Friday, 9 November 2012

So I promised myself I'd post a new chapter every Wednesday for the duration of NaNoWriMo. And I forgot. But here's chapter 1 for anyone who watches this blog!

Remember, it's a first (rushed) draft, so please be kind. ;)

Chapter 1 

Dane paced around the Blackguard headquarters, impatient that a healer had yet to arrive to tend to the nameless dwarf's wounds. The boy had grown feverish during the trip and he worried that if someone didn't look after him soon, he would only get worse.

The air in the room was stifling as the hot summer day heated the small guild hall to an almost unbearable temperature. Dane hadn't had a chance to return to his quarters to drop off his equipment, and it was only making dealing with the heat worse. Through the cracked window, half covered in wanted posters, he could see Crystal Lake in the distance. He wanted so badly to jump into it, clothes and all. Anything to escape the heat.

But then he remembered the boy still in a fitful sleep lying in the next room. He hadn't woken at all in their entire journey, and Dane could see his bones poking against his skin. The only thing that had kept him alive was the water he had to give the dwarf to drink.

“You did a good job as usual, Trueshot,” spoke Karth, the guild's leader. His rough voice broke Dane out of his thoughts, and he stopped pacing to acknowledge the half-elf.

Karth was the guild master in charge of the Sanctuary division of the Blackguard. He kept his hair long enough o cover the slightly-pointed tips of his ears, hiding his elven heritage. He had a thick jaw with a cleft chin, and a large scar running over his lips. Rows of missing teeth from countless brawls marred his smile. But the most striking feature about the man was his missing right arm, where only a stump remained where an orc had cut it off during the Battle of Sanctuary.

Even though he was crippled and could no longer fight, he still made himself useful by applying his knowledge to administrative work in the Blackguard. New recruits often made jokes about his missing arm, but few left without any wounds to show for their foolish behaviour. Even with only one arm, Karth could still put up a good fight.

“I didn't do anything but save a lost little boy,” Dane replied, brushing the compliment off as easily as dirt off his duster. He took up pacing again, his frustration growing with each passing second. His eyes would glance over at the door, waiting for it to open any moment now. “Where the hell is that healer? We've been waiting for hours!”

“Calm down,” Karth told him, taking a seat behind his desk. “You did your job, now let me do mine. The healer will get here when he gets here, and then I can question the boy.”

“I'm not leaving until that dwarf has been looked after.” Dane glared at the guild master. Whether he was higher ranking or not didn't matter to him. “No being with a good heart could abandon that child after what he went through.”

“What you assume he went through,” Karth corrected him, matching Dane's stare. “It doesn't matter what you want or what you think. You're here to work, and I got your next job lined up for you.”
“I'm not taking it until I know the boy is safe.” He crossed his arms in defiance. “Find someone else for the job.”

“You leave for twelve days and think you can just get what you want? When you didn't even earn a silver piece for your last job?” Karth jumped up in his seat and slammed his hand down on the desk. “I call the shots here, Trueshot! Orders are orders, dog. Now fall in line or get the hell out!” He sat back down, the chair creaking beneath him. “The Blackguard has no need for people like you.”
It doesn't need heartless crooks like you, either, Dane thought.

“Now are you going to take the job like a good subordinate or am I going to have to remove you from the guild?” Karth began to drum his fingers on the table. “You're good, but you're not that good. I can have you gone in an instant if I wanted, and no other division would take you in afterwords.”

“Have it your way, sir.”
I didn't want to have to do this.... Dane waved his hands and opened a portal to somewhere else in Sanctuary. He focused his mind on the Olaraan military base in the southern quarter of the city before stepping through the rift. A second rift opened a few seconds later as he pulled a sputtering, red faced dwarf along with him. As soon as they were both through, the cut in reality sealed, as if nothing had ever changed.
“What th' 'ell are ye doin', lad!?” the dwarf spat. He was dressed in the gray fatigues that marked him as a member of the Olaraan military, but on his shoulders was stitched the image of a sun with beams of light shining down from it. The emblem marked him as one of Olaraa's Lightweavers, the church dedicated to the Goddess Lumine and a group consisting entirely of Paladins.

Ignoring the dwarf's complaints, Dane said to Karth, “I'm not waiting any longer for a healer. When your guild medic returns, tell him to get lost before I decide to give him a piece of my mind.” He looked back down at the dwarf, then added, “Sorry Gantors, but I need you to take a look at someone for me.”

“I ain't healin' none o' yer mercenary buddies,” Gantors spat. His brow was furrowed into a scowl and he stood with his hands on his hips, puffing his barrel chest out. “Now take me back or I'll hit ye in th' only place I can reach! I was in th' middle o' lunch with Ursula.”

“Your new wife can wait. This kid's dying,” Dane replied grimly. He glanced towards a door to their left, marked off limits as Karth's personal quarters.

Gantors shoved past Dane, waddling over to Karth's room. “Why didn't ye say it was a wee lad, ye moron?” He muttered a string of complaints in the dwarvish tongue as he reached up and turned the knob.
Dane followed the dwarf inside as Gantors walked in. The room stunk heavily of sweat, and it was clear the boy's fever had only worsened as time had passed. He shot another disgusted look over his shoulders at his guild master before he shut the door and moved to the side of the bed where Gantors had begun to work.
“Aye, this is bad,” Gantors said, moving a glowing, golden hand over the boy's body. “I be glad ye got me when ye did. I'd've killed that half-blooded bastard if'n this lad had died when I coulda done somethin' ta help.”

“The boy hasn't woken up once since I found him.”

“Where's he from?”

“Raken, a town about twelve days out from here.”

Dane pulled a chair from beside the night stand and took a seat at the foot of the bed. He watched the boy draw in laboured, shallow breaths, and he felt saddened when the child would shift and groan in his sleep. No one deserved this, he thought. No one deserved to suffer through a repeat of what happened to Tran.

“Do you think you'll be able to help him?”

Gantors brushed the back of a thick hand over the boy's forehead and held it there for a second. “Aye, I think so.” The usually boisterous and headstrong Highlord of the Lightweavers wore a solemn expression on his face as he looked down at the sick child on the bed. “What happened?”

Dane shrugged, the metal rings of his armor shifting as he moved. “I don't know. I arrived in Raken after the attack. I think it was the Legion but I'm not sure why they came so far up from out of occupied territory. I didn't even have a chance to ask the boy what he saw.”

Gantors pulled a cloth out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from the dwarf's brow. “I think he'll be fine, but I dunno 'bout this place. I want ta take 'im back ta th' infirmary.” He nodded towards the door. “Think Captain Half-Breed will let ye?”

“Not likely,” Dane said, and made a huffing sound somewhere between a grunt and a laugh. “You're the Highlord. Just exert some authority over him. It's not like the Blackguard has any real jurisdiction here anyways. It's just a bunch of country bumpkins with swords who want to play vigilante.”

“Why would he put up a fight?” Gantors asked. “Ain't his problem, we'd be doin' 'im a favour.”

“He'll fight for it because the bastard's still half-human.” Dane hesitated to answer, and a sour tang filled his mouth. “There's people out there who'll pay for a child like that, use him, then leave him broken, bloodied, or dead.” The thought sent a shiver all over his body, and he spit on the floor, fearing that if he didn't he'd start to feel nauseous at the thought of what someone could do to the boy.

“He wouldn't!?” Gantors snarled, and began to roll up the sleeves of his fatigues.

Dane jumped up and grabbed his friend by the shoulder before he could do anything rash. “I don't have any proof that he would do such a thing, or that any of the other men here would sell this kid off first chance they got.” He looked the dwarf in the eyes, his brow furrowed. “But I'm not taking any chances. I was lucky it didn't happen to me when I was younger, and I'll make damn sure no one gets sold in the sex trade if I have anything to say about it.”

A long silence passed between them, and Dane could feel the dwarf shifting uneasily beneath his grip. He wanted to go and do something brash, but the last thing he wanted was for him to be targeted by a Blackguard assassin for beating the guild master to a pulp. With a sigh, Gantors' shoulders drooped and he said, “Ye stick yer neck out fer people like that, yer likely ta git killed one o' these days.”

Dane let go of the breath he'd been holding. “Alright, let's get him out of here then. It's too hot in here, and if I can't stand it, I don't want to know what it's like for him.”

Brushing the covers aside, he reached down and plucked the boy up gingerly from the bed and held him in both arms. Gantors led the way, opening the door so that Dane could step outside. They didn't take more than a few steps before Karth said something.

“Stop,” he commanded, and the room felt heavy with the sound of his voice. “Where do you think you're taking him?” The sound of his tapping foot echoed through the hall.

Gantors looked to Dane, his face a mixture of disgust and rage. The dwarf had not been expecting Karth to say anything about them trying to move the boy somewhere with better facilities to take care of him. All Dane did was shake his head, and continue walking with the boy in his arms, determined to get him to the Olaraan base where a proper healer would be willing to look after him.

“We be takin' him somewhere he can git proper treatment,” Gantors said, “He ain't gonna be gettin' it here.”

“And what makes you think I'm just going to let you leave?” Karth asked. “This is Blackguard business, not yours, dwarf!”

If Dane had never seen Gantors show self control before when his authority was being challenged, he'd definitely seen it then. The skin around his eyes tightened and his nostrils flared, but he did not raise his voice when he spoke next. “By my station as Highlord of the Lightweavers, I'm taking over for this incident. As far as the Blackguard is concerned, what happened in Raken is officially Freedom Coalition business.”
The room fell silent, and the faintest grinding sound could be heard over the dwarf's heavy breathing. The only thing Karth didn't like more than not getting paid for a job, it was the Freedom Coalition exerting itself over what he felt was the guild's jurisdiction. Once all other doubts Dane had about the guild's integrity were put aside, he realized that it was likely pride that motivated the half-elf to get angry with the idea of the Coalition stepping in and taking control.

The tension between the Freedom Coalition and the Blackguard wasn't a secret to anybody. The mercenary guild was notorious for dealing in questionable, underground jobs and they made the regular military look impotent. The only reason they were remotely tolerated within a city's borders was because then the Coalition could keep track of who was in the Blackguard and persecute any vigilantes that operated without a license or an order from the guild.

“Do as you wish... but Trueshot!” Karth snapped, grabbing the man's attention before he could open the door. “You're staying here and you're taking this job, got it?” He held a parchment in his hands and waved it around. “You got your healer, now get back to work!”

Dane lowered his voice into a whisper as he knelt down to hand the dwarf boy off to Gantors. “He reminds me of a certain someone I'd like to forget.”

The Highlord huffed a short response. “Ye made yer choice. I offered ye a position wit' me paladins.”

“Yeah, but I like my freedom too much to be tied down by the military.”

“It be any better than bein' wit' this arse?”

Dane frowned. The dwarf knew the reasons why he didn't want to join the military. It'd been the same reasons why he left Rogust and Kitair. Too much self-serving bias and bureaucratic nonsense for his tastes. It got in the way of doing what he'd been wanting to do all his life: to travel the world and help people in need. He'd deal with Karth's poor leadership skills any day if it meant having that much more freedom compared to his time in the military.

“Jus' know me offer still stands.” After that, Dane opened the door for Gantors so he could walk out and head back to headquarters on foot.

Now it was just Dane and Karth in the room again. The room suddenly felt hotter than it had before, and his muscles ached even more from the journey than he'd realized. But, he reasoned, it was probably just his mind playing tricks on him. He whirled around to face the guild master, the tail of his duster fluttering around him like leaves in the fall.

Whatever it was Karth wanted, it was better to get things over with and leave so he wouldn't have to deal with the half-elf any more than he had today.

“Finally, that's a good dog,” he smirked as Dane stomped towards his desk to retrieve his new orders. “This one's easy. Only a B-Rank at worst. Considering how you've acted today, consider yourself fortunate.”
Dane merely grunted in response. Odds were that he didn't even have any real B or A-Rank jobs available.
The Blackguard accepted most any job from anyone who sought out their services. The guild masters of each division had a system for grading their systems. Sanctuary's graded missions from A to F-Rank, with F being the lowest, and therefore, cheapest for the client. The more difficult the job, the bigger the payment the guild expected from the person asking for the job.

If there was no work, the guild would go without pay and its members would have to go hungry. Fortunately for Dane, he wasn't all that big on luxuries, and he kept everything banked away with a teller's note stamped with the city-state's seal. He could go months without a job and still have money left over.

“This is it?” Dane asked as he read over the job description. There were markings all over the page where Karth had written in little notes for himself and, presumably, Dane, if he could've read the chicken-scratch. The rest of it was written in the client's handwriting, describing what was expected of them. “Just a reconnaissance mission? This barely qualifies C-Rank. The pay is dismal, too.”

It wasn't that Dane cared about the pay. If someone had a legitimate concern about something, he'd investigate it to sate his curiosity and to make sure no innocents were being harmed. Bothering Karth about the pay was just to get under his skin.

“Well, that's too bad.” Karth rested his chin in his hand. “Perhaps you should've thought about that before getting insubordinate?” He reached over to a messy pile of papers on the side of the table and rifled through them a bit until he found something that caught his eye. “You'll be working with someone for this one, too.”

“I swear to Xenar, if it's Lot again I'm going to throttle you,” Dane growled. “I can't stand him.”

“Hmm, I'll make a note of that,” Karth replied, reading for a quill to jot down a little note in his illegible way. “No, this time you're working with Tyrarl. I believe you've met before.”

“Only briefly,” Dane admitted. “I get the impression he doesn't like non-elves that much.”

 “Whatever,” Karth said, shrugging. “You're going to meet him at the docks at dawn in the morning. Get more information out of the client in New Haven, and go from there. And make sure he pays in advance.”

“You know I hate doing that,” said Dane. It just isn't right to ask for payment ahead of time.
“Well, too bad. I'm the one calling the shots.” Karth pointed to the door. “Now get lost, I have work to do and you stink like cooked meat gone bad.”

Dane said nothing more. He simply turned, hurried out of the room, and wondered why he didn't fry the man where he sat. Gantors' offer was looking more and more tempting, but he didn't want to give up even the tiny ounce of freedom he had with the Blackguard, just to be held down by more bureaucratic nonsense. After all, Rogust and Kitair hadn't been much different, and the Snowhoof would have nothing to do with him because of his sorcery. He was just sticking with the only option he had left if he wanted to keep living his dream.

I'm doing this to keep living our dream, Aiden.

But the more he told himself that, as he walked through the bustling cobblestone streets, the more he doubted his own words.

No comments:

Post a Comment