by Frank Gori
Dab tried to stay alert this time.
It had been a rough week of ambushes and assassination attempts just trying to acquire the necessary supplies for their journey. Bellany and Zool called the assassins The Tradesmen. They were great at blending in, striking, and fleeing, causing the caravan damage in their wake.
Dab was learning that the great guilds of Hub were more interconnected then one might otherwise perceive. While the Merchant's Guild itself was supplying the majority of the personnel and physical goods for the journey, Malleck still needed various jobs performed by the Workman's Guild, tools from the Blacksmith Guild, and the Mage's Guild was for the most part necessary for magical supplies to ease the road.
One moment a group of roofers were working on a building across the street, then the next they were shooting at you with poisoned crossbow bolts. Malleck tried sending intermediaries unaffiliated with the caravan, but The Tradesmen always struck anyway. Malleck tried disguising people, again the Tradesmen struck. They targeted anyone going on or helping with the expedition and Dab had yet to spot one before they struck.
Clearly the Merchant's Guild had spies within, but that was hardly Dab’s department. He was guarding this transaction which was the only thing that somewhat worked. Malleck was resolved that if the Tradesmen would not cease the attempts to harm the caravan then they’d pay a blood price for every attempt. Even expecting trouble the bastards were hard to spot.
By the time it was sorted out who needed killing, most Tradesmen ran. They used smoke sticks, flash powder, and caltrops but still Dab usually got a hold of one. The Tradesmen always worked in a group multiples of four, or quads (which apparently was the term even when there was sixteen of them.) Losses didn’t seem to daunt them, despite having traded an equal number of lives from their ranks to the losses they inflicted the kept coming. It was a bloody week roughly two dozen people didn’t see the end of and Dab was getting weary of it.
Mal, Zool, Bellany, and Snook were the only reliable spotters they had. Everyone was on alert, but being alert didn’t seem to be enough.
Despite his resolve, Dab found himself reflecting on Laz. Laz seemed preoccupied and edgy lately. Perhaps understandable given the circumstances, but there was something akin to the skinny boy that helped him stand up to the street toughs despite clearly being terrified. Laz was the kind of guy that threw his best punches when he was scared to and if Laz was scared there was good reason to be…
An arrow interrupted Dab’s thoughts, “Dammit,” he said aloud in exasperation. The carpenter with the arrow perforating his throat was the obvious target, which Dab found himself charging. This time he took a moment to focus and noticed a customer in the grocer stand not very far behind the carpenter reaching into a canvas bag. The customer was too calm in the face of violence, Dab squared his shoulders and lowered himself further in the run.
In the last second he pulled wide of the carpenter and pushed with all his bulk and muscle. The shopper had raised a crossbow out of the bag and lined it to someone in the caravan.
“Not this time,” the carpenter flew into the field of fire just as the bolt flew clear of the crossbar. If the carpenter survived Bellany’s shot, he’d likely not survive this one. Dab made eye contact with the crossbow woman just as a stream of Marta’s energy bolts twisted around the obstacles of the grocer stand and slammed into the would be assassin.
Dab followed that up with a throwing axe, before turning around to see who was next. A gardener had an arrow through his eye and some attention was further ahead of the wagon at some fleeing foe making it four.
Dab’s eyes swept back to the caravan, one of Zool’s Blacksmith’s had a bolt in his buckler. That made this attack three of them for none of theirs, perhaps the next Quad would think twice.
The scuff of boot on cobblestone to his left was Dab’s only warning. On instinct he punched out to his right before dropping into a roll to his left. His fist connected and he managed to trip his other attacker into a tangle with the first. They set up in his flanks invisible, likely from a potion or some dust.
Dab managed to get back to his feet before his attackers which afforded him a few seconds to scan the area and get a lay for the battlefield. Aside from the two, the shopkeeper held a wand over the not quite dead crossbowman and she had already apparently used it on the carpenter who was downing a potion and had already retrieved his weapon. The five on one would for a short time wouldn’t be so bad, but a glance over at the supply wagons now shrouded in mist, indicated a caster focused on cutting off reinforcements.
They used magical resources to isolate him and get the advantage of first strike. They counted on that being enough, they counted on taking him down, but they didn’t count on a loose cobblestone ruining their stealth. That was their mistake.
Dab touched his new ring and said the command word that would make his skin stone hard and enhance his already impressive ability to take a beating. In all likelihood they assumed they had the advantage with numbers, the reality was they were outnumbered and attrition favored Dab. Laz would be annoyed he used the charge up already but being captured or killed was probably worse. It also made his priority to take down the casters as the other four would have a hard time damaging him.
Dab ran at the shopkeeper first. Barreling past his assailants allowed them to take swings on him and were he not protected he’d have paid a blood price. As it was the minotaur barely felt the blows. A crossbow bolt bounced off his chest before he closed on the wand wielding shopkeeper who now had a blue disk of energy in front of him.
Dab let go. Let go of the dozens of half remembered beatings in the course of a battered life, let go of the frustrations of a lost career, let go of the anger of being separated from his only childhood friend, let go of being tortured. He let all of that go in a raging flurry.
When the fog cleared a few moments later they found Dab covered in blood on his knees. Five foes lied broken and dead.