“…and all I want is another cup!” The patrons of the Dragon’s Den were joined in an inebriated harmony; singing a treasured Arkhosian drinking song as the faint evening sun faded away to cast the City of Dragons in an ebon shade. The citizens of Arkhosia called these hours the “Drow Curfew” after the near pitch black darkness that the city became enveloped in once the sun’s meager rays disappeared. The pale moonlight could barely pierce the perpetual shroud that filtered the dawn into a fraction of its once reaching influence, and thus the City of Dragons became a chaotic playground for thieves, criminals, and vagabonds to hunt the streets looking for unfortunate prey. For the regulars of the Dragon’s Den they ushered in this sinister event with a pride filled chorus to celebrate the next few hours of drinking. After all, once the Drow Curfew began it was easy to justify settling in with a tall bottle to keep you company.
Laborers, mercenaries, and grunts of all kinds made the Dragon’s Den their late night sanctuary, but among the pedestrian patrons was a massive, cobalt-skinned dragonborn with one arm hanging on the shoulder of a comrade, and the other clutching tightly onto a filled flagon full of mead. A wide grin was stretched across Cormag’s face as the song came to a close with each customer violently jerking their drink into the air and grunting a shout of approval. Cormag, with his battle-scarred, argent armor and polished fullblade, was always an anomaly inside the dingy dive. He sat to the back the bar, his towering height marking as a monument even behind the droves of bulky orcs and dragonborn who regularly made the Den their nightly pit stop. From this position he could monitor the entire bar and draw his attention towards any conversation that caught his interest, but in recent evenings the veteran merc had his golden eyes locked onto the door until a special customer entered the tavern. He sat with solemn eagerness and a well hidden tension in his chest as the door remained motionless for the better part of an hour until it finally swung open, and the red-headed brawler strolled into the bar.
It had been four months since Canna first arrived in Arkhosia, and she had already begun her metamorphosis from a naïve teenage traveler to a denizen of the city’s slums. She dressed in simple, loose fitting clothing covered in stains, burn marks, and the occasional hole, but despite the shabby attire she looked far better than when she arrived. She was leaner, but much of the weight that was lost had been replaced by muscle. She still maintained a very fragile and delicate beauty, but those who drew close enough for a close inspection could see the focused form of a fighter appearing. Even her long fiery mane had been cut to a concise bob she carried well, but most impressive was the greetings she received as patrons of the bar turned and shouted out her name with approving nods and waves.
The violent vixen quickly made her way towards Cormag’s table before falling into her chair with a grunt. She gave a deep sigh while wiping her brow and turning her attention to Garmin, the Den’s tenured barkeep. Canna grumbled an order to the tender in broken Draconic before leaning her head back and letting her eyes get lost in the weak yellow light radiating from the dimly lit lanterns that hung from the ceiling. Her focus wrapped tightly around the weak glow; her mind releasing a day’s worth of pent up stress and aggression by momentarily forgetting the world around her existed until the low, rumbling voice of her idol called her back into the present. “Your Dragonic is getting better” Cormag approvingly said with a nod and a smile. Canna pulled her head back into view of the cobalt dragonborn and exhaled deeply before clutching the short glass of rum that Garmin had subtly set beside her.
“Yeah well, it’s not too hard to pick it up when you hear it everywhere. Besides, I need to learn it so I can know when the guys are talking behind my back. By the way, I’m assuming ‘ggreshtok’ means ‘bitch’?” Her question was genuine, but it wasn’t without a little self-aware charm.
“Something similar.” Cormag responded with a laugh before deeply chugging his mead.
Canna quickly peeled off her top and tugged at the neck of the white, sweat-soaked tanktop she wore underneath. “Fuck, this city is always hot.” She grumbled as she took a quick shot of her drink so as to enjoy the undiluted taste before the tavern’s encapsulated heat melted the meager amount of ice inside. Cormag slammed his drink into the table and wiped his chin before his eyes were drawn to a thin red gash on the teen’s right arm. He pointed to it and prepared to speak before a rush of gas flooded to the surface and he let out an ember-filled, echoing belch instead. Canna shook her head in a gleeful embarrassment before clinching her nose closed. “Damn, you know how much that shit stinks. Smells like I’m back in my dad’s forge again when you do that!”
“Pardon me. I wasn’t aware we were sharing royalty at the table this evening. Please accept my apologies Queen Ggreshtok Canna.” Cormag responded with a grin. Canna lifted her middle finger to the dragonborn as she took another drink, and the two exchanged a light chuckle afterwards. It died down quickly however once Cormag returned to his earlier focus. “What’s that on your arm? Did you get cut?”
Canna looked at the wound with a stunning realization marked on her face. She pressed her hand up against the cut and examined the lack of a reaction before shrugging. “Some guy tried to hold me up on the way here. Probably just saw a girl walking alone and assumed she wouldn’t put up a fight. I didn’t even think he caught me with that swing, but rest assured he made out a lot worse than I did.” Canna nonchalantly passed off the attack, but as a long time resident of Arkhosia Cormag knew that the Drow Curfew wasn’t something to be lightly ignored.
“You can’t keep walking the streets at night. It’s bad enough you’ve settled on some hole in an alleyway to sleep in, but if you keep getting targeted by those stick ups you’ll get burned eventually.” Cormag spoke with a paternal authority in his tone and legitimate concern hidden behind the odorous wafts of whiskey drenched breaths. Canna brushed the concern aside as she kicked one foot up on the table and took a sip of her drink before explaining her situation.
“It’s the warehouse. The dragonborn and orcs can push more cargo than I can, so I stay late to keep my numbers up—keep the manager from rethinking his decision to hire me. I’d love to get out before the Drow Curfew, but I need the coin and you’re still paying me shit to beat up your boys.” Canna complained, but there was a sense of satisfaction in her voice. Her life was hard and dangerous, but she seem to enjoy the struggle of surviving. She may complain about the heat and the ugly locals, but deep down Canna knew she loved Arkhosia. “So,” she said, taking another swig, “who am I fighting tonight? Marlow? Haven’t sparred with him in a bit.”
“Nah, nobody tonight.” Cormag said as he stretched out a sore in his neck. “I’ve got to take the boys out for a job tomorrow morning, and I don’t need any of them nursing wounds.” The two sat back and took a synchronized drink.
“How’s work going for you guys? Anything exciting?” Canna asked; the effects of inebriation now starting to take hold.
“Nothing too out of the ordinary. Group of outlaws harassing the local farms and shaking down travelers. Had the poor misfortune of trying to stick up a noble, so the slighted bastard is paying us big money to wipe them out. We’ll be hitting their base up tomorrow, but they don’t know we’re coming so it’ll be a quick slaughter.” Cormag took a gulp of his drink before continuing. “Oh, Skandor is leaving the company. Finally decided to settle down with the girl he’s been sweet on for a while now so he’ll be joining up the guard instead. Guess he’s decided he wants more honest work, but I know that grunt will go insane dealing with the motions of being a soldier. Then again… might be worth it to have a woman waiting for your at home to wash your scales.” Cormag smiled warmly as he drifted back into a comforting memory.
Canna perked an eyebrow. “Washing your scales? Is that really all a girl has to do win your heart, Cormag? Are dragonborn that cheap of a date?” The teen teased, but beneath the mischievous façade that was an earnest foreigner curiosity.
“You knock it, but once you get to be my age a good washing becomes more valuable than gold. That’s good advice now—you should probably be taking that down.” Cormag rapped his claw into the table to emphasize his faux wisdom with a sheepish grin barely contained against the teen’s smirking skepticism.
“Yeah” Canna replied with a roll of her eyes, “I’ll give that a try the next time I see a guy I like. I’ll just get real close and whisper real seductively in his ear ‘I give great baths’. No, really Cormag, it’s great advice. It just looks like I’m not giving a fuck.” The two laughed, but an interesting realization did pop into the young teen’s head. She had seen Cormag in the Dragon’s Den nearly every night for the past four months, but she had never heard the renown sellsword even talk about a woman. Curiosity influenced her next words like a younger sibling ribbing their elder about a crush. “I never see you talking about a special someone, Cormag. There ever been a Mrs. Cormag?”
In most situations this line of questions could be taken as a slight, and at the very least would be considered rude, but between these two no subject was considered taboo. Canna made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t going to hold back about her feelings and Cormag did the same whenever Canna pushed in a potentially sensitive direction. Cormag took a swig of mead and savored on the flavor before giving the teen a restless stare. “No… no Mrs. Cormag. When you live a life like mine you never really feel like it’d be fair to force someone to wait for you. Then you see what I see on a daily basis and you realize you just can’t go home to a woman who’s big worry was what’s going to be for dinner that night.” Canna’s fingers wrapped tightly around her glass as she stared into an older reflection of herself lost in a russet pool.
“But what about kids? You always joke with the guys at the bar they could be one of your bastards, but did you ever really want kids?” By now Canna’s drink was a watered down concoction with that lacked any bite or spice, but the young brawled still sucked from it just the same; her senses focused on absorbing the words coming from her idol’s mouth.
“Yeah, I always wanted a kid. Try to connect to them more than my dad did with me. I think that’s why everyone wants to be a parent; so we can try to show up our folks by raising them ‘right’, but it just never happened.” Cormag’s claws tapped on the outside of his flagon before he quaffed the last of his brew and called for another round with just the slightest motions of his fingers.
“Why?” Canna bluntly asked.
“Remember that fight against an Elven bandit convey I told you about? The one where I decapitated the leader of the convey after taking an arrow through the testicle?” Canna nodded to show acknowledgement before her eyes widened after the gruesome realization. “Yep” Cormag grumbled with a distant gaze in his eyes, but a juvenile grin on his face. “It’s probably for the best. Knowing me, I’d probably leave my kids as a bigger mess than they showed up as. What about you? Thinking about becoming a mother one day?”
“Phf.” Canna’s curt response was reactionary, yet genuinely revealing of her attitude. “I’ll pass. I don’t think I’m cut out for motherhood. Too much patience required, y’know? If one of these goobers get on my bad side I just give them a stiff one to the jaw, but if a kid gets on your bad side you have to talk it out.” Canna fell silent as her thoughts drifted back towards her own mother, and the memories floating to the surface weren’t of the nights spent screaming over ideological differences but rather the long evenings spent having her wounds diligently dressed or the nostalgic hum her mother used to sing as she tucked her children to bed. Canna didn’t want to dwell on these thoughts, instead quickly tugging on the neck of her tank top again and wiping the sweat from her brow. “Seriously, how the fuck do you guys deal with this heat?”
A long night of drinking was starting to get to Cormag as Canna’s question went completely unaccounted; the dragonborn’s focus was locked entirely on the thin red cut on the teen’s arm and the small crimson trails growing from the edges. From watching Canna fight for the past few months Cormag had become an expert on her bizarre amalgam of fighting styles, and as he stared at the wound a thousand worse scenarios played out in his mind. Every thought was about an exploitable flaw that he could fix to prevent the grave disasters his mind ran over in a grim loop. Finally, it became too much and he slammed his fist into the table taking out a chunk of wood along with it. The Dragon’s Den fell quiet as every patron slowly turned their stares towards the massive dragonborn.
Cormag stared out across the tavern looking at all manners of thugs and sellswords with a scowl. A wall of doubt looked for one last reinforcement to secure it for good, but Cormag’s eyes fell upon Trindle, a copper-skinned dragonborn with only one arm left. Cormag knew Trindle’s story all too well, an upstart mercenary who was struck with misfortune when a rival merc cut off his arm over a dispute. He looked at Trindle’s stub with a bitter anger before turning back to Canna. His eyes narrowed in on her wound and tried to apply a convincing argument to justify the scar. “She’s stronger than that. She’s not as naïve as Trindle. She can hold her own—“ Cormag’s self-deceit was abruptly cut short as he Canna’s arm disappeared into a bloody stump leaking an unhindered crimson downpour to the warm tavern floor. The dragonborn’s eyes widened as he lurched his neck back and forced his senses back into control. When his right state of mind returned, Canna was as whole as she always was, but she did possess a very perplexed expression on her face.
“Cormag, are you alright?” she asked, starting to rise from her seat.
“Yeah” Cormag quickly responded, “I’m fine.” There was an awkward pause as the tavern nervously returned back to its normally rowdy nature leaving the teacher and his student alone amidst the cacophony of drunken banter. “Canna, how about you join us tomorrow? Since Skandor left we’re short an arm. You’ll get a full payment as a member of Grash Company, and you can get used the feeling of fighting with a good piece of steel in your hand.” Cormag abruptly put on a good front—he didn’t let it slip in his tone or his body language that this was not an offer he wanted to make.
Canna grinned from ear to ear as she swallowed the last remnants of her drink without puckering at its watered down blend. “I’d be honored to be in Grash Company” Canna replied, thinking back to the bold proclamation she had made just a few months earlier.
“Eh you’re not official Grash Company.” Cormag replied, his jovial disposition returning as his nerves lowered back to a pacified stupor. “I’m just tired of seeing your ugly face in the same piss stained slacks every week, so I figure you could use a little charity.” Canna flipped her middle finger to the veteran merc once more before shouting out another order to Garmin in her novice Draconic. Cormag laughed just the same, but a terrible feeling started brewing in the pit of his stomach. A concern was starting to mount over whether this was the right thing to do for the runaway teen, but it was an emotion that the dragonborn would see drowned in ale.
Another entry into the Cormag saga, and this was another piece I contemplated cutting but ultimately decided I wanted as it gets quite a few points across. Probably the biggest is the multiple relationships that Canna and Cormag share. There’s the obvious role of student/teacher as well as the growing daughter/father relation. The other one I find particular important though is that when it comes down to it, the two are drinking buddies. Though the patrons of the Dragon’s Den often go there to lose themselves in some shitty ale they more often go there for a good time; to share stories of conquests of varying natures and join in some old fashioned drinking songs. For Canna, the Dragon’s Den is the closest she has ever come to a social life partially due to inebriation helping her get past her self-constructed walls of aggression. Ultimately one of Canna’s biggest problems is that’s she’s incredibly lonely largely due to her own anti-social nature, but when she can drink her defenses away she’s a bit more approachable. It’s a crutch, but poor Canna never had friends to confide in, so she expresses herself openly to Cormag, and personally by relating to bar rats and drunken messes. In that same token though, this place keeps her human, because outside of the bar she can only see herself as a killer.
I made a not-too-subtle hint again that I somewhat base Cormag off Liam Neeson in regards to the bandit convoy story. Anyone who’s watched Kingdom of Heaven knows that Liam Neeson has a great line where he brags about fighting for three days with an arrow through his testicle, so I wanted to reference that because it was easier to work in over having Cormag slap Canna on his deathbed before saying “that’s so you remember it”. Oh out of context references, you so silly.
The growing father/daughter relationship is big in this part and overall for Canna as she desperately seeks a parental figure in her life that can understand her. It’s just unfortunate that the two she finds ultimately end up leaving her behind, but we’ll get to that in time. Just understand that Cormag sees Canna as a daughter which is what ultimately makes him so conflicted about inviting her to become a mercenary. On one hand he knows that if he does nothing to teach her then she will continue on this path regardless and could end crippled or worse. However by teaching her, he’s encouraging her to enter into this dark, dangerous world that has reduced him to drinking in a bar every night. Lose/lose, but in the same situation what would you do?
Finally I wanted to address a question Slatefield had last entry regarding the “violent vixen” moniker that I often use in describing Canna. He wondered if I use the term “vixen” to refer to Canna’s looks, attitude, or both. The truth is that it’s related almost solely to her attitude, though it could loosely apply to her looks however that’s not the descriptor I’d want to use too often. To me, vixen is the term you’d use to describe a visually sexual woman, and that’s not how I think of Canna. She’s attractive, but it’s a delicate beauty she inherited from her mother as opposed to an unfiltered sex appeal. Canna’s looks are something I hope to address in a future part as they’re a rather symbolic aspect of her character. The term violent vixen though? Really just related to the fact she’s kind of a bitch and I love alliteration. If you guys ever have any questions, comments, or critiques regarding these entries, drop a line and I’ll try to get to them in a future installment. Until next time fools.