The goliath cobalt-skinned dragonborn rested against a withering oak; his claws rapping against the polished steel of his massive fullblade as it impaled the ground. The thin chime echoed only briefly beneath the warbling of the morning birds amd the soft rush of wind breezing across the wild field where Grash Company was set up. They were miles from their beloved city of Arkhosia and quite a distance from the nearest road, but they were far from lost. Instead this veteran gang was patiently waiting to ensure, without a shadow of a doubt, that they would achieve a flawless victory. Cormag’s tick was rhythmic and only served to pass the time, but the renowned mercenary was carefully absorbing his surroundings with his full attention so much so that he greeted the return of his scout even before the young dragonborn had come into view. “How’s it look, Marlow?”
From a thicket of trees slinked in a thin ruby-skinned dragonborn with long, lean limbs and a drawn, narrow face. He was small by the scale of a dragonborn—standing just beneath six feet on a good day, but his frame was certainly rare amongst dragonborn males. He was thin and his clothes clung tightly to his skin to prevent anyone from mistaking his build. He was dressed in simple tan leathers from his neck down but his equipment confirmed his profession. He wore a bandolier of knives that wrapped around his right shoulder and connected to his belt at his left hip. A quiver of well trimmed arrows hung from his back, and a set of elongated daggers rested in their scabbards at the perfect reach of his hands. Though his warm ruddy scales made him stand out amongst the fading verdant foliage around him the scout seemed to radiate a suppressive aura; as though he could escape from sight at a moment’s notice even if you were staring directly at him. Though addressed before even coming into view, Marlow calmly approached his commander and casually rested beside him. “They’re rookies all right. Didn’t even have to pick up on a trail. They pretty much stomped the earth down into a road for us to follow.”
“What are we looking at structurally?” Cormag crossed his arms and plotted as the vital information poured together into a plan.
“They’re holed up in some old fort about a quarter mile west. Probably one Arkhosia used a couple hundred years ago or so. It’s in pretty bad shape, but enough that they think it gives them a defensible position. We can surround them pretty easily. Number-wise there’s not much of a threat either. Two dozen even, but they’ve only got two lookouts up right now and neither looks particularly perceptive.” As Marlow spoke he pulled out one of daggers from his hilt and stared deeply into the dark ebon steel of his blade. “Most of the guys aren’t equipped and they don’t have any sort of defense set up. These guys are obviously new to this whole ‘bandit’ thing.”
Cormag huffed before pushing himself off his nest and clutching the hilt of his fullblade. “No shit. They were stupid enough to try to rob a noble, so I didn’t take them for some ‘back in the day’ outlaws.” Cormag stretched the restlessness out of his muscles before sheathing his blade and addressing his unit in his deep, authoritative voice. “Alright boys, this is about as easy as this kind of money comes. We’re dealing with a new pack here, but nothing with any bite to it.”
“Eh, then why’d we have to wake up so early then? I turned down a night with Elista Goulderwing for this I’ll have you know!” jokingly grumbled a well-built dragonborn from the back of the few, but elite members of Grash Company.
Cormag chucked lightly. “ Because money like this doesn’t come by every day. Besides, everyone knows Elista is the easiest lay in the district. Might as well start calling her the Dragon’s Den considering all the members of Grash Company she ends up with inside of her on any given night.” The men of Grash Company joined a hardy laugh before Cormag quickly lowered his claws to bring the group to silence. “Enough. There will be plenty of time for our usual debauchery after this is settled! Our target goes by the name of Culvern. He’s a human, early thirties, brown hair, medium build, and has a long scar on the right side of his face.” As Cormag described the distinct wound he traced a single claw down from just above his eye to below his maw. “Now since this is a noble we’re talking about he doesn’t want some rotting head dropped on his table so for proof we’ll bring back the prick’s necklace that was taken from him. Be as savage as you need to boys, but remember these scum still have families somewhere so leave something to bury.”
Grash Company began to prepare themselves for the upcoming slaughter; some gripped their weapons and basked in the thick tension in their muscles while others grew an eager grin as they prepared for the bloodshed. Cormag looked over his troops with approval before delivering his final statement. “These poor idiots were the walking dead the moment we were hired to do them in! Grash Company, move out and savor victory!” The company cheered once in agreement before falling completely silent and slowly spreading out as they swarmed the ravaged, retired fort like hounds circling their prey. Lines of warriors marched with a flawless efficiency; blending together all manners of orc and dragonborn into one elite unit. The only oddity among the usual motions was the tiny human teenager trying to keep pace from the rear of the group. Canna tightly clutched the polished longsword in her right hand while simultaneously wiping her brow with the leather sleeve of her armor and mentally confirming every command she had been given earlier by her mentor.
“I’m on watch. My only job is to catch anyone who might try to escape. That’s easy.” The mission was indeed a relatively easy task, but it was also one Canna had to reassure herself she was capable of. In this scenario she couldn’t lose and just suffer a headache and a few bruises as a consequence—lives hung in the balance of this contest. The sweat from her palms soaked into the inside of her tanned leather gauntlets and caused Canna’s grip to loosen just slightly on her weapon even though she held her sword as though it were the lifeline keeping her from plummeting off of a precipice. Her breathing was tense and short; though she would be quick to blame it on what the restrictive armor she was wearing which wrapped tightly around her skin in a thick cocoon. Her joints ached as she tried to move with her usual agility and freedom only to be restrained by hardy leather bands that held her uniform together. It was her first time in this sort of attire, and she made it very evident as she proceeded without a faint caution to her visibility. Minutes later she could see the intended entrance to the dilapidated fortress and stood awkwardly along the artificial road into the abandoned stronghold as she waited for the raid to begin.
Marlow crept towards the a natural backdoor to the fortress and scanned the interior one last time as he mentally compared this image to the one had seen fifteen minutes ago. When he confirmed that everything was kosher he turned to Cormag who gave the veteran scout a nod. Marlow tilted his head back up and spit a plume of fire straight into the air and the signal to begin the attack was initiated. Five different teams simultaneously charged into the makeshift den and began their slaughter with a refined rage. The scene was filled with curtailed screams and thick clouds of smoke that filtered through the ruined roof and wreathed the building in a grey halo.
Away from this carnage was a thin, blonde-haired outlaw with long arms, a pointed chin, narrow eyes, and a white bandana wrapped tightly around his right sleeve. After finishing relieving himself he pulled up his trousers and reconnected his belt of knives before walking back towards Culvern’s base of operations. This man was one of Culvern’s outlaws, a bandit by the name of Riley who’s filled bladder had spared him the misfortune of being inside the camp once Grash Company began their attack. Riley shuffled back towards his hideout until his normally unobservant gaze happened upon the boldly colored tresses of the teenage girl standing alone with a sword clutched in her hands and her attention focused entirely on the entrance to the old fort.
Riley froze in place and paused he tried to comprehend the situation in spite of his exhausted state. At first it seemed like a fantasy, or worse, a trap, but as Riley examined this rookie teen his hands quivered in excitement of Canna’s palpable fear. Riley couldn’t believe his luck; his sinister gaze saw only the profit he get from robbing and selling this lone woman. Riley slid his tongue between his teeth to halt the eager chattering of his jaw as he subtly drew a dagger from his belt and snuck up behind his victim. He bit down on his lower lip as he carefully approached on the tips of his toes ensuring that not even the slightest sound could be heard until the opportunistic outlaw had a blade wrapped around his target’s throat. He was nearly in range when Marlow’s signaling flame was ignited and the ravaging began. The proceeding ubiquitous grunts of charging warriors startled the on-edge thief and he let slip a frantic exhale which drew Canna’s attention. She spun on her heels only to find herself momentarily paralyzed by the looming figure staring back at her with a panicked fear imprinted in his person.
Riley’s logic suddenly came crashing down to reality as he realized this girl was only part of something much larger. His first instinct was to run away from the clatter of steel, but a moment’s hesitation caused that thought to become replaced with a terrified bravado that just maybe Riley could still come out of this situation a richer man. All he needed to do was subdue this girl and use her as a hostage should the situation call for it. The overconfident brigand still saw his target as a meek child locked down by her own horror so all he needed was to put this bring this rookie to his mercy. Riley dropped his dagger and instead lunged forward with his arms spread out to wrap his victim up and bring her to the ground.
Canna backed away from the tackle, but felt a powerful pressure bind her ankle. She looked down to see her attacker tightly clutching her leg, and with one mighty tug he forced Canna off balance and brought her tumbling to the ground. Canna hit the dirt and felt the wind rush out of her lungs. The lithe brawler tried to hurry back to her feet, but she couldn’t pull her legs away from her foe. She tossed and thrashed in the ground but her struggles were to not avail as her opponent began to control more and more of her person. A deep terror began to swell up in the pit Canna’s stomach as she felt Riley’s leg press down on her abdomen to hold her place. She suddenly felt staked to the floor and a rush of abject fright poured over the teen. She had been used to fighting grapplers before in her days of sparring, but she had always managed to counter those foes by using her spryness and agility to slide out of submission attempts and that refined movement was not available to her as she rested trapped inside this restrictive cocoon.
Canna squirmed underneath the outlaw’s weight but found no give from beneath him. She scanned her surroundings looking for anything to advantage of and found her longsword resting just inches from her reach. She extended her left arm as far as it would go, but the tips of her fingers could only fondle the edge of the hilt. She groaned as she tried to exert just a bit more of herself into this desperate attempt, but her opponent quickly foiled her attempt at a counterattack by smacking the weapon away and clutching her now vulnerable arm and wrapping it around into a painful lock that prevented the teen from moving it in any direction. Canna let out a sharp cry as her remaining arm wildly swung around trying to push her attacker away. Riley however, was now in far too dominant position to be removed be the futile struggles of a weakened child.
He tossed Canna onto her chest and locked her bound arm behind her back before forcing his arms around her neck and squeezing. Canna gasped for air as she desperately wriggled in Riley’s grasp trying to find a flaw in his hold, but her efforts were to no avail as she could already feel her focus fading away. “Not like this…” Canna whined as dreams of freedom became distant strands her consciousness couldn’t hold onto if she submitted now. “I won’t die like this!” Canna gritted her teeth as her right hand scanned the floor around her in some final attempt at safety. Her movements were slowing to a weak stirring though, and she knew her time left conscious was going to be very brief if she didn’t find a miracle. Lucky for her however, her opponent had dropped on just moments earlier, and finally her fingers were able to find it and grip in her weak clutch.
Riley’s dagger limply hung in her hand for a moment before it was plunged into the exposed ribs of its owner. Riley let out a gasp as his weapon dug into his flesh and began chaotically stirring his innards. He instinctively withdrew his arms to guard his vulnerability, and by doing so he released Canna from her seemingly inevitable fate. She gagged and tenderly clutched her throat leaving a dark red imprint on her neck as she quickly absorbed as much oxygen as she could. She crawled to her knees before turning her attention back to the wounded bandit who was screaming as he pulled the bloodied dagger from his abdomen.
A strange, foreign instinct took over Canna as she realized she couldn’t give her opponent time to recover. She dove on top of the bandit and wrestled the dagger from his grasp before holding it high over him. Riley looked up to see a mad fury slowly spreading through his victim’s eyes. He wanted to beg for his life but as he stared into the face of his executioner he felt a disturbing emptiness in her person. There was neither joy nor fear in her expression as she stabbed the dagger into Riley’s heart and pressed it into his chest. As the blade rested in its visceral sheath Canna’s hands began to quiver and retreat. Riley twitched and gasped as his final moments became nothing more than muscle spasms and nervous reactions before eventually settling into a quiet still. Canna kneeled above the corpse; her body stricken in shock.
Juvenile horror washed over Canna as she looked into her foe’s motionless gaze and imagined the life he lived. Panic started to set it once her attention turned to her crimson soaked gloves. Her breath was stolen as she ripped off the gauntlets only to see the ruddy mess had soaked through to her once innocent hands. The blood was still freshly dripping from her hands as she clutched Riley’s bandana and attempted to clean away her crime. She scrubbed away at her palms until she felt the skin began to peel, but when she stopped she could still see the smeared blood crusting in the crevasses of her hand. She reached to wipe away the reminder once more but stopped once she realized her rag was now toned a dark red. Canna tossed it to the side before staring at her hands at disbelief until her stressful breathing slowed to an ordinary pace and a strange realization began to take over. This felt right.
Inside the fortress the slaughter had ended and now the diminutive legion of Grash Company spent time salvaging corpses for a pittance of gold to add to their wallets. Cormag stood triumphantly over Culvern’s corpse, marveling at the tawdry amethyst necklace he had just plucked from the body of his target. He was immensely satisfied at the efficiency of his unit and was prepared to return to the capital holding his head high after a flawless victory when Marlow stared perplexedly at the carnage. “Twenty-two… twenty-three… Someone is missing. I count twenty-four before.” Cormag casually huffed at the sentiment.
“No one got out if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No, but someone may have left between when I first scouted and when we attacked. There’s definitely someone missing,” Marlow hissed.
“So? One dimwitted mercenary isn’t going to be able to do anything to us—“ Cormag’s thought was abruptly ended as he realized he had left Canna alone to cover the entrance. He stormed through bloodied corridors and leaped over piles of the dead before catching sight of his student statically staring into her own hands. “Canna!” he roared, running to Canna’s side and examining her for any wounds. Cormag hunched over and looked into Canna’s eyes while he shouted for her attention. “Canna!” Still no answer. The teen seemed to be trapped in a mental prison; her vision was distant and unfocused even as she peered into the thin layer of encrusted blood smothered on her palms. Cormag scowled as he dug his talons deep into the teen’s arms; a decade of nails shooting a surge of pain through Canna’s body until she instinctively screamed and found her attention snared by the powerful golden lenses of her mentor. “Canna! What happened!?”
Canna took a moment to reaffirm her surroundings before turning her head towards the corpse that laid beneath her. Her eyes now held a fresh maturity as they clinically viewed the carnage. “Nothing. I just made sure no one got away.” Her response was cold, yet Cormag heard a faint whisper of pride in her words. The massive dragonborn stood up and gritted his teeth as he bit back a plethora of violent curses he wanted to shout. He studied Riley’s corpse and could only marvel at the ruthless efficiency of the kill; two decisive wounds delivered directly to vital areas. It was excellent work, especially for someone who had never been truly tested in martial combat before, but Cormag couldn’t admire the potential. In the back of his mind his paternal instincts wept as he realized Canna had now started herself down a path she could never diverge from. A vital piece of her innocence was now lost for good, and the blood that flowed down her arms had baptized her into the violent world of the mercenary.
The first time a character kills another human being in a role playing game is a pretty big deal. Fantasy or not, taking a life has very real effects on a person, and it’s interesting (albeit a bit morbid) to explore those results. For Canna, her first kill was done in a feat of survival. She didn’t want to kill someone, but it was kill or be killed and she managed to do it with stunning accuracy. Five years later Canna has taken probably dozens of lives and been indirectly responsible for even more, so killing has become banal to her. It’s something she just knows how to do really well, and it’s the only real “talent” she knows of. Sure, she has knowledge of other things, but nothing she managed to cultivate into a skill, and thus Canna sees killing as her only lot in life—though we’ll get to that more when I reach Avandra.
Neochick asked if I plan on addressing Canna’s relationship with her family, and rest assured there absolutely will be closure between Canna and her parents—in fact those two piece might be the ones I’m most eager to write. For now I need to finish up on Canna’s time Arkhosia which should come to a close in three more parts, so hopefully I’ll reach the “Avandra Arc” by August. For now though I need to finish telling the story of Canna and Cormag which I hope you are all enjoying thus far. That’s all I have for this week, so I hope you all enjoyed, and if you have any questions leave a comment below. Until next time my peeps! Peace!