Author Topic: Chapter 12  (Read 5465 times)

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Online Daen

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Chapter 12
« on: April 08, 2022, 02:01:49 AM »
Chapter 12

The moment they arrived at the Deathwatch patch, Arico let go of Jaas’ hand. He tried not to be too obvious about it, but could see that he’d failed from the awkward look she gave him. He’d avoided Jaas for the past few days, after she moved into the Fishbowl with Nemith and the others. Yesterday he’d had a chance to speak to Durhu about her, and his father had clarified a few things. Apparently Jaas was like the Sustained House ladies in at least one way: she needed privacy, and defended that privacy fiercely. Arico had felt like a fool. In all other respects, of course she wouldn’t be like the Sustained ladies in this city. She wasn’t from this city!

Now that he thought about it, he remembered even Nouma had behaved that way when they’d been together. He’d just never noticed because there was no shortage of the Waters in Sustained territory. No shortage of anything really. It was an entirely different way of life, and at the time he’d been pretending to be an entirely different kind of person.

Still, Jaas had agreed to join him on this trip. Apparently she could get over her embarrassment, so he should as well. It wasn’t until they were already here that he realized it might not be safe for her. Thankfully she seemed to know that already. Though she was still walking gingerly, no doubt sore from her training schedule, she stayed near him and kept a wary eye on their surroundings.

Arico was sore as well, but not from the training. It had been more than a week since he’d woken up wearing those bandages on his side. The dwarven healers had examined him yesterday and proclaimed he was recovering well. Arico just hoped he had healed enough for what he had to do here.

“The Deathwatchers live in one of the inner city patches,” he explained quietly. “The stone buildings and alleyways in this part of the city are too deep to remove easily, and there are too many roads, so you can’t really plant anything here.”

“So how do they feed themselves?”

“Every patch has a recurring ritual—an exchange of sorts, where they’re given everything they can’t get themselves. In exchange each patch gives a portion of what it has, to honor the House that rules them. Many of the Sustained think that most stra’tchi don’t deserve such a ration, but no one says that about the Deathwatchers. Even the Sustained recognize how powerful the Deathwatchers can be. That’s why they’re careful to treat them as equals, when they come here to trade.”

“I meant to ask you about the Fishbowl,” Jaas continued, her tone changing from academic curiosity to something different. Personal interest, perhaps? Arico couldn’t tell. “The people there. Are they refugees?”

Arico hesitated. “Not really. They did start out that way, at first. There was a long Tumult that ended about forty years ago, before I was born. Nemith gathered together a bunch of survivors and took them to the Enclave, where he asked the Hauld for sanctuary. I’m told it took a long time, but eventually the Hauld agreed. Some of the Fishbowlers have returned to Sustained territory since then, and other people have been brought in as well. Like you. As of now, there are about fifty of them living in the Fishbowl. They have jobs, teach their children, trade with the dwarves. They live normal lives, except that they have to live underground for safety. That’s why the dwarves cut them that hole at the top of the Fishbowl. So that they can see the sun and stars at least some of the time. That training ground you and I were running around was dug out later, underneath the Fishbowl. It’s usually used by dwarven trainees, because they can see in the dark.”

Jaas seemed to ponder that for a moment. “So this ‘movement’ of yours, that you, Alzhi, and the Hauld have started. It really is a revolution?” Arico stopped at once, and raised a finger to his lips.

He looked around nervously. No one seemed to be in sight, much less earshot, but there were a lot of buildings around them. Someone could be hiding inside any one of them. He lowered his voice. “Hopefully, it won’t come to that,” he tried to assure her softly. “We don’t want to shed any blood at all if we can help it. The goal that Alzhi and I have set for ourselves is to break everyone free of the Sustained Council. Once they no longer control the city, then everyone’s lives will be better—the dwarves included. The Hauld is helping us now, and if we succeed, the dwarves will help keep the city intact after the Council has been disbanded.”

Jaas nodded unexpectedly. Arico was surprised at her reaction at first, but then remembered her quick adjustment to the facts about the threads. Most likely, she’d already reasoned most of this out on her own, and was just asking him for confirmation. “How do you know the Hauld will be any better than the Council, though?” She asked pointedly. “How do you know all of this won’t end up just replacing one group of tyrants with another?”

Arico sighed with some exasperation. “I love the Hauld like I do my own father, but I’m not blind. I know he has his own reasons for wanting to overthrow the Council and the Lord Ascendant, and I’m not sure what all of them are. But I also know he’s not like them at all: he actually listens to the people who serve him. Alzhi and I, the Fishbowlers, Chanul and the others, we can influence him, and he doesn’t make policy decisions without input from us. Aquun knows that’s a lot better than most of the leaders the city has right now. That’s why we’re doing all of this, and that’s why it’s so important that we succeed.”

She didn’t look entirely convinced, so Arico decided to change tactics. “Think about it this way. The Hauld has a saying he once told me: Love all, trust a few, and do wrong to none. He’s ruled the Enclave for more than eighty years with that saying in mind. He raised his son to it, and looked after the rest of us in the same way. In the end, it’s a matter of trust. I think he’ll make a good ruler for the city, and I’m asking you to trust him as well.”

Off to the south, Arico suddenly heard the distant sound of metal ringing on metal. Jaas looked off that way as well. She seemed content with what she’d heard, or at least she stopped asking questions, so together they headed in that direction. Before long, he could hear the shouting of a fight as well. They came to the lip of the improvised arena, and Jaas looked down into it with wonder.

Two men were in the middle, both armed with swords and lightly armored. They circled around each other, glistening with sweat in the sun and each looking for an opportunity to lunge in. Dozens of people surrounded them in a wide oval, some watching with interest and others looking bored.

At its full capacity, the arena could seat every Deathwatcher with room to spare. Arico had even been there for one such fight, brief though it had been. “That’s the Boss of the Deathwatch patch,” he pointed out the tall, gray-haired man sitting on an ornate chair overlooking the north end of the arena. “Drakos Bloodeye. He’s the one who negotiates with the Ascendants, hiring out his people in exchange for the supplies and some gold.” He paused, a little troubled. “Well, hiring isn’t really the right word. Selling may be more accurate. Once a Deathwatcher is Bonded, he never returns here. Regardless, everyone in this patch works for Boss Bloodeye in one way or another. That woman behind him is Velya, one of his advisors.”

“Does every patch have a Boss?” Jaas asked quietly, still looking down at the fighters.

Arico shook his head. “Not all of them. Some are uninhabited, as you saw, and the dwarves in the Enclave all answer to the Hauld. Almost every patch that touches the Waters is in Sustained territory, so they all answer to their own Sustained lord. The Sustained also control other patches not touching the Waters as well, like my home patch. In places like that, there’s usually a Mayor or Boss who works alongside a Sustained magistrate. The Ritual of the Waters is how the Sustained give us what we need, and how we give them our tax in return. This patch is a partial exception to that rule, but it’s the only one.” Arico wanted to say more (especially since Jaas always pressed him for details), but he didn’t have the time right now. He would explain it to her later. How the arrangement here and elsewhere was just another example of exploitation at its finest.

Down below, the fight ended abruptly. One of the combatants overreached with a swing, and the other slammed a fist, hilt and all, into his jaw. He collapsed onto the stones, and the circle of spectators clapped and cheered. In one smooth motion, the victorious combatant leaned down and slit his throat. The crowd’s cheering didn’t increase at all; they were quite used to executions in the ring.

Jaas gasped beside him, and Arico immediately stepped right in front of her, blocking the sight of her from most of the crowd. “Quiet! Don’t let them hear you, unless you’re cheering along with them!”

In an instant she’d gone as pale as her complexion allowed. “Why did he do that?” She demanded, though she did keep her voice down. “He’d already won! Why kill him??”

Behind him, in the pit, two younger fighters were dragging the corpse out of the ring to make room for the next fight. The blood would dry quickly in the morning air—it wouldn’t be a problem for anyone else.

“Listen to me,” Arico said softly but severely, keeping eye contact with her. “This is how Deathwatch society works! Only the very strongest—the very best fighters—get to live in order to be Bonded to whichever Sustained family buys them. Everyone else is a drain on resources. If someone here can’t pull their weight, they end up being cut down so the others will live longer. I know it’s not what you’re used to, but you must not object, at least not openly. All right?”

She still looked shaky, but now her face was bordering on anger. She nodded tightly to him, and Arico relaxed a bit. Jaas had told him a bit about life in the Outside world, and he’d gotten the impression that most cities and civilizations out there were lawful and mostly conflict-free. And slaves weren’t very common out there either. This kind of blood sport and selling people as fighters was bound to shock her, but they had little choice in here. Population control was rarely a kind or gentle business, no matter how it was done. At least the Deathwatchers did it themselves, though. All the other stra’tchi patches had to use the Ritual of Rejoining to keep their numbers low.

The crowd had quieted behind Arico. This was their chance. “Stay close to me. I don’t want them to pay too much attention to you. Not until after I’ve had a chance to speak to them all.” He stood and strode purposefully down the steps into the pit, peripherally aware of her following in his wake.

Durhu had told him that long ago, before the Threading, this arena had been a theater. People had performed here, not to spill blood but to entertain and enlighten others. There were still theater troupes that moved from patch to patch to entertain people, but the Deathwatchers had no patience for that sort of thing.

If their movement was successful, many things would change. Perhaps the arena would be used for its original purpose again, someday. He walked confidently in and faced the Boss. “I claim the right to be heard as an equal!”

The crowd quieted and looked at him with curiosity. Drakos let the silence hang in the air for a few seconds before letting out a short laugh. “You’ve visited us many times, Timot, but you’ve never made that claim before. Why now, I wonder?”

Arico kept his gaze steady. “Test me, and find out. I call for an Earth Match,” he said loudly out to the crowd.

There was a rustle of surprise from the Deathwatchers in the arena. As far as they knew, Arico was just another Sustained lord from some noble house. A fancy, preening noble who’d never had to work a day in his life, much less fight for a thing he had. No wonder they looked interested at the prospect of seeing him compete in the arena.

Drakos examined him a bit longer, before chuckling again and looking back to the crowd. He nodded to them, and Arico caught a glimpse of several runners leaving the group in different directions. Probably spreading the word there’d been a challenger, and who it was. With some effort—he wasn’t as young as he’d used to be—Drakos stood up from his de facto throne and took a few steps down towards the arena.

“Deathwatchers!” He called out, projecting his voice surprisingly well. Below him, the entire crowd came to attention. “Our long-time visitor Timot has called for an Earth Match. He seeks to speak to us as an equal. He will get his chance, but only after he proves himself to us.” He paused and took a deep breath. “What are we?” He shouted below.

“Deathwatchers!” They shouted back in unison. The noise was impressive, even from just a few dozen people.

“Do we care what someone looks like?” Drakos continued.


“Do we care where they are from?”


“What do we care about?”


“And where does our strength come from?”

“Difference!” They concluded, and he joined in with them for that last word.

“That’s right,” Drakos lowered his voice from a shout to a speech again, “our differences are what make us strong. We’re all bastards and orphans here—all Deathwatchers. We know the simple truths of life. We know that purity is just another word for weakness. That’s why we have no Rituals here. No magistrate, no penets, and no Aquun or Shemra!”

Arico bristled at that. This was a common ceremony for these people, which was why they were able to respond so easily. Still, their beliefs were a little skewed. He knew better than most how corrupt the church of Aquun had become, but faith was faith. Aquun watched over everyone despite all that. Now, ignorance of her could be excused, but these people knew all about her and still refused to accept her. He shook his head. Perhaps if the movement was successful, they might reconsider their position—perhaps recognize that faith wasn’t weakness or frailty. That would have to wait, though. Arico needed their help anyway, faithless though they were.

“Step forward, Timot. Prove that you’re more than just your origins!” Drakos challenged.

Arico smiled openly. It was clearly a dig at the Sustained themselves, spoken just for ‘Timot’s’ benefit. Most Deathwatchers had an obvious contempt for the Sustained, despite the fact that they depended on the Sustained to survive. Apparently satisfied with his speech’s effect on the crowd, Drakos gestured to the arena again and returned to his chair.

There was a brief conversation among the fighters in the pit for a few moments. Then, as tradition demanded, five men stepped out to face him. Of course they were all young and strong. Older mercenaries could still fight, but they rarely volunteered for traditional combat anymore, preferring to fight more experienced people like each other.

“Deathwatchers only listen to people who’ve proven themselves,” Arico explained quietly, before Jaas could ask. “I have to fight one of them, alone. You’d better stay here. If you interfere, my claim will be denied.”

She grabbed his shoulder. “Is this fight to the death as well?” Her voice was still thick with anger, but he could see more in her expression. Suddenly he realized she was very right to be concerned. If he died, she’d be stuck here—among possibly the most violent group of people in Patchwork!

“Don’t worry,” he gave her a reassuring smile. “I called for an Earth Match. That means the first of us who’s put to the Earth—who’s knocked to the ground and can’t get back up—loses. For a Water Match, it’s the first person who loses Water—that is blood, and an Air Match is the first person who loses Air—stops breathing. But I’ll be alright; they can’t risk killing a Sustained lord. That would cause them way too many problems down the road. At worst, I’ll get maimed or something,” he teased her lightly, and then turned away before she could glare at him.

Arico felt a sense of relief at that as well, though he kept it well hidden. He’d never taken a life, and he hoped it would never be necessary. That hope was a slim one, though. When the fighting inevitably started he would no doubt have to kill again and again. For someone like Alzhi, who had been a soldier for most of his life, that wasn’t particularly daunting. For Arico, it was terrifying. What would such an act do to him? Who would he be if and when he had to kill someone?

Dimly, he was aware that the crowd was growing. The runners had spread the word quickly, and people were arriving to see what was going on. That was good. Hopefully the entire patch would be watching by the time he was done. Out of the corner of his eye, Arico could also see another figure watching him from the shadows on the far end of the arena. He was well concealed, whoever he was; all Arico could see was the large outline of a shadow near Drakos and his advisor.

Putting that out of his head for the moment, Arico stepped away from Jaas and pointed to the man in the middle of the five. “Choose your weapons, Prekim,” Drakos commanded from his seat behind them. The young man unsheathed a pair of wicked-looking daggers from his belt and held them with practiced ease as the other four split off and rejoined the crowd.

Arico only held up his hands, palms outward to the crowd and heard a few gasps in response. It wasn’t necessary to fight unarmed; they would listen to what he had to say regardless of which weapons he used. This way, though, he hoped they’d be more impressed with him.

Prekim gave a predatory grin as he started to move. Keeping his weight evenly distributed, Arico began to circle with him as they got closer. For a moment, Arico allowed himself a sliver of doubt and fear. Prekim was an experienced fighter, and Arico was still recovering from getting shot. And while the fight was supposed to be nonlethal, accidents did happen. His concerns were quickly overwhelmed by the excitement of the fight.

Every time Arico thought he saw an opening he could use, his opponent seemed to close it up again. After a few seconds though, Arico charged anyway. Dwarves had trained him in fighting from a young age, but their style was different because of their height. Thankfully Alzhi and Nemith had shown him a few tricks more suited to fighting humans.

Prekim swiped viciously with the smaller dagger, keeping him back at first. Barely dodging it, Arico collided with him hard, knocking them both to the ground. Prekim twisted away from him, almost making it before Arico was able to grab his wrist and twist. Tendons popped as he cried out in pain and swung a kick that thudded into Arico’s ribs, thankfully on the opposite side of his still-not-quite-healed injury.

Prekim was a good knife-fighter, but he didn’t know much about wrestling. The dwarves had made sure to cover all forms of combat with their training. With growing confidence, Arico twisted again and pushed Prekim back down, pinning him to the ground and forcing him to drop his daggers. Then he inexorably leveraged the smaller man’s arm up, turning it until he yelled in pain. From there, Arico forced him up and took hold of Prekim by the throat. Arico held him that way, just long enough for him to pass out and slump to the ground.

The crowd clapped appreciatively as Arico let him go and rose, massaging his ribs. Jaas stood tight-lipped on the edge of the crowd. Probably afraid of what was coming next. There was no time to wait and catch his breath. Arico couldn’t risk losing the crowd’s attention, so he started immediately.

“Deathwatchers!” he called out as loudly as he dared. “Some of you know me as just a tradesman. You’ve seen me come and go as I please. Naturally you assumed that I was one of the Sustained, but I’m not. My name is not Timot, and I have nothing to do with the Sustained Council, nor with the Ascendants!”

There was a ripple of surprise through the crowd at that, but he didn’t give them time to ponder it for too long. “I have never been one of them. I am free. I go where I please, and I don’t answer to them for anything.” That should grab their attention. If anyone could appreciate an independent streak, it was the Deathwatchers.

He paused at that point, giving a knowing smile. “Some of you are no doubt thinking I’m insane. You’re wondering if I’ve been stricken with some kind of madness, and have lost my senses. You’re possibly considering telling the Sustained about me as soon as you can.

“Is it madness to speak up against oppression? To openly oppose tyrants like the Sustained Council and their Lord Ascendant? To challenge the corruption of men like the High Penet? I hope you do tell them about me. I want them to know that I stand against them. I’m not afraid, because even if they do kill me, at least I will have lived before I died!”

Arico let that sink in for a handful of seconds as he turned a slow circle to look at them all. “The Deathwatch patch is filled with the strong. Each of you has faced your own death many times over. They come here and Bond you because they know this. They’ve yoked you like cattle, like slaves! And like so many others under their sway, they’ve convinced you that it is their right to do so!”

There was a rustle of discontent and anger from the crowd, and he raised a hand to forestall objections. “I know, you claim otherwise. You say that you are their equals, and that the Bonding is a noble service—that it brings honor to all Deathwatchers. It’s a comforting thought, but deep down you all know the truth. Despite all your strength, your skill in combat, your warrior code—despite all of that, you are still at their mercy. Still just tools to them!” The Deathwatchers had always been a proud bunch, and Arico’s incendiary statements were triggering more and more anger from the crowd. Time to wrap things up.

He slowly turned his gaze back to Drakos. “I’m going to beat them. I’m going to tear down the Council and give everyone in Patchwork the chance to be free, just as I am! When they come to you next, it won’t be out of convenience. They won’t be just negotiating with you so they can continue fighting each other. They will come to you out of panic. And it will be because of me.

“When that day comes you will all have a choice. To support them and die with the old ways, or to rise up against them, and live for the new!”

At that, Arico turned and headed up the steps again. He was sure to keep his steps measured and even, despite how out of breath he felt. Jaas fell into step right next to him, presenting the picture of confidence as well. Though she did look back briefly as they left the arena. Angry voices from the crowd shouted out at him, but Arico didn’t change his pace. He wasn’t concerned anyway; none of them would try to harm him, not without permission from Drakos.

“Not bad for an inspirational speech. I’m impressed.” Jaas said once they were out of sight. Wincing a bit, she took a moment to rub her shoulders. “You’ve stirred up a hornets’ nest now. I hope you’re ready to get stung.”

“They won’t tell the Sustained right away,” he said confidently. “They’re too proud for that. Still, eventually the Council will find out, and the threats I made here might be motivation enough to make them act. The Deathwatchers are stubborn, though. That’s why I had to tell them first. They’ll take the longest to decide one way or the other.”

“But why did you bring me along, if you weren’t going to have me speak to them? I thought that’s why I was here.”

“This time you were just here to be seen,” he explained slowly. He and the Hauld had agreed on this plan, but he still wasn’t sure it would work. “Once enough people have seen you, then you’ll get your chance to explain how and why you came here. Right now though, it’s more important that the Sustained hear about you. They have to know that the… Outsider is alive and well, and standing with me against them.”

She gave him a sidelong glance as they walked. He’d wanted to call her by her true title: the Harbinger. The Hauld had convinced him to hold off though, at least until she was more acclimated to the city. There was no telling how she’d react to the news, or even if she’d believe it.

Still, Jaas had proven several times now how quickly she could catch on. Arico was willing to bet she suspected some of this already. And she could have undermined him back there, just by speaking out against him. She’d held her tongue instead. Arico smiled. He’d gambled, and won. Sure, there was a great deal more to do, but for now at least, things were good.


Just before they reached the redline, Jaas reached out to stop him. “Wait, did you hear that?”

Arico went still. Sure enough he could hear faint footfalls behind them, fading quickly. They both turned around, but no one was in sight. Like most inner city patches, anywhere this close to the redline was usually uninhabited. All he could see were the empty stone buildings and abandoned streets that had once been a thriving market back before the Threading.

“You can show yourself!” Jaas called out, apparently to no one. “We know you’re here.”

With a prickling sensation on the back of his neck, Arico slipped into one of his fighting stances and wished he’d brought his weapons along. He caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye, just before something slammed into the ground right next to them. The impact was staggering: enough to put cracks in the flagstone street. On instinct Arico backed away, pulling Jaas with him. A massive figure was rising from the middle of the cracks.

It slowly unfolded arms and legs and soon it towered over them, a misshapen but truly impressive figure of a man. Easily a head taller than even Alzhi, the man before them had yellow eyes, a misshapen mouth, and a face that looked like it had been spawned from nightmares. Cuts and scars dominated every inch of his features, layered atop his twisted nose and cheekbones. Some of them looked self-inflicted, as if he’d been using his own flesh as a paint canvas. Arico resisted the urge to flinch away. The… giant, for lack of a better word, locked his gaze on Arico, holding his attention for a few moments before speaking.

“Little man is not afraid. Good.” He swung his gaze towards Jaas as well, who also stood firm and unflinching, though her hands trembled a bit behind her back. “Pretty lady is the same. Sabra sees fear too often.”

A memory clicked in Arico’s mind. That figure behind the stands back at the arena. The size and shape were just about right. And he’d definitely heard rumors about this person before. Despite the situation and the obvious danger, Arico was fascinated. He held his palms open towards the giant, trying to buy time and gather his wits. “I’ve heard about you, Sabra. Never thought I’d get the chance to meet you, though.” That was actually only partially true. Arico had heard about this creature, but had never heard his name.

“Oh? And what has little man heard, Sabra wonders?” A twisted smile ran over his features, ruined as they were.

Arico started walking a half-circle around the giant, getting a better look. His legs were powerfully built, and his arms and chest much more so. He was big enough in fact, that he looked like he could move with his knuckles to the ground, as a monkey would. His hands were covered with calluses, too. That explained how he’d been able to jump and land next to them with such shattering force. He could probably spread such impacts across his heels, legs and fists at the same time. Strangely, his thick black hair was elaborately compiled into a massive braid that extended all the way to the ground. In effect, it looked like a fifth limb.

“There’s a story told around Patchwork.” Arico said slowly, glancing back at Jaas. She still looked frightened, but it seemed she was just as curious about this creature. “The story of the Deathwatch Monster.”

Sabra grunted a laugh and waved a massive hand. “Tell the story, little man.”

Giving a slight smile in return, Arico complied as best he could remember. “It’s said that some thirty-five years ago, a Sustained noblewoman gave birth to a monster. A misshapen demon that had the form of a great ape, but the cunning and malice of a man.” Something crossed Sabra’s face for a fleeting instant. Was it a grimace?

“It’s said that the child’s father couldn’t even bear the sight of his son. He took the baby to the threads and laid him down on the ground. He didn’t want to kill his own son, but he knew the child would never know a normal life among the Sustained. But when he took up a rock and tried to bring it down on the baby’s head,” Arico paused for effect. “The baby grabbed the rock as it came down, and broke it in two with his bare hands. The nobleman took it as a sign, and instead banished the boy to the threads, where he ended up in the Deathwatch patch. There the ‘monster’ survived on rats at first, and then on the flesh of the Deathwatchers themselves. To this day, the monster wanders the Deathwatch patch, killing and eating the fighters in order to survive. A bit grisly and obvious I think, for a child’s tale.”

“But mostly true.” Sabra stretched his arms up to an alarming height, triggering tendons that started popping up and down his back. Now that he was finally standing fully upright, Arico could see that his braid was exactly as tall as he was. He probably kept it that way on purpose. “Sabra was banished here, but Sabra has never had any taste for man-flesh. Sabra eats what the Deathwatchers eat, and they give Sabra his due out of fear. Or Sabra beats them until they start showing pretty colors.” He chuckled at his own joke.

Arico noticed something else that was out of place. Given his filthy clothes and hair, Sabra should have smelled terrible, but Arico couldn’t pick up any smell from him at all. Perhaps like any other predator, he took steps to stay unobtrusive until he was attacking.

“And just what do you want with us, Sabra?” Jaas spoke up to him, still inspecting his massive form.

“Sabra is curious.” He shied away from Jaas as she tried to touch his arm, and shuffled back. He could move surprisingly quickly for someone his size. “Those things little man said, about breaking the Sustained. About giving everyone a choice. Did little man mean them?”

“I meant every word, Sabra,” Arico said without hesitation. “I have the means and the will to beat them, but it will take time. Less time, though,” he added casually, “if I had the help of, say, an experienced fighter with a reputation of his own, who’s feared even among the Deathwatchers.”

Sabra only glanced back with those yellow eyes, evaluating them. Then, he slowly withdrew a parchment from a fold in his dirty cloak and showed it to them. Jaas gasped. It was a reward poster, with a pretty good likeness of each of them. Promising ten thousand gold pieces for their capture. Arico actually felt a little flattered. Ten thousand, just for breaking Jaas out of a holding cell?

“Deathwatchers didn’t recognize little man and pretty lady at first, but Sabra did. Little man and pretty lady already causing trouble, eh?”

“You could say that,” Arico admitted. “But really, it’s more for what we know than what we’ve done.”

“Are you here to collect on us?” Jaas asked bluntly. Arico gave her an amused look. Anyone else might take offense at her tone, but Arico got the distinct impression the giant didn’t mind. It was clear he didn’t have many people to talk to, here or in other patches. He probably couldn’t leave this patch anyway—even if he was a navigator, he’d never be accepted in Sustained territory.

The giant stared at them both for a few seconds. “Sabra has very little future here,” he said as if reading Arico’s mind. “Sustained will never Bond the Deathwatch Monster, not even in secret. Most Deathwatchers envy Sabra’s strength. Not that Sabra cares,” he added contemptuously.

He paused again, before slowly extending a hand to Arico. “If little man is willing, Sabra will help. Sabra has grown too big for this cage.”

Arico didn’t know how to respond. He hadn’t expected to bring back any recruits, especially not this early. But that was part of the Hauld’s eventual plan, and if Sabra was asking, who was he to say no? Arico shook his head ruefully, thinking about the Hauld’s reaction. It might be worth bringing Sabra along just to see the look on the old man’s face. Wordlessly he took them both by the hands, one slim and soft, the other gnarled and massive, and led them into the threads.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2022, 03:48:23 AM by Daen »