Midday had come, and the peaceful blue sky stretched far into the horizon where it met the glistening sea. I sat on the thick wooden fence that rimmed Cassius’s smithy as he cleaned up his work station. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him right now if only to help him keep whatever was left of his dignity. He’d thought I was a fairy, which was what he called me when he saw me. Red-faced and all.
Now though, he’d been enlightened to my true gender and now he was red-faced with anger rather than embarrassment. Not at me at least, though I wasn’t sure I could take his words at face value right now. He seemed like a nice enough guy.
“I’m done,” Cassius said. “Ready to go?”
I whipped my legs back over the wooden fence and flashed him a warm smile. The ones you’d give to strangers who you couldn’t offend or your father would bring hell upon you. His eyes widened slightly and a small ting of red began to brew on the tips of his cheeks before he turned away.
“Let’s go,” The smith said. Doc had asked him to show me around the settlement. Cassius was against this, but oddly, fought with very few words. Doc did most of the talking; that was how I found that Cassius spoke more with his body than his words. It was a few minutes after that Doc had convinced him on the grounds that he was the most trustworthy person here.
Without another word, the man grunted as he heaved a bundle of swords into a small wagon as wide as he was and half as tall. It had two wheels on the side along with two thick handles at the front. He squatted down and picked up the handles before standing back up to pull it forward. I followed on his right as we began our descent down the mountain. Single story houses with straw-thatched roofs lined the snaking road down the mountain.
Much to my surprise, there weren’t a lot of people out and about. The ones I saw mulling about the homes were women or children, or just a dog or cat. The women were few and far between, with children even lesser. I saw more guards than I saw people on the road. These people greeted Cassius with a brief nod of their heads, before throwing me a critical look as I passed by.
“Why do I get the feeling they don’t like me?” I asked Cassius was we began to near the edge of the settlement. “Everyone’s giving me the stink eye.”
“They think you’re cursed,” Cassius said flatly as he pulled the wagon through a small pothole.
“Why the hell would they think I’m cursed?” I turned to him in disbelief. “If fact, I should be the one thinking this place is cursed. Not even a minute in and I had to fight for my life!” Not that I was aware of how long I’d been knocked out, but the general sense of it was true. I had escaped one battle and crashed landed into another. It was a hard pill to swallow that moving around helped me do just that. It still didn’t change what happened though.
“That’s life here,” Cassius said. “Monsters everywhere.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Yes,” Cassius answered.
I was hoping for some sort of explanation, like, what were those monsters? What the fuck had happened back there? My expectations of just anything had been dashed when Cassius just continued on his merry way – hauling his stupid swords. Eventually, we’d arrived at the foot of the mountain some ten-odd minutes later. My feet were slightly sore from the descend, but Cassius looked like it was just another day on the ole’ mountain monster-infested farm.
Now there were a plethora of folks mulling about. Half of them were some variance of plate armor. Breastplates, greaves, helmets, and whatnot. Very few had had a complete set, but all of them carried weapons. Mainly of the polearm variant.
Aside from those folks, there were others that dressed just like Cassius. Their rough clothes drenched in sweat as they tilled away at their jobs. Merchants, guards, waiters, butchers and a few… Sex workers? I had a hard time picking out who did what. Very few of them had a uniform of some sort, and most of them – if they weren’t barechested – wore aprons.
Only the Fourth Divison guards were distinguished from the chaos. They all wore complete suits of plate armor with tall pikes in hands. Each had a “4” etched into their breastplates. The ones with their visors up looked completely uninterested in their job or scanned the throng of people with undisguised contempt.
“Pickpocket!” A man roared with pure rage. “Get back here you slimy little rat!” Just with that call out, my hand shot down to OTAD. Then, I felt stupid because I should have covered my pistol. Then, I felt stupid as neither could just be snatched away from me. They had to be removed, and that wouldn’t happen easily.
I saw the crowd violently from one side of the street ahead to the other. A man, with large wolf ears on his head, bellowed before he threw himself into the crowd. He roared for the “little shit” to come back to him, and everyone around him protested his sudden rage. The guards didn’t bat an eye until the wolf-man had made it to the other side of the street, losing his assailant by moments.
He then began to argue with the knights overlooking the crowd near him. They only huffed at him, and that seemed to push him over the edge.
“You humans can shove your shitty settlement up your asses!” He roared. “I came because your king promised work, and all I get is—” He didn’t get to finish his rant as a mailed hand cut him square in his face. The two guards began to be the wolf-man while laughing.
Cassius ignored it and went on towards the large entrance to the settlement. I was perplexed by the sudden violence they brought down without any justifiable reason.
“You’re not going to help him?” I asked him, looking between him and the fight. A circle had begun to form around them. The knights began to shout at the crowd to disperse, but no one did. It looked like they were all going to fight when more knights appeared and everyone slipped away. Though, not without a lot of curses and yelling. The Wolfman wasn’t arrested but just left on the side of the road with a few parting kicks to the ribs.
“Can’t.” Cassius answered without batting an eye.
“Why not?” I held back my condescending voice. “He was getting–”
“Neutral,” Cassius said. “Helping will revoke protections.”
“What protections?” I simmered myself down to hear this out.
“Smiths are assigned to settlements,” Cassius, for once, explained in detail. “Settlements go two ways, good and bad. Good turn into towns. Bad, like this one, devolves into chaos and destroys itself before it gets replaced. Kingdom was losing too many smiths. Smiths are legally deemed neutral in all conflicts. I stay alive if I stay out of those conflicts. If I step in, I’m no longer protected legally.”
“Even if they were doing that?” I pointed to the wolf-man as he coughed on the ground. He looked pained as he tried to compose himself. “Even if what they’re doing is vile?”
“Even then,” Cassius stopped and looked at me. “Becuase I like being alive.”
“Do whatever you want then, I’m going to help me.” I shot him a scathing glare before I turned and went to help the wolfman. A few other people were already there, though, they all were wolf-folk. I didn’t bother to see if Cassius would follow me or if he went on his way. As I approached the scene, the people helping the man shot me a quick glare before their eyes widened.
“Its the Princess,” One of them said out loud. That caused me to freeze up momentarily before I continued until I could kneel next to the downed man.
“Hey, you okay, man?” I asked as I tilted my head down to look at his face. I wasn’t a trained medical professional, but I’ve dealt with a man who was trained to hurt people for a living. I had a few tricks for bruises and pain. Tricks I hopefully could perform here. He was still taking deep breaths when I appeared.
“Go away…” He wheezed out as he clutched his stomach.
“No,” I said softly. “Let’s get you out of here. Got somewhere to go?”
Considering I wasn’t exactly a strong man, all things given, the ones around him carried him. From what it sounded like, the guards had done a lot more damage than I had thought. He limped up the dirt road and I just followed because I really wanted to make sure he did get some care. Honestly, I didn’t know why I would. The people helping him turned out to be his “Party”.
“Hey, Princess, you don’t need to keep following us.” The wolf-woman shot me glance over her shoulder. She had the man’s arm wrapped around her neck as she helped him walk. The street was slightly steep and he needed help, that much was obvious.
“I know, but I want to make sure he gets some help,” I sighed. “And again, I’m a guy and not royalty.” That’d been the third time she’d brought it up – and called me princess. Honestly, I was beginning to grow numb to the name.
We’d turned off the main road mid-way up the mountain until we reached the far end of the settlement. What came into view, which was completely out of sight from Doc’s house, was a good cliffside operation. The road curved slightly, angling the new two-story building to face outward towards the forest. It wasn’t as “medieval” as the thatched houses but rather, built completely of wood like a log cabin.
The roof was made from long planks while its walls were thick longs. Outside, a throng of people mulled about. All of them armed to the teeth, though, none of them matched. Each partitioned off into their own little groups, sprinkling the long stretch of road. The woman and her party began to shoulder through them and that sent a ripple through the groups.
“What happened?” One person asked.
“What the fuck?” Another said.
“What happened to him?” The more the others noticed, the more heated the situation became. Within a few moments, a clear line opened up directly to the log building’s front door. Which was strange, but I followed close behind as they brought him in the building with haste.
“What happened?” A man appeared in the door, and by how the others gave him a wide berth – he was probably someone in charge.
“The Fourth fuckers beat him up when he yelled at them for not the kid that picked his pocket,” The girl spoke him. “We were just stopping it when they brought in more Fourths.” The man was slim and dressed in a blue robe. A closer look revealed the imprinting of armor beneath it, aside from the visible metal leg armor.
“Bad?” The robed man ask.
“No bleeding this time,” The girl said. “But they got him good.”
“Well, that’s at least a silver lining if I heard of one,” The man sighed before he caught sight of me. “And this one?”
“Princess here was with Cassius, probably doing a delivery run,” The wolf-girl flicked an ear at me. “Saw my dear get ganged on, but stopped after the knights were gone to try and help.” I tried to protest the nickname until I saw everyone’s eyes light up in recognition. I held my tongue and a cold feeling steeped down my spine.
“Take him to the infirmary.” The man said. “And you, my friend, please come with me.” He shot me a friendly smile.
“Welcome to Settlement 13, ‘Princess’,” The robed man gave a playful grin as he sat on worn leather chair. “I am Laurenz Weichselbraun, Head-Officer of the S-13’s Adventurer Guild branch. The lovely lady to my right is my wife, Miriam. She’ll be taking notes of this meeting – that is if you don’t mind.”
Laurenz had escorted me to the 2nd floor of the guild. I sat in a worn leather chair similar to his. He’d pulled it from where it’d been stored with six other chairs, on my right where the windows overlooked the clearing. The room was brightly lit as the day was in full swing. The room wasn’t like I’d expected it to be. It lacked anything of value or just things I knew to be luxurious. No paintings, fur rugs, or even gemstones. I figured being a leader of anything would at least net that.
Instead, the room was practically laid out. With the room being 20-feet by 30-feet, spanning half the building’s upper front section; the room was decorated with mounted monster skulls. And where there were no skulls, bookcases sat. Each shelf brimming with well-used tomes. We sat on the left end of the room where his desk had been placed.
Desk was a liberal usage of the term. It was more accurate to just call it a modified table. Below it, I could now see gaps where nothing was actually attached, and they’d just shoved crates to hold their stuff. Laurenz sat off-center right and his wife was to the left. The table area was the only chaotic part of the room. Crates full of neatly stacked papers were set behind Miriam while Laurenz’s side looked like a paper bomb had gone off.
Papers were literally shoved into nooks and crannies of the shelves behind him. Even a skull – which looked suspiciously like a small dragon – had a thick stack of papers jammed in its mouth. It’s eye holes had been repurposed house a thick scroll with a purple ribbon hanging from its end.
“I’m Kian Willow… Is that a dragon head?” I couldn’t help it. The thing itself was just awesome. It’s sharp hawkish bone features looked fierce and draconic. A single small horn erected from above it’s left temple and a grey stump of where one use to be on its right. It was cool enough to let the princess comment fly over my head.
“Technically, its a Wyvern’s head,” Laurenz’s eyes gleamed. “It’s still part of the Dragon tree but it’s bloodlines consist of the weak ones. This one was from the eastern lands. It was one of the less magical ones, so I managed to get it for a good price. While, yes, it may lack any alchemic or magical value, it’s still a beauty to behold.”
“What’s considered a steal?” I asked. “It’s really badass!”
“Only five silvers!” Laurenz beamed. “Can you believe that? But that was because it wasn’t a complete skull – see? We mages just love complete trophies, but the missing horn gives it a little character; don’t you think?” I nodded along, giving him a friendly smile. I could feel my nerves slowly ebbing away as he rattled off. For another minute or two, I let him tell me all about how Wyverns were creatures of beauty and what-not.
I felt my nerves melt away as he offered to let me see it up close. I accepted his offer and he began to pull out the paperwork that’d been the skull’s wards. Much to his wife’s annoyance, and protest, she took the paperwork and began to file them away. She complained about him being too nit-picky about the paperwork. Laurenz only laughed and kissed her on the forehead, leaving her grumbling but obviously less annoyed now.
He pulled his chair up against the bookcase and told me to stand on it. I did so, and he only asked for me to be careful with the skull. I did so as I ran my hands over it. It felt like a normal bone, but not a single crack was felt. It was smooth if slightly discolored, yet still beautiful in its own draconic way. After a minute, I had my fill and I felt me and Laurenz had established a bond.
At the very least, I didn’t feel he was one of those cigar-smoking villains like in the shows.
“Now that’s been dealt with, can we continue with the purpose we’ve brought you here for?” Miriam spoke up as Laurenz was going into detail about how Wyverns became as small as cows. It was an awfully intriguing subject about how larger dragons had larger penises than the smaller female dragons could handle, and thus, they had to mate down at times which caused the slow decline in the true dragon population. And a rise in Wyverns.
“Ah, yes,” Laurenz cleared his throat. “My apologies. Well, yes, let us take our seats before we get off topic again.” We retook our seats, though, Laurenz did look much more relaxed than before. I also felt less standoffish towards the couple as well as Miriam had completely cleaned up his side of the desk. It looked like a proper if unorthodox, office space.
“So what did you need from me?” I asked.
“That, yes,” Laurenz cleared his throat. “We actually wanted to ask you about the events that took place on the night you came here. We’ve been trying to piece together what happened, but one everything, we don’t understand how you actually go here. Could you tell us?”
Ah, that. The memories skimmed the surface of my thoughts, provoking a slight winch.
“I-If that’s too much, that’s okay,” Laurenz quickly added. “As far as we of the Adventurer’s Guild is concerned, you saved our asses that night. That Raiding party was more than we could’ve handled on our own. You and, may the Hearth Mother keep them, your friends had racked up quite the kill-count. While the Fourth Division would like to think we killed them all, I’m sure there was more watching when we came in.”
“Yeah…” Was the only response I had. The mention of all those dead soldiers began to slip in. A cold gripped my heart.
“Be as that may be, we were going to reward you, but it seems the collected manastones have gone missing,” Laurenz continued. “So we can’t give you your dues, however, we can compensate you with other things. You did us quite the service and we’d happily pay for our lives.”
I shook my head.
“Don’t worry about it, Cyril already paid me for the job,” I said as I tried to keep my pride and held my head up high. Though, I was probably going a piss-poor job at that. Even if they were strangers, none of them hesitated to protect me. I hadn’t been able to return the favor. I wondered if this was how it felt when Jacob had lost his friends in the war. The cold empty helplessness that settled as like mist.
“Cyril?” Laurenz asked his expression stiffened.
“Yeah,” I noticed the slip. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve gotten my dues and I’ve been compensated enough.”
“Is… This Cyril still around?” Miriam asked
Before I could answer – more like evade – the door was pushed open as one of the receptionists was screaming.
“You cannot just barge in here!” It was a human girl with thickly curled auburn hair, plump cheeks, and thin wire glasses.
“Laurenz!” The one who’d kicked in the door, followed by the howling receptionist, was a woman clad in polished plate armor. It was stamped with the 4 as well but unlike the other knights before; she didn’t wear a helmet. And damn, was she beautiful. With golden silky hair that stopped at her feline sharp jawline, she looked no older than 25. Her deep green eyes locked onto me once her foot had been placed down.
“Miss Fiorentina,” Laurenz sighed. “How many times do I have to mention that you can just knock and open the door?” Laurenz and Miriam were already on their feet and at the side of their joint work area.
“I told her the same, Mr. W, but she wouldn’t listen!” The receptionist whined. “She even brought a group of knights with her!” After that, another person stepped into the room, one that wore no helm as well. His head had been shaved along with his face. He looked far older than everyone in the room, but he also commanded attention with his presence.
“I apologize, Laurenz,” The man gave him a small apologetic smile. “Fiorentina thought you kidnaped our guest here.” He gestured towards me, and I frowned.
“No one kidnapped me,” I stated bluntly, my hand on my holstered pistol as I rose.
“Again, I apologize for her rashness,” He said with the same apologetic smile.
“Sir Simon, as you can see, Kian here is alright,” Miriam said in a cold voice. “Now please leave or we will eject both of you forcibly.” The words made Sir Simon tense up visibly while Fiorentina snarled at Miriam.
“Not without the boy,” Fiorentina growled. “All the confiscated weapons are missing and this prisoner is the—” She looked to me and saw my OTAD and my pistol. She looked at me with contempt before she turned to me.
“Your equipment was confiscated, how come you have them back?” She said dangerously and even Sir Simon had given her a reproachful glance.
“Kian is not a prisoner, nor is he under arrest,” Laurenz said. “Your husband and I agreed he was a guest, and we’ll treat him as such. As for the ‘confiscated’ equipment, look to yourselves.” Well, that wouldn’t do much – considering Cyril had been the one to who took it all. I could already tell who the fucking cunt in the room was, and I had half a mind to punch her.
But I wouldn’t. Not out of some misguided sense of chivalry. Fiorentina may have been wearing a near suit of armor, but the clothes she wore were figure-hugging. They were nice, even my by standards, and damn; she had muscles. Not bodybuilding class muscles, but if I were to get into a scuffle with her, I’m sure I’d get my teeth knocked on with my jaw on the first punch.
No, my only advantage – and hopefully she didn’t know about – was my weaponry. All those emotions that’d been simmering in me while talking to Laurenz just dashed with ice water.
“My dear husband failed to consult with me on the matter,” Fiorentina said as she gave Sir Simon a withering glare, then turned to me. “So, if you’d be so kind, please come with me, boy.” She stood at her full height, her nose slightly upturned to me. While it sounded like a request, I’ve met enough people like her back home that it was almost comical.
“No,” I said, returning the gesture of standing to my full height as well, which wasn’t much. However, I was backed with a neat little tool on my thigh. Little fun-bunny was already unhooked from its safety and ready to draw.