Vhindr Varrintine: Chapter Nineteen


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Chapter Nineteen

“Alright, I’ve had enough o’ this,” Korrin said loudly as they sat around the fire in the entrance of the tomb. “What in the Abyss happened down there? Legin? Bel’eak? I chase monkey boy down after ye Bel’eak, but he leaves me in the dust. So I’m jumpin’ about in the big room yellin’ ya names for half the damn night. Then ye’s both come back lookin’ like ye seen a ghost and not a peep from either of ya’s. So how abouts ye start sayin’ somethin’, else I’ll beat it out of both of ya’s.”

“Kōrrin, please,” Legin began and sighed, “It’s just … I’m not sure I really know what happened yet.”

“An’ you Bel’eak?” the dwarf grumbled.

“Not much to say,” the Nevārancien shrugged, staring at the fire. “Celniel found me, proceeded to teach me of magicks.”

“How’d you go?” Legin asked with some excitement.

A slight smile came to Bel’eak’s face and with a wave of his hand the fire quickly turned into ice. So fast it had happened that the shards of blue-white ice stood up from the frozen logs like the flames had done before. A chill suddenly came to the tomb and Legin shivered.

“Impressive,” Legin smiled, his breath turning to steam as it left his mouth.

“Yer hindin’s somthin’,” Kōrrin snapped, “If it was that simple ye would have said earlier. What else happened?”

“Nothing,” Bel’eak dismissed the question causing Kōrrin to frown. 

“An’ what of ye Legin?” Kōrrin blurted irritably.

Legin let out a deep breath and poked the frozen flames with a stick.

“It goes back to Pentra,” Legin said quietly.

“That thing with Magi Stinfry?” Bel’eak raised an eye brow curiously.

“Yes, but earlier also,” Legin did not look up. “The man with the changing eyes met me down in the tombs.”

“The one that was with Celniel the first time we was ‘ere?” Kōrrin asked seriously and Legin nodded.

“He told me that he was the reason I lived when my mother drowned with me in her womb,” Legin’s were distant as he continued. “He said he was using me to teach Stinfry a lesson for defiling the Temple of Azarě.”

“That it?” Kōrrin asked skeptically when Legin did not continue.

“Yep.” Legin replied, his lips going tight.

“I don’t get it,” Bel’eak said, “That man with the changing eyes was powerful why did he need you to kill Stinfry?”

“Said it would not be any fun if he did it himself.” Legin shrugged and rubbed his cold fingers.

“Who is this guy?” Bel’eak wondered aloud, but neither Legin nor Kōrrin had an answer.

“Come on,” Korrin said as he got to his feet, “Dawns neering, let’s get out o’ ‘ere.”

Legin did not voice his agreement, and neither did Bel’eak. But they both gathered their things and readied themselves to leave.

*               *              *

Year 3633, the Sixth Age, the forty-first day of Spring


“We have been doing this for two days,” Valianna groaned loudly as Vhindr sat at the window which looked down at the old secluded building and to the large recess in the stonework. After tailing the elf here Vhindr had been confused as to why Illendr had placed the contract in the recess, but upon inspecting the spot he noticed that the ledge had many carved rune in the stone. It was a cleverly designed pigeon hole, tucked away in an almost abandoned part of the city, the runes were likely designed to magickally notify Dun Hyic that a contract awaited her to pick up, so now it was only a matter of time until she came by when Vhindr would capture her.

“Did you hear me?” Valianna asked loudly.

“Yes,” Vhindr sighed, “You can always go back to the castle.”

“So you can be rid of me?” Valianna was quick to ask back.

Vhindr did not bother replying and continued to watch the wall as he sat in the window seat.

“It was good that the owner of this apartment let us rent it,” his sister remarked absently. “It is in a good location too, right off Furrow Corner. It is not the most popular place, but there are some interesting shops nearby.”

“Why don’t you go buy something?” Vhindr said flatly, not taking his eyes from the pigeon hole.

“I did that yesterday,” Valianna sighed heavily and flopped down on the bed. “I wish Rhalin would hurry up with the food, I am starving.”

“You could have gone with her,” Vhindr remarked and glanced over his shoulder to his sister. “Or would you find that too tedious?”

Valianna looked over to him and narrowed her dark eyes.

“Are you trying to hint at something?” Valianna asked seriously and sat up on the bed.

“Just wondering if you are still enjoying you exciting adventure to Gaianaus?” Vhindr shrugged, “Is it all the whirlwind exhilaration you anticipated it would be?”

“Don’t mock me brother,” Valianna snapped, “I am not some ignorant little girl who doesn’t understand life. In all things there is excitement and tedium, which does not mean I have to enjoy the latter.”

“But you could spare me your grumbling and groaning,” Vhindr replied calmly and looked back out the window.

Just then he heard the sound of the room’s door open and high boots walk into the bedroom.

“Perfect timing Rhalin,” Valianna said with relief, “I am starving and Vhindr is being annoying.”

Vhindr clenched his jaw irritably but held back the words he wanted to say.

“Here, Vhindr,” Rhalin said as she came over to the window and handed him something wrapped in brown linen. “Nothing yet?”

“No,” Vhindr replied and unwrapped his lunch. “What is this?”

“Beef sandwich, from a merchant up the street,” Rhalin replied before she took a bite of her own meal.

“Bread is stale,” Vhindr remarked as he chewed a mouthful.

“So you are irritable,” Rhalin said.

“All thanks to my dear sister,” Vhindr replied bitterly.

“What did I do?” Valianna protested.

“Nothing, forget I said anything,” Vhindr sighed heavily.

“Do not stop now, dear brother,” Valianna said spitefully.

“Look,” Vhindr said and jumped to his feet, “Finally.”

Both Rhalin and Valianna rushed to the window to see a large grey and white bird land on the small ledge before the recess.

“I thought you said that Dun Hyic would come by herself to collect it,” Rhalin said seriously.

“I cannot be right all the time.” Vhindr replied with annoyance.

“That is a snow hawk,” Valianna remarked with wonder as they watched the bird pick up the rolled contract in its talons and fly off. “So beautiful, and rare.”

“Let’s go Rhalin,” Vhindr said as he quickly moved from the window and gathered his things.

“Don’t forget about me,” Valianna huffed, “Or are you not talking to me now?”

“You are staying in the city,” Vhindr was quick to say.

“What?” Valianna exclaimed angrily.

“This is not up for debate Valianna,” Vhindr replied very seriously, “We are going to arrest an extremely dangerous assassin.”

“All the more reason you need all the help you can get,” his sister argued.

“I will not put you in harm’s way this time,” Vhindr said firmly, “Your magicks will be useless to you against this assassin.”

“So will yours,” Valianna countered.

“I will use an anther crystal ring,” Vhindr replied.

“Well give me one too,” demanded Valianna but Vhindr was shaking his head.

“You are not coming and that is final,” Vhindr commanded, “I will contact our father if need be and he will warp you back to Port Na’brath. Stay here, or go back to the castle.”   

Vhindr could see that his sister wanted to argue the point but the threat about contacting their father had ended her objections.

“I shall see you soon,” Vhindr said and headed for the door, “Let us go Rhalin.”

Out of the building and onto Furrow Corner Vhindr pushed his way hurriedly through the crowd with Rhalin close behind him.

“The snow hawk looks to be heading towards the gates,” Vhindr called over his shoulder and looked down at the small compass in his hand. “See the needle points north-east.”

“I hope it will not be far,” Rhalin remarked as she walked beside him. “Vhindr, what did you mean your father would warp Valianna back to The Port.”

“Warping,” Vhindr replied distractedly, “A more complex and stable type of teleportation. It can be cast upon others from a far. It warps the target to a pre-prepared location marked with specific runes.”

“I see,” Rhalin nodded, “To be honest, if I had not seen Valianna’s reaction I would have thought yours an empty threat. How can you contact your father?”

“A farraxen,” Vhindr replied as they pushed through the crowd, “I shall tell you later, if you like.”

“More rune magicks I presume,” Rhalin said offhandedly, “You and your family are very skilled with Fog magicks, aren’t you?”

Vhindr glanced curiously at his companion, “I suppose, why do you ask?”

“Because we are going to need those skills,” Rhalin replied seriously. “Are you sure your anther crystal ring will work against the assassin’s void magicks?”

“We will find out soon enough, I guess,” Vhindr said with an excited grin. “Look, I think the hawk has gone beyond the city to the north. Come on, hurry,”

Vhindr picked up his pace and with Rhalin right behind him they ran through the streets of Issia to the main gates.

“How far away will the bird get before your magickal compass stops working?” Rhalin asked as they quickly saddled their horses.

“A few hundred miles,” Vhindr replied as he jumped onto his horse, “Don’t worry.”

With a thunder of hooves they were out of the gates and racing directly northwards across the muddy ground of the tundra. The day was clear and Vhindr squinted as he looked to the skies in search of the flying snow hawk. But he knew that there was little chance in spotting the bird.

Riding along Vhindr’s eyes continuously fell upon the broken and desolate ship of the Nevāranciens that stood ahead of them.

“That has to be it,” Vhindr called to Rhalin, “The ship.”

Vhindr looked to his compass in his hands and nodded to himself, for the delicate needle was pointing directly ahead of them and too the craft.

“Are you sure?” Rhalin asked seriously as they pulled up before the ominous ship.

Before them a wide ramp led down from gaping doors and large hanger within. Strange cables hung loosely from the cracked ceiling of the hanger and half of the gangplank had broken away.

“I am sure,” Vhindr smiled confidently, “The compass is warm in my hands, which means the magickal beacon is close by.”
 “Could it have fallen out of the rolled parchment?”

“I embedded it in the wax seal remember,” Vhindr said, “We are at the right place.”

“But this craft is quite large,” Rhalin observed as she dismounted, “My bet it that she is at the top. You saw it as we rode in, half the top has crumbled away. Plenty of corners to hide in.”

“I agree,” Vhindr said as he too dismounted and led his horse up the ramp. “How do we get up there?”

“Surely there must be some stairs or something around here,” Rhalin said as she tethered her horse to one of the hanging cables. “There is a door over there, let’s look.”

Vhindr followed Rhalin’s lead and together they cautiously moved from the hanger and into the strange metal hallways.

“This place is a mess,” Rhalin remarked as the glanced inside one of the many rooms they passed.

More cables dangled from the ceiling and many of the rooms had caved in from the destruction the Wave of Fog had caused it all those few years ago. Strange thin glass squares lay on the floor some broken and smashed and it seemed as if other large units had been ripped from the walls.

“Look, over there,” Vhindr pointed through one of the rooms and out another door. “It is some kind of shaft.”

Curiously they both weaved their way through the debris and squeezed through the ajar doorway to a large round hole in the wall where a wide shaft went straight up through the ship.

“Seems to be a ladder cut into the wall.” Vhindr remarked and stepped into the void, “Shall we?”

Rhalin was close behind as he began to climb hand over hand up the chute. It grew darker as he continued to climb upwards, so much so that he could hardly see the next wrung. What seemed like hours passed by as he arms and legs began to ache and sweat beaded on his brow.

A white pin-prick above him grew bigger with each step and a cold breeze fluttered down to caress his sweaty forehead.

“I think I can see the exit.” Vhindr called over shoulder to Rhalin who was several wrung below him breathing heavily. “Not far now.”

It still seemed to take hours as the light continued to grow and Vhindr continued to climb. Finally he reached the top and with great effort he pulled himself over the broken lip and into the crumbled top of the ship.

Rhalin was close behind and lending her a hand they were soon looking about the wreck cautiously.

“It goes up several more levels,” Rhalin pointed to the jagged and open floors above them.

Vhindr nodded absently and moved hesitantly across the room and under the overhanging floor.

“This area is different the square corridors below,” Vhindr remarked as walked passed some strange looking stations. “There are catwalks above us beside some large container.”

“Container?” Rhalin echoed.

“What would you call it?” Vhindr asked and pointed to the immense cylinder that stood up through the walkways.

“There is also a strange smell here,” Rhalin added and rubbed her nose with a finger. “But no assassin.”

“Haylien?” Vhindr called out loudly, his voice reverberating up through the construct. “Dun Hyic. We have come for you.”

Vhindr’s calls were answered with silence and the moan of the wind as it rushed through the broken ship.

“If she is not here, where would she be?” Rhalin wondered aloud and Vhindr’s brow creased with concern.

*               *            *

“This is pointless you know,” Captain Idunn remarked to Liuden as they rode their horses along the road to Iceguard.

“What do you mean?” Liuden asked back, “We will be able to follow the tracks from the spot where we were first ambushed.”

“I mean, that there is only five of us, and likely over a dozen of the bandits,” Idunn clarified seriously.

Liuden glanced over his shoulder to the three rugged guardsmen that had accompanied them.

“They are the best of the city watch,” Liuden replied, “Roht said so himself.”

“Still five against a dozen,” Idunn was quick to say.

“We will just have to take a more stealthy approach,” Liuden said confidently, “Trust me, finding their camp will be easy. Once located we stake out the perimeter and strike at the opportune moment.”

“And then we can be buried in unmarked graves or eaten by necrophages,” replied Idunn flatly.

“Rider comin’ up from behind.” Called one of the guards and Liuden twisted around in his saddle to squint into the distance.

“Easy men,” Liuden said as he noticed the guardsmen had wrapped their fingers around their weapons. “Could be a messenger from the city.”

“Regional Commander.” The rider called as she drew closer, her silver grey hair flying in the wind.

“It’s the Baron’s pet Nevārancien,” another of the guards observed and spat to the side.

The female warrior slowed her horse as she drew near. Typical of a warrior from Nevārance she wore grey pants and buckled up vest. But what was unusual, around her shoulders sat a white shawl with the symbol of Iceguard upon it alongside the wolf of Gaianaus. Above her shoulder protruded the end of a six foot spear she had strapped to her back and her blue-grey eyes sparkled as she pulled up alongside Liuden.

“Greetings,” Liuden said politely, “I don’t believe we have met before.”

“We haven’t,” the warrior replied with a smile, “I am Bea’trix, warrior of Nevārance and military adviser to the Baron of Issia. The Baron sent me to aid you in recovering the monies stolen.”

“Like one more is gonna do any good,” scoffed one of the guards.

“You daft?” blurted another, “She’s a Nevārancien, worth half a dozen of us.”

The other guard shook his head and spat to the side again.

“No doubt she could kill a band of grinlocks by herself with that weapon o’ hers, whatever it is,” the other guard continued. “What kind ‘o weapon is that anyways? Looks like a sword at the end of a pole.”

“A Nevārancien halberd,” Bea’trix replied, “Works basically the same as any other polearm. Shall we continue on?”

“Gladly,” Liuden agreed, “Do you know Captain Idunn?”

“We have met before,” Idunn spoke up and gave a curt nod to the Nevārancien.

“And who are these stooges?” Bea’trix asked as she indicated the guards.

“The bald one is Curley,” one of the guards replied, “Me name is Moeldorr an’ this is Larren son o’ Kemp.”

Bea’trix smiled to each of the guards before turning back to Liuden, “Excited to hunt some bandits?”

Liuden regarded the Nevārancien curiously, their love of battle had always been known but this warrior’s beautiful face was glowing with excitement as her long hair danced on the wind.

“Always,” Liuden smiled back, “See Idunn, our odds are improving.”

“Still barely a handful against over a dozen,” Idunn replied pessimistically.

“Sounds like fun, come on,” Bea’trix laughed and kicked her horse onward, making Liuden and the others rush to keep up with her.

Riding along they passed by the spot Liuden and Idunn had fought the small group of mercenaries, the ones Liuden had killed lying at the side of the road, bloated and half eaten. It was still another few hours of solid riding until Liuden called for Bea’trix to slow down.

“It was near here that they ambushed us,” Liuden explained, “Does it seem familiar to you too Idunn?”

“Yes,” the Captain nodded, “Look over there.”

Pulling her horse to a halt Idunn jumped from the saddle and walked over to the side of the road to the few bodies that lay in the grass.

“The smell,” Idunn coughed and covered her mouth, “Half eaten as well.”

“There have been quite a few travelers go through in the meantime, but I can see the heavy carriage tracks over here,” Bea’trix called to them.

“Baron’s pet is a tracker as well,” Curley chuckled to his guard friends.

“Call me the Baron’s pet one more time and our party will be one less,” Bea’trix flared angrily as she glared at the bearded man.

“Gonna leave are ya?” Curley baited.

“No, but your head will leave your shoulders,” Bea’trix replied, her eyes as hard as stone.

The guardsman did not push the Nevārancien warrior any further and shifted in his saddle uncomfortably.

“Can you follow the tracks, Bea’trix?” Liuden asked, breaking the woman’s glare.

“Yes,” the warrior nodded and jumped back into her saddle, “Follow me.”

At a much slower pace Bea’trix took the lead, her pale grey-blue eyes constantly scanning the ground. Liuden and Idunn also kept their eyes to the road, easily enough spotting the heavy wheel tracks made by the carts laden with gold.

“Here, look they head into the foothills,” Bea’trix called from in front and dropped from her mount, “Leave the horses, we’ll go on foot.”

“You don’t even know how far we ‘ave to go,” Moeldorr grumbled loudly, “Horses could get stolen if we leave ‘em.”

“Hide them among the rocks,” Liuden commanded as he dismounted and led his mare from the road and into a cluster of large boulders.

The others followed his lead and in short order Bea’trix was at the front tracking the deep ruts in the grass up into the rolling foothills.

High above them the snowy white heads of the Gaia Mountains loomed as the chilled wind howled through the large rocks that littered the terrain. The going was easy enough and it seemed as if they were moving along an old road as it wound on a gentle incline and dug into the side of the hills.

It seemed very quiet to Liuden and he constantly glanced about the tall boulders expecting and ambush.

“It’s too quiet,” Idunn remarked quietly as she walked alongside him. “Not a bird to be heard.”

Liuden nodded grimly, there were not any wildlife around either even though he knew these hills to be filled with animals. Even as more trees, mostly pines, began to sprout up in between the rocks the quietude continued to linger.

“Look over head,” exclaimed Larren, “Carrion.”

Liuden noticed the circling bird as well and looked to Bea’trix who had stopped at the lip of the hill they were climbing.

“Well this is disappointing,” the Nevārancien called over her shoulder and Liuden and the others rushed to see.

In a large dell down a slight hill sat the bandit camp, or rather what was left of it. Tents lay in tatters, crates of food stuffs broken open and their contents spilled, and all around lay the dead bodies of the camps inhabitants.

Liuden glanced nervously to the clump of tall pines at the other side of the dell as Bea’trix led the way into the camp.

“Bodies are still warm,” remarked Bea’trix as she stood up from inspecting one of the corpses who had his guts strewn about the grass.

“Fan out, search the place,” Liuden commanded, “See if the gold is still here.”

“I doubt that,” Idunn remarked seriously.

Liuden understood her skepticism, but they had to look, after all it was the only reason they were here to start with.

Carefully Liuden moved through the sea of dismembered and eviscerated bodies, making sure not to stain his leather boots on the blood soaked ground. The largest tent at the end of the dell caught his attention and he moved towards it. Idunn and Bea’trix seemed to have had the same thought as he and they met at the entrance to the open pavilion.

“Hazeldin.” Idunn remarked darkly as they looked down at the body splayed upon the ground.

“The man who stole the coins?” Bea’trix inquired and Idunn nodded, “Looks like he got his own back. That is karma for you.”

The Nevārancien chuckled to herself and began looking about the ransacked tent.

“What is karma?” Liuden had to ask as he scratched his head. 

“A Nevārancien thing,” Bea’trix replied, “A concept about getting your comeuppance if you do something bad. Eye for an eye and all that. Do you follow?”

“I think so,” Liuden stroked the beginnings of a beard on his chin. “Find anything interesting? Idunn?”

“No,” Idunn replied. “The gold is gone, and Hazeldin has paid the price for his betrayal.”

“Karma,” Bea’trix said with a smile, causing the other two to regard her curiously again.

A scream from outside caught their attention as the sound of fighting suddenly erupted.

“Gorga’s.” One of the guards screamed as Liuden raced out of the tent, sword drawn.

Half a dozen large bony creatures were loping down towards the trio of guards from the pine trees. The gorgas had long arms that they used for movement as well as fighting. Powerful claws protruded from the meaty, three fingered hands, and their stubby back legs propelled them forwards at surprising speeds.

Bea’trix was quick to rush into battle, her polearm quickly in hand as she raced to help the guards who had managed to kill one of the necrophages. But Liuden was hesitant to engaged the fiends. He had read about gorgas during his time at the Gaia Mountains Penitentiary. The gorgas were a cousin to ghouls and drowners, but far more rare, and far more dangerous. The powerful arms could rip a man apart, the faces almost resembled skulls of men but with larger mouths filled with flat block-like teeth designed for crunching bone.

Liuden was afraid, and rightly so, but as Idunn drew her sword and charged passed him he found his courage.

Firming his jaw Liuden raced into the battle.

Before he even reached the fight Bea’trix had taken down two of the eight foot gorgas and was quickly disposing of a third. The warrior had saved the guards but three more were approaching fast.

Liuden knew he had no chance against one of the creatures by himself so he sprinted to catch up with Idunn, thinking they would take the gorgas on together. But one of the gorgas launched itself from the hill, its powerful legs sending over the top of the others and to land right in front of Liuden, its deadly claws swiping for his head.

Somehow Liuden managed to duck under the attack and send his sword slicing across the gorgas hip. The creature let out a high pitched scream and turned about suddenly, its backhanded sweep slamming Liuden in the side.

Liuden tumbled to the ground heavily and tried rolling to his feet. But his foot slipped on the arm of a dead bandit, causing him to fall to his knee and rolling his still sore ankle.

Crying out in pain Liuden fell backwards just as the head of the gorga snapped forwards, its large teeth snapping for his face. Somehow Liuden managed to get his sword up before him and across the beast’s chest to stop it from biting his nose off. But the weight of the gorga shoved his backwards to the ground and into the spilled intestines of a dead bandit. Stubbornly Liuden tried to hold the creature at bay, but he knew it was too strong.

Gritting his teeth Liuden glared that the bony visage of the gorga as its large jaw continued to snap at him. With a roar Liuden twisted his sword and pulled it out wide. The gorga’s black blood gushed onto Liuden’s face as his blade’s sharp edge ripped open the skin of the fiend’s neck.

A revolting smell assault his senses, nearly making him gag and causing the gorga’s blood to dribble into his mouth. Liuden did vomit then and he lurched to the side as his previous meal came back up.

Luckily for him the gorga had staggered back from him clutching its throat as its blood continued to pour forth. The monster eventually fell to its knees and forwards onto its face as it died.

Liuden staggered to his feet, spitting out the taste of vomit and limping heavily. Looking to his companions he sighed in relief for the rest of the gorgas were dead, although, one of the guards was down and his friends knelt beside him.

“You can’t save him,” Bea’trix was saying as Liuden limped over, “Best give him a quick death.”

“The hell you know of it?” growled Moeldorr angrily as he whirled upon the Nevārancien who stood calmly.

“That wound is fatal,” Bea’trix stated, “Do you want me to end him quickly?”

“Don’t you dare touch ‘im,” the guard yelled back and drew his sword.

But the man was too slow and before he realised the tip of Bea’trix’s polearm was inches from his neck.

“She’s right Moeldorr,” Larren said sadly as he looked down at his friend, “We ain’t got a healer. Curley’s got no chance.”

“Come on Curley ye can pull through it.” Moeldorr said desperately as he dropped to his knees beside his friend.

Curley chuckled weakly, “I’m done. Off to drink and hunt with me ancestors. I’ll see ye there one day me friend.”

“I’ll be there Curley,” Moeldorr replied, his voice breaking only slightly. “Don’t ye worry ‘bout your wife and kids. I’ll look after them.”

“Knew I could count on ya,” Curley smiled weakly before he coughed up some blood and his eyes clouded and went vague.

“You alright Captain?” Liuden asked softly to Idunn and she nodded.

“The smell of blood lured the gorgas, I’d say,” Bea’trix declared loudly as she moved away. “Can’t say what killed these bandits beforehand though. I wonder if there is any unspoiled food about, I’m starving.”

“Show some respect ya whore.” Moeldorr burst out angrily, jumping to his feet and whirling about to glare at the Nevārancien.

“Your friend fought well, but now he is dead,” Bea’trix stated as if it were obvious. “There is nothing else to say on the matter. He is not coming back, so I suggest we pile all the bodies and burn them or leave them for the corpse eaters. Truthfully I don’t care which.”

“Why you-” Moeldorr began and tried to charge at Bea’trix, but Larren grabbed his friend and stopped him from doing something foolish.

“Easy Moeldorr,” Larren said firmly, “We need to take Curley back to his wife. Come now, help me wrap ‘im some cloth so we can carry him back to the horses.”

Liuden left the mourning guards and limped over to Bea’trix who was looking through one of the undamaged crates.

“So what are your thoughts?” Liuden asked and the Nevārancien regarded him curiously.

“You should wipe your face, it’s covered in blood,” Bea’trix stated, her eyes shining. “As for this camp, there is nothing to be done. The gold is gone, someone or something killed this lot and left no trail to follow, it is as if the chests of gold simply vanished. I say we head back to Issia.”

“I agree,” Idunn said and looked to Liuden, “And you definitely need to clean yourself.”

Liuden grumbled and ripped off a tattered piece of cloth from the closest tent.

“Alright, let’s head back. With no trail we have nothing, time to look for other leads,” he decided and picked up one of the tent poles to support his sprained ankle. “Who do you think killed these bandits and took the gold?”

“Can’t say,” Idunn shrugged as she glanced about the corpse filled camp.

“You might not believe this,” Bea’trix said as they began their departure, “But it seems to me that one person killed them.”

“What?” Idunn exclaimed.

“This is not time for jests,” Liuden said seriously.

“I am serious,” Bea’trix said flatly, “The positions of the bodies seem to indicate one assailant, and all the wounds are from the same or very similar weapon. From what I see, although I am always up for a good challenge, I have to admit I am slightly relieved we did not come across the person who did this.”

The Nevāranciens words hung heavily on Liuden’s mind as they slowly moved back down the foothills. There was something going on here that was far more complex and dangerous than a simple betrayal from Hazeldin, but as to what it was he could not say.

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