The heat and soft crackling of a nearby fire stirred Violierna from her rest. She was still in her armor, sitting up against a tree with her hood pulled up over her head. The sun had just set, the last rays of light fading from the sky above. Some heavy tromping could be heard coming from behind. A man carrying firewood made himself known to her. As he set down the pile a few feet away, she was almost relieved to find it was just Viizhiar.
“I'm assuming you have questions?” He asked, taking a seat across from her and tossing a couple logs into the fire.
“Where are we?”
“This is the White Forest, not to be confused with the Wight Forest down south. I carried you on my back for several hours while on the road to Havelaan. We're still a day's walk away from the village. From there, we can go to Durq and report in. Don't worry, we're far out of sight of travelers on the road.”
“What happened back there? After the hydra died?”
“It started glowing for some reason, and it's body fired a lightning bolt at you. I collected a few teeth, some scales, and some blood to confirm our kill. You'd be surprised how much people will pay for just one hydra scale. I got a whole sheet. Safe to say that with the right buyer, we'll be set for a while. And, before you ask, the reason your hood and mask were up is because if somebody were to stumble across camp while I was out, odds are they wouldn't disturb someone in black armor.”
“Uh-huh. I remember you asking me if I could teach you how to make one of these blades?” Violierna asked, picking up Nachttänzer from the forest floor.
“That's right. My lance is just pathetic by comparison,” Viizhiar sighed, staring at the wooden pole to his left, with it's steel tip buried in the ground.
“Each soldier who is undergoing training to serve on the Royal Guard crafts his or her own sword. You saw Nachttänzer in action, and that is not something to be taken lightly. No two Royal Guardsmen's weapons are the same, or even have the same effect. With mine, the detachable blades are only visible when stationary or in contact with another object, as you witnessed. It took over three months to craft and enchant, but my mentor created his blade in about a week.”
“What was the name of his weapon? What did it do?”
“The name of his sword was Urteil. Judgment. I've been told it's abilities are so terrible that such information has been strictly classified, and I have never witnessed the blade in action, myself. The last time I saw that longsword's blade was when he sacrificed himself to protect me from his own men.”
“That takes dedication. I'm sure it wasn't an easy choice.”
“It couldn't have been, but he always knew the score, and he always knew what had to be done, but I can't help but feel that he was finally out-matched.”
“He died doing what he believed to be right. Protecting you.”
“And leaving me to an uncertain future.”
“Well, there's that. So, um, if Urteil means Judgment, what does Nachttänzer mean?”
“Night Dancer. It took me several years to become proficient in it's use. Anyway, you said there was a river nearby? Did you bring any soap or shampoo?”
“Did the hydra's innards really smell that bad?”
“What do you think?”
“Check my knapsack. I think I remembered to grab it.”
“If I find you peeking, I'll make sure you regret it,” Violierna warned, proceeding to dig through the leather bag.
“What, you didn't appreciate my joke, earlier?” Viizhiar asked with a grin, only to receive an unamused glare in response. “Point taken.”
“Well, aren't you just gorgeous?” A rough voice hissed, receiving only a firm glare from Violierna. “Some kind of elf?”
“You need to work on your stealth skills, thief,” Violierna replied nonchalantly, facing away from the voice. “I heard you coming from fifty meters away.”
“I don't know what you thought I was doing from that far back, but I could come a little closer, if you wanted,” he purred, taking a few steps into the river.
“Are all wanderers such perverts?” Violierna muttered in disgust. “I'm only going to warn you once. Step away now, or...”
“Or what? You're going to suffocate me with your breasts? That wouldn't be a bad way to die, come to think of it.”
“I may not have killed before, but I assure you, I can easily snap your neck,” she growled, turning to face him and covering her chest, with as much of her body as possible turned away from the perverted thief.
“Well, I'm not so much a thief as I am a bandit, but you sure would make a fine prize for my boss. He may even let me be first in line after him!”
“I'm not going anywhere.”
“I'm afraid you don't have much choice,” the bandit said, making a clumsy lunge toward her, which was easily side-stepped, with him falling in the river and being briefly swept down-stream.
“What the hell's going on, here?” Turning around to face the new voice, Viizhiar was gripping his lance, and looked ready to fight.
“Just a bandit,” Violierna replied. “He's currently being washed down the river...”
“I've got the armor! Quit playing in the water and get the girl!” Another bandit shouted as he ran past, holding Violierna's armor and sword.
“I'm on it, I'm on it!” The first bandit replied, getting to his feet and running along the river bank. “Come here, missy!” No sooner had he put his hands on Violierna than his head was resting on his shoulders in an unnatural position, and he fell backward into the river.
“Aren't you going to stop him!?” Violierna shouted.
“Oh, right. I almost forgot,” Viizhiar said, downing a potion, then chasing after the vagabond. Within a matter of seconds, he was ahead of the bandit and twirling around his lance, with it engulfed in arcane fire.
“That's a pretty light show, kid, but we'll be taking this armor and your girlfriend, regardless.”
“You really have no idea just who you're dealing with, do you?”
“Viizhiar Qauerous, Söldner. Oh, and don't bother calling on your friend to help. He's been hung out to dry. Well, he'll need to be when we fish him out of the river to loot his body.”
“I've never even heard of you, but I have heard of that little guild of yours. How many members are you down to? Fifteen? Twenty? People are leaving faster than they're joining, and there's nothing you can do about it. Face it, kid, you're in a second-rate guild with no influence that will take practically anyone. Whatever stories you may have heard about the Söldner, I can assure you, are far in the past. The little gathering is in it's death throes, and has basically become a gathering of drunks in it's little gathering hall.”
“Shut up,” Viizhiar growled, the flames enveloping his weapon spreading to his body and turning a deep red.
“Oh, did I say something?” The bandit asked, setting down Violierna's armor and pulling a staff off of his back. “It seems you need to cool off.” Charging up an attack, the ice from the weapon engulfed Viizhiar's body, smothering the flames, and rendering him motionless.
“All talk,” the bandit spat, picking up Violierna's armor and proceeding on his way with it. After passing Viizhiar, the ice coffin shattered, and heat took over the area once again. Dropping the armor, the bandit procured his staff again and fired another spell, only to receive a very hot blade slashing across his arms and chest in multiple places. Trying to block with his staff, it was snapped by the lance like a twig as it disemboweled him, before being spun around one last time and plunged into the vagabond's heart. As the bandit lay dead on the ground, Viizhiar sheathed his lance and gathered Violierna's armor and blade. Nearing the place she was bathing, he placed the apparel and blade on an exposed boulder.
“You alright?” Viizhiar asked after a moment, only to receive a rock to his forehead. “What was that for?”
“For just standing there silently,” Violierna said in a less-than-pleased tone. “I'm almost done, I'll meet you back at camp.” As Viizhiar walked off into the trees and bushes, she took time to digest what she witnessed, and after a few minutes, dried herself off, dressed, and summoned her armor back onto her body. Slinking back into camp, Viizhiar was already face-down on his bed roll, lightly snoring. “He really is not that efficient with his materia, is he?” Preparing her bed roll and lying down, she found it hard to sleep, having watched someone be carved up before they were finally allowed to die.
“Hey, wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Anyone in there?” Viizhiar asked with a sigh. “I said, wake up!” No sooner had his hand touched her shoulder than he found a fist imbedded in his face. Laying on his back, he moaned in pain as blood ran down his cheeks.
“It seems my dream was a little too real,” Violierna said, casting a healing spell, stopping the bleeding. Viizhiar shot up immediately, rubbing his face.
“What dream!?” He shot. “You were perfectly still!” Instantly, his nose started bleeding again.
“I probably should have used a higher-grade spell,” Violierna muttered, casting another healing spell. When Viizhiar pulled his hands away from his face, he gave the most curious expression. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Do all shadow elves' eyes change color?”
“What are you talking about?” She asked, dispelling the magic.
“Your eyes were gold when you were casting that spell, but now they're blue. Does that happen to everyone in your race?”
“Are you sure that's not just an optical illusion from the spell's aura that was surrounding your body? Sometimes, that happens.”
“I guess that's a possibility. Anyway, since we lost all of our coking pots and utensils when we fell through the ground yesterday, looks like we won't be having any meat until we can buy more from the next town we come to.”
“How did you lose all of the cookware, but none of the rations!?” Violierna shouted, bewildered. Viizhiar almost came up with an answer, but was silenced by a loud growling.
“You're that hungry?”
Constricting her stomach with her arms, she nodded in response. After some minutes, she found two eggs, some fruit, and half of a loaf of bread held out before her.
“Fruit first, then bread, then the eggs,” Viizhiar said, taking a large bite out of an apple. “Just saying. Learn from those who learned the hard way.”
“Just why are you helping me?” Violierna asked quietly, breaking the silence, walking along the dirt and cobblestone path next to Viizhiar, her hood and mask up. “You do realize what you're doing is basically treason?”
“Hey, didn't you come running up here to escape the wrath of your homicidal fiancee?”
“Then don't you think it'd make more sense to try and help you out instead of outright killing you?”
“Sounds more like you're taking your time handing me over to the authorities.”
“Was I thinking too loud?” Viizhiar asked sarcastically, looking up at the sky, his index finger on his chin.
“Hey, check it out,” Viizhiar began, pointing out a rather portly man in a fur suit. “Think that's what caused yesterday's quake?” As he neared the pair, his panicked expression became quite obvious, with tears streaming down his face. “Do you think he'd move faster if he rolled?”
“Hey!” Violierna exclaimed, grabbing the collar of the man's attire. The sudden shift in momentum dragged Violierna face-down into the dirt, where she found the fat man on his back. “Would you mind telling us what it is you're running from? I've never seen a man your size run for that long.”
“Bandits!” The man shouted. “Bandits attacked my caravan and slaughtered my guards! Please, if you are capable, you have to help me!”
“Don't worry about it,” Viizhiar began, first helping Violierna to her feet, with her helping Viizhiar help the merchant to his. “We'll take care of those bandits for you.”
“Oh, no, here they come,” the merchant whimpered. Turning around, a group of six bandits came strolling down the road, appearing rather bored.
“I told you we should have just killed him. What was the point of this? Now, we need to dig two more graves.”
“I thought it'd be funny to watch him roll down the hillside and into the river if he tripped. Besides, you could lose a warhammer in those folds.”
“You thought? You thought!? I'm the one who does the thinking around here, you slug-brained idiot!”
“These are the guys you're running from?” Violierna asked, clearly not impressed. “Stay here, both of you. This won't take too long.” Approaching the group of bandits, one of which was already strangling the one he was arguing with, they turned to face her as she came within just a few yards.
“Look at this little lady,” one chuckled. “You want to bring her back to the boss?”
“Depends on if we can take her alive,” the one who had just strangled one of his comrades sighed. “Hey, wait a minute. I've never seen black armor before. Some kind of assassin? Why's she just standing there?” A spray of blood from four of the bandits around him made him draw his short sword and a round, wooden shield, along with his last remaining friend.
“What's going on?” The last subordinate asked, panicking, scanning the area for archers. “Why are they all dead?”
“You can stop looking around,” Violierna said calmly, standing perfectly still, save for her right arm, which she used to draw a black short sword. “I'm right here.” Flaring her sword down and to the right, the subordinate bandit dropped dead where he stood, with the leader of the group looking around for more unseen attackers, before focusing on Violierna and readying his shield. As she thrust her blade down and forward, the bandit instinctively raised his shield, and felt the impact of multiple objects. Lowering his shield, he noticed what appeared to be four black blade fragments embedded into the shield. Being helplessly dragged forward, the shield detached itself and smacked him in the back of the head, staggering into a short sword that impaled his chest. His body went limp as he slid off of the blade, falling to the ground in a heap. Nachttänzer's weak reformed, and the longsword put back in it's sheathe. “You're no longer in any danger, peddler.”
“Who are you people?” He asked, pointing to Viizhiar and Violierna.
“Mercenaries,” Viizhiar replied. “Need some protection on the road?”
“Name your price.”
“We can discuss the cost of our services when we find your caravan, peddler,” Violierna interrupted. “Just how far did you run?”
“We... finally found it,” the merchant wheezed, marinating in his own sweat and body odor.
“Wow,” Viizhiar began. “You ran all that way and weren't even phased, but now you're out of breath just by walking? Impressive caravan, by the way.”
“Horseless carriages,” Violierna remarked. “Very expensive to produce, but relatively low maintenance. It seems this train is held together by ropes and hinged iron rods. Is everything still accounted for, merchant?”
“It seems so. All four carts are still intact, piled high with goods for the big cities and small villages.”
“What do you sell?” Viizhiar asked, curiosity contorting his face.
“Anything and everything. Look, name your price. I guarantee I will have enough to pay you both after selling off my merchandise.”
“What were you paying them?” Viizhiar asked, gesturing to numerous bodies strewn about the area. “Seriously? Just six guards? For a caravan like this?”
“He's down to two, now.”
“Well, the two of you certainly seem more competent than these fools. So, how about fifteen percent?”
“Sounds like a fair price,” Viizhiar grinned, nodding.
“Excellent. Find a seat somewhere, and let's get going!”
“Not so fast, fat man. Even though I may not be able to bury them, I'm still going to give these guys a proper rest.”
Dragging the bodies of the mercenaries off to the side of the road, Viizhiar laid them out straight, folded their arms over their chests, and placed the hilts of their swords in their hands, weak pointing toward their feet.
“Are you seriously taking their money?” Violierna scolded.
“What? It's not like they're going to be needing it anymore!”
“He has a point,” the merchant sighed. “They're basically forfeiting their pay. It's the way of the wilderness.”
“Can we just go?” Violierna huffed, folding her arms.
“Alright, I'm ready! Keep your greaves on, will you?”
“I had no intention of taking them off, thank you very much.”
“When you two are ready to stop bickering, we can get a move on. I'll be in the box seat.”