single one of them hated him for who he was. But when he looked back at her, he didn't see hatred or disgust. He saw kindness and quiet relief. "I'm glad you're all okay." She told him with a smile. She meant it.
It was the look of someone glad they were making the world a better place.
Chapter 6 - A Killer After All
It had been weeks since the incident with Jevai. When One returned from reporting on the mission he handed them the gold like normal, but the higher ups weren’t pleased with the lack of evidence that she had been killed. They hadn’t gotten a mission since.
Four sat in the main room of Noble Team headquarters, his head laying in his arms on a small table. Two sat not far from him, balancing his dagger on his fingertips. Three had fully recovered from his wounds, time healing what the Kindness mages couldn’t. One had been gone for hours, trying to find out why they hadn’t been receiving work.
Four wondered how home was faring. He hoped the money he had been sending was enough, now that he wasn’t receiving anymore. Hopefully, they'll get a new contract soon…
As if on cue, One came through the door.
“We’re back in business, boys!” He exclaimed, brandishing a familiar leather envelope.
As the older traitless walked into the room, he opened the letter and tossed it’s empty container on the table. Each man listened eagerly as he began to read.
“New target in suburbs of Coraar. One Kindness mage wearing an eyepatch over left eye. Wanted dead or alive...” He trailed off.
“Coraar? As in our neighboring city? Just east of here?” Two asked.
“It says one more thing...” One continued without answering. “‘Public bounty’... they’re giving us low tier missions…” He finished, his voice growing grim.
“Oh…” Two responded, his arm slowly lowering to his side.
“What does that mean?” Four asked, noticing the visible discomfort in each other man’s body language.
“It means this isn’t a secret mission. The other teams are most likely moving in on this one…” Three answered.
“I see...” Four responded, his voice going quiet. He thought back to his previous encounter with the other teams, and understood a part of the trouble the others now anticipated.
The ride to Coraar had been a solemn one. A fittingly silent journey for a grim mission. The squad disembarked from their transport just as they reached the outlying buildings of Coraar’s suburbs.
Before the cart could even pull away, the group had already vanished, disappearing into the shadows of the alleys of the crowded city. They moved swiftly and as silently as shadows, drifting from one section of the poverty-ridden area to the next.
Their targets were supposed to be in a two-story building. Two traitless men and a Kindness woman. As they traveled, Four thought back to the woman that had saved them less than a month ago. He grit his teeth, and his hands tightened on the shaft of his axe.
Two was leading them, seemingly more aware of the goings-on of the low income areas of Amikeko. All of them were quiet as could be, listening for even the slightest sound to alert them of a threat.
Two halted at an intersection ahead, holding up his arm as he looked around the corner to his left. The other men waited patiently behind him before he turned back.
“Alright. This is the first place I thought of when we got the letter. If my guesses are right, this is where our targets will be.” He finished, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
Four snuck to the corner, looking for himself. At the end of the road was a two story house, the paint chipped with several boards hanging loose. Many of the windows were broken as well as holes dotting the roof. The most glaring feature was the large amount of graffiti covering the structure. The words made Four’s stomach lurch.
“What is this place?” Four asked, pulling back into the shadows of the alley.
“A doctor for the traitless… some high class Kindness mage that left the bigger city of Coraar and came out here to help them...” Two responded, looking down as he spoke. “Only Kindness mage I know with an eyepatch in this town…”
“What?!” Four roared, turning back towards the group. He stood upright, rage dumping adrenaline into his body. “We can’t kill a doctor! It’s just someone helping! Someone like the family that helped us!”
“We’re Vigilants.” One answered, his voice a low growl and his face looking down. “We do whatever it is we have to.”
“No. No we can’t. We can’t do this!” Four retaliated, his voice rising to a shout. “Do you not care?” He screamed.
Suddenly, One’s hand shot forward and grabbed the scruff of Four’s cloak. The older man lifted him off the ground with one hand, slamming his back into the wall of the building next to them.
“Of course I care, damnit!” The older Vigilant roared. “But we’re Vigilants, and we do what we have to do to survive. If we fail this mission we’ll never rise back to where we were. Missions where we don’t have to make these choices! My loyalty is to Noble Team, and completing this mission is what will keep Noble Team safe.” He finished as his voice choked. He lowered the younger man back to the ground and released his grip.
He turned away quickly, looking out towards the street ahead. Two approached behind him, placing his hand on One’s shoulder.
“Noble Team, move out.” The older man robotically ordered.
“Come on.” Two signaled towards Three and Four, slipping out into the street.
Three nodded towards Four, before following after. Four gripped his axe tightly, his thoughts lingering heavily on those unrelated to the mission ahead. He wanted to scream, to run away and leave this place behind, but he didn’t. He gripped his weapon so hard it hurt, and followed after. As he dashed around the corner, his eyes dashed to One. The older man had his hood pulled up, but Four could swear that he saw tears dropping from within.
Four noticed Two waiting for them at the corner of the building ahead, Three just reaching him.
“Alright, Four, you and I will climb up and go in through the second story window. Three will stand guard by the front door and make sure no one gets out.” He ordered, before noticing Four looking towards the ground.
“Hey!” He shouted, snapping his fingers to get the newest Vigilant’s attention. “Remember, dead or alive. If you don’t want to kill then do your best to catch them. Okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah I’ll do that.” Four answered, composing himself. “What about One?”
“He’ll join up later.” Two responded, stretching his arm out. “Alright. Let’s move Nobles.”
The two smaller men grabbed onto the side of the building, reaching for whatever handholds they could as they hefted themselves up. Three crouched low, and moved towards the front of the building. Four reached the window first and peeked within. Spotting no one, he pushed on the broken window gently. Finding it unlocked, he lifted it before slipping within.
After helping Two in, he took his first look around. Inside was what once appeared to be a bedroom of some sort. Old mattresses on weathered metal frames on each side of the room. It was only now that Four noticed a number of rocks in the room, each one roughly the size of his own fist, and all of them scattered around where the windows were. Four’s lips tightened as he looked back at Two.
The one-armed traitless walked towards the door, moving carefully to avoid the rocks and broken glass that littered the floor of the sleeping space. Four followed close behind, listening out for any sounds from within the dwelling. The duo made it to the door and listened closely. Satisfied that nothing was behind the immediate obstacle, Two turned the handle and looked within before swinging the door open fully.
Immediately in front of them was another door, muffled voices came from within. To their right were two more sets of doors, as well as the stairs from the first floor. A small walkway with a broken wooden railing was all that lined the opposite of the two doors on the second floor next to them.
Two crept out into the walkway, pressing his ear against the door opposite of them. He pulled back, and motioned for Four to approach before standing up and switching his axe into his hand. He bounced on his feet once before slamming his foot into the door, kicking it off its hinges.
Inside, a man and woman both jumped to their feet from a desk in the back of the room. The man had gray hair and eyes, while the woman had green hair with a black eyepatch covering her left eye as her right swirled with green magic. Without hesitation, Two sprinted forward. He swung his axe violently, the wooden handle slamming into the neck of the traitless man while the axe head embedded itself in the wall. The man coughed violently, pinned against the wall as he was. Green energy appeared at the base of the woman’s feet, but just as it did so, Two leapt into the air and shot both feet out, hitting her directly in the collarbone. She shot backwards into the wall, slamming into it with enough force to cause the doors in the walkway to rattle.
Two, on the ground still, lashed out and grabbed the traitless man’s legs and pulled him off balance. The man kicked out as he was held by the axe handle around his neck, sputtering out and reaching for the weapon to pull it free. In his panic, he failed to get a good hold and moments later went limp. Two stood back to his feet and grabbed his axe, wrenching it free and letting the man fall to the floor. He glanced at Four for a moment, breathing heavily before turning back to the Kindness mage gasping for breath at the back of the room.
“Where’s Faenya?!” He demanded, holding the head of the axe against her neck.
Four and the mage both looked at him, confused.
Two moved the axe towards her face, lifting the eyepatch with the metal head of the weapon. Underneath a healthy green eye stared back at them full of fear.
“I’ll only ask one more time. Where’s Faenya?!?” He roared.
“I’m here…” A heavily muffled voice answered from below the desk.
Four moved to the desk and lifted it, pulling it to the side to reveal a trapdoor underneath. When he lifted it he saw a thin elderly woman inside, an eyepatch covering her left eye as her green right looked up at him. In her expression there was no fear, but a sorrowful pity that seemed to stare directly into his empty soul.
He reached his hand out to her, and helped her out of the cubby that she was hiding in.
“How did you know...?” She asked, looking over at Two.
He didn’t answer, instead he pushed his axe against the other woman’s neck once more.
“How did you know we were coming?” He demanded, his voice stern.
“We saw you, when you left inner Coraar…” She answered, her gaze going down as she held her hands together.
Two lowered his weapon slowly as his gaze drifted to meet Four’s.
“We didn’t come from inner Coraar…” He quietly responded.
His grip visibly tightened as he lowered his weapon. “If you want to live, you’ll follow me.” He ordered.
The woman nodded. “Shiela, hide in the cubby won’t you?” She asked, looking at the fake Kindness mage. Without waiting for a response, she followed quickly after Two.
Two and the woman supposedly named Faenya quickly went down the stairs to the first floor as Four heard Three yell from outside. The newest Vigilant ran to the window of the room they originally entered from and looked out into the street ahead of them. The sun was just beginning to set, casting an orange light across the entire street before them. Five men walked down the road towards the building they were in, axes in hand and side to side.
Four raced down the steps and burst through the front door. In front of him stood Three, gripping his axe with both hands and staring outwards towards the approaching Vigilant group. Two stood next to him, the woman standing directly behind him.
“Scavengers…” He muttered, uttering the name like a curse.
“Where there’s one group there’s more.” Three stated, shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to another.
Two looked to his right, staring at the buildings along the path nearby. “Into the alleys. Quick.” He ordered.
The group turned quickly, and in unison ran quickly into the shadows of the buildings. Their footsteps landed heavily on the bricks beneath them, kicking up dirt and debris with each hurried step as they ran. Four looked backwards, seeing the other group reach the entrance to the alleys they had just ran into, and start sprinting after them.
They followed after Two, who navigated the labyrinthine alleyways as if he’d always known them. Every so often Four would look back over his shoulder, and see the other group steadily falling behind. However, the speed proved too much for the elderly Kindness mage. As she lost her footing, her hands flew up. Two stopped in his tracks, dropping his axe and catching her by the arm before she hit the ground. He pulled her back to her feet, and put her weight onto himself.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
“My ankle... I think it’s broken.” She stammered in between exhausted breaths.
There was a moment of silence as Two looked at the others and back to her. “Heal it quickly.” With that, he sat her against a wall, her good eye lighting up green as she summoned her magic.
Two picked his axe back up, and looked towards the alleys they had just come from. Heavy shadows covered much of the area now, but even then Four could see the five men running directly towards them. The three Nobles lined up, shoulder to shoulder with weapons in hand.
The Scavenger leading the charge let out a cry of challenge as he ran towards them, only for the sound to be cancelled out by a much louder roar as One swung from the shadows, his axe taking the man’s head off completely. The Scavenger’s body hit the ground, crumpling into the shadows. Moments later, the slight ting of metal was heard as his head landed nearby.
One stepped forward, placing himself between the four remaining Scavengers and Noble Team. “You get one chance to leave here alive.” He growled.
The four other men gathered near one another, before yelling in unison and running forward. One responded with a yell of his own, a deep guttural roar before charging himself. Two and Three responded by sprinting forward as well. Four looked back at the woman healing herself, before charging into the fray alongside his comrades.
One met the group first, swinging his axe down viciously and cleaving the middle man from the shoulder downward. The scavenger screamed and fell to his knees, before One’s boot landed on his mask, shoving him backwards and freeing the blade from his soon-to-be corpse. The other Scavengers all swung their weapons towards the older Vigilant, only for Three to crash into two of them, lifting one in onto each shoulder as he sprinted ahead and dumping them onto the ground in front of him. The final Scavenger’s blade swung forward, only for Two’s dagger to fly into the man’s shoulder, throwing off his aim.
Two, who hadn’t stopped running to aim properly, spun his axe off of his back and back into his hand as he leapt forth, the weapon flying down towards his opponent. One quickly went towards Three, who was now backing up, blocking a flurry of attacks from the two Scavengers he had taken ahead.
Four caught up to Two, only to barely duck a wild swipe aimed for his head from the wounded Scavenger. He rose back up, launching forward and slamming the forehead of his mask into the bridge of the other Vigilant’s nose. He felt the metal of the other man’s mask dent inward, followed by the warmth of blood spattering on the metal of his own visage.
The Scavenger howled in pain, stumbling backwards before roaring out and swinging once more. Two blocked the wild attack, and Four followed up with a quick blow to the man’s already damaged face. The metal scraped harshly against the knuckles of Four’s fist, causing him to wince slightly. Before the Scavenger could retaliate, however, Four dropped low and swept his leg forward, knocking the other man off of his feet and causing him to land harshly on his back. He quickly placed his foot on the wounded Vigilant’s chest, pinning him to the floor.
“Just stay down!” Four begged.
The Scavenger responded by pulling his dagger free and slamming it into Four’s calf, causing him to scream out in pain. The man twisted the blade, causing searing white pain to lightning up the Noble’s leg. Two grabbed his own dagger in the man’s shoulder and tore it free, causing the man to gurgle harshly in agony, before the blade was buried quickly in the Scavenger’s neck.
“It’s kill or be killed, Four.” Two reprimanded, pulling his dagger free and lashing it out, the blood on the weapon splattering onto the ground next to it’s now deceased owner. “Pick one.” He finished before turning away.
One and Three then approached, seemingly having won their own battle. One held his hand out to Four, as Three walked on with Two back towards the Kindness mage. The younger Vigilant took the older’s hand, and was lifted to his feet. The two stood face to face for a moment, before Four began to speak.
“I’m.. I’m sor-” He started
“Not now. Not here.” One interrupted. “We can talk when we get back. Let’s just finish the mission.” He finished.
The two went to release one another, but before they did Four saw a surviving Scavenger come out of the shadows, his axe aimed directly at One’s back. Four pulled harshly on the older man’s arm, twisting as he did so, and throwing One to safety. However, the axe quickly found its mark in Four’s torso, the blade digging in deeply through his armor, cleaving through the bone of his right shoulder. Four screamed out, reaching with his left hand for his dagger and pulling it free, slamming it into the other man’s neck. He pushed hard, causing the Scavenger to fall backward, with Four on top of him. The man landed hard on the bricks beneath, gagging as blood filled his mouth. Four held the blade there, pushing it deeper with each moment.
Then the man stopped moving, and Four’s hand slipped from his dagger. He splashed down into the quickly forming pool of blood in front of him. Pain radiated from his shoulder, but even still Four forced both his hands up, gazing at the crimson stains that covered them. He sat there, each pulse of his own heart pumping more of his own life energy out of his wounds, but he didn’t move. Instead, tears began to fall from within his mask. He had never taken a life before, and as he stared at his own mask in the reflection of the blood in front of him, he could only see the faces of those he wished to protect.
The old Kindness woman rushed over to him, urging her magic into his shoulder and mending the wound as quick as she could manage. Four screamed out in pain, but not from the wounds on his body. Two and Three stood further away, as One stood next to him, looking down at the younger Vigilant in his cries.
As the woman’s magic finished it’s work, One placed his hand on Four’s repaired shoulder and squeezed it comfortingly.
“Welcome to the Scorned Vigilants.” He whispered, his voice full of painful understanding. He then removed his hand and turned back towards the others.
Another moment passed, and Four managed to compose himself. He rose to his feet, grabbing the handle of his axe and walking away from the scene of battle. He walked down the alley, towards where the others were waiting.
He first approached Faenya.
“Why did you heal me?” He asked, his voice strained. “Why save the people hunting you?”
“I believe everyone does what they have to do. I don’t have much time left myself, and I know that my work will be continued by those I leave behind. As for you all, you must do your jobs too.” She simply stated, trailing off as she finished and looking into the sun as it set beyond the horizon.
Content with the answer, Four turned to One.
“I broke my promise…” He declared.
“That’s not-” One started, but Four interrupted quickly.
“At first, I viewed you as killers. People who did what they did for no better reason than bandits. Killers who wanted to get rich quick. But during these missions I’ve come to know you all, and you’re all good people.. But even then, I hoped to remain ‘better than you’. To say ‘I didn’t stoop that low.’ But now I know that’s impossible. You were right One.” He turned his attention to the sun as it sank further from view. As night came on, he thought back to those that mattered to him, and silently apologized to them. “I’m just a killer after all…”
Chapter 7 - Paradise
The Nobles all sat together in the main room of their headquarters, a small home hidden in the center of Ralo in the Amikeko kingdom. Despite their last mission a week ago being considered a success, the air of defeat still hung heavy in the room. The group had talked very little since returning from Coraar, each one’s thoughts lingering on their own demons.
Two stood abruptly, slamming his hand on the table.
“That’s it! I’ve had enough of this!” He shouted, moving towards the door. “I’m gonna check the public contracts. Maybe we can find one more suited for us and move ourselves back up in the rankings.”
Four had taken notice that Two’s normally exaggerated and active behavior had been substituted for a more somber one. He turned to One and Three, and asked the question that had been bothering him since the mission ended.
“Two knew that woman, didn’t he?”
The other two men exchanged glances with one-another, before One turned away and Three looked the younger Vigilant in the eyes.
“When I first joined Noble Team Two was also relatively new to the Vigilants. He used to talk a lot about where he was from and the exploits of his youth… he said he was from Coraar, and that he used to be a thief. One day he stole from the wrong crowd and took a blade to the gut. He ended up passing out in some alley from the blood loss, and woke up in a nice house. A Kindness mage had taken him in and healed him back up, caring for him for a while before he left on his own…” Three paused here, before gathering his thoughts. “Sometimes we don’t do what we want here, and the life we live is a hard one. But each Noble, no, each Vigilant has a reason for doing what they do. Don’t judge them too harshly, or yourself for that matter…”
One stood up, walking away from the table and deeper into the building. Three laid his head down, resting against the support. Four sat with his head in his hands, hoping against everything that he never had to go through what Two did.
It only took for a few hours before Two returned, brandishing a flier in hand. A large grin covered his face as he approached the table, slapping the parchment down amongst the group. One reached for it, picking it up and reading it aloud to the others.
“Wanted, dead or alive. Androse Gildeth. Perseverance mage. Wanted for thievery, extortion, murder, and domestic terrorism. Last seen in Central Amikeko.”
As he finished, the older man laid the parchment back down. “Where’d you get this?” He asked.
“Spotted some Scavengers. Tailed them for a bit and they tossed it away, saying it was too much for them. But, I figured it’s perfect for us!” Two exclaimed. “This guy is a bad guy, no ifs ands or buts about it! It’s also a high profile target, one that’ll definitely get us our rank back.”
“A Perseverance mage though…” Three chimed in. “They’re tough.”
“True.. true…” Two responded, his hand against his chin in a thoughtful pose. “But we can take him. We’re some of the best of the best.”
One turned to the others, his gaze lingering on Four. “Any objections?” He asked.
Four looked at the poster and back to One before answering. “No.”
“Alright then. Let’s head out immediately then. We’ll start in Vandor’s lumber yards, near the center of the kingdom.” He ordered.
The squad reached Vandor at midday, the large town responsible for most of the lumber trade in all the kingdoms. The perfect place for a wanted man to hide. The group moved quickly, heading for the largest lumber yard first. Before they could enter the compound however, One halted them. Looking ahead they could see a small army of Vigilants patrolling around a large warehouse.
“Immortals…” One growled, hatred seething through his teeth.
“Well, what’s the plan then?” Two asked, gazing out into the group.
“Look for an opening. Try to find a way in and get the target before they find him. We don’t stand a chance of fighting them all.” He replied.
The group joined together, each man scanning for an opening in the ranks of the Immortals. Suddenly, they heard a twig snap behind them. The Nobles whirled around in unison, axes in hand. Behind them stood five Vigilants, each one holding their axes pointed at them.
The two groups stood with their weapons pointed at one-another, each one waiting for the other to make the first move. Suddenly, a woman’s voice rang through the air.
“Is it more Scavengers? Or something better?” Her accent was one of nobility, her voice almost singing the last part of the sentence. “Bring the darlings over here, wouldn’t you?”
The Immortals in front of them all looked between one another, before lowering their weapons. Two and Three did the same, Four following suit. One growled deeply before turning back towards the lumber yard and walking ahead.
The group was escorted to the center of the yard, where a female Vigilant waited, surrounded by various other Immortals. She watched the group approaching, her fingers touching the mouth of her mask as she chuckled quietly to herself.
“Been a while, Two. How’s the group doing?” She asked, her tone condescending.
Four looked over at Two, but realized her gaze was staring ahead at One. “I’m not your Two anymore. I wouldn’t be alive if I was, Immortal.” He shot back.
“Oh no~! Is the old man still upset that his little friend died?” She taunted, her smirk almost visible behind the mask.
One roared, and moved towards her. The Vigilants around her placed their weapons forward. One stopped where he stood, his rage almost visible. The woman laughed, a haughty egotistical cackle. She then pointed towards Four.
“Which one is this? The replacement perhaps?”
His hand tightened on his weapon, looking at the woman. He had only known her for a few minutes, but decided he already hated her.
“Perhaps you’d like to join us then? After all, we’re the second best as of now~.” She continued, her finger curling forward, ordering him to come to her.
Four inhaled, trying to come up with a snarky comment to tell her off, but Three moved between them, placing himself in front of Four and staring at the woman.
“You don’t speak to him.” The big man commanded.
“Aww, boo hoo.” She pouted. “Very well. Let’s get down to business then. I have a proposition for your little group. There’s no illusion that when it comes to combat experience you’re some of the best in the business, so I’d like to enlist your help in capturing the target. The bounty for capturing him alive is almost triple what it is for dead, and I’d be willing to split it with you three to one. Three for me, one for you, of course.” She looked at her hand as she spoke, pretending to analyze her nails through her glove. “The alternative is we kill you here, to make sure you don’t get in the way.”
The Nobles all looked between each other, before all their gazes settled on One. The older Vigilant sighed heavily. “We accept your offer.” He answered, his gaze focused on the ground.
“Excellent! Now if you could focus your attention behind you.” She motioned towards the large warehouse in the center of the lumber yard. “My men will be infiltrating and chasing the target into the open. All other entrances have been sealed, with only the main doors a path to freedom for him. We’ll wait out here, and when he enters we’ll attack as one.”
A group of ten Vigilants waited by the doors of the compound, watching the woman closely. She waved to them, and the men entered the warehouse. Two more Immortals came after them and closed the large double doors, running a thick chain through the handles before locking it off.
“Ah yes, gotta make sure they don’t retreat now, don’t I~?” She mused.
Four felt sick as he watched the Immortals gather around the entrance. Minutes went by, each one feeling longer than the last. Finally, the group heard commotion inside. The sounds were very muffled, but it was easy enough to tell the sound.
It was screams.
The screaming grew louder, until it came from the other side of the door. The heavy chain rattled as the men on the other side struggled to run away from whatever it was that had frightened them.
Every Vigilant gripped their weapons tightly as the edges of the door glowed purple, and then the door erupted. Splinters flew everywhere as the doors exploded off their hinges, blood and bodies of the Immortals on the other side flying in every direction as a gigantic man bounded out.
The man was huge, almost double the height of Four and easily twice his width at the shoulders. Large purple spines protruded from the man’s back and forearms and his hands ended in thick purple claws.
“What a unique manifestation…” The woman muttered behind them.
Androse was breathing heavily, looking around at the men that surrounded him. The Immortals let out a warcry, and each one charged simultaneously. As soon as a man came within range, Androse lashed out. His large claws ripped away part of the Vigilant’s torso, leaving him crying out as he fell to the ground.
The mage spun as he swung, another large claw tearing through two more men as he did so. Their blood splattered on the ground between them as the giant’s hand clasped on another Immortal’s face, pushing his head into the ground where a sickening crack followed. Three men swung their axes at him, but he dove forward, flipping as he did so and rolling on top of another Vigilant as he landed. The large spines on his back tore through the man’s body, the traitless not even having time to scream before his life left him.
The Nobles grabbed their weapons and grouped together around the outside of the group, waiting for an opening to take advantage of. The man turned, his expression wild and full of bloodlust. With every motion he made another life was lost. Suddenly, a loud whistle rang out through the battlefield. The woman behind them pulled the wooden instrument from under her mask before shouting.
“To your positions men! Let the Nobles fight him!” She roared.
The Immortals obeyed immediately, scattering in an instant. Androse still lashed out at those around him, tearing their backs asunder as they ran. Four paid no attention to where the other traitless around him were running, his attention focused entirely on the creature that stood before him. A murderer, a terrorist, a threat to those he loved.
Four took off at a dead sprint towards the purple giant. The other Nobles right behind him. As he got in range a large claw swung for his head, but Four dropped to his knees and skidded along the dirt, the blade of his axe slicing the man’s thigh as his bladed fingers narrowly went over Four’s skull. Three then slammed into him, Androse’s claws grabbing the handle of the axe as the two engaged in a power struggle. Even with Three’s stature, he looked small in comparison to the giant. Two sprinted ahead before jumping as he ran up Three’s back. A heavy swing of his axe came right for Androse’s temple. The perseverance mage released his grasp on Three’s axe to block the attack with his claws, but this allowed Three the leverage he needed.
With a roar, the traitless man lifted the much bigger mage and slammed him into the ground. The earth seemed to shake around them with the impact. Three stood up quickly, swinging his axe downwards. Androse rolled backwards, the blade slamming into the spines on his back and bouncing off. He jumped to his feet and reached for Three’s face, the large claws circling the man’s head and grasping harshly. Three’s muffled shout came from within the mask as he was lifted off the ground by his head. His feet kicked out as he began to panic.
One jumped ahead, his axe coming down directly on Androse’s wrist, the purple claws disappearing the moment his hand was separated from his body. Three fell to the ground hard, as One turned to face his foe. The giant roared in pain, his eyes full of rage as he swung at the older Vigilant. One raised his axe to block the blow, but was still blasted off of his feet from the force. Four and Two sprinted towards Androse at the same moment, each man on a different side of the mage.
The purple giant dove for Four, grabbing his shoulder with the blades of his remaining claw. Four screamed out as white hot pain invaded his body. Before he could retaliate, he had already left the ground and was flying through the air. He felt the impact moments before the pain hit him as he was thrown at Two. The smaller Noble was unable to catch his comrade as he slammed into him and tumbled away. Two laid on the ground, regaining his senses as Androse approached.
The purple giant’s heavy boot was placed on Two’s ankle, and he pressed down with sadistic force. The Noble screamed out in agony as a sickening crunch rang through the battlefield.
“NOW!” The female Immortal screamed.
Two large harpoons launched from hidden vantage points around the compound. Thick chains attached to the ends of each one. The barbed points slammed into Androse’s shoulders, who grunted out from the pain. The chains quickly reeled back, before being drawn taut. Androse stood with his body pulling in two different directions, a gurgling roar building in his chest.
“I’ll… I’LL SHOW YOU WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ONE OF FERGAL’S ELITE!” The mage thundered.
He grabbed the chain on his left with his remaining hand and pulled harshly. The sound of splitting wood came from above as a large crossbow-like structure crashed to the earth. He then grabbed the other harpoon and tugged, ripping the spear from his body before pulling the weapon off as well.
Meanwhile, One, Three, and Four had dragged Two a safe distance away and looked at their opponent.
“We’re some of the best, huh?” Three remarked.
“Shut it.” Two demanded through gritted teeth.
“We gotta stop him though. He’s wounded now, it’ll be our best chance.” One commented. “Let’s go.”
One, Three, and Four all stood simultaneously. They took their axes in hand and ran back towards the large purple wizard.
“Come on then!” Androse challenged, running towards them at the same time.
Four reached him first and swung his axe at his wounded leg. The bigger man grabbed the axe head with his claws, pushing it downwards before elbowing Four in the mask. Blood spurted out from the metal concealment as he fell backwards.
One and Three reached him simultaneously, both swinging their axes in unison. Androse swerved to the right, dodging Three’s axe and blocked the swing of One’s with his spines. He swung the stump of his right wrist towards One, smashing into the older man’s face with the remainder of the arm causing him to do a flip through the air before crashing onto his head. Androse raised his left elbow up quickly the spines on his forearm impaling through Three’s arm.
Three howled in pain as the mage extended his claws and pushed downwards. As the spines left Three’s arm, Androse’s claws tore into his foot. Three screamed and raised his axe once more, but the large mage pushed ahead and shoved him. Falling backwards, Three tried to rise once more, only for the giant’s boot to smash into his face.
The Nobles laid where they remained, each bleeding heavily from their perseverance inflicted wounds. One looked up from the dirt, coughing blood into the sand. He saw the giant turn towards him, and begin walking in his direction.
“Hey!” the call rang out.
Behind him, Four had gotten to his feet. In his hands was the chain from the door, which he started spinning quickly.
“No…!” One croaked out. “Not again!!”
Androse turned towards the traitless challenger once more, his wounds bleeding heavily as he stomped towards him. The giant roared as he dove for the smaller man, but Four quickly jumped to the side, lashing out with the chain. The thick metal dug into Androse’s flesh, tearing through a large chunk where the harpoon had hit him earlier.
The giant screamed out and continued his assault, persevering through the pain. Four continued his backstep, lashing out again and again with the make-shift whip. Finally, Androse rose to his feet, and grabbed the chain as it came towards him. Four quickly tossed his end up, the giant’s eyes following it in anticipation of an attack. His gaze quickly shifted back downwards as the smaller traitless dug a dagger deep into his waist. He released the chain and launched a powerful uppercut swipe with his claws, screaming from the sudden jolt of sharp pain.
Four jumped, bringing his knees to his chest and grabbing the chain as he did so. His feet landed on the large man’s wrist and kicked off, launching himself into the air with the swipe. Still holding the chain, he landed on Androse’s back and wrapped the thick metal around his neck. He placed his foot on the back of the giant’s head and pulled with all his might, the large mage gagging harshly as oxygen stopped entering his body.
Quickly, Androse reached up and grabbed Four’s ankle. He tore the man off his shoulders and smashed him into the ground. The breath tore from Four’s lungs from the impact, and then the giant’s boot slammed into his chest. He felt several crunches from within his torso, wincing from the agonizing pain that lightning through his body. He grabbed the dagger in Androse’s waist and ripped it free, blood pouring from the opened wound. The giant moved to cover the hole in his gut as Four slammed the blade into his leg over and over, tearing through the man’s flesh with every stab. The mage stumbled and fell, his breathing erratic and panting. The purple magic around his body flickered as he pulled away from the traitless.
Four pushed forward, diving towards the giant. He landed on top of him, and brought the dagger down towards him. The large mage brought his hand up, grabbing the Vigilant’s hands in his own, and pushing back with all the force he could. Four roared, shoving with all of his might as the tip of the blade pushed into Androse’s chest, millimeter after millimeter until it punctured into his heart. The purple magic ended instantly, the larger man collapsing entirely with Four on top of him.
Four looked over at One, the older man struggling to his feet and hobbling towards his friend. Distantly, he heard him calling out his name, but then all went dark.
When he awoke, he was back at Noble headquarters. Heavy bandages covered virtually every part of his body. He winced as he tried to move, pain shotgunning throughout his entire being.
“Don’t move.” One spoke up, moving from his position near the younger Vigilant.
Four looked at him. Bandages circled around his head, the mask hiding most of it.
“That might have been the hardest fight I’ve ever had…” he croaked.
“I wouldn’t doubt it. That man was a beast, one to rival the wolves of the north.” One commented.
“He took so much damage, but never once faltered to the end. How? How can someone do that?” Four asked.
One leaned back in his chair and gazed ahead thoughtfully. “You know, I bet he felt the same about you. No matter what happened you wouldn’t go down, just as he wouldn’t. Every man has their own idea of paradise. It’s up to those with the greater will to make theirs reality.”
Chapter 8 - My Legacy
Four flexed his fingers again, looking at the new scars that marred his flesh.
Just more for the collection. He thought to himself.
It had taken more than a month for him to heal from his fight with Androse, and even still he felt pangs of pain in his chest if he inhaled too deeply. Even then though, there was work to be done. He nearly jumped at the knock on the barracks door. Three leaned in, looking at the wounded man.
“You ready?” the larger traitless asked.
He put his glove back on, clenching his fist as the leather was in place.
“Yeah.” He answered.
No rest for the wicked.
The next target was a Justice soul traversing the Amikeko countryside. The plan was for the group to travel to a small unnamed fishing village and split into two groups. One and Two would travel by road while Three and Four would traverse the river. The target was considered non-hostile, but high priority. It was imperative that they take her alive.
The group huddled together in the back of the bouncing cart as One prepared to go over their plan once more.
“The target is a Justice user traversing the Amikeko countryside. We need to cover a lot of area quickly, and it is unknown if they’re traveling along the river or on the road. However, it is imperative we take them alive. Fortunately, they’re considered non-hostile.” He spoke.
The men all followed along as their leader repeated the letter they had read earlier.
“Because of the nature of the task, Two and I will travel by road. Three and Four will travel by river, getting transportation from someone within the village.” He ordered. “And remember, even if the target is non-hostile doesn’t mean there is no danger. Keep your wits about you and stay on your toes.”
He finished just as the cart came to a stop.
“Alright you two, good luck. We’ll meet back in this village by sunset, regardless of mission success or failure. See you soon.” The older Vigilant finished.
Three and Four both stood and hopped out of the back of the transport, the carriage quickly taking off once more after they exited. The scent of fresh water and earth was a gift to Four’s senses, the aroma calming to him. The duo took in the scenery for a moment, appreciating the countryside, before moving on towards the nearby small river village.
“Hey.” Three pointed towards a shack with a small dock and several kayaks around it. A sign placed above the door had the symbol for a boat.
The two traitless shrugged and approached the building.
Worst thing that could happen is they slam the door in our faces. Four figured.
He raised his hand and knocked on the wooden entrance. A moment passed and the door creaked open slightly. Four looked to where he expected someone to be, but saw no one. Glancing downwards, he saw a small fish-like face looking at him. Large blue eyes with yellow irises stared up at him.
Suddenly, the door swung open. A taller fish girl stood there, her eyes similar to the younger monster’s, but red in contrast to his blue. Similarly, the girl had red hair and gills, while the boy’s were both blue. A large toothy grin spread across her face as she looked at the Vigilants before her.
“Customers?!” The question sounding somehow more like a demand.
Four stepped back, taken by surprise. She placed her hands on her hips, standing triumphantly before them with the smaller monster hiding behind her.
“If you wanna go down the river you came to the right place! My brother and I can take you as far as the Viridi Atrium!” she shouted.
“Uh, that would be nice...?” Four replied, looking over at Three.
“What’s the fee?” The larger Vigilant asked.
“One silver!” She answered.
The boy behind her tugged on her sleeve, and she knelt down so he could whisper to her. He tried to speak quietly, but the two traitless heard him perfectly.
“Don’t we normally charge five copper..?” He asked his sister.
“Don’t worry about it! Look at them! They can pay!” She responded before quickly standing back to her feet before the two men. “So! What’ll it be!?”
“We heard ever-” Three started, but Four elbowed him in the ribs.
“You run a hard bargain, lady. But, alas… We must take up your deal! Oh, such a powerful business woman she is… and her brother, such a well thought advisor! Three! Pay them, for we have been out negotiated as easily as this…” Four turned dramatically, placing his hand on Three’s shoulder as he did so before whispering to his comrade. “I don’t have any money. I’ll pay you back after the mission. Please.”
Three groaned and reached into a pouch on his belt, pulling forth a silver coin. “Here.” He handed it to the children. The girl took it in her hand and quickly handed it to her brother.
“Here Proluo! Put it with mama and papa’s savings!” The boy, Proluo, then ran off and returned shortly after. “Alright! Let’s go then!”
The two fish monsters lead the duo towards the small dock near their home. The older girl stepped onto one of the kayaks and walked towards the front of the vessel. “All aboard!” She shouted.
The two traitless shrugged and stepped onto the small boat. Four seated himself closer to the front. Proluo untied the rope holding them to the dock and stepped on himself, seating himself behind Three. Once everyone was seated the girl turned back to them once more.
“Alright scallywags! Captain Procella here will guide you to your destination with zero issues! Once you’re in her craft, you can rest easy knowing your travels will be the most leisurely available!” She grinned wide at the passengers before her, before turning around and pointing towards the open river ahead. “Proluo!” She shouted.
The smaller monster behind them then summoned his magic, the energy coursing into the water behind them and causing it to push them forward gently. They floated slowly forward, Procella standing like a triumphant captain with her foot on the bow of the small vessel.
Minutes went by, and no one moved. They continued forward at a snail’s pace, drifting lazily forward on the water. Three cleared his throat and nudged Four, who sighed before speaking.
“Oh captain! Fate, being as cruel as it is, demands that we go faster! Is there any hope of speeding along our travels?” He asked.
Proluo spoke up, saying “Mama and papa don’t like us going fast.. Especially after what Procella did to the last boat…”
“Quiet Proluo! Don’t tell them that!! Of course we can go faster! You’re paying customers after all! Proluo, more power!!” She demanded.
Proluo sighed, before letting out a quiet grunt of exertion. The boat lurched forward, moving at a steadily quicker pace than before. Three nodded with satisfaction, and the group proceeded forth down the river. They traveled in silence for a while, the foliage growing steadily thicker along the river banks as the group drifted closer to the Viridi Atrium.
Surprisingly, the silence was broken by Proluo. He tugged on Three’s cloak, causing the big man to turn in acknowledgement. “Mister, why do you guys wear those masks? They don’t look very comfy and are kind of scary..”
“It’s, uh, part of our job. It’s like a uniform.” he answered simply.
“Oh... Is it a fun job?” The fish boy continued.
“No... no not really. If anything, it’s scary.” Three replied.
“Oh... Mama and papa’s job is scary sometimes, but they said thinking about us makes the job not so scary. Do you think about anyone to make it less scary, mister?”
“...No… no I don’t…” Three answered, growing very quiet afterwards.
“Oh…” Proluo responded simply, picking up that he shouldn’t continue.
Time crawled by as the group sailed down the river, Three and Four watching the river banks closely for any sign of their target. Travel had been slow, and the foliage had grown extremely thick around the river making it even harder to spot anything. Suddenly, Procella shouted.
“Hey! Is that a net!?! Hunting and fishing is illegal this close to the Atrium!!” She exploded, her finger pointing towards a net floating in the water near the bank. “Proluo! Take us over there so I can get rid of it!!”
As Proluo used his magic to steer the boat towards shore, Three and Four shared a glance with each other, fingers reaching for their weapons.
“Kids, when we get to shore stay by the boat. If anything happens just get back on and leave, okay?” Four told them.
“Uhm… alright...?” Procella responded, seeming to only just realize how armed the Vigilants were.
They got to the river bank, and as the group stepped out of the kayak Four and Three snuck into the shrubbery. Procella moved to the net set up along the river. “Stay by me Proluo...” She whispered to her brother.
The Vigilants snuck forward, further into the mainland. They came out of the other side of the bushes, and found themselves in a small clearing surrounded by trees on all sides. A small campfire was in the center, the fire crackling gently, but no one seemed to be in the area. The duo crouched low and crept forward, searching for any sign of where the occupants of the camp could have gone.
The two noticed tracks leading away from the fire and disappearing into the brush to their right. But as Three inspected the tracks, Four made a realization. The fire right next to him didn’t generate much heat. He reached forward and put his hand into the flame, only to find it pleasantly warm. “Three…” He called out.
The larger man turned and saw his comrade with his hand in the fire. “Bravery mage…” He whispered, his voice growing grim.
Suddenly, a cry rang out from the direction they had come. “The kids...” Four whispered, before sprinting towards the river.
As he pushed through the bushes back towards the river, he heard the sound of men yelling.
“What do we do?! ”
“I don’t know! I don’t know I don’t know!”
Two voices, at least one a Bravery mage. Was the other their target?
He burst out of the clearing, but the sight before him caused him to freeze in place. The same Bravery mage he had defeated on his second mission stood before him, the man’s hands wrapped around Procella’s neck and holding her off the ground. Next to him, the same Integrity mage from his first mission stood. Both had sustained injuries, and the Integrity mage’s hand was heavily bandaged, with several fingers obviously missing. Proluo sat on the ground next to them crying.
Both men turned towards him at once, both of their faces lighting up in recognition upon seeing his mask. “A Vigilant!!” The Integrity mage shouted. The Bravery mage quickly released Procella, who fell to the ground coughing violently. Proluo hugged her, crying into his sister’s shoulder. The Bravery wizard’s hands lit up with magical fire, and he took several steps towards Four.
The traitless man gripped his ax tightly, his heart pumping adrenaline through his veins as he prepared for a battle once more. The Bravery mage stepped forward once more, a growl building in his throat as he prepared to charge, but before anyone could act, Three burst from the foliage to their side. His ax swung for the Integrity mage in the back, but the wizard generated a platform and blasted himself backwards just in time to dodge the blade.
The Bravery mage turned towards Three, raising his hand, but as he turned Four charged. The wizard quickly turned back towards the oncoming traitless and let loose a blast of magical fire. Four dropped to his knees, sliding along the slick mud and underneath the wave of heat above him. He swung his axe forward towards the mage’s legs, but the traited jumped up and over the weapon.
The wizard turned quickly, his magic channeling for another blast. Four looked around, searching for the best direction to dodge, but noticed the children on their knees cowering further behind him. His mind raced, but as he tried to process his next move he felt a sudden wave of heat approaching quickly. Making up his mind in the moment, Four turned back towards the attack and raised his weapon. The wave of fire slammed into him, scorching the leather of his gloves and heating the metal of his mask up greatly. He grit his teeth as the magic burned the few areas of exposed flesh he had.
The Bravery mage lessened the blaze, but seeing that the traitless before him was still standing charged up his attack. As the magical heat dissipated, Four stood wavering. His hands shook and all he could feel was pain. He turned towards the kids, and tried to speak, to tell them to run, but only a croak came out.
Another wave of heat. Four turned back, but saw a concentrated fireball hurtling towards him. He raised his ax to block as much as possible, but as the magic slammed into the handle of the weapon, the burnt wood snapped in two, and the blast hit him dead center in the torso. The leather and metal of his armor peeled from the magical energy, and he was thrown backwards from the blow.
He smashed down into the mud, but placed his hands on either side, and pushed himself off the ground and back to his feet. He clenched his fists and raised them, looking at the Bravery mage in front of him.
“Four! Hang on!” Three roared, charging the Bravery wizard.
The Integrity mage that Three had been fighting dashed off of platforms through the air, a blue spear generating in his hand as he did so. Suddenly, he was flying through the air towards Four. The pointed weapon thrusted towards his chest, but the traitless pushed himself to the side just before it made contact, and threw his fist forward. The crack of his injured hands slamming into the man’s nose was the only signal his brain recognized that he made contact, but it wasn’t enough. The wizard blasted to the side, propelling himself for another strike.
This time, several platforms appeared behind the one he rested on, all of them blasting at once to propel himself much faster. The tip of the spear was aimed for his heart, and he wouldn’t be quick enough to dodge this time, so instead Four grabbed the blade with his hands, the magical weapon digging into his burnt flesh. Blood flowed from his fingers as he was pushed backwards through the mud from the force of the blow, but he held firm, the point of the weapon nearly scraping his chest.
Suddenly, a platform appeared around the tip of the weapon, and exploded outwards with extreme concussive force. Four felt his feet leave the ground, and his mind spun wildly as he flew through the air. He barely recognized the tree rushing to meet him. He slammed into a branch, the wood tearing through his burnt armor and into the injured flesh beneath. He screamed out as he fell through the branches, crashing through and to the ground below.
He laid there in the mud, blood pooling around him.
Get up. He commanded his body.
He placed his left hand into the ground and tried to push, but noticed his right wouldn’t move. He lifted himself off the ground, and looked at his right shoulder. A large branch stuck through it, protruding from both sides of his body. Surprisingly, he didn’t feel it at all. Even still, he grit his teeth and stood up. He stumbled forward. But the Integrity mage appeared before him again swinging the spear horizontally towards his neck. He ducked quickly, and rose with a left hook to the wizard’s jaw. The man stumbled back from the blow, and blasted himself away in retreat.
The Bravery mage and and Three were engaged in a test of strength, each one pushing against each other with all of their might. But the mage was losing ground quickly. Fire surged around him, and Three was forced to jump back. The Integrity wizard landed next to his traited comrade, and the two mages shared a look before the Integrity wizard created a platform between them. The Bravery mage then aimed his fire towards the magical construct and filled it with orange flames. Three looked on in confusion as Four inched closer to the children.
Suddenly, the platform erupted in an explosion of fireballs. The magical energy blasting in all directions. Three jumped to the ground and covered the back of his head. Four jumped ahead, and wrapped his arm around the kids in front of him. Fire slammed into his back, the heat scorching his already beaten and wounded body. As the last wave of heat faded, the traitless man fell to the side and into the mud next to them. His consciousness faded in and out as darkness threatened to take him entirely.
He saw the small fish boy, Proluo, shaking his shoulder and crying. Behind him, his sister Procella grabbed the broken head of his ax and raised it up herself. Tears streamed from her face as well, but she stood bravely between the threat and her brother. His gaze drifted to Three and the wizards. They were doing the platform fire attack once more, and Three seemed unable to get close due to the danger the attack possessed. His consciousness faded once more, and he felt his mind drifting away. Struggling, he forced his concentration back to the situation. The fireballs would hit the children if he didn’t do something.
Get up. He ordered, and his body shuddered.
Get up... His fingers twitched.
The platform erupted, fire streaming in all directions.
Get up!! He demanded of himself, Proluo holding his sister’s waist as she looked in terror at the oncoming wave of magical fire.
GET UP!! He mentally roared. He screamed as he forced his body to obey him. Rising out of the mud with blood pouring from his body. His vision pulsed black, but he moved regardless. A fireball was coming right for the children, and they were paralyzed in fear.
He threw himself forward, in front of the children and head first into the magical fire. The attack exploded against him, blasting him back to the ground.
“Mister!!” Proluo shouted as the kids were snapped back into action.
“Proluo! Get him to the boat!!” She shouted as she grabbed his under his arms and lifted. Proluo, with tears streaming from his face, grabbed the man’s feet and helped his sister start moving him to the kayak.
“Four!!” Three shouted, seeing his comrade drop to the ground with a branch sticking out of his body. He turned towards the duo of mages and charged, fire slamming into him as he did so. He grit his teeth and rushed forward regardless, the flames scorching his body until he reached them and swung his ax with one hand, roaring as he did so.
It’s what he would do. The large traitless thought to himself.
The Integrity mage ducked, and raised back up with his spear in hand. The point of the weapon hitting Three just under the ribs. The blade pierced his armor, and stuck into his body. He yelled out as the Bravery mage channeled his magic and slammed his fists into his chest, blasting him backwards. He turned in midair, slamming face first into the mud. His weapon flying somewhere out of reach.
He looked up, seeing the children struggle to put Four in the transport. The mages walked towards him, moving towards the monster kids. He clenched his fists, gripping the mud in his hands tightly. As their footsteps landed just behind him, he reached for the broken wood of Four’s ax handle.
For the glory. He thought to himself, almost chuckling as he did so. He turned, rising as he did so and slamming the broken wood into the Integrity mage’s ribs. The handle, assisted by Three’s strength, broke through the bone and into the man’s chest cavity. He screamed before Three slammed his fist into the man’s throat, crushing his esophagus. He fell back, scratching at his neck as he did so.
The Bravery man roared as his hands ignited once more. Three hurled himself at the man, slamming into him. Magical heat enveloped Three, but the traitless ignored it and turned the large mage, his feet slipping in the mud. Putting the mage’s back to the river, Three pushed. The two charged towards the water as fire erupted across Three’s entire body. Before the mage could realize what was happening, he was leaving the river bank and falling back first into the water. Three and the mage splashed into the water simultaneously. The traitless pulled his head back out, sputtering the water out of his lungs. The mage rose up the fire on his hands going out upon contact with the liquid around them.
Three swung his hand forth, his large palm wrapping around the man’s entire face and pushing him back under the surface. He struggled forward, placing his hands around the man’s face and neck and holding him under. The man clawed forward, fire exploding out of his palms every time they left the water and scratching at Three’s mask. He held firm, and used his strength to hold him under until the struggling stopped.
For the glory. He repeated to himself, leaving the man floating in the river.
He approached the children, who’s eyes were full of fear staring up at him.
“Please.” He asked them. “Make sure he lives.” He asked, pointing towards Four, before stepping into the boat and taking a seat. His head tilted downwards, and his vision went black.
Four awoke suddenly, he was in a bed that he didn’t recognize, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room he was in he believed he knew where he was. The house of the monster children, at the fishing village. His heartbeat began to calm, and he began to process what had happened.
Suddenly, he realized his right arm was capable of movement, and the hole through which the branch had stuck was completely healed.
Four nearly jumped out of bed as the voice spoke up. Three leaned out of the shadows in the corner of the room. “We got lucky their parents had come back. They healed us up. Probably saved our lives.” he continued.
“Count our blessings I guess…” Four replied.
“Yeah... “ Three responded.
The two sat in silence for a moment before Four continued.
“So the kids are safe?” he asked.
“Yeah. Yeah you saved them.” Three answered.
“That’s good then…”
They sat in silence longer, before Three moved out of the shadows and sat on the bed next to the smaller vigilant.
“Four, I told you before I was a gladiator… but I never told you why I became a Vigilant. My ‘parent’, the man that adopted me when my parents died in the pits, raised me as a fighter. He owned the fight pits and saw potential in me. When I was older and I had fought stronger opponents and... and well, killed them... I asked him ‘why do I do this?’ And do you know what his response was? ‘For the glory’ he said.” Three trailed off. “But there’s nothing glorious in what I did. Nothing glorious in what we do now. What I told you before was that I only wanted to die by taking traited with me isn’t true anymore.” He stopped here, struggling to speak.
The larger man stood up from the bed and looked away from his ally. “Seeing you protect those children made me realize what I actually want. I don’t want my legacy to be one of nothing but violence, Four. I want to leave the world a better place than when I came into it… That’s what I want.” He finished. He stood silently for a moment before continuing. “Gather your things, we’ll sneak out. I left some gold for them and their troubles. We need to report back to the others and make sure things went okay for them.”
Chapter 9 - Painless
His footsteps echoed off the stone walls around him. His thoughts raced as he ran. They had taken every precaution. Their base was hidden. Their members each immune to the interrogation that they knew would follow should they be caught. So how were they found? How was every expedition known? How did that one man kill them all?!?
These are things that didn’t matter right now. What mattered was that he escaped. As leader of their group, he had to make sure the other agents in the field didn’t come back to this. He turned a corner, his Justice magic surging and causing his eyes to light up yellow. Yellow spears appeared around him and he fired the projectiles into the walls behind him, causing a cave-in through the underground walkway.
He wondered briefly how long that would stop him before shaking his head and running once more. Twelve of the strongest mages he had ever met went down in seconds and he thought a small cave-in would stop him.
His footsteps slowed as he heard the sound of approaching soldiers. Was it his own, or more enemies? Regardless, there was no going back. He summoned his spears and turned the corner. In front of him, five of his comrades fell back. Janith led the group, her lance pointed ahead, eyes and hair surging with the blue magic of her Integrity. Behind her was Marcus, a powerful Perseverance mage, purple spikes already forming along his knuckles. With them was Halihal, an elderly Kindness mage, Morrow, the Patience mage, and Kerym, Marcus’ wife and fellow Perseverance mage.
The group hesitated upon seeing him, but Janith quickly lowered her lance. “Akrua...” She sighed, her expression one of relief.
“There’s no time. We have to move.” Akrua spoke as he dispersed his spears.
“Wait!” Halihal spoke up. “What about the others? Where’s Shaalth?”
Akrua’s eye twitched at the name. He knew he should tell Halihal that his grandson had died defending him, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it right now. He needed them to get to safety first.
“We got separated.” The Justice mage lied. “Cave-in back there in the commotion, we’ll need to get out and regroup our efforts. Now we need to leave, or we’ll never get to see anyone else again.”
Akrua moved past them. “C’mon.” He stated, before taking off at a jog.
Janith hurried to follow, while the others looked to each other before following after their leader. The winding pathways of their underground base would have been perfect for an enemy invasion, but an attack like this only hampered them. The traitless that killed his guards was definitely after them, but Akrua had no idea where he could be. Even when he had ambushed them, he had seemingly come from nowhere.
He came to an intersection and took a moment to decide which way to go. If he went forward they could go straight for the exit, but he had no doubt that that’s where the enemy would be. Alternatively he could go for the service area and take the long way around. As the rest of the group caught up with him he cursed under his breath and took off for the service area.
He approached the side hallway with care, despite making the decision he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was walking directly into what the enemy wanted. He peeked around the corner, seeing only the long empty hallway of the service area. He turned back to the group as they reached him, Marcus’ broad form approaching him more directly.
“Sir, what’s after us? Bravery mages? Perseverance? What are we up against?” the large dark-skinned man asked.
“One Vigilant.” the justice mage responded.
Marcus’ expression was one of shock, staring with his mouth hung open, eyes blinking rapidly. “Just… j-just one Vigilant? A traitless?” He stammered.
“Yes.” Akrua stated. “Just one.”
As if on cue, a man stepped from around the corner they had come from. His boots echoing off the walls as every member of the team turned to look at him. A metal mask was fused with a helmet covering his entire head, the blank expressionless stare of the Vigilants’ signature mask gazed at them as he walked calmly towards them. He held an ax in his right hand, his grip close to the head of the weapon, and a dagger in his left. Both weapons were still dripping with blood.
Marcus immediately moved to place himself between the traitless and the rest of the group. Halihal staggered backwards, the overwhelming aura of dread demanding he run. Akrua turned just in time to see the old Kindness mage step around the corner.
“Halihal! Wait!!” He shouted too late. A thin string, nearly invisible to the eye, snapped as Halilal’s ankle hit it. The ting of a mechanism was heard an instant before a spiked chain whipped around the corner, wrapping around Halihal’s ankles, shredding his flesh and causing him to fall to the ground.
Every member turned to see what caused Halihal to scream out, and as they did the Vigilant before them charged. Marcus sensed the oncoming danger, and threw a punch as he turned. The traitless ducked and swerved, the blade of his dagger slicing cleanly through the thick neck of the Perseverance mage. The Vigilant didn’t even look back as Marcus gagged on his own blood, falling to the ground clutching at his throat. He just approached the rest of the group.
Akrua turned to Janith. “Go!!” He ordered the Integrity mage. She hesitated, fear and worry covering her expression, before her resolve steeled and she turned and ran. Kerym screamed as her husband fell, a long thin blade of purple magic appearing just above her wrist. She charged at the traitless, slashing wildly.
He dodged to the right, left, and dove forward. The woman slashed downwards, trying to catch him. Instead, the traitless pushed her arm back with the handle of the ax and rolled over her, landing on his feet behind her. He pulled his ax forward, the hook of the blade catching her shoulder. The blade dug deep into her bone as she screamed out in pain. The Vigilant grunted as he pulled her entire body over his own with one hand, slamming her against the wall. A sickening crack rang out as her head impacted the stone wall, and she slumped to the ground, silent.
Akrua winced as his friends perished, he turned to Halihal and back to Morrow. “Morrow! Help me carry Halihal!!”
The Patience mage looked to Akrua and back towards the Vigilant. He raised his hands up and walked towards the traitless.
“It’s fine, I’m the one that gave the coordinates. Take them, I’ll wait here.” He stated calmly.
“You...” Akrua growled, but was cut off as Halihal grabbed his collar and pulled him close.
“Run, you fool.” He ordered, shoving the Justice wizard away.
Akrua stood, looking back between the approaching traitless and his bleeding friend on the floor in front of him. He shut his eyes tightly, fighting back his emotions.
Time for grieving would come later. He thought to himself as he ran after Janith.
As the Vigilant passed Morrow, he slashed quickly, the blade cleanly cutting across the Patience mage’s stomach. The traitor gasped out, grabbing at the wound to stop important bits from leaving him.
“B-but... I was promised safety!!” He cried out, curling into a ball on the ground.
As the traitless approached the Kindness mage, he pulled his dagger into a stabbing position above the old man’s chest.
“You’re just a tool to them, you know that don’t you? A prisoner of their sick ways.” He spat.
The knife flew downwards, plunging into his chest. The blade pierced the old man’s heart, who gasped out in pain before laying still.
“I know.” answered a raspy voice from behind the mask.
Further in, Akrua turned a corner to see Janith surrounded by blue magic. Several platforms were stacked together beneath her, her lance pushing downwards into them. Cracks were appearing on the surface of the magical constructs. Sweat dripped from her brow from the exertion.
“How long until you’re ready?” He asked.
“A minute or two...” She answered through her heavy breathing.
“You have thirty seconds.” He finished, moving to the door behind her.
A heavy metal crank handle was in the center of the door. He grabbed it and began rotating it quickly. The heavy ka-chunk of moving pieces in the walls signaled the unlocking of the door.
“Alright, we’re ready.” He stated, before turning to see the Vigilant staring at both of them. He took a single step into the room, when Janith shouted.
“Akrua! Get behind the door!!”
The wizard obeyed, dashing behind the heavy barricade and pulling it closed behind him. The Integrity wizard then slammed her lance down with all her strength, piercing every platform beneath her at once and releasing a catastrophic blast of kinetic force into the earth under her.
The entire facility shook from the impact, anyone above would swear they felt an earthquake. Inside the room, the traitless man was blasted off his feet, hitting the ceiling of the room with an unrelenting force. Janith gasped out, her vision fading black. The Vigilant hit the ground in front of her, causing her to smirk before passing out.
A deep rumble went through the walls around the room, dust falling as stones shifted. Akrua opened the door back up and ran towards Janith. He quickly grabbed his friend under her arms and lifted, dragging her back towards the door. The traitless laid face down in front of her, but as she was pulled away his hand shot out and grabbed her ankle.
Akrua summoned his spears. “Let go of her!!” He roared, launching the projectiles at the man. He released her ankle and rolled to the side, dodging out of the way of all but one of the spears. The magical weapon raced towards him, aimed directly at his head. The Vigilant raised his hand and the spear pierced through it. The impact slowed the attack enough for it to stop it’s lethal course, but his hand gushed blood.
The traitless then stood, grabbing the weapon and pulling it free of his hand. He made no sound as he did so, instead just proceeding to wrap the wound directly in front of his assailant. Akrua just stared in disbelief, unable to comprehend how he could shrug off the pain so casually. Shaking his head, he pulled Janith out of the room and pushed the heavy door closed. He grabbed the board nearby and pulled it down, securing the lock for the stone barricade.
Breathing heavily, he turned back to his friend. “Janith! You gotta wake up. We need to keep running.” He patted her cheek gently as he spoke, trying to get any sign out of her. “C’mon c’mon!”
A heavy bang came from the door as the Vigilant on the other side threw himself into it. Small bits of debris fell from the ceiling.
“Please wake up.” He begged, shaking her shoulders. Another heavy bang.
The woman gasped suddenly, her eyes shooting open. Akrua couldn’t help the large grin that spread across his face.
“Thank goodness…” He sighed, but his joy was cut short as a third heavy bang slammed into the door, the stone cracked and the wooden barricade splintered along the middle.
“Not even that stopped him, did it?” Janith asked.
“Barely slowed him down.” Akrua answered.
They both stood, preparing to run once more just as the door exploded outwards. Stone and wood blasted in every direction. The traitless crashed among the debris, standing quickly. He grabbed at his shoulder and shoved, a harsh crunching sound came from deep within his arm. He shrugged the shoulder before grabbing his ax once more.
The duo quickly turned and ran, hoping to escape this beast. But before they could get too far, an ax came flying down the hallway, slamming into Akrua’s calf. He screamed out in pain, and started limping in his dash to escape.
“Akrua! C’mon, place your weight on me.” Janith shouted, running over to help him.
“Janith, you have to run. Go on, I’ll slow him down.” Her leader responded.
The Integrity mage shook her head violently. “No! I refuse to leave you here. If nothing else we’ll stand and fight together.”
“Then we’ll both die.” Akrua stated solemnly.
“Then that is how our story will end.” She answered, pulling the ax out of Akrua’s leg. He winced quietly from the pain.
Akrua felt her hand wrap around his own, their fingers interlocking. He felt his magic swell within him, and sensed hers as well.
“Linking, huh?” He smirked. “What the hell. Let’s give it a shot.”
The blue and yellow magic swirled together, a multitude of blue lances with yellow streaks appearing in the air around them. The traitless stopped chasing, and stood still a distance away from them. Their eyes flared with energy, and the lances launched at blinding speeds towards the man.
He dashed to the left, leaping off the ground and kicked off the wall. A lance blasted into the stone where he had just been, debris showering him. He spun quickly in midair, another lance whizzing directly past him. Just before he touched the ground, another lance slashed across his left shoulder. He spun wildly from the impact, as a fourth lance went straight for his torso. He shot both hands forward, the limbs slamming into the magical weapon just before it pierced his gut. He was launched backwards with the attack before the aim was diverted towards the floor. His back slammed into the ground, a deep trench being dug out as his body was pushed across the dirt floor before he exited their range.
Not even a moment passed before the man stood back up, brushing off the injuries like they didn’t exist. He stepped forward again, and just before entering their range knelt down and picked up a chunk of rock in his right hand. He gripped his dagger tighter in his left, then dashed forward towards them.
The lances appeared in the air once more before flying towards the oncoming enemy. The Vigilant lowered his left shoulder and moved to the right, avoiding the first lance. The second came towards his heart, and he had to push off the ground with his right foot to avoid it. Being in midair, he couldn’t dodge the next two. Knowing they were coming, he instead curled himself into a ball as he twisted, slamming himself harshly against the wall but causing the third lance to fly by him. The fourth came directly towards him, but he uncurled just before it hit him, the bladed weapon slamming into the wall next to him, but tearing a chunk out of his left arm.
The limb spasmed, before the knife fell from its grip. The man made no sound, or even seemed to notice that he had been hit, instead pulling forward and running ahead once more. The limb hung limply next to him, but he raised the rock next to his face and leapt forward. More lances appeared, but he landed between them, both feet crashing onto the hands holding each other. Their link severed, and the two recoiled against the wall next to them. Janith responded quickly, creating her lance and raising it towards him quickly. He dodged left, then swung his fist forward, reinforced with the rock in his grip. Janith ducked just before the blow hit her. The wall above her cratered beneath the force of the blow, the sound of the breaking stone reinforced with the crack of bone from his hand. Blood dripped from his knuckles, but he didn’t even notice.
Akrua created a spear and stabbed it towards the man’s thigh. He lifted it quickly, the leg then shooting out towards Akrua’s knee. His leg buckled from the force, and he fell to the ground. Janith’s lance then shot forward, scratching across the Vigilant’s chest as he leaned backwards. He then spun right as Akrua’s spear shot towards his stomach. His fist launched towards Janith once more, slamming into her right shoulder from above as he spun. The crack of bone echoed out once more as her shoulder left it’s socket.
The woman cried out and Akrua summoned two spears, attacking with both of them in a flurry of stabs. The traitless man turned towards him just as the weapons launched their attack. He dodged deftly narrowly avoiding the piercing tips of the weapons. Suddenly, he found an opening and counterattacked with the rock, tossing it at Akrua’s eyes. The clump of debris blinding him momentarily, panicked, he screamed out as he pushed his magic harder, summoning two more spears and stabbing forward wildly.
He struggled to open his eyes, and as he did his attack stopped. In front of him was Janith, pierced multiple times by his spears. She reached towards him, her eyes going gray as she fell to the ground. Akrua fell to his knees, tears welling in his eyes. The Vigilant stood next to him and grabbed his ax off the ground.
The traitless man walked back towards the Justice mage, the color leaving his eyes as they gazed at the body of his dead friend. He hardly noticed the cold steel as it pressed against his neck.
“Will it be painless?” Akrua asked calmly.
“That’s all it ever is.” The traitless responded, just before raising the weapon and swinging it for his throat.
Chapter 10 - Take Your Time
This chapter was a collaboration between Veir and Devour.
Four opened the front door to the Noble Team Headquarters in Ralo. As he entered, Three looked up at him.
“Get your package delivered?” He asked.
“Yeah, uh, speaking of which...” Four turned to One. “Thank you for paying Three and I, even though we didn’t help catch the target.”
One shook his head back and forth, waving his hand at the younger Vigilant. “No thanks are needed. You two more than earned your wages with what happened with those escaped mages.”
Two stood, stretching his arm out far in a mock yawn. “Welp, I’m going for a walk!” he stated casually. “Maybe I’ll check the public board for something easy.”
No one said anything as Two left, closing the door perhaps a bit too intensely. Four and Three exchanged glances, as One seemed deep in thought. Suddenly, the old Vigilant raised his head.
“Four, do you think you could keep an eye on him?” He asked, nodding towards the door Two left through.
“Uhm, I suppose?” He answered simply.
Four turned back to the entrance he just came through moments before and left the building. One then turned to Three.
“Now I need you to come with me. We have something we need to buy.”
Four stepped out into the afternoon sun. He looked left and right, checking the path of wooden boards built along the riverway that sliced through town. He was just able to catch a glimpse of Two as he turned off towards the main roads.
Four didn't want to look like he was worried about Two, or chasing after him, so he followed at a brisk jog and rounded the buildings himself. Just in time to watch as the other Vigilant reached the end of the road and started down another path.
That was strange. Two wasn't headed towards the public boards at all. He was going in the opposite direction. A path that would take him out of town.
Four didn't want to think anything of it. But if Two wanted some peace and quiet, no one would have thought it strange for him to say so. It didn't seem like there was any reason to lie about where he was going.
So why had he?
It felt wrong to use his skill as a Vigilant to quietly follow another Vigilant. Let alone someone he had been through so much with like Two. So he decided to do something else instead. Four would just wait until it was too far to say Two had been taking a different road than usual to the markets. Then he would just… ask him what he was doing. That sounded good, right?
Four knew there was a less-traveled path to the left of him that they used when they needed to be extra careful. He followed Two for a moment longer, hoping that he would take it. But he didn't. A small, worried lump formed in his stomach as he knew it was time to do something.
Two was slowly climbing a narrow staircase in an alley between two old wooden buildings, both slouching from neglect and time. Four stepped into the path behind him, trying to look like he had been trying to catch up to his friend and not spying on him. He called out. "Hey! Two?"
Four thought he had heard him when Two's head looked to the side... but he was just looking into a window as he walked. The Vigilant strolled up to the top of the stairs and disappeared around the corner of a building.
The younger Vigilant followed up the staircase after his ally, but as he turned the same corner he barely managed to catch a glimpse of Two as he dashed around another bend further ahead. Instinct kicked in immediately, and Four gave chase.
His footsteps landed heavy on the bricks beneath as he sprinted to catch up, but every turn he made he only saw the man’s cloak as he rounded another corner. He quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to get close at this rate. Two’s knowledge of back alleys would eventually play the winning role, and he would lose him. Even still, he pushed hard and charged forward.
He turned the corner sharply, nearly plunging off the edge as he came across an area of construction. A yard of a partially built building, abandoned before finishing. Ahead was Two, running along the boards making up the walkway of the construction. Four’s mind raced, and he saw the opportunity he needed to get close.
Taking a few steps back, he pushed off hard and charged towards the end of the walkway before leaping into the air. Gravity quickly took hold, and as he fell he reached his hands out for any of the several bars stretching across the half-completed building.
Luck was on his side, and his fingers grasped one of the bars, swinging him quickly where he let go and flew forward. He landed on the opposite side of the building, on another staircase leading back up towards the direction he had come and where Two should be approaching. He turned and ran back up, intending to catch Two and get some answers for his behavior.
As the Vigilant turned the corner, Two slammed into him. The man’s single arm pressing against his chest as he pushed him back against the wall next to them.
“Why are you following me?” The older Vigilant demanded.
For a terrible moment, Four's instincts told him to fight back. His body screamed warnings of a possible knife to the stomach, or another attack meant to stop him now that he had witnessed whatever was going on. Four grabbed Two's arm and was ready to shove back just as hard.
Then he stopped himself. This was Two. He might as well be his brother. The one arm against Four's chest was empty-handed. The man's eyes, burning with fury through his mask, revealed more than just anger. There was something vulnerable, too. Four's grip on the man's arm relaxed. "This isn't the way to the public boards, Two." Four said.
"Yeah...? Maybe I wanted to take a nice walk first. What about you?" Instead of relaxing, Two's arm pressed against him harder. Even now, his voice had a sort of playful tone to it, dripping with sarcasm. "Not very nice of you to follow me like that, don't you think? Chasing me like you think I'm one of your targets. I thought we'd have some kind of trust by now, eh?"
"What are you—of course we do, dumbass." Four glowered at his friend from behind the pressure of Two's elbow. "You didn't have to lie about where you were going and you know it. I'm the one who should be mad. But because I trust you..." he stressed the words for Two's benefit, "I wanted to make sure you were okay." Two made an annoyed sound. But the pressure on his chest lightened somewhat. "What's going on? Is that woman from the Immortals making you talk to her?"
"Huh? No way. Hell no." That much, at least, sounded like the truth. "I said I was just going for a walk."
"Then why did you run?"
Two's mouth opened to snap back with something sarcastic, then it closed again. He shook his head, angry either with Four or with himself, and stepped back away from the wall. Four rubbed the spot on his chest and stepped away, waiting for an answer.
Finally, Two gave him one. "Nah. Don't worry about me, buddy." He didn't look at him as he said it. "Worry about One. Worry about Three. Try and help them get through this mess alive. Just don't waste your time worrying about someone like me." Two started walking again, as if that would be the end of their conversation. "I'll be fine. When you see me again, I'll be the same old Two you've always known."
The older Vigilant made it all of two steps before Four grabbed his arm and turned him around. He glared into Two's mask, but now he only saw mild annoyance in return. "Two…" Four pressed again. "What's going on?"
"Go away, Four." Was his tired reply.
"I'm not gonna do that." When Two still didn't say more, he pressed again, making a joke of his own. "I'll chase you down again if I have to. You know I'll do it." He smiled.
Two rolled his eyes. He looked away, then back at Four again. He didn't seem to be angry anymore. "You're a real pain in the ass, you know that?" He joked. Four's smile grew a bit bigger. "Okay, listen. All I'm gonna do is show you where I was going. So you don't get any wrong ideas. Capiche?"
"Yeah... capiche. Whatever that means."
After a bit of walking, the duo found themselves on a dirt path leading out of town. The path was a back entrance leading towards the east, no doubt a walking route. As they passed the buildings on either side, Four would see faces peeking out of windows, or someone disappear behind a door as they slammed it behind them.
“Vigilants really are hated, aren’t they?” Four asked.
“You can’t blame them. I imagine a lot of Vigilants use the anonymity of the job to be less than upstanding citizens.” Two responded, he then hesitated, seeming to debate on continuing or not. “I actually used to walk this way a lot, back in the day...”
As they left city boundaries, they came upon a farmhouse. A small but well-built fence surrounded the home. Two stopped for a moment, his hand holding onto the top of one of the planks. He gazed at the home, two traitless children played on the porch as their mother came out. Seeing the Vigilants she hurried the kids inside quickly.
“...I guess I do look quite different since the last time they saw me.” Two mumbled. His grip tightened on the wood before he released it quickly and kept walking forward.
“Did you know them?” Four queried.
“Not really. I built that fence for them in the past. Helped them get started as a kind gesture, y’know?” Two responded. “It is what it is, though. They seem to be doing well. Fence is holding up at least.”
The duo kept walking forward, ahead of them the road winded forward with wide sweeping plains on either side. In the distance was a large crop field. Even from here, Four could see the people inside working hard to gather the food that would go throughout all the kingdoms.
They continued walking in silence, walking past the farm that Four had spotted earlier and continuing beyond it. The road took an incline, leading up to a peak of a hill where the view of the surrounding fields was completely unobstructed. This is where Two stopped, taking a few steps off the road and looking out over the land before them. The older traitless knelt down and took a seat in the grass, gazing out into the distance.
Four sat down next to his friend. He waited a few moments before speaking. “Y’know, if you wanted some peace and quiet you could have just said so.” He said, adding a cheerful tone to his voice.
"It's more of a place to remember, now." Two answered. He sounded more quiet than he had before. "It even had a sunset like this one. On the day me and her ran away together."
"You and… her?" Four asked carefully. His friend kept talking, sheepishly explaining in half-details. It almost sounded like he was talking to himself. Not to Four.
"She was traited. Beautiful orange hair. There was an arranged marriage, but she ran away with me instead because she… used to... love me." Two's voice grew ever more small, saying those words. "It was here where we stopped running. She said she knew it would be hard. I said I'd give her the best life I could. Then…"
Two fell silent. Four didn't ask more. No one became a Vigilant because they wanted to. To go from the life he used to have to the life he had today…
He gave him some time, but Two never continued where he left off. The duo simply sat looking out over the land as the sun sank lower in the sky, casting an orange light over everything in front of them. Finally, Two did speak again. It was like he had never said anything. “It’s a great view, though.” He remarked.
"Y-yeah. It is." Four wanted to say more. He just didn't know what. Silence fell between them again, the sun going lower with every moment.
“Have you ever had a moment in your life when you realize how little you matter?” Two asked.
Four turned quickly towards his friend, finally able to say what he wanted. “No, listen. You matter Two. Even if you have no one on the outside, you matter to One, Three, and me.”
“...You didn’t answer my question.” Two remarked. He stood quickly and turned his back to the younger Vigilant. “That’s okay, though, because you do matter. Don’t worry about a thing, I understand how things are and I’ll make sure you stay around to keep helping people.”
“I…” Four trailed off as he tried to gather his thoughts before getting interrupted.
“It’s okay Four. It’s how it is. How it’s always been. Helping others is about giving a part of yourself away, whether that be financially, physically, or emotionally.” He held up his missing arm as he finished.
Realization hit Four like a wave, and a single question escaped his lips. “Two, why have you never mentioned your arm? You never even acknowledged it before this.”
The traitless man’s back straightened as he answered. “I-I.. I don’t know what you mean… I’ve.. It’s just- It’s just how it is..” He stammered, his voice cracked as he finished.
Four stood, looking closely at his friend as he did so. The man’s hand was clenched and shaking. The younger Vigilant placed his hand gently on Two’s shoulder.
“Hey. You don’t have to hold anything in. You can let go.”
"W-what do you mean? You're always such a..." Two stammered, half-choked, and tried again. "I'm not holding anything in. I'm not. I'm not! I'm—" He turned to Four and grabbed him, as if to shove him away. His eyes were filled with a mix of emotions. Anger, fear, sadness. All of them flashed by in an instant and were replaced with the welling of tears. Two's one hand was shaking.
Four raised his hands slowly and put them around Two, embracing him. Slowly, he let go of Four’s collar and sunk into the younger man’s hug. His hand still on Four’s chest, the tough shell Two had placed between them broke.
Silently, he sobbed. The man sank to his knees, Four following to stay holding him. The sobbing grew more intense as they sat there together. Every now and then, Four could pick out individual sentences. Apologies to Faenya and several other names he didn’t know. Questions of why someone left. Begging them to come back.
Four held all of his questions, and simply sat with Two. As the sobbing slowed, Four leaned closer to him and whispered to him.
“You might not think you matter, but I think you do.”
Two inhaled heavily, letting out a shudder as he exhaled. He was closing up again. Returning to the person that let him live the life he had been given. But before the man beneath all that was gone, Two looked Four in the eyes and gave a very sad smile. “I don't think I do.” He responded honestly. "But that's not the first time you've done something—thought something, I guess—that I thought impossible. You're kind of a hero." He huffed heavily before facing Four, putting his hand out to help him up. "If you believe in me... well, I guess I can try and believe in you instead."
Finally, Four smiled too. The older Vigilant pulling him to his feet. The two looked out towards the sun as it set.
“I’m gonna head back.” Four stated softly. "Thanks for sharing the view with me.”
“Yeah. I’ll be back soon, just want to enjoy the scenery a bit longer.” Two replied.
“Alright.” Four patted his friend’s back as he turned away towards the road. As he stepped onto the dirt path, he turned back. “Hey Two? Take your time. We’ll be waiting when you’re ready.” He finished. The man nodded simply in response as the two parted ways.
Chapter 11 - Heroes
Four walked into the headquarters of Noble team, tired from his long walk back home. One and Three both stood to greet him, One crossing his arms and walking forward. Even behind his mask a large grin was visible on the old man’s face.
“How’d it go with Two?” He asked.
“Pretty good. He’ll be back in later.” Four answered, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
One cocked his head to the side, looking at Four quizzically before shrugging and turning towards Three.
“Get the thing.” He ordered.
Three stood, chuckling to himself and striding gleefully out of the room. A few moments later, he returned with a package in hand. He approached One and Four and held it out to the younger Vigilant.
Four looked back and forth between the two. “For me?” He asked. The duo nodded in unison. He reached out and took the gift from the large traitless. He unwrapped it quickly, his curiosity getting the better of him. Inside was a pendant. A small white rock hung from it, glowing lazily with green energy.
He looked back up quickly at the other two. “Arnicite?” He asked.
They both nodded again, Three much more vigorously than before.
“In case you get hurt again. Y’know, because it keeps happening.” One stated with a mocking tone.
Four just smiled as he put it on, slipping it over his head and around his neck. He put the rock under his shirt, feeling the cold stone against his skin.
“Thank you.” He said simply.
“Don’t mention it.” One responded.
“You earned it.” Three added on.
Four simply stood in the center of the room awkwardly. He had never received a gift before and wasn’t sure what to do next. “So, how much did it cost?” He asked.
One and Three exchanged looks quickly. “The cost isn’t important. Just don’t let it get wasted.” One answered.
So a lot then. Four thought to himself.
The three of them then talked a bit longer before splitting apart to go about their individual business. Not much time passed by before Two entered through the door, looking quizzically at a familiar leather envelope.
Every Vigilant stood to their feet upon seeing it. They gathered quickly around the table for a meeting.
“It was waiting in front of our door…” Two stated.
“Has that ever happened before?” Four asked, turning to One.
“No.” He answered. “At least not as long as I’ve been a Vigilant.”
“What’s it say?” Three queried.
One took the envelope from Two before opening it quickly. He pulled forth a thick parchment and began reading the contents aloud.
“New mission. Traited insurgents in Viridi Atrium. Reinforcements deemed necessary. Assistance will be sent...” He hesitated for a moment, gulping heavily as he read the last line. “None may leave.”
The realities of their career choice sank in once more as every member of Noble team processed the final words.
“How many are there?” asked Two.
“Doesn’t say.” One answered, rubbing his eyes as he sat down.
“‘Reinforcements deemed necessary. Assistance will be sent.’? What does that mean?” Four asked.
Three put his hands on the table before answering Four. “Probably means there’s going to be another group sent to back us up.”
“Who? Does it say?” Four continued.
No one answered for a long while, and the realization of who dawned on Four quickly. “The Immortals...?” He asked aloud.
“Their One no doubt reported what happened with Androse. So the higher ups think we make a good team.” Two rationalized, nodding to himself. He looked up at One. “You okay?” He asked.
The old man stood with his fists clenched and turned around quickly. “Get your things. We have a mission to complete.”
The group traveled quickly to the lush forest of the Viridi Atrium, the massive trees blotting out most sunlight and causing a green shadow to fall over the entire area. They followed along an overgrown path through the natural wonder.
Eventually, they came into a large opening. Within, Vigilants ran around doing various tasks. Some were setting up tents, some were carrying supplies to other places of their camp. Ahead was a particularly large tent. The Nobles stayed close together and walked towards the large encampment.
Inside, a familiar woman stood at a large flat boulder, being used as a makeshift table. A map of the Viridi Atrium was laid out on it. She turned as the Nobles entered, and immediately the aura surrounding her changed from a strategist to a egocentric queen.
“My my~. Looks like they sent our reinforcements boys.” She mocked.
“Our letter said you were the reinforcements.” One growled.
“Semantics.” She responded, waving her hand. “While you all were having your little friendship party wherever your home is, we were here gathering intel on our targets.”
“Then share this intel, if you actually gathered any.” Two ordered angrily.
She waved towards them, and the group gathered around her map. She pointed towards a circled area on the paper. “Here is their encampment. There’s a large number of mages within, around twenty or so! Too many even for my men... So! We’ll need you to infiltrate them and attack from within. Once you have sufficiently caused chaos within their ranks we’ll siege from the outside. Our numbers will prove impossible to escape through, and your... talents... will help in trapping them within our ranks.”
“And what if they prove too much for us? Twenty mages is a bit outside of our abilities.” One remarked.
“Then I’ll send Frajla.” The woman responded, her finger resting on her mask teasingly.
“And who, pray tell, is Frajla?” The old man continued.
The Immortal’s leader chuckled to herself before calling over an assistant. “Go fetch Frajla, won’t you dear?” She asked the Vigilant.
“Yes ma’am!” He barked before racing out of the tent.
“She’s my new number Two. Much better than anything you four have, and my new key to the high ranks. She’ll singlehandedly get the Immortals to rank two again, maybe even further.” She remarked.
Just as she finished, the man from earlier returned.
“One! Frajla is gone!”
“WHAT?! WHERE DID SHE GO!?” The woman exploded.
“W-witnesses say she left towards the enemy encampment!” The man stammered.
“GO! WE HAVE TO GO! ORDER THE TROOPS TO MOVE OUT IMMEDIATELY!” She screamed. “AND YOU!” She shouted as she turned to the Nobles. “Please. Save her from her own stupidity. The girl is as dense as you four and will certainly meet her doom.”
The woman then marched out of the tent, outside they heard her shout. “IMMORTALS. MOVE OUT.”
The Noble team looked between each other quickly.
“Frajla, huh?” said Two. “Doesn’t go by a number then?”
“That’s against the rules.” Grumbled One. “Come on. Let's go save the kid before she gets herself killed.”
The Nobles raced ahead of the Immortals, the legion taking a slower march rather than the group’s quick pace. However, each man stopped as they reached the area the base was supposed to be. In front of them were the tell-tale signs of a battlefield. Two mages laid out in the mud of the Atrium, a bunker behind them having the door nearly ripped off the heavy metal hinges.
As they tried to process a single traitless storming the base, more traited exited the shrubbery on the opposite side of the clearing. Every Vigilant turned towards the mages simultaneously, inspecting them for their traits as quickly as they saw them. The blue hair of an Integrity mage, the yellow eyes of Justice, the quickly growing heat of Bravery.
The Nobles readied their weapons, but the leader of the Immortals swung her ax in front of them. “Leave them to us. Go get Frajla.” She ordered.
Three looked first towards One, then to the door of the bunker before taking off inside. Four followed quickly after him with One and Two in pursuit. As they entered the threshold of the base, the scent of copper invaded Four’s nostrils. Blood streaked across the walls with another mage lying lifeless at the entrance.
The men kept running ahead, stopping at a four-way intersection.
“Which way do we go?” Three asked.
“How should we know? You’re the one that bolted in here!” Two snarked.
Before the bickering could continue, an explosion deeper in the facility rocked the entire foundation. Dust fell from the ceiling and walls.
“Split up.” One ordered. “Two, Three, you go forward. Four, take the right. I’ll go left.”
With no disagreements, the group took off in their respective paths. Four ran past several doorways, each one hanging open with no one inside. He continued at a brisk pace, looking inside of every room he passed. He slowed to a stop as he came to another intersection.
He took a moment to ponder which direction to run next, but heard yelling in front of him. It was very muffled, and clearly not in the hallway itself. He listened closer, trying to identify the location, only to realize it was growing louder. Suddenly, the wall in front of the intersection erupted. A large purple mage laid sprawled out on the ground as a small woman stood up from his form.
She had short brown pigtails, wounds all over her body, with two red streaks painted over from the top to the bottom of her mask, going over where the eyes were. She was panting heavily as she stood over the defeated wizard. She seemed to suddenly take notice of Four staring at her.
“What!?” She shouted angrily. “Never seen a girl tackle a guy through a wall before?!”
A yellow bolt of energy arced between them, the girl ducked instinctually before shouting some indiscernible insult and throwing a piece of debris back through the hole she had come through. With no further words, the woman charged back into the room she had burst from.
So this is Frajla. Four remarked to himself before following after her.
As he entered the room, he was surprised at the size of it. By initial looks, it was a cafeteria of some sort once, but now it was a battleground. Inside were six mages. Blue, yellow, light blue, orange, green. The rainbow of magic in front of him made Four hesitate, but Frajla was already screaming ahead, rushing down the closest wizard she could and slamming her fists into them repeatedly.
A Bravery wizard rushed her, a heavy metal breastplate with the symbol of the Justeco kingdom on it. He grabbed her pigtail and pulled, dragging her kicking and screaming off of the Integrity mage she was pummeling. She roared as she turned, her fist clenching tightly and punched him in the center of his chest. The armor dented inwards, and the man was blasted away from the force. He flipped as he hit a table, destroying the wooden furniture as he collided with it and laying still amongst the rubble.
Four stared in awe, but was kicked into action as the door to the cafeteria burst open. Three Justice mages stood at the entrance, and they took aim at Four, who stood the closest to them. Each one fired a different sized projectile, but he dove ahead, rolling as he hit the ground and flipped over one of the tables. The heavy wood barricade blocked the attacks, and allowed him to pump himself up before he flipped over it, charging the wizards now aiming their magic at Frajla.
The girl was already in a fist fight with a Perseverance mage, the large blades of the wizard’s magic swiping over her as she ducked his attack. She launched her leg out, sweeping the mage off his feet and slammed a hammer fist down onto his ribs. An initial crack was heard as her hand hit his torso, then another as he slammed into the floor. He cried out in pain, but Frajla was already charging the Patience mage.
Four’s ax swung forward, the handle smashing onto the wrist of the nearest mage. He shouted in agony and grasped at his wrist, but Four silenced him with a quick blow to the jaw. The man fell unconscious as his two allies turned their attention back to the traitless they had attacked prior. Several blades appeared above one of them, the constructs of magic racing through the air towards Four. The Vigilant threw himself to the side, collapsing into what remained of a bench, and threw his dagger at the man’s leg.
The man screamed as the blade pierced his thigh, and his friend stepped in front of him. Four jumped quickly back to his feet, and ran towards the Justice mage in front of him. A large cone appeared in front of the man and spun rapidly. The magical drill raced towards Four who dropped down to the ground. The attack whirred over him and into the wall behind him. He kicked off of the ground as he stood, boosting himself forward and swung his ax at the man’s leg. The wooden handle smashed into his knee. The leg bent at an unnatural angle, and the wizard quickly fell to the floor. Four’s boot then smashed into the man’s face, sending him to sleep.
The last mage, the one with the knife in his leg, had started to hobble towards the exit, but Four walked quickly up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. The man turned, fear covering his features. Four sighed heavily, and punched him square in the nose. Blood gushed out of his nostrils as he fell to the floor.
Finally, Four turned back towards Frajla. The woman was punching the Kindness mage’s shield wildly. Inside, the Perseverance mage was leaning on the Kindness wizard within. The purple-haired man was clutching his ribs and taking short rapid breaths. The green construct covering them was already cracking from the force of Frajla’s onslaught. She let out a scream as she slammed her fists into it over and over, the magic finally giving way and shattering. The Kindness mage shouted out as his magic broke, and fell to the ground.
Frajla clenched her bleeding fists and rushed towards the Perseverance mage once more. The man took a step back, but Frajla grabbed his shoulders before he could run. He put his hand on her face, trying to push her away as a purple blade sprang from his other arm. The magical spike slammed into Frajla’s torso, the blade poking through the other side of her armor.
Four’s heart lurched, and he began to rush forward as Frajla screamed out in pain. The woman grabbed the man’s wrist with one hand and made a fist with the other. She slammed her forearm down on the mage’s and an awful crunch tore through the room. The man’s magic immediately subsided just as his howls of agony began. He collapsed backwards, his arm flopping around uselessly as he clutched at it. Frajla stepped towards him, and though she was smaller than Four, she seemed gigantic. He turned away as she raised her foot, aiming it at the man’s head. The blast of concussive force rang out. Moments later, she stepped behind him.
“Hey.” She said, nonchalantly. “I’m Frajla. Frajla Lauss.”
“Uhm, hi… I’m Four.” He responded. “Don’t you need medical attention?” He asked, pointing towards her stab wound.
“What? Oh. Uh, probably.” She responded. “Thanks, uh, for your help. I might have bit off more than I could chew with this one… Do you know the way out?” She asked.
“Yeah.. follow me.” He answered, leading the woman outside. Four saw her begin limping as her adrenaline subsided. “Do you want some help?” He offered.
“Nah, I’ll manage.” She answered plainly.
The two exited the facility without another word. Outside, the Immortals had several mages in chains. The rest of Noble Team stood with the leader of the Immortals, the two Ones talking to one another. Even from here, Four could hear the woman’s haughty laughter. Three was the first to notice them, and he waved at Four.
“Thanks. See ya.” Frajla muttered, before limping towards the rest of the Immortals.
Four sighed. He had more questions than ever, and no one to answer them. He shrugged, looking up at the green foliage above and walked back towards the others. He kept being surprised by the people he met in this job. He could only hope he never ended up on the wrong side of their weapons.
He wondered if people told stories about where Frajla came from, or even him for that matter. Did anyone look up to them as heroes, or were they always cast as the villains? He huffed as he walked. In the end, it didn’t matter too much, he concluded. He would always do what he felt was right, no matter what.
Chapter 12 - Someone They Believe In
“You win again.” Three sighed.
A pair of dice lay between the group. All three members of Noble Team looked at the fourth. It was the fifth time in a row Four had managed to guess what the sum of the two numbers would be.
“Let me shake it.” Two said, picking the dice up and placing them in the wooden cup Three had been holding.
He rattled the dice around in the container, careful not to send them flying out the top, before slamming it down on the table upside down. “Call it.” He ordered.
“Twelve.” Three said.
“Seven.” One answered.
“Uh, four?” Four stammered.
Two’s eyes never left Four’s as he lifted the cup. He didn’t need to look at the result to know what it was, the loud groan from Three told him everything he needed to know.
“A one and a three.. Right again.” One stated. “Looks like your luck goes further than what you can survive.”
“You’re not hiding a clover on you are you? One of those four-leafed kinds.” Three asked, standing.
“No!” Four shouted out, grinning from ear to ear behind his mask. “Nothing like that! I’ve just always been a bit lucky, I guess.”
Two scoffed. “Can’t have been too lucky, still ended up a Vigilant.”
Four leaned back in his chair, tipping onto the back legs. “I’d say that was lucky too, after all, I met you guys.”
“Keep saying stuff like that and I’ll smack you with the next magic glove I get.” Two snarked.
“Come on,” Three jumped in. “No need to be mean, we know you got friendly with him too.”
Two’s ears turned bright red, and though they couldn’t see it, they could all imagine his face was the same color.
One chuckled. “Don’t be embarrassed. He has a way with people.”
Four’s chair dropped back down as he leaned forward. “I don’t think I do, personally. I just try to treat you guys like, well, people.” He looked down at his hands as he rested them on the table, his fingers fidgeting amongst themselves. “We’re always treated like we’re not a person, and the Vigilants even moreso than a normal traitless… maybe you guys just think that way because you’re not used to it?”
One stood up and put his hand on Four’s shoulder. “Son, let me tell you something. It’s not because we’re not used to it, it’s because you’re one of the only people that can still look at a Vigilant and think about the person behind the mask. That’s what makes you special, it’s something the rest of us couldn’t do… for our own reason…” One hesitated before saying the last line.
“For me it was because I always felt lost, but you showed me that I can still find a path.” Three chimed in quickly.
“...In a way, you taught me to believe in me again.” Two mumbled.
One looked at his team, pride in his eyes, but as the group looked towards him expectantly, his gaze dashed away quickly. “And you?” Two asked their leader.
“Well... I guess he helped me accept my losses.” He said, turning his back on the men.
The room grew quiet as the original three members of Noble Team all took on solemn expressions, Two looking down and Three unable to meet Four’s gaze. All four men nearly jumped out of their skin when a sudden knock came from the front door.
One looked back at the group, before approaching the door and opening it. Directly in front of them was a familiar leather-wrapped envelope. The older vigilant looked out the door, peeking in each direction before grabbing the package. He opened it as he turned, closing the door as he did so. He pulled the paper out, each man looking at him expectantly as he began to read.
“Noble Team. Next mission. A VIP in the Amikeko palace must be dealt with. The target cannot survive. Failure will be met with extreme consequences, success will be met with substantial rewards.” One’s eyes squinted as he read the rest silently to himself before looking up at the other men. “Below that are directions and instructions, even a date and times. It’s like they know exactly where the target will be and how to get to them.”
“That’s… unusual…” Two responded.
“Maybe it’s a spy they placed, one that turned traitor.” Three suggested.
“Maybe.” One shrugged before taking a deep breath. “Regardless, we’re not ones to ask questions. This appears to be a big job, maybe one of our biggest. Remember, ‘failure will be met with extreme consequences’.”
“But the reward will be substantial. Maybe even enough to retire?” Two asked, his voice raising to an usually higher pitch.
One chuckled again. “Maybe then I’d get to stay true to my words.”
“What words?” Four asked.
“There are no old Vigilants, remember?” One answered.
“Another palace mission though...” Three stated, his voice grim.
The group thought back to their last mission in a palace and their encounter with the wizard siblings. Two subconsciously reached towards his shoulder, feeling towards his missing arm before stopping himself squeezing his hand tightly. “This one should be easier. Amikeko has fewer guards than the other cities, and Princess Mila isn’t even in the kingdom, no doubt off on some council business.”
“We’ll hope for that, but expect the worst, as usual.” One responded. “Gather your things men, we’ll be having a stealth mission this time.”
Four squeezed his fists tightly. He wasn’t happy with the idea of an assassination mission, but if he would really be able to retire after this mission, one where they killed a traitor spy, could he say no? Thoughts of home flooded his mind forcing conviction into his muscles. He stood and went to get his gear.
The men snuck easily enough into Amikeko’s capital, the city of Blethrin. It was a large city, built upon the massive hills that made up central Amikeko. Many attributed the land formations to the same magic that caused the Viridi Atrium to grow so large. Regardless of the cause, the city had many different levels of elevation within.
The castle was on top of the largest hill, overlooking all other structures in the kingdom. The letter guided the men to a boulder along the hillside. The large rock was vaguely in the shape of a bear, and heavily overgrown. Hidden just out of sight was a small tunnel. The men had to crawl on their hands and knees to fit, Three barely squeezing through. One halted the group as they reached the end of the passage. Carefully pushing on the ceiling above him, he slid a tile silently out of the way.
Noble Team helped each other out of the secret entrance one after another. They found themselves in a royal mourning room, the place where a previous king would be mourned as a successor was chosen. The perfect place for someone to sneak in, given how little the room would be used.
The men had followed the letter’s directions to a T, using patience clocks within the city to determine the exact timing deadline they were expected to meet. As such, they found no guards in the hallway outside currently.
“Must be why the letter is so strict on the timing. Got it in the middle of the changing of the guard.” Two commented.
The Vigilants slipped through the shadows cast by the torches within, the directions guiding them along a series of hallways. Around them, the tapestry became more and more grandiose as they went deeper and deeper within the palace. The group trekked on, reaching a long corridor leading to a set of intricate looking double doors. The traitless men dashed across the hallway as quickly as they could, but Four stopped, looking down the hall towards the doors.
For a moment, he thought he heard the sound of crying, someone in pain. The shadows of the hall grew longer as he stared, stretching further and further, reaching towards him. His instincts screamed danger, and he naturally obeyed. He rushed to catch up with his teammates, but kept his eyes open behind him, just in case.
Before long, the group came to a corner. One stopped them here, motioning for silence. Around the bend was the door their target was behind. In front of it however, were two guards. The armored men stood silent and motionless. However, as the traitless stared, the two men looked at each other and nodded. They then both turned and marched away further down the hallway.
The group turned and looked amongst themselves. Two shrugged, and started off for the door. One hurried after him, followed by Three and Four. One stopped them just outside the door, and brought his voice to barely a whisper.
“The target should be within. Get in, make it fast, get out. That’s our mission.” One reminded them. “Let’s go.”
His gloved hand gripped the door knob tightly, and the group burst forth simultaneously. Each man wielded their weapons in hand, brandishing the blades of their axes forward towards their opponent. However, what sat in front of them was a startled girl, her green eyes wide with fear. The men instantly recognized her.
“Princess Clover?” Three said aloud, his confusion evident.
“W-who are you?! Where are the guards!?” The princess demanded.
The men lowered their weapons in an instant. “Apologies, my lady, we were sent to handle a threat in the castle.” Two stammered out quickly. “Let me see that letter, One.” He demanded, turning to the older Vigilant.
The leader pulled the letter out, handing it to Two. The older man’s gaze never leaving the young princess. Two quickly took the letter and began scanning the instructions on it, mentally retracing their path in correspondence to the directions.
“It’ll be alright.” Four told the girl. “This is just a big misunderstanding, we apologize profusely.” He told her, his voice taking on a soothing tone. The woman still held a fearful expression, but her stance seemed to relax some.
He turned towards One, who turned away at the same time. “She looks just like her...” He mumbled, shaking his head.
“Just like who?” Four queried.
“Hm? I-I didn’t say anything.” One stammered.
Curious as he was, Four remained silent. He had learned in his time here that if one of them wanted to share something with him, they eventually would. They approached Two who looked up at them with worry in his eyes.
“There was no mistake.” He whispered to the group. “This is the right room.”
“Then… they want us to…” Four asked, trailing off in his sentence.
“Looks that way…” Two responded, pocketing the letter. He hefted his axe in his hand, gripping it tightly. His eyes were distraught as he gazed at the ground.
One stepped in front of him, his fists clenched. He didn’t meet any man’s gaze, but spoke to all of them. “Noble Team, we’re leaving. Let’s go.”
Four sighed out in relief, Three exhaled heavily as well. Two stepped back. “You read what the letter said. You know as well as I do what the ‘consequences’ are!” He reminded their leader.
“I’ll report to them myself. I commanded the retreat. We’re done here.” One stated calmly.
“Then what will happen to you?! You think you’ll just get a slap on the wrist!?” Two nearly shouted, his voice raising.
“No. I’ll accept whatever punishment comes my way.” One simply responded.
“Even then, do you think they’ll just let us walk? They’ll send someone else to do this job anyways!” Two continued.
“I WILL NOT KILL HER.” One roared. Though he stood barely taller than Two, within that moment their leader appeared to tower over every single one of them.
Silence fell upon the group, only to be broken by the gentlest voice Four had ever heard.
“So you are here to kill me then.” Clover stated.
“N-no, I-” One started, turning towards the girl as he tried to come up with an excuse. He stopped suddenly as there was a knock at the door.
“Miss Clover? Is everything alright?” Asked a male voice.
The men dove for hiding places. Each one moving quickly and silently. Just as Four dove under the bed, the door began to open. The heavy metal boots of the guards from earlier stepped inside.
“Oh. Why didn’t you answer?” The man asked.
“How is she still here? Didn’t they make it on time?!” The other guard angrily whispered in a poor attempt at being quiet.
“No matter, we can do it ourselves. Bet they’ll pay us loads more if the job was done right even when their own guys failed!” The first one responded.
He turned to the princess, brandishing a sword as he did. “Sorry miss, your father doesn’t make all the rules in Amikeko any more.” He stated, moving towards her.
A roar rang out as One swung from the dresser he was hiding behind. In an instant the man’s sword arm was on the ground. Before a sound could be made, One’s knife had already reached his throat. His friend gasped out as Three placed both hands on the sides of his head, twisting abruptly and cutting the cry short.
Clover jumped backwards, her hands covering her mouth to stifle any sound. The old Vigilant turned to her, pain filled his eyes as he saw her terror, and he turned back to the other men.
“Noble Team. You will go home and report that I went rogue. None of you could complete the mission due to my betrayal.” He turned back to the kindness princess. “Miss Clover, it does not appear as though your home is safe. Do you know where your father is?”
She calmed her breathing as she responded. “Father is… unwell… as of late. I-... I am alone.” Her eyes stared at the floor as the reality of the situation dawned on her.
One approached her, looking down at the young girl. “I will protect you then, as long as these old bones can fight.”
“I will too.” Four shouted. “I can’t let this happen, no matter what happens to me.”
“Me neither.” Three shouted. He hefted his axe. “This isn’t right. A Kindness princess? Whoever runs this show has gone too far this time.”
One looked like he was about to argue, but was interrupted by Two. “We’re Noble Team, remember? Whatever we’re in for, we’re in it together.”
The old man looked his friends in the eyes, and behind his mask Four saw the dropping of water. His eyes glimmered, and were softer than he had ever seen them. The old vigilant turned away, moving his mask to the side and wiping his eyes.
“Well, m’lady? Will you have us guard you for a time?” He asked, turning to Clover.
Her gaze drifted from each man’s eyes, attempting to read their expressions behind their masks. Sensing no hostility towards her, she nodded. “I won’t ask anyone to fight for me, but I imagine I’m no longer the only one in danger.”
“You’d be right.” One responded, nodding as well. He turned back to the traitless men behind him. “Very well, Noble team. I imagine each of you has had someone important in your life at some point. It is time to become someone they believe in. Let’s get out of here.” He finished, leading the men and lady out of the room.
Chapter 13 - To The End
The heavy marching of boots echoed across the cobblestone. A small army of faceless traitless jogged in unison down the roads of Blethrin. Each man and woman in the group wore the expressionless mask of the Scorned Vigilants. These sellswords were ruthless bounty hunters, and today they were on the hunt for their most dangerous opponent to date, other Vigilants.
In the shadows nearby, Two pulled further into the darkness of the alley. “They mobilized quickly. Only a day and they’re already ready for war.” He commented.
“So this is the ‘consequences’ they spoke of…” Four assessed.
Two nodded. “Seems like it. Let’s get back to the others.” he responded.
The two men snuck away into the city, taking the many staircases that existed around the gigantic hills to travel vertically further and further back to their temporary hideout. They approached the entrance, Two holding up his fingers in the number two, Four doing the same for four. This signaled to Three that it was really them, the large man hiding out of sight and watching for attackers.
The men knocked on the door of an abandoned shack overlooking the edge of the hill. Once, no doubt a gardener’s shed for some local park, now just an empty building. After making their presence known, they entered. Inside, One sat with Clover, the young princess of Amikeko.
As Two entered, he began his report. “It’s just as we thought. The Immortals are already here, Scavengers no doubt prowling about. The whole organization is mobilized. This was big, and they need her gone.”
The older Vigilant and leader of Noble Team closed his eyes in thought, and even with the mask covering his face, the heavy frown was noticeable.
“What about the Atrium? We could use the heavy foliage of the forest to hide our tracks. We could escape to Kurago, and plan further from there.” One suddenly suggested.
“That… could work…” Two said, analyzing the path mentally himself. “The Immortals started their search on the ground level of Blethrin, so we could use the higher areas to travel quickly through the city and reach the edge of town.”
One nodded. “It’s the best we have right now. Go get Three.” He ordered.
Two and Four both turned and exited the door. They ran quickly to the building Three was hiding atop, climbing up the side deftly. However, Three wasn’t in his position. At the edge of the roof, the railing had been bent outward, bashed by an incredible force. The duo quickly ran over and peered over the side. Beneath them was a large fall, leading to a cobblestone alley far below. Even from here, the two could see a large crack across the stones where something heavy fell.
“Should we report back to One?” Four asked, unsure of his next move.
“That wasn’t our order. Let’s go find him.” Two responded, hopping over the railing.
Four followed quickly after, the duo traveling back down the stairway and to the alley with the small crater. Signs of a struggle covered the alley, small splatters of blood and broken environmentalism littered the area. Even with Four’s limited tracking experience, he’d be able to follow the trail.
Inside, One and Clover sat together in silence. They waited patiently for their allies to get back, but One could tell Clover was anxious. She continued to look around vaguely, tapping her foot against the ground while fidgeting with her fingers.
“You know,” One broke the silence. “My little girl looked just like you.” he said warmly.
“She did?” Clover asked, her attention turning to focus on him. Her verdant green eyes staring back at him, filling him with memories he had locked away.
“Yes, she did. In fact, she was a Kindness soul too. The gentlest of all souls.” He continued.
“Was she a wizard?” Clover asked, her expression curious to know more.
“No, not quite. Her soul was never... very strong... she got sick a lot.”
“Is that why you’re a soldier? Dad told me that the best soldiers fight for others.” She asked.
“It was, yeah. I made a lot of money doing this, and it helped keep her healthy for a while. But fate had different plans. She was able to find peace, while I stayed here fighting.” He said as he gazed in no particular direction.
“Well... I’m thankful you’re here…” Clover said quietly. “If you didn’t come, I probably wouldn’t be alive right now.”
One shook his head, clearing his thoughts. “Yeah, I suppose we’re all here for a reason, right?”
“Mhm. The king and queen took me in when I was alone. My first parents left me behind, and I asked myself for a long time if it was my fault. But the royal family made me royalty anyways, and their kindness helped me find my own.” The little girl spoke. She looked at the floor as she did so, not focusing on the man near her.
“So you know what it was like to be traitless for a time… Do you hate them for it?” One asked, watching her carefully.
“No. If they hadn’t left me I wouldn’t have found this family, and if I didn’t find them, I don’t know if I’d have ever found my kindness.” She responded.
One mused over the information for a moment before responding to her. “You’ll make a fine queen some day.”
“If I get out of this mess, maybe.” She joked.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you do.” He teased, ruffling her hair.
The two laughed together quietly for a moment, before growing quiet once more.
“Where the hell are they?” One demanded aloud.
Meanwhile, Two and Four followed the trail of combat ahead. Two stopped the younger Vigilant and knelt down. He picked up a dagger from the ground, a standard vigilant weapon, snapped in half. He pulled his axe off his back and motioned ahead.
“Let’s hurry.” He commanded.
The two of them run ahead, turning around several bends in the alleyways before finding a small bend with a sheer drop. In front of them stood Three, his fists raised with blood dripping from behind his mask, heavy cracks and chips covered the metal face protection. More blood fell from his hands, his knuckles raw and cut from the punches he threw.
Seeing the person in front of him made Four’s heart drop. A familiar small woman stood with her fists raised. Blood covered her hands, but it was clearly not her own. She breathed hard, the top left corner of her customized mask broken off. The two red lines trailing down across her eyes mixed with blood that dripped from her mouth opening. She looked at the two newcomers as they approached, and let out a chuckle.
“There’s the rest of you.” She stated between breaths.
Two and Four immediately ran to Three’s side.
“How you holding up?” Two asked the bigger Vigilant.
“Ribs are broken, hands too. Vision has been fuzzy for a while. She hits hard. Hardest I’ve ever been hit.” Three gasped out.
“Take the back line then. We’ll go on the offensive.” Two commanded.
Without another word he charged ahead. He swung his axe in a horizontal swipe towards Frajla’s torso. The woman jumped backwards, dodging the attack before kicking off the ground with enough force to crack the stones beneath. Her fist struck forth, her face a snarl of violence. Two dropped down, using the missed swing of his axe’s momentum to carry him through a roll.
Her eyes darted down to his position, just as Four’s axe came swinging towards her legs. Frajla pulled her legs up quickly, the axe swinging under her as she fell downwards. She caught herself on her hands and pushed off violently, shoving herself into the air just as Two spun his axe around to where she had been.
She twirled in the air, before hitting the ground in between the three Nobles. She raised her fists into a fighting stance. Two suddenly swung for her back, but she jumped backwards towards him as he rushed her. Her elbow slammed into his mask, a gargled gasp escaped his throat as his nose was crushed under the metal mask. The duo fell to the ground, the sound of flesh smashing into stone audible as Two’s head hit the ground.
“No!” Four shouted, rushing towards Frajla as she jumped to her feet.
He swung his axe violently at her shoulder, but she caught it by the handle and slammed her palm into the handle. The weapon head snapped off just before Four let go of it. He ducked down, his shoulder smashing into her torso and knocking the breath out of her. He lifted her, roaring as he did and smashed her into the ground. Quickly, he climbed atop her, fists clenched.
From his mounted position, he shot his fist down towards her face. The woman grabbed his wrist and he could feel his bones shift. He gasped out before slamming his elbow into her mask. She cried out before bucking upwards, throwing him off-balance. Her legs shot up and wrapped around the shoulder of the arm she held.
Pain raced along his arm, the agony pulsing into his very core. He pulled hard against her, fighting her strength as best he could. Three rushed quickly to meet them, his large hands grabbing her head. He tugged harshly, pulling the woman off the ground and tossed her by her head into the nearby wall.
She slammed into the stone structure with enough force to shake the dirt from it. She fell to her knees from the impact but quickly stood back to her feet.
“She’s tough, that’s for sure!” Two shouted as he got back to his feet.
“Yeah...” Four agreed, rubbing his shoulder.
“Let’s fight together.” Three suggested.
“Agreed.” Two and Four said in unison.
Frajla took a fighting stance once more and looked at the men. She pulled her mask up enough to reveal her mouth and spit blood on the ground between them.
“Bring it.” She stated, placing her mask back in position.
Three roared out as the trio charged at once. His heavy fist swung for her head, but she ducked it quickly. The bare knuckles smashed into the stone behind her, but she was unable to dodge the uppercut to her stomach from Four. He recoiled his fist, shaking it.
“It’s like she’s made of stone!” He shouted.
She launched her fist out quickly, smashing her knuckles into Four’s mask. He recoiled heavily from the blow as Two swung his dagger for her stomach. She caught his wrist and spun around, her elbow slamming into the side of Two’s head. He released his dagger as he shot to the ground, and the woman spun it expertly in her fingers.
She turned to Three quickly and stabbed forward. The large man reached for her wrist, but was surprised when the blade was stopped by a glowing green construct. Every combatant looked up to see Clover channeling magic towards Three. Behind her stood One, who quickly jumped over the rail above them. He landed on his feet and spun his axe forward.
“Noble Team. I expected better than for you to be bested by some little girl.” He mocked.
“Little?!” Frajla roared. She screamed out as she charged the older Vigilant.
Her dagger slammed forward, but the point only met magical energy once more. She growled, but the sound was cut short as One’s axe handle smashed into her face. She backpedaled from the blow, and was swept off her feet as Four launched a kick at her legs. While she was still in the air, Three launched his fist down at her ribs. She raised her arms to block the blow as best she could, but it hit center mass. She blasted towards the ground like a bullet, ricocheting off the cobblestone and bouncing slightly into the air. She gasped out in pain as Two tackled her.
The Noble wrapped his legs around her neck, holding her arm up with his hand. She grabbed at his leg, but Three quickly pinned down her hand. One then placed his axe blade at her face. She stopped struggling as the metal was placed against her mask.
“Good.” One said. “Now. You’re that rulebreaker, aren’t you?”
“They didn’t… mention anything about mages!” Frajla spat, as she struggled to speak.
“Wait, what did they tell you?” One asked, motioning for Two and Three to release her.
The men loosened their grips, and Frajla sat up, rubbing her neck. “They told us the Nobles went rogue. That’s it.” the female traitless asked.
“So, you’re not after Clover?” Four asked.
“Clover? Like Princess Clover?” Frajla asked, her eyes widening as she glanced at the young Kindness mage.
“That’s correct.” She responded simply.
“Jeez. Guess that answers some questions.” Frajla muttered. “I didn’t stick around for the full briefing. As soon as that weirdo started talking I dipped out.”
“Weirdo?” Two asked.
“Yeah, some Vigilant guy, but his mask was different. His was more like a helmet, it covered his whole head, not just his face.” She responded. “He started telling everyone what to do, and our One just seemed scared of him. He gave me a bad feeling, so I left.”
The Nobles all glanced at each other before One looked back towards Frajla.
“Well, I would recommend getting out while you can. No one would think twice about a Vigilant that just went home right now, at least not an Immortal. They’ll probably just assume we killed you.” He said, putting his hand out to help her up.
“Yeah, probably a good idea to get out while the gettin’ is good.” She agreed, accepting his hand and standing to her feet.
She rubbed her shoulder and looked over at Three.
“Hey big guy, no hard feelings right?” She asked, shrugging.
He sighed heavily. “Yeah, I guess.”
“So, what are you guys gonna do? They got a whole army down there. Scavengers and Immortals working together.” She asked, brushing herself off.
“Well,” One started. “Suppose we’ll try to get out of town.”
“And if they catch you?” Frajla asked.
The older Vigilant shrugged. “We’ll fight.”
“All of them?” She continued.
“Every last one. They might have an army, but we have a team, and we’ll fight together to the end.” One stated, pride in his voice.
Chapter 14 - No Old Vigilants
Three flexed his hand as the young girl began to use her healing magic on his other. The bones within aligning and repairing themselves from the magical energy that flowed across them. As she finished, he raised both hands to his eyes.
“Dang, you’re pretty good for someone so young.” He stated, admiring her healing abilities.
“My sister taught me a lot...” Clover stated sheepishly.
“Well, give her my regards next time you see her. She taught a strong young lady!” Four remarked, his wounds also having been recently healed.
One smiled behind his mask, before interrupting the conversation. “Alright, now that everyone feels better, we need to get out of town. It’s only a matter of time before they find us, and personally, I don’t wanna fight an army.”
Every man stood, weapons once more in hand and steely resolve in their eyes. Even Clover had a look of determination.
“We’ll take the rooftops as far as we can and avoid the ground level. Once we reach the end of town we’ll gun it for the exit. Any objections?”
Seeing no one disagree, the leader turned to the door. “Alright then, let’s move.”
They exited their shack, staying low and moving quick. They traveled back to the location where they had fought Frajla earlier, and One motioned for Clover to come closer.
“Climb on my back and hold on tight. I’ll carry you from here on.” He told the girl. She nodded and wrapped her arms around his neck, holding on tightly.
Two jumped first, landing on a roof further down and tumbling with the impact. He looked around quickly and motioned for the others to follow. Three and Four followed, and One jumped down after them. While the others rolled with the landing, One took the impact entirely. He groaned as he hit the ground, but stood regardless, waving the worried looks of the others away.
“You okay?” One asked the kindness mage on his back.
“I’m fine.” She replied.
“Okay, Noble Team, move quick and quiet.” He commanded.
The group traveled quickly, leaping across alleyways from rooftop to rooftop. Every now and then, Four could see Vigilants down in the streets, no doubt searching for them.
If they only ever looked up. He mused to himself.
Before long the group had reached the outer edges of town, they were now on a decline from the hills near the center of the city, and moved further down as they traveled. Eventually, Four stopped seeing any Vigilants. Around the same time, the buildings became too spread out to jump between safely.
“Let’s hoof it the rest of the way.” One ordered. The men followed his directions and climbed down to the city streets, keeping a careful eye open for any attackers.
Once everyone was down, they moved swiftly along the road, traveling for the exit as quickly as they could. Four tried to remember a map of the city, and figured they were only a few blocks away from the city limits. As they turned a corner, Four’s memory was confirmed, and they could see the walls out of town ahead of them.
An air of joy surrounded the group, their objective in sight. The men all moved quickly, rushing for escape. Suddenly, the sound of rattling stopped them in their tracks. In a nearby alley, debris had fallen. Was it common litter? A rat perhaps? They stood perfectly still, each straining their trained ears.
Suddenly, an explosion of commotion. Men swarmed around them, dozens of masked soldiers, each wearing the same expression as the Nobles themselves. The Immortals had found them. Their numbers seemed endless, everywhere Four looked he saw a man or woman with an axe, each one ready to strike him down without hesitation.
A familiar haughty laugh rang through the air. The leader of the Immortals stepped from an alley ahead of them.
“My my, and I thought you were less predictable than that, One~.” She taunted.
“Let us be, and none of your men have to die today.” The old Vigilant growled.
She stepped towards them, one hand on her hip and the other holding an axe. “I’m surprised One. I expected you’d jump at the opportunity to repay me for what happened to your old Four.”
Four glanced over at One, the rage in his eyes visible for any that looked. “Last chance.” One threatened.
The woman stepped even closer and leaned towards them. “I couldn’t let you go even if I wanted to. So play along will you?” She whispered, glancing up and to the side. Four followed her gaze, and saw a lone Vigilant standing high atop a tower in the distance, overlooking the entire situation unfold.
“Don’t make us do this.” One grumbled.
“Do what, dear? Don’t look at me with that kind of expression. You know as well as I do what happens to traited scum that join the Vigilants. Why, I did your group a favor! That old Four, hiding his Patience magic that whole time… unless you knew of course? Regardless, if you beg the higher ups, they might let you serve me. At least keep your necks knife free… unlike the last Noble that crossed me.” She scoffed.
One didn’t make a sound as he lunged forward, wrapping his arms around the woman and pulling her back against him. He held his dagger against her throat, turning her quickly towards her own men.
“Nobles! Behind me!” He barked, putting his back to the nearest building, an old empty bar.
Noble Team quickly rushed behind their leader, their axes pointed towards the men in front of the building. One backed up, forcing the group closer to the structure. As they approached, the Immortals in front of the bar moved aside, fearful for their leader’s life.
“One…” The woman coughed out between choked breaths. “You’ll die today.” She taunted, croaking out her threat.
“Ma’am, no matter when I die, I promise to outlive you.” Without another word the Nobles burst into the building, and One kicked the woman in her back, sending her flying into the front line of her men.
“Run!!” The old Vigilant roared.
The group turned and blasted ahead, in the back of the building was a staircase leading up. Each man took the steps two at a time, flying upwards. Windows shattered downstairs as the Immortals looked for any opening inside. Ahead was a short hallway ending in a window. Three charged forward, slamming himself into the glass pane and out onto the neighboring rooftop.
The group followed their largest member, leaping forward onto the building nearby. They took no time to check for wounds, each man sprinting full blast forward. With every building they leapt to the next. In the roads below came the thundering of footsteps as an army chased them. Behind, men were already jumping through the window onto the rooftops.
As they kept running, the decline from earlier played against them. They charged forward, but only a few buildings ahead was a steep incline, leading to a higher part of town. One ducked lower and jumped forward, he slammed into the wall with his feet and hand, sliding down it to the alley below. The Nobles followed quickly behind him, taking not even a moment after their feet touched the cobblestone before blasting forward once more.
The men rushed right, going for the eastern exit out of the city. Ahead of them, two Immortals burst into sight. Two and Three ran ahead of the pack, Three lowering his shoulder while Two leapt into the air. As Two’s feet made contact with the man’s head, he rode the man downwards, stomping him into the ground and moving forward without missing a beat. Three simply ran through his opponent, smashing him to the side.
Four saw a shadow from above, and looked to the wall they had slid down. At the top ran the Vigilant he had seen earlier. The man rushed forward, faster than any of them and to an archway ahead that would lead to the street exit. He kicked it harshly, the stone breaking way and crumbling in front of them, blocking their path.
One turned left, taking a detoured staircase up to the higher level of Blethrin. The Nobles followed quickly in pursuit, the army behind them gaining as they were slowed by the staircase. As they reached the top, One looked around quickly, before taking off forward down an alley. Four sprinted after him, his legs and lungs burning with heat more intense than he had ever felt before.
They burst into a roadway, the path leading to an ornate decorative rope bridge that would connect the higher district to the lower one. The men charged ahead, only to see the same Vigilant from before land on the other side and cut the ropes. The bridge collapsed in front of them, blocking off yet another path.
Four looked closer at the man as One scanned for another way out. The Vigilant wore the same mask as them, but it covered his entire head. The metal holding a thick lock on the side. His memories went back to what Frajla told them, about the Vigilant with the helmet instead of a mask.
Suddenly, One burst off to the left. The men followed quickly, each one panting heavily. Another staircase lie ahead of them, leading to an even higher part of the city. They charged upwards, distancing themselves from the men behind. Never missing a beat, they rushed forward once more.
With every turn they made, the Vigilant would appear and block it off. With every escape path they took, he would meet them and ruin it.
“He’s cornering us.” Two stated between strained breaths.
“Nobles, we’re out of places to run.” One stopped, panting heavily. He looked around wildly, the girl on his back holding on tightly.
His eyes stopped on an old chapel, seemingly abandoned. “There!” The leader pointed. “It’s better than being out in the open!” He ordered, rushing towards the place of worship.
The men burst through the double doors, slamming them closed behind them and moving the heavy locking board in place. Most of the building was stone, but the back wall was wooden, no doubt leading to a housing area for the priests that once lived here.
One knelt down, allowing Clover to step off of his back. The old Vigilant then moved quickly, pushing pews together. “Hide under here, miss.” He asked. The girl nodded, and crawled under the protection he had built for her.
“Men, no matter what happens here, it’s been an honor.” Their leader stated, hefting his axe.
“You’re gonna feel stupid for saying that when we all get out of this.” Two remarked.
“I hope you’re right.” One chuckled.
Suddenly, an axe slammed into the wood of the door. Another followed, then another and another. A barrage of blades bashed into the wood barricade. In only moments, the doorway had been completely cut open, and before them marched a sea of masks. The Nobles formed a line in front of Clover’s hiding spot, standing off against the Immortals that approached.
The four men stood ready as the building filled with enemies. A swarm of axes stood in front of them, and more behind them. The windows were smashed open as more Vigilants climbed through, each eager to be the one to earn their leader’s favor.
“Well, shall we get to work?” Two asked his comrades.
“Been a long time comin’.” Three stated before roaring out a challenge, charging the nearest man.
In an instant, the room exploded into violence. Multiple axes swung at Three, who raised his own to meet them and swung hard with the back of his hand. Gurgles burst from the throats of those he hit, as their jaws left the sockets that held them in place. Two leapt ahead, swinging his axe with his lone hand as he slid across the floor. The weapon tore through the knees of several Immortals, who screamed out in pain as the Noble stood, striking his axe head into the nearest man.
One and Four both charged simultaneously at opposite ends of the building, meeting the men coming in through the windows. Four shoved forth with his axe handle, pushing three men against the wall. He ducked a swipe from a nearby Immortal, the missed attack hitting one of his pinned comrades in the chest. The Noble Vigilant kicked out with his foot, hitting the man who attacked him in the shin. The Immortal dropped to the floor and Four rolled across his back, pulling his axe with him. The hook of the weapon dug into the ribs of one of the pinned men, pulling all three Immortals down to the ground.
Three swung with all his might, his axe tearing straight through a man and cleaving the soldier to next him. Meanwhile another Immortal charged forth, screaming as he brought his axe down. Three sidestepped, and grabbed the man’s head. He spun, hitting two more Immortals with the man’s legs before tossing him through the air.
One spun to the side as an Immortal crashed into several of his comrades next to him, tossed from gods knows where. He struck down with his axe, the weapon smashing into the flesh of an Immortal’s shoulder. The Noble grabbed the man’s dagger from his belt and slashed an approaching enemy across the throat, before stabbing the weapon into the chest of the man to his right.
Two rolled forward, his axe coming down onto the head of another Immortal, the blade piercing through the metal mask that guarded his face. He then jumped up, landing on the handle of another Immortal’s axe. The man shoved forward, and Two leapt through the air. He landed on another Immortal that was preparing to strike at Four. The one-armed Noble stabbed the man multiple times with his dagger before tossing the weapon through the air into the temple of an enemy about to attack One.
Four spun, his axe decapitating and Immortal as he did so, just in time to see Three lift a man by his throat and slam him into the wooden boards of the ground with enough force to send him through them. Switching his attention back to his own battles, Four pushed forward and slammed his shoulder into the nearest Immortal’s stomach. The man retched over and Four stood back to full height, bringing his knee up into the man’s face as he did so.
An axe struck down on Three’s arm, the blade digging into the muscles of his bicep. He roared out and tossed himself on top of the man. A crunch sounded out from underneath him, followed by a scream. Three rolled to the side, the blade coming free as he did so. The Immortal held his shoulder, tossing in agony. Three silenced him with a stomp to his head as he swung his axe at another approaching enemy.
One grabbed the handle of an Immortal’s axe and spun behind him. He brought the weapon into the man’s throat and lifted him off the ground. As another Immortal attacked him from the side, he turned and let the man he held take the hit for him. Kicking the now dying Immortal back into his comrade, One slashed with his own axe and took off his distracted opponent’s arm.
Four ducked a swipe aimed for his neck, and stabbed the pommel of his axe into the attacker’s throat. The man reeled back, gagging and clutching at his neck. Then Four thrusted forth in the opposite direction, the top of his axe blade smashing into an Immortal’s face. Four shouted out when a dagger stabbed down into his back, piercing through his shoulder. He kicked backwards at the man, smashing his foot into the attacker’s chest. He reached behind him and pulled the dagger out of his back, before stabbing another Immortal with the weapon, his own blood still dripping from it.
A dagger flew across the room and sliced into One’s thigh, the older Vigilant shouting out and looking towards his assailant. An Immortal reached for another dagger on his belt, only for his arm to get taken off by Two. The smaller Noble then spun around, letting go of his axe and grabbing a dagger from the dying Immortal. He tossed the weapon forward, hitting another Vigilant in the throat. Three’s boot them smashed into the man’s sternum, blasting him backwards into his comrades who fell from the force of the blow.
Two smiled at the teamwork, only to cry out as a dagger stabbed into his ribs. He spun, his hand grabbing the man’s collar and tossing him to the floor. Quickly and violently, his boot met the man’s throat. He grimaced from the pain in his side, but hefted his axe and swung into another enemy.
Four blocked two attacks at once, snarling from the sting of two fresh slashes across his chest. He pushed back hard against the two men, their eyes lighting up in surprise as the single Vigilant overpowered them and knocked them to the ground. Four held them to the floor, his axe handle against their throats. He then jumped up, slamming his feet down on the handle and crushing their throats. He grit his teeth as another blade smashed into his back. He staggered forward, before turning around and tackling his assailant. Grabbing the man’s own dagger, Four stabbed him repeatedly in the chest.
Three swung his axe once more, the blade hitting three Immortals at once, and getting stuck in the mangle that the weapon had caused. Releasing it, Three reached for the nearest pew. Roaring, the large man swung the entire bench like a club, smashing several Immortals to the ground. He snarled as an axe hit him in the calf, causing him to buckle and fall. The Immortal swarmed the wounded man, taking the opportunity to finish off the Noble.
One suddenly burst forward, arms spread out and tackling every single man charging Three at once. The combatants collapsed into a pile of fists, blades, and violence. Three stood once more, gritting his teeth through the pain and grabbing his axe. He lifted the weapon, and the men still stuck on it and smashed the entire thing down onto another Immortal.
One felt blades stab him, and weapons cut into his flesh, but ignored the pain. Instead, grabbing the nearest man’s chin and rolling to the side. The snap of bone told him all he needed about that particular opponent. Standing, he took in the scene. Three had multiple men cowering as he swung an entire pile of their friends like a mace attached to his axe blade, Two had multiple men writhing on the floor (all of them missing at least one limb), and Four’s hands and mask were covered in blood, but it didn’t appear to be his own as he grabbed another Immortal with his bare hands. Suddenly, a dagger pierced One’s calf, one of the men from the pile he just left. Groaning, One raised his elbow and dropped it directly onto the back of the man’s neck.
Four’s vision was red as he grabbed another man, bashing his head against the wall again and again until he stopped struggling. Another tried to stab him with their dagger, only for Four to grab the weapon and turn it against him, forcing him to stab himself in the heart. He scanned for the next opponent but saw none standing near him. An axe swung from below, slashing across his hip. Four cried out, but turned growling. The man tried to crawl backwards, his leg bent at an odd angle.
“N-no! No!” he shouted as Four grabbed an axe from the ground and swung it downwards. The blade ripping through the man’s armor.
He stood there, weapon buried in an opponent, breathing heavily, before collapsing backwards. Finally, the room was still. Some Immortals still squirmed on the floor, writhing in pain or groaning from their wounds, but Four doubted any would survive. Standing, bleeding from a multitude of wounds and cuts across his body, the youngest Noble limped towards his allies.
Each Noble stood in the center of the church, their bodies cut and bruised in more places to count. Slowly, Clover climbed out from under the pews. The men looked amongst one another, and suddenly, Two chuckled. The chuckling started simply, but soon Four followed, then Three, and even One joined in.
“We won, huh?” Two asked.
“I can’t believe it.” Three stated.
“We’re not in the clear yet.” One reminded them.
As if on queue, the Vigilant from before dropped down outside. He held the leader of the Immortals by the back of the neck, the woman struggling against his grip. He looked at the men, his eyes cold and brutal. He tossed her at them, the woman collapsing onto the ground into a coughing fit.
“Well?” He asked her. “Do your duty, Vigilant.” He ordered.
She shakily grabbed an axe dropped from a dead Immortal, and sat on her knees, looking at them. Tears streamed from her eyes as she looked at them.
“P-please…” She stammered out, her voice cracking as she spoke.
“Pitiful.” The man spat.
He stepped towards them, pulling his own axe off his back and holding it close to the head. He then unsheathed his dagger and dual-wielded the weapons. Approaching the woman from behind, he knelt down just behind her.
“Do you surrender, then?” He asked her.
“Y-yes! Just please! I’m s-sorry!!” She cried out.
“Very well.” He said, his tone sinister. “Then you may be discharged.”
With that, he stabbed forth, his dagger piercing through the side of her neck and protruding from the other side. She gasped, a gurgling sound escaping her lips, before falling to the floor.
One started forward, his eyes a mix of emotions. “Oh Annalise…” He whispered. “You deserved better…”
“Is that who I think it is, Two?” Four asked.
“Yeah… that’s The Prisoner. The big number one of the Vigilants.” Two answered.
The Prisoner held both weapons at his side and began slowly walking towards the four Vigilants. The Nobles held their weapons at the ready, each man exhausted, but never ready to quit.
The number one ranked Vigilant took step after step towards the number two ranked Vigilant group.
“To tell you all the truth, I’ve been wondering if you could beat me. After watching you today, I’m almost certain that I know the answer.” He stated simply.
He suddenly leapt forth, his axe raised to his face and his dagger flipping into a stabbing position. He landed directly in front of them all, his axe coming down on Two and Three, both men straining from the hit. The hilt of his weapon blocking the counter attack from One and his knife stabbing at Four, who blocked the hit with his axe.
“You can’t.” He spoke.
Two and Three both shoved together, pushing the man back. He spun in the air, throwing his dagger at Three. A green shield suddenly appeared in front of the large man, deflecting the blade. Clover held out her hands, her magic channeling forward.
The Nobles held their weapons at the ready, and charged as one unit. The Prisoner swung his axe, the attack being blocked by another green shield. He used the momentum of the strike to pull himself forward, rolling sideways. His hand struck out, hitting Four’s wounded hip as he rolled. The Vigilant groaned, but swung his axe regardless. The Prisoner raised his hand, Four’s dagger held in his fingers and blocked the hit.
The Prisoner spun across the floor, standing to his feet as he did so, weapons going back into the same pose he had when he jumped at them.
“He took my dagger as he hit me. He’s fast and tricky. Stay aware.” Four told the others.
The Prisoner jumped left, then shot right. He slashed with his axe, but feinted and threw the dagger. The weapon flew through the air with deadly accuracy, aimed directly for Clover. The young mage raised her shield and blocked the hit, but The Prisoner was already slashing out with his axe. The blade tore through Three’s thigh, and the big man screamed out.
Two slashed with his own axe, but The Prisoner instead wrapped his arm around Two’s shoulder, bending it at an odd angle. He turned, pulling the smaller Vigilant with him as he did, and tossed him into Four. As Two left his grasp, however, the dagger scraped across his chest, leaving a gash in his flesh.
One then slashed forward, his axe smashing into the Prisoner’s own as the man deflected the blow. One was already prepared for it pulling his dagger free and spinning with the deflection. He struck forward with the bladed weapon. The Prisoner raised his free hand, the blade piercing through his palm and stopping inches from his mask. One growled, pushing forward as hard as he could. The Prisoner simply looked at him, before closing his hand around the base of the dagger.
He pulled back harshly, spinning as he did so and pulling One off balance. He struck down savagely with his axe, slamming the blade down towards the older Vigilant’s back. The attack was deflected by a magical shield from Clover, and Three was already swinging harshly for The Prisoner’s face with his gargantuan fist. The Prisoner quickly raised his weapons up to his face and blocked as much of the blow as he could, but was still blasted away into the air.
Three looked at his hand and saw One’s dagger buried in the back, he grit his teeth as he pulled the weapon out of him, tossing it to the ground. One stood back to his feet as Two and Four rejoined formation. The Prisoner stood simply, an axe in each hand. The two groups eyed each other down for only a moment before the solo Vigilant rushed at them with blinding speed.
He slashed with his right axe, spinning and slashing with his left immediately after. Clover shielded the first blow, and then the second, only for a third to launch outwards at the shield once more. She closed her eyes and focused, her magic channeling into strengthening the shield. The Prisoner, meanwhile, had climbed atop the shield and hurled one of the axes at the young girl. Four reacted first, leaping into the air towards her and grabbing the hilt of the weapon. He collapsed hard on the ground.
The Prisoner jumped skyward, bringing his axe down on the other side of the shield. Two dove out of the way, Three stepped to the side. One stood his ground and raised his own axe to meet him. The two weapons clashed against each other, but One stood firm. The clang of metal on metal rang out as One launched a headbutt into The Prisoner’s mask. He stumbled for a moment, and the Nobles capitalized.
Two swung his axe out, sweeping the man off his feet. Three grabbed his shoulder and spun him like a doll. The large man then let go, blasting the man across the room. He smashed into the stone above the doorway, crashing through it and into the outside. Four quickly grabbed a chain lying in the back area, and rushed out with the others.
As they got outside, the man was already on his feet again with weapons in his hands.
“Doesn’t stop, does he?” Two sighed.
Without words he burst forward again. He slashed with his dagger, slicing just underneath Three’s arm. As the large man cried out, The Prisoner was already swiping the dagger towards Two’s neck. A green shield appeared and blocked the blow, and in response Two slashed out with his axe.
The Prisoner dove backwards deftly, tossing his dagger with expert accuracy back into the church. The weapon tip smashed against a shield Clover put around herself just as The Prisoner’s feet touched the cobblestone once more. In the same instant, he was already back on the offensive. Two’s eyes went wide as the blade of the axe came towards him, but One put his own axe in the way of the blow. Feinting, The Prisoner suddenly dropped to the ground and pushed himself off of it. His back smashed into Two and One, knocking both Nobles to the ground as The Prisoner spun in midair, landing on all fours.
Three turned to help, but his arm wouldn’t raise. The limb hung limp, but still the large man hefted his axe and charged towards the attacker. He swung heavily down at him, the man dashing forward as the attack smashed through the stone behind him. He raised his axe and slashed across Three’s lower right side, the large man knelt down as the assailant landed behind him. The Prisoner pushed off from the ground once more, his weapon raised high. He smashed it downwards onto another green shield formed by Clover.
Suddenly, a chain lashed out and hit The Prisoner in the side of the head. The man rolled off of Three’s back, and directly in front of Two and One. Both men raised their axes and brought them down towards him. Instead, he rolled closer to the duo, wrapping his arm around their ankles and pulling them forward. They fell in unison, falling forward. One caught himself, but Two physically couldn’t. The smaller man’s face smashed into the cobblestone and causing him to go silent.
As The Prisoner spun out from beneath them, he grabbed Two’s dagger. He stood, facing Four who spun his chain around like a flail behind him. The Prisoner launched the dagger at Clover once more, who was forced to shield herself again just as Four launched his chain for the man’s face. The attack connected, the ringing of metal on metal assaulting their ears. But when Four tried to pull his chain back, it stopped. The man had grabbed it as it hit him, and now the two stood, each holding one end.
Four yanked with all his might, but the Prisoner jumped as he did so. The man used the momentum to launch a kick at Four’s face, smashing the younger Vigilant’s mask into his nose. Four stumbled back, but cried out as he felt a blade slam home into his shoulder. The Prisoner tried to immediately pull the axe back out of his victim, but Four grabbed the handle, and stopped it from being pulled free.
One then came up behind him, wrapping his arms around the man and lifting him upwards with a roar. He slammed him down into the cobblestone and threw a vicious punch at his head. The blow connected, and a sickening crack echoed through the area from One’s hand. The old man grunted, but grit his teeth and struck again and again. He growled in agony as a blade slammed in between his ribs, a dagger finding its tip in his lung.
One looked down at the man, who simply stared back up at him. He punched the man again, but he hardly seemed to react to the attack, instead just twisting the dagger. One grabbed the wrist that held the weapon, and tried to pull it out. Instead, The Prisoner released the dagger and spun. His legs went over One’s head and around his arm. Both of Prisoner’s hands grasped onto One’s wrist, and with a thrust, followed by a horrible crunch, One felt his arm become useless.
The Prisoner then stood, each Noble exhausted and injured around him. Four, however, was still standing. He took his chain in hand and started spinning it once more. The Prisoner knelt down and picked up One’s axe. Four launched the chain forward causing The Prisoner to sidestep, but before Four could fully pull back the chain, the man charged forward.
As he got in range, Four lashed out with a strike, his fist wrapped with the chain. The Prisoner took the blow to the chin, but spun with it as it hit him. As he turned, the hook of the axe became buried in Four’s already injured shoulder. The Prisoner stood back to back with him, both hands on the axe and he pulled forward harshly.
Four screamed in pure pain, agony more intense than anything he had felt before flooding his system, threatening to send his mind into a blackout.
“Stop!” Clover screamed.
The Prisoner paused for a moment, before giving a final tug. The screaming subsided as Four collapsed to the ground in front of One. He took a step forward, walking towards the kindness princess.
“Four… No matter what happens, you keep her safe… you hear me?” One asked between ragged breaths.
“D-don’t do it, old man. I’ll get up… and take him d-down…” Four stammered, his voice filled with agony as blood pooled around him.
One roared as he stood, one arm hanging limply. The Prisoner stopped in his advance, and turned towards the standing Noble. He knelt down and picked up a dagger from a dead Immortal, as One stepped into the church once more. The older man breathed heavily, ragged breaths letting blood spill from his lips with each exhale.
He reached upwards, grabbing his mask and tossing it to the ground. A weary and old face met them. Scars and wrinkles covering an otherwise kind looking old man.
“My name is Broath Kvann, and today I am your opponent.” He shouted.
The two men stood, facing each other. The Prisoner raised his dagger and placed it against his chest and bowed. Broath stood, looking at him.
“From one warrior to another... “ Broath started. “How do I look?” He grinned, his teeth stained with his own blood.
The Prisoner looked at him, his eyes softening. “You look ready.” He said simply before entering a combat stance.
One raised his hand, holding it forward. The two men charged at each other in an instant. The Prisoner stabbing his dagger forward as Broath grabbed at his torso. The blade pierced directly into the old Vigilant’s chest and into the heart within. Blood burst from Broath’s lips, staining his face further.
“Heh… heh…” The old Noble chuckled. “Gotcha.” He muttered.
He grabbed The Prisoner, turning him around before lifting him and charging forward. The Prisoner pulled the blade free, before stabbing it forward again and again. Broath roared as he charged, carrying him out of the church and across the walkway. He hit the railway and went over, falling to the lower district below.
“No!!!!!” Four cried out, but his voice wasn’t alone. Clover had screamed as well. The girl’s eyes were green, but they appeared to grow darker as she looked at the place where Broath had fallen.
In fact, now that Four looked, the entire room seemed to be growing darker. Shadows grew longer around her, and he felt a feeling of danger that he had never felt before. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew he had to act. He rushed towards the girl, and grabbed her shoulders.
“Clover, listen to me. I don’t know what’s happening, but Broath needs you to be strong right now. Two and Three need you. I need you.” He told her, his thoughts pouring out one after another.
“That’s… what my sister always said… ‘Think of those that need you.’...” She whispered, before breaking down into tears.
Four held her close, embracing her in her moment of need. Though he didn’t show it, tears fell freely from his eyes as well.
“C’mon... We can cry later. Right now we need to help Two and Three, and get out of here.” He told her.
Quickly, they moved to their friends. The girl used her magic to heal them just enough to be able to move once more. Two’s eyes opened and he looked around quickly.
“Where’s One?” he asked.
Neither Four nor Clover replied, but both bowed their heads.
“...Oh… I see... “ Two stated simply. “Guess he was right… there really are no old Vigilants.”
Chapter 15 - The Final Hour
Four stood, his boots soaking in the blood pooling on the floor around him. Behind him, Two and Three stood close to Clover, the young mage healing their many wounds as best as she could manage.
Four sighed. He knew she wouldn’t keep up much longer. Even now, just looking at her he could see the exhaustion in her eyes. She couldn’t keep this up much longer.
He stepped over the bodies before he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. He turned to the object, kneeling to inspect it. Tears filled his eyes and flowed down his cheeks as he picked up One’s-, no, Broath’s mask. He held it in his hands, before snapping off a small piece of the already cracked and broken metal. He tied a knot around it, before placing it over his neck.
“We’ll get through it together, okay Broath?” He asked to the nothingness.
He wiped his eyes as he sensed someone step up behind him.
“You ready?” Two asked. His voice was very monotonous.
Four nodded. “Yeah.” He needed to follow Two’s example. Now was not the time for mourning.
“First thing’s first. We need to rest. We’re all exhausted, and we won’t last long pushing ourselves forward like this…” Two stated. “Any suggestions for safe havens?” He asked.
Both Four and Clover shook their heads while Three simply didn’t respond. The large Vigilant just staring at the ground, a somber expression conveyed through his mask.
“Well… We could hide out in the sewers… I doubt they’d be able to find us down there, but the only ‘safe’ place I can think of would be the main access area... which is on the other side of the city.” Two thought out loud. “Any disagreements?”
“None from me.” Four answered.
“Alright, let’s head out then Nobles.” Two ordered.
The men gathered their weapons, Clover standing by Two as they did so. Overhead, dark clouds were already moving in, casting shadows that reflected their spirits. They moved on, putting one foot in front of the other, forcing themselves forward through the melancholy air.
Four noticed how slowly they were moving, and they weren’t checking their corners. He needed to say something, to encourage them or push them carefully. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
What would Broath do?
The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. He would get down to business. They had plenty of time to be sad after they saved this girl’s life. Four reached up and felt the shard of mask hanging from his neck.
“Guys-” He started, pausing as the rest of the group turned towards him. He gulped before continuing, careful with his words. “We have to remember what we’re doing here. We’re still being hunted, and we still need to protect each other.”
They stood there in silence for a moment. Four worried that tensions were too high for orders from him. Suddenly, Two spoke up.
“You’re right. We need to hustle, and keep our eyes sharp for ambushes. We may have beaten the Immortals, but The Scavengers are still out there looking for us.” He stated.
Four exhaled, relieved that the men took to his words so easily.
“Four, take point. Three, you take up the middle with Clover. I’ll take up the rear, and keep my eyes open for anyone trailing us.” He continued.
Four hurried to the front of the group, his eyes glancing towards Three’s as he passed him. The larger man stood with his head down, but even from here Four could see the tears falling from his mask. Before Four could offer any words of encouragement, the sky cracked apart with lightning, and rain began to fall upon them.
Water fell from them as they stood, washing the blood from their cloaks and armor. Two and Four shared a look, before the younger Vigilant turned to lead the way.
“We didn’t even check…” Three mumbled.
Four paused mid-step.
“We didn’t even see if he was really dead. We just… left... “ The large man continued.
Four clenched his fists. He wanted to tell them why he was so eager to leave. That he didn’t want to know what was over that rail, to see what had landed at the bottom. He wanted to tell them he wanted to remember Broath as he was, not as another casualty, but a friend and leader.
“C’mon guys, we need to go.” He stated simply.
The three men continued as a group, with the princess between their ranks. Four hurried to corners, peeking around them for threats while Two kept checking behind them. With every twist and turn through the city, the rain came down harder and harder. Three kept Clover close, protecting her from the storm with his own cloak.
Looking down the streets, memories came back to Four. Back to his first mission in the Vigilants. It had rained then too, and he had once again been on lookout duty there. His eyes scanned the streets as they continued forth. The only difference then is that they hadn’t been on the streets. They had been on the rooftops, carefully navigating so as to not slip during the rain.
Instinctually, he looked up towards the tops of the buildings. For a fraction of a moment, he thought he saw a shift, a turn. Something move quickly out of sight. He paused in place, eyes glued to the location, trying to detect anything through the rain. A lightning bolt struck in the distance, flashing the sky with light. Just as the clouds lit up, a silhouette leapt from one building to the next.
There was no doubt about it, they were being watched. Four motioned with his hand towards the rooftops. Two’s eyes went wide, but then steeled once more. He nodded in understanding and they progressed forward. Two slowly slid back behind the others, disappearing into the darkness of a nearby alley.
Three, Four, and Clover progressed forward, trudging through the rain as large puddles pooled on the cobblestone road. Three leaned down next to the young Kindness mage and whispered to her.
“If anything happens, climb on my back and hold on tight, okay?” He asked her.
She nodded, her hand gripping his cloak tightly.
Ahead of them, lay a bridge separating the middle class district of Blethrin from the industrial side. Storage warehouses, lumberyards, and their objective, the sewer maintenance building all lay within. However, the bridge itself was a large open area.
“That’s strange…” Three commented. “Normally, there’d be tons of traffic here, even in a storm like this you’d at least see someone in this area.”
“Three, keep her close, okay? I have a bad feeling.” Four ordered.
The large man nodded, gripping his axe more tightly.
They moved onwards, Four peeked towards the rooftops once more, hoping to catch a glimpse of Two. He had no doubt that the new Noble leader was looking for their stalker. Seeing nothing, he took a deep breath and stepped onto the bridge.
He felt immediately exposed. There were no buildings to shelter them from an attack, no alleys to dash behind. There was only a long expanse of road, with a long drop beneath to a canal below. Water flowed from the roads into the expanse beneath them, leaving the paths clear of flooding.
He took another step forward, and another. Slowly, Three followed behind him. An intense feeling of dread permeated Four, penetrating his will to move on. Danger screamed at him, but he couldn’t see any threats ahead. Cautiously, he took one more step forward.
A blur of motion appeared from the bottom corner of his eye. Along the edge of the bridge something swung. He dodged, but tripped as the curve of a Vigilant axe caught his ankle. He was tugged forward, falling to his feet and hitting the ground, before there was no ground beneath him. He grabbed outwards, spinning as he was thrown off the bridge. He felt fabric, and gripped with all of his strength.
His hands clutched to the cloak of The Prisoner, who held onto the edge of the bridge using his dagger as a make-shift climbing spike. The man kicked down at Four, his boot smashing into his mask, pushing the metal violently into his face. He grit his teeth, and pushed forward, climbing up the man’s cloak. He scrabbled at his neck, trying to wrap his arms around him.
The traitless lurched upwards, pulling both of them up with almost inhuman strength. They collapsed over the railing, Four’s hands coming free of his target as they hit the wet cobblestone. He jumped to his feet quickly, weapon in hand.
The Prisoner rose to his feet, his mask was dented, blood oozed from the mouth piece. He was injured, and had no healing since their last fight. In his hands were an axe and his dagger. The same weapon he had used to kill Broath.
Rage coursed through Four’s veins, and it took everything in his will to not charge immediately. Behind him, Three didn’t fare so well in his emotional battle. The big man snarled, and lurched forward.
The Prisoner quickly raised his hand, and a bolt shot from the shadows of the nearby buildings. The projectile slammed into Three’s shoulder, causing him to stumble mid-charge. Four’s eyes darted quickly to the location of the shot. A window, now open in a nearby building. Inside was a Vigilant, a Scavenger no doubt, already reloading a crossbow to aim at them once more. Around them, more windows were opening, and he realized they had walked into a deadly ambush.
The masked assailant lowered his hand, and held his weapons in a combat stance before slowly advancing towards them.
“Clover, can you shield us?” Four asked the young mage.
“I don’t know! There’s a lot of them, and I haven’t been able to rest…” The girl whispered, panic seeping into her voice.
“I see…” He answered solemnly. “Just… do your best. Okay?” He asked her.
“I-... I will.” She reassured him.
The Prisoner was now close, and Four grit his teeth in anticipation. He needed Clover to stop the first onslaught of bolts while he did his best to stop The Prisoner. If all these things worked out, Three might be able to get her to safety.
His muscles tensed as he prepared to throw himself into battle once more, when suddenly, above he noticed a silhouette leap from the nearby buildings. A one-armed shadow soaring above them before plummeting down towards the group.
Two slammed into The Prisoner from above, the two of them rolling backwards with Two winding up on top of the rank one Vigilant. His dagger was pointed downwards, aimed directly for The Prisoner’s heart, whose hands were clamped tightly on the blade. Blood poured from his fingers as he stopped the weapon from hitting his vitals.
“Guys! Run!” Two shouted.
The twang of the crossbows rang out, firing at the group and at Two. Green energy wrapped around them, deflecting the projectiles. Cracks in the magical barrier appeared in many places where they struck, showing the girl’s exhaustion.
The Prisoner pushed back, lifting Two upwards as they struggled against each other. Four rushed forward, taking the time of the Scavengers reloading to help his friend.
“To the alley! Go!” Four shouted to Three. The large man turned as he was told, and took Clover into his arms.
Four reached the struggling traitless men just as The Prisoner lifted Two and threw him towards the charging Four. Four caught the Noble, and the both of them immediately turned to run. Around them, bolts smashed into the stone road. The projectiles whizzed through the air directly in front of Four’s face. He shouted out in pain as he felt something smash into his right bicep, gritting his teeth, he pushed forward.
The two Nobles reached the alley Three was waiting at, and the four of them sprinting in unison down the pathway. Behind, The Prisoner was giving chase. They turned swiftly, taking seemingly random swerves through the backways of Blethrin’s middle class. They came upon stairways, leading higher and higher into the large city.
They reached a high point, ending in a dead end lookout over the city. Ahead of them lay the canal, and on the other side stretched the industrial district.
“Go!” Two ordered, charging towards the sheer drop ahead of them.
The rest followed after him, and as he reached the edge he pushed himself off with all the force his adrenaline-fueled body would allow. Each man followed suit, hurling themselves into the air. Clover screamed as they began to fall. They each hit the roof of a warehouse in the industrial area, tumbling and rolling as they landed. Three shouted out in pain, as he took the full impact on his knees to protect Clover. He grabbed at his leg and tried to stand. The knee buckled and he fell once more.
“Clover!” Two shouted. “Can you heal him quickly?!”
Green magic flared in her eyes as she put her hands towards Three’s knee. Sparks of green energy came from his hands, but not the flowing aura that normally did.
"I-... I can't!!!" She screamed, her body shaking from exertion.
Four looked towards where they had jumped, only to see The Prisoner looking at them, and taking several steps back for his own leap.
“Two... help Three. We can lose them in the sewers, we’ll be impossible to track in there.” Four ordered.
Two looked wildly between Three, Four, and the cliff they had leapt from. “Fine!” He shouted, running to the side of the larger Vigilant. He took his arm around his shoulders, and lifted him upwards.
They moved ahead, as quickly as they could as Four watched The Prisoner fly into the air towards them. He hit the roof a short distance away from Four, tumbling just as they had done. He ended his roll crouched and on his feet, dagger pulled close and ready to strike.
Four tightened his grip on his axe and looked at his friends limp away. Three looked back at him, pain in his eyes.
“I’ll catch up.” Four shouted at him.
The large man tried to turn, to come back to him, but Two pushed forward, carrying him onwards. “No!” Three roared, but Two virtually pulled him away from them.
“I didn’t plan to take you out one-by-one.” The Prisoner stated.
“What? You think I’m gonna lose?” Four asked, his voice as hard and threatening as he could make it.
“No.” The Prisoner stated simply. “I know you will.”
Without another word, he pulled his axe up in one hand and the dagger in the other. He spun forward, flinging his own blood from his hands into Four’s eyes as he charged forward. The Noble stumbled back, swiping where The Prisoner had been coming from as his vision turned crimson.
He swiped through air, knowing he missed, he pushed off the ground. He shoved himself to the left. Even as he did so, he felt a hot pain race across his ribs. He slammed onto the ground, and quickly wiped the blood from his eyes. He turned back towards his opponent, whose axe now dripped with Four’s own blood. He glanced down towards his torso, and saw a gash where he had felt the pain. It wasn’t deep, and as such, he could ignore it for now.
He glanced behind him. Two, Three, and Clover were on a pathway connecting two warehouses, leading to a higher area away from them. He focused back on his enemy, who had taken a combat stance once more. Four pulled out his own dagger, putting himself in the same stance as The Prisoner. The man tilted his head for a moment, before inching forward slowly. Four did the same, ending with them only a few meters from one-another.
Suddenly, Four slashed out in the same spinning motion The Prisoner had attacked with earlier. The man raised his weapons and deflected the blades as they swung at him in a whirlwind, before striking out with his own attack. Four continued with the momentum of his initial spin, lowering himself and swiping out with his leg.
He swept The Prisoner off of his feet, who tumbled over the Noble. Four struck out quickly with his dagger, piercing the flesh of The Prisoner’s side, a cut in the same place Four had been swiped earlier. The man rolled as he hit the ground, ending on his feet in a combat stance once again. He didn’t even acknowledge the wound he had just received, instead taking cautious steps towards his opponent once more.
It’s like he doesn’t even feel pain… Four noted, taking a stance once again himself.
They approached one another, weapons at the ready once more. Four watched his opponent carefully, analyzing his shoulders, watching for any movement. He saw the muscles tense up, and moved the moment The Prisoner struck forward. The blade of the dagger shot right next to Four’s head, narrowly missing as he moved out of the way. Meanwhile, his own dagger landed across The Prisoner’s knuckles, slicing the fingers. The hand instinctively reacted, loosening the grip on the dagger.
The weapon clattered behind Four who pressed his advantage. He punched forward with the head of the axe, only for The Prisoner to move to the side, catching his arm at the wrist under his own arm. He twisted his body, pain racing through Four’s forearm. He let go of the axe and pulled his hand free.
The Prisoner was still in mid-turn, and Four shot the dagger for his opponent’s neck. The man leaned back, and raised his axe to meet the attack. The blade slipped under the hook of the hacking weapon, and The Prisoner expertly twisted his wrist. The dagger was ripped from Four’s grip, but the Noble was already pushing forward.
Four’s fist smashed into the back of The Prisoner’s helmet, his head darting forward from the blow, only for his face to meet an uppercut follow-up from the Noble Vigilant. The Prisoner reeled backwards, his eyes losing focus. Four pushed onwards, pressing every advantage. He swung violently, the crack of his knuckles on metal ringing out louder than the storm around them.
With every blow, he followed it with one even more savage. With every attack, he threw the next with more force. Anger fueled his swings. Pain his aggression. Memories of Broath sitting with Clover. Teaching him to stay alive. Every intimate moment they shared. Every friendly bond created between them. All these things were torn away by the man in front of him, and even if he couldn’t feel pain, he’d make damn sure this man remembered what he had done.
Blood flowed freely from his knuckles, the flesh ripped apart from the metal of The Prisoner’s mask. The man stumbled in front of him, and Four paused for the briefest of seconds in realization.
He could do it. He could win.
The thought raced through Four’s mind, as he roared once more. He swung harder than before, with the same force as his first opponent, that traumatic moment pushing his attack to a level it hadn’t been in years. But he only hit air.
He stumbled from the miss, the momentum of the punch carrying him forward as The Prisoner swerved to the side. He quickly caught his balance, perilously standing at the edge of the building. He turned to meet his opponent once more, only to catch a glimpse of The Prisoner’s axe in mid swing.
The blade smashed into his chest, ripping through his armor and into the soft flesh beneath. The weapon buried itself deep, the blade cutting further in than he had ever felt before. Four felt no pain, but there was more blood than he had ever seen coming from the wound.
“Hm.” The Prisoner hummed. “Seems I hit your heart.”
Four grasped upwards, his hands shaking as he scratched at the handle of the axe.
“Can I confide something in you?” The man continued. “I almost felt excited. I can’t recall the last time I felt that way in a fight, well done.”
He ripped the blade out, the gash in Four’s chest deep. Blood gushed freely from the wound, with each pulse of his heart more of his life nectar leaving his body. The Prisoner took a step back, before striking forward with his boot. The kick hit Four in the torso, and the Noble flew off the edge of the building, leaving blood trailing through the air as he careened into the chasm leading to the canal below.
“No!!!!!!” Three roared from the roofs further away. He cried out in pain and hatred. Roaring in agony as he lost another friend. Two pulled him further, forcing him towards the escape they so desperately needed.
The Prisoner looked towards the sky, seeing the moon rising behind the storm as the dark clouds parted.
“It seems the final hour is upon us. Time to earn my freedom.” He spoke to himself.
Chapter 16 - Why You?
A loud clang resounded through the area, ricocheting and echoing down the tunnels of the sewer maintenance facility. Two struggled, straining his arm to shift the heavy metal doorway to a locked position. Behind him, Three’s screams ripped through the air. The sound was hoarse and worn ending in a coughing fit. Nearby, Clover cried silently.
Two looked around, his eyes were full of fear and panic. He tried to calm his breathing, to take a moment and gather himself. He walked to Clover, the poor girl was probably terrified.
“Hey,” He whispered, kneeling down to her level. “It’ll be okay. We’ll get you to safety.” He assured her.
She didn’t meet his eyes, instead speaking up as she looked towards the ground. “They both died because of me, didn’t they?”
“What? No-” He started, but she interrupted him.
“They’d still be alive if they didn’t try to save me, wouldn’t they?”
Two paused, his mouth hanging open slightly. He couldn’t answer, so instead stood and walked towards Three.
“Hey big guy, we’re safe for now but we have to keep moving, get somewhere they can’t find us.” He stated, approaching his friend.
Three sat upright, composing himself as best he could. He didn’t answer, instead suppressing his sobs.
Two raised his hand up, but hesitated. “I’ll go look for a safe place, okay? Stay out of sight with Clover, I’ll return A.S.A.P.”
As Two turned to leave, Three grabbed his wrist.
“Not you too. Don’t leave us too.” He begged, his eyes glazed over from tears.
Two looked at him, despair filling his heart as he struggled against the tidal wave of emotions he was trying desperately to hold back. “If anything happens I’ll come back immediately, okay? Don’t worry. I’ll just find somewhere to rest.”
His words didn’t seem to have any effect on Three, the man’s grip still held tightly to Two’s wrist. Unsure of what to do, Two pulled his hand away from Three’s before heading into the tunnels ahead. He didn’t look back, feeling Three’s gaze as the larger man watched him disappear into the darkness.
Ahead of him, Two could hear the running water of Blethrin’s sewer system. He wasn’t aware of how the sewers worked, or of where he was going honestly, but it had to be safer than out there.
As he disappeared deeper into the tunnels, he put his back against a wall and took a deep breath. He needed time to think, to analyze his options. He was the leader of Noble Team now, even if it was only two members.
He needed to figure out how to keep them safe, first and foremost. A place to hide maybe? Somewhere to sleep even? He kept coming back to the memories of the man that was chasing them. The rank one Vigilant, The Prisoner. He would stop at nothing to complete his mission. Two wondered briefly what his orders even were. Was it to kill them all, or…?
Two’s thoughts were interrupted as he heard a shifting from above. He peeked around a nearby corner as a small circle of light shone down from the ceiling of the tunnel ahead. It was quickly covered by a shadow, before a silhouette dropped into the water below. Two couldn’t make out the exact details, but the axe in hand told him everything he needed to know.
Not even a moment wasted, huh? Two thought to himself.
He moved silently away, back towards the others as the shadow ahead trudged further into the tunnel network. When he had reached the maintenance area, Two’s heart raced. Suddenly, from the corner Three’s voice called out to him. Two exhaled, seeing a small stack of crates concealing them from immediate view. Three and Clover laid next to one-another, the larger man holding his axe in one hand with his injured leg stretched out in front of him.
“Hey,” Two started, kneeling down behind the crates as well. “I saw a Vigilant drop into the sewers ahead. I think it’s the same guy.”
“Mmm.” Three grunted.
A silence followed, stretching long between the trio. Two wanted to speak, to give some kind of order about what to do next, but he had no idea what they should do. Suddenly, Clover spoke up.
“Maybe we can follow the tunnels out of the city?” She asked quietly.
Two shared a glance with Three for another brief moment. “Better than waiting to die here.” He shrugged.
Three hoisted himself up, using his axe as a makeshift crutch to help support his weight. Two gripped his axe tightly as well, turning towards the tunnels. He peered into the darkness, afraid of every shadow that laid within.
“Keep your senses open. Who knows if there’s an ambush.” He reminded them before taking the lead.
They traveled slowly, not just for Three’s injuries, but for stealth. Two stayed a bit ahead of the rest, carefully looking around corners for any signs of danger. His senses were on high alert, every drip of water and squeak of an animal sending bone-chilling tremors through his body.
Ahead of them laid a particularly dark tunnel. The only light came from a sewer grate above. A harsh metal barricade held in place by thick stone. Water poured from the opening, flooding into a quickly flowing river of rainwater and sewage, leading to some unknown location deeper within.
He felt a presence behind him, and his nerves reached their limit. He turned quickly, weapon in hand, only to see Three.
“Are you okay? You’ve been standing there for nearly twenty minutes…” He asked, worry in his eyes.
Had it really been that long? Were his thoughts really that distraught? Of course they were. He had just watched two of his closest friends die in less than a day, and if things kept up the way they were now, Three would die and so would he.
“Three, we need to reevaluate some things.” Two stated.
The large man looked down at his friends, his eyes forming an expression of confusion.
“What are we doing here, Three? We can just go home. We can leave. We can live to fight another day.” Two continued.
“What are you implying?” Three asked.
“What if we just... hand her over? What if we just give up and leave?” He asked, his voice rising to a higher pitch as he spoke.
“What?? Then One and Four died for nothing!” Three whispered, anger quickly invading his voice.
“We’re gonna die for nothing too!” the smaller Vigilant countered, speaking faster and faster.
“We’re gonna die and then she’s gonna die anyway. At least this way One and Four can live on in some way! Didn’t Four send his money to a family? We can find them and give them closure. Maybe even help them ourselves!”
“Does Noble Team’s honor mean nothing to you?” Three asked, disappointment oozing from every word.
“Noble Team is dead!” Two nearly shouted. “We’re not Vigilants anymore! The Vigilants want to kill us! Look, see?!” Two ranted, ripping his mask off and throwing it to the ground. “My name’s Banglin Aiethro, and I choose to live! Not die like a rat in a sewer! Not lose anything else! Four made me want to live agai-” His words were interrupted as Three’s massive fist smashed into his mouth.
He stumbled backwards, collapsing onto the slick stones of the walkway below him. He looked up quickly, seeing Clover holding onto Three’s cloak and sobbing quietly, tears streaming down her face as she looked at him. Upon meeting his gaze, she turned away, crying into the larger man. Three knelt down, picking up Two’s mask and approaching him.
“Put this back on.” He ordered.
Two took the mask from him without meeting his gaze. He strapped it back onto his head, covering his features once more.
“I’m… I’m sorr-” Three stopped him before he could apologize.
“We’re all under great stress, and you owe me no apology. But let your actions speak louder than your words when you apologize to her.” Three motioned towards Clover.
He swallowed, and nodded in understanding.
“Good. Now, Two, guide us.” He continued.
The smaller Vigilant turned and pressed onwards into the shadows ahead. He wondered for a moment if anyone had heard their exchange, but shrugged it off. If they did, they’d deal with it. He needed to focus on the true task, figuring out how to navigate the sewers.
He gazed at the flowing drain water, letting his thoughts go with it. Suddenly, an idea struck him.
“I wonder if the water flows out of the city?” Two wondered aloud. “I’ve never seen a central water system in Blethrin, so I can’t imagine it’s stored within.”
“Worth a try?” Three suggested.
Two nodded in agreement, and led the group ahead, following the flow of the rain water from above. Multiple twists and turns followed, with even Two’s memory becoming faded on which direction they were going. Regardless, they pressed on. Ahead, Two could hear the roar of flowing water. He gazed further into the tunnel, and saw a large open room ahead of them.
He took several steps closer, reaching the opening and seeing the opposite of what he had been searching for. A large underground water reserve. The water was held in place by several arnicite switches, activating and deactivating with kindness magic to generate shields to hold the liquid in place, allowing portions of the drainage to pass through at a time.
His heart sunk once more, seeing that the drainage didn’t lead out of the city, but into some sort of processing location.
Just more jobs traitless couldn’t do. He mused to himself.
Three looked towards Two, unsure of what was really happening in the large room. The sound of the water masked his senses, and only his combat awareness alerted him to the figure immediately behind him.
He reacted quickly, throwing Clover ahead and turning as he raised his weapon. He gasped suddenly as he felt the blade pierce his flesh. Glancing down, he saw a dagger impaled within his gut. The Prisoner’s helmet came into view from the shadows as he slowly pulled the blade free.
Three let go of his axe and grabbed The Prisoner with both hands. He was vaguely aware of Two’s voice behind him, screaming his name. He held the traitless man in his quaking grip, the strength leaving his body just as his blood did.
Memories of One and Four surged through his mind. The friendships he had formed and the family he had found. A life outside of combat, forged through brotherhood. He roared, his hoarse voice issuing a challenge to the gods themselves as his grip tightened with enough force to crush a normal man’s bones.
He lifted The Prisoner off the ground and slammed him into the stone wall next to them. The entire tunnel seemed to shake with the force. The dagger left his body, but immediately impaled itself into Three’s right shoulder. He ignored the pain, roaring again as he swung the traitless man violently into the ground. A sickening crack rang out as his body smashed into the ground.
Two moved forward to help, but stopped as Three violently slammed the man into the walls and floor again and again, each time however, The Prisoner was stabbing Three in a new place. Blood pooled at Three’s feet from his multiple lacerations, and finally Three lifted the man over his head before throwing him further down the tunnel, before dropping to his knees himself.
The Prisoner ragdolled as he hit the ground, spinning wildly before skidding a stop in the darkness. Two moved in front of Three, raising his axe in his hand.
“Clover! Help him walk as best you can, we need to run!” He ordered.
Ahead of them, The Prisoner had already shifted, bringing his hands to the ground and pushing himself back up. He shook his head, before standing to his feet once more. He took a step towards them, but his leg buckled beneath him. He hobbled for a moment, before stomping on the foot violently. Taking a step forward once more, he nodded in satisfaction and continued his slow approach.
Two stood, weapon raised, waiting to meet his opponent as Clover struggled to raise the heavy man behind him. As The Prisoner reached Three’s axe, he knelt down and lifted the weapon before taking the same pose as he had in every other confrontation. He held his dagger in one hand, and the axe in the other. Without another word, he charged forward.
Above them, the heavy metal grate broke forward. A flash of red and steel blurred through Two’s vision as Frajla of the Immortals crashed between them. The Prisoner stopped midcharge, glancing up at the destruction of the stone above and back down to the new opponent.
The girl raised her axe and took a stance between the two groups. Time seemed to stop as Two looked at her.
“Well?! You guys gonna run or sit here and get in my way!?” She barked.
Two jumped into action, turning quickly towards Three and lifting him with Clover’s assistance. They dragged him forward, supporting his weight as best they could, and into the processing room ahead. Behind them, the two Vigilants squared off with one-another.
Frajla eyed The Prisoner’s movements, before speaking to her enemy.
“Where’s the other two at?” She asked him.
He didn’t respond, instead breathing heavily through his mask.
“Shame, they seemed like nice folks. Don’t worry though, I’ll give you the chance to apologize to them personally.” She snarked, before raising her weapon and charging.
She swung as hard as she could, the Prisoner raising his weapons to meet her attack. The clang of metal on metal rang through the tunnels, but he didn’t anticipate the strength that followed behind. He was blasted backwards, his feet sliding across the slick stone beneath before regaining his footing. He took off instantly back towards her, leaping over her followup attack and swinging downwards at her with his dagger.
She dodged with nearly inhuman speed, ducking under the attack and kicking towards his chest as he landed. Her boot slammed into his torso, sending him flying through the air into the processing room that the Nobles were escaping into. He crashed into the wall ahead of them, sliding down onto the platform that the mages took to reach the arnicite gateways.
He stood to his feet slowly, his breathing ragged. Blood oozed from his mask, and only now did Two realize how wounded the man actually was. Frajla leapt from behind, landing between them once more and taking heavy strides towards the Prisoner.
He brought his weapons into a combat stance again, but this time waited for her to approach. She swung for his neck, but the man ducked under her attack and rushed her midsection. She brought her knee up violently, hitting him in the collarbone with enough force to make his feet leave the ground.
His body convulsed reflexively as bones were no doubt snapped. His weapons dropped from his hands, falling into the raging water below. Without hesitation, he grabbed her waist and heaved backwards.
Her body left the ground as she was tossed over the man and into the gateway behind him. Water rushed around her as it flooded out of the opening between the kindness gates before closing again. She let go of her axe, instead gripping onto the slick wet stone next to her.
Back on the platform, the Prisoner stood once more, his fists clenched and walking towards the Nobles. Two let go of Three, instead stepping in front of him and raising his axe.
Frajla clenched her fist and shouted “Hold on to each other Nobles! We’re going for a ride!!” before punching the arnicite next to her. The rock exploded, sending blasts of green magic in every direction. The water within roared as the floodgates were opened, the platform the group were on buckling from the force before dumping everyone into the raging torrent beneath.
Two lost sight of the others, letting go of his axe and instead reaching out for anything to save him from the blurring images around. He was carried rapidly by the waves, his head going under over and over as he struggled to keep himself above water. He felt cloth brush his fingertips, and he clutched onto it with all of his strength.
He pulled himself out of the water, looking at what he held onto. It was Clover’s dress, soaked through and no doubt freezing. She held on tightly to Three, the large man struggling to hold onto a platform with a ladder on it. He gasped out in agony as he held Clover with one arm and safety with the other.
Heaving with all of his remaining strength, Three lifted Two and Clover out of the water and onto the platform above before pulling himself up as well. He collapsed between them, gasping out as his wounds bled freely.
“Three!” Two gasped out, between coughing fits as he spit up more water from his lungs.
He rushed to his friend’s side, the large man’s breathing growing more and more shallow with each gasp. Two put his ear to Three’s chest, the heartbeat within growing weaker with each beat.
“Nonononono!” Two shouted out, looking around his surroundings for anything that could help.
Suddenly, a flash of green in the water below. He dove with no hesitation, grabbing onto a glowing piece of arnicite from the gateways. He threw the mineral back towards Clover, the girl catching it in her hands as Two struggled back to the shore.
“Can you use this to save him?!” He demanded of her.
“M-maybe!!” She replied.
Two snatched it from her without hesitation, putting it on the ground and striking it with the pommel of his dagger. The rock exploded with green magic. Immediately, Clover’s eyes glowed green. The green energy escaping the rock turning into a fine mist and placing itself over Three’s body as the young kindness mage manipulated the magic within to obey her will.
His wounds closed before Two’s eyes, the bleeding slowing before stopping completely. The energy faded before it could finish its work, but Three’s breathing had returned to a normal pace. Kneeling down, he listened for his heart beat, which thumped along at a normal resting beat.
Two exhaled heavily, falling backwards and sitting against the edge of the platform. He looked around his surroundings, the water seeming to have taken the way further into the tunnels with it. He looked towards the ladder that led back up to the streets, no doubt their only way forward now. They should be safe here, at least for the moment.
“I’ll take first watch, kid. Get some rest while you can, okay?” He told Clover.
She nodded, her body visibly relaxing as she realized Three would survive, and that they were safe for now. She turned, laying down next to Three and facing away from the man that was nearly ready to leave her to die.
At the bottom of the long chasm laid a broken mangled body. The Vigilant was motionless, rain pelting his mask and washing the blood from the open wound on his chest. On either side of the gaping slash, two pieces of split arnicite oozed their magical energy into the wound. Inside, the heart beat weakly, but as the magic seeped in, the wound closed itself more and more. The flesh reconnecting as the broken pendant did it’s work.
Suddenly, his eyes opened and Four screamed. His cries ripping through the air, stopping only to vomit blood. He rolled over, clutching at his chest wound. The magic had healed his heart, but the wound was still mostly open, bleeding profusely.
He crawled forward. His thoughts racing quickly, pain echoing out across his entire body. He grabbed at the wall of the canal chasm, leaving a smear of blood across the stone as he tried to stand. Below him, his twisted leg failed to support him. He stumbled, crashing back onto the ground and sliding forward.
He fell to a lower part of the canal, blood gushing from his wound as the world spun around him. Memories of his entire life flashed before his eyes. Memories of home, of his family… of him…
As he laid there, he heard the memories play out in his ears. His eyes began fogging over, but he heard his old friend call out to him. He heard the voice full of happiness, of sadness, of worry.
The voice seemed like it was fading away, the darkness on the edge of his vision pulsing forward more and more. A shadow approached him, and in the memory’s voice it asked him “Are you okay?”
Four wanted to chuckle. Why were these his last thoughts? Why must this be the reaper that takes him?
“Why you? Why did it have to be you...?” He asked it before everything went black.
Chapter 17 - Audience In The Garden
Three heaved, shifting the heavy cover overhead to the side. He poked his head out, blinking from the sudden sunlight, before motioning down for the others to follow. They had managed to get some much needed rest in the sewer, hiding out from anyone searching for them. Now, however, they needed to keep moving.
Two exited the tunnel last, Three helping him and Clover out as they reached the top. They had no clue where they had ended up in the city. For now, they just needed to keep a low profile. Countless plans raced through Two’s mind, ways to protect the others as best he could while figuring out their location. Judging from their surroundings, they were in lower Blethrin. In front of them was a large wall, leading up to the higher areas.
Two’s thoughts were interrupted immediately upon seeing a familiar leather envelope laying on the ground next to the sewer cover. Two and Three shared a glance, before the smaller Vigilant knelt down and picked it up.
He opened the letter carefully, hands shaking as he did so. He pulled forth a letter, addressed to “Noble Team”.
“Dear Nobles,” Two read aloud. “Apologies for the potentially threatening manner of delivery, but we believed it to be one you would be familiar with. Our dear lady would request a meeting with your group. She believes she has information that could be paramount in the protection of Lady Clover, as well as a way to protect yourselves. Within the envelope is a patience arnicite clock, as well as instructions on where to go for your appointment. We eagerly await your arrival. Please do not be late. - S”
The group sat in silence for a moment, Two retrieving the clock and instructions. Suddenly, Three spoke up.
“Who’s S?” He asked.
“I have no clue...” Two stated. “But clearly she knew where we were, and chose not to attack us or sell us out. The envelope was right here next to the ladder, we would have had nowhere to run.”
“Are you saying we trust her?” Three continued.
“I’m saying we don’t seem to have much of a choice.”
Silence fell between them once more, Two taking the opportunity to overlook the instructions.
“Well, there’s good news and bad news.” He commented.
“What’s the good news?” Three asked, his shoulders slouching.
“We’re not too far from our destination. Just have to go up quite a bit.” Two replied.
“And the bad news?” Three sighed.
“According to this clock, we don’t have much time.”
Three sighed again, shrugging before speaking. “Guess we better get moving.”
Two rolled up the note and instructions, pocketing them, along with the clock. “Yeah. Guess we should.”
With that, Two turned and began walking towards the wall of higher Blethrin. “If we follow this wall we should eventually come across a way up. Let’s move.” He ordered.
Three took a step forward, but hesitated as he looked down at Clover. The small girl had a complete look of defeat, her eyes looking at the ground, her expression one of distress. The large traitless reached his hand out to her, smiling when she looked up at him.
“It’s okay!” He told her. “We’ll go meet with this S lady and get everybody safe.”
“Not everyone...” She mumbled. Regardless, she put her hand in Three’s, finding comfort in his strength.
They walked forward together, following after Two.
Eventually, the group found a staircase upwards, just as Two had predicted. The one-armed Vigilant looked back and forth, scanning for any potential threats before moving out into the open. He motioned for Three and Clover to follow quickly, before moving upwards himself.
Upon reaching Blethrin’s higher level, the first thing Two noticed was the lack of activity. Just like before, there seemed to be no one around. He wouldn’t make the same mistake a second time, instead leading the group to the side and dashing into an alley.
The path quickly led to a dead-end, but Two didn’t stop here. He peeked into the nearest building’s window. Inside was an empty bar, shadows covering the inside of the pub. He turned to motion to others, but as he looked at them he noticed a shift in the shadows behind the group. His hand shot immediately for his dagger, but he was struck in the chest before he could even make a sound.
The one armed Vigilant crashed through the window, broken glass and wood surrounding him as he flew into the bar. He flipped as he hit the ground, rolling to his feet quickly. In front of him stood The Prisoner, still bloodied and panting heavily. He held no weapons, but Two was smart enough to know he didn’t need them.
Three rushed the man quickly, swinging hard with his fist. The Prisoner ducked the attack, sweeping outwards with his leg. Three’s knee buckled from the kick, bringing the big man down to a crouch. The Prisoner moved with the momentum, launching a roundhouse kick directly into Three’s mask.
Two took the opportunity and lunged forth. He thrust his dagger ahead, aiming for The Prisoner’s back. The opponent spun, putting his hand forward. The blade pierced through his palm, only for him to close his hand around the hilt of the weapon. Immediately, he pulled back roughly. Two fell forward, refusing to let go of the dagger. As soon as Two lost his footing, The Prisoner readied his other hand and struck Two’s elbow. Pain raced through his body as the arm bent at an unnatural angle. His hand released reflexively as he stifled a scream.
Three rose to his feet as The Prisoner pulled the weapon out of his hand, tearing a piece of his cloak to stifle the bleeding. The big man looked around quickly for anything that could turn the tide. On opposite sides of the room he saw two support pillars. A plan formed in his mind quickly, but not quickly enough as The Prisoner lunged forward, stabbing with the dagger.
A green shield manifested between the two traitless, the weapon bouncing harmlessly off of the construct. Clover rushed forward, clutching The Prisoner’s leg. Green magic instantly surrounded him, trapping him in a shell of his own mold.
Two stood, his arm throbbing. In front of him Clover strained intensely, holding The Prisoner in place within a shield the same shape as his body. Already, cracks were forming along the green encasement. Three reacted quickly, snatching Clover up in his arms and running towards Two. He grabbed his companion before rushing headfirst into the pillar supporting the building and smashing through it. He turned as he rushed past the other, kicking at the wood and splintering it.
Just as the second support broke, Clover’s shield failed. The green magic shattering and dissipating around The Prisoner. He turned towards them just as the building collapsed on top of him.
Three leapt forward, throwing them out of the building as it fell. The group pausing to catch their breath as they looked at the entire bar crumble atop their foe. Two and Three shared a look with each other, before chuckling lightly. The larger Vigilant turned towards Clover.
“That’s certainly a unique way to use a shield.” He commented.
Quietly, she responded. “It’s just something I learned how to do one day. Mila called it my ‘manifestation’.”
They stood, Three letting out a heavy exhale, as Two turned to lead on to their destination. However, their steps paused in place. Behind them, bricks shifted, and splintered wood was pushed aside. From amidst the rubble, The Prisoner clawed forth once more. His helmet had new dents, and fresh blood poured from within, but still he came forward.
“Gods above…” Three whispered.
“We can’t beat him...” Two hissed. “Let’s go!” He ordered.
The group turned and ran while The Prisoner freed himself from the rubble. Two peeked over his shoulder as they sprinted, seeing The Prisoner get further and further into the distance. The man leaned back, and shot forward. A small shadow flew into the air, before growing larger and larger. Two dove to the side, his own dagger smashing into the ground next to him. The weapon broke with the force of the throw, the blade separating from the hilt. Behind them, The Prisoner began to give chase.
They took off once more, running uphill towards a higher point of Blethrin, towards the rich district of the inner city. Even as they went full speed, behind them the top ranked Vigilant was gaining ground. Two looked on each side of the street, noticing a ladder down a nearby alley leading up towards the rooftops. His mind raced in an instant, mapping out a route to their destination from the note they had received.
“This way!” He shouted, turning quickly down the alleyway.
Three carried Clover as he sprinted after his friend, the man stopping at the ladder. He moved her to his back, the girl clutching on tightly as he grabbed the rungs and pulled himself up with expert speed. Two followed immediately behind.
Just as Two reached the top, The Prisoner reached the bottom. He grabbed the rungs and pulled himself up two at a time. Fear shot through Two like a bullet.
“Keep going!” He shouted, running forward and leaping to the nearby building.
Three followed suit, the duo leaping from one building to the next in a dead sprint forward. A few buildings ahead, Two noticed one of the buildings was slightly taller than its neighbors. Atop it lay a bridged pathway, thick doors serving as maintenance travel between two large structures.
Two jumped with all of his strength, grabbing onto the edge and pulling himself up with his one arm. His muscles screamed in defiance, but he forced them to obey. As soon as he was up, he turned to see Three take the leap. The large man grabbed the ledge by the tips of his fingers, but was slipping quickly. Two rushed forward, grabbing his friend’s wrist and straining to pull him to safety.
The duo collapsed as Three was pulled atop the building, breathing heavily. They had no time to spare though, as they saw The Prisoner taking the same leaps they had moments prior straight towards them. Turning, they saw the heavy doors of the maintenance bridge.
“Go!” Two roared, the duo hurling themselves towards the structure.
Two dashed within, Three directly on his heels. As they entered, the large man grabbed the large metal door and slammed it shut. Just as it closed, Two saw The Prisoner pulling himself up onto the roof outside. Three pushed forward, holding the door closed as The Prisoner crashed into it from outside. He stumbled back for only a moment, before throwing himself back into the barricade with all of his strength. Another bang, followed by another as The Prisoner tossed himself into the door over and over.
Suddenly, the assault stopped, and the group took their opportunity to turn and keep running. Two pulled out the clock, and realized that time was already running short. He pocketed it once more, and pushed himself onward.
The Prisoner smashed into the metal barricade, his shoulder slamming into the door over and over as he struggled against the men inside. He was close to his prey, the most elusive hunt he’d had yet, and he wouldn’t accept anything less than success.
Suddenly a voice called out from behind him. He stopped, his fists clenched as he turned towards the man at the other end of the roof.
“We’re not done yet.” The Vigilant stated, pulling his hood down. A large scar covered the metal mask of Noble Team’s fourth member.
“I killed you.” The Prisoner stated coldly.
“You tried to kill me.” Four corrected.
“I suppose that’s correct. I’ll be more thorough this time.” He responded, walking towards Four with his fists clenched.
Four curled his own hands into fists, walking towards The Prisoner. “This time, I’m throwing you off the top of the town.”
As soon as they got in range of one-another The Prisoner lashed out with a vicious strike. Four swerved to avoid the attack, jabbing the man in the throat before wrapping his arms around the man’s neck and shoulder. He heaved forward, lifting the man up and slamming him into the ground next to him.
The Prisoner immediately grabbed Four’s head, pulling him down and kneeing him in the mask. The Noble stumbled backwards as The Prisoner jumped to his feet. He charged forward, bringing his fist forward into an uppercut aimed at Four’s stomach. The Noble grabbed The Prisoner’s shoulders and threw him to the side, narrowly avoiding the attack.
The injured Vigilant stumbled as he was thrown, barely keeping his balance near the edge of the building. Four saw his opportunity and rushed forward. He tackled The Prisoner, his shoulder smashing into the man’s gut. The two flew off the side of the building, the duo wrestling in midair before hitting a market stall beneath them. They crashed through the cloth top and into the wood below. They rolled away from each other, each taking a moment to stand to their feet.
Four got up first, kicking viciously towards The Prisoner as he stood. The foot struck him in the face, causing his head to snap back violently. Four wasted no time, following the attack up with a strike to his opponent’s stomach. The Prisoner lurched forward from the blow, which Four finished by striking his elbow into the back of his enemy’s helmet.
The man collapsed to the ground, and Four grabbed his cloak and waistband. He carried The Prisoner to the edge of Blethrin’s high district, intent on repaying the suffering he endured earlier. The highest ranking Vigilant snapped into action suddenly, grabbing Four’s leg and rolling off the edge. The pair fell into the air once more, the duo slowing their fall by sliding along the wall next to them. They struck at one another, fists smashing into metal masks over and over as they tumbled downwards. They crashed into the ground below, both rolling as they hit the stone.
The Prisoner laid on his back, his chest heaving with every breath. He coughed violently, blood spurting from his mask’s mouthpiece. Four groaned as he crawled to his knees. He clawed himself towards his opponent, coming face to face with him. He brought his fist up and slammed it down with all his might. The Prisoner swerved at the last second, causing Four’s fist to smash into the stone beneath. He cried out, his knuckles cracking from the force.
The Prisoner rolled, grabbing Four’s free arm and bending it out. He wrapped his legs around the limb, pushing forward with intent to break. Four stood quickly, adrenaline pushing his body forward. He lifted The Prisoner and slammed him back into the cobblestone floor, but still the man held firm. Gritting his teeth, Four brought his foot up and stomped on The Prisoner’s mask, holding him at an upwards angle with his arms as they struggled to see who would give in first.
Finally, The Prisoner released his grip. Four fell backwards, grasping at his nearly broken arm. After catching his breath, Four approached his opponent once more, and kicked him harshly in the ribs. The man tumbled from the blow, rolling along the cobblestone. He rolled to his stomach, pushing himself off the ground and back to his feet.
The two raised their fists once more, but Four noticed how much The Prisoner’s hands were shaking. Reinvigorated, he charged forward with a flurry of blows. The Prisoner deflected the first two, but was quickly overwhelmed as a multitude of strikes smashed into his mask. He stumbled back from the onslaught, Four pushing forward as he attacked.
Blow after blow slammed into The Prisoner, the man’s body barely functioning as he tried to take step after step away from the damage. Four pressed on, following his opponent’s movements with his own, never ceasing his assault. They walked out of the alley and into a street, The Prisoner attempting to throw his own counter attacks where he could, only for the hits to be ignored by Four, the Noble pressing onward with growing intensity.
Behind them, the ledge leading to lower Blethrin grew closer and closer. Four leaned back, intent on striking with all his force. The Prisoner reacted immediately, jumping up and drop kicking the Noble. The duo flew away from one-another, The Prisoner over the edge and Four back towards the alley.
Four jumped to his feet swiftly, running to the edge of middle Blethrin. He gazed downwards towards the lower district, but couldn’t see his opponent anywhere. He exhaled heavily, and nearly collapsed as his adrenaline faded. Pain shot through his entire body as he suddenly felt every strike that had landed on him.
He stumbled back into the alley he had come from, and sat on the ground next to a stone door.
Two, Three, and Clover ran as quickly as they could towards an intricate looking set of wood doors. According to the clock in Two’s hand, they were seconds from failing their deadline. They pushed ahead, slamming through the double doors. In front of them stood an older patience mage. He wore a fine suit, and had a well groomed moustache.
“I suppose you’re the men the lady sent for? Come, I will bring you to her grace. Follow me to the garden.” He stated.
Two breathed heavily, he wanted to sneer, but he couldn’t through his ragged breathing. The man had a certain air about him, one that Two despised. Despite this, he followed him. Time to see who this ‘S’ was.
As they reached a large flower bed, a woman turned to meet them. Knight Captain of Amikeko, Navae Alusfaen.
“Welcome to my garden, are you ready for your audience?” She asked.
Chapter 18 - Empty
The wooden end-table shattered as it hit the wall, the pieces of it falling in shambles to the stone floor below. Two strode forward quickly, impatience and stress finally taking its toll. He approached the woman, raising his voice as he made his demands.
“You’re gonna tell us what the hell is going on here. What is all of this?!” He questioned.
Navae looked at him, her head tilting slightly before taking a seat on one of the stone rings within her garden.
“Well I thought it was pretty obvious but, you’re being hunted.” She stated, a subtle smirk creeping across her lips.
Two took a step back, his eyes betraying his confusion behind the mask. His gaze hardened in an instant, he opened his mouth to shout further, but Navae spoke up quickly.
“You are currently in the largest bid for power in Amikeko’s history. You’re the only thing currently standing between civility and mayhem.” She stated calmly, holding a large purple flower gently in her hands. “And you are also my only hope to maintain the peace of our nation.”
Two stood in place, his mouth agape. “Wha-...?” He started, but Three placed his hand on his shoulder. The large man stepped forward, speaking bluntly.
“Why us? Why don’t you protect her?”
She turned towards him, focusing fully on the big traitless. “Because I trust you. I do not know who around me are enemies and who are friends, but you men have proven your loyalty to Amikeko, or at least proven you have morals beyond your own gain.”
Two’s gaze shifted downwards, remembering his own statements in the sewers. When he looked back up, Navae’s eyes were focused directly on him. She squinted slightly before continuing.
“A noble house within Amikeko’s wealthier patrons has made their move. This family has had close ties to Amikeko’s criminal underground for quite some time, using a special group of enforcers as their personal assassins and bodyguards.” She spoke as she walked, examining the plants around her. “You’ll know this group as the Scorned Vigilants.” She added, nodding towards the men.
She stopped to investigate a darker flower, the plant wilting downwards. “I had several groups investigating these nobles, but each one had been discovered and eliminated. Finally, one of my men found the truth. A young Integrity mage. He managed to evade their capture long enough to write me a letter of his discoveries, unfortunately, he was caught before he could send it. Though the Vigilants that captured him didn’t check his room, allowing me to find his unsent letter.”
Two and Three shared a quick glance as the woman picked up a pair of shears.
“It told me everything I needed to know.” She continued. “The identities of those that would upset our balance, that would challenge our way of life. In a state of bitter irony, the leaders of the Scorned Vigilants, or the ‘higher ups’ as your men seem to suggest they be called, is House Duir.” She looked carefully at the group, analyzing their reactions to the name. She lingered on Clover, gazing closely at the princess. After Clover made no move, she shrugged.
“It’s no surprise you do not remember that name, miss Clover. Afterall, you were very young when the Duirs abandoned you.” This evoked the reaction Navae had originally expected. Clover gasped, taking a step back as her eyes went wide.
“M-my parents..? T-they’re the ones- the ones who want to kill me?” She stammered.
Navae nodded, inspecting her shears. “It appears so. I’ve long disliked the Duirs, ever since I discovered they were the ones that left you where you had been. Though, you seemed to have a better life with the royal family than you ever could have had with them, so I didn’t pry too far into the matter. Now, however, they have overstepped their boundaries. So, Nobles, I ask you to clear my garden of this blotch.” She asked, snipping the dying flower at the stem with the shears.
Two looked back at Three, the large man gazing at him. He looked tired, Two was sure he looked the same.
“We don’t have much of a choice, do we?” He asked her.
“Of course you do. But this is the only right one to make.” Navae answered.
Two chuckled. “I suppose we accept. Though, we’ll need to prepare. Gather our gear, replace our armor.”
“We need to get to Ralo.” Three spoke up. “We’ll get to our original hideout and stock up.”
Navae nodded, listening to the men. “That works out quite well, actually. The Duir estate is a river property, and as such lies very near to Ralo.” She looked up at the men, breaking out of her thoughts. “Come, I’ll lead you to a back exit. No one can know you met with me here.” She ordered, moving towards the back of the garden.
The men sighed, before standing and following. Three reached towards Clover, the princess placing her hand in Three’s own as they walked forward.
“I have one word of warning for you. A man chases you, a Vigilant. He is unlike any warrior I’ve seen before.” She cautioned.
“Yeah. I think we’ve met him.” Two stated with a tone.
“He isn’t like the others. He is the Duirs' prisoner. I do not know how they hold him, but I do know that he has been promised his freedom in exchange for your lives.” She paused as she approached a large stone door. “If you encounter him, please, run. You two do not have the abilities required to defeat him.”
Two and Three looked at each other once more, before Two turned back towards Navae. “We promise. We’ll focus on our mission.” Two responded.
“Good.” She nodded. “Miss Clover?” She asked, turning towards the young girl and kneeling down to her. “For now you must go with these men a bit longer. I would take you with me if I could, but you’re far safer with them for now. When the time comes I will come for you. Do you understand?”
“...Yes.” She replied, gazing towards the ground.
Navae stood, straightening her shoulders. “Good. Now gentlemen, I leave you to your objective. Good luck.”
Without another word, the Viper of Amikeko left. She walked away quickly, never turning back once. Two and Three shared a final glance, before the larger man approached the stone door and pushed. The heavy barricade scraped across the ground before sliding open with relative ease.
As the door swung open, the group was immediately taken by shock and surprise. Sitting directly in front of the doorway, his back propped up against a wall to their left, was Four.
“Oh. Hey guys.”
Two stopped in place, his thoughts racing as his mind struggled to process the feelings running rampant through him. His body felt numb, yet he was vaguely aware of Three shoving past him hurriedly. Four struggled to stand, to meet the oncoming mountain of a traitless. But before he could even stand properly, Three had already wrapped his arms around the smaller man, lifting him off the ground in a tight embrace.
Two snapped back to his senses, seeing the wincing in Four’s eyes. Suddenly, Two’s vision blurred as his eyes were overwhelmed with tears. He rushed forward, wrapping his arm around the embracing duo. They stood there, Two and Three crying as they held Four close. Even Clover’s eyes were watering as she stood back by the door. A smile crept across her face, looking upon the men.
Four wriggled against Three’s iron grasp, giving himself a bit more room.
“Three, please. You’re breaking me.” He wheezed out.
The large man composed himself quickly, setting the smaller Noble down. Two took a step back before speaking.
“I thought you were dead…” He mumbled.
“Almost was, the arnicite Broath and Three got me saved my life… as well as.. An old friend. Seems fate wasn’t ready for me yet, makes sense, since I still gotta make sure you guys get through this.” Four explained, his gaze drifting downwards. Suddenly, his eyes jumped back to the men. “So, what’s the plan?”
“Well, we received some info, but the details I can share with you when we’re safer. For now, we need to get back home. Once we reach Ralo, I’ll fill you in.” Two answered.
“Got it, but, uh, Clover?” He asked, his attention moving to the princess.
“Y-yes?” She stammered.
“Do you think you can help me out? I’m not exactly tip-top.” He motioned downwards towards his body.
“O-oh. Right.” She answered, approaching him and channeling the green magic within.
Four let out a sigh as the Kindness energy washed over him, days of healing done in seconds. As she finished, the girl stepped back. “Thank you.” Four told her.
The girl’s eyes widened before tearing up. Suddenly, she fell forward, collapsing against Four’s chest. She sobbed heavily against him, the stress of the last twenty-four hours finally catching up with her. Four only gently held her, tears silently falling from his own eyes.
After her sobs turned to stifled hiccups, Four squeezed her gently. “C’mon. Let’s get you somewhere safe. Two can fill me in on the way.”
The journey to Ralo wasn’t a long one, but the trek was a hard one. The Nobles had decided to avoid the road, instead going through the forest between the two cities. Four slid down a slight incline, catching Clover as she followed. Two stood in front of him, scouting out the area ahead of them.
Before them was a worn path, overgrown and unkempt, but usable. Two looked back at Four, the men sharing a glance before Two shrugged. He turned, motioning towards Three before descending down the unused walkway.
Travel was quiet, save for the sounds of the birds. Four’s mind wandered. Winter would be upon them before much longer, and with it, the season of giving. But also, the cold. He would need to fix up the house more, to keep them all safe from the elements. A smirk crossed his face. He’d invite Two and Three as well. He was sure they’d love them.
Grinning at his own thoughts, Four didn’t even notice as they approached a small cave. On each side a large hill stretched. Four had never seen this before, but it was short. Even from the entrance, he could see the other side. He wondered briefly if the tunnel was manmade or natural. Regardless, the men stepped inside.
Their footsteps echoed in the small tunnel, the sound bouncing off the stone walls around them. Darkness covered the interior, putting the men on edge. Four focused intently on the light at the other end, the brightness nearly blinding as his eyes were adjusting to the darkness of his surroundings. Suddenly, four silhouettes appeared at the exit, the frames illuminated by the sun outside.
Their form was unmistakable.
“Scavengers.” Two seethed through clenched teeth.
The men approached them, axes in each of their hands. The Nobles turned to run, only to see five more men behind them, blocking their retreat.
“Haven’t heard of Scavengers working together before!” Two called out to the men.
“Times change.” Yelled back one of them. “Not many are left with a choice after what you guys pulled.”
Four clenched his fists standing in front of Clover as the men stepped closer and closer. Behind him, he felt Two and Three take up fighting stances. They had no weapons, and each of these men were armed. He grit his teeth.
“Clover, we’ll need your help okay?” He whispered to the princess.
“I’ll try...” She whispered back.
He knelt down, whispering to her more quietly. “Focus on protecting Two and Three. I’ll be okay.” Her eyes filled with shock for a moment, but glanced down, noticing him taking a large stone in each hand. She nodded, turning her back to the youngest Noble.
Four stood, clutching his rocks behind his hands and walked calmly towards the four men in front of them. As he stepped within range of their axes, they swung without hesitation. He raised his stone in an instant, the rock barely deflecting the blade. His heart jolted with adrenaline at the sheer closeness of the blade. Instinctively, he swung forward with the opposite hand. His fist, reinforced by the weight of the stone, smashed into the mask of the closest Scavenger.
He followed forward, turning with the momentum of the strike and rotating over the Scavenger as he fell back. The men’s friends were already turning, their weapons swinging as one. Four rolled forward, the Scavengers bringing their axes down where he had been. The blades collided against each other in a loud clang, inches from the man on the ground.
Four rolled to his feet, turning violently as he did so and hurling a rock forward. The stone smashed into the knee of a nearby Scavenger, the man’s voice screaming out as his leg gave out beneath him. The Noble wasted no time, dashing forward and bringing his knee into the side of the man’s head. He felt a sickening crack as he made contact with the Scavenger’s temple, but he had no time to contemplate it. Instead, he took the man’s axe.
He swung the weapon by the edge of the handle, sweeping through the air with a wide arc. He felt only a small amount of resistance in the middle of the swipe, but stood to face the area it had hit regardless. Before him, a Scavenger took a step back, releasing their axe and clutching at their throat. Behind him, the Scavenger he had hit earlier had stood up, stepping back to the remaining member of their group. They stared in horror as the body of their comrade fell to one side of Four while their head fell to the other.
The Noble said nothing, only kneeling down and picking up the fallen Scavenger’s axe. He turned to the other men, the two weapons in his hand. His eyes were devoid of any emotion, instead, they saw only a tired glare.
The Scavenger he had originally hit looked down in terror as the head rolled to his feet. His gaze shot back up to the Noble, before jumping to the fight happening further down the tunnel.
“Use it!!” He shouted.
One of the Scavengers of the second team heard the shout, she backed up as her friends fought forward. She pulled forth a large chunk of arnicite, the magic rock vibrating violently as pulsating orange cracks ran through it.
Two and Three both saw the makeshift bomb and charged forward, pushing against the men in front of them with all of their strength. The Scavengers closed their ranks, bringing their axes against each other and pushing back against them. The female Scavenger raised the arnicite over her head. She glanced forward, her eyes meeting Clover’s for an instant.
“I’m sorry...” She pleaded, before bringing the stone crashing down against the rock beneath her.
Four rushed forward towards his friends, when a massive flash of light engulfed his vision, followed by an explosion of flames and magic. He felt shrapnel of rock tear against his skin and cloak as he flew backwards. He lowered his head, putting his hands forward to protect himself as best he could.
As the fire faded, and his eyes readjusted to the darkness, he spotted Two. The man was bringing himself to his feet, his knees visibly shaky, but he looked overall fine. But Four’s breath caught in his chest when he saw Three. The large man was on his knees, his back to the explosion and his body covering Clover. He slumped to the side, falling to the ground.
Four ran forward, grabbing the larger man’s shoulders and lifting him up off the ground. “Three!!” He shouted.
Two stepped towards them, his legs buckling as he did, causing him to stumble and fall to the ground. Overhead, Four felt a large vibration. The cave shifted, dust falling from the ceiling as rocks threatened to collapse downwards. Panicked, Four stood, lifting Three with all of his strength. The large man was heavy, but he moved regardless.
Four shut his eyes and grit his teeth. “Two! Quick! Get out of the cave!! Get to the other side!!” He ordered.
Four was so preoccupied that he barely heard Two croak out a warning. He turned just in time to see the axe of the Scavenger that had ordered the explosion swing down towards him. He shut his eyes in anticipation of the pain, but it never came.
When he opened his vision, he saw a green shell had enveloped the man. On the ground next to him stood Clover, her hand grasping his cloak tightly. Her eyes were completely devoid of emotion, as empty as his own had been moments before.
He wasted no time, instead heaving Three up onto his back and clambering forward. Two was in front of him, waving them onwards. Four grabbed Clover’s hand and pulled her forward. The Scavenger screamed out a muffled shout through the shell of kindness energy.
Four ignored him, dragging the princess and his friend out of the tunnel just as the first boulders began falling from the ceiling. He turned, dumping Three to the ground and witnessing the Scavenger within still trapped in his green shell. As the rocks above him came down, the magic disappeared, leaving him unprotected from the landslide above.
Four turned to Clover as the tunnel fell upon itself, the girl’s expression still blank and emotionless. “Clover?” He asked, reaching his hand towards her.
“I-... I didn’t want to lose anyone else… I-” She stammered, her eyes still wide. She looked up at Four. “I saved you... right?” She asked.
“Yes! Yes you did.” He assured her, taking the girl in an embrace that she didn’t return.
“I saved a life, by taking one…” She said aloud.
Two approached them slowly. “It’s something we’ve all had to do at some point. It’s the nature of life outside of the palace…” He stated.
“If I saved someone… then why do I feel... So empty?” She asked.
Four held her close, his hug tightening. “That’s how I feel all the time…” Four whispered to her. “Empty... just like what everyone calls us. We become what they believe we are, because it’s how we survive.” He confided.
She brought her arms up, hugging him back. “I don’t like feeling empty, Four…” She said solemnly, burying her face in his shoulder.
Chapter 19 - Prison
The Prisoner’s fingertips grasped the windowsill tightly, his arms shook with exertion as he heaved himself up and into the opening, something that would normally take minimal effort. He collapsed into the room, rolling to a stop in the center of a barren sleeping quarter. There were no decorations nor furniture, save for a small plain mattress in the corner.
He laid there, his chest heaving. He couldn’t feel it, but he knew he was gravely injured. He was in dire need of first-aid. He needed to reach the medical supplies under his mattress. It wasn’t much, some weak Kindness-infused arnicite, a needle and thread for stitches, a few bandages.
But first, he needed to reach it. He willed his body to move, but it wouldn’t obey. He would wait a moment then and collect his strength. To his right, he heard commotion. His head tilted, gazing at the door to his room. Movement and yelling were quickly approaching.
The entry blasted open, Mr. Duir channeling a purple spike aimed at the window. Behind him, Mrs. Duir had two slender light blue tendrils emanating from her sleeves. Upon seeing The Prisoner laying on the ground, his own blood slowly pooling around him, the duo dispersed their magic.
“You know you’re supposed to be quiet!” the man shouted.
“You’re back...” The woman stated in a breathy whisper. “Does that mean you succeeded?” She asked, excitement raising the pitch of her voice.
“...No.” The Prisoner stated simply. “I retreated to recover.”
Mr. Duir shouted a curse as he punched the wall. He recoiled from the pain as his knuckles hit the stone of The Prisoner’s cell-like room.
“We’ve sent you on DOZENS if not HUNDREDS of missions! Why is this one, the most important task of all, the one you failed?!” He demanded.
The Prisoner didn’t respond. Instead, he laid on the ground and focused on his breathing. Adam Duir snarled, reaching for his neck and pulling up a shiny golden key attached to a cord that he wore as a necklace.
“We told you, didn’t we? You get this if you succeed. Failure isn’t acceptable. If those men aren’t stopped and that girl isn’t taken care of, you will never have your freedom!” He thundered.
The Prisoner’s eyes drifted towards the key. He wondered briefly if they could beat him, even in his injured state. He took a deep breath before rolling over. He placed his hands on either side of himself, pushing himself off the ground.
It didn’t matter.
“I’ll bandage my wounds and continue the mission. I apologize for the delay.” He said aloud.
Adam Duir seethed in anger, but his wife placed her hand on his shoulder. He looked to her before exhaling. Without another word, the duo left the room. The Prisoner stopped at his mattress, kneeling down to it and pulling it to the side. Underneath it laid his medical equipment. He plopped himself down on the cushion, leaning against the wall as he snapped the arnicite. He placed it against his chest, the broken ribs inside reacting to the weak magical signal.
It wouldn’t completely heal, but it would be enough. He left the stone there, reaching for the other shard of arnicite and held it against his forehead. The magic oozed inside of his mask, healing the bruises and wounds covering his face. His mind drifted as the magic did it’s work, his thoughts going back to different times.
Before him stood a massive man, a streak of orange going directly through the center of his hair like a fireball. He knelt down towards him, worry in his gaze.
“You alright, kid?” The big man asked him.
“Yeah...” He replied. “I’ve been hit harder.” He lied.
The large man grinned, reaching his hand out to him. “I like your attitude. I’m Fergal.”
Hesitantly, he reached out and accepted the man’s help. “Nice to meet you, Fergal. My name is Nar, Nar Keryness.” He replied, being nearly lifted to his feet by Fergal’s strength.
“Well Nar, you can certainly take a hit. Why don’t you come back with my friends and I stay? Maybe get some good food?”
“Okay.” Nar answered plainly. He took a single step forward, before his leg bent at an unnatural angle causing him to fall back to the ground.
Fergal moved swiftly, catching him before he hit the ground. “Lord… your leg is broken. Could you not tell?” He asked, worry creeping into his voice again.
“No.. I- I can’t feel anything… I’m sick, or that’s what my mama used to tell me.” Nar answered sheepishly, his eyes avoiding Fergal’s. “B-but I’m strong! I can fix it and catch up to you!”
Fergal nodded his head. “Nonsense. Here, I’ll carry you. My friends can help with your leg, and you’ve already demonstrated enough strength to impress me.”
The Prisoner’s thoughts raced forward, his mind settling on meeting Fergal’s friends.
“This is Kayasi, Vessel, Androse and Alex. Alex is traitless too.” The Bravery wizard told him. “Everybody, this is Nar Keryness.”
“Nice to meet you, everyone.”
The fish monster, Vessel, had a large toothy grin as he approached. “Is he strong?” He asked Fergal.
“Not in the way you wish.” The large man replied.
“Then welcome to the group, Nar.” He stated, turning to the traitless boy as his grin grew wider. He placed a firm hand on Nar’s shoulder, escorting the young traitless to the table where the rest of the group waited.
Vessel motioned for Nar to sit at an open spot next to Alex, which the young man did. His eyes drifted around, looking at nothing in particular, before noticing Alex looking at him. He met her eyes only for a moment, before looking down quickly.
“You’re blushing.” She said, mockingly.
“C’mon. Give him a break, Alex.” Kayasi remarked.
The tall Perseverance mage leaned towards Nar. “Don’t mind her, she’s not exactly the nicest of the bunch. I’m Androse.”
The Prisoner opened his eyes, he wasn’t sure if he had fallen asleep or if he had just gotten lost in his thoughts again. His body felt a bit better, but he still needed to properly close his cuts. He sat up, retrieving the stitching gear and got to work on the multitude of slashes on his body. To distract himself from the grueling task, he let his mind wander to a different memory.
In front of him stood Fergal, a proud leader, radiant not only with his magical power, but his charisma and leadership. The Prisoner smiled thinking about his old mentor. Thoughts of Vessel and Androse competing. The fish monster always besting the Perseverance mage. Androse declaring how one day he’d be stronger. Memories of Kayasi cooking them meals. Everyone else always reacted with disgust when Kayasi cooked, but Nar couldn’t taste it anyways and would always pretend to love it. His heart always warmed seeing how Kayasi beamed at his reaction to her food. A memory of Alex came next, the woman sitting next to him atop a hill side. They looked on together at the night sky, and as he reached for her hand the memory faded.
He cut the final stitch, closing the last open wound. He began wrapping bandages around the areas, allowing his thoughts to go where they please once more. This time they went forward a few years from the last. A flash of yellow and orange. Debris flying all around him. Nar knelt down to check on Androse, the tall man taking shallow breaths. Next to him lay Kayasi, a nasty gash on her head. Behind him, Fergal roared as another explosion rocked the mountainside.
His leader let loose a magical onslaught against the mage that was attacking them. The Justice-Bravery dual-traited counter attacked with his own magic, the following explosion shaking stones around them loose. When he turned, Nar saw them facing off with each other. In his hand, he held the item the mage was after. A black stone, rudalite, but an unnatural energy emanating from it. He gripped it tightly, before turning back towards the two mages. The air between them shimmered, and if he could feel, he’d have noticed the heat emanating from the duo.
He charged them, eager to help his friend, and prove that all the training wasn’t worthless. A flash of light, a blinding brilliance and a complete loss of himself. The next thing Nar knew, he was hanging off the edge of a cliff. His arms shook with the task of holding him up, but he lacked the strength needed to pull himself to safety. Nearby, the dual-traited mage stood to his feet, glancing at him with concern, but turning his attention to the black stone teetering on the edge near Nar.
The traitless turned his attention to Fergal, the orange wizard attempting to stand, but falling back to the ground. He clutched at his head, before trying to stand again. Nar slipped a bit, losing his grip more and more, he reached out towards Fergal, shouting for his friend to save him. The Bravery-Justice mage nearby dove towards the rudalite chunk as Nar’s arm gave way. Fergal’s voice calling out his name being the last sound he heard before the rush of wind around him.
He fell for what felt like an eternity. All the same memories he was experiencing now flashing before his eyes then. Memories he had remembered every night since the fall. The Prisoner clenched his jaw as he finished wrapping the last wound. He pulled his knees close to his chest, breathing heavily into himself.
His emotions rose, threatening to overwhelm him as they had several times throughout the years. He pushed them back down, pressing them into the cage within and locking the metaphorical door. He fell to the side, laying on his worn mattress. His eyes closed as his mind drifted away again. He expected memories of his friends, but instead, his thoughts were of the Noble Team member, Four. The young warrior fought with more than he could give, just as he used to.
The Prisoner smiled with a realization. He never needed the key the Duirs possessed. He had been a prisoner long before they found him washed up and near death by the river all those years ago. But Four had the answer he needed. The path to his freedom. When he opened his eyes once more, daylight poured in through the window.
It was only a matter of time. The Prisoner knew he didn’t need to hunt for the Nobles, they would be here before long. He shifted out of his bed, standing to his feet. He’d need to leave before the Duirs awoke, or else they’d threaten him again, and he was in no mood to listen to their prattle. He would pretend to leave the estate, but would wait nearby. If Four was even half as skilled as The Prisoner expected, the man would be here within the day.
As he climbed out of the window and into the nearby wilderness, he prayed silently. He prayed for Four to come, to deliver the freedom The Prisoner craved. To allow him to go where Nar had gone long ago.
Come Four, and free me from this prison.
Chapter 20 - The Noble Team
The door burst open, nearly flying off its hinges. The third member of Noble Team moved into the room, his gargantuan silhouette blocking the entire entry. Their base in Ralo seemed empty, but it was always better to be sure.
Three moved in further, surveying the surroundings carefully. None of them held weapons, their tools having been lost throughout their journey. Four followed after, with Two and Clover close behind. When fully inside, Two shut the door behind them, turning the bolt and locking the door. The men lit torches and placed them in their braziers.
They let out a long sigh, each visibly relaxing from their arduous journey. Three fell into a chair near their old table, laying heavily upon the wood. Two sat against the back wall, near where he had always thrown his daggers. Four simply stood in the room, memories flooding through his mind. He shook his head, reminiscing could come later.
“I know we all want to rest and relax. We’ve had a tough time lately. But the longer we take the sooner they’ll find us here.” He stated.
Three leaned back in his chair, exhaling heavily. “You’re right.” He agreed. “I’ll go gather some weapons.”
The large man stood, leaving for the armory. Meanwhile, Two began plucking daggers out of his target board. He placed the bladed weapons in his belt before sitting back against the wall. “How are we gonna bring down an entire estate?” He mumbled.
Four crossed his arms, thinking to himself. “I’ll… be right back...” He stated, leaving for the dorms.
Clover and Two sat alone in the living room, the silence between them nearly deafening. Suddenly, Two spoke up.
“Listen... I know I hurt your feelings before. I… I was scared. The feelings you confessed to Four earlier? It’s... that’s how I felt for a long time... “ He stammered.
The girl was silent for a moment more, before asking him a simple yet unexpected question. “How did you get rid of it?”
“What? The feeling of emptiness? A total loss of yourself, and who you thought you were and what you could be?”
She nodded, tears falling down her cheeks.
“It was Four.” He stated matter-of-factly. “Four saved me. He showed me that no matter what the world did, we make our own choices and be who we want to be. I forgot that for a while, after… after I thought he died.”
Seconds passed before Clover spoke up once more. “Be who I want to be? Who... who do I want to be?”
Two nodded as she spoke. “It’s a question you’ll ask yourself a lot. The way I interpret it is to just be someone you can be proud of, even if you have to do some not-so-prideful things.”
Before their conversation could finish, the door opened up and Four entered the room. In his hand he held a thin red cylinder. “I was given this before, and I think it could do the trick.”
“What is it?” Two asked.
“It’s called dynamite. If you set this string on fire it’ll cause an explosion after a few seconds.” Four recalled.
“So like, Bravery arnicite?” Two continued.
Four shook his head. “Not quite. Much less contained, and far larger of an explosion. It was made by traitless, for traitless. Weapons that don’t require magic.”
The door flung open once more, with Three walking in carrying a pile of axes and daggers in his arms. He dropped the weapons to the ground. “Already boys, gear up.” He ordered, a smile visible under his mask.
The men gathered their weapons, Three strapping two axes to his back while he held one in his mighty grip. Once they had fully loaded up, Four turned to the kindness princess next to him.
“Alright Clover. We’ll be gone for about a day, okay? You can hide out here. Lock the door behind us and don’t open it for anyone. We’ll take care of all of this.” He reassured her.
“Why...? Why are you doing all of this for me?” She asked him.
Four hesitated a moment, thinking of a correct answer. Suddenly, Three spoke up. “You’re the princess, aren’t you? You’ll be the one deciding the future of our kingdom one day. After all we’ve been through now, I’m sure you’ll make it a better place.”
Four nodded, a grin crossing his lips. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
He stood, the girl seemingly satisfied with the answer. “Well Noble Team, let’s move out.”
The trio of men arrived at the Duir estate within hours of leaving Ralo. It was a simple journey, following the river towards Determino. A large fence surrounded the perimeter, with a small army of traited guards circling within.
“Any plans on how to get in?” Four asked, turning towards Two.
“I’ve had a few ideas.” He confessed. “These kinds of noble estates tend to have a pulley system for transporting things from the servant areas to the upper floors. If we could get to one of those places, we could probably sneak to the upper quarters of the estate through them.”
“Sounds good enough for me.” Three agreed.
“The only issue with that plan is…” Two trailed off, motioning towards the guards within.
“...I’ve got an idea.” Three stated.
Three stepped out from the shrubbery, his eyes glancing towards the locations where Two and Four were set up. He pulled a second axe from his back, holding a polearm in each hand, before stepping forward along the road towards the main gate.
Two guards stood in front of the entrance, both of them reacting in sync upon seeing him approaching. Fire appeared in both of their hands, their Bravery magic manifesting in anticipation.
“Halt!” One of them shouted.
Three simply continued his slow advance, taking one steady step after another.
“I said halt!!” The man shouted again, his orange flame flaring.
Three placed the blades of the axes against the ground before running directly at the men. Sparks flew up from the metal scraping against the stone pathway. The men reacted in an instant, letting loose blasts of flame. Three jumped to the side, dodging the first before lowering his shoulder into the second. The fire washed over him, scorching his armor and cloak. He grit his teeth and rammed into the man that had ordered him to halt. He turned to the other, spinning his axe and smashing it into the man’s chest.
The large traitless let go of the weapon, leaving it stuck in the wizard. He slung the other over his shoulder and grabbed the bars of the gate. He heaved with all of his strength, the metal groaning and bending outwards.
“Honey!! I’m home!!” He roared.
The guards inside rushed forward, each one channeling their magic and forming a firing line to attack the invader. Three pulled again and again, the metal finally giving way and breaking free of the gate. He retrieved the axe from the defeated Bravery guard before stepping through the hole.
A few of the men inside were visibly frightened, but most of them held firm. They aimed their magic at him as his eyes scanned their lines. Behind them, Two and Four moved swiftly. They grabbed the men in the back one at a time, pulling them to the side and stifling their cries.
“How many of you are prepared to die for these nobles?” Three spat. “How many of you would lay down your lives for the paycheck they offer?”
None of the guards responded, though a few looked at their allies around them.
“The Vigilants were the same, willing to fight for the pay, and trust me, they needed it much more than you.” Three continued. “But guess what happened to the Vigilants that followed the Duirs?” He asked, slinging another axe off his back into a dual grip. “They all died.”
Two and Four continued their slow thinning of the herd, assassinating men as quickly and quietly as they could.
“He’s just one empty! There’s no way he can take us all!” One of the guards shouted out.
Three smiled behind his mask. “All of who?”
The guards in front turned, seeing Two and Four both stabbing two guards simultaneously while holding their hands over their mouths. The men raised their hands, a multitude of magical weapons forming in their grasps as they shouted out. Before they could attack the two traitless men, Three was already upon them from behind.
In a flurry of violence and steel, the battle was over in moments. What guards weren’t dead were now running for their lives from the Duir residence.
“Didn’t expect you to use fear, Three.” Two commended.
“In the pits you learn a lot of ways to beat an opponent. Physically is usually the most efficient, but mental warfare is always an option to remember.” Three commented.
“Well. They most certainly know we’re here, and that can’t possibly be all of the guards.” Four remarked.
Two nodded. “You’re right about that. Most likely only perimeter guards. I’d bet the stronger ones are within the mansion itself.”
The men turned towards the large foreboding dwelling, the expensive looking homestead a grim reminder of the profit these people had turned off of the lives of traitless like them.
“C’mon, the servant areas should be this way.” Two motioned.
The men hurried forward, down a small incline to a path in the basement. Two tried the door that led inside. “Locked.” He muttered.
Three moved in front of the entry before kicking forward violently. The wood splintered and flew off the hinges. The room they entered was dark and smelled of a variety of spices. Delicious fragrances assaulted Four’s senses as they moved through the room, scents he had never smelled before. Two led them forward through the storage area to another door. This one opened with ease, swinging inwards towards a kitchen area.
The group continued onward, the silence and emptiness of the place concerning each of them. They reached the back wall, a place where a small service pulley was, just as Two had described.
“Okay, so who gets in first?” Three asked.
“How about you and Four go first?” Two proposed.
“What? Both of us?” Three turned to the smaller Vigilant.
Three nodded. “Yeah. I’ll pull you guys up.”
Four and Three stood still for a moment, both of them shuffling with uncertainty.
Two sighed. “Listen guys. The truth is I don’t know how helpful I’ll be against him. I’m not trying to avoid the fight, but help in a way I think I can. Regardless, with how these things work, one of us was going to have to stay down here anyways.” The two taller traitless looked at each other before back to Two. “Don’t worry! I’ll find a way up after letting you two up there.” He assured them.
Four shrugged. “If this is what he wants..” He trailed off.
Three sighed. “Fine. Just be careful, okay?” He demanded, positioning himself inside the pulley lift. Four followed, squeezing in tightly next to him.
“Alright guys. Good luck, and I’ll see you soon.” Two stated before pulling on the rope nearby. The lift slowly rose upwards with each tug on the rope, lifting the men higher and higher up into the building.
Two grabbed the rope and tugged, his one arm bulging as he pulled the duo higher up. At first he was placing his foot on the rope as he repositioned his hand, but quickly realized he didn’t need to because of some sort of locking mechanism higher up the rope.
When the lift had reached roughly the halfway point, Two paused. Behind him, the door to the actual mansion shook. The lock on it the only thing between Two and the guards on the other side. Two let go of the rope, the locking mechanism catching and holding the lift in place as the smaller Vigilant dashed towards the door. He moved to the side of a large cabinet, adorned with all sorts of cookware.
He heaved, pushing the large piece of furniture in front of the door. It crashed in place, and the men on the other side of the barrier began bashing against it. Two sprinted back to the rope and began pulling on it rapidly.
Three and Four noticed the stop, followed by a sudden increase in the speed at which they ascended. They looked at each other, worry in their eyes.
“Four, listen.” Three started. “What we’re going to do here is probably one of the most dangerous missions we’ve ever had.”
“Yeah...?” Four asked after several seconds of silence.
“If... if anything happens… I just-... my name is Fli Kordatar. I just wanted you to know that…” He whispered.
“Oh...” Four breathed. His mind drifted a bit, losing focus as they were pulled upwards quickly.
They reached the top, the two of them exiting the lift onto an expensive looking rug. It trailed forward towards a finely crafted wooden door, intricate carvings covering it. They moved towards the opening and posted up on each side of it. Three moved forward, kicking it open and rushing inside.
The Nobles entered a sort of study, a large desk sat in the center of the room, the back wall covered by bookshelves. A small end table with a lit candle sat next to the door, as well as a sword and shield of the Duir house crest hanging above it. A large window sat to the left of them, showing a view of the central river that flowed through Amikeko. All of these things were only passively noticed, as both Nobles focused on the people behind the desk, backing up against the bookshelves behind them.
Adam and Onessa Duir pushed themselves as far away from the men as they could, their magic forming, but flickering out from their panic and fear. Four would feel disgust looking upon them, if his hatred for them wasn’t so intense.
“Four.” Three spoke through gritted teeth. “Hand me the dynamite. Give me that honor.”
Four obliged, handing over the explosive to the big man. He held it tightly, taking a step towards the nobles cowering in front of them. Suddenly, Four was hit hard in the back. He tumbled forward, smashing against the desk in front of him before falling to the floor. Three turned, raising his axe just in time to block a strike from The Prisoner.
The ranked one Vigilant wasted no time, instead slashing towards Three’s stomach with the dagger in his other hand. Three jumped back, narrowly avoiding the blade, before rolling towards Four. He positioned himself with his axe in hand and dynamite in the other, kneeling over his friend as the other stood to his feet.
The Vigilants squared off with each other, The Prisoner rotating to put himself in front of the desk that the Duirs hid behind while Three and Four blocked off the exits. Three stood in front of the door, Four in front of the window.
“You don’t have to do this, you know.” Four spoke aloud.
The Prisoner turned to him, his lifeless eyes seeming to look through him.
“Just let us get rid of them, and you can go.” Four assured the man.
The Prisoner raised his chin to them, his expression one of disbelief. “You’d really let me go? After I tried to kill you and your friends? After I tried to kill the princess? After I killed your leader?”
Three glanced at Four, his eyes betraying his growing anger. “Yes.” Four replied. “You were just doing your job. It’s what we’ve all been doing.”
The Prisoner turned his attention to Three. “And you? Do you agree?”
Three’s grip tightened, his knuckles turning white. Through tightly grit teeth, he replied “Yes.”
They stood there a moment in silence. “I see.” The Prisoner finally said. “So Broath died in vain, performing a sacrifice that his men believed could have been solved with talking.”
Three roared, charging forward suddenly. He swung his axe down with titanic force. The Prisoner dodged deftly to the side, the weapon splintering through the desk behind where The Prisoner had been. Before the large man could react, The Prisoner’s axe had already swung forward.
“No!” Four shouted, just as the blade pierced through Three’s chest, and into his large beating heart.
He coughed, blood spilling from his mask as his heart struggled to pump his life’s elixir through his body. The Prisoner pulled back, the weapon dragging Three forward with it before coming loose. The big man collapsed into the wall, knocking down the end table next to the door. He rolled over, gasping for life.
Four rushed forward, only for The Prisoner to clash against him.
“Kill him!” Chanted the Duirs, rooting for their slave.
The two traitless men strained against each other, Four gritting his teeth against the professional silence of The Prisoner. They pushed off against each other, Four backpedaling towards the window, while The Prisoner hit the desk behind him.
Four glanced over towards Three, the big man holding the still lit candle to the wick of the dynamite. As the fuse caught fire, he pulled off his mask. A relatively round face with a strong jaw looked back at him, blemished only by the crookedness of his nose. His eyes full of kindness, he whispered a final line to Four.
“For the glory.” He grinned, before everything was taken by a deafening light.
Suddenly, Four shook his head. His thoughts raced back to him in the reality of the situation. He was still in the lift with Three, the man looking at him quizzically.
“Are you alright?” He asked, worry in his voice.
“Yeah I was just... lost in my thoughts…” Four assured him.
The lift continued upwards at a rapid pace. Both men worried about their partner below.
“Three?” Four asked.
“Yes, Four?” The large man replied.
“Promise me something Three.” Four requested.
“Of course. Anything.”
Four stayed silent as the lift reached the top of the service shaft. He leapt up towards the opening, grabbing it with his fingertips and pulling himself up and through the narrow opening.
“Keep Two safe for me.” He answered, before turning and cutting the rope.
“Wait!-” Three shouted, before he disappeared from view as the lift crashed back down towards the basement.
Four moved along an expensive looking rug towards an intricate looking door, covered in carvings. He knew Three would be okay, and that with his help Two would be fine as well. He moved to the entry, trying the brass handle which turned with no effort. The door swung open, and inside was a familiar looking office. The same large desk sat in the center of the room, the same crest and sword above the doorway. The same bookshelves at the back of the room, and the same sniveling cowards with eyes full of fear watching him as he walked in and closed the door behind him.
Four walked over to the candle, picking it up and carrying it to the window. He looked out upon the estate, watching the flowing water. He stood there for only a moment, before he heard the door open once again. He didn’t turn, but instead spoke. “Here we are.”
The voice of The Prisoner confirmed his thoughts, telling him all he needed to know. “At the end.” He replied, finishing the sentence Four had started.
Four turned, his gaze meeting the man’s, though his eyes were full of more life than his imagination had predicted. They eyed each other, watching each twitch and muscle.
“Just kill him!” Shouted Adam Duir. “Just kill him and you can take your key and go!”
The Prisoner didn’t even turn towards the nobles, his gaze locked directly onto Four.
“You can’t free me in a way that matters. Only he can.” He told them.
Four simply reached for the candle next to him, lighting the fuse of the dynamite and tossing it nonchalantly towards the Duirs. They jumped away from the explosive as it rolled towards them, but quickly eased back into place.
“What- what is this?” Onessa Duir demanded.
“A letter of my resignation from the Scorned Vigilants.” Four replied.
The Prisoner glanced at the explosive, and back to Four. Realization hit him in an instant, and he dove behind the desk just as the room went white.
Four lost all sense of direction, he was only aware that he was flying through the air. He attempted to orientate himself as the ground approached quickly. He tucked himself into a ball, hitting the ground and rolling forward towards the river. As he stopped he let out a harsh exhale, gasping as he pulled in oxygen. He had been blasted out of the window and towards the river.
He stood, looking towards the Duir residence. The entire upper left portion of the mansion had been blown completely away, wreckage covered the estate. As he looked at the destruction, he became aware of a loud ringing in his ears slowly fading away. As it left entirely, he stepped forward. His entire body ached, but he needed to check on Two and Three.
As he stepped forward onto the residence once more, he felt a presence behind him. Turning, his heart sunk. The Prisoner stepped forward, part of his helmet-like mask had been blown off, revealing the pale skin beneath. Blood oozed from the mouth part, and he dragged the ceremonial sword of house Duir through the mud behind him.
Four watched as the man approached slowly, stopping a few meters away. “Here we are.” The Prisoner simply stated.
Four let out a heavy sigh, before turning to face his opponent completely. “At the end.” He finished.
The duo looked at each other, the silence stretching before them. Without a word, Four reached up to his mask and undid the clasp. The metal faceplate fell to the ground, splashing in the mud.
“My name is Arcane Maethor. What’s yours?”
The Prisoner simply looked at the mask, before glancing back up at Arcane’s scarred face. “I’m The Prisoner, but hopefully by the end of today, you’ll be able to call me Nar Keryness.”
“Well, ‘The Prisoner’, we might as well get started.” Arcane stated, raising his fists.
“Finally…” The Prisoner breathed, raising the sword out of the mud.
They charged each other, The Prisoner swinging wide with the weapon, aiming for Arcane’s neck. The traitless man dropped low, dodging the attack and swinging an uppercut into The Prisoner’s ribs. The masked traitless took the blow, swiping downwards with the sword.
Arcane grabbed The Prisoner’s elbow, pushing up on the sword arm and stopping the attack mid-swing. He reared back before slamming his forehead into the metal plate of The Prisoner’s mask, the shockwave sending tremors through the masked traitless’ body. The weapon fell from his hands, the blade landing in the mud once more.
The Prisoner clenched his fists together before bringing them down in unison on Arcane’s back. He gasped out, nearly collapsing from the blow. He grit his teeth, charging forward against The Prisoner’s torso.
He tackled him, the two sprawling into the mud. Arcane wasted no time, clambering forward and into a mounted position. He swung downwards violently. His knuckles smashed into the metal of The Prisoner’s mask, the skin tearing away as he punched again and again.
As Arcane threw another blow, The Prisoner moved his head to the side. Arcane’s fist scraped against the metal before hitting the ground beneath. Expertly, the masked traitless grabbed Arcane’s arm. He brought his leg up and over Arcane’s head, locking it against his neck and throwing him to the floor.
Arcane rolled, standing back to his feet just as The Prisoner also stood, raising his fists. Arcane brought his hands up, and the two moved into striking range. The Prisoner struck first, releasing a rapid jab. The blow connected squarely with Arcane’s nose, blood leaking from his nostrils as he swung his own counterattack.
A wide hook hit The Prisoner’s jaw, the metal of the mask denting inwards from the force. The masked Vigilant staggered, but regained his footing just as another blow smashed into his helmet. Arcane struck forward, his fists meeting metal again and again.
Just as Arcane felt he was getting the advantage, another strike would fly from The Prisoner and slam into his face. The pain was excruciating, but still he pushed on. The two stood directly in front of each other, their fists raining countless blows upon the other.
Arcane roared, blood spilling from his lips as he swung a particularly violent hook downwards on The Prisoner’s mask. The man fell to one knee, bracing himself with his arm. Arcane staggered after the hit, the feeling in his hands all but gone as blood poured from them. The Prisoner looked back up, striking forward with an uppercut.
The blow slammed into Arcane’s jaw, his feet leaving the ground. He hit the mud, but scrambled back to his feet. Vision in his left eye slowly left as swelling on his face overtook it, but still he raised his fists and swung at The Prisoner again.
The masked Vigilant’s head snapped to the side from the hit, the world in his vision seeming to spiral out of control. He shook his head, and for the first time in his life he thought he felt something. When he looked back up at his opponent, Arcane didn’t stand in front of him, but a vision of himself from his younger years. Nar Keryness swung on him again, the apparition’s fist smashing into his metal mask. When he looked again it was Fergal, and the next it was Androse. With each strike a different memory was hitting him, a different person that cared for a dead man.
The Prisoner roared, a scream of challenge as he swung wildly at Arcane. The hit smashed into Arcane’s cheek, the bone cracking from the impact. His mouth hung limp as The Prisoner attacked again and again. A flurry of lethal blows as the man cried out in anguish. Arcane could do little to defend himself as he was assaulted again and again. He stumbled backwards, his hands dropping down to his sides. The Prisoner reared back, pulling his foot up and kicking directly into Arcane’s chest.
As he hit the mud, Arcane laid there, breathing heavily. In front of him, The Prisoner cried out. He reached for his mask, his hands bleeding profusely as they tore at the metal surrounding his head. With a rending screech, the helmet tore away, revealing the pale weathered skin of an older gentleman. Matted hair covered his head, and his skin looked sickly white. He fell to his knees, tears streaming from his eyes.
Arcane stood back to his feet, gasping with each breath. The Prisoner looked over at him, before standing up himself.
“Should I call you Nar now?” Arcane asked.
“Not yet. But we’re getting there.” The Prisoner replied, raising his fists once more.
They stumbled towards each other, both striking simultaneously. They hit each other in the face at the same time, forcing both men to stagger backwards. In the same instant, they recovered and moved forward again. The Prisoner threw a blow towards Arcane’s temple, but he blocked it with his forearm, lashing forward with his elbow. The strike connected with The Prisoner’s forehead, leaving a deep gash above his eye. Arcane followed it up with a straight right fist to the mouth, snapping The Prisoner’s head backwards and forcing him to stumble.
Arcane pressed onwards, his blows hitting The Prisoner again and again. Just as before, The Prisoner struck forward during the barrage of attacks, this time Arcane swerved to the side, spinning as he lashed out with his fist. The two hit each other once more, both falling to the ground next to one another.
They laid there, sucking in oxygen as best they could. Between them, lay the sword of house Duir. They both noticed it, and reached for it simultaneously. The Prisoner firmly grasped the handle, but Arcane took hold of the blade. The metal bit into his flesh, but he only grit his teeth and gripped tighter. He brought his other hand up as The Prisoner attempted to raise the weapon. Arcane roared, bringing his fist down onto the blade and snapping it in two.
They both fell backwards, Arcane holding the pointed tip of the blade, and The Prisoner holding the shattered hilt. They stood shakily to their feet, both of their bodies screaming to stop. Both men ignored the pleas, and charged towards each other once more.
They clashed, their heads colliding. They both grit their teeth, bringing their blades toward the other. They both grasped the other’s wrist, stopping the weapons from piercing themselves.
Arcane dropped suddenly, sweeping forward with his foot. The Prisoner jumped back, narrowly avoiding the kick. Arcane swiped with his blade, severing through parts of The Prisoner’s wrist, his hand let go of the blade, unable to make a fist anymore. Regardless, he swung the limp hand towards Arcane, smashing it against his head.
Arcane spun, his vision blurring as the world lost balance. He closed his eyes and grit his teeth, gripping the blade tightly as he spun around. He stabbed it forward, feeling flesh and warm blood smash against his hand as the blade met body. Arcane roared as he opened his eyes, his knuckles ripping into the broken edge of the blade as he punched it deeper into The Prisoner’s chest.
The two men stood there, gasping for breath. The Prisoner stumbled back, falling to his knees and raising his hands towards the blade. Red elixir poured from the wound with each beat of his heart.
He let out a slight chuckle as Arcane fell back into a sitting position.
“Now… now you can call me Nar.” He answered Arcane’s previous question. “Thank- thank you...” He stammered, the light in his eyes fading as his hands dropped into the mud at his sides.
Arcane flopped backwards, his blood mixing the dirt into new fresh mud around him. He laid there, looking at the clouds overhead. He coughed loudly, fresh blood spewing from his lips before his vision blurred from the tears. He sobbed there, crying audibly and alone.
It was over. He had won.
“I did it. I really did it.” He repeated to himself over and over.
He didn’t know how long he laid there before Two and Three found him.
“Good lord… Four?” Two asked, approaching the fallen Noble.
“O-oh. H-hey guys…” Arcane croaked.
Three stood over him, his eyes full of tears. Both men were covered in cuts and burns, but looked relatively okay.
“Why!? Why did you do this?!” Three demanded.
Arcane grinned. “We’re all here, aren’t we?” He asked, his blood stained teeth visible as he smiled.
Both men grimaced looking at his wounded body. “Uhm... h-hey guys?” Arcane stammered. “Can you help me walk?”
“Yeah... yeah let’s get you up.” Two replied.
Two and Three helped Arcane to his feet, supporting him between them as they walked out of the estate and back towards Ralo.
“So this is what you look like.” Two remarked. “Were you always this ugly?”
Arcane chuckled. “N-no. It’s just a new look I’m trying out. My name is Arcane, by the way.”
“Banglin.” Two replied.
“I’m Fli.” Three told Banglin.
“Well guys, you have anywhere to go after all this?” Arcane asked them.
“I don’t.” Fli replied.
“Me neither.” Answered Banglin.
Arcane let out a cough before continuing. “Well… I have an orphanage, and I could always use more help taking care of the kids.”
Banglin grimaced. “Kids huh? Well, I don’t have anything better to do.”
Fli grinned, his attitude growing more cheerful with every step away from the Duir estate. “First, we need to get you healed up. I’m sure Clover could help. After that, we’ll need to take Clover back home. Then we’ll go to your orphanage.”
“You guys are gonna love Selves.” Arcane celebrated. “And guys?”
“Yeah?” They replied in unison.
“Thanks for carrying me.”
Frajla let out a deep sigh. The old man’s studies always bored her, but he insisted she needed to be intelligent, not just strong. As if on queue, the old patience mage returned to the room, carrying a new stack of books.
Frajla groaned audibly, causing the mage to raise his brow towards her.
“Is something boring you, Miss Lauss?” Tairais Gahriar asked her, condescendingly.
“Yeah! All this studying! Why do I need to know who the fourth king of Justeco was!? I thought the deal was you’d teach me to be stronger, so I can fight bad guys!” Frajla exclaimed.
Tairais sat the books down gently, before pulling out a chair across from Frajla at the desk.
“The fourth king of Justeco was Vadd the Tyrannical. Knowledge of history is how we prevent the atrocities of the past.” He let a sly grin creep across his lips. “Though if you wish, we could pursue some more physical training for now.”
Frajla looked up at him, excitement flaring in her eyes. “That’s what I like to hear!” She said, pulling her mask from her bag and placing it over her face. The two red streaks streaming down across the eyes.
“From one ex-vigilant to another, what was it like being in Noble Team?” She asked him.
Tairais reached up towards his neck, the scar where the Immortal’s blade had slashed was still visible. “There were good times and bad…” He muttered. “But enough talk, Frajla.”
She raised her fists, stepping away from the desk. The Patience mage looked at her, his eyes flashing light blue. “Niflheim.” He spoke, his expression a wide grin.