I bet you’re wondering why I’m reposting this chapter. Well, it’s simple, really: I’ve polished it up a bit. Why have I polished it up, you might ask? Well, as it so happens, I am actively working on the Ender of Worlds. The next installment will be out soon, and hopefully accompanied by the long overdue next chapter of the River’s Tale. So, take this updated version of chapter as a blessed omen of chapters to come. (I’ll be deleting the old post so that any confusion over which is he final version can be avoided.)
Chronicles of Koeleth Extra Chapter
Ender of Worlds: The Saving of a Man
Chapter I: The Rookie
“Run! Don’t be a hero!” Marcus ordered, his grey eyes scanning the battlefield.
The young adventurers did not need to be told twice. Marcus was no stranger to fighting bandits, and he knew that there were too many here for his charges to handle. The distraction was enough for the rookies to escape, but it also provided the perfect opportunity to catch the veteran off guard. The bandits were on him like vultures on a corpse. Four of them broke off from the group and intercepted the fleeing apprentices; after a bit of a fight, however, the apprentices came out on top. One of the remaining bandits lunged recklessly towards Marcus, leaving him open to a piercing blow from Marcus’ sword. Another, upset by this turn of events, followed the foolish actions of his cohort and Marcus gladly gave him the same reward. These two must have been picked up recently, given the rest of the bandits fought at least somewhat effectively. The third bandit was proof of this, as he and Marcus exchanged several blows. One slash from the bandit’s sword even got close enough to shave away a couple strands of the long black hair that hung across Marcus’ face. A couple of other bandits ganged up on him as well, but Marcus held his ground. His skill had earned him more than a few medals at the guild already; this was no different.
“Damn,” Marcus cursed under his breath.
He dropped his left hand down to his side, a gesture that went unnoticed, but whatever course of action he had intended to take was cut off by someone else. The attacker at his back mysteriously vanished and a halberd blade removed the burdensome head from the shoulders of another. It was a clumsy blow but effective.
“I told you to run, rookie,” Marcus said sternly, hiding his relief that he was not alone.
The black clad warrior simply nodded to him and carried on the fight. In contrast to his ineloquent halberd work, Marcus was impressed by the young man’s swordsmanship. Though he carried none of his own, as the decapitated corpse fell backwards, the youth grabbed the dead man’s sword and let gravity unsheathe it. As soon as it was free of its leather cage, the sharp blade flashed into action, disarming a nearby bandit. Having lost both his weapon and his nerve, the bandit fled. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Marcus used this opportunity to take down the last of the three bandits that had been troubling him. Standing back to back, he and the novice adventurer faced down the remaining bandits, now numbering only six.
“How many can you take, rookie?” the older warrior asked his young charge.
“Let’s see, with their level of skill and that quality of equipment…three. I can take three.”
“Three, huh?” Marcus contemplated aloud. “Fine. An even split. I call the big guy.”
The two immediately got to work. With the bandit sword in his left hand and the halberd in his right, the young man handily dealt with his foes. The bandits came close to striking him a couple times, but the halberdier always managed to evade their blades. Marcus had no trouble dispatching his adversaries and even had the luxury of watching his subordinate finish off the last of their foes.
“Impressive,” he commented as the warrior cleaned off his weapons and sheathed the sword. “You took out five men. Excellently done for an apprentice. Thomas Riversedge, right?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, Captain Fatebound,” the rookie replied. “I only got so far because you were fending off several at once, however.”
“Isn’t that how teamwork is supposed to work?” Marcus retorted in a matter-of-fact tone. “We need to discuss your issues with following orders, though. I told you to retreat.”
“I have no issues with good orders. Dumb orders, on the other hand…”
“Defiant. Gutsy. Reckless. You’ll do well in the guild,” the captain observed. “No point in calling me captain if you aren’t going to follow orders; You may call me Marcus.”
“Thank you, Capt—I mean, Marcus. You can call me Tom, I guess,” Thomas said, uncertain of what to do. “Sorry to diverge from the topic at hand, but shouldn’t we see to the other apprentices?”
“You are correct. Let us be off, then.”
Marcus watched as Thomas Riversedge turned around and began to march off, before abruptly stopping and collapsing to the ground. His eyes grew wide and his body was shaking. He began dry heaving, as the cold sweat of horror mingled with the hot sweat of battle. Marcus calmly went over to check on the rookie. The adrenaline had worn off.
“You okay, Tom?” he inquired. “You’re new to this whole killing thing, aren’t you?”
“I—huegh—I’ve only—hic—only done it o-once before,” the novice said, his face splattered in blood and tears.
His once clean, black hair now clung to his face and neck, dripping with sweat. He looked directly at Marcus for a brief moment, revealing a pair of deep blue eyes framed by a pale face. He could not be any older than seventeen, Marcus thought. This boy was strange to him; on the one hand, he fought like an experienced soldier, but, on the other, he claimed to have killed only once before. He even had the muscular body of a soldier. Perhaps his family was one of noble origin? Or maybe he was a guard’s son? Marcus was reminded of a younger version of himself in some ways. If you were to ask any random villager, however, they would never guess his true age. A young appearance was one of Marcus’ many blessings, and to most he appeared to be no older than thirty; most pegged him at twenty-six.
“What was the first time?” Marcus asked, knowing that he was pulling his young charge’s attention to unwanted memories, but also pulling it away from the current situation.
“hic—It was on my first day on my own,” Thomas recalled, starting to calm down. “I left my hometown with my best friend, but she and I parted ways after a couple days. She was off to Compassia’s Hand, and I was off to…well, here, ultimately, I guess.”
“I was ambushed by a group of bandits. There were five of them. I stabbed the first with my halberd; self-preservation instinct. The next two were really bad fighters and went down easily. I got lucky with number four; I swung wildly and cracked him in the skull. Number five ran. But I didn’t chase him. I was too shocked at what I had just done.”
As he listened to the tale, Marcus’ piercing slate eyes analyzed his appearance. As attire went, Thomas wore used but clean black trousers tucked into shiny leather boots. Over his black long-sleeve shirt he wore a simple leather jerkin with the guild insignia on the back, a custom fit piece of armor issued to all new apprentices. Though cheap compared to better made leather armor, Marcus could attest to the comfort and effectiveness of the jerkin. Despite his apparent inexperience, Thomas wore the jerkin well. Marcus found himself wondering who exactly this Thomas Riversedge was and where he was headed. The boy seemed absolutely sincere, and that is what perplexed him so.
“Are you composed?” Marcus inquired, offering to help the rookie to his feet.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think so,” he replied, taking the offer. “Let’s go.”
“Evangeline Highcrest, check,” Marcus rattled off, looking from one young face to the next. “Robin Moonwash, check. Linda Creekside, check. Solomon Beavertail, check. And, lastly, Thomas Riversedge, check. Everyone accounted for? Then let’s head back.”
The green-eyed Evangeline turned to Tom, awestruck by the slightly older adventurer’s actions, and asked, “Your name’s Thomas, right? That was amazing, what you did!”
Blushing slightly at the platinum blonde’s praise, Tom stuttered in reply, “Th-thanks, it was nothing. Um, you can just call me Tom, if you like.”
“Tom, huh? Well, I think that was really brave of you, Tom. I just ran away. That’s not a good thing for an adventurer to do, is it?”
“W-well, Marcus did tell us to, so I think it’s perfectly fine.”
“Still, what you did was so cool.”
As his charges marched towards Cradle-of-the-Moon, where their local guildhall was located, Marcus contemplated the job they had just completed. What was supposed to have been a simple mission turned into a dangerous battle when the small band of new recruits walked into an ambush. The report said that there was a small group of bandits harassing merchants and travelers, so the master of Marcus’ chapter of the Adventurers’ Guild sent him out with a group of promising apprentices. Alas, the report failed to mention what it meant by small, because what they had thought to be eight or nine bandits at most turned out to be a good fifteen, each reasonably skilled in their own right and collectively smart enough to set up a trap for any would-be interlopers. Had Marcus known what was coming, he would have brought one or two of the other captains with him. By some good fortune, or maybe some machination of the guardians, he had in his presence someone who had potential. He might have to keep an eye on this Thomas Riversedge fellow.
Later that night, Marcus found himself indulging in a pint of some cheap ale in a dark, secluded corner of the guild bar. He sat watching, as he always did, the bustle of the various adventurers who called the guildhall home. Apprentices sat around large tables and chattered, excited for the quests that the guild had in store for them. Most of them likely came from broken homes or orphanages, and this was their chance at a better life. Adventurers are rarely born into comfort and security. Instead, adversity drives them to seek out a greater destiny. Such was certainly the case for many of their elders. Several experienced adventurers hovered around the bar itself, seeking the sweet relief of drunken bliss. Perhaps they had returned from some harrowing adventure that had nearly claimed their lives, or maybe they were trying in vain to drown memories that had haunted them for far too long. A few of them sat at a booth, arguing. Marcus noticed that this group, a team that often went out together on missions, was short a member. They had likely lost him in battle. He understood. Another captain was already headed their way to help ease tensions. Three booths away, another group was celebrating and clearly had been for a while, given how red in the face most of the members were. Clearly they had achieved some victory. Several veteran members, like Marcus himself, sat isolated from the rest of the crowd simply observing, longing for the innocence of their youth, or drinking in the lively atmosphere, or even just pondering. A handful of them gathered around a game of chess, discussing their recent quests and whether or not they might retire now.
Amongst all the usual commotion, one thing stood out to Marcus: a lone rookie holed up in a corner of the bar, just observing. Thomas’ mouth was smiling but his eyes were scanning the room grimly. He wasn’t comfortable. And neither was Marcus, now that he thought about it. The one thing Marcus knew about the Adventurers’ Guild was that the members were a diverse cast of characters. Some of them were less friendly than others. Adventurers were widely regarded as heroes, but not all of them lived up to their reputation. The guild allowed for a wide variety of jobs, many of them coming from less than savory elements of society. Trouble was brewing, and that trouble came in the form of Bruce Draketooth. He was a somewhat skilled adventurer and the kind who took on jobs from the dark side. With him always were his thuggish companions, Joseph “Joey” Rotwood and Bertrand “Big Boy” Bluestone. Bruce slammed open the doors to the bar, his shaved head gleaming in the bright light of the bar, followed closely by the scrawny Joey and the aptly dubbed Big Boy. They each wore leather vests with the image of a treasure map and a sword emblazoned on the back, the Adventurers’ Guild’s insignia, a sure sign that these Neanderthals somehow managed to graduate from apprentice status to the real thing. They approached two female apprentices conversing at the bar. The green-eyed blonde Marcus recognized as Evangeline and the other was a cute brunette with whom she was seemingly friends.
“Hey, ladies,” Bruce interrupted with a voice reminiscent of the growl of a wolf, leering at his new acquaintances. “You’re looking ravishing this evening.”
As he said this, a chill went down Marcus’ spine. The compliment was laced with deviant hunger. Apparently, he was not the only one, as Thomas sat up straight, watching the situation intently. The girls, sensing his perverse intentions, shifted uncomfortably.
“Thanks, Mister…?” Evangeline inquired, barely hiding her unease behind a forced smile.
“My name’s Bruce, hot stuff. This is Joey, and my large friend here is Big Boy. Say hello, boys.”
“Heheh, hello, babes,” Joey laughed lecherously, like a horny weasel.
“Hey,” Big Boy bellowed like a bull hippopotamus.
“H-hi,” Evangeline’s friend fearfully replied.
“Now,” Bruce continued, “me and my boys saw you two beauties sitting over here all by your lonesome and thought you might like some company.”
“Well, that’s very kind of you,” Evangeline started, more annoyed than anxious, “but Bella and I were having a pleasant and private conversation with each other. You boys seem like lovely gentlemen, but my friend and I are perfectly fine. Perhaps we might be more…wanting for company at some other time, but we respectfully ask that you leave us to our conversation.”
“Aw, whatsa matter? You don’t want to have any fun? We could show you a real good time,” Bruce purred eerily.
“We’re having plenty of fun by ourselves, no thanks to you. Right, Bella?”
“R-right,” Bella stuttered.
“You’ve never been with a real adventurer before, have you? You’re really missing out. My boys and I will give you the experience of your life.”
After this comment, several of the senior members of the guild had gotten up to intervene, Marcus included, but someone else beat them to it. Thomas, in the blink of an eye, was standing next to Bruce.
“C’mon, you ladies wouldn’t want to miss out on the experience of a lifetime, would you?” Bruce grinned a wicked grin, running a finger through Evangeline’s hair.
“Eww, get away!” she retorted, slapping his hand away.
“I don’t think you understand me,” Bruce said, his grin replaced by a snarl.
“Excuse me, sir,” Thomas interjected politely. “These respectable young ladies have politely declined your offer. It would be most gentlemanly of you to honor their choice, would it not?”
“Who invited you to this party?” Bruce barked.
“No one invited me,” Thomas answered, subtly putting himself between the ladies and their harassers. “I saw that there was a bit of a disagreement and thought I might offer some help. You gentlemen are certainly…ugh…impressive individuals, and I’m sure, somewhere out there, there are other women who would love your companionship. However, these lovely maidens, Evangeline and…Bella, was it?”
The brunette nodded and blushed, a slight smile gracing the corners of her lips.
“These lovely maidens, Evangeline and Bella, have expressed their desire to enjoy the remainder of the evening without the company of anyone but each other. Certainly, you gentlemen wouldn’t want to disappoint these good women, would you?”
“Keep your nose outta my business, greenhorn,” Bruce threatened.
“I am simply trying to diffuse the tension. You can hardly fault me for that.”
“Buzz off, asshole!”
Bruce pushed Thomas aside and approached the girls once more. Thomas mumbled something inaudibly.
“What did you say?” Joey said in his nasally voice.
“I don’t like bullies,” the apprentice repeated, this time louder and harsher.
“Oh yeah?” Big Boy guffawed, folding his arms menacingly. “And what are you going to do, shrimp?”
Without saying a word, Thomas drew back his left fist, adjusting his stance accordingly, and locked his eyes on Bruce’s head, which was turning to address what had become a nuisance. Marcus signaled to the other senior members to let it happen. Swiftly and solidly, the young man slammed his fist into the brutish adventurer’s jaw, knocking his head into the counter between the two girls in the process. Dazed and incoherent, Bruce slid to the floor.
“What the!? Why, you little bastard!” Joey whined, preparing a punch of his own.
Thomas deftly avoided the strike, only to be jabbed in the side by Big Boy’s meaty fist. A two on one fight without a weapon hardly seemed fair to Marcus, and it would only get worse. Thomas kept his eyes on both his opponents while subtly moving away from the bar. He dodged a powerful punch from Big Boy, but Joey snuck in a painful thrust to Thomas’ gut. Rather than slowing him down, though, Marcus noted that Thomas seemed to improve with each attack. Soon, Thomas was dodging or deflecting every blow the two underlings threw at him; he was learning about his foes even as they fought him. He was still fighting defensively, however, and as long as he did that, he could not win. Meanwhile, Bruce had come to his senses. He swallowed both of the female apprentices’ drinks, hoping to dull the throbbing ache in his head. Taking off his vest and donning a set of brass knuckles, he approached Tom. The apprentice swordsman seemed less confidant without a weapon, but Marcus was impressed at his overall dexterity. Thomas saw his chance to turn the tide of battle when Big Boy unwittingly stepped into a puddle of ale that someone had spilled. Thomas repelled a punch from Joey and jabbed him in the stomach as Big Boy swung a fat fist at his chest. Thomas rolled out of the way and watched as Big Boy lost his balance, slipping in the alcohol and falling to the ground. Joey continued his assault, negligent of his friend’s plight, forcing Thomas to back into a chair. This would have tripped up a lesser brawler, but Thomas used it to his advantage, grabbing the chair and swinging it into Joey’s legs, knocking him down. He then smashed the chair against Joey’s chest, leaving him unable to fight and possibly breaking some ribs in the process. Big Boy had stumbled back to his feet, and Bruce had arrived, knuckles ready to cause some blunt force trauma. He was a considerably better fighter than his two lackeys and Thomas had to focus most his attention on Bruce, leaving himself open to attacks by Big Boy. The large buffoon managed to get in a few cheap shots that left Thomas hurting. It was almost certainly pure luck that led to Thomas evading a swipe from Bruce that landed a damaging blow on Big Boy. While Big Boy and Bruce tried to coordinate themselves once more, Thomas climbed up onto the nearest table and launched off, body slamming the larger man, leaving him in much the same state as his ferret-like companion.
“Looks like it’s just you and me now,” Thomas gasped, tired and bruised.
“You knocked out my boys, interrupted my fun, and never even apologized. You’re going to regret crossing me,” Bruce growled.
Thomas simply smiled. The one on one fight went smoothly, all things considered. Thomas blocked most of Bruce’s punches, but one strike with the brass knuckles connected with Thomas’ shoulder. As he started to grow weary, and as Bruce began to get the upper hand, Thomas resorted to a crude but effective tactic: a low blow. He kneed his foe right between the legs, and, when the brute collapsed to the ground, Thomas punched him until he could not fight back. Battered but breathing, Thomas surveyed the carnage left behind by the struggle. One broken chair, several spilt ales, and three incapacitated gorillas. He knew this would not go over well with his superiors, especially given that he started the fight. Marcus and his peers breathed a collective sigh of relief, however, as the young brawler had not only protected those girls, but had also taught Bruce and his boys a lesson they would not soon forget, made all the more potent by the fact that Tom was only a rookie. The male apprentice wobbled a little, and then collapsed from his exertions. Before he hit the wooden floor, the two young women caught him. An older adventurer pushed a chair their way and they laid him down in it. Bella fastidiously cleaned his wounds, while Evangeline began cleaning up the mess. Marcus gestured for the three apprentices to come over, so Bella and Evangeline walked Thomas over to Marcus’ booth.
“Ladies, are you okay?” the veteran adventurer asked.
“Yes, sir,” they both replied.
“Good, good. Go get the nurses. They’ll want to look at all of the combatants.”
“Will Thomas be okay? This is the second time today he’s come to my aid, and I am a bit concerned,” Evangeline asked.
“He’ll be fine. The nurses will tend to his wounds. In the meantime, I have something I wish to discuss with him. Now, go get the nurses and then go on with the rest of your evening as you see fit.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
The two young women rushed for the nurses, Bella constantly checking over her shoulder to see if Thomas was alright. After they were gone, Marcus turned to the barely conscious Thomnas and locked eyes with him.
“Alright, kid. This is the second time in a single day you’ve jumped into a dangerous situation, and both times you’ve impressed me with your ability to fight. I think you can do better, though. You should have been able to win that brawl without getting a single scratch on your own body. There’s something strange about you, and I want to know what it is. Two days from now you’re going to meet me at the training grounds in the morning. For now, rest up. You’ve got all day tomorrow, and I have a feeling you’ll be getting a fair amount of female attention. I’m sure it would reassure them to see you recovering properly.”