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Legacy of the Shadowsword
Paying the Piper
He was vaguely aware of a pleasantly warm feeling on his back as the thick blackness enveloping his mind began to fade. There was also sand, cool but rough, underneath his cheek, and a brightness radiating through his eyelids. Slowly, he became aware of other sensations-- a deep, aching pain in his muscles, the sound of ocean waves somewhere nearby, and the fact that the pleasant warmth was rapidly becoming an uncomfortable heat.

With a concerted effort, he lifted his arm and wiped the sand from his eyelids, opening them as the grains fell from the small divots they had made in his skin. A long white beach spread down to his left as far as he could see from his position, flat on his stomach.

He pushed himself up onto his knees, looking around blearily as he blinked against the harsh sunlight. There were various bits of flotsam washed up along the beach and the memories of the night before came rushing back.

He reached up and gingerly touched the spot on the back of his head where they had smashed a pipe through the bone, wincing as he did so-- it was no longer caved in, but his skull had not completely healed yet. He wasn't sure how long it had been since it had happened: it had throbbed incessantly when he had awoken the night before.

"You don't look too good, Cyrus."

He didn't even look up at the goddess.

"Yeah, well, have you ever died? It's not a nice experience-- not one I would like to repeat."

This time he did look up at her, annoyed. She simply shrugged and looked up, surveying the wreckage along the beach. Cyrus went back to his perusal of the waves, sullen, but unable to do anything about it. It was his mistake, after all, that had put him in this situation-- Alia had simply been exacting a just punishment.

"You dropped your hammer," she said lightly, as the heavy weapon thunked into the sand at his side.

"Like I said-- don't enjoy dying much. I wasn't keen on drowning while attempting to drag that ashore right after reviving from a fatal head wound."

He picked the finely crafted war hammer up off the sand, lovingly brushing the sand from it.

"Besides," he continued, suddenly a disarming smile on his face, "I knew you'd grab it for me."

She smiled. "Well, you are my favorite servant."

Slave, more like, he thought, but returned the smile anyway.

"Speaking of being your favorite, what was with that storm? Just couldn’t bear to let them take me away?" Looking up at her, he gently set the hammer upright on the sand.

"Well… yes. And Thoronin asked for a favor."

Ah, so that was the real reason. He continued to smile slightly, keeping up the appearance that they both knew was fake. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered. However, showing his distaste for life all the time would only draw attention to himself, making it even harder to complete his sentence. Alia continued her explanation without seeming to notice the quiet pause.

"He’s requested that we retrieve an artifact for him."

"What is it this time?" His hand toyed with the sand, making small hills, then destroying them. He was having trouble hiding the exasperation, now.

"A simple knife," she paused, "Made from Shade."

"How far?" The sigh managed to escape his lips-- if they had learned how to use the weapon correctly, it could be a real problem trying to take it away from them.

"Not too far. It’s actually pretty close to where you already were operating. Different branch of the same group. Apparently this squad has been pillaging several of Thoronin’s temples in the nearby mountains. You shouldn’t have much trouble retrieving it for him. And while you’re at it, you can get a little closer to your goal by wiping them out."

The grimace was noticeable as he contemplated the idea.

"All right-- but only because you asked me. I don’t just do favors for everybody that asks, mind you." The sand fell from his pants as he stood, brushing the rest away and shaking his legs to restore the blood flow. "And if you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate it if you would transport me to somewhere close by—it’d really save time with the travel."

She giggled and nodded with a wink. "Anything for you, Cyrus."

"Tell me more about this knife..."

----------

The building was nondescript. It wasn’t tall—merely a single floor with a loft above. It made an excellent hiding place for the scum of the Arm. He had spent several hours in the bar across what passed for a street in the small town. There was a back entrance as well, but he hadn’t wanted to be caught skulking back there and make them suspicious. Besides, they weren’t doing anything obviously illegal, so they would likely all leave from the front of the hideout.

He passed the time planning his attack and trying to ramp up his emotions. In reality, he sat there, cradling his mug of some cheap beer, dreading the coming fight. He hardly drank the beer—his hands felt clammy and tingly, taking away the appeal of the alcohol. All the other patrons ignored him after seeing the haunted look on his face, and the serving girl only came by twice—once to see what he wanted and then to deliver it. So he sat there, watching the front of the building, and playing out the coming events like some kind of horrifying dream from the night before.

When it came time to strike, most of the squad was there, having come back from their various errands during the day.

He walked in the front door, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the light. There were some low cries of surprise as the squad noticed him and rushed to the offensive. It was likely that they would try to kill him rather than ask any questions—they were on their way out of the area and wouldn’t have to deal with the repercussions.

Cyrus drew the mighty hammer from the holder on his back and smashed it into the first attacker, throwing him into the wall, leaving a gruesome hole in his chest. The second and third fell in a similar manner—one had tried to attack from behind and had effectively blocked Cyrus’ backswing with his head. The last man attacked with a sword and dagger that appeared to be the knife he was to retrieve. The mercenary swung the knife right and Cyrus deftly blocked it with his hammer, quickly reversing the weapon and crushing the man’s right wrist. The sword clattered to the ground and the mercenary grunted. The Shade was definitely taking effect, Cyrus noted, that blow would have dropped a normal man to his knees.

The mercenary slashed, trying to disembowel him. With a dexterity born from long years of combat, Cyrus twisted away, using the momentum to bring the hammer to bear. The man’s rib cage crumpled with a sickening noise-- no amount of Shade would protect him from that kind of pain. The knife clattered to the ground as the body hit with a thud.

Cyrus stopped, looking around at the carnage surrounding him, then dropping the hammer, he doubled over and vomited. His stomach continued to heave long after there was nothing left to expel. It didn’t matter how many years he had been or would be forced to do this—it never got any easier.
Chapters for this story:
Introduction
The Order of Excetus
Zan-Sen
The Diaron Imperium
Soldrek
The Norren Confederation
The T'lon Republic
Rydian
Shakar
Trin'Daran
Chapter 1 (part 1)
Chapter 1 (part 2)
Paying the Piper
Chapter 1 (part 2a)
Writing
Art

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