Jarik Threespurs grinned, raising a mug of ale. â€œA toast! To the glories of the First Age!â€ The men around him laughed and raised their own glasses, and the sound of ceramic clinking together filled the room. Jarik raised his mug again and drained it, smugly thinking back to the tunnels he had left late last night, loaded down with enough loot to last him months of luxury; the best tomb yet. Halana and Sarn had vanished somewhere; he hadnâ€™t bothered to ask.
â€œHey, get a refill over here, huh?â€ Beaming wide enough to swallow the moon, Jarik waved the barmaid over, and waited while she filled his mug with the innâ€™s ale. It was piss, of course, but it was better quality piss than most of the dumps around the mountain, so Jarik had invited all of his best friends out for a night of drinking â€“ first drink on him. He drained the mug in a single gulp, and then grabbed the barmaidâ€™s arm as she turned to leave. She stopped, and he grinned slightly as he saw a hint of fear. â€œDonâ€™t worry, honey. I donâ€™t bite hard.â€ He chuckled at his own humour, and a few of his friends chuckled too.
The bartender cleared his throat. â€œUm, sir, this isnâ€™t that kind of bar. If youâ€™re looking for that, thereâ€™s a place just down the roadâ€¦â€
â€œItâ€™s there, and Iâ€™m here.â€ Jarik chuckled, reaching into his shirt and pulling out a slim golden necklace, which he tossed to the bartender. â€œThis should cover it just fine.â€ The bartenderâ€™s face clouded over, and he started to reach under the bar, but stopped at the cough as Havek, leaning on a stool, casually started spinning a knife on the table. The bartender paused, torn with indecision, and Jarik grinned again, turning back to the barmaid.
â€œNice trinket. Hope it was worth it.â€
The room fell silent. Jarik frowned, letting the barmaidâ€™s wrist go as he turned towards the door. He blinked, and his jaw dropped. â€œHoly crap.â€
Kieran was standing in the door, a long brown cloak hanging over his slender frame. His arms were crossed over his chest, but Jarik thought he saw a hint of gold flashing from under the cloak. He lookedâ€¦ angry. It wasnâ€™t something Jarik had ever seen before. He raised an eyebrow, and forced bravado into his voice. So the kid had survived, somehow. Probably lost his nerve before the tendrils even noticed he was there.
â€œAs a matter of fact, kiddo, it was. Good to see you alive.â€ He fought down the smirk, his hand sliding inch by inch towards his sword, just in case. There was a slim scabbard poking out from under the cloak, some sort of ornate leather binding. â€œWe thought you were dead for sure, didnâ€™t we, Havek?â€ Havek nodded, his expression serious. The men in the bar looked from Kieran to Jarik, and frowned at each other.
â€œI bet you did.â€ The voice came from the kitchen entrance, and Jarik spun, too shocked even to try and disguise it. That bitch! It wasnâ€™t possible. It simply wasnâ€™tâ€¦ but it was. Elena. Leaning on the doorframe, casual as hell, her sword tapping the floor. It wasnâ€™t possible. â€œJarik, you are the most miserable worm I have ever met.â€ She smirked, and Jarikâ€™s teeth clenched. He narrowed his eyes, looking from the kid to Elena.
â€œSo, your trick worked after all, kid. Nice going. So whatâ€™s with the attitude?â€
â€œYou left her to die, Jarik.â€ Kieranâ€™s voice was ice, and he started walking forwards, one hand pushing back the cloak to rest on the pommel of his sword. Jarik caught another flash of gold, and frowned. â€œAnd it wasnâ€™t the first time, was it? How many accidents? How many times has your wealth been fed by someone elseâ€™s blood?â€
Jarik snorted, and nodded slowly. â€œYou pathetic little moron. You actually think you can just walk in here andâ€¦ what? Get revenge? No.â€ And as he said that, one of his friends raised the heavy mace he had been concealing, and swung it full force into Kieranâ€™s back. Kieran didnâ€™t even have a chance to turn, caught entirely by surprise.
The flare of golden light as the mace struck home lit up the room. Kieran staggered a step forwards, and then turned to look at the man who had attacked him, seemingly uninjured. That man took a shocked step backwards. In that moment, Kieran drew his sword, and as he did, it changed. A gleaming golden sword, elegantly curved, it was just over four feet long, and it hummed as it slashed through the air. The mace head fell to the floor with a heavy â€˜thumpâ€™, and Kieran smiled, a smile without a hint of kindness. â€œDonâ€™t.â€
The men in the room pressed back against the wall, leaving Jarik and Havek alone in the room, with Elena on one side and Kieran on the other. Kieran turned back to Jarik. â€œTo answer your question, this isnâ€™t about revenge. Itâ€™s about justice. No more murders.â€
Jarik gulped. He looked back to Havek, and then the two brothers moved as one. Leaping forwards, Jarik drew his sword in a sweeping curve, bringing it towards Kieranâ€™s arm, while Havek grabbed two knives, pushing off from the bar to leap at Kieran from the other side.
It should have been flawless. The two brothers were practiced when it came to ganging up on people. There should have been no way to avoid both blows at once. But, used only to the boy who had tagged along, and acting in fear, Jarik was unprepared for the speed with which he moved. As the two advanced, Kieran took a single step backwards, bringing his sword around the table and catching a mug on the side. The mug flew wide, slamming into Jarikâ€™s sword arm, as Kieran brought the sword around towards Havek, knocking his knife aside and slamming his blade forwards. Blood spurted, and Havek coughed, looking down in stupefication at the gold and crimson jutting from his chest, and staggered backwards, coughing in shock and agony. Kieran seemed almost as shocked as Havek, staring at the sword in his hand like it was a living creature.
Jarikâ€™s teeth clenched. Raising his sword, he drove it towards the boyâ€™s unprotected back. Whatever trick had saved him last time was not likely to work twice, not with his focus so distracted. However, as he charged forwards, another sword came down, sending his blade flying sideways. Elena smiled, stepping forwards. â€œForgetting someone, Jarik?â€
On the other side of the room, Havek recovered. Looking down at the wound in his chest, his eyes narrowed and he charged forwards, fury replacing common sense. Kieran knocked his sword aside, stumbling backwards, his eyes wide. Then, his jaw suddenly clenching, he spun in a loop, leaping over a sword thrust onto a table as he sent his blade flying around him in a deadly arc that stopped at the side of Havekâ€™s head. Orichalcum met bone, and bone parted. Havek fell heavily to the ground, blood staining the wooden floor.
Elena, for her part, drove Jarik backwards, enough so that he was barely able to register his brotherâ€™s death. He realized quickly that she was the better warrior; his thrusts were countered, and soon enough she had scored twice, shallow cuts that were sapping his strength. He tried one last desperate gambit, kicking a chair into her path, only to have her leap nimbly over it and slam her sword into his chest. Falling backwards, his eyesight going dark, he cursed the day that he had met her.
Elena looked down at the corpse of Jarik Threespurs, and then around the shocked and silent room. Finally, she turned to Kieran, who was starting to shake. â€œCome on, kid. Letâ€™s get out of here.â€ Putting a hand on his shoulder, she led him outside, where Khory was standing with a small crowd of passersby, and the wagon that the trio had led out of the . â€œKeep moving!â€ The blood on their swords combined with her expression, and the crowd dissolved like mist. She turned to Khory. â€œAny trouble?â€
â€œNope.â€ He looked at Kieran. â€œYou okay, boy?â€
â€œYeahâ€¦ yeah. I just neverâ€¦ I never killed anyone before.â€ Kieran looked back into the bar. â€œI mean, he deserved it, butâ€¦ yeah.â€ He licked his lips. â€œWeâ€™d better get going. After this, the Wyld Hunt will be coming this way for sure.â€ He paused. â€œIt was nice meeting you, Khory. Glad we could help you out.â€
â€œWhat, gettingâ€™ rid of me that fast?â€ Khory grinned, his red hair loose in the wind. â€œI got nowhere to go, and I owe ya my life. If you donâ€™t mind a tagalong, Iâ€™d be happy to come with.â€ He raised a hand. â€œAnd yeah, I know the Dragon-Bloods are gonna have trouble with you. Donâ€™t care much; never been a big fan of the Realm.â€
â€œWell, in that case, feel free.â€ Elena smiled. â€œAny sign of that girl that was with us?â€
â€œNah. After she vamoosed at the edge of the tunnels, I havenâ€™t seen â€˜er.â€ Khory shrugged. â€œHope she had somewhere to go toâ€¦â€
Kieran nodded, stepping into the cart. He wiped the daiklave off, and slid it back into its sheath, at which point it shrank and changed, to all appearances nothing more than a normal sword. â€œWell, we got justice, and weâ€™ve got a cart full of First Age stuff to sell. Iâ€™ll have to look through it as we travel, see if anythingâ€™s worth keeping.â€ He managed a weak smile, as Elena and Khory climbed in. â€œLetâ€™s be off.â€
The three started the cart, and it rolled slowly down the path towards the woods of the Northeast. For a few moments, the path was still. Then, the air rippled, and a young woman stepped onto the path from the trees. She looked up worriedly at the evening sky, and towards the inn. Then, taking a deep breath, she slipped soundlessly down the road, following the path the cart had taken.