"Call of the Dragon, Pt I" Cornell #1
"Call of the Dragon, Pt II" Cornell #2
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
Chapter 9 <==/ Chapter 10 / ==> Chapter 11
The Crimson Talon looked peaceful in the light of the dawning day. The fireplace was already burning inside, that much could be seen through the half-open door. There was little else that Cornell could note, though, and he didn’t like that one bit. After he’d had to kill the guards posted there last night, he would have expected several new ones there, very alert – and rather angry about the demise of their colleagues. No matter that Vairpole had been trying to hide them by the time Cornell left again.
“The little creature is taking pretty long,” Barandas muttered.
“Leave him alone, wizard,” Gabe retorted angrily. “Flink is a lot more reliable than a four-fireball-spellcaster.”
“Oh, like you can cast any, savage!”
Cornell shoved them hard – and remembered suddenly that his strength had increased when his friends were slammed into the wall of the next building, barely avoiding any injury besides their pride. The Cayaborean shook his head, shrugged and whispered, “Sorry.”
Both Gabe and Barandas accepted that quickly. If Cornell hadn’t been anxious to hear Flink’s report about the tavern as well, he might have wondered why the two of them didn’t protest more. But the folks at The Crimson Talon were the only people in Atnas that they knew – and could trust to some degree. The innkeeper Vairpole might be afraid of the governor – rightfully so -, but so far he’d also shown loyalty to Cornell, the Cayaborean nobleman. Certainly last night, when he had helped him. (That outweighed the incident with the charlatan healer, at least to some extent.)
As it was, the alreu suddenly appeared before them, much as if he had grown out of one of the shadows.
“Hello, sir!” he piped happily.
“Cut that out,” Cornell said. “Are there imperials in the tavern?”
Flink shook his head eagerly, the red hair curling into a storm. “Oh, no, sir, no imperials.”
“Good, then,” Gabe nodded, brushed the dust from his impact into the wall off and started towards the tavern.
He stopped abruptly when Flink continued, “Only the four men who claim that the governor authorized them.” The alreu scratched his head. “I don’t think they are nice fellows, you know? I mean, poor Master Vairpole is lying next to the fireplace, and there seems to be blood on his head. And Mistress Rose – you know, the nice lady who called me a young sir? -, she is screaming, and that doesn’t sound too nice. I wish those men wouldn’t treat her like that.”
“Treat her like what?” Gabe growled, and Cornell blinked when he noticed the tone of the barbarian’s voice. Something was wrong here.
“Oh, well,” Flink said and folded his hands before his chest, vexed by what he’d seen, “they are pushing her from one to the other, and they are tearing up her nice dress. Goodness gracious, it is awful how they are –“
“I’ve heard enough,” Cornell interrupted him and turned to Barandas. “Do you have any fireballs ready? Or any other offensive weapon that works at longer range?”
“Why?” the wizard asked casually. “Look, she’s a barmaid. It’s not like she isn’t used to –“ Fear flashed over his face, his eyes focused on something just over Cornell’s shoulder – then relief made him gasp for air.
Cornell looked back and saw that Gabe had already drawn bwyell (apparently the sight that had made Barandas blanch), running with long strides towards the tavern. So much for my idea of trying the long-range approach, do it fast and clean.
Quickly he drew his sword, then he followed the barbarian into the tavern.
Sylasa cursed under her breath when the light hit her eyes painfully. Did the bandit before her have to move away from the catacomb’s exit that quickly? She shielded her eyes, stumbled ahead, carefully lowered her hand to accustom her sight.
“Over there,” Tarum said, adding a lecherous, “my darling.”
Something had changed in his behavior in the past few hours. Sylasa had noticed it with concern. The Tonomai made no more attempts to disguise his desire for her body. She had loosened her sword inconspicuously, but so far he hadn’t tried anything. She wouldn’t let down her guard, though.
For now, she followed the direction he was pointing. There was a small shack, barely an entire story tall, seriously delapidated, with the doors hanging in their hinges. Inside, she could see a wagon with horses – Cornell’s wagon! What a lucky coincident, she thought grimly. At least those horses were dependable.
They were in a part of town that seemed deserted. The houses around them all were old, and they hadn’t been taken good care of. There might be people living in these near-ruins, but none showed themselves. No children running around, no mothers going to fetch water from a cistern.
Odd. Unless, of course, this place was completely deserted, after all.
Sylasa still didn’t feel at ease and casually placed her hand on the hilt of her sword as she followed Tarum towards the shack, surrounded by his horde of bandits. She still smelled their sweaty stench, and only a few whisks of the fresh morning air hit her nostrils. Too little for her comfort.
They entered the shack, and the bandits took positions near the entrance, guarding for any unwanted visitors. Sylasa smiled coyly at Tarum as she wandered over to the horses, taking care to shake her behind suggestively. No need to make the Tonomai wary. The horses looked at her with interest. One neighed, apparently recognizing her from the night before. “Hello there, my beauties,” she said cheerfully. “How have they been treating you?” The neighing horse stretched out its head, its eyes studying her hands carefully to see if there was an apple waiting for it. They’d been rubbed down and fed, she noticed with a bit of relief. Probably the lone guard’s job who had been waiting for them. “Oh, you’re a greedy one, aren’t you, little horsie? There you are,” she continued, while she produced an apple, that the horse gratefully bit, and kept watching the actions of the bandits.
Neither of the Tonomai seemed very threatening. Most of them were milling around the shack, only Tarum and two others were close to her. But they made no moves towards her. Instead they were watching her. With smiles of enjoyment of their faces as she bent over to give another apple to the second horse.
They hadn’t done that before, either. Not as openly.
“Well, Tarum, dear,” Sylasa said as she turned around, “shouldn’t we get going again? Your man said that the patrols were gone from this area, after all.”
“I’m in no hurry,” the Tonomai answered with a wide grin, licking his lips appreciatively. The other two took a few steps around her, as if to grab her arms.
Sylasa wasn’t ready to be taken this easily. In an instant, her blade flew from its sheath, and she was ready for action. “Do not try anything, Tarum,” she warned.
The Tonomai feigned innocence. “Now what are you trying to do?! We’re all friends here, aren’t we?”
“You’re a bad actor,” Sylasa replied – when the two men jumped towards her. Her sword swung towards the first, its enchanted blade slicing through an arm, before she whirled it about to the other side.
And found that an unexpected pair of arms appeared from behind, wrapping around her swordarm.
She twisted her arm free – but then more of the bandits were upon her. So many that in a matter of moments she found herself held by three of them – the third binding her legs to keep her from kicking -, her sword on the ground. Next to the Tonomai who had just lost an arm, nearly passed out from the pain, screaming – until Tarum kicked him brutally in the head. The man fell unconscious.
“Now, lovely Sylasa,” Tarum grinned and stepped in close to her, breathing warmly at her, “we will find out how friendly you can be. That’s what you wanted to show me anyway, wasn’t it?”
Sylasa strained against the grip of the Tonomai. Useless. A human woman had no chance of breaking out from these arms, not even one whose armor enhanced her strength. Angrily she stared at Tarum, his face so very close (and if there wasn’t that blasted third man, her knee would have already hit his groin). “Then why didn’t you wait until we sold the dragon’s egg to my brother? As we’ve agreed upon?”
Tarum shrugged. “Things change, darling. For one thing, I had intended to take you as my own from the start. The egg I would have sold to your buyer myself, and then – well, you might have come to like me. You still could.” He shrugged again. “But that buyer is your brother, and no matter how greedy a priest is, he’d surely watch out for you, and I might not see the money. I don’t know too much about the powers of your priests, but they are dangerous. Too dangerous for my taste. So I’ve arranged another deal.”
“With whom? Derisham?!”
The Tonomai smiled. “A known enemy is one you can predict. He’ll be here in half an hour. Just enough time for us to get to know each other a bit –“
Sylasa had no intention of waiting that long. And neither was she as defenseless as the bandits believed. She’d known situations like this before, after all.
She dropped her chin hard on the armor, in a specific place, twice in quick succession. The Tonomai stared at her as if she had lost her mind. Sylasa waited a bit, then repeated the double-tap on her armor – and suddenly the smooth silver changed.
Thorns sprouted from it, growing all over her armor – pointing away from her own flesh, but certainly not that of the Tonomai.
Screams filled the shack, spooked the horses which patted on the ground uncertainly.
Tarum leaped away from her, pulled his curved blade, ready to strike – but fascinated by the gory spectacle before him.
Sylasa moved at lightning speed. The thorns pierced the Tonomai, but slid out easily. Easily enough for her to whirl her arms about, thrusting the barbs into whichever body presented itself. Subconsciously she noticed that several of the bandits were already rushing out of the shack, yelling about magic and demons.
The fight – if one could call this slaughter a fight – took only moments, then Sylasa gently tapped her armor again, this time with her hand, the arm carefully angled to avoid the thorns herself. The spikes vanished as smoothly as they had appeared.
As if that had been a signal, Tarum ran towards her, his curved sword singing through the air.
Sylasa ducked, rolled aside, in the rolling motion picking up her sword and slashing it upward to block Tarum’s next attack. In the process, his blade flew from his hand.
The Tonomai didn’t waste any time wondering about this event. He turned on his heels and started running away.
Sylasa smiled grimly, launched herself through the air and tackled him from behind, smashing him into the ground. He grunted heavily as he hit, then in shock as he was turned over onto his back. Automatically he tried to fight with hands and legs – but stopped himself when he found the woman’s blade at his throat. “You wanted to see how friendly I can be, didn’t you?” she asked, drawing a drop of blood from his skin.
Fear spread in the Tonomai’s eyes. Sylasa enjoyed the sight for a moment, then she placed her boot on his throat. “Don’t move,” she advised him as her sword slashed out and cut open his pants.
She chuckled. “Trust me, Tarum,” she said then, “I would never have come to enjoy that.” Another chuckle, then she said, “Oh, stop your worries, dear Tarum. I won’t kill you. I’ll just leave you here for your friend Derisham to find you. I’m sure he’ll have some more imaginative ways of disposing of you than I do.” Another friendly smile, then she quickly brought the hilt of her sword down on his forehead, with enough force to knock him out. Good to have the armor on her side.
Quickly, she hurried back to the horses, spoke to them softly and calmed them down. Five minutes later, she was back in the seat, driving the wagon out of the shack, searching for another way to get out of Atnas.
By the time Cornell entered The Crimson Talon, two of the mercenaries had turned into bloody heaps on the ground, while the third was staring in abject fear at the wild-eyed barbarian giant before him, his axe dripping with the blood of the other mercenaries. Cornell paid the third man little heed, as he ran towards Rose. The fourth mercenary was coming his way, panic on his face as he tried to escape. Casually Cornell held out his sword, cutting through the man’s flesh and bones easily – thanks to the strength that Melawdis’ spell had imparted him.
A cry of pain heralded the third mercenary’s death, when Cornell reached the barmaid and pushed her aside so she didn’t see the dead bodies. Rose screamed, fought against his grip – then she recognized him and abruptly collapsed forward into his arms. She sobbed, held for a moment by the Cayaborean’s hands who ignored her and looked at Gabe. The barbarian nodded, satisfied, then leaned forward to clean bwyell on the clothes of one of the mercenaries.
Rose suddenly gained strength again, fought against Cornell’s hold. He let her go, and the barmaid ran towards the fireplace. “Father! Father, say something!” she cried, knelt down by his side.
Next to Cornell, he heard an appreciative whistle. Barandas. Ogling the barmaid. Only now did Cornell realize that Rose was barely wearing anything, a few tatters of her dress clinging to her shoulders, doing little to hide the buxom beauty beneath.
Calmly Cornell raised his sword and held its blade towards the wizard. “Stop staring, or I will save Gabe the trouble.”
“Spoilsport,” Barandas grinned. And averted his eyes with a happy sigh.
Cornell checked quickly on Gabe. The barbarian hadn’t noted the wizard’s ogling – to the latter’s great fortune, certainly. Whatever feelings Gabe might have for Rose, enjoying her misfortune would not be a healthy attitude right about now. (Regrettably, Cornell knew that he would still need Barandas at full strength.) The Cayaborean pulled off his jacket while he was walking towards the fireplace, where the barmaid was hovering over her father, touching him gently, fretfully, mumbling, “Father, don’t die, don’t be dead, don’t, please, by the Gods!”
Gabe was by her momentarily, putting his hand briefly on her shoulder, then kneeling next to her and checking her father’s pulse. “Unconscious,” he announced.
Rose breathed in relief, then Cornell was by her side and draped his jacket over her shoulders. Instinctively she grasped it, slid her arms through the sleeves. “He has to go to a healer, doesn’t he?” she asked Gabe, apparently unaware of Cornell’s presence.
The barbarian was now looking at the innkeeper’s headwound, carefully twisting aside the hair. Vairpole moved slightly, as if the pain was piercing his unconsciousness. “Yes,” Gabe said simply.
“Do you know a good one?” Cornell asked.
It took her a heartbeat to realize that there was somebody else in the commons room. Rose looked up towards him, wondering where he had come from, apparently, but then gratitude flashed over her face. “Yes, yes, of course. Master Relehim. He has been our healer for as long as I can remember.”
Relehim? Wasn’t that the very charlatan who had told Cornell that there was a dragon’s heart beating in his chest?
But maybe, he considered, the healer was treating steady patients differently than passers-by. And if he wasn’t… Well, Cornell’s new-found strength would make for some decent intimidation.
“Gabe, carry the innkeeper. Rose, take us to the healer. Flink, Barandas –“ the wizard looked at him wearily, Flink eagerly, and Cornell shook his head. “Stay out of the way,” he finished his sentence and headed back out of the tavern.