September 19, 2018, 05:29:18 AM

Author Topic: Due Payment  (Read 6074 times)

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Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #120 on: September 10, 2017, 02:08:38 AM »
"Unlike you."

Just two words, yet they hit the blue haired man like a kick to the gut. All he could do was stand in silence.

"Did that strike a nerve, my blue haired friend? Which nerve, exactly? That I know you are a Novak, or that you're the last of that middling, unnoteworthy family?" An unnerving, chuckle issued from the SenJi. It seemed to broaden and deepen, echoing off of the buildings and hills - filling the air.

"Did you honestly believe that you went unnoticed?," the SenJi asked coldly, "galavanting around the countryside for how many years? There are more than a few tales of Aurn "the blue hound" Novak. How do you think I found you in the first place?"

Aurn glanced at the surrounding mercenaries. Each had been bought over or convinced into helping this creature - willingly. Yet they stood there, watching casually, indifferently, mockingly. Then he noticed the troughs behind them, and their still untouched water.  He turned to face the SenJi.

"But what matters that?  You should be honored, to hold such an illustrious place as a stepping stone for my rise. For that is all you are compared to me - worms, vermin - meant to live and die in the dirt, to be tread on, should you challenge me."

"And yet you dare to do just that?"

Baron smiled. Aurn stood a hundred feet or more away from him, the night obscured the creature before him, yet Aurn could tell that he smiled. Serpentine and white. More a predatory gesture than any human expression.

"I have never put all of my abilities to use before. You two, though." He moved his gaze onto Harmen as though it were a weapon. "I will test all of them on you, so I can best use them when these Nijonese finally take notice."

This was entirely different than how the blue haired man had imagined it. He knew Baron was powerful. He had no doubts of that. He had also guessed Baron would have prepared in some way. He hadn't expected how utterly and soundly they would have fallen into his hands. They were entirely at his mercy. He was just playing with his food at this point.

Yet that spoke volumes. He must have planned and waited and expected - even given such a scant chance of them tracking him down - even if it was a year and a half later - and he had been here for weeks or months, he was still prepared. With patrols and watches. That meant one thing.

"Why run then?" the blue haired man asked.

"I was more than a little surprised when you had teamed up. How that happened, I don't know. But that doesn't matter."

The SenJi turned to Aurn, a slow measured turn. The heat leeched out of the air around him. Baron's gaze, like two blood-red stars cut through the distance beween them as though it meant nothing. He felt his own drawn to their glow.

"What does is that I hired you once before Aurn Novak. How about we finish our agreement from a year and a half ago?"

"Now, when I first sent you after the gangly boy beside you, I offered you a fair sum. That deal . . . technically is still valid. This time though . . ." With each word, his voice shifted, it's icy chill melting to a liquid smoothness. ". . . if you remove him for me, right here and now, you have my word that I will help keep you alive - protect you - and thus the Novak family as well."

Aurn stopped. That single phrase rooted him to his spot and scattered his thoughts like autumn leaves. All he could force out against this inconceivable offer was a vacant, "What?"

"I will let you leave this place alive - soul intact - and arrange you a place to live in peace. You won't have to dirty your hands or risk your life anymore. You could freely use the inheritance you must have leftover, and live like you should - as a nobleman."

Everything in his head was a mess, a panic, like some animal scampering through everything in it's path - just ahead of a predator. And the prey was slowing.

"Isn't that what your family would wish? Your father and mother? That you live, that their legacy lives with you and you only?"

Like a pale shadow, Baron extended his hands outwards in a measured sweeping motion, gesturing to the whole village lit by pockets of torchlight - a priest about to give a moving sermon.

"Look around you my azure knight. You know I have the power to do so. Fulfill our contract."

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #121 on: September 10, 2017, 02:12:11 AM »
Harmen tried to blink away whatever haze Baron had cast over him. Something wasn't right. When Baron had looked at him, Harmen's body seemed trasnparent, that Baron wasn't looking at him, but through him. If that weren't unsettling enough, the Senjii's speech seemed to speak to his heart directly, rather than filtering through his mind. Baron had said 'family' and Harmen felt 'family' in his blood. He struggled to think clearly.

"Look around you my azure knight. You know I have the power to do so. Fulfill our contract." Baron had said, no doubt with the same sickening weight that had been directed at Harmen.  Aurn seemed to listen.

At that point, where Harmen's only ally was apparently entertaining an offer to kill him, he should have broken and run. In that flickering firelight, Harmen should have broken down. The only rational course was to feel afraid and somehow angle to survive. Bargain, or beg for mercy. But having been pulled and twisted between extremes so often, Harmen's mind was more preoccupied with reconnecting to his body. He shifted his weight back and forth, screwing his eyes shut in an effort to regain control. His senses were muddled, but on some subliminal level, he understood that he was in grave danger. Through the roiling mass of nausea and dizziness, Harmen's mind found a horizon beyond the waves. It was overpoweringly present, something that he somehow knew in his bones.

Baron was his enemy and Aurn was his ally. Nothing else registered. Everything was a ripple. Every discomfort and earthly sensation could not hold a flame to how important that was to Harmen. The countryside could had been ablaze, or hail could have been raining from the sky, and Harmen would have still been held captive by his focus. It took some time, but his senses resolved.

Baron's men were shifting their weight casually, some glancing at each other with knowing grins. There had been stunned silence for a while, and it seemed like Aurn and Harmen were speechless.

"You have killed my family." Harmen said, his voice cracking slightly at first. But as he spoke, it became more bold. "You are honourless."

Speaking and projecting his voice gradually brought the full weight of reality to bear on Harmen's nerves; it was hard to ignore an adversary you were speaking to. With each word, his eyes had gone out of focus, and by the end of his speech, he was breathing heavily. He looked at Aurn expectantly, but found him rooted to the spot in silence.

Harmen screwed his eyes shut and clenched his hands, letting the anxiety build, and ebb away. When he looked at Baron directly, he saw that the senjii had risen to his full height. Baron seemed perplexed.

"I could order them to kill you at any second." Baron said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Grips were tightened on weapons and arrows were drawn back. "But I think I need to teach you a lesson first." A self satisfied look crossed the Senjii's features. He turned to pace back and forth along the balcony, opening his arms in a grand gesture that would accompany his monologue. However, he was cut short by Harmen.

"You're trying to get him on your side again. Even after you hired him to murder a kid." Harmen said. He spoke much more deliberately than normal; his words needed to strike home. "We remember that you lie. I remember that you kill. Any deal with you would be fatal."

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #122 on: September 10, 2017, 11:46:25 AM »
It was as if the wind had been knocked out of Aurn.  His mouth hung slightly agape, as though he were about to say something, yet couldn't.  Baron hadn't offered him riches or power or fame or something any other sell sword would buy into, but something that struck him to the core.  Something he knew, deep down, that he didn't have and couldn't ignore. He couldn't.  His thoughts began to run loose, pull at the chains and push against the cage he had made for them.  The scene around him seemed as though it fell into the peripheral.

"Isn't that what your family would wish? Your father and mother? That you live, that their legacy lives with you and you only?"

It was, wasn't it? Wasn't that what all parents should wish for, should strive for? That their children live on and live in . . . peace? When he had been forced from his home, Aurn had thought about using his inheritance - before his shame pushed it away.  Somehow on his own, he decided that the path of the mercenary was better.  Maybe . . . to him, fighting became his kind of peace in a way.  That had he found peace with the only thing he was good at?  He couldn't say.  What was peace even?  What was respite from what hounded him in his mind?  He couldn't say that either.  What would his Mother and Father wish?  What would Xavius wish?  Baron was powerful, wealthy, he had connections.  He had traveled all the way to this backwater village in Nijon and the country had only just noticed him.  How hard would it be to help one orphaned, minor noble?  It couldn't be - could it?

All he had to do was finish the hit. It was just one life. How many he had already taken? How much of a difference was there between himself and these other mercenaries? It wasn't as though he'd never accepted a violent contract before.

Apprehension dug into his bones, every time he thought of taking that offer - it dragged him, drew him closer like a moth to a flame. Every passing moment it grew brighter, redder, it made more sense.

He glanced at Harmen, just for a moment.  And somehow this exhausted him - as though chains and irons dragged at every muscle.  Harmen was yelling at someone far out of sight, yet his words failed to reach Aurn's ears.  How was he even considering this?  What would Xavius think of him?  No.  This offer could be what he had endured so long for.  Baron could do it too, he had influence from at least Andune to Nijon, maybe more.  He could do it.

Then their sacrifices wouldn't have been in vain.  All their sacrifices.  He could be safe.  He could be at peace, whatever that must feel like.

" . . . even after you hired him to murder a kid."

Through his churning thoughts, like an arrow loosed, cut once stifiled words.

 "We remember that you lie. I remember that you kill. Any deal with you would be fatal."

It was Harmen, answering Baron with a confidence that belied the fear painted on his face. Baron had said the youth was a ruthless killer, a madman with no honor. A moments glance a year and a half ago had told Aurn that Harmen was anything but that.

A sword pressed into his neck at the edge of a pond. Dawn broke as he watched three piles of stones. Rain soaked him on a Miriel rooftop.  Red serpentine eyes glinted in a dusky room - and now glowed from on high.

"Avenge my village's slaughter!"

Baron had lied.

The blue haired man looked down and narrowed his eyes, strained them and tried to keeping thinking - like an exhausted child trying to ward off sleep. He needed calm and order. Aurn looked up at the pacing figure on the distant balcony.

Baron stopped pacing as his eyes met Aurn's. "So you've thought it through?" The question filled the air from every direction.

"How can I trust you?" Desperation cracked through the blue haired man's his usual monotone. The question, the skepticism almost just for show. Even he couldn't tell who for.

"Oh you have it." said the SenJi with a flourished placement of one hand over his heart. "On my honor."

Aurn's hands twisted into tight, painful fists. The chains, the exhaustion seemed to slump off him. How could he ignore, forget, everything he'd endured?  All the people he met? How could he forget the very reason he stood at this spot?  Xavius would have been ashamed of him. His mother and father would have been ashamed of him.  Farron, Judio, Miguel and Hecktor would have been ashamed of him.  Locked up, hiding, no direction.  Swept under the rug.  That was surviving, that wasn't living.

"Well?" asked the SenJi impatiently.

Aurn opened his eyes.  Harmen was frozen in place, like a deer unsure if it should make a dash for safety.  Memories of him - training and fighting - ran through Aurn's head. One after another, a whirl of faded memories. All of that, a year and a half's journey was behind them now, and all that time meant nothing to this one moment where they stood. 

"There is no running away from here." the blue haired man said sternly. Harmen paled even more, his eyes widened.

Baron began to laugh. A deep, thick laugh that eventually broke into a triumphant cackle. One by one the men that surrounded them joined in. It rolled and echoed off the buildings, the walls, the trees and hills. It seemed to just go on and on from every angle - shaking Aurn's bones and resonating in his lungs. The once tight circle of fifteen men and women loosened. Finally, they stopped and after catching his breath Baron grinned a white, savage, knowing grin.  "In the end I always win."

"Harmen," Aurn said slowly, surely, "let go of your fear. It is all that holds you back." Aurn nodded to Baron. "He put half of Entar and an army between him and you - because he is affraid of you."

"Let go of your fear, and be like water."

Confusion slowly painted the faces of the guards that loosely circled them.

"Be like water?" sighed the SenJi.  "Really?  That's all you've got? That's it?" His voice curled to a languid chuckle on those final words.

"I will clear a path for you," Aurn whispered as he looked into his mind's eye and began gathering elements, "He is your fight." With that, the blue haired man thrust his right hand directly at the Nijonese men who held the Aegis. It clattered to the ground where the two had been a second ago.

Instantly a bloom of shimmering green energy exploded before them. In the blink of an eye, their grins vanished and they were hurtled backwards. The Aegis flew out of their hands and twirled high in the air. The others could only stare at the jumbled pile two of their number had become. Then confusion boiled to anger.

With shaking hands moving as quickly as he could, he drew air particles into the troughs. The water froze solid with a loud creak.  A Kyael in front of Aurn and another bandit with a spear rushed forwards. Aurn swiped his left hand to his right in a quick, jutting motion. Before they had moved five feet the mass of ice and wood surged forwards, wiping them clean off their feet - smashing them against the side of a building.

Aurn leaped for his weapon.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #123 on: September 10, 2017, 08:32:22 PM »
Harmen stood dumbfounded, his facial expression somewhere between confusion and anger. Too much had happened too quickly, and his thoughts were trying to keep up. Aurn wasn’t his ally, no wait, he was, but Baron wanted to keep him alive? No, that wasn’t right either.

Surrounded by enemies jeering and laughing, he clenched his fists and turned to face Aurn.

"I will clear a path for you," Aurn whispered, meeting Harmen’s gaze with stone grey eyes. Aurn meant what he was saying, sure as the tide. "He is your fight."

Harmen reflexively brought his hands in front of his face as Aurn unleashed his magic. His clothing and hair were buffeted by wind, and he could see very familiar streaks of glowing green cut through the darkness. He should have sprung, like a set trap, but he didn’t. Harmen hesistated, caught flat footed with what was happening around him.

In the next few moments, panicked cries and the rippling, crackling sound of ice banished whatever was left of the calm in Heien. Harmen looked to see Aurn back in his element, and remembered all the times that he had seen it before. In Miriel. In the Steppes. Through the Quegan jungle and into Nijon.

Something stirred within Harmen at the sight of his mentor and friend: Baron had something to be afraid of.

And Harmen was part of it.

Baron was shouting over the din, saying things like ‘cowards’ ‘hopeless’ and ‘impotent’. He gestured grandly over the balcony, occasionally accenting his beratement by pounding on the railing. A few times, the wood split under his fist, adding the sound of breaking bones to his speech. But Harmen wasn’t paying attention.

With newfound courage, he didn’t hesitate. The teenager drew a vial of holy water from his pocket in a smooth motion. He turned and threw it as hard as he could at Baron.

“I never thought you would try somethi-AGH!” The crystalline sound of breaking glass was altogether lost in Baron’s cry. It was inhuman, and carried through the village like a nightmare. The senjii clutched his face where the water had hit him, staggering from the shock. His composure was completely torn away, and the monster that Harmen knew fully showed itself, growling and searching the night frantically for the source of his pain.

“Kill them!”

Shapes and flickering lights started darting towards Harmen and Aurn in earnest; some of the bandits had dropped their torches in favor of drawing steel. The circle that had enclosed the pair was broken when Aurn sprung his attack, and the brawl in the street devolved into a melee.

Harmen dodged a vertical swing of a bandit’s longsword, jumping fowards to bring his elbow in sharp impact with his enemy’s head. Harmen swept the legs out from under him, and turned to find Aurn.

It seemed like Aurn the individual was replaced by a force of nature. Striking with water and air, he was a blur of motion from one opponent to the next. The moving water reflected the torchlight, occasionally breaking on a bandit’s body or weapon. Harmen heard the muffled impact of the aegis striking home, along with breaking voices and clattering weapons.

“Don’t kill the kayael!” He shouted into the fighting. “They might go back to normal after Baron dies.” Harmen exhaled sharply, and turned to sprint towards Baron like a bat out of hell.

I am the reason Baron is afraid. He slid to avoid a horizontal slash of a blade. I am the reason Baron is afraid. He ducked his head and pounded down the street, towards the wall of a house. I am the reason Baron is afraid. He kicked off hard from the ground and ran along the wall to circle past a group of kayael. I am the reason Baron is afraid.  He flowed onto the ground, rolled along his shoulder and delivered a kick with his heel to the neck of an archer caught unawares.

The last few steps carried him shoulder first into the front door of the down hall. It broke free from its track and shattered feebly as Harmen barreled into the entryway. His shadow danced in front of him from the torchlight behind, accented with faint splashes of neon green. He slowed to a stop and took several ragged breaths.

Suddenly, the doorway behind him was blocked; the room was filled with darkness. Harmen heard a sinister cackling somewhere in front of him.

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #124 on: September 10, 2017, 10:33:20 PM »
"Kill them!"

One last step, and with a whisper of a sigh, Aurn plucked the Aegis from the ground by its handle.  It was as though a missing part of him had been reclaimed.  Yet without wasting a moment on nostalgia or his still whirling mess of a mind, the blue haired man tightened his grip, and pivoted on his right heel to face the remaining men.

A spear lunged at him in the fire stained night.  Aurn barely had time to deflect the spearhead with an awkward push from the Aegis.  However, the weight of the latter meant that the former wasn't just deflected, but thrown out of the mans hands.  As the bandit reached for his sword, Aurn backhanded him in the face with the Aegis as hard as he could.  The nijonese man sharply jerked backwards, collapsing in a heap.

Looking up from his opponent, Aurn caught Harmen delivering a sharp elbow to one bandit's face, before taking his feet from under him. Harmens eyes locked onto Aurns.

"Don't kill the kayael!" He shouted. "They might go back to normal after Baron dies." With that Harmen bolted forwards - right past Aurn - towards the building where Baron now lurched, clutching his face - his curses and cries tearing at the air.

Harmen ducked under the swing of a sword, ran along a wall and out of sight. The whole chain of movements was quick, silent, and gone before Aurn knew it. But in that momentary glimpse, the blue haired man saw a different character to his movements - one pushed by determination and confidence. Maybe this was how Xavius felt when he was teaching? 

In Harmens wake, the nine remaining bandits and mercenaries closed in on the blue haired man. Aegis hanging in one hand, he closed his eyes, and gathered swirling green points with both hands for another Wind Wave.  It was fast and clumsy casting - pushing on the intended limits of the spell.  As soon as he gathered as much as he could - Aurn opened his eyes and thrust both arms forward to release the spell.  A man and woman kayael at the head of the charge were knocked clean off their feet in the conical blast of dust, grit and neon green light.  The rest were pushed backwards, staggered or dazed.  Even he had been pushed backwards a few awkward steps. 
With that window of time, Aurn slid his right arm through the Aegis's loose strap, tightened it and gripped the handle. 

Now he was whole again. Now he was ready.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #125 on: September 12, 2017, 09:01:07 AM »
All he could hear was his own breath, and his heart beating in his ears.

The room was unnaturally dark and still. He couldn’t even see his hands, pulled in front of his face in his fighting stance. Seconds passed, and he shifted his weight, uncertain where Baron would come from.

“This is really your plan?” Baron asked, sounding genuinely insulted. “You made it this far, and this is what you choose to do?” He talked deliberately, slow, like something wet and rotten.

Harmen hadn’t heard footsteps, but Baron’s voice was moving around him. He breathed slowly to slow his heart.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong. Making it through the jungle was quite a feat.”

Baron had moved again. Instinctively, Harmen scanned the room, although he still couldn’t see anything. He shook out the tension from his shoulders, and slowed his breathing even more.

“But now that you’re here, don’t you want to rest?”

After his sprinting heart had slowed down, Harmen took a tentative step. The floor was uneven from the wreckage of the door, but underneath it was the typical bamboo mat he had seen so often. Further into the room, Harmen stopped to listen again. He had heard Baron’s voice echo on the walls faintly while he was circling him; Harmen was in the center of a room, probably. He could feel something, maybe a low standing table, on his left. Baron was in the room with him, somewhere.

“After all, I’ve been so careful about leading you here. The least you could do is visit.”

There. Baron’s voice muffled as he moved behind something, and became clear again once he passed it. That was something Harmen could use. He opened his mouth, uncertain. A silent moment later, he nodded to himself, and spoke.

“You’re... not very good,” he said, careful to be quiet, “at... lying low.”

The feeling in the air changed from smug to affronted. It felt thicker.

“The military has yet to find me. Me. Someone strong enough to kill two orphans without it ever reaching the outside world.”

No, not far enough yet. Just a little more.

Harmen felt the table with his left hand, eventually finding a vase. He gripped it by the neck and lifted it gently off of the table. But he needed to keep Baron talking. Should he goad him? No, that might risk him attacking too soon.

“How long,” Harmen said, struggling with his dry mouth, “Did that horse last, from Miriel? Did you run it into the ground?”

Baron made a sort of scoffing sound. “You make it seem like I rode hard to get away from you.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I hired Aurn to kill you. He couldn’t even do that.” Baron said, his voice finally becoming muffled. “I don’t think I need to be worried about either of you.”

Harmen threw the vase as hard as he could at Baron’s voice. In the same motion, he picked up the table and threw that too.
The silence was thoroughly and completely broken in the sound of cracking wood and shattering porcelain. Baron grunted as the table apparently struck him, and the blackness that fileld the room was frayed into layers of shadow. The shadows became smaller and smaller, and torchlight flickered from the doorway again, showing Baron and Harmen surrounded by debris. Baron had been circling behind a flimsy dividing wall when Harmen had attacked, catching him unawares. Baron rose from his daze and thrashed against the wreckage piled on top of him; the table was destroyed under a blow from his fist, and was thrown savagely out of the way. He stepped blindly towards Harmen.

Without hesitating, Harmen delivered a heavy kick to his ribs and then a punch to the side of his head. Flow he heard himself think, Be like water,

He dove past Baron and ran further into the house, the enraged Senjii roaring behind him.

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #126 on: September 13, 2017, 10:42:30 AM »
A strained silence followed in his spell's wake.

Nine bandits stood before Aurn - frantically rubbing their eyes or dazed or knocked backwards entirely. Nine obstacles to be removed with at least eleven more nearby.

Clouds of dust swirled around half the group - stained with a flickering yellow light from the only torch to survive his spell. Beyond the recovering bandits and houses, through those slowly settling plumes, Aurn could see rice paddies at the shadowy edge of the torchlight.
Water - now he had his plan.

Aurn closed his eyes, and turned just enough towards the remaining water trough to see its blue edge. Flowing, cyclical motions raised the water up, and molded it over the next few seconds into a long tapered shape. A six foot long spike hovering above the trough. Clacking armor and forceful footsteps met his ears. Aurn opened his eyes. Two bandits rushed him side by side.

His right arm was raised - holding the distant Aqua Fang aloft as though it were a spear.  In an instant, his fighting stance gave way and he bolted forwards with everything he could muster. He made a throwing motion towards the leftmost bandit - and in unison, the Aqua Fang hurtled passed him and into its target.  An explosion of water and mist, threw the man into the side of a house with a crunch. The other bandit, distracted by the spell, wheezed heavily as the Aegis and all of Aurn's weight crashed into him and threw him backwards in a half-tackle. Stumbling to his feet, the bandit raised his katana high and brought it down hard. A flash of pain ran down Aurn's arm as the sword bit into the Aegis with a clang of metal to stone. He pushed the blade aside and delivered a hard left jab to the man's head. He slipped to one knee and Aurn delivered a sharp downwards blow to his head. He slumped to the ground. The blue haired man pushed forwards.

Keeping close to the houses on his right, Aurn headed straight to where the bandits were thinnest.

Without warning, a spearhead lunged at him from his left. He rolled underneath it, but as he tried to right himself, the middle-aged bandit pivoted in a quick arc and caught him hard in the side with the spear's shaft, throwing the blue haired man against the house.  Before he could retaliate the bandit deftly spun around and loosed another thrust. Pain seared along Aurn's left side as it grazed him, and pinned him against the wall by his shirt. A smile broke across the man's weathered face. Another bandit was quickly approaching from behind him.

Aurn gripped the spear with his left arm just as the bandit went to pull it free. The older man spat something in Nijonese and pulled again. His grip was slipping, pain bit along his side. Aurn closed his eyes and hastily amassed air particles with his right hand. As he opened his eyes he thrust his hand forward. Fear dawned over the man's face a split second before the Wind Wave burst in front of him - throwing him backwards, and into the two kayael that had just got back on their feet. The approaching bandit threw herself out of the way and rushed towards Aurn.

As quickly as he could, the blue haired man gripped the spear with both hands and pulled it free. In the same motion, and with all his strength behind it, he brought it down in long arcing swing against the bandit. A bloody gash opened across her whole front and she shrieked in pain. Clutching her torso the woman tumbled to the ground. She hadn't been wearing armor.

In what felt like a heartbeat the whole group suddenly descended on him. An uncoordinated charge of a half dozen people shouting and screaming - some still rubbing their eyes. Aurn threw the spear at them before diving to his right. He hugged the wall and bolted forwards. Weapons jutted out at him and a pair of throwing knives whistled through the air - one sticking into the wall, while the other bounced off his armor.

He couldn't lose his momentum, he couldn't stop. Not here.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #127 on: September 19, 2017, 01:48:13 AM »
“Flow like water”

Harmen darted around low lying tables and potted plants, using the columns of the building to help his turns. A terrifying mixture of exhilaration and fear helped his legs reach a little longer, kick a little harder. Baron was always a hairsbreadth behind him in the same way that Harmen’s mind was only just shy of panic.

Their frantic footsteps filled the building, through the ceiling beams to the roof. Starlight filtered in through gaps in the shingles, showing Harmen the faint outlines of obstacles. A beam here, the edge of a fake wall there, something that he could trip on there. He was a gazelle already half in the jaws of a lion; one false step and he would be torn apart.

Although in this case, the gazelle had at least partially thought through his plan.

Harmen produced another vial of holy water from his belt, and shuffled his feet wide as he passed a column. He caught it with his empty hand and his momentum carried him around it blindingly fast. He let go after he rounded the other side, throwing himself awkwardly into the centre of the room. The darkness caused Harmen to lose his balance and he tumbled to a stop.

As he slowed on the ground, Harmen heard the column behind him shatter from Baron’s strength, and the sound was like nothing else. The column was as thick as the branch of a tree and when it broke, it was textured and painful to hear. Like a bundle of breaking bones.

Almost before he came to a stop, Harmen swung is arm to throw the vial, but Baron was much to close.
The vial shattered on Baron’s outstretched arm and shoulder, which was extended to grab Harmen by the neck. As the senjii flinched from the sudden pain, the pair collided and Harmen was thrown head first into a table behind him. Stars exploded in his eyes from the impact, and the rest of his senses blurred.

Harmen reached for the table to help him stand but rising made him sick to his stomach. He feebly supported himself on his hands, only vaguely aware that Baron was behind him, cursing and thrashing on the ground.

He rose to his feet, and for a moment didn’t understand. He saw that the ceilng had partially caved in from the broken column, and that there were floor mats torn up and scattered across the room. But in a sickening moment, he realized that Baron was gone.

His guts froze as it hit home, but something kept Harmen moving.

“Flow like water”

He fumbled with the last clasp of his belt, removing the vial filled with oil. He uncorked it, and started to sprinkle its contents around the room. First on the faux walls made of paper, then on anything around him. As he worked, his thoughts cleared and he moved with purpose.

He saw iron lanterns hanging from the ceiling by long chains and tore one from its hook. After scattering some of its oil around him, he turned on his heel and threw it on its side to roll along the length of the room.

He saw a shadow blur at the edge of his vision, but there wasn’t time for him to react.

The wind was forced out of Harmen’s lungs when Baron’s kick hit home and he was thrown across the room. His arms and legs twisted awkwardly as he rolled on the floor, crashing through a faux wall that landed on top of him. He tasted blood, and couldn’t move.

Harmen numbly thought that his breathing was painful as Baron lifted him by the neck and held him.

“You should never have followed me, boy,” Baron spat into his face.

The teenager strained to hold his own weight with his arms. Seconds passed, and Baron held him at arm’s length with no effort. He was the monster strong enough to break the bones of giants.

Harmen blankly stared at Baron, all the while scrabbling for purchase with his hands. The joint of his neck was straining badly and he could barely breathe. He kept fumbling his grip because the oil from the lantern had made his hands slick.

The senjii walked into the centre of the room, into a shaft of starlight coming from the window on the second floor. His features were illuminated, and Harmen could see that he was pale and clammy. Baron’s nightmarish red eyes were just feet in front of his face, but they were different this time. This time they were angry, like a child that hadn’t gotten its way.

“Do you really think you could have defeated me? What I am?” Baron shouted into Harmen’s face.

He would have remembered those eyes for the rest of his life, but Harmen only saw that oil covered most of Baron’s arm.

There was no conscious thought, no weighing of options. Harmen the individual was gone, and what was left was a will to survive. That will was backed into a corner and desperate. It reached for something, anything that could help him. It was very far away from home, fighting for its life and scared out of its mind. Harmen the individual was gone, but some part of him reached to his goddess, Faelyn, for her favor.

And it came in the form of a spark.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2017, 03:11:59 AM by Harmen »

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #128 on: September 22, 2017, 06:50:13 AM »
A strange mix of determination and desperation pushed at Aurn's strides as he raced to the rice paddies. His arms cut through the air - each stride raking his left side with pain. His half-elven eyes darted about in a heightened vigil - catching everything they could from the shadows. A slip or stumble or trip was all that stood between him and a disproportionate number of weapons killing him. The mob stampeded after him. He wove around crates, farming tools, fences and homes. Suddenly the moss-ridden wall that ringed Heien sprang into view as it was touched by the torchlight.

With a final push of speed, Aurn kicked off the side of a house and bounded over the wall. Flying in a tight arc, the rice paddies spread out before him - a patchwork of flooded fields with raised paths leading out from the village like spokes on a cart wheel. The furthest reaches were completely enshrouded in night. As he landed, the chest-high wall eclipsed nearly all of the torchlight's glow. A sudden cluttered crash of steps and muffled shouts against the other side of the wall marked his pursuers stop.  Aurn pushed on along one of the raised paths.

Aurn spared himself a glance over his shoulder.  Three silhouettes stood on the other side of the wall, illuminated by their lone torch. They talked and gestured before one scuttled back the way they'd come. The other two headed for the nearest break in the wall, maybe fifty yards away, torchlight bobbing with them. He remembered the eleven other bandits and mercenaries - not to mention however many Kayael - that must be lurking in and around the village. Good, thought the blue haired man, the more attention he could draw the better.

Just then, something along the wall caught his attention. For a second he had no idea what the wavering charcoal-black shapes were, then his eyes focused. Three figures had ignored the proper entrance and had opted to immediately climb over it. Insect-like, they crawled up and over with an ungainly reslove. One by one, they landed, and started scanning the shadows. One by one, their gazes locked onto him like the needle of a compass. They headed for him at speed. Each one went through these motions like clockwork, as though they were being checked off a list.

Aurn turned to his right, slid down into the flooded field and bolted for another dozen strides before pivoting around with a splash. The water rose just shy of a foot up his now soaked shins. It was shallower than he'd expected, but still deep enough to drag at his steps. The torch light barely reached him as a faint orange glow. Even so, the advancing Kayael stood out vividly in the near-darkness.

Still catching his breath, Aurn closed his eyes. Ten thousand elemental particles suddenly stretched out before him in all directions, flickering star-like. A burdgeoning tension began to build within him. Sure he had cast spells not long ago, but it was different this time. He wasn't confined to rainwater, or a pond or a trough. Deftly, Aurn drew two Aqua Fangs from the waters around him. Merely being close to the cool glow of the water was reassuring - to wield it was another feeling entirely. It had been a long time since the blue haired man had this much power at his command - he wasn't going to waste the opportunity.

The Kayael appeared on the path and immediately started descending its sharp slope. Before they'd made it halfway down, Aurn released the spells, sending both masses of water catapulting across the gap between them. One Aqua Fang went long, clipping the top of the raised path in a plume of mist and dirt. The other thundered into the leftmost Kayael throwing it against the slope with an audible thump. The hoe in its hands was thrown spinning by the impact, splashing somewhere off in the darkness.

Aurn surged forwards. The remaining two carried similar impromptu weapons - a shovel and some sort of small hammer. He should have expected this. With so many puppets at his whim, of course Baron would throw them around without a thought. The Kayael with the shovel - an aging, stocky man - threw a great heave of a slash at Aurn. The blue haired man ducked underneath and as he rose and passed it, and gave it a sharp elbow to the head. It stumbled forwards in an awkward rush before falling in heap with a splash.

The last Kayael attacked in a series of wild thrashing strikes. Aurn blocked and ducked and wove with relative ease - then seemingly out of nowhere the metal hammer head struck him squarely in the gut. Aurn wheezed a grunt. Before the Kayael could pull back, Aurn gripped its arm and delivered a sharp blow to its shoulder with the edge of the Aegis. The distinctive crunch of breaking bone met his ears. Not a muscle twitched in the young Kayaels hollow expression as it tried to grasp Aurn before being tripped and unceremoniously punched in the head.

A wet gurgling of mud met Aurn`s ears, he turned and met the shovel-wielding Kayael slowly pushing itself back up.

With a few fluid motions of his hands, Aurn quickly drew air particles down into the yellow and blue mix that the Kayael lay in. A dozen seconds later the blue haired man opened his eyes, finding the Kayael propped up on one elbow and knee - wriggling, eyes honed on him - and locked in place by a thick sheet of ice. Ice that glittered the orange of a hot forge.

Aurn spun around to face the pathway, Aegis raised.

Two figures were quickly approaching, jogging down the path. The torch burned in the further bandit's hand, sputtering out tiny, dancing embers and soot. Marching in front, the other wore most of a suit of Guntai armor.  Battered and worn, it had nearly none of the polished lamination of Osamu's bodyguards, giving it the look of stone.

Without wasting time, Aurn methodically froze the water that his Aqua Fangs had plastered over the path's slope while distancing himself a little from it. Something caught his eye while he finished the spell - somewhere far to his left. A short slice of hearth-like light jumped between the houses. After a moment, Aurn spotted a few more pools of torch light forming, flickering candle-like on the further side of the village, cut out among the shadowy shapes of Heien. Then he realized why they flickered.

They were moving, and they were all heading his way.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #129 on: September 26, 2017, 06:05:05 AM »
Blinding light erupted into the darkness as the oil caught flame on Baron’s arm. Harmen shut his eyes and tried to turn his face away from the heat and light, but the senjii stubbornly held him. Baron was hysterical, screaming garbled words and nonsense far louder than Harmen though physically possible.

The teenager could feel Baron shifting his weight from foot to foot as the fire grew. Tongues of flame lapped about, catching Harmen’s arms and Baron’s body alight. It was chaos: deafening sound, blinding light, and growing pain.

Desperately thinking of how to escape, Harmen gripped Baron’s arm with both of his hands and pulled himself up to take the weight off of his neck. He lifted his leg, slowly testing that he could connect the outside of Baron’s elbow with his shin. Harmen wound up, used the powerful muscles in his hips and back, and delivered a mighty kick directly into bone. There was a wet crunch as Baron’s arm was pulverized by Harmen’s steel shinguard. Baron’s cry pitched wildly and his grip slackened enough for Harmen to fall to the ground.

Before he even caught his breath, Harmen rolled on the ground clumsily, tearing off his burning jacket and gauntlets. He screwed his eyes shut as he did so, but he could still see the fire light. Harmen finally attempted to take in a ragged breath, but he felt the solid impact of a foot stomping just beside him.

Baron’s arm barely missed the teenager and indented the floor. Harmen hadn’t had time to move, but when he looked up, he saw that Baron’s face was smoking from recently extinguished fire. He threw himself to lie prone as Baron took up a floorboard and hurled it at waist height. It sailed across the room as though thrown by a hurricane and it destroyed a window.

Looking up through wattering eyes, Harmen fought the urge to cough. He was nearly touching Baron, but the sound of the fire was enough to hide his breathing, and he was covered in debris. The flames had started to spread. He saw that Baron’s left arm was completely broken, hanging limply at his side.

“Where are you, boy!” shouted Baron, roaring into the growing fire around him. The faux walls covered in rice paper had caught flame, and the air was turning acrid with smoke. Harmen rolled gently on the floor to avoid Baron’s foot as the senjii turned to face the other direction. “Strike me down if you can,” he bellowed, “but we both know that you always run.”

Baron walked a step, suddenly growing angry. He reached down to pick up a thick wooden column, swinging it violently. It caught on the ceiling and exploded into wood chips, bringing down more debris from the second floor. He thrashed again, throwing the lumber like a javelin and it embedded itself into the wall.

Harmen stood shakily, one hand clutching his ribs in pain. His fingers didn’t feel wet with blood, but every breath made him wince. He could see that the fire was building, slowly devouring the walls to encircle them. He tried to speak, but tasted blood and grit. He spat onto the ground and Baron whirled to find him.

“I don’t have to run.” The teenager said through gritted teeth. He could see that Baron’s face was scarred.

“You are nothing!” Baron said. His broken arm twitched violently and then relaxed. There was the sound of breaking bone.

“If I am nothing,” Harmen said slowly, “then you are less.” His expression became angry, and every trace of fear vanished from him. He spat out his words in his native language like they were poison. “You killed your family.”

“They were never my family,” Baron replied, “They were preventing my greatness.” His arm shifted again, the fingers twitching slightly.

“You became a monster. It would be better if you had died.” Harmen shouted. The pain in his side flared and his vision blurred.

“They made me into so much more.”

“How many did you have to kill for them to take you?” Harmen said, glancing to the fire. It was still building slowly, but debris tumbling from the second floor caught his attention. The entire ceiling had begun to sag from the lack of support form below.

“I would have killed fifty had I known what it would bring me.” Baron said, finally lifting his left arm to make a fist. “I will live for—“

Harmen threw himself into a standing leap to grab at where a lantern was mounted before. When his weight fell on the iron hook embedded in the ceiling, the beams above him groaned and splintered under the strain.

Baron surged forwards to grab him, like a bat out of hell. The senjii was almost on top of him, but he was crushed under the weight of flaming crates falling from the second floor.

As the ceiling fell, Harmen dropped to the floor and shoulder rolled towards one of the remaining columns near the side of the room. The fire billowed from the collapsing debris, as if the great dragon that had swallowed them were breathing.

Harmen kept his back to the column to avoid the debris, and once it was settled, started to clamour on the pile of crates and furniture that had fallen. His hands became spintered and raw from the broken wood, but he managed to heave himself onto what remained of the second floor.

The smoke had risen and made the air painful to the eyes, but through the haze he could see that there were several windows to the ouside. A large patch of the floor had collapsed, but he found a section that was still intact all the way to a window.

Grunting from the pain, Harmen fell into a run towards the window. His feet were unsteady, and his breathing was shallow, but thousands of hours of practice had made running second nature. His strides carried him to the window at speed, and he shifted his gait. Harmen leapt at the window, meeting it shoulder first, and crashed through the wooden blinds.

He felt weightless as he started to fall down towards the slanted roof beneath him, but the slope was shallow enough that he could surely stop before he fell to the ground.

Suddenly, he felt an iron grip crush the bones in his left ankle.

Offline Aurn Novak

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #130 on: September 27, 2017, 12:59:23 PM »
More and more dots of torchlight flickered among the village. Their movements offered the blue haired man only snippets of the approaching mob. Even this far away, though, voices echoed across the rice paddies. A confident, excited cacophony. Louder and louder.

Every second was less time he had to think.

Aurn had the advantage now - but only to a certain extent. He couldn't risk getting surrounded, or letting them work together, nor could he stop to dispatch each and every mercenary by themselves. He just needed to distract them long enough, and to do that he'd need to put this water to better use. Aurn glanced from the pair approaching by the path, then into the ghostly unknown of the rice paddy. He pivoted, ran, and shadows enveloped him.

His shelter of silence was immediately broken. A shout met his ears - followed by crystalline thuds, two splashes - and a definitive hiss. Far to his right the torches and shadowy forms reached the wall, then split to either side. More than he'd spotted from the hill.

Uneasiness pulled at Aurn. He would have fought them head-on any other day, this time though, this one time, he would have to leave it be. This last plan is what would clean his honor and give him peace, nothing else. With that thought, a strange lightness began to stir in him.

In a spray of black muddy water the blue haired man came to a halt. Water rippled around him, the air was cool and damp. The breeze from earlier was fading, and with it the stench of death. He turned to face the village. Some torches remained within, the rest were fanning out, and a few brave souls had waded down into the various paddies themselves, scouring the ever-darkening night. They were closing in. Suddenly, he noticed - between his heavy breaths - a dull, jittery metallic clink. He looked to the Aegis.

How long had it been since his hands had shaken this much?

Was it a remnant from earlier, from Baron's twisting words? It felt, odd, something about it was out of place. It wasn't panic or hesitation, though. Something else fluttered through his veins and guts. Something that had the soft, uncertain tension of panic - but was different. Just slightly so.  It was anticipation. This was all he could want. A last honorable stand, and a chance to test everything he could muster. All against bandits and empty puppets - to help end a monster. Why would he be afraid of what he'd gotten himself into?  Even back in Miriel, he'd known Baron had powerful connections. Aurn was a fighter - it was one of the few things that gave him purpose. Fear should have no say in this matter.

For the first time in his life, Aurn could cut loose.

Suddenly the still, muddy water around him brimmed with possibilities. Hidden in the rippling blue and wafting green were so many potential spells and ideas that Aurn had to pause. Then, with one last scan of the spreading mob, he closed his eyes. He moved his hands in composed, cyclical paths. After a moment, in gentle reply, mist bloomed from the water around him, tendrils curling in the air. Another gesture and it rushed out in all directions. The Fog Bank spread more than a hundred feet around him - tinted at its limits by soft flickering torchlight. An arrow whistled through the heavy fog, then another, followed by scattered voices.

Immediately, Aurn stretched his arms out, and concentrated on the point between his palms. Water coiled up from the field and coalesced into a black, glistening sphere a foot across. With a single fluid motion, Aurn grabbed the sphere and spread it over the face of the Aegis - forming a jagged, foot long blade of ice in its wake; Brand Weapon: Water. Aurn looked into his mind's eye again.

Directly ahead, several people were heading his way - their dark figures just distinguishable as they displaced the water-laden air.  They advanced with an eerie determination - awkwardly slogging through the water without clear direction - shortening the window of time he'd made. Aurn had maybe half of his mana left, but he had been wasteful earlier. He couldn't afford to cobble spells together like that again. More entered the fog behind them to his left.

Shifting his stance just so, Aurn lined himself up with his targets and concentrated on the water directly around him. In an instant, he threw his hands forwards in quick fluttering motions. A hail of ice shards shot from the water below his arms in reply. With each motion a couple more whistling towards the group. Through his mind's eye he could see the Diamond Dust hit home. While most of his shots missed - a few of the shapes toppled over - and not a word escaped them.

Then - slowly, doggedly - some stood back up. Aurn could see ice shards almost a foot long - clear as day - jutting out of them. He backed up. The survivors turned towards him and closed in. More figures entered the edges of the fog behind them.

Exhaling, Aurn brought himself lower to the ground. He reached forwards - gripped the air - and slowly began to pull backwards. In unison with the sudden strain, Aurn wove his mana into the water around him, binding it, actualizing his spell. Trickles and splashes met his ears as the water withdrew from around his legs. Strain dug into his arms the further he pulled them back. Following his exertions like an orchestra following a conductor, the water around him withdrew. Back and back, then up - coalescing into a swell, then a wave. Sloshing footsteps closed in. Aurn's legs tensed from the strain, his wounds growled and their tolerable hum became a scream, a shriek. The wave hung in the air - it's weight looming behind him as though it were some primordial beast ready to pounce. A white crest began to churn atop its twelve foot height. Aqua Wave Majoris. It wasn't a sophisticated spell by any means, but it required experience and stamina to shape and move such a mass of water. It drained a sizable remainder of his mana. Ten feet away. With a single heaving motion, Aurn threw his arms forward - as though the force from them alone would stop the Kayael.

A thunderous roar overwhelmed his ears - deafening, enveloping. He could feel the weight of the spell rush around him, pulling at the air - a wall of water that only spared where he stood. It smashed head-on into the approaching group, and they were gone. The wave quickly lost it's height, but maintained its speed and weight as it transformed into a crashing swell of foam that surged back towards the village. The water around him was dragged in the spell's wake, leaving the paddies only damp - a window. Aurn glanced to his left, to the closest illuminated patch of the fog. It was risky. They could surround him much more easily, but if he maintained this momentum, he could keep them off balance.

Almost casually he drew an Aqua Fang from the meager water around him, then clenched his hands into fists. Air and water mixed with a crystalline crunch, and the Aqua Fang became a Frost Fang. He bolted forwards, across the rice and mud, his spell held aloft like a spear.

"Protect those who can't protect themselves." Aurn whispered between breaths. "Protect those who can't protect themselves."

Just as his foot met the slope of the path, a tremendous watery crash rumbled far off to his right. Aurn felt it as much as he heard it. A grinding, shaking impact that lasted far longer than it had a right to. Part of the fog bank became darker. Cries scattered through the air. Aurn escaped the fog in three strides and came to a halt on the path in two.

Bathed in torchlight, four bandits stood together looking off to where the fog had gone dark. Several more were scattered loosely far up the pathway. The four turned towards him in a slow, fleeting moment. Aurn's loosed the Frost Fang. Too close to avoid it, a wet crunch escaped the point of impact, and a bandit hurtled clear off the path into the darkness.

Aurn charged, the Aegis' ice blade, backed by his weight, slammed into the closest bandit - sending him stumbling backwards. The furthest of them broke and ran just before an axe lunged at Aurn from his left. It ricocheted off his chest plate - the impact sent him back a step. As the Andunese man drew back, the blue haired man threw himself forwards and slashed with the Aegis. The bandit dropped his torch to clutch the bloody gash. As he pulled back, Aurn swung the Aegis long - deflecting the other bandit's sword.  A block, a parry, a roll, a hit - the blue haired man took down one bandit then the other. He kicked the torch into the paddy, let shadows wash over him and continued down the path at speed.

"Shoot him!" cried the fleeing bandit down the pathway. She ran until several comrades stood between herself and Aurn. "Shoot him! Kill him!" Some readied themselves, some backed away. There was only one of him, but now they knew what he was capable of.

The blue haired man took what advantage he could from their fear. By the time he left the darkness he was running nearly full-tilt. Pain punctuated each stride. Two Nijonese bandits met his charge, and while they were much more skilled than his previous opponents, fear curbed their movements. Aurn surged forwards - the Aegis practically bouncing from one bandit to the other; blocking, hitting, missing, clipping. His wounds shouted at him, but his adrenaline muffled their protest. A vicious strike from the Aegis, followed by a sharp kick, broke one bandit's leg and sent him sprawling. Each swing tired him.

More were coming down the path, torchlight flickering around them, lighting up the edge of the fog. A haphazard arrow whistled past Aurn and the remaining bandit. The man was weary, but his fear was ebbing - and without it he was much more formidable. Bit by bit the Nijonese blade had hacked Brand Weapon spell to a stump of ice. The others were closing in. For a moment, the two backed away, and sized each other up.

Another arrow hissed out of the scattered, approaching group. Unlike the previous shot, it fell true - and sharp - tearing into Aurn's left bicep. Shrieking, burning, white-hot pain split through him. He gripped his arm, glanced down the path, through the figures, shadows and crackling torchlight. Fifty, maybe sixty feet back stood the culprit - nocking another shot.

Aurn glanced back to the bandit, who was already rushing towards him. The swordsman threw his weight behind a mighty slash. With all his might, Aurn flung himself to his left. He landed hard on his left side, and another flash of pain flooded his arm. The blue haired man dragged himself to his feet and ran into the rice paddy. Fog met him with a chilled embrace, and another arrow whized over his shoulders.

Water pulled at every step. By the time he'd made it a dozen strides in, splashes met his ears - directly behind him - more and more. Aurn looked into his mind's eye and readied a Wind Wave. He would shift to defense, and plan his next moves in the further paddy. Hard, guttural voices called ahead of him.

Flying from the fog like a loosed arrow, Aurn bolted up the incline of the pathway. The man in scarred Guntai armor loomed on the path, simultaneously surprised, angry, and yet stalwart at Aurn's emergence. Two more men stood around him. Still running up the incline, Aurn unleashed his spell. The entire near side of the fog bank ruptured and swirled as lit up in a glow, scintillating flash of neon green light. The veteran and a cohort were knocked off their feet. Aurn summited the pathway, and the remaining bandit gave chase.

As he slid down the pathway, a mass of voices and footsteps met Aurn's ears. He glanced behind himself. Five, seven, eight, nine figures stormed out of the shifting fog like angry ghosts. As he looked back ahead, the gleam of cleaner, polished armor flashed against the torchlight. He could barely make them out as he ran towards them, but it looked like two figures in the middle of the paddy. Arm screaming, wounds throbbing, Aurn solemnly raised the Aegis.

Both moved - but stood where they were. Suddenly two arrows shot past Aurn - one landed square in the midsection of his pursuer - the other fell into the group at the top of the pathway, followed by a gurgled cry.

Breathless, Aurn came to a halt in front of the two imposing, bristling figures.

"How did you know?"

Entouji unsheathed his sword, then nodded to the shredded fog bank.

Offline Harmen

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Re: Due Payment
« Reply #131 on: October 11, 2017, 08:41:30 AM »
Baron pulled Harmen down hard, smashing his face into the wooden shindles beneath him. The teenager’s vision went dark for an instant, and his face felt ragged and torn. Lying on the ground, he began to taste and smell copper as his injuries wept blood. Several heartbeats passed, and then he felt the frame of the building shudder as something took thunderous steps toward him.
He was barely conscious when he decided to roll down the roof, carrying himself nearly to the edge. The footsteps were uneven, and drew closer along with sporadic sounds of crumbling wood. Harmen looked up through his one good eye and saw the blurry outline of a hulking form silhouetted against the fire. At that moment, Harmens mind waged a battle between the version of him that was fighting his enemy and the profound fatigue in his limbs. That monster, one that took everything from him, was going to be his end.

Despite the fire, he felt cold.

“You have ruined everything!” Baron yelled, the edges of tears on his voice. Harmen couldn’t pick out his face through his blurred vision and the shadows, but he saw the muscles on the top of Baron’s head tense and relax as though he were clenching his teeth. Moments passed, and Harmen used the time to reposition his legs under him. Baron’s chest heaved with his breath. There was the smell of burnt meat.

“I have,” thought Harmen. He could have been at peace, mourning the loss of his family, but he had rejected that life. He had risked so much, even the lives of others, so that he could have his revenge. The could just lie there, and go to sleep. But the anger at his own loss and the violence done to helpless people came flooding back into him. He felt the tingling resolve of yet more adrenaline shoring up his body for the seconds to come. He was terrified, but that fear would not hold him back.

“I was meant to be immortal!”

Mid-sentence, Baron threw himself at Harmen, arms outstretched, but Harmen was already prepared. He felt the weight shift under him, and immediately pushed off the roof to send him sharply sideways. Still smoking from his burns, Baron flew screaming off of the roof onto the ground with a heavy thud.

Harmen rose from his landing spot, nursing a bump on his head from colliding with the railing of the balcony from which Baron had delivered his speech. His limbs felt heavy, and his right eye still refused to open, but he didn’t allow himself time to rest. The fire had continued to build inside, and some of the larger columns had caught. Flames were beginning to reach out onto the roof and devour the structure.

Teenager limped on his good leg towards the doorway on the balcony, determined to find some piece of burning debris to heap on Baron’s head. He must have been injured in the fall or he would have been shouting his rage like he was before.

But on the heels of that thought, came a firm hand on his shoulder.

“This has gone on for long enough.” Baron said, and with that he grabbed Harmen with both hands and hurled him into the debris on the street.

Splinters rained from the sky and one of Harmen’s gaulet’s landed far away, torn from his hand with the force of the impact. The fire continued to burn, cracking the wooden pillars inside like the bones of Harmen’s broken body.

“It is time you returned to your family.”