“O? I was the branch leader of Umillion, but I got caught dipping into the Guild’s purse. I won’t lie. I did it and for my honesty, I was allowed to redeem myself here on the frontier.” He smiled. “But not the knights, they were sent here as punishment, not redemption.”
My eyes scanned over the adventurers behind the seemingly fragile magic barrier while I kept my rifle trained on Arnold’s chest. “Want proof?” Arnold’s pompous and calm demeanor irritated everyone in the room. “Of course you would.” I wanted to pull my trigger just to wipe that apparently condescending look on his face. “Don’t bother with him, Isaac. He’s just a man who couldn’t make it in Umillion He’s just a small man trying to be big out here.” Agatha commented, but she didn’t and couldn’t stop him.
Arnold reached down, pulled out a desk drawer to Aeneas’s right, and pulled out a blue leather-bound tome from it. He held the tome up for me to see, but I couldn’t understand the characters pressed into the leather. “That book? It’s all lies.” Agatha snorted. “Go on.” I commented as I observed the knights’ behavior. They all seemed to be on edge, their eyes subtly shifting between me and the tome in his hand. He pulled the book open and thumbed through a few papers where several different pieces of folded parchment were used as bookmarks.
“Ah, this is the part.” Arnold exclaimed as he looked up to me, his eyes almost smiling “Are you sure you want to know the truth about your new friends?” His smug look almost made me pull the trigger there. “Just say it.” I said with restrained agitation at his theatrics. “Lady-Knight Agatha Canmore; Charged with murdering peasants for minor disputes; Four counts of adultery; One count embezzlement of government funds; and One count dereliction of duty. Found guilty on all counts. In respect to her previous merits, she is to be banished to the frontier to protect the outpost of Dragon Spine Ridge. Sentenced for the remaining years of her life by the Royal Court.”
Agatha’s face twitched slightly when while he read that. “Sir-Knight Aeneas Canmore, Charged with seven counts of conspiracy; three counts of corruption; two counts of embezzlement; and one count of misleading the Crown. Found guilty on all count. In respect to his previous merits, he is to be banished to the frontier to protect the outpost of Dragon Spine Ridge. Sentenced for the remaining years of his life by the Royal Court.”
Aeneas groaned, weakly flaring in his chair. Arnold ignored him while he thumbed to another marker in the book. “High-Healer Omri Balliol, charged with disobeying the King’s Decree to come to the castle to heal the wounded prince. Due to his life being saved by another healer, he is only to be exiled to the Dragon Spine Ridge as the settlement’s healer. Sentenced for the remaining years of his life by the Royal Court.” He closed the book and set it softly on his bloodied desk.
“His helper hammer was an orphan picked up here. Aside from those two, we are all sinners up here in the north.” He cackled. “No one here has the moral high ground. In my opinion, you should just join whoever has the most coin.” He reached back into the open drawer and pulled out a cloth sack the size of a Gatorade bottle along with one the size of a gallon jug.
He took great care to make sure the contents of each bag were audible, setting each slowly down on the desk. The first bag clang metallicly as tens of small metal pieces scrapped against each other. The second one clacked like marbles as the bag came down. “One bag is the mana stones collected from the goblins you killed whilst the second is a bag of coin for you. Of course, to help-” His proposition was cut off by Agatha’s snarled retort. “You can fuck right off with your lies! We the knights act on behalf of the kingdom, while you lowly dogs bite each other for mere coins. You have no honor or sense of pride.”
“Agatha, shut up please.” I said with a sigh as I took digested the information. “Oh? So you’re going to take his side now?” She turned to me, her sword hand flexing to strike at any moment. I ignored her and decided to ask the final question that had been bugging me since earlier. “So what is the conflict between you guys?” My question was directed to Arnold, but Agatha jumped in. “Because he is a greedy peasant.” I kept my remark to myself. The feeling of disbelief welled inside my heart how much different she was from earlier. She didn’t hide her disdain for people she believed lower than her now.
“When I was sent here, I was content with just fulfilling my duties. Then the lovely girl at my side found a considerable gold vein along with iron and other metals. As such, by legal rights, the adventurer guild had legal rights to mine it. My greed was naturally fed since, as the branch leader, I would receive a cut of the profits for helping facilitate the operation and transfer of the resources into the guild’s possesion.” A compelling reason, I thought. “Nonsense! That gold belongs to the kingdom, thus we the kings should be the ones in charge of that vein!” Agatha spoke up again. With the others in tow this time. voices of agreement rose from the knights.
“Enough.” I broke through the dissent and finally came to decision. “I’m not going to help either of you kill one another until I have more information.” I lowered the muzzle and took a step back. I didn’t feel so sure about helping the knights know. I felt it was alright to help them since they were uniformed members of the country, and that also meant they were supposed to be the good guys, right? However, I had to admit that corruption was a reality too. When picking one of the evils, If I had an option, I’d rather not chose either. I didn’t dilute myself into thinking I was intelligent enough to make the right call, but I was intelligent to know that I was just used by the knights.
So my decision was to withhold my decision for more information to come to light. Which, now that the words were laid out, sounded completely childish considering the trail of bodies I left in getting to this point only a few minutes ago.
“Kill the boy.” Agatha’s cold voice startled me, but thankfully, her order had given me enough time to react. I managed to step back slightly while turning and her sword plunged into my midriff. The sword rang as it skirted off my armor plate beneath the carrier material. The sword snagged on the rest of the material and Agatha was quick to retract it for another attack. The magic barrier fizzled away as Arnold’s brother flung himself at the man closest to the window, followed with the sound of shattering glass, and a scream.
This distracted Agatha momentarily and I took the opportunity to get my rifle up. This was noticed by one of the knights beside her who was quick to step in and break his sword down onto the barrel of the rifle. But he was half-a-second too slow. Just as his sword made contact with my rifle, fire burst from the muzzle, and the Agatha recoiled backward. The sword clanged against the rifle, knocking it down along with me. I rolled with all the downward force while I could and barrelled into another knight that was just about to swing at Arnold’s mage, and took him down with me.
It was a complete coincidence that I saved her, but I wasn’t going to argue with the opportunity. The knight that had knocked me forward charged at me while I was still trying to get up, so I had to roll to the side and I crashed into Arnold’s desk. The sword bit into the floorboards only an inch from my face. I pulled my pistol from the holster, brought it up, and was about the pull the trigger. Then a blue semi-transparent wave crashed into the group of knights on the door side of the room. Four knights flew backward, crashing into shelves, chairs, and cabinets.
“Get up, kid!” The mage’s voice called out as I felt her small hands grip my arm and she helped me to my feet. I didn’t bother with formalities and quickly got into a shooting stance just in time to see Arnold’s brother side-step a knight before tossing him out the window and thrust his sword into the last knight standing on his end. The fight ended with that last knight and silence fell over the room. I was quite aware that the three were now staring at me so I quickly put some distance between us. Silence.
“Truce?” I didn’t holster my pistol and kept it at the low ready. “While not exactly I had in mind, but you did help us. So yes, a truce is in order.” His expression was still the same as if he knew this would happen. Arnold’s brother placed his long sword on the desk and stepped towards me with his held hand out. “Sorry for the last time.” He said. He was half covered in blood, adding to his intimidating figure, but I took his hand. His grip was surprisingly gentle, his hand nearly engulfing mine.
“Yeah, sorry for being an asshole too.” I returned the apology. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy. The mage only nodded her head, Arnold’s piercing stare was on his brother. “What?” The musclehead asked, but his brother only clutched his jaw and shook his head. The big man muttered an apology before stepping back. Arnold’s eyes turned to me. “Are you going to help us with the rest of the knights, or are you going to back out here? It’s fine if you want out, but I expect you to leave this settlement immediately.” I returned the stare. “Or what?” Arnold gestured to Aeneas and then to his brother.
“What?” The big man asked. “Kill him you imbecile!” Arnold groaned while closing his eyes with a deep breath. “Oh.” He muttered before musclehead gripped Aeneas’s throat, squeezed it, and jerked his hand. I heard a snap and I saw Aeneas’s eyes go dull. He released him and his head fell unnaturally onto his shoulder. I shuttered, hoping they hadn’t noticed. “I don’t like rogue elements in my vicinity. I understand if our first meeting was… intense, but there isn’t a reason we can come to some understanding.”
“Is that understanding where I follow your orders?” I holstered my pistol. ” Yes.” He said. “Sorry, but I have an issue with being ordered around. My dad would attest to that.” I saw his eyebrow twitch. “You have powerful weapons, what would happen if we just took them from you?” He switched the subject threateningly. I looked down at the Garand. The barrel was bent slowly, but enough for it to be rendered useless. If I tried to use it, the barrel would blow up. So I unslung it and tossed it to Arnold, but his brother caught it.
The rifle quickly melted into light particles and disappeared. The mage girl looked at it the fading light particles with a gleam in her eye. Arnold only frowned. “Bloodline weapons, I see. How unfortunate.” I nodded, not understanding what he rambled about. “I’ll help with the rest of the knights though and we can talk after.” I offered him a line. “Of course.” He said.
. . . . . . .
The rest of the knights were put into quick order with the help of Arnold’s Brother, Rock. That was his actual name, Rock. It only took us clearing out the second floor of a couple of guards and for Rock to bring Agatha and Aeneas’s bodies for the rest of them to see. They quickly surrendered, mainly because I had joined Arnold’s side – unfortunately. When we took control of the reception hall, Arnold’s girlfriend tied each knight with a magical rope that glowed with a soft blue luster. Rock then escorted them out of the building and had the surviving knights kneel outside under his watch.
That was when we found the survivors. The adventurers who gave up when we first breached the building and dropped out of the fight. The men were quickly killed, but the women… They were raped beside their dead comrades and those beasts didn’t bother to kill them after. Their bare bruised bodies were left in the blood of the dead, their eyes distant and unfocused. Arnold had come down from the office once he dealt with the small fire his girl started, but he only stared at the violated girls and stalked off out of the building.
“Did you see them do this?” The mage appeared beside me, her eyes focused on the few female adventurers. I didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t anything sexual about it. Just pure shock that these “Knights” would do such a thing. “No… I left them… I didn’t attack anyone who gave up when we charged through… I didnt.. I didn’t know they would do this.” The mage finally looked at me. Maybe I finally looked my years now, not the pretend warrior I had been when I charged through this building with a superior weapon that denied them dignity, honor, and valor.
I left a trail of death and destruction in my wake, but these knights… “You didn’t know, but these knights are here for a reason. Protection of the town this settlement was not the kingdom’s concern. They sent them here because the settlement survival rate is less than twenty percent for guards. Monsters attack frequently so the Kingdom often sends their worst. It happens.” She was nonchalant with her explanation. Neither of us moved to help them until Rock came inside.
“Friend, Brother wants to see you outside.” He wasn’t smiling, as his heavy steps sent a chill up my neck as it splattered through pools of blood. “Y-Yeah.” He stopped in front of me. “Hey, can you do something about this metal box?” He pointed to the loot box that sat in the reception desk. “Y-Yeah.” I scurried to the box, happy not to see the horrors of this raid any longer. “Sister Heather, I’ll help you move them to the washroom…” His voice was softer when he spoke to the Mage.
I turned to the Loot box, tapped my screen, and added it to my inventory. The box disappeared into a mass of light before it fizzled away. Only a large empty gash in the floorboards and desk spoke to where it had come to its final rest. A few mangled bodies were underneath in the gash and I had to look away as the mixture of feces, urine, and iron assaulted me once the metal death box was removed. I quickly walked away from the violent scene, a scene that was now forever burned into my mind.
I stepped through the large hole at the front of the building and stepped into the torchlight where Arnold was waiting for me, along with Healer and Hammer. Their arms were covered in blood, but overall, they were unharmed. I could see the fury in Healer and Hammer’s eyes, but they kept their weapons sheathed. I stopped at Arnold’s side where he patiently waited with his hands crossed over his chest as he looked over the knights with a lack of interest. “Isaac, why did -” I held my hand up and shook my head. The anger in his voice already stated what he was going to ask and I already had enough guilt in me. I didn’t need anymore.
“Did you know why these knights were sent here, to the settlement?” I asked. Healer’s face cramped up. “Yes, but that shouldn’t have been a good reason to betray them!” Healer puffed with restrained anger. Hammer only looked intently at me. I could see he was trying to mull over something, so I left Hammer be. “I didn’t. Agatha betrayed me. I told her I wasn’t going to kill anymore until I had been given more information about this stupid feud. She attacked me first and put me in this position, but I see it was the right choice.” I finally felt something hot on my cheeks, and my voice broke slightly.
“You tell me, Healer, why did you let them rape those girls? Why did you let them kill the people who surrendered?” From the corner of my eye, I could see some of the knights become more dejected. Only a few arrogant ones kept their head up, hate in their eyes, yet none spoke. “I…” He couldn’t finish his sentence and he hung his head in shame. Hammer, who stayed silent, finally spoke up “It would have been better than these rambles here! They only do things for coin and they don’t help with the safety- ” Arnold’s voice cut off hammer with a slight boom. “We don’t have to help any more than the average commoner.”
Silence hung in the air as Arnold turned to me, his calmness infected me slightly, and I was able to wrangle my emotions back into order. Hammer looked at him with anger. He was about to speak up but Healer gripped his arm. “But-” Healer shook his head. “The knights were in the wrong at the beginning and they are now with assaulting non-combatants. Everything inbetween is mute.” His low voice conveyed his resignation. “Isaac.” Arnold spoke up. “These knights will have to die. You will be the one to do it.”
The night that was once silent began to grow some life as the citizens slowly opened their windows to see the carnage left behind. “Why me?” I asked. I had enough blood on me, enough blood on my conscious. I didn’t want to spill out anymore. “Because that will be your payment for slaughtering my men. The hand that put this in motion will be the hand to end it.”
Both our eyes locked onto each other as seconds slipped by. His brows were furrowed and I could tell he was mad, despite the even breaths and eyes. I had to admit, I was the one that caused all of this. I finally looked away with a grimace. “Fine..”. “Isaac, please… Don’t. No more bloodshed for tonight…” Defeated and pale, he looked up at me with a pleading look. I shot a questioning glance to Arnold, who had asked me to repay blood with blood. He shooked his head. “You had your chance to stop this, but you did not.” I avoided Healer’s pleading eyes and walked behind the row of nearly fifty knights.
“Can I give them quick deaths?” I kept my eyes on Arnold, though, Healer was still in the corner of my eye and I could feel my heart ache with the pain I saw in his eyes. It wasn’t the pain of watching friends die, but more like he had failed at something important. “Punishment must be handed by the severity of the crime.” His eyes floated over to the opening of the guild house just as Heather walked out. She shook her head before she looked at me. I saw a sadness in her eyes so I had to assume the girls were in bad shape.
Maybe I was projecting my emotions on these people, maybe I shouldn’t have stuck my nose into the settlement’s problems…I pushed the regret deep down. I owed Arnold, not in gold, but in blood. The gold he paid was for my help, but there still was the debt of smashing his guild and murdering his adventurers. So, I mulled over his words. “Severity of the crime…” Ah… That’s what he wanted. I turned to Healer. “Healer… Do you know who raped the girls?” He looked at me, confused. “Why?” I answered. “I’ll give those who had no part in it a quick, painless death, but I cannot forgive those who did something so vile.”