The part Lyn really likes, and the part she doesn’t.
The page in the book burnt away, just ash in the breeze. Dan flicked blood off of his thumb and pressed it down hard against the leathery exterior of the cover. Until it stopped, and Lyn could take her eyes off of him.
“Only have one more of those prepared,” Dan said. “Come on, let’s go see what it was eating before the noise attracts anything else.”
Lyn slid down the hill in an instant, ignoring the horse she left behind. Nate stood behind, deciding that getting his gambeson anymore destroyed by rain or blood was a bad investment. Brensh hesitated, looking up at Dan, then slid down after the grey-priest.
In the tall grass Lyn found their target. A dead horse, guts half missing. Slight charring on the fur. Saddle done up with a symbol of the guard.
Wasn’t hard to put the pieces together.
Brensh slid down beside her and looked it over. Lyn gently tilted her away. “Don’t get sick.”
“Dead,” Brensh said.
“Yes,” Lyn agreed. “But not eaten by dragon.”
“Perhaps it was attacked by a blighted one?” Brensh asked.
Lyn gently reached down the dead animal’s body and felt the legs. “Broken.” A long cut across the chest of the beast. She reached inside of it. Brensh couldn’t watch for long.
Then Lyn clicked her tongue and pulled out a twisted piece of metal.
“There. Dragons don’t use bolts,” Lyn smiled.
Brensh looked up at the hill. “No, they don’t,” she agreed. “But I think he does.”
Crossbow, trained on Nate and Dan. The man’s leather armor looked half scrounged together, grizzled from time on the road.
Lyn’d spent months on the road by herself. She knew full well of the dangers. Creatures from forgotten towns, hiding in the dark so they could catch an easy meal. Elementals rogue from the outlands.
Bandits. Peasants too cowardly to get in with a guild, making ends meet through other means.
Lyn detested bandits. Which was why this was going to be so much fun.
With a sigh, she took the bolt from her hand and dropped it into Brensh’s pushing her fingers closed around it, then reached into her pocket.
“Looks like you’ve stumbled into something you shouldn’t’ve,” The man stated.
“If you give up,” Dan said. “We won’t have to kill you.”
The man laughed. “I’m the one with the advantage and the weapon. You’re the one without a weapon up, wizard.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of not confronting wizards?” Dan asked, exasperated.
“I’ve mostly heard their books fetch a pretty penny.”
Lyn pulled her hand out of her pocket, and glanced up at the sun. Brensh stared at her. Apprehension. A hint of fear. “What’re you going to do?” she hissed.
“You’ve never had a mission go wrong, Brensh?” Lyn asked, curiously.
“It’s been a bit… and not at this guild.,” Brensh admitted.
Aer needed to step up the training of the new hires. Else they’d just get outpaced by what they’d face.
“Quite rude,” Dan said.
“You’re not going to try and plead for your life?” The bandit asked, arching an eyebrow.
They had been caught out. But one person, well, that was easy to deal with.
“Is that what you want me to do?” Dan asked. He knew the drill perfectly. Lyn respected that.
Lyn moved like a snake and hurled the dagger at the man.
Then a second later she was following after it.
The man turned at the motion and took the dagger across the face, a spray of hot red onto the grass. He reeled back, spinning, a hand off of his weapon to clutch at the side of his head.
Then she was the rest of the way there, and she stomped the crossbow into the ground, snapping it under its own tension, and she grabbed the dagger off of the ground and plunged it into his throat.
“Fuck,” Nate accentuated. He staggered to the side and hurled bile into the grass.
Lyn stared down at the dying man, cocking her head to the side like a bird, and rifled through his pockets, ignoring the ragged gasps from his destroyed neck. Pulled out a small purse, pieces of crumpled paper, a few knives.
He died at some point during the process, she didn’t care when, and she pushed herself up to her feet.
Dan already had his books out. Where there was one bandit there’d be more. Especially since they hadn’t exactly been quiet. Lyn whipped her hand through the bandit’s blood and stood up, painting her gambeson in quick broad strokes. A favorite symbol of hers; a gleaming happy eye.
Then she waited for more attackers to arrive.
They never did. Perhaps he’d wandered off alone, or perhaps they’d gotten the message after the first of their number had been stomped out. Lyn waited anyway, the thrumping sound of her heart her only witnessed. A slight grin on her face.
Dan joined her. “Doesn’t look like anyone else is going to show up,” He said.
“They still might,” Lyn said. “Like that time in Cordelia.”
“That was a bad time,” Dan said. “And I thought you were getting your lusts checked over on the pilgrimage?”
Lyn was quiet, and looked down at the body. “He was threatening you.”
Dan sighed. “He was.”
“And the client,” Lyn pointed out.
“He was,” Dan agreed.
Lyn stared down at the body in front of her. She smelled of blood from the symbol she painted, but couldn’t really give a damn. Whether or not it’d worked, there were no other enemies to bother her.
“Wow,” Brensh said, joining them at the top of the hill. “Can I learn how to do that?”
Lyn flicked blood off of her dagger, then wiped it across the man’s shirt. Then started to hack the man’s head off of his neck.
Nate recovered from being sick only to stare at Lyn’s work. “What is she doing?!”
“Preventing the body from becoming blighted,” Dan said. “You know we could just burn him.”
Lyn paused. “I didn’t think of that. I guess I’ve been alone on the road too often.” Then she looked at Brensh. “I guess you can learn it.”
“I want to move just like that,” Brensh said, staring at the blood on Lyn’s padded shirt. Lyn flicked her eyes back down to the once living man, now just a loose collection of meat, then back at the acolyte.
“No,” Dan disagreed. “You really don’t.”
The bandit’s horse wasn’t too far away, hidden in the shadow of a hill. The bandit’s armor had been taken apart and his body searched. A knife with a good balance, a few miserable coins. Lyn left Dan to mess with the body and eyed the horse.
“Camp can’t be too far away,” Brensh noted. “Are we going after them?”
“No,” Lyn said, flat.
“No?” Nate said, his voice lifting in hope.
“Now we go back,” Lyn stated, even flatter. In the distance, Dan drew forth a tome and immolated the corpse. Greasy black smoke shot up from the hillside.
Brensh nodded, and eyed the bandit’s horse. “They’re well equipped. Is it alright to leave them out here?”
“Now that they know someone’s coming?” Lyn said, gesturing at the column rising up.
Nate clicked his teeth together. “So that means we’re going back?”
Dan surfaced from his spell work, and mounted the horse. “For someone who paid us to go out here, you’re awfully quick to return.”
“I was thinking this would be a bit more like in the stories,” Nate said.
Brensh slide beside him, and they returned back to the defensive posture they’d rode in on.
Lyn would have to figure out what to say to the Guild-leader.
Perhaps Dan would help.
Lyn didn’t knock. Aer simply looked up and saw her standing at the front of his office, entourage in tow.
He looked down at the heavy text in his hands, exotic medicine and depictions of… stabbing people with needles to make them better, and sighed, remembering his place and shutting it firmly.
Whatever his doctor wanted, but he dearly hoped he didn’t end up on the plate to try that.
Next to Lyn, Dan stood. The one wizard he’d managed to keep. And- behind them, the client.
“You’re back early,” Aer said. The book snapped shut, and he set it down where his candles had set before… well.
Lyn flicked her eyes over to Dan, in that curiously reptilian way the Grey-priest had always carried with her, and Dan stepped forward, the dusky wizard clearing his throat.
“The guardpost’s been destroyed!” The client said. “It was dangerous! There were monsters and a bandit!”
Lyn and Dan both glared at the client, and his jaw clicked shut.
“Were you two abusing the client?” Aer asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Of course not,” Dan said. “He’s completely unharmed.”
As much as Aer had rejoiced in having the wizard out and about, and Lyn attached to him again, he hadn’t been looking forward to their bedside manner.
“The king’s law takes precedence above our contracts,” Lyn defended. “Correct?”
Aer sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. This was going to be a day he couldn’t take a shot of the brandy under his desk, wasn’t it?
“The Guard post was destroyed?” Aer asked for clarification.
Nate’s mouth opened, and Lyn’s hand shut the man’s mouth before he could speak.
“It was on fire when we arrived,” Dan said. “We spent the night to look for survivors.”
“Were they blighted when you found them?” Aer’s eyes settled on the client. Discovering the guards posted in a state of partial blight would explain the terror on the man’s face.
Lyn’s hand relaxed for a moment, and when the client failed to start talking, she took a deep breath. “We didn’t retrieve the bodies,”
Aer breathed in, let it tickle across his teeth. It may have just been because… recent memories had reminded him of it, but… he wished he didn’t have a desk job. “The bandit, I’m guessing?”
Dan nodded. “He snuck up on us while we were keeping the horses safe.”
“Lyn took him out,” The client said, taking a step out of the range of the other two. He looked slightly ill.
She had obviously worked her normal magic. Good to see her in proper form.
Lyn pinched the bridge of her nose. “I hate to cancel a contract on my first week back, Aer.”
“But if the Blight has bandits…” Aer trailed, leaning back at his desk. “This is all out of order. Did you find anything to suggest the guards were slain?”
“I suspect,” Dan said, looking up. “That the outpost was firebombed to make it look like a dragon was to blame. Then the guards were picked off when they made moves to flee the burning building. Chased, perhaps.”
Aer tapped his finger against the side of his glass, watching the water move across the bottom of it. “I don’t like that.”
“We didn’t find much,” Dan admitted. “But we did find a horse with guard’s symbols, slain by a crossbow bolt.”
“I really don’t like that,” Aer said.
“Well, we’re here,” the client said. “And nothing went wrong.”
“We are very lucky that nothing went wrong,” Aer said. “Imagine exactly what would’ve happened if anyone else had stumbled across the outpost? Burnt out, half collapsed?”
“I’ll confess,” Dan said. “My first thought was…”
“A dragon,” Aer finished. He leaned back further in his chair. Heard the old wood creak a bit more. Half a decade ago he’d thought about getting it replaced.
But it’d grown on him, imperfections and all.
“And if you hadn’t been the team out there, they’d’ve come right back, spinning tales of a dragon attack,” Aer said, aerily. “And imagine what’d’ve happened next. The capital, swinging their armored squadrons down. A mess of investigation.”
The client swallowed guiltily. “Would they have… They would, you’re right.”
“But why would bandits burn down an outpost?” Dan asked out loud. “They’re lowering their own protection as well.”
“Not as low as they bring ours,” Aer said, shaking his head. “Swing by the sheriff’s office. Report all this.”
“What about me?” The client asked.
Aer gave him a look over. “What about you?”
“Well…” he trailed.
“If you want to cancel your contract, feel free,” Aer said. “Though know that the other guilds have a far lower success rate in actually fighting the blight.”
The client rubbed his head. “Actually… should I be worried?”
Aer straightened in his chair, digging into a drawer for the contract. “What for?”
“Well,” The client said, shifting his weight back and forth on his legs. “I was hoping to get back to the capital before too long. Will this business take a while?”
Aer sighed. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but there’s going to be a deployment by the Capital to investigate this. Once that’s blown over, and when the Blight’s cleared of having anything to do with dragons, we’ll take you there.”
The client’s face frowned. “Well…”
Aer smelled an opportunity. He liked opportunities.
“I’m running out of funds waiting here, in the meantime,” The man said, shrugging. “…Do you have any work?”
Aer’s interest peaked, and he threw his gaze over the new man. Brown hair, a hint of the darker skin of the nobles, and a nervous demeanor.
“Are you asking me for a job?” Aer asked, amused.
“I heard mention you might be looking for someone good with numbers,” he smiled shyly. “For teaching and the like.”
Aer closed his eyes. “Room and board?”
“I’ll have a test for you. Don’t worry. And what’s your name?”
Aer liked it when new pieces of his hoard just walked in. It made acquiring them all the easier.