June 27, 2017, 06:05:03 AM

Author Topic: Due Payment  (Read 2641 times)

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Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #105 on: January 30, 2017, 10:03:01 AM »
Immediately upon hearing those words, the blue haired man looked at Harmen.

Each step in that short but crucial exchange had seemed to work - to push Harmen to a certain restlessness; like a spring being coiled further with each confirmation Osamu had unwittingly made.  It had diminished when Osamu conceded, but Aurn could still see it.  And he knew the reason behind this urgency.  Fear.  Fear, anxiety, and hesitation must be sinking their claws into the young man.

In a single, sweeping regal gesture - articulate, measured, practiced - like the steps of a dance, the official turned to the crowd and gave a few reassuring words.  Then he withdrew his hands into the folds of his robes and gave a kind of nod.  While it was quick in and of itself, it was a controlled deliberate motion.  It took Aurn a moment before it registered.  That was what a government official considered to be a bow.  At least to peasants.  As if on queue, the majority of the peasants gave deep long bows to Osamu and his guards before dispersing back to their ramshackle camp.  Without missing a beat, Osamu slowly turned around and gave his guards quick, precise orders.

Hyuuma walked back to the stables, while Entouji tugged at Aurn and Harmen's chains.  Osamu lead the four others just past the front of the Inn, near the large, opened gates.  The sun was a few hours from setting, the sky just starting to burn into orange and yellow at the far horizon.  With a curt word from Osamu the group immediately stopped.

Without a word, Entouji motioned Aurn to hold up his manacled wrists.  The ringing, clinking sound of chains punctuated the blue haired man's compliance.  Entouji withdrew a delicate metal key from some hidden pocket of his guntai armor and with a steady hand and quick twist - the heavy metal manacles fell from Aurn's wrists into the bodyguard's outstretched free hand.

A weight, a burden unimaginably heavy slumped from Aurn's shoulders as iron hit laminated gauntlet with a distinct clack.  Something very rarely felt by the blue haired man stepped to replace that burgeoning weight.  A lightness, a sense almost of . . . hope.  Alleviation.  That's what this feeling was, alleviation.  He flexed his wrists.

The alleviation - like catching a much needed breath - filled Aurn.  He could practically feel the strength ebbing back into his bones, into his back and arms and fingers, as Baron's manacles were taken away from him as Entouji went to remove the irons from Harmen.

"Take your wepons." ordered Osamu.

Hyuuma then handed Aurn the Aegis.  He took the weapon with both hands, it was cool, smooth to the touch.  As strange as ever, a multicolored sheen, like oil mixed in water, shimmered across its surface as Aurn slung it over his shoulder.  It felt as though weeks, months had passed since he'd last held the yellowish shield-like weapon.

"Heien is directry to the South-East from here."  With a flutter of robes he pointed to far off hills, carpeted in woods.  The blue-black edge of night had begun to smear the sky on the horizon behind the hills.

"It manipulated me."  The quiet wind was worse outside of the walls - it chilled Aurn's skin.  His surcoat and hair gently waved like blue banners.  "It nearly had me kill Harmen."  One thing entered the blue haired man's mind as he watched the distant, forested hills.  "It nearly ruined my honor."

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #106 on: February 22, 2017, 07:45:32 AM »
Harmen rubbed his wrists as his bindings came off and sighed raggedly in relief. He tried to hold his hand still for a moment, rolling his eyes when he found that it was quivering beyond his control. If he was this scared a few hours away, he may not be able to set foot in Heien after all. Looking up, he found that Entouji was watching his strange behaviour.
“Oh, thank you.” He said awkwardly, stepping back and offering a bow. He received a hesitant nod in return.

While Aurn was tending to his weapon, Harmen began to rummage through his pack. He hastily stowed his cloak, and rummaged through to find his vials. Eight of them fit into the small pockets along his belt, secure enough that they wouldn’t jostle if he moved. Some of them were filled with the holy water he had blessed earlier, and others were filled with oil from a lantern. His short sword also found its way back onto his belt, as well as a piece of flint. He packed up the remainder of his possessions into one neat bundle; he had set his money aside, on top of his bag. Aurn’s voice broke the silence, seemingly inviting the coll autumn wind.

“... It nearly ruined my honor.”

“Of course,” thought Harmen, turning from his task to face Aurn. “You are invested in this too, not just on behalf of me.” Decisively, he tightened the last strap of his shin guards, and rose. The group of them stood in a circle, the official flanked by his bodyguards.

“I won’t be coming back if we fail,” he said, fussing with his belt and jacket. “So if I don’t return to collect it,” he picked up the pouch of gold, “keep that as a payment for our dishonesty.” and tossed it underhand to Entouji.  The soldier caught it curtly, although his eyes betrayed surprise with how heavy it was. Osamu seemed impassive. “I won’t need any of my other possessions in that case either, but I don’t want to make you clean up after me.” Osamu waved his had impatiently.

“Nijonese warlords are rarely merciful. You would be rucky to survive.” The official cast a sideways glance at Hyuuma, who nodded back to him. “But in zat event, you uill find your possessions waiting here.”

“Thank you. And I’m sorry I tried to deceive you.” Harmen bowed deeply to the three of them. As trying as their experiences had been, he was a foreigner that had barged into Nijonese business. They may not have taken them along if they had known the truth in the first place, but that was a poor excuse for lying. When Harmen rose, he was surprised to see the three of them giving a shallow bow in return. Harmen turned to look at Aurn, who was a stoic as ever. They exchanged a nod and turned back to the Nijonese men. “Goodbye.”

Osamu said something in Nijonese as Harmen and Aurn turned to leave. Harmen didn’t recognise it as the usual thing to say as a farewell. He asked what it was.

“Translated literally to common it means ‘Don’t die’.”

Harmen managed a tired smile before him and Aurn set off, at last, for Heien.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #107 on: March 03, 2017, 07:19:12 AM »
Breathe and move forward.

Harmen had to hold himself back continually, more often than not outpacing Aurn. He sighed raggedly, shaking his head and fell back alongside his partner. He couldn't afford to run off on his own, not this time. Not when he needed Aurn's help most. To Harmen's perception, they could have been traveling for days, one of them the picture of calm, the other erratic as a sputtering fire.

Memories came and went, sometimes blurring together. The sights of Baron in the mountains clashed with the sounds from the Kattan raid on the caravan so long ago. It shifted to the decomposing skeleton in the pyramid, speaking with Baron's voice. In that storm of thought, Harmen fought for control. He struggled to surface from his flashbacks, taking solace in the familiar sounds of his own footfalls, and the way his hair bounced on his head. Although he was not the frightened rabbit that he had been, the teenager was certainly no fearless hero.

"... off the main road." He heard Aurn say. It sounded different from normal; it was like the slow rolling waves of the ocean as the tide came in. They were certain in their purpose, and retook the land at their own pace.

Harmen nodded and followed closely, glad to have a distraction to pull his attention. Although the terrain was by no means dangerous, he would need to concentrate at least a little to avoid rolling an ankle.

Flowing from his stomach, he felt a tremble settle in his body.

“I don’t know how your honour works,” he said easily between strides. The teenager was staggering his steps and meandered over the field, falling into the same patterns Aurn had taken him through earlier. At the time, he chose to shuffle his footwork to run backwards some distance. “But in order for me to resolve this, I need to settle this with Baron personally.” He caught the side of his foot in the ground, and twisted his body to pivot so he was running side by side with Aurn again.

From behind a thicket of trees, the first roofs of the village came into view.

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #108 on: March 03, 2017, 08:30:02 AM »
"I don't know how your honor works."

In the warming light of evening, through nearly waist high grass the pair ran.  Aurn ran with backpack clattering, surcoat billowing and Aegis rising and falling with each step - and Harmen sprinted alongside him - before shifting backwards.  As tall grass whipped against him, the blue haired man could only stare in strange curiosity.

"But in order for me to resolve this, I need to settle this with Baron personally." finished Harmen as he effortlessly swiveled around to run properly again.

Aurn held his gaze on Harmen for a moment longer.  Every so often Harmen would outpace the blue haired man, before slowing down again.  The youth was still anxious, still nervous but a certain determination was peeking through.  Aurn's gaze hardened before he returned his watch to the forested hills where Heien sat, nestled, its roofs just barely visible from between the thickets.

Snake-like eyes flashed through his mind.  A dusky, strange silhouette followed, barely outlined, barely detailed in choked light - light pushed away and constrained.  A rainy, cold rooftop.  A crowded street.

"Then what are you doing?" Aurn asked without even a cursory glance at Harmen.  "Why are you running like that?"

Despite that anxiety that must be clawing at him - the determination in Harmen's eyes drew up memories, arguments, conversations in Aurn's mind.

"Whenever I think about it, I become scared . . .  I was looking at someone that was dying because of me, and I was scared."

"I needed to know that I could preserve myself, so that Aldealcan survived what Baron did, if only by one person."

". . . Without that knowledge, a senjii is an invincible monster. With it, Baron fears me hunting him down. I have every intention of vindicating his fear."

Then his own words followed them in a surge, a tide - scattered and formless - tinged with frustration, anger, realization, and understanding.

"Baron is not some lost soul or innocent person . . . He is a monster whose only agenda is staying alive."

"You survive because you don't want the loss of your village to be in vain.  I survive so Xavius' and my parents' deaths weren't in vain."

"If you can't overcome this fear, then it will have been in vain." 

He was sizing up the fast approaching patch of hills, elevations and slopes - all thickly wooded - as far as he could tell from the field.  They would need to approach the hamlet from the cover of the woods, before nightfall.  The best route the blue haired man's nigh ten years of mercenary work had taught him was that approaching it from the south would be the best.  More cover that appeared to be closest to the village - and further from the obvious entrance via the main path.  He glanced far back to his left - to the wagon path they'd left some time ago.  It was a hairline that curved slowly away, towards their direction - before being obscured by the thickening foliage of the slopes.  He thought he could see the yellowy-orange sheen reflected off of rice paddies on the far side of the path - just before the trees overtook it.

A wide, rotten tree stump suddenly appeared in his path - concealed by the tall grass.  With a heaving push of his right foot, he jumped onto it and pushed off of it again with his left.  Landing harder than he would have liked, the weight of his backpack pressed against his back and slumped against his shoulders.  He would need to hide it before they could properly try and approach Heien.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #109 on: March 16, 2017, 06:22:57 AM »
Harmen loped alongside Aurn, still experimenting with his gait.

"I'm running like this," he said, "because it's familiar." The teenager dove into a shoulder roll as his path took him over an inconsequential branch that had fallen on the ground. He dusted some stray blades of grass from his hair. "It helps calm me down, because I've been running like this for years."

A feeling in the pit of his stomach had been building since they left, about half an hour earlier. Every time he reminded himself that they were going to meet Baron at Heien, the feeling grew. It felt tense and cold, like some void feeding on his fear. However, perhaps in an unsurprising way, Harmen's running served to fill that void. The confidence with which his placed his footfalls and the authority with which he ran were building him up while he was being worn down. Although he was becoming increasingly tense, he had so far managed to keep his focus.

Strangely, Harmen found himself worrying whether Aurn would tire himself out before they made it to Heien. He curtly shook his head at the idea, batting it away like he was swatting at a fly near his ear. The weight and sound of his gauntleted hand were still unfamiliar.

Long shadows crossed over the pair as they neared the village, alternating light and dark. The rooftops returned, having been obscured by the trees for a while. Harmen caught the sight of a spear, reaching up besides a building as its bearer was standing guard, or patrolling. The void in his gut grew, sending a shiver through his body.

The distance was still great, but seeing a weapon borne by an enemy made everything feel all the more real.

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #110 on: March 24, 2017, 07:05:29 AM »
"I'm running like this," Harmen said, "because it's familiar."

Was he jumping around to fit some last-minute practice in, or because of his nervousness?

"It helps calm me down, because I've been running like this for years."

And what did that mean, thought the blue haired man. 

On more than one occasion the young man had run away from the caravan or him.  Even if he was just asked a question or was at the end of an argument, he would "have to run."  He had said that he intended to vindicate Baron's fears.  He had said that he didn't want his village's loss to be in vain.  Despite his current determination - all those times Harmen had run away from something.

This was Harmen's final fight.  The culmination of far more than the year this journey had already taken.  This fight had been set years ago, when Baron had slaughtered Aldealcan.  This was the decisive, absolute end.  Either Baron would be slain, or they would die - their souls fueling his power.  Harmen said that he intended to vindicate Baron's fears.  He had said that he didn't want his village's loss to be in vain.  

In the very least he was running towards something.  For now.

Aurn glanced up to the hills that shrouded Heien, at the slivers of rooves cut out between stretches of forest.  In the fading light he could have sworn he caught the glimmer of metal in the evening light.  The metal of weapons and armor they would be pitted against in short time.  They were slowly making their way around the hills, moving as far away from the more obvious entrances, and closing in to the village while they did so.  They cleared a ruined, waist-high wall that cut through the field back towards the inn and refugees.

More wild as they closed in on the hills, the field was soon a mess with worn, overgrown rubble, mixed with shrubs and shoots of bamboo.  Not fifty feet away the ground suddenly sloped up and away, covered in a dense layer of foliage, all tangled under the forest's canopy.  The remains of a few more wait-high stone walls seemed to meet at another, higher wall.  Just one short section remained of the wall.  Aurn slowed down and stopped.  Harmen - ahead of him by no short distance stopped and turned around.  They had been running for a long while, longer than he had run in in probably a year or more.  He could feel the sweat under his armor, on his brow, on his arms.  Breath more heavy than he preferred.

"I'll hide my backpack here." Aurn said as he kneeled down near the corner where one of the short walls connected with the lone section of far older wall.  He swung his backpack down, and quickly began feeling bricks along the bottom of the shorter wall.  Each was still solid until one larger brick right on the ground jiggled.  Soon enough Aurn pulled it out, and dug a bit out from under the wall to fit his backpack.

He pulled his backpack to himself - all that he owned - and reached inside, slowly, almost mechanically.  Aurn knew everything would be where it was, exactly in it's given, organized spot - but he reached anyway.  A calloused finger touched bound paper, and he didn't even need to look at it.  It's thick, heavy edges and corners were worn and crumpled - despite the reverence with which he had treated it over the years.  These were the hereditary documents that proved Aurn's heritage. A strange feeling slowly gripped him then.  A doubt and uneasiness.  He was the last Novak.  If he died up on the slopes of that Nijonese village, everything Xavius, his Mother and his Father did would been in vain.  So, at least to some degree, Aurn understood the anxiety that chewed at Harmen as he waited.  Aurn let go of the paper.  

He closed his backpack, hid it in the wall, and pushed the brick back in place.

Because of his honor, Aurn had been dragged into something he never thought of - things he hadn't experienced.  And yet he was willing to face Baron.  He was willing to sacrifice it all to uphold his honor - paradoxically so that it all wouldn't be in vain.  What about Harmen, who had made it his duty to confront Baron?

"You had better steel yourself."  Aurn said as he stood up, dusted the dirt from his hands and looked at Harmen.  He began to re-tighten the grip and straps on his weapon. "There is no running away once we enter that village."

With surcoat trailing behind him, blue hair brushing against his brow, and Aegis at the ready, Aurn walked through the crumbled skeletons of walls and old things and stepped into the underbrush of the rising slope.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #111 on: April 23, 2017, 08:12:18 AM »
Dissatisfied, Harmen dropped to his knees and crawled beneath the shrubs that were blocking his path. It seemed as though every time he moved, there was a cacophanous noise; like the whole forest was trying to give away their position. He rose again further on to gain his bearings. Aurn wasn't far, but the paranoia of getting separated was palpable. The pair had been travelling like this for some minutes, trying to make as little noise as possible while still traveling at something more than a snail's pace. Harmen had discovered he was frighteningly bad at being quiet.

While looking around, he had seen more of the village as they approached. Each time he saw more or the thatched roofs and dirt roads, and each time a deeper shudder went into his body. When he returned to following Aurn, some of the anxiety left him as he focused on creeping forwards. However, each time he remembered that they were getting closer to their quarry, it flashed through his blood anew. He was reminded of the Katta on the Steppes of Valanthia that they had fought months earlier. They had moved with such skill and grace, the first things that the caravan heard of them was a primal roar as they attacked. As he crawled through some leaf litter, Harmen couldn't help but feel he was on the opposite end of the spectrum of stealth.

Gradually, the vegetation changed and thinned as the ridge sloped differently. They shifted from submerging themselves in the foliage to using trees and thickets of bamboo as cover. Progress was faster, but Harmen noticed just how badly they stood out. Details like the rattling of his gauntlets and the shine of any metal became all the more apparent; he used mud to dull the reflection and tucked his hands under his arms to prevent the metal plates from clinking.

Loping from one piece of cover to another, Harmen controlled his footfalls. There was no thud, no rustle of grass, and his breath was quiet. As he slowed to take cover behind a gnarled fallen tree, but like so many novices before him, he took a single casual step.

The snap of a dry twig seemed to echo through the forest like thunder.

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #112 on: May 16, 2017, 07:40:36 AM »
Sunlight cut through the hillside forest at a soft, lazy angle. What wasn't in shadows, was stained in deep wine-reds and purples, and vibrant oranges and yellows - swirled together until there was no distinct beginning or ending of either. He sat in the colorless, dull shadows.

Silent and focused, Aurn sat leaning against the trunk of a weathered, fallen tree. Just a short section of what must have been an immense plant in life, it's remains served as a life-raft of cover amidst healthy trees, bamboo patches and the odd shrub.

Quiet hung in the air like a mist, a weight that had drawn itself into everything around them.

Aurn sat, Aegis ready, at the far right end of the trunk. Harmen cautiously approached the opposite end. Slowly and steadily, Aurn turned to look out past his end of the trunk to the left. Leaning slightly in to where he looked, he made a great, slow arc taking in all he could see. In front of where he sat - their side of the trunk - faced where they'd come from. Continuing further left the slope they were on rose up and away - higher than the village itself. Squinting he could see far off to the left a short, sharp cliff that faced the village - which was still just a collage of walls and roofs from his perspective. That whole rise was maybe a hundred yards from them, if that. 

Finally he was starting to formulate a plan. They had rushed head-long into this endeavor - they could have asked villagers or Osamu or Kazuo for layouts, for a setup. But this he could use - it reminded him of older times - simple jobs as a mercenary. Yes, he could use this. From there they would be able to see the layout of the entire village - 

- snap -

Aurn froze.

The parched sound echoed in through the silence with a foreboding clarity.

Steadily and deliberately - still scanning the road - Aurn motioned with his right arm for the culprit to get behind the log. He leaned further to his left, looking to what stretched out from the opposite side of the trunk. Maybe a hundred feet lay between him and the road - which was still slightly higher than where he sat. A ditch on either side of the road, which curved up and away from him, was choked with all kinds of underbrush and plants. His half-elven eyes caught no silhouettes, no shadows or figures in the evening light. Slowly he turned to the culprit. Harmen stooped at the opposite end of the trunk, as though he was still partially frozen in mid step. Wide brown eyes momentarily locked onto Aurn's own from a pale face that was getting paler.

That look reminded him of more than a year ago. When Aurn had watched and hunted and stalked Harmen to a dark, rainy alley. That look - or something like it - was what he had been wearing moments before Aurn would have killed him. Shock, fear.

After some time passed, Aurn turned around and moved to look around his end of the trunk before freezing. He gave himself a moment to adjust, to block out the beat of his heart, his breaths, the minute, delicate ambiance of the forest. Then he caught it, just the edges - like a glimpse of something on your peripheral vision.

One . . . no two. Two voices, muffled and far off muttered to each other from somewhere in front of them.