Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Winding Road: New Boots

By Frank Gori
Zool heard the crackle and crash of lightning, which conveniently masked the sound of him kicking in the backdoor. The door crashed hard into whoever was on the other side, which was fine by Zool.
He rushed in buckler forward, with his sword held in a menacing guard across his body, pistol crossbow ready in the other hand. Magic was the wrong play against mages, hitting hard and fast was better.
Sides weren’t hard to figure, the School’s hideout was a repurposed warehouse with a second floor addition. This meant the first floor was mostly just one huge room with columns. A Half-Elf male with a bow, an Ogre female with a shield spell and a two handed axe, a Gren girl with a wand ready standing in front of an assortment of children, and a couple elderly on one side. About half a dozen crazy eyed sorcerers, all young males, still standing on the other. Another eight or so bodies littered the ground.
Three things become clear in the seconds it took Zool to cross the ground between him and his first target. First, the old folks and kids were all counter-spelling the magic-crazed sorcerers, which is why the addicts were losing. Second, bees were enveloping a couple of his targets toward the front, and finally his enemies had no idea he was behind them.
It was over in two sword strokes and a quick crossbow bolt. Bard-songs make battles sound fancy and romantic, but in Zool’s experience battle was always like this, short, brutal and bloody. The men were barely winning against the ragtag assortment of folk to begin with; flanking surprise attacks in rapid succession were all it took to turn the tide. The fellow with the bow knew how and when to shoot, so this wasn’t his first dust up. Ogre girl had some power, just lacked some sense, and singed Zool a bit with a poorly placed fireball.
Fight being over meant the hard part. The part that Zool elected to skip when he could. Lazeron could do the talking, Laz could sort out the aftermath and count the dead. Zool muttered a few words and gestured. As he suspected, a number of the dead had items that glowed a soft blue. With a smile, Zool went to work stripping them of anything of worth.
The archer kid racked up a few kills despite the baby-face. Always was hard to tell age with elf bloods. That kid could have five decades on Zool. Deadly with a bow, but he was watching Laz talk like sons watch their fathers when the father was still a god to them. Zool made sure to retrieve his arrows as he worked.
Laz was in full speech mode, explaining that the folk that wanted to follow him could but they’d be leaving everything. In Zool’s estimation there really wasn’t a choice, from what he could see about half the gang was either dead or already left to join rival schools. This neighborhood was about to get split up by neighboring schools and there’d be blood over who got what. Laz’s strays didn’t fit neat into that, they’d come with or become fresh meat in a turf war.
Zool didn’t like to go to his kills right away. He liked to build anticipation while gauging exactly who had what that he didn’t kill. Made it more exciting when he had clues but no real evidence of what he’d find. As it stood the dead here clearly raided an arsenal of gear or Laz was an overly generous leader. Fourteen dead, counting Zool’s three and a half. He was about half through, the anticipation was really building.
Sun would be up in an hour or so and Zool really wanted to be out of the mage controlled district by then. Only a fool wouldn’t take Laz’s offer, so the question and answer session was just wasting time. But now Zool was done with the others he could make claims on his three.
The two wands were obvious enough, but the wandless mage had a silver ring with a stylized rams head that soon graced Zool’s crossbow finger. Another had a pair of emerald earrings that didn’t glow blue but would fetch a nice price. A nice silken cape and shirt on one of the wand fellows along with a belt buckle and an exquisite set of boots. Zool was pleased in particular with the boots. They glowed strong and a good sunder always had to mind their feet.
A quick riffle through the purses got Zool about 2 months pay and a tiny ebony fly. Even trying on his new gear, Zool was done in just a few minutes and people were still arguing. Fuck it, there was no time for this.
Zool closed the distance with a blur his sword clearing the scabbard silent and swift as a breath. He drew a single drop of blood from the cantankerous one’s throat as everyone gasped in shock at his speed and audacity.
“Each word you speak wastes time we don’t have. If you don’t want to come then perhaps I should do you the mercy of a swift death,” Zool spoke the words calmly and softly, his gaze was hard and met all that dared. “Lazeron is kind, he cares for your well being. I, on the other hand, can care less. I’ve been paid to get him in and out safely with or without you, so choose now. We have about forty minutes before the dawn and I do not want to be anywhere near here when that happens.”
Zool withdrew his blade and turned his back on them. “I piled the useful items from the dead over to the left, I recommend you take a moment to arm yourselves better, and then fall the fuck in,” he said as he walked out the back.

Everyone was ready about five minutes later. Zool hated the talking part.