Second Wind

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  1. The forest trail was silent, not that Myra Ashdown was surprised. This so far into the wilderness, the only other souls she was like to encounter were brigands, or, perhaps worse, a rampaging troll. However, since the sounds of snapping branches and throaty roars did not echo through the trees, nor had she encountered anything of true interest, she wagered that her guide had been correct in that this path was relatively safe.

    Recent rains had muddied the dirt of the trail, making it difficult for Myra's horse to move with any haste as its hooves sank into the earth with every step. For three days, the road that wound around Gradun - the massive mountain peak that dominated the center of Bridgewood - had become worse and worse as it branched further and further into the wild. Cobbled roads had turned into well-packed dirt, well-packed dirt into narrow trails.

    "Why even bother, 'eh?" She patted the horse's neck. "Who knows how long that bounty's been there, might've been claimed by now, and I'm just wasting time enjoying some damned worthless scenery."

    The horse, as if to acknowledge Myra's statement, snorted and whisked its tailed.

    Knowing her luck, Myra would arrive at where this "bandit lord" had been rumored to be to find that the "fearsome, one-eyed half-ogre Earbiter" either did not exist, had been killed and the bounty lost, or was just a lone commoner inflating his own reputation. If it was the latter, she would just as well return home than attempt to explain why the presumed half-ogre looked alarmingly similar to a human. Perhaps the Cawold family would spare her a few silvers for the effort, but that hardly equated to the promised sum of five hundred crowns.

    The sudden rustling of leaves tore Myra from her own self-pity. In an instant, her hand lashed out, snatched her scabbard from where it lay across the back of her saddle. The quiet scuff of steel against leather boomed through the trail and she drew the blade and examined her surroundings. Overhead, a crow cawed and flapped from its perch to another tree. Myra muttered a curse, sheathed her sword, and tucked it away once more.

    "Glad one of us is watching out," she grunted, nudging the horse onward.


    By the time Myra's horse had managed to traverse through another two miles of soft mud, the sun beamed directly overhead. She had reached the fork in the road her guide had warned her of: one wound through a river valley and back onto the main road, the other took her directly to the decrepit border fort Earbiter and his band occupied. The prospect of fending off a half-ogre, in addition to whatever other underlings at his disposal, had been a daunting one, one Myra had cast aside upon deciding to look into the bounty posting.

    The reality of the situation dawned upon her as she tied her horse to a sturdy tree branch off of the trail, preparing to take her midday meal before pressing on.

    One issue at a time. First you find the oaf.

    Still, Myra mulled over the predicament as she tore into a loaf of crusty, stale bread and salted deer cooked the night before (she was no skilled woodsman, but she had brought a short bow along for the particularly easy kills). About to saddle up and continue her journey, Myra halted as the distant plod, plod, plod of feet through mud sounded further down the trail. Her gaze darted to her horse, contentedly munching on a patch of tall grass, blissfully unaware of the noise.

    #1 ze_kraken, Feb 20, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2016
  2. Onward the horse plodded. Rather short, only about 14 hands if that, but excellent at maneuvering in unconventional places. Piebald, it had a primarily black coat with flashes of white, not a great combination for trying to be discreet. Arilith Razalath, the horse's owner and rider, wouldn't trade the gelding for any other horse. On lonely treks like this one the animal served as her companion as much as a means of transportation. Although Ari had packed light as usual with only a spare outfit or two, a bedroll, food, a skin of water, slingshot ammunition, and a crinkled map, and a few other loose items, the horse had obediently accepted the pack that carried it and didn't appear to mind. Ari was thankful for that, as she would have felt discontent with a horse unwilling to work, feeling it no better than how she was forced to work in her youth. This horse wouldn't be whipped, which allowed him to maintain a free spirit and respect, important factors for cooperation.

    While Ari had attempted to steer her horse away from the thick mud, no area on the trail appeared to be dry. Travel was slower, but Ari didn't complain and instead looked around at the scenery and let herself think. She was after a bandit lord evidently, a man feared enough to have a poster sent out for his killing. All that mattered was that the poster promised money, not the danger of the supposed half-orc. Ari was often times more confident than she should be.

    "Do you think we can take this guy, Fury?"she asked her horse, not expecting an answer.

    The horse, named Fury, angled his ears backwards to listen to his rider, but was unable to respond. Ari took the acknowledgment as some form of affirmation. "Of course we can,"Ari commented as they pressed on.

    As they passed the foliage Ari peered inside the green depths, wary of danger. Emerald colored leaves shifted in the light breeze. Tree trunks creaked on occasion. Besides this, there was little other sound. The lack of animal sounds unnerved Ari since often she relied on them to clue her in on the whereabouts of danger. Often animals were only silent if predators or unfamiliar figures were nearby. This thought kept Ari on edge and the horned sellsword constantly looked around.

    More time to think. Ari would hopefully find this "Earbiter," long before any other sap trying to snag some coins. The prospect of competitors made Ari bristle, but she couldn't blame others for pursuing the same goal she had in mind. The world revolved around money and people would always be hounding it, especially fellow sellswords.

    As for the actual task of killing the bandit, Ari would have to be quick and careful as usual. At her last stop to eat she had ensured that her two short swords, which were more like long daggers, were coated in poisonous berries. The juice was pretty harmless when touched with fingertips, but burned horribly once it entered a wound, which it did when sliced directly into the skin. It wasn't poisonous enough to make one sick, but the stinging could distract opponents enough to offer Ari the upper hand. Also, she kept a wooden slingshot in her belt and a pouch of small, iron pellets. She also used this weapon mainly for distracting opponents, or sometimes managed to inflict damage by striking vital areas like the eyes. It also worked to dismount opponents by agitating their horses into throwing them off. However, it was the only ranged weapon she had to speak of and was pretty useless for killing people or large game. Because of this Ari ate birds, rabbits, and other small game with the use of her slingshot and the occasional snare. She hardly seemed to mind though.

    Ari and Fury continued down the trail until they saw a figure far up ahead of them. Ari tensed up, which began to make Fury uneasy, eliciting a nervous nicker as they pressed in the direction of the other mounted travel. As they came near they observed that there was only a single rider, a female and her horse, but a sword and short bow were in sight, so caution was expressed. When they were near enough Ari slowed Fury and mulled over what she could say. Her first thought was to deter the woman since it was very possible she was a sellsword after the same bounty. To find out if her suspicions were true all she asked was, "Are you after Earbiter too?" She sounded a bit disappointed, fearing an affirmative answer.

    Ari stopped at the fork in the trail next to the traveler, making sure both of her sheathed swords were in view. She remained on her horse, but allowed the creature to stop and eat some grass while Ari was waiting for a response. Fury gladly chewed on grass, but not before he had snuffled in the direction of the unfamiliar pair.

  3. Myra glanced up from adjusting the saddle bags of her horse and squinted in the direction of the noise. A lone rider atop a mottled white horse, strutting at a moderate pace towards the fork in the path. Unable to make out any weapons at her distance, she turned her attention back to the saddle bags and hoisted herself atop the horse but made no further move: suddenly galloping away or drawing a weapon would invite an equally hostile response. The intricacies of life aboard the Kestrel momentarily jolted through Myra's thoughts as she waited for the rider to approach. It felt no different than waiting for a shipment to arrive at port.

    The woman huffed as she crossed her arms across her chest, waiting for the rider to arrive within earshot, reflecting ruefully on how she had failed to notice a fellow traveler for the better part of a mile. Perhaps this traveler had made camp in the forest? Or taken a path Myra was unfamiliar with? Or had her guide failed to take into account the supposed outlaws now occupying this section of the woods? Myra's suspicions were only strengthened when the figure was close enough to make out the face.

    What Myra had originally mistaken for sheathed blades jutting out - which, instead, rested within plain sight at the woman's sides - were in fact black horns, about a forearm's length each that tapered off into sharp points. Her ears were likewise pointed, extending a good deal more than even a full-born's, and, Myra had no doubt, there were fangs hidden behind closed lips. Draconian. A long traveler she could understand, human, perhaps even a full-born given proper circumstance, but a draconian, armed, in outlaw territory? Was she being watched? Had sentinels reported her position upon her entrance into the forest?

    "Are you after Earbiter too?" The draconian questioned once within earshot, sounding almost disappointed.

    "Awfully specific," Myra retorted, tugging at her braid. "I'd say 'depends who's asking', but that incriminates me, doesn't it? I'd play ignorance, but I'm armed too heavily to be wanderin' around the countryside."

    She leaned forward.

    "Way I see it, the bounty's big enough for two," she paused. "So I hear, anyways. Wouldn't know a thing about this Earbiter."

  4. Out of instinct Ari was keen to observe the woman with hawk like golden eyes. The weapons the woman possessed clearly made her different from a merchant or a lone traveler. Sure there was enough conflict for many to be toting swords around, but it wasn't something that common, non-fighting folks bore. Weapons were for soldiers, sell-swords, or criminals, all dangerous in their own respects. Soldier could be ruled out since the woman traveled alone and bore no fancy armor and the horse didn't appear to be one bred purely for war. That left two options. Criminal would certainly be possible, but sell-sword couldn't be ruled out quite yet. That's why Ari had been quick to pop a question regarding motives. Her question was specific enough to ensure a certain answer, or at least clue enough for Ari to deduce.

    It seemed that the traveler wasn't keen on answering simply. She prattled on about the possibility of her being after the same man and dodged the question. However, she did admit that she couldn't conceal the fact that there were arms involved. What gave the woman away was the phrase about sharing the bounty. Following that phrase was a coy addition, an attempt at a false herring. Ari's eyes narrowed and she nearly scoffed. An odd twitch raised her lip enough to show a fang, eyebrows raising in question.

    "Do you think of me as a fool?"she asked, incredulous.

    Sitting up in her saddle, Fury, raised his head and chewed the last mouthful of green grass. One of his hooves raised and pawed at the dirt once. There was a pause before Ari continued, backing up her accusation. Ari had decided that this woman was indeed a sell-sword looking for Earbiter. Why else would she claim the bounty could be split? She couldn't do that if she didn't know that there was a bounty in the first place. This information was a key clue.

    "Clearly you know there is a bounty involved and even that it's large enough to split. I mentioned nothing of bounties or of amount, so you drew your own conclusions. Unless you are a very, very crafty guesser, I assume we are after the same person's head."

    Ari wore an almost triumphant smirk as if she had trapped the woman in facts, which was generous considering the hot blooded Draconian would be eager to pick a quarrel. What she thought as a slight on her intelligence could have led to bloodshed. Fortunately she had pacified herself with her argument.

    "Assuming you will fess up to being a sell-sword...I think that the bounty could be split..."she added, an offer. While it wasn't of her best interest, in the back of her mind she sensed that some aid could help. After all, if this man was a bandit lord he probably had plenty of underlings. Ari was a skilled fighter, but sheer numbers could do her in.

  5. "A fool? Can't say I've known you long enough to decide," Myra smirked, adding. "I'd be the fool if I kept going on about the bounty here - I can't say two swords is quite fair against my one. Must say, though, doesn't take some highborn education to see that 'are you after so-and-so' would imply a bounty, does it?"

    The woman paused, brow furrowing into deep creases. Seething inwardly, she noted the Draconian's lips tucked upward into a smirk and bit her lip. Rather than lead in with another quip, she changed tact.

    "I'd be lying if I said I enjoy the thought of splitting payment, but I doubt either one of us could claim the bounty alone. 'Less you've got some full plate and barding in that pack of yours, I wager you'll be as hard pressed as me to take on more than one of the lot. Something tells me they practice knightly honor no more than the actual knights."

    Myra knew she tread on thin ice: agitating a Draconian, of all people, was an easy way to wind up stuck like a pig at the end of a spear. She was not fooled by the relatively narrow physique. Though she'd only ever seen one in action, the stories were enough to keep her docile for the time being. If push came to shove, she could find a way to claim the bounty for her own and flee before the Draconian could so much as blink.

    That is if this one doesn't continue being a cut above the others: this one's sharp.

    "Ah, but splitting a bounty's no reason to forget manners. I'm Myra."

  6. Underneath Ari her horse shifted his weight. The Draconian processed what the woman was sharing, glad that she didn't have to get into a scuffle over her pride, even though the crushing of bone would be like music to her ears after hours of dull travel. It seemed the woman wasn't out to insult her. However, that didn't warrant trust. Ari's trust wasn't something given easily at all.

    Honesty, however, was appreciated. The fact of the matter was that splitting the bounty was something frugal sell-swords weren't keen to do. In this scenario though, Ari would take the gamble of splitting the bounty if it meant avoiding death. Money was valuable, but life was more so. Since it was probable for their target to have numbers behind him even Ari would need some assistance. The traveler wisely pointed this out, as it was very true that Ari was lacking the armor to take on so many opponents.

    While Ari was confident in her skills and her race often served as a warning to others to heed her sword, her distrust of others in general made her cautious of this woman. Sell-swords were not ones to have clean reputations or the inclination to fulfill promises, especially those involving money. Ari knew this well as she was a sell-sword herself. For now she decided to only split the bounty if this woman aided her in the battle that was likely to come. Hopefully the woman had the same notion and wouldn't try to pull anything. If anything went awry Ari wouldn't hesitate to let her swords do the talking.

    This woman didn't look as worn or as mentally unstable as some of the other sell-swords Ari had encountered. She looked well read, an intelligence in her eyes. The word choice also made it evident. This woman wouldn't be fooled easily and a slick tongue was a dangerous one. From the looks of it this woman was educated. When it came to education Ari was at a disadvantage. Combat had come easily, not literacy. What Ari knew she knew from information given orally.

    While the Draconian sell-sword was more than happy to continue on with this stranger without the formality of names, the stranger wasn't. Myra. Not as odd as some of the names she heard sell-swords boasted since some chose to alter theirs for the sake of erasing identity or merely trying to intimidate others. Deciding cooperation would get her further, her name was offered. "Greetings. I am Arilith,"she introduced curtly before tapping her boot against Fury's furred flank to get him moving at a walk. It was clear she was eager to get moving again. Formalities were never her forte.

  7. As Arilith spurred her horse forward, Myra followed suite, guiding her own steed into a canter behind the Draconian's. She kept her distance from the other woman, in a desire to both the sellsword's suspicion in check and to give herself a wide enough breadth to flee should it come to that. Myra had lived through enough in Outlaw's reach to understand the intricacies of working out of practicality: it was a job, they were both there to complete a job. Nothing more.

    Still, though the Draconian had claimed no immediate interest in killing her, Myra could not help but feel that nudging suspicion in the back of her mind. This is just an elaborate lead, it told her. She's baiting you. Rationality told her that the fork in the road would have been the perfect location for an ambush, so why would they bother guiding travelers this far into the forest to rob them? Regardless, no one lived a life of mercenary work without a healthy dose of paranoia.

    It's only paranoid if they aren't out to get you...

    The pair traveled in relative silence as they continued on the forest trail: it seemed that this Arilith was not one for chatter, a trait Myra was willing to oblige. She had no doubt the longer the two carried on a conversation, the more liable she would be to stepping over the line. So for now, the sellsword was content to listen to the clop of hooves against damp earth and the gentle breeze overhead...

    Little over two hours later, the trail turned from packed earth to ill-maintained cobble. The sun had begun its downward descent, the shadows already lengthening, though Myra wagered there were still several hours of daylight left before the moon rose. To their left, the cobble path and the forest bed blended together into a mismatched mixture of earth, grass, and stone before falling off into a steep slope. Myra knew where they were now, partway up the slope of Gradun, though still well within the colossal mountain's foothills.

    The sellsword gently tugged on her horse's reins, easing the beast into stopping.

    "We won't be far from the fort now," she informed Arilith. "I'll use my own feet 'til then.

    Myra grabbed her sheath from where it lay and buckled it to waist, fumbling for a moment with tightening the strap. Next came a hunting knife, which she clasped to her right boot followed by her shortbow. Lastly, Myra hoisted a leather overcoat and flung it over her tunic and scraps of chain.

    "Here's to hoping we aren't the only two, 'eh?" She snorted. "Otherwise I would've been better serving ale back home, little good that'd do me."

    Clutching her steed's reins in one hand, Myra continued down the path, guiding the horse along. Up ahead there would be a path that would take them directly to the old fortress, her guide had said. Of course, they'd see it before they saw the path, if it truly was a fortress and not some forest cabin.

    Of course, if it is a fortress, let's hope two people can take it.

  8. While Arilith appreciated Myra giving her distance, the fact that the sell-sword was behind her was worrisome. The woman could speed up suddenly and send a sword through the Draconian's back, or even silently pull the short bow out. Ari could find herself impaled in various scenarios and this made her prickle with discomfort. Occasionally she stole furtive glances back.

    It was instinct for Ari to assume the worst in people. Especially sell-swords. They, including Ari herself, always had tricks up their sleeves. Silence continued to fill the surrounding forest in the most unnerving way. Hooves plodding along seemed to be the only sound present. Occasionally there would be a rustling deeper into the foliage, warranting caution. Ari tried to calm her mind by admiring the tranquility of a place like this. This mindset kept her high strung self sane. For now at least.
    Eventually the path turned to rough cobble, Fury's hooves clopping on the harder surface. By now the sun had began its slow descent towards the horizon. Perhaps nightfall would provide the advantage of ambush. A shroud of darkness could give them an edge over their opponents, as there were bound to be quite a few. A group couldn't function as well in deep darkness, could they? Arilith had little qualms with operating in the dark if it came to it.

    Myra finally broke the silence by speaking, announcing their close proximity to their target. Ari nodded silently and mimicked Myra, also dismounting her horse and leading it on foot. Carefully she secured her thick, protective leather vest. A triangular leather shoulder piece was attached to her right shoulder. Matching pieces for the wrists as well as gloves were pulled out from her pack. Leather armor would prove useless against a direct sword blow, but Ari was hoping it didn't come to that. The two short swords were still buckled at the waist and a slingshot was tucked in as well.

    "You go that right. We better hope that there we have some aid if there are dozens of bandits hoarded up here,"Arilith agreed with a snort of her own.

    With that said Ari also walked forwards, the reins of her horse just hanging loosely. For now she trusted the horse wouldn't spook. Out from her pack came a small jar of deep purple, almost red, berries. They were familiar by many as being very poisonous. A sword slid out from Ari's sheath, the blade stained a deep purple. A berry was popped out from the container and crushed against the blade. Deeply colored juices spread over the weapon. It was sheathed again and the other sword received the same treatment before the berries were put away. The Draconian flicked some of the excess juices off of her hands. She knew better than to place her hands anywhere near her face right now.

    Ari decided to grab Fury's reins now as they approached the supposed fortress. It would be poor luck for her horse to spook now and alert enemies of their presence.

  9. As the pair made their way to where the cobblestone veered right into another forest path, Myra readjusted her scabbard and turned to Arilith, casting the Draconian an inquisitive glance.

    "Oh? We had best hope that our aid finds themselves wounded or fled before the deed is done. I've no interest in splitting this more than two ways," she mused.

    Myra flinched at the sudden scuff of the Draconian's blades and turned back to find that Arilith was smearing some form of juice over her blades. Clearly this was a common practice, for the swords were already stained in a deep hue of purple. Poison? It must be. Though Myra had seen - and felt - her fair share of poisons, this was an unfamiliar one. Curiosity taking over caution, she paused.

    "What'ya have there? Most would've gone for something less.. Shall I say obvious? Bah, perhaps not. You don't look to be the sort to use poison in place of brawn..."

    As she awaited an answer, Myra turned right and looked for a place to tether her horse. Some branch to tie the beast down, or perhaps even a worn stable on the perimeter of this "fortress." It would do neither of them any good to have a nickering horse in hostile territory, and it would best to appear to have no escape plan in mind when they made their initial approach. Caught in her search for a decent tether, Myra had neglected the spectacle before her: up ahead, peeking up over the trees, stood a stone fortification that had certainly seen better days. Its watchtower was half destroyed, either by age or some battle years ago, and its crenulations were cracked and crumbling.

    Well, she reflected ruefully, at least it's neither a fortress or a cabin. Just enough to be challenging, and unsettling, but hopefully something we can handle.


  10. To the woman's comment Ari just offered a grunt. It was not up to her to decide now what they would do with more people. More help would make the reward possible to achieve, but also smaller since it would be divided. For now Arilith had to hope, like Myra, that any helpers would perish or could be disposed of somehow.

    It seemed that the other sellsword had noted the poisoned blades and also questioned them. Aggression threatened to cloud the Draconian's features. Did this woman think her of a cowards for using poison? Did she mean to finish that sentence and claim that Ari was even a fraction like those that relied on poison over combat? The potential slight was cast aside for the favor of avoiding being spotted by nearby enemies. "It's juice of a poisonous berry. I don't rely on such a thing, but it certainly gives me an edge when the wounds my blades create are more painful. It's pretty useful in times like these where I might be outnumbered,"she answered, resting a hand near the handle of one of the sheathed blades.

    As they continued onward they spotted the potential bandit hideout. A crumbling stone structure, weathered by age, incomplete looking. A perfect base for any band of criminals. Quietly Ari approached a nearby tree off of the trail and headed a few feet into the foliage, pulling the reluctant horse behind. When it was fully immersed in foliage Ari tied its reins to a branch. A gentle hand patted the horse's snout lovingly. "You stay put here. I don't want them to see you,"she told the animal quietly. It snorted softly as an oblivious creature would, then lowered its head to pull some scraggly grass from the ground.

    Arilith cast one more look at Fury before exiting the dense forest. The horse would be hidden from bandits that way, but perhaps not predators. Ari's logic was that predators would attack even if the horse were closer to the trail, so she would hide the horse from at least the threat of people. Arilith let the other sellsword make the decision regarding tying up her own horse. The Draconian continued cautiously towards the stone structure, steps carefully placed, hands on the hilts of her swords.

  11. After Arilith had set her horse off to the side, concealed in the underbrush of the forest from unwanted would-be travelers, Myra nodded to herself and continued down the path, doing her best to walk side-by-side with the Draconian. She had no desire to warrant suspect as she had during the ride to the fortress, nor place the warrior with poisoned blades behind her. Ruefully, she reflected that it would always be this way between "working professionals" in the field. Trust was not easy to come by, even in the best of crews.

    Now, the only light that illuminated the path came in from the break of the trees that signified the beginning of the path they now walked through. Past the immediate trees to either side, the greater part of the mountainside was cast in inky blackness etched in the faint outlines of yellow-orange light upon the leaves. Soon it would be dark enough to pass right into the fortress, barring any extraneous circumstance.

    The pair continued in silence for little over ten minutes before the trees cleared and the fortress came within clear view. The dying light from behind caught only the very tips of the watch tower and walls, highlighting the damaged segments and casting the craters, cracks, and divets in harsh shadows. The gates themselves still held, blocked by grated iron, but the moat had long since dried away and the drawbridge's chains were snapped, leaving the wooden bridge rooted permanently across the gap. Still, Myra was certain she could see the tips of wooden stakes peaking through the moat. She glanced left and right for something to take cover behind, noticing a outcropping of ruined stone within a few paces (though still well away from the fortress) and darted behind it, beckoning for Arilith.

    "The way I see it," she muttered, peering over the stone ruin. "We've got no reason to make this more difficult on ourselves, so we wait here, let the sun fade, and then head in. None of us are hefting anything so valuable that we can't leave it here, and we aren't in heavy armor, so it'll be fairly easy to sneak into the place. Might need to scout out for an entrance beyond the front gate, though. Doubt they'll take kindly to use trying to knock our way through that."

    The woman paused, smirking.

    "Still, way I hear it, Draconians are pretty strong? Might make a solid back up, hm?"
  12. After Fury was secured in the thick vegetation the Draconian had found herself walking side by side with the other sellsword. A respectful distance was kept between them for now, a few feet of buffer space. There was still no trust between the two considering both were strangers to one another and had no real way of judging intentions. Ari only extended some trust and that trust was that Myra would try to kill their target as well. Such aid would be useful. However, Ari didn't trust that this woman wouldn't turn on her right after the battle was waged. Sellswords were never too keen to split profits and this generalization included Ari herself. Sharing the reward was far from ideal, but the reward wasn't too meager and would still be beneficial even if split. Only if Myra turned on Ari or if she retreated would Ari fuss about the split. At least that was her decision for now.

    The surrounding scenery was observed with scrutiny. What light there was in the ever dimming sky offered enough visibility to clearly make out the fortress ahead. Up closer it looked more damaged than original assumptions suggested. Cracks crawled across the dull colored stone and spread in veins, more prevalent in certain areas such as the remaining towers, proving the shelter was not in great condition. Even so, it was solid stone and was ample enough to hide a whole pack of bandits, validating Ari's caution. Adrenaline began to course through her bloodstream and muscles slowly became increasingly tense.

    Ari watched as Myra took refuge behind a stone structure and beckoned her over. The Draconian stalked over and took a spot next to the other sellsword, peering around the stone to examine the dried moat and iron gate. The moat seemed to pose little obstacle, but the iron gate, although corroded, was still standing.

    Attentively Arilith listened to Myra's proposed plan of action. Her eyes narrowed as if in thought as she absorbed the information given. Finally she nodded to confirm the plan, a clear response without any words. Then she saw Myra's mouth twitch up into a smirk with another comment hailing Ari's race for their strength. The mention of the race's advantage brought a flash of a proud smile to Ari's face and she allowed her posture to straighten a bit for a moment, shoulders pressed up. "Of course. Draconians are pretty strong. Not quite as strong as an orc, but still generally gifted,"she offered in return, a tad bit boastful.

  13. "Right, then," Myra nodded to herself. "If we each take a half of the wall to look over and come back here, I think we'll know what we'll have to do. As of the present, I don't see any sentries. Won't matter once we're against the wall in any case."

    The woman paused.

    "I'll take the left side," she went on. "Moat hopefully doesn't go the full way 'round. You head right, we'll meet back in a quarter of an hour."

    She shimmied out of her greatcloak - the garment would only prove to scrape against the ground or stand out in the dying light - and left her sheathed sword with the cloak. Reluctant as she was to leave the blade behind, it was unnecessary weight, and could make enough noise to give her away if it bounced and bobbed across her back. Left with her hunting knife tucked away firmly in her right boot, Myra hunched low to the ground and made for the line of trees left of the path, offering one last glance over her shoulder.

    "Oh, right - if you get into any trouble, try to make as loud a scuffle of it as you can if it is too much to handle before the alarm's sounded. If not, well, I trust you can take just about anyone on their own, with or without a weapon."

    Myra offered a rueful smile then continued her slow pace towards the treeline, keeping a cautious eye on the upper lip of the fortress' wall for a head that might peek out over the edge. Though she was slow and deliberate in her movements, that wouldn't help if a watchman happened to look down upon the path and see a figure low to the ground outlined in orange light. Then her best hope would be that her attacker would at least not have brought a bow along.

    Reaching the treeline with no sounded alarm or arrow wounds, Myra took a right through the trees towards the wall. Upon coming within sight of the moat, she began to trace the path of the wall, making sure to stay out of direct sight of the tip of the wall, making her every stop slow and deliberate. Her iron-shod boots would easily snap any twig at the lightest touch, and though she doubted that noise would carry through undergrowth and stone, she did her best to avoid every low-lying branch.

    As she passed by foot after foot of more stone wall, she began to feel that their only option - though it had been made partly in jest - would be to rush through the gate, the Draconian leading the charge.

    Well, that would be an easy way to make the payment for a party of one again...She reflected as she continued through the treeline. No. No. I'm not skilled enough.

    Caught in her own thoughts and observing the wall beyond, Myra failed to notice a low-hanging branch directly ahead. She strode directly into it, and the branch snapped across her face, cutting her cheek. Fighting to urge to curse, Myra shot a hand up to hold the injury. Grunting to herself under her breath, she turned back to the wall, and a smile tugged at the corner of her lips.

    There, directly ahead, was a hole wide enough for three men to pass through, hastily barricaded with loose wooden fencing and littered with spare planks.

    If Arilith could hoist me over the moat...Yes. That might work.

    Elated, Myra began the long way back to the stone ruin, gently whistling under her breath.

  14. With another nod Arilith agreed to Myra's words, expression rather stoic. It didn't portray what she was currently thinking. Ari was contemplating how many opportunities this sellsword had to cheat her. Suspicion fueled her train of thought and she found herself thinking about what would happen if they did get into a scuffle on their independent scouting tasks. Something deep inside led Ari to believe this sellsword would high tail it and flee the scene if things turned sour too early. Or perhaps the lure of money would compel Myra to stick around at least for a few blows. Then what?

    Ari was left to contemplate this herself as Myra departed to examine her half of the structure. Since Arilith wasn't keen to fully disarm herself in case of an ambush, she discarded her sword holster, which had buckles that could create too much noise. After some thought she bitterly left one poisoned blade but kept the other in her possession as she set off around the right side of the crumbling fortress. Each step seemed unconsciously calculated and fell as quietly as they could be with leather boots, retreating to the tree cover, nerves sated by the extra protection.

    The Draconian stalked on the edge of the forest around the stone fortress and allowed her eyes to scan the corroded structure in great detail. Every crevice seemed to be noted. As time ticked on the search seemed more fruitless by the passing moment. No opening made itself clear and after she reached the back and turned around Ari hoped that Myra had found some form of entrance or vulnerability on the opposite side of the fortress. With a sigh she pressed on until she reached their meeting point. Here she reattached her sword belt to her waist and sheathed both blades, waiting patiently for the other sell sword.

  15. Myra was not the first to return to the crumbled stone. For a good moment she sat hunched in the treeline, attempting to make out the figure that stood there. Though the horns could be no one else's, the sell sword waited until she saw the figure reach down for the "cache" of weapons they had left behind. Cautiously, she inched her away across the gap between the treeline and the meeting point, once again casting shrew glances to the tops of the fortifications.

    Upon coming within earshot of the Draconian, Myra shifted her stance to one more open, attempting to avoid a potential misunderstanding that might land her at the end of a poison-soaked blade. The woman reached slowly for her greatcloak, tugging the garment over her shoulders and pulling her arms through the sleeves. As she readjusted the cloak's collar and fit, she spoke up in a hushed tone.

    "I found something," Myra let the statement hang in the air for a moment. "But, problem is it'll take someone going over that moat. It isn't ideal, but before we go for that one - did you find anything?"

    The woman paused, then added, snickering. "Preferably a hole in the wall with a bridge leading right to it, with a nice sign announcing 'no guards here'? That would be ideal."

    As she waited for a response, the sell sword hunched down and picked up her sword, still tucked away in its sheath, and buckled the weapon to her back once more, tugging the strap tight to her form. With any luck, Arilith had found something better than a potentially noisy, dangerous, and frankly crude means into the fortress. Better than tearing down the gate, Myra reflected, biting at her lower lip. But how much better?

  16. A flicker of movement caught Ari's eye. Just a small indication of another presence that left her bristling in such a tense situation. Was it the returning sellsword or a bandit? Not yet knowing the answer, the Draconian found herself crouching down ever so slightly and slowly freeing a poisoned blade from its sheath. When it was drawn out the figure had slipped into view, identifying the person approaching as the other sellsword, Myra. Arilith relaxed considerably and slowly stood straighter, slipping the blade back into its respective sheath and allowing some of her muscles to loosen up. Still, the prospect of being at the front door of a bandit horde with only the company of an unfamiliar sellsword left her nerves on end. No one could be trusted and caution was imperative.

    Myra brought some form of hope, explaining that there was a potential breech in the fortress. However, the moat would be an obstacle. If the bandits bore down on them while they were still crossing the moat then they'd be as good as dead. Such a passage wasn't ideal, but Ari hadn't found a better one.

    At Myra's quip Ari offered a short, rough chuckle. "If only,"she replied with a joking scoff. Invading a fortress unseen was no easy feat and here they'd find so assistance. No convenient bridge to an entryway. No, they'd have to struggle their way across the moat and slip inside whatever crevice Myra had spotted. All the while they had to avoid unseen guards, which for all they knew could have been patrolling right inside the entryway they were to use. All options were risky, but sellswords had to be prepared for such a thing. Being a hired warrior certainly wasn't a soft job.

    "Unfortunately I didn't see anything better. So we're stuck with whatever you've found,"Arilith revealed.

  17. Myra finished tightening her sword belt and nodded curtly to nothing in particular. The sellsword spared a glance over their ruined cover at the fortress ahead and grimaced: the light had faded beyond the point to where she could see anything but a stark black outline of the stone fortifications. There were no torches lit yet, but she had no doubt that they would be soon. The woman gave herself one last look-over, ensuring she had grabbed everything worth bringing with her. Satisfied she would not grab for a knife that wasn't there, or attempt to block a blow on a piece of armor she wasn't wearing, Myra spoke up.

    "Let us hope their incompetence continues once we're inside the walls. It could be they just wait inside the keep right at the door, could be that it's empty and we're being utter idiots," she added a shrug. "If it's the latter, at least we'll have a good run at the stores in the keep. Might make the trip worth-while?"

    The sellsword stretched, rolled her shoulders, attempting to ease tensed muscles that had been curled up from walking crouched for so long, and cautiously made her way across the gap between the ruined fortification and the treeline across the path. Every time she made the trip, though the rational part of her brain told her it was the dying sunlight and not some magically-acquired confidence, Myra felt better and better about moving unseen. Without incident, the pair reached the treeline and began the long trek through the underbrush, making sure to move towards the fortress first and then taking the line of the moat left.

    "I'm not sure which of is more sure-footed," Myra started as they approached the breach in the wall. "But I think if you can manage to toss me over, or something to that effect, I can get you a way across. I think it goes without saying that, unless you've got the inclination for whatever reason, assume I'm dead and gone if I don't come back." She paused. "Besides, I think between the two of us, I'm the more silver-tongued rogue. Who knows?"
  18. With arms crossed firmly the Draconian watched idly as the other sellsword readied herself. What she was more focused on was her surroundings, long scaley ears held more erect that usual. Sounds filtered in. Distantly a bird trilled, a sharp cry that receded into the depths of the forest. But no sign of bandits. No scrabbling of boots approaching or the hiss of a sword being freed. Just nature, the wind sweeping past.

    Myra's voice brought Ari back to the present, arms unfolding to rest at her sides. "Let's just hope there's either something worth taking or someone worth killing,"she replied simply before following after the other woman. It would be just Ari's luck if this task had been a farce. If there was just a wiry little conniving bandit holed up whispering about his fantasies of lordship then he'd be lucky to only get a half dozen stab wounds to the belly. Ari didn't take lightly to being cheated, which made her wary of this situation. Especially since there was plenty that could go wrong considering she had to work with another sellsword now. Each step was placed carefully, eyes peeled for any sign of betrayal or assault that may appear in the dimming light.

    Once they reached they reached the spike filled moat Myra spoke again, proposing a plan. Judging the gap, it was likely that Ari could make a very risky running leap across. While that was possible, she'd rather put Myra's life on the line instead of her own since who knew what was lurking in the fortress nearby. On the other hand, Myra could just abandon Ari after breaching the fortress to plunder herself. Still, Arilith valued her life over fortune in this instance and deemed it possible to toss the other sellsword over. "I may be able to throw you across,"she decided aloud. She ignored the last part about who was the better smooth talker, even with her great confidence knowing that speaking wasn't her forte.

  19. "Oh, don't be so quick to risk my life," Myra snorted softly. "I may just have to leave you here."

    She added her best attempt at a genuine laugh to toss aside the comment and examined the gap between where they stood and the wall ahead. One misstep, one 'accident' on the part of her sellsword companion, and she ended up skewered on a wooden stake and left to die slowly. Myra swallowed hard and glanced over back to Arilith, nodding, equally to affirm herself and the other woman that she was ready to make the jump. Ensuring that her weapons were not liable to slide from their sheaths, Myra braced herself by the edge of the moat and waited.

    "Alright," she uttered. "Let's get this over with."

    Myra felt powerful arms wrap around her and, she supposed as gingerly as a Draconian was capable of, toss her across the gap. Mid-flight, the sellsword spread herself back out to balance herself once she landed. What felt to be moments as she hurtled across the moat was most likely one or two seconds flew by, and by the end of the brief, rapid motion, Myra landed clumsily on the ground, clutching at the wall to steady herself. She offered a glance over her shoulder, down at the moat she had narrowly avoided, and back to Arilith. Myra offered a cheeky grin and a thumbs-up before hunching low and carefully maneuvering her way over the breach: her landing had shifted enough loose stones to generate noise, so to continue to shift the wall around would be a foolish misstep.

    As she reached where the spot where the thick wall ended, Myra leaned out and glanced on either side: there, the first sign of life. A single man, toting around a torch, free hand resting on the hilt of his sword. What was he doing here, and not on the wall itself?

    Arrogance? Certainty? Or am I missing something?

    Now that Myra looked, she could see other torches dotting the courtyard of the fortress; if she were to take out this guard, his light would certainly be missed as it waved around. Myra knew the lacked the skill and finesse to subdue the man without first removing the torch. Her head shot back behind the wall as the guard approached. As his footsteps grew louder and louder, she darted back on the side of the wall facing Arilith and paused. The footsteps began again and receded. The sellsword let out a sharp gasp of breath and made her way back over the wall, stepping out into the courtyard, drawing out her knife as she crept forward. There. A wide-enough wooden plank beside tools, most likely meant to barricade the breach.

    Fortuitous timing, then.

    In quick succession, Myra hoisted up the plank after gritting her teeth around her knife blade and dashed for the breach trying her best to remain low to the ground. Upon reaching the moat, she slid back behind the wall and wiggled the plank into place. Satisfied, she lowered the plank to the other end and stepped back, gingerly testing it with her foot. It wobbled, but otherwise showed no signs of weakness. Myra stepped back and gestured for Arilith to cross the gap.

    Their day was only beginning.

  20. When Myra seemed to be prepared, well as prepared as one could be when being tossed over a moat full of deadly defenses, Arilith wrapped her arms around the sellsword. She took a deep breath, grit her teeth, bent her knees, then sprung up and shoved Myra away from her as she did. Gentleness was out of the question, the other sellsword practically hurled. Luckily Myra landed without slipping into the wooden stakes below. Now Ari wondered if that would have been a better course of action since now she was vulnerable to the wishes of the other woman, able to be left behind. Still, she offered a thumbs up of her own and a twitch of a smile.

    Then she watched as Myra disappeared into the breach. The Draconian was left to herself on the other side of the moat, wondering if Myra would return for her. Arilith decided that if she was left unattended for too long she'd try to take a running leap over the moat. For now the yawning distance served to taunt Ari and she became increasingly on edge. Knees bent ever so slightly, head constantly snapping around, eyes wide, and pointed scaly ears held erect, it was clear she was alert and prepared for any sign of ambush or betrayal.

    After what felt like an eternity, Myra returned, having found a wooden board. It was tossed over the moat and tested carefully. For a moment Ari offered the other woman only a skeptical look. Would the board be pried out from under her during crossing? It would be that easy to stuck like a pig on the end of a wooden spike. Arilith lifted one foot and placed it gently upon the plank, eliciting a shudder down the wood, but it held firm. With a lowered center of gravity and hands held out in preparation to catch herself, she practically ran across the board, arriving safely on the other side.

    "Nice work,"she whispered to Myra, heading towards the breach and peeking in. After doing so she looked back to the other sellsword. "See anything interesting in here? Any bandits yet?"she asked, again in a quiet tone. They were too close to the possible inhabitants to speak openly now.
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