Crabs_of_steam

A Mercenary's Life (AIE)

Sep 2nd, 2018
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  1. >You are Anonymous.
  2. >Instead of following the craft of your father, you sought out the life of a sellsword.
  3. >Since that day you left your village, you haven’t regretted it.
  4.  
  5. >You are marching throughout the plains alongside your companions, made up of stallions and Humans.
  6. >You’re all on the hunt for a Pegasus who goes under the name of Blood Mite Birch.
  7. >For the past week, his band of brigands has been raiding the countryside, and your captain has agreed to a contract to drive him out.
  8. >You’ve all been hot on his tail but finding him was another matter.
  9. >Everyone’s sore from the constant marching and are looking forward to collecting Birch’s head for an extra ration of ale.
  10. >Someone among you speaks up. “Ya ever ‘eard bout da chicken dat crossed da road?”
  11. >Interested in a bit of levity, some of you turn to ask about the chicken.
  12. >”Well, she made et to da other….” His anwser cut short with an arrow to the throat.
  13. >”Aw fark! Ambush!”
  14. >Birch’s band found you first.
  15. >Before some of the men could react, a hail of arrows and bolts comes raining down.
  16. >Some are lucky enough to get away with moderate injuries while some die on the spot.
  17. >The bandits come charging from the slopes.
  18. >You draw your sword and prepare to charge with your companions when you feel a bolt hit your side.
  19. >You reel forward from the pain and tremble to your knees as you have no choice but to watch them charge the enemy.
  20. >the sound of clashing steel fill the air alongside the screams and curses of both sides.
  21. >You force yourself up, willing through the pain as you support yourself on your sword.
  22. >Two brigands, a stallion and a human, makes it out the quarrel and sees you.
  23. >Noticing your condition, they come barreling towards you.
  24. >You find your feet and bring out your sword in front of you.
  25. >To the death!
  26. >Just as you can see the stallion’s gap toothed grin, a sword slices through half of his face.
  27. >With his cranium attached only to the rest of his head by surviving skin of his mouth, the bandit crumples to the floor.
  28. >You eye your saviour and recognize the injured pegasus as your captain.
  29. >He has a few arrows jutting from out from his body, and wheezes through the sword clenched between his teeth.
  30. >He jumps at the human brigand only to receive a slash from the brigand’s axe.
  31. >The captain reaches his limits and collapses.
  32. >”Die! Ya Basterd!” The brigand screamed as he brought his axe down to the captain's head.
  33. >There was a sickening crunch as the blow when the axe met its target.
  34. >You scream and stumble towards the brigand and lance his arm with your sword.
  35. >Before he could retaliate, you hear bolt whistling through the air and strike the Human’s shoulder.
  36. >You then hear roar erupting from behind you getting closer to you.
  37. >Oh shite.
  38. >You jump to the side and see a crimson figure galloping past you.
  39. >Before the bandit could defend himself, A large axe cleaved into the brigands body.
  40. >”Bovine” Another voice shouts, ”Ya got him?”
  41. >The Stallion hulled his axe from the brigand, "Yeh! 'E's ok!"
  42. >He turns to you and offers you a hoof to bring you to your feet.
  43. >You see another human sprinting towards you, but you remember him by the name of Edward.
  44. >his gambeson and spear is under a fresh coat of blood but he looks to be miraculously unscathed.
  45. >Lucky bastard.
  46. >"Ya seen the captain, Anon?" he gasped.
  47. >You point to the captain's body and the two enter into a daze.
  48. You break the silence "No time to dwell on it. we still gotta get Birch."
  49. >You scan the battlefield for the bandit leader and see the auburn Pegasus standing on a slope overlooking the battlefield.
  50. "There he is!" You pointed.
  51. >Alongside him is a creamy white Unicorn armed with a crossbow.
  52. >"Fer tha cahptain!" roars Bovine.
  53. >Before the three of you could start, the flees the scene alongside his companion.
  54. >" Ah..come bahk yeh farkin piece of shite!" he growls.
  55. "We'll get the bastard later!" you barked, "We gotta take care of things here first!"
  56. >You get a nod from Edward and grunt from Bovine.
  57. "Come on then!"
  58. >It's finally quiet.
  59. >You feel as if you've been fighting for half the day when it could really be just less than half an hour.
  60. >You sink down on patch of grass not smothered in blood.
  61. >You clench your teeth and snap off the shaft of the crossbow bolt.
  62. >Everything feels a lot more colder and want nothing more than to slumber for a week.
  63. >"What do we now captain?" you hear voice call out behind you.
  64. >It's Edward who sit's beside you.
  65. "Captain?"
  66. >"Don't get me wrong, Chancey was a good stallion and a better leader, but he's dead now. All it took was one mistake. You've been here longer than most anyone in the company. It just makes sense that you should be the captain."
  67. >"Oii!" Bovine called, "Look Oo Aah found."
  68. >walking beside him is a blue Unicorn with a crossbow being held within the white glow of his magic.
  69. >You know he goes by the name of Lath.
  70. "Are we really all that's left?"
  71. >there's a moment of silence as the grim reality sets on all of you.
  72. >Edward sighs, "Let's just give them a proper burial. And we gotta return to Bloomvale to collect our pay. We did slay Birch's band after all. One more thing," he points at your wound. "gotta have you fixed up. Wouldn't want to lose you too and leave us with Bovine in charge."
  73. >You slowly work together to move the bodies of your companions.
  74. >After a few hours you all finish.
  75. >You all say your final goodbyes and limp your way to Bloomvale.
  76. >By nightfall, march your way to the village.
  77. >It’s a lot more quicker with less men.
  78. >A lot more quieter too.
  79. >The march into the settlement is just as quiet.
  80. >What a sorry display you are.
  81. >Four beaten mercenaries dragging their weapons behind them barely resisting the evening breeze.
  82. >The village elder, an aged stallion, expected for you to make a triumphant return.
  83. >He invites you and the company into his home and has a healer sew your wound.
  84. >You grit your teeth as he stitches your skin with his shaky hands.
  85. >With as few words as possible you relay the day’s event to the elder.
  86. >”So you dealt with Birch’s raiders?” He waves over a servant to refill your goblet with wine.
  87. “Everyone except for Birch himself,” you exhale, “Had we he not made off, we’d deliver you his head and be done with this.”
  88. >The elder claps his hooves, “Still, Bloomvale will sleep well tonight.”
  89. >On cue, a servant delivers a small chest.
  90. >The elder clicks open the chest to reveal a pile of golden coins.
  91. >”400 bits, just as agreed with your late captain. Of course, I’ll sleep better if the Blood Mite is squished. Another 400 bits and a chance to settle a score. How about it?”
  92. >Before you can make the decision, the healer comes with a fire poker.
  93. >You can already feel the heat as its tip glows orange.
  94. >you gulp down the contents of your goblet and wave the servant forward.
  95. >For a brief moment nothing else seems to exist.
  96. >You feel like nothing more than but flicker of flame, consumed by a roaring inferno that burns hotter than you.
  97. >An enlightening teacher of pain.
  98. >When he’s finally done, the elder hands you another serving of wine.
  99. “The bit’s are good enough,” You huffed, “revenge is just a bonus. I’ll ask my men about it. I’ll doubt they’ll say no.”
  100. >You make your way to the dining room to see your men.
  101. >You see Edward huddling around a bubbling pot of stew, Bovine drinking his fifth goblet of wine, and Lath silently cleaning the mechanisms of his crossbow.
  102. >You tell them about the elder’s proposal.
  103. >Edward approaches you, “Of course we’ll take the job. The company’s all I know. I wouldn’t know where’d I’d be without all of you. Course there’s only, us but we can rebuild! Without the company, Bovine would drink himself stupid and pick a fight with some Diamond Dogs! And Lath….Well, we need the company. So killing that bastard Birch, we’ll leave it to you, captain.
  104. >Bovine raises his goblet to you, nearly spilling it, and Lath gives you a silent nod.
  105. “Alright then, we have some unfinished business with the Blood Mite.”
  106. >The following morning, you make make use of your award to spend on fresh supplies.
  107. >Bovine approaches rubbing his head. “Oi, cahptain.” he mumbles, “Ya know ya cahn count un us, but we’ll need more bodies. Ah know Edwahd made dhat noice speech an all, but bravado don’t mean shite. Geht sum lads, get em armour. We’ll be ready.”
  108. >It doesn’t take Bovine to tell you this.
  109. >Bloomvale has some willing volunteers, but being a village, there’s hardly any gear to equip them with.
  110. >You know of a better destination.
  111. “We’re going off to Railway.” you announce to your men.
  112. >With everything ready, you march out of the town ahead, supporting yourself on a long wooden cudgel.
  113. >You follow the dirt road into the Heartlands of plains.
  114. >The sound of your footsteps accompany your journey as you march to the tune of Lath’s humming.
  115. >The road soon leads into a pair of rusted metal tracks bound together by ancient wood.
  116. >It stretches alongside the dirt road for miles.
  117. >They’ve been here for as long as you could remember.
  118. >Their original purpose, an enigma to you.
  119. >Edward said that long ago, roaring metal beasts would follow these tracks.
  120. >They could travel in one afternoon what would take a caravan days.
  121. >Wherever they are now, those tracks help keep many of the settlements linked together.
  122. >You don’t have the luxury to afford to ponder on wonders.
  123. >You need more men and equipment.
  124. >You finally see your destination ahead.
  125. >Atop a large hill is a large sprawl of buildings.
  126. >Wooden palisades surround the city as well as even more houses.
  127. >A collective mass of dark browns and dull grays, in heavily contrasted with the green plains.
  128. >Caravans and farmers pass to and fro, bringing with them goods to trade.
  129. >As you enter the outskirts of the city you see a mob of people.
  130. >within the center, you can hear them hurling abuses.
  131. >Curiosity enthralls and you and go over to investigate with your band.
  132. >Upon seeing the group armed men approach, they were wise enough to clear out of the way.
  133. >You look down and see the target of the abuse, a battered Pegasus.
  134. >He looks at you with one of his good eyes, the other is swollen over.
  135. “What’s going on here?” you ask.
  136. >One of the citizens approach, “He’s a thief, that one!” she points her hoof at the Pegasus, “He’s been nabbing farmer Josiah’s melons, even after we warn ‘em!”
  137. >You crook her head.
  138. “Isn’t this a tad bit extreme for a melon thief?”
  139. >”Well that the ain’t the only thing! The melons, he..he…” the mare starts to blush unable to answer your question.
  140. >A boy steps in her place. “He’s farkin the melons!”
  141. >The child’s outbursts causes the mob to break into laughter.
  142. >Standing side by side, Bovine and Edward are supporting each other to prevent the other from keeling over.
  143. >Lath collapses to his haunches to place both his hooves on his mouth.
  144. >You chock and wrap a hand over your mouth.
  145. >Another man speaks up after the bout of laughter. “Not the first time he was caught having fornications with produce. We just got sick of it and now we’re teaching him a lesson.”
  146. >Many members of the mob nod their heads approvingly.
  147. >The Pegasus looks at you again, begging with his one good eye to save him.
  148. >Bovine approaches you from behind. “E’s small but e’s looks ta be fast.” he whispers, “E has potential.”
  149. >Edward comes next. “We need to rebuild the company, right captain?”
  150. >You look to Lath for his input.
  151. >He nods and hums with approval.
  152. “Alright,” you announce to the mob, “I have a solution of my own. I’ll compensate Josiah for his melons, and pay twice their worth. In return I’ll take the melon thief into my band and he’ll be long gone by the end of the day. Next time we come back here, he’ll know better.”
  153. >A stallion approaches from the crowd, “Ah’m a friend of Josiah, and Ah’m here as a in his place. Ah’d bet he’d be more than willing to accept your proposal.”
  154. >You pay the stallion forty bits, and he makes his way to his friend.
  155. >With no justified reason to continue, and not wishing to cross a group of armed men, the disappointed mob disperses and slowly return to the city.
  156. >The Pegasus stares at the departing crowd with the biggest smile of relief you’ve ever seen and collapses to the floor. “Bless the stars.” he sighs.
  157. >You hobble over to the Pegasus and lean over him.
  158. “Come on,” you ordered, “Get up.”
  159. >He jumps up and flutters in the air. “Thank ya very much! Ah’d be on the receiving end of the mob if ya hadn’t come.” he turns toward the city. “Well, Ah’ll be off then. Thank ya!”
  160. >You quickly to grab his hind leg and set him to ground.
  161. “Now hold on, you didn’t hear what I said?”
  162. >The Pegasus’s ears droop down and he nodded.
  163. >You pat him on the back.
  164. “I ain’t no slaving Diamond Dog. I ain’t got the time to force others to stay in the company. You can stay in Railway and take your chances there. But if you don’t want to rely on stealing food and you want your own pay…”
  165. >The Pegasus turns around and apologizes, “Yeh sorry bout that..thanks.” He holds out his hoof. “Ah’m Feather Step.”
  166. >“Edward. Welcome to the company”
  167. >”Bovine. Noice tah meet ya.”
  168. “This is Lath and I’m Anonymous, your captain. You’ll fit in real nice here.”
  169. >With everything settled, you start to making your way into the city.
  170. >”Come On Melon Mugger!” Bovine called, “We’ll get mor supplies and men. Don’t mean et tha wrong way, but we’ll be buyin food ya can’t caress.”
  171. >with that said, everyone enters the city laughing.
  172. >As you all pass the city’s ramparts, you eye the banners hanging at the entryway.
  173. >Four iron horseshoes set over a fluttering, golden banner.
  174. >A silent reminder that the city rests in the hooves of House Iron Steppe, Masters of the Plains, Guardians of the Western Lands.
  175. >The streets are alive with activity as Railway’s denizens go about their daily lives.
  176. >You step your way up to the townsquare, which rests on the zenith of the hill city.
  177. > Merchants and craftsmen trade their wares, while men loiter in the square, seeking the mercenary life.
  178. >You eye the collection of men from a distance.
  179. “What do you think of the prospects?” You ask Edward and Bovine.
  180. >Bovine blows a raspberry. “Ehh...lot’s a chaff ‘ere.” He points at a tower of a man dressed in a hauberk, with a large long sword. “Ee’s ah good pick though.”
  181. >”Looks too expensive, Bovine.” Edward sighs, “We don’t got enough bits on us. Besides don’t ya think he’d be a bit overkill for Birch?”
  182. “Let’s focus on the task at hand,” you interrupted, “And Bovine…” You give him smile. “We already got one strong man with us, and he’s more than enough for the job.
  183. >Bovine chuckles and waves it off. “Aww, Captain.”
  184. >Suddenly you see one of the prospects notice and approach to you.
  185. >He’s a slender human with a well trimmed beard and moustache that highlights his confident smile.
  186. >As he gets closer, you see a lute bouncing off his back.
  187. >”You wouldn’t happen to be mercenaries, would you?” He asks while maintaining his grin.
  188. “Yeah,” you confirmed, “Looking to join?”
  189. >”Why yes!” he makes an exaggerated bow. “I am the Captivating Chanterelle, and I wish to join your most humble band.”
  190. “Musician, huh?”
  191. >”Yes! Indeed!” he quickly proclaimed.
  192. >You can sense he’s hiding something.
  193. >Actors always do maintain a facade.
  194. >”What are you doing here, Peter?” Feather Step asks.
  195. >His voice is filled with skepticism as he stares at the bard with narrow eyes.
  196. >Instantly the bard’s forced smile relaxed into a deadpan expression. “If it isn’t Feather. I thought you were busy providing entertainment to the mob after one of your lover’s crusade?”
  197. >”Enough about me, Peter, what about you?” Aren’t cha making a nice sum in the taverns?”
  198. >”It’s Chanterelle!” He hissed, “I’m successful, true, but I want to be known beyond Railway. I must my develop craft if I am ever to…” He stares off at one of the streets and all his confidence crumbles away.
  199. >He immediately tries to break through you and Bovine.
  200. >”J-just wat are ya doin lad?!” the stallion barked?
  201. >”Please.” Chanterelle clasped his hands together. “Let me hide behind you guys. Please!”
  202. >You roll your eyes and let the bard, crouch behind your mercenary company.
  203. >All of you are starting to realize to see what the bard is hiding from.
  204. >Heading into the town square is a column of bakers armed with rolling pins.
  205. >The grim expressions on their faces makes it clear to you that they’re not in the mood to forgive
  206. >”What did you do?!” whispers Feather Step.
  207. >”I may have given one of the baker’s wives a private performance.”
  208. >”Which one?” Edward asks
  209. >Chanterelle points a shaking finger at a portly Stallion wielding a very thick rolling pin. “There was actually two. The daughter as well.
  210. >Lath hums his respect at the deed. ”Mmmhmph!”
  211. >You hide Chanterelle inside one of the many alleyways of they city.
  212. “Guess now we know why you wanna leave town,” You sigh.
  213. >Chanterelle looks at the floor, fearing what you have to say next.
  214. You continue, “So, you’re a quick learner?”
  215. >He smiles and nods. “I’ll be able to pull my own weight.”
  216. “Just want to tell you, this isn’t about becoming famous, alright? Staying alive is what’s more important; yourself and the brothers around you.”
  217. >Chanterelle raises his eyebrows. “Brothers?”
  218. You point at Feather Step and he stands to attention. “You listen up too. We watch each other’s backs here. We’ll fight tooth and nail to keep you alive. One day there’ll be a time when you’ll do the same for us. We’re all equal here in this company, we’re brothers got it?”
  219. >Both Chanterelle and Feather nod.
  220. >You give them another smile pat them both. “Welcome to the Company! I’ll be your Captain, Anonymous.”
  221. >The rest of band introduces themselves and pat them on the back aswell.
  222. >You feel confident with the numbers you have, but you recruit another just to be safe.
  223. >You hire another human by the name of Simon, a butcher’s boy.
  224. >”I’ve hardly ever left Railway!” he grins, “I can’t wait to see the rest of the world.”
  225. >He barely looks like he’s barely starting to grow facial hair.
  226. >You’ll make sure to keep an eye on him.
  227. “Then I’m sure You’ll the like the rest of the company.” you tell him.
  228. >You sure are glad Chanterelle didn’t see you pay Simon his hiring fee.
  229. >He didn’t bring it up.
  230. >That’s what you’re gonna say if it’s ever discussed.
  231. >You aren’t done yet.
  232. >You take your newly enlisted men to the city’s armorer and get them sized up.
  233. >Nothing too expensive, just some simple gambesons and some padded coifs.
  234. >Since he doesn’t wield a shield, you buy Bovine a Mail shirt and kettle hat as hand down his old leather armor to Lath.
  235. >You also buy Edward leather armor.
  236. >You didn’t buy any new weapons.
  237. >You kept the weapons of the fallen brothers in the battle against Birch.
  238. >They won’t need it anymore.
  239. >All the new enlistees gets a spear and a shield except for Feather Step, who’s armed with a shortsword.
  240. >Finally finished, the entire company settles down in a tavern for the night.
  241. >You plan to leave the following for Bloomvale and ask the village elder for any leads to Birch’s whereabouts.
  242. >Until then, you sit with your men and wait for the publican to serve you all some ale.
  243. >At Chanterelle’s suggestion, you all sit in the corner of the tavern, safe from the peering eyes of a vengeful husband.
  244. >The bard points at Lath. “You are man of few words, aren’t you Lath.”
  245. >Your arbalist nods his head.
  246. >Chanterelle continues, “If I recall, it was our fair captain that introduced you to us. What’s wrong? Cat got your tongue?”
  247. >Lath chuckles and shakes his head.
  248. >He opens his mouth and points to the meaty stub that is his tongue.
  249. >The recruits stare at Lath’s stubby tongue with open mouths.
  250. >Feather shudders, “Uhh.. how did he lose it?”
  251. “That’s question we ask ourselves,” you shrug, “Lath’s a learned man” -You point at his knapsack filled with books and bolts- “But he’s yet to tell us how us he lost it.”
  252. >As the ale is being served to your company, you raise your mug for a toast.
  253. “To the Company!”
  254. >”To the Company!” they echo back except for Bovine, already halfway through his mug.
  255. >You fill the next hour with cheers and toasts as another round of ale comes in.
  256. >boosted by liquid courage. Chanterelle performs for the whole tavern with his lute and his voice.
  257. >As he sings a ballad of a legendary battle, you stumble your way to the Publican’s counter with your cudgel to order another serving of bread.
  258. >As you wait, you notice a stallion dressed in a cloak and hood sitting on a stool next to you.
  259. >He has a crossbow resting on the counter.
  260. >His creamy white forelegs were wrapped around a mug while his horn poked out from his hood.
  261. >There was something familiar about him, but you can’t remember due to the drunken haze.
  262. >You try to lean over the counter to steal a peek of his face but your hand slips on a small puddle of spilled ale.
  263. >You fall on your chest and recoil from the pain.
  264. “Ack. Sonuvabitch!” you groan before turning to the hooded patron. “Ehh, sorry bout that.”
  265. >The Unicorn turns to and his pupils shrink to the size of needles.
  266. >You don’t remember him, but he certainly remembers you.
  267. >He charges at you and tries to gore you with his horn, but you sidestep out of the way.
  268. >Without thinking, you jump at the white Unicorn and grapple him and you remember him from the battle against Birch.
  269. >By then all of the festivities came to screeching halt as everyone in the tavern was staring at the two of you.
  270. “Birch’s man!” you shout out as barely avoid being by your target’s horn.
  271. >Bovine’s already slumped against the corner asleep, Edward was in a deep game of dice and was fumbling towards you, while Lath was charging at you with his crossbow in his magical grip.
  272. >The white Unicorn spins around and punches you in the jaw.
  273. >You tumble to the ground as he galloped out the tavern.
  274. >You’re not gonna let him escape him.
  275. >Fate delivered him into your hands and you’re not one to waste a good opportunity.
  276. >You reach for your cudgel and rushed out alongside Lath.
  277. >In the dark, empty, sloped, streets of Railway, you see the bandit fleeing for his life.
  278. >Lath loads his crossbow and fires his a bolt.
  279. >It just zipped past him, causing your companion to grunt.
  280. >This is bad.
  281. >By the time Lath could load another bolt, the bandit could already disappear in the winding alleyways of the city.
  282. >You wonder what to do until you start eyeing your cudgel
  283. >You grab your walking stick with both hands and hurled it at the fleeing bandit.
  284. >It was thrown with such force, that you fall down to your chest.
  285. “Argh Farke!”
  286. >You clutched your chest you watch the flying cudgel crash against the fleeing bandit’s head.
  287. >The bandit crumple to ground and was rolling down the streets until he hit a building.
  288. >Lath’s mouth drops open from the scene. “Hoooh!”
  289. >You have Lath drag the dazed bandit to a shady alleyway.
  290. >Don’t want to disturb any of the guards at this hour.
  291. >Edward soon joins you both
  292. >Just as the bandit is recovering Edward holds him against the wall as Lath loads another bolt.
  293. >you unsheath a dagger and press it against his throat.
  294. >”I-I-I..ah please don’t hurt me!” the bandit sputters.
  295. >You start to interrogate him.
  296. “Where’s the Blood Mite?”
  297. >The bandit shakes his head. “No, no! He’s not here! He’s not in Railway!”
  298. “Not in the city? I’m not buying it?” you nick the bandit.
  299. >He yelps as a sliver of blood slides down his neck. “It’s true! It’s true!” he cried, “As soon as he got new men he-he wanted to make a new hideout in Apple’s Folly.”
  300. >Lath lowers his crossbow as stares at the bandit with wide eyes, while Edward breaks into coughing fit.
  301. >You lower your dagger.
  302. “Really?”
  303. >He nods, “Truly! Truly! He wanted to hide in the one place nopony would ever dare to go to!”
  304. >”But Apple’s Folly!?” Edward interjects, “It’s too close to the… It’s suicide!”
  305. >”That’s what I keep telling him!” the bandit says, “Not worth it. Not for all the loot in the world.”
  306. >You return your dagger into its sheath.
  307. “Alright, I believe.”
  308. > The bandit starts to crack the widest grin you’ve ever seen. “Th-thank you!”
  309. “When’s the last time you were with him.”
  310. >”We were in a hideout, belonged to his friends, Left as soon as he told me his plans and got here in high noon, though I don’t think that bothered him much. Probably got a new gang with him already. He’ll be avoiding all the roads, so you could probably catch up to him.”
  311. “Alright then. Get outta here.”
  312. >With the wave of your hand, Edward releases his grip and Lath unloads his crossbow.
  313. “Thank you for this kind ser!” The bandit said with a low bow. “I promise to give up my wicked lifestyle. I’ll be a changed stallion.”
  314. >If you had fifty bits for everytime you hear that.
  315. >Lucky for him, you’re all in a city.
  316. “Good for you.“ you shrug, “Pray our paths don’t cross again.”
  317. >With that said, the stallion retreats into the labyrinthine alleys of the city, the three of return to the tavern.
  318. >You grab the former bandit’s crossbow at the counter, cause as he said himself, he’s reformed.
  319. >You return to your men and plump down on the bench.
  320. >Bovine’s still snoring in his corner, but everyone else looks at you for what you have to say.
  321. “Let’s haul Bovine to bed and get some sleep?” you yawn, “We’ll be leaving in the morning.”
  322. >”Where to?” asks Simon.
  323. “To get bandit by the name Blood Mite Birch. Go to sleep.”
  324. >As the recruits were dragging Bovine upstairs to the room you were all sharing upstairs, you strip out of your leather armor and climb into your bed.
  325. >Already you’re formulating a way to catch up to the Blood Mite.
  326. >What routes to take and what tactics to employ.
  327. >you’re not gonna let him escape this time.
  328. >But then your thoughts turn to your men,
  329. >You can trust Edward and Lath to hold their own and Bovine…
  330. >You twist your head to see the Stallion passed out over the sheets of the bed.
  331. >Well for him, the enemy isn’t what you’re worried about.
  332. >Then your thoughts turn to the recruits.
  333. >They’re about as green as they could get, and they’re in your hands
  334. >You try to think of ways of keeping them safe.
  335. >Sure, you pay for their wage, food, armor, weapons, It’s practical you keep such living investment alive.
  336. >Easier that than having to bury them like you did your companions the day you became Captain.
  337. >The next morning, as you walk through the ramparts, you inspect your men.
  338. >Everyone save for a drunken Bovine looks ready to to march out,
  339. >The drunken stallion looks as if he were walking with his eyes closed as taps Edward’s side. “Edward,” he groans, “Be me eye’s if ah stray too fa’.”
  340. >With your walking cudgel, you lead the way as you march the company down the dirt road running alongside the rusted Railway.
  341. >With each passing step, the once massive city, shrinks to nothing more but an ugly blot in the distance.
  342. >As you and surprisingly Bovine were handling yourselves well with your handicap, the recruits, Simon and Chanterelle, were struggling to keep up.
  343. >They’re already being soaked sweat and were gasping for air.
  344. >“What’s tha matter, Peter?” Feather teases, “I thought you were well accustomed to this. I guess our bard only has the endurance for one verse for his private performances.”
  345. >”Oh yes, Feather,” the tired bard responds, “I certainly can’t gallop for more than fifty paces from an angry mob of townsfolk. And I certainly can’t go fifty more with a melon. Especially not like you.”
  346. >”What are you talking about?” wheezes the young Simon, “What do melons have to do with running and singing?”
  347. >You and your companions chuckle from Butcher’s boy’s innocence.
  348. >Edward falls back to give Chanterelle and Simon a boost. “Hah! You’re young alright” he laughs, “Don’t worry we’ll have that fixed someday.”
  349. >By late into the afternoon you pass by a stone shrine.
  350. >Old flowers and used candles litter the ground around the structure.
  351. >Atop its stone surface is a stone statuette of a mare bearing both a set of wings and a horn.
  352. >Her flowing Mane and tail ends in a series of curls as her wings are outstretched.
  353. >She stands alone, keeping vigil of the road ahead, now overgrown with vegetation.
  354. >Simon is awed by the sight. “The old shrine!” he declares with a grin, “Mah dad only brought me here once when I was little. Never realised she looks so...beautiful.”
  355. “No time to be ogling stone mares now,” you sigh, “We gotta job to catch a bandit. Let her do her job.”
  356. >You lead your men off the dirt road and march westwards through the plains.
  357. >You plan not to cross any deeper into the Heartlands unless it’s to get to the Blood Mite.
  358. >There’s a reason such a shrine was erected on the road, and you don’t have any good reason to find out why.
  359. >By sunset you settle down to make camp on the craggy hills dividing the plains and the forests before you.
  360. >Simon and Chanterelle collapses to the floor, hugging the rocky surface like a warm pillow.
  361. “Alright, greenhorns.” you chuckle, “You can relax more comfortably after we set up camp. Lath get a fire started.”
  362. >You all huddle around the campfire, eating hearty servings of bread, dried fruit, and goat cheese.
  363. >After a long march, you lick your lips greedily as stare at your piece of toasted bread with melted cheese on top.
  364. >Once finished, you take a hearty sip of mead from your wineskin to settle the contents in your stomach and release a happy sigh.
  365. >Feather Step was the next to finish.
  366. >After a quick burp, he turns to you and asks a question, “Captain? Gotta ask ya, what are we doin so close to the Heartlands? Ah ain’t scared or nothin, Ah just want to know.”
  367. >You recount last night’s events with the former bandits and inform them of Birch’s destination.
  368. >Simon crooks his head, “Apple’s Folly? Never heard of it.”
  369. >”Not surprised to hear that from townsfolk,” said Edward as he was licking his finger.
  370. >“Any farmer that lives close to the Heartlands or any calloused hoofed mercenary would know better than to go there.”
  371. >He points at himself, “Raised a farmer ya see. My mother, bless her heart, she would tell that it was an forest made entirely of apple trees planted long ago, and it had the most succulent fruit to behold. There’s so many unpicked apples they carpet the floors. But it’s haunted, like the rest of the Heartlands. Once you enter the forest you can never leave. It’s easy not going, but in times of famine? that’s another story. My Father, tried to support his family, never came back and my mother died of grief shortly after.”
  372. >He shakes his head as pokes the fire with a stick. “Makes sense how it got its name don’t it? So that’s why we should get the Blood Mite as soon as possible.”
  373. >Simon looks like he’s already regretting his curiosity.
  374. >As you all turn in to go to sleep, you can see him shaking in his bedroll.
  375. >You just close your eyes and drift to sleep.
  376. >Gotta be prepared for Birch.
  377. >The morning begins with more marching, this time through the forests below.
  378. >It takes a lot longer navigating through it, as you spend as much time trying not to trip as you do marching.
  379. >A feeling of unease takeover.
  380. >You try to listen to the sounds of the forest.
  381. >Birds, insects, critters, of any kind, they seem to be absent from the forest.
  382. >There’s only the crunch of your footsteps to fill the empty void.
  383. >Bovine pauses and halts the group.
  384. >”Smell that?” he sniffs, “Ah smell a fire.”
  385. >You couldn’t really tell yourself.
  386. >Looking at how Lath and Feather Step are flaring their nostrils, they could sense it.
  387. >You all follow Bovine’s lead as he brings you to the end of the treeline that leads out into a small forest clearing.
  388. >It contains a small wooden cottage.
  389. >The wood looks ancient and looks close to collapsing from a single shove.
  390. >You stop pondering about the mystery of the cottage when you notice its inhabitants.
  391. >There are five of them, two humans and three Earth Ponies, huddling around a campfire.
  392. >One of them is wearing a set of leather armor and has a sword at his belt.
  393. >Everyone else wore plain clothing are armed with a mixture of farming tools.
  394. >You all wait to see if anyone else leaves the cottage.
  395. >You inspect your men.
  396. >Your companions are already preparing themselves.
  397. >Lath loads a bolt into his crossbow while Edward unholsters his shield and spear.
  398. >They look to you for the next order.
  399. >Bovine’s already looking ahead, he wraps a hoof around his axe waiting for the order to charge.
  400. >Finally, the recruits bring out their own weapons.
  401. >Their movements are sluggish and clumsy as you can already see the perspiration forming on their foreheads.
  402. >You sigh and pat Simon on the back, who seems to be shaking the most out of the three.
  403. “Remember, we fight together, Brothers”
  404. >You beat your fist against your chest that brings a sheepish smile to the youth before he does the same.
  405. >Four more bodies exit the cottage increasing the count to nine.
  406. >Two humans wearing chainmail and a Unicorn equipped with a sword, follow a Pegasus whose feature’s you could never forget.
  407. >”Birch.” Bovine growls as his grip tightens around his axe.
  408. >From the look of things, they look like their about to depart.
  409. >You crouch your way to Lath and point at Birch’s men.
  410. “Aim for the hicks first. Get ‘em to flee. After that, support the recruits and loop around back.”
  411. >after a nod from Lath, you turn to Feather Step.
  412. “Feather, you’re going with Lath. Watch his flank and make sure no one gets past you.”
  413. >You address the rest of the company.
  414. “Edward, lead the charge with Simon and Chanty. I’ll be a pace behind while Bovine watches our right.”
  415. >”Aw Cap,” Bovine groans, “Ah want ta fight ‘im”
  416. >He points to one of the brigands in chainmail wielding a large axe.
  417. >You roll your eyes.
  418. “Just kill one first before you do that. We attack on my command.”
  419. >Everyone silently moves into position, just as Birch’s party is starting to leave.
  420. >You nod at Lath and he fires his crossbow.
  421. >The bolt rips through the air into the clearing and strikes one of the thugs on the side.
  422. >He collapses into the dirt floor and wails from the pain.
  423. >His comrades stared at him with a dumbfounded expression just as another bolt zips past Birch’s snout.
  424. >”Shit!” the Blood Mite curses, “We’re under attack!”
  425. >Now’s the time.
  426. “Charge!” you shout.
  427. >At your command, Edward leads the assault with his spear and shield as he roars, “Scream Lads!”
  428. >From among the shouts you hear Simon’s shrill voice stand out that makes the battle cry more comical than intimidating.
  429. >The Brigands are quick to respond to your charge.
  430. >The Earth Ponies dull your charge by ramming into your shields.
  431. >One of them, lacking any foresight, tried bash Bovine with his wooden flail.
  432. >This attempt only wins him a swift chop into his shoulder.
  433. >The force knocks the breath out of the as he wheezes and grasps at the gaping wound before Bovine follows with another.
  434. >”One!” Bovine Cheers
  435. >”’Nough talkin!” shouts Edward as he blocks a spear thrust, “More killin!”
  436. >”Oi You! Bovine points at the Brigand in chainmail. “Farker with en axe!”
  437. >Bovine can handle himself and Edward seems to be dodging every attack thrown against him.
  438. >It’s good to have a lucky bastard like him in a fight.
  439. >You turn to the recruits to see fighting their targets.
  440. >Simon’s adversary is bashing a club against his shield while Chanterelle’s able to jab his opponent in the legs.
  441. >As the bard tries to wring his spear from the bandit’s legs, a bolt pierces the air into the the bandit’s skull.
  442. >You see Lath behind the enemy with Feather loading another bolt.
  443. >”Somebody, get that bastard!” Birch screams.
  444. >The bandit that was first hit with a crossbow bolt start to stumble his way out of the battle.
  445. >A wise move, as long you didn’t have to worry about fleeing from a Pegasus.
  446. >Feather Step takes off after the routed bandit and cuts him down from the air.
  447. >It feels like you’re close to winning already, but you know you’ve only succeed in cutting down the chaff.
  448. >The rest of Birch’s gang is proving to be much more difficult.
  449. >Simon and Chanterelle are teaming up against a Unicorn.
  450. >The Unicorn dodges every blow and riposts with a slice of his sword.
  451. >Edward’s sweating buckets and his movements are growing more sluggish with every dodge.
  452. >Bovine is locked in combat with his foe as they swing their axes at each other.
  453. >They both dodge every lethal blow as they succeeding in only grazing eathothers skin.
  454. >As much as you’d like to help, you’re more likely to get cleaved in half once you get within range of their axes.
  455. >A scream catches your ears.
  456. >You see Simon stumbling back from a sword slash against his chest.
  457. >That does it.
  458. >As the Unicorn’s sword winds back for another attack, you pull Simon away from the danger.
  459. >You charge in his place and repel the strike with your shield.
  460. >You go even farther and slam your shield against the brigand, driving him back.
  461. “I got this!” you shout, “Back up Edward!”
  462. >You see the Unicorn’s horn glow and it compels you to move now.
  463. >You sidestep just in time for the brigand’s sword to only graze your arm.
  464. >A Unicorn with a melee weapon can be very risky.
  465. >A twisting strike and a shooting jab is already getting you to sweat.
  466. >Your old wound feels like a weight pressing against your guts.
  467. >You decide to be more aggressive and try to get into the Unicorn’s.
  468. >You’re only able to nick the Unicorn’s cheek, which succeeds in pissing him off.
  469. >”Basterd!” he curses.
  470. >He starts barraging you with constant sword strikes that presses you backwards.
  471. >He doesn’t relent and cuts a portion of your body with every step you take.
  472. >Compounded with your old wound that burns your side, each step feels like an ordeal.
  473. >The brigand follows after away from the rest into the open.
  474. >Your legs wobble and you sway to side to side as you struggle to stay straight.
  475. >Your savior comes in the form of a bolt jamming into the brigand’s stomach.
  476. >His magical grasp on his sword dissipates as he howls in pain.
  477. >Now’s your chance.
  478. >With renewed vigor, You put a stop to his wailing by running your sword through his throat.
  479. >He gags and sputters on the floor before being completely still.
  480. >You lean on your sword to catch your breath and see Lath loading another bolt.
  481. >Both of you trade an approving nod.
  482. >You stare out at Bovine’s duel.
  483. >Bovine grasps at his bleeding his chest.
  484. >”Yah pretty gud.” Bovine gasps
  485. >He winds his axe back.
  486. >His opponent slides from the attack. “Av course!” he declares as he returns with a swing.
  487. >Bovine ducks, but before he could swing again, the brigand bashes his snout with his axe’s handle.
  488. >Blood comes gushing out of Bovine’s nostrils as he struggles not to choke.
  489. >The bandit closes in and sweeps away Bovine’s axe.
  490. >”Too bad fer you.” sneers the brigand as kicks Bovine in the chest.
  491. >As the Brigand winds his axe to finish the Stallion, Bovine shoots a bloody ball of snot into his eyes.
  492. >”Ack! Farker!”
  493. >He strikes blindly and cleaves the ground.
  494. >Bovine dashes forward and delivers a swift kick to the brigand’s stomach with his hind legs.
  495. >The Bandit recoils from the pain and beds over to shield his battered guts.
  496. >His hands are still clenching to the haft of his axe.
  497. >Bovine bucks him again, this time on the head.
  498. >The Brigand finally releases his grasp on his axe and stumbles backwards.
  499. >To your amazement, he still stands albeit stuck in a daze.
  500. >Not for long though, as Bovine wrenches the bandit’s axe from the ground and chops through his mail shirt into his guts.
  501. >The once tall bandit slumps to the ground trying to keep his insides from falling out.
  502. >Bovine ends it by bringing the down on his neck.
  503. >Victory is within sight as Birch’s men are cut down.
  504. >Upon seeing their comrades perish, some of them break rank and flee the battle only to be put down by Lath and Feather Step.
  505. >The rest slowly fall one by one until there is only Birch remains.
  506. >You can see the fear in his eyes that this is the end for him.
  507. >You bring out your dagger.
  508. >You’ll need his head for when you get back to Bloomvale.
  509. >He jumps into the air and tries to take off.
  510. “Get him down!” You bark
  511. >Everyone tries to knock him from the sky.
  512. >Edward, and Simon, and Chanterelle stab his legs with their spears.
  513. >They scramble out of the way when they notice Bovine leap into the air with his axe.
  514. >He succeeded in only cutting a gash in his hind leg.
  515. >Lath fires a bolt at the fleeing Pegasus hits him in one of his forelegs.
  516. >He bellows from the pain, and two of his legs just limply hanging at his side, Yet he’s still in the air.
  517. >You grit your teeth as you eye him flying off, leaving behind a trail of dripping blood.
  518. “Feather Step, take him down!”
  519. >Feather wipes a away a wave of sweat and takes off after him.
  520. “Follow Him!” you shout, “Without the Blood Mite’s head we’re not getting paid!”
  521. >Everyone’s tired but your words reinvigorate your men.
  522. >Everyone follows after Feather Step and their prey.
  523. >The prospect of getting bits rings louder than the sting of any of their wounds.
  524. >You see that Feather is gaining on him.
  525. >Birch’s loss of blood is sapping the strength from his wings, causing him to slowly descend downwards.
  526. >He doesn’t have long now.
  527. >”Wait!” Simon called out, “I-is that…”
  528. >That’s when you all come upon a realization that you are crossing into Apple’s Folly
  529. >You all slow down at the discovery and let your senses return to you.
  530. >There are rows upon rows of dead trees that stretches off until it disappears behind a wall of fog.
  531. >Their gnarled branches stretch out to you as if to welcome you.
  532. >It’s macabre symmetry is ruined by the few living apple trees growing between the rows of the dead and overgrowth brought upon by countless years of neglect.
  533. >What living apple trees are there are abound with apples and litter the ground.
  534. >There’s an acrid stench in the air that makes you scrunch your nose.
  535. >You can sense the pungent smell of apples rotting on the floor, yet you smell something more familiar.
  536. >You smelled it many times before, a corpse abandoned after a battle to fester and rot.
  537. >You try to look for the source of the smell, but the wall of fog conceal most of Apple’s folly.
  538. >For whatever reason, Birch doesn’t share your feeling of apprehension.
  539. >He howls with laughter as he dives into fog with Feather Step at his tail.
  540. >”Feathers!” shouts Chanterelle.
  541. >The Bard runs off after the Pegasus with the rest of the company but stops at the edge of the fog.
  542. >Everyone’s silently waiting for the Pegasus to return with Birch’s head before you all start calling Feather’s name.
  543. >You then all freeze as you hear two voices struggle from within the fog.
  544. >Suddenly a screech rings out in the air.
  545. >You press against your ear, but the screech pierces through your hands and shake you to the core.
  546. >You wobble and shake.
  547. >Your heads telling to flee.
  548. >Your men seem to share the sentiment.
  549. >Simon’s turning white like a cloud, Lath eye’s shrink smaller than the width of his bolts, and Bovine grimaces from the horrid stench.
  550. >Chanterelle shudders but he remains absolute in keeping an eye for Feather Step.
  551. >Another scream comes out from the mist.
  552. >This time, sounding like Feather.
  553. >The screaming is coming closer until Feather emerges from fog toppling over Chanterelle.
  554. >He’s bleeding from a cut on his midsection and his sword is coated in a fresh layer of dark blood.
  555. >”We gotta get out of here!” Feather screams.
  556. >He stumbles from Chanterelle’s chest and crumbles to the floor.
  557. >The Bard picks up Feather and his sword and hauls him on his back.
  558. >”Apologies, Captain.” Chanterelle grunts, “But I’ll have to carry Feather away to safety.”
  559. “We still need to get Birch.” You protest.
  560. > Feather shouts, “He’s as good as dead! They got him, and they’re gonna get us next!”
  561. >You try to hear something from within the fog.
  562. >You shudder as you hear gurgling fading to the sound of a knife digging through flesh.
  563. >Sometimes, a sellsword has to know when to pull out.
  564. “Farkin shite!.” You grumble ,”Let’s get outta here. Bovine, keep an eye out for anything that comes out of the fog.”
  565. >On what could’ve been a happy moment for the band to win their first battle, not getting Birch’s head really did sour the mood.
  566. >Thankfully, whatever gotten the Blood Mite, didn’t come out to fight you.
  567. >The walk back to the battle site is filled with groaning as the adrenaline had long since faded and everyone remembered the cuts and broken bones inflicted upon them.
  568. >”What did you see in there?” he asked Feather, “It musta been scary I bet.”
  569. >Feather looks down from Simon. “It was a geist. They’re real.”
  570. >Saying that word makes him shudder.
  571. >”There ah was, about ta take him out when she showed. She had no wings, and had a tail instead of her back legs and she floated in the air. She had a long mane and a dark stare that can pierce right through ya. And the scream... More came after. Ah hardly heard them. Not like the giest…. All over Birch…. Hardly made it out.”
  572. >Birch slumps his head over Chanterelle’s shoulder.
  573. >”Damn, Ah’m tired!”
  574. >You aren’t set dying now, are Feather?” Chanterelle jests, “I would rather you don’t bleed out all over me.”
  575. >”Heh, those monster hadn’t done me in. Only a scratch! Now remember that time with Mrs. Millet and her grain? Ah thought myself walking ghost after that whack with a ladle!”
  576. >You all march back to the cottage now littered with the dead.
  577. “Let’s scavenge what we can from them,” You command.
  578. >You all pick through the dead, making sure you avoid stumbling over lost limbs or getting tangled in oozing intestines.
  579. >Chanterelle starts to wretch, “Oooh… To think that we were the ones to cause such a scene.”
  580. >”Aye.” Bovine blankly nods, “Not too glorious this, But…”
  581. >He fishes out a small pouch of bits from the dead brigand he’s looting.
  582. >”Et does pay well.”
  583. >He jiggles it in his hoof before tossing it to you.
  584. >”It’s like the shop back home,” Simon mumbles to himself, “Ribs, loins... sausages… this isn’t helping.”
  585. >You rifle through the contents of the brigand you killed.
  586. >Nothing much, just a paltry sum of bits and a charm carved from wood.
  587. >”How does it look like?” Edward asks.
  588. “Not too good,” you sigh, “I was really counting on Birch’s head to make this all worthwhile.”
  589. >”You don’t suppose the village elder will trust our ‘good word’ will ya.”
  590. “Ha!” you chuckle, “Guess we could try!”
  591. >You look at the meagre sum of loot that could be sold.
  592. >The entire company’s gonna be starved for bits for a while.
  593. >You began to work out a plan when you see Feather Step approach.
  594. >”Captain! Ah found something for ya.”
  595. >He’s carrying something within the feathers of his wing and slides it to you.
  596. >It’s a golden ring with an engraving depicting a stallion and mare dancing together.
  597. >It’ll probably fetch a good price back in Railway.
  598. >Feather looks at you with a sad smile.
  599. >You can see the hint of guilt in his eyes.
  600. >You give him smile and nod.
  601. “Thanks, Feather,” you reassure him, “I’m glad to see you still kicking.”
  602. >Feather shakes his head.
  603. >”Ah probably could’ve done something bout it. If Ah flew faster, maybe got him before he flew off…
  604. “Stop, reflecting on it won’t change a thing. Shite like this happens when you’re a sellsword. Honestly, I’m glad you’re still with us. The bits for Birch’s head would be hard to measure up to the price of losing you.”
  605. >”C-captain…” he sniffs as his eyes start to glisten, “After everythin ya done for me..”
  606. >You wave him off.
  607. “Heh. Don’t get too sappy on me. Just want to keep everyone, so we can all make bits!”
  608. >Edward approaches Feather to pat him on the head.
  609. >”Yeah Cheer up!”
  610. >He then slaps something onto Feather’s chest.
  611. >”Here’s something to help!”
  612. >Feather wraps a wing around the object and holds it up.
  613. >It’s a red apple.
  614. >You crook your head and turn to stare at Edward.
  615. >His leather armor is so stuffed with apples, It looks ready to burst.
  616. >Edward digs out another apple and tosses it to you.
  617. >”We were there,” he shrugs, “Might as well.”
  618. >He walks around the site delivering an apple to each member of the band.
  619. >”Come on, eat up!” Edward shouts, “Let’s all see why they’re worth dying for!”
  620. >Despite its dark origins, the apple is rich in color and shone in the afternoon light.
  621. >You, bite into the apple with a satisfying crunch and savor the succulent juices running down your parched throat.
  622. >You smile from the heartwarming taste.
  623. >How such a delectable treat could come from such a dark place eludes you, lost to the passage of time.
  624. “This is pretty damn good, Edward.” you called out.
  625. >It makes you glow hearing your men hum in agreement.
  626. >It doesn’t matter much to you.
  627. >The apples, Birch, Chancey, the brothers lost.
  628. >It’s in the past now
  629. >You’re the Captain.
  630. >What matters most is getting bits and fame for the company, not driving your men into a grave.
  631. >Bad for the company to lose a man
  632. >Sad for you to have to bury another brother.
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