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Chapter 2 – The Party Begins

 

After collecting his money, Shadow decided to seek out the outlander and followed him to the barracks. He smiled inwardly gazing at the winnings in his hand. It was an unexpected blessing coming along when he did. The Phylinx scanned the sparring grounds quickly and found no sign of Dallar. The young lad deserved the coins more than Shadow, and perhaps there would be a way to slip it into a bath to be cleaned. Dallar could find it circumstantially, since Kina was too proud to accept rent on Shadow's behalf.

 

He pocketed his winnings for the time being and hurried off after the mysterious warrior from the far-away lands. Then maybe he would find a way into employment within the guard as well.

 

 

 

Vorn returned to the barracks and sat on the wood bed frame, still feeling the effects of his match with Vinibar. He felt distant from the rush of combat and his hip hurt where Vinibar struck him. The dark-haired, Cydric, was unpacking his belongings with a furious look about him. His movements were hurried and nearly violent. The bed creaked when Vorn shifted, catching the enraged man's attention.

 

Cydric's mood softened a bit noticing he had company. So engrossed in his own thoughts, he was unaware of the stranger. Silently he cursed himself for his inattentiveness.

 

"My name is Vorn Volken. I come from the country of Nilam to the north." Vorn offered. "Who may you be?"

 

"I am Cydric," he began to reply but was distracted by the approach of a large, black Phylinx. Vorn followed his gaze to see the man-beast towering over him.

 

"That was a r-remarkable battle, strranger-r-r. You use a fighting style not common to these parrts, and have managed to make a name for yourrself by defeating the trrainer-r-r, Vinibar-r-r," Shadow said as he approached Vorn from behind. Shadow pat his pocket, "I have managed a meager-r-r gain at your-r-r expense, the least I could do is buy you a drrink some time?" the Phylinx man offered with a soft purr as his tail waged behind him happily.

 

Shadow thought he was seeing double for a moment. Both of the humans before him were of equal height and build, and had it not been for the obvious difference in their complexion and features, he could have thought them to be brothers. Cydric's slender, pale face and deep blue eyes were in stark contrast to Vorn's more rounded features, tanned skin and brown eyes. Even their clothes seemed to match, favoring dark colors.

 

Vorn eyed the Phylinx, sizing him up in his way. He was covered with black fur, and had prominent yellow eyes with the irises mere slits at the time. His plain, undyed garb showed evidence of travel and wear and his accent clearly placed him as an outsider as well. Most Phylinx of Freedlends overcame their rolling r's as they spoke. The common language used in T'Aarn was something Shadow was just starting to use more frequently. He had been in a few scraps as well, as evident by healing scars on various parts of his body.

 

"The people around these parrts refer-r-r to me as Shadow. I just happened by as you began to duel, luckily for me. I was actually on my way to see Captain Thurrl and inquirre about employment," he stated, crossing his arms across his chest.

 

Vorn had encountered several Phylinx along his travels and found that those with the stomach for such things were excellent fighters. "You look like an interesting opponent, Shadow," Vorn replied, "I will take you up on that offer of a drink, but not in these barracks. The wine is so watered down, it tastes like swill. Captain Thurl, I believe is in the Chief Inspector's Office." Vorn stood up and pointed towards the building on the small hill. "You're almost definitely going to get the job. By the way, my name is Vorn, and his…" motioning to over his shoulder, "is Cydric. You're welcome to bunk up with us, once you get hired."

 

Vorn and Shadow spoke for several moments as Cydric watched, gleaning as much information about each of his new 'friends' as he could. Shadow had recently traveled from the Phylinx homeland of Siverandora; a journey not easily traveled. Siverandora bordered the Lotus Nation, the territory of goblin-bloods. Here in the Freedlends, goblin numbers were few and they tended to follow the laws of the lands, but it was often rumored of the horrible things the goblins did outside the control of the Freedlends. To travel near such a border was certainly an act of bravery - or shier ignorance. But Cydric would not allow himself to underestimate this stranger. Phineous knew too much about his dealings so he needed to be on extra guard for spies. This Vorn seemed a little too friendly at the moment.

 

Thinking more of Vorn, it was strange how his cot was so close to his own. He too was a new inspector, but other than that and the fight with this Vinibar fellow, Cydric knew nothing of him. He did not like ghosts; people without a verified history. Outlander or not, he could hardly afford to let another mole give out any more of his secrets. In the least, Vorn could be useful.

 

Vorn shared a short bit of his tale also. Only a year and a half ago he left his homelands north of the Thorin mountains. Nilam was his town, though its name did not register with either listener. His tale was brief on detail, but enough was said. He and his family had drawn the attention of villainous traitors in the kingdom so Vorn traveled south, hoping his absence in the lands would help protect his family. Since then he adopted a name more suited to the Freedlends and began to settle in. Vorn was forced to travel the length of the river Thane, from Ren, to Daltin and various villages between, bartering to survive. It was in Daltin that he earned enough to travel again and settle in T'Aarn.

 

 

 

After a time, Shadow bade them farewell as he still needed to complete his task; it was time to find a job. He turned towards where he assumed Captain Thurl would be found and headed through the barracks complex, avoiding dripping water from the weak roof as he went. Shadow met the captain once or twice, but very briefly, and Captain Thurl had many responsibilities to keep him busy. Hopefully, he wasn't so busy today.

 

After coming up empty at his original guess, Shadow started asking around from guard to guard. It seemed Captain Thurl was in the middle of a snap inspection to assure readiness. Finally, the Phylinx cornered the large man in process of checking the weapons of a young soldier. "This edge isn't sharp enough to cut butter. And your armor looks like you've been mud-wrestling with it on! Clean up your equipment by tomorrow morning," the Captain demanded of the youth who snapped a quick salute of respect.

 

When he turned around, his eyes landed on the large black Phylinx and his head tilted ever so slightly.

 

"Shadow, wasn't it?" he questioned with a lifted eyebrow of inquiry.

 

"Indeed. Sorrry to interrrupt," Shadow apologized quickly. "I can come back at a better time."

 

In one swift motion, Captain Thurl grabbed the bedding of the cot near by and with one hand yanked it off the cot and threw it across the room. "Make this bed tight next time!" he commanded over his shoulder taking everyone in the room by surprise. Looking back to Shadow, he smirked "I simply can't stand a sloppy quarters. Now what exactly did you want to speak with me about?"

 

Shadow glanced at the guard who was still standing at attention, a bit shaken and sweating, then to the captain. He stood straight and stuck his chest out, "I want to be a guarrrd."

 

Captain Thurl blinked and looked Shadow over a moment, "Hmm... what sort of weaponry do you excel at?" He walked around the Phylinx, checking him front and back.

 

Shadow didn't turn around, merely kept looking forward as he answered, "I'm ratherrr good with my claws, and can handle a bow prretty well."

 

The captain came back to the front and stood before Shadow, looking directly into his yellow eyes, "Well, I don't know. Don't really need another archer... but speak to me later this evening. I'll see if I can find something for you."

 

Shadow nodded politely as Captain Thurl walked away. The wait was killing him already. Too long had he stood around to do nothing. It was time for action. But wait he must.

 

 

 

The evening came sooner then anticipated and a loud drum could be heard throughout the militia complex. It was the cooks at the mess hall bashing a large mallet on a leather skinned drum thrice as round as a man. From all corners of the fortification, men, women, children, and even Chief Inspector Phineous, gathered at the open air pavilion. The plump man passed through the crowd with many stops for cordialities. His normal wicked smile was replaced with a much more appealing look. He seemed a completely different person from the man Vorn and Cydric had met earlier, more personable.

 

Captain Thurl stood atop an empty table under the roof of the mess hall and called for silence by raising his arms. "You all know the drill so quiet down!" After the crowd of soldiers and civilians calmed down sufficiently, he continued. "To bless this meal, the enlightened priest of Phibia will speak a moment." At that, he stepped down and the crowd spread out slightly. Over the multitude of heads and bodies, a single priest carrying a gold-topped staff could faintly be seen and was dressed in a deep red robe trimmed in gold roping. He held his hand aloft with his palm to the sky. At the outer edge of the crowd, his voice was too distant to be heard. After a moment, his hand was lowered and a vivid voice was heard evenly throughout the field as if the man was standing just in front of every person present. The assembly gasped followed by a sudden hush as those who had not been silent made quiet.

 

"Cielek, el repsidat eleeculum reezce" the voice of the priest said in an ancient tongue. He continued for several moments in the old dialect as his voice became quiet and rose to a booming climax. Finally, he bowed his head and spoke softly again, "Ill Phibia, blessedos, uth servantae, et zis meal. Et blessedos, youse children en ill presente."

 

With that, the priest clasped his hands, bowed several times to the crowd and turned to leave. At first the murmur among the gathered peoples was low and almost fearful then finally it rose to a great cheer with words of praise intermingled. The feeling was vibrant and it seemed a weight had been lifted from everyone's shoulders, but while most spoke of a miracle, others spoke in darker tones of wizardry.

"It was like he was inside my head," said one man's voice near by in the crowd. "I couldn't breathe," said a woman.

 

Only a moment passed and the drum was sounded in rapid succession calling all to form a line. Phineous was near the front, greeting his guests and comrades as they collected their food and walked past. After a moment, his gaze settled on Vorn and Cydric in the crowd and he welcomed his last guest to wade through the stragglers who were crossing his path.

 

"Even'n gents," he said with an almost friendly smile. "Ah, Shadow. That's what they call you, yes? I spoke with Dallar this day and he told me of your interest in some work." Shadow began to say something, but Phineous cut him off. "We've got plenty of openings. Just drop by my office and I'll have you sign the contract, but if you'll excuse me, I need a word with these two." His fat finger pointed to Cydric and Vorn as he waved it almost playfully.

 

Shadow was pleased. The position at the guards might have been a bust, but this chief inspector fellow seemed interested enough. Something gave the Phylinx the distinct impression that work as an inspector would pay more than that of a guard.

 

Standing alone in the crowd, the cat-man's eyes fell on Captain Thurl who had instructed him to speak with him later... later was here. He noticed that the Thurl had overheard the job offering. Shadow still had not made any choice so he closed the distance over to Captain Thurl to speak with him again.

 

"Captain Thurl, we meet again. Should I reschedule once more? Maybe you would have time for me in the morning after my meeting with Phineous?" he asked the guard captain.

 

 

 

Standing between Vorn and Cydric with his arms around their back and hands on their shoulders, Phineous guided the two away from the large Phylinx and Captain Thurl.  

 

"What do you want, Phineous?" Cydric said with obvious contempt.

 

"Cydric, my man. Is that any way to talk to the one who will make you rich?" he said quietly so that no one else would overhear. At that his tone changed from cordial to his hard, mater-of-fact tone from earlier that day. "On the morrow, come to my office. It is worth quite a bit if you can pull this off. We'll speak of the details then. Until the morrow, enjoy the food and drink. It isn't often that our fine city celebrates one hundred years of independence so enjoy the finer food for the next two weeks."

 

In a low quiet hiss, Cydric replied to Phineous telling him he'd be in the Chief Inspector's office just after dawn. Vorn nodded his compliance.

 

Once Phineous was sufficiently distant Cydric turned to Vorn and apologized for not introducing himself before. Vorn was obviously intrigued as Cydric's face was flushed with rage. The look on Vorn's face showed his curiosity, and Cydric knew the unspoken question.

 

He motioned Vorn to come closer. In a low raspy voice he said, "My name is Cydric Blackblade, and I do not know my history. I was left off on the doorsteps of a monastery, and when I was old enough I fled and was found and trained by my late master. Until this morning I ran a small business of finding people. I'm a bounty hunter. Not too bad a trade, flexible hours, decent pay, work alone, and best of all, no masters. Until this morning that is, but then again you know all about that ass Phineous. Anyway, I'll talk to you later; I plan on enjoying this fiesta knowing that tomorrow we may die. Enjoy yourself, just watch your back, something foul is in the air." Vorn nodded his agreement.

 

At that Cydric disappeared into the crowd then watched the mass of people mingle amongst themselves for awhile. He knew that with the noise and commotion going around that it would not be hard to slip off into the darkness. Cydric had better things to do than stay here; he had someone he needed to see.

 

Chapter 3

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