The past few months hadn't been kind to him. He'd left another fatherless child behind when he'd left Drache, and likely a bastard or two in Gulanadur before he'd skipped town. Each city he'd been to seemed to leave a new scar on his flesh somewhere. A line on his jaw from the Seccan harbor when he was a starving child living on scraps. His right eye missing after Athena Shademark found him in Murkdusk. A lightning pattern across his left shoulder and arm from that damned Tivaurd woman in Drache. Left ring finger gone after Boss Tivaurd blew up the katar he used to carry.
He frowned to think of the city. Drache had nearly killed him more than once. Even succeeded before he'd left. Menxvan bless that weird Najjiran brain-slug for stitching him back together before the cut-rate necromancer's magic had worn off. His right hand lifted and grazed his stubbled jawline. Scars packed with ash to make them sharp looking and white. A third of the Litany writ upon his flesh before he'd realized that finding salvation in Asherta's soothing gaze wasn't for him.
He took a deep breath, then winced. Ribs still hurt. Healed funny after that kicking he'd taken when he'd got up here. He peered up at the noon sun with that one pale eye of his and raked his long, shaggy black hair out of his face.
"Ulfric's gettin' jumpy, Skinny."
He glanced up to the source of the voice. A big and ugly man from one of the equestrian tribes up north.
"Told you to stop callin' me that," he replied, his tone sour.
He pushed himself up from where he'd been laying prone, peering over the top of a hill and down into a promising looking camp of merchants on their way from Arlohorna to Tagrana. The big man grunted in that strange way, which he could only imagine was laughter.
"'sides. Ulfric's always jumpy before a fight."
More of the big man's grunting laugh.
"You don't get jumpy, uh?" The man asked him. He grinned back.
"Naw, not me. Fights just make me wanna take a piss."
They wanted to call him Ninefingers after they found him. Of course, they had to give him a good kicking first. A dozen hard and weather-worn men with heavy boots. He winced again. Took him a good long while to convince them he was ready to play by their rules. A good long while and a few hard fights. He'd won about half of the fights, which the boys figured was good enough for them. Plus he was handy enough with a sword, and knew a trick or two that always raised an eyebrow when the time came.
They'd settled on calling him Skinny after that, which rankled him for some reason. He pulled himself up once he'd gotten back enough on the hill that the camp in the valley wouldn't spot him. He stretched, groaned, and pushed a fist into his lower back.
He hooked a toe into the stirrup of his horse's saddle and hauled himself up. Gods, but his bladder felt fit to burst. The big man beside him grunted and grinned up to him, gap-toothed and as pretty as a hogshead.
"Let's get it done, Hadric."
Hadric nodded, pulled out a metal whistle, and blew a shrill note that carried far in the still air. From the other side of the valley came a similar sound in reply. Skinny loosened his rapier in its sheath, shrugged his bow off his shoulder and into his hand, and waited for Hadric to saddle up next to him. He peered up at the sun and nodded slowly to himself, counting down the seconds. Then he put his heels to his horse's sides, leaned in low over the horn, and pelted over the hilltop.
Across the way, ten more of his band did the same. The merchants below paled to hear the sounds of the approaching war cries and the growing thunder of the hoofbeats. He sat up in his saddle and careened towards the merchant camp, pale eye narrowed as he nocked an arrow and drew the string taut against his cheek.
He sighted along the shaft, exhaled, and let fly the arrow. It carved a neat arc in the air and hit the first sentry with a meaty thud right in the top of the thigh. The sentry, his sword drawn and shield raised, squawked with surprise and fell to a knee, dark eyes fixed on the shaft protruding from his leg. He didn't leave the sentry much time to figure things out, and drove the man over with his horse. The man was flung back from the impact and had his head dashed on the rocks nearby.
Skinny drew his bow taut again, sighted, and loosed another. This one pierced the next man neatly through the chest, dropping him. The rest of his band struck the camp and the melee became rather general. He'd barely had time to draw his rapier and the buckler he'd found the day before, when a spearman came up beside him and tried to stick him in the ribs. He jabbed down with the edge of his buckler and the spearpoint caught his horse in the flank, causing the beast to shriek and rear up. He yelped, arms windmilling, and fell backward out of the saddle. He landed on his back with a gasp and the impact drove the air out of his lungs. The spearman came at him and he managed to roll halfway, mouth gaping like a fish out of water, only barely managing to bring the buckler around to deflect the next blow. His breath came in tiny squeaks as he hauled himself to a knee and chopped the spearman's legs out from under him. Then the world spun, gone white, as one of his own band barreled into him.
He spat dust out of his mouth, gripped the edge of a nearby wagon, and stood. The camp had become a tangled mess of chopping, flesh, and screaming. The merchant, his wife, his daughters, all wailed uselessly from the wagon nearby, and Skinny hissed at them. The merchant took a single look at the one-eyed bandit, hissing savagely and dripping spit from between his teeth, and ducked back in, his family with him.
Skinny wheeled about, buckler raised, sword ready, as another of the merchant's guards came running at him, bellowing wordlessly. He had to be one of the biggest men he had ever seen. His pale eye went wide and he ducked, buckler held high, as the man bowled him over. His head cracked against the side of the wagon and he wheezed, blinking the sparks out of his eyes. He swung with the buckler, his sword arm pinned agains the wagon, and struck the big man in the chest. The big man hardly seemed to notice. Instead, he found himself grabbed by the throat and hauled off of his feet, legs kicking in an altogether childish fashion, bumping uselessly off of the big man's boiled leather breastplate.
"Ha. Ha. Ha." The man's deep, booming laugh seemed to resonate in Skinny's skull.
"Prepare to die, fucker!"
That's what he was trying to say in reply. It came out, "Glk...raagck...fft."
He dropped his shield and clawed at the bigger man's wrist, but it didn't do him any good. The big man drew a knife that might have been a short sword on anyone else and cocked his arm back. Skinny's eye widened as he saw it. Then the big man's gaze went dead as Hadric, gods bless him, caved in the back of his head with a mace. The big man's grip slackened and he dropped Skinny into the dirt.
He grabbed at the wagon and tried to get up again, legs shaking, chest heaving as he drew air into his lungs for what seemed like the first time in ages. He peered around blearily and only belatedly noticed, with some satisfaction, that the fight was drawing to a close. Menxvan be praised, it was over. Hadric took him hard by the shoulder, blue eyes gauging Skinny's condition with no small amount of skepticism.
"You alright, Skinny?"
Skinny nodded, wobbled, and leaned heavily against the wagon.
"Jus'...gimme a second..."
He wheezed in reply. He took a few great, gulping breaths, shook his head (which hurt), and straightened.
"Alright," he said.
"Alright, I said."
He shoved past the big man and walked into the middle of the camp like he owned the place, cocksure and proud as you like.
"What's left?" He asked Ulfbert, a deadly, wiry looking man. Ulfbert grinned back, his few remaining teeth shining yellow.
"Just them what's hid in the wagon," he said.
"Well, get 'em out."
Ulfbert bobbed his head and pulled at the wagon's door. "Stuck," he muttered.
"Then fucking unstuck it, you dunce."
Ulfbert frowned, wedged his sword between the door and the chassis, and heaved. The locking mechanism gave with a snap and the door flung open to the despairing wails of the merchant, along with his wife and daughters. Ulfbert dragged the merchant over to Skinny, kicked the fellow in the back of the legs, and threw him down into the dirt on his knees at Skinny's feet.
The merchant looked up at Skinny, seeing him for the first time. Sharp features, the right eye missing, the other almost all-white save for the pupil. Nicks and cuts here and there, that aborted scarification work along one side of his neck and jawline. A few teeth capped in silver. Black hair that hung lank and greasy down his back, pushed up behind a pair of ears that were strangely pointed in a way the merchant had never before seen.
The merchant stammered and Ulfbert grunted, turning his back and making his way back to the cart. Skinny frowned, knowing what fate awaited the women. He looked back down to the merchant, then squatted down on his heels until he was at eye level with the man. He knew what fate awaited this fellow, too.
He smiled broadly, silver-capped teeth flashing.
"I think you know what happens next."
The fate of that merchant family was fairly obvious and the details of the whole event were rather grim and don't bear repeating. It was by the end of the evening that his band had taken their fill of the goods. With a fair bit of coin, new boots, and some good food thrown into the bargain, Skinny reckoned it had gone alright. One of the boys had a broken arm from an unlucky run-in with a mace, and there were plenty of cuts and bruises to go around, but all things considered, he thought, it wasn't too bad.
He had a bit of parchment spread out on his buckler in front of the fire, an ink well beside it, and a pen gripped inexpertly in his hand. His tongue peeked out from between his lips as he wrote the letter, a frown of concentration on his face. It was so hard to keep track of time out here in the country, never mind the passage of time. He reckoned it had been a good few months since he'd left all that shit in Drache behind. Time enough for the worst of the wounds to heal. Those that would heal at all, at any rate.
"Ay, Skinny, who the fuck you got to write to?" Hadric called from his side of the fire, chewing on a strip of horse meat.
Skinny grinned across at the man.
"The fuck you mean, who the fuck I got to write to? I got family, you peen-arse. Ain't all of us lucky enough to be so ugly as to end up bein' raised by dogs."
"They as pretty as you are, then?" Hadric asked.
Skinny snorted, not looking up from his pen and parchment.
"A bit less scarred up, but about as skinny. I'm writin' my sister. She's back in Drache."
Hadric snorted. "Fuckin' Drache."
A sentiment that was echoed down the line.
"Fuckin' Drache," Skinny repeated.
Outside the city of Drache lies a number of cities, towns and provinces of varying size and populace. Most of the people living outside Drache are natives who speak Arangothian and observe the native customs and rituals. Click here for a list Arangoth's locales, and here to view a map.
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