Chapter 6 – A Well Deserved Respite
Moving quickly, though exhausted, Vorn took the leader’s crossbow and cut the remaining cord from its bow. Moaning, the thug seemed more coherent, though still gripped the gouge in his side. Shoving the man face down and stepping on his back, Vorn bound his hands at the wrists. The bow string barely gave enough room for a solid knot and the blood on the man’s hands made it difficult to grip. Not wanting another chase, Vorn rolled the man over, unfastened his belt and bound his legs with the soft leather band. It wasn’t the best knot work he had done, but in the least it would keep the man from getting away from Shadow and the woman. Satisfied with his job, Vorn called out to Shadow. “I’ll head to the guard station and get help and a physician. Stay here with these two. I know the way.” Shadow nodded, still pinning the prone slag.
Shadow remained positioned atop the Slag, keeping the dagger’s edge at its throat. “Kanth, arre you alrright?” he called to her over his shoulder.
Crawling close to her attacker, Kanth hissed and spittle leapt from her lips and onto the face of her attacker. The Slag returned with its own hiss and lapped its forked tongue brushing Kanth’s whiskers.
"I'll be alrright," she stated through gritted teeth. "I need a bit of rrest. I wasn't in my prime this day. Tomorrow is another-r-r storry. Let's tie this fool up and get out of this alley. What of the other-r-r two thugs?"
“They fled,” Shadow muttered with contempt at the spinelessness.
“Cowarrds!” she breathed.
Shadow glanced around quickly, then back towards his captive. “We need something to bind him with, do you have anything?”
“I have a fathom of net we can use, the same as we used on that goblin. Speaking of whom, we have business still with him. He knows things. I hope to Siverandora that none have found him." Weakly, Kanth massaged her wounded arm, kneading the pain to a more tolerable state. She contemplated licking her wound, but thought better of it.
Using his free hand, Shadow started working at the Slag’s belt, unbuckling it for improvisation, holding it up to inspect. “Herre’s something to start with.” He worked to bind the belt about the thug's wrists as well as he could with one hand while keeping the knife ready to strike what might be a lethal blow.
Backtracking the path of the chase, Vorn sprinted down the alleys keeping an eye out for his fallen knives. A good steel knife in this town was far too rare to just leave lying around. As he turned down another path, he could hear that same dog still barking and he knew he was getting close to where the chase began. When he turned the bend, there stood a mob of roughly ten men, each with some weapon; a pry bar on one, a meat cleaver on another, a blacksmith’s hammer on a third. At the sight of Vorn, one of the crowd called out, "There's one of 'em." The accuser was none other than the stone throwing coward. As the crowd began to fan out, a murmur rolled from the back of the group and rippled to the front and all eyes looked to the downward slope near the canal's waterway street.
Marching in unison and stomping the ground hard with their reinforced leather sandals, a column of guards entered the alley, spears at the ready. "Lets get out of here!" called one human and the crowd of thugs dispersed with some darting down alleys, over crates, and even into houses.
The group of guards stood their ground and finished the rotation maneuver when the commander called a halt. "Search the area for any of those vandals! Three by three!" At that the guards separate into their factions and gave chase. The commander and two of the elite guard, the Legionaries, remained. Unlike the typical soldier and his boiled and waxed leather breastplate, the Legionaries wore a similar pattern of polished bronze with leather trim. Though heavier, it offered much better protection against all but the strongest of weapons.
Turning to face Vorn, the commander called out, "You there, stand your ground. What business do you have here?" After explaining who he was and showing his badge of office, the commander called one of the Legionaries forward and handed Vorn a slightly damaged net. "We were told we would find an inspector in trouble near this part. I didn't quite believe the little cretin, but he said this belonged to you. Now where is the rest of your group? He mentioned two Phylinx."
Vorn stared at the net, puzzled, then shook his head and put the net in his pack and recovered his dagger and pouch of food. "I don't know who told you that we were here, or why you gave me this net, but there's an injured inspector in that alleyway, as well as two prisoners. Follow me." Recalling half his men, the commander allowed Vorn to lead the way. Walking in the rear of the column, Vorn had an opportunity to ask some questions. "Now who exactly was the cretin that told you about us being here? And who were those thugs?"
Standing in the alley with their two prisoners, Shadow and Kanth enjoyed the moment’s rest. Vorn had been gone for quite some time and they were beginning to get concerned. It was then that the sound of footsteps could be discerned over the noise of the wind and canal further down the open street.
"I think I hear-r-r someone appr-r-roaching. Let me see your-r-r net, quickly," said Shadow. Pulling her second net from her pack, Kanth handed it to Shadow.
The slag hissed and muttered a curse under his breath in the language of the snake folk. "I've got a tassste for cat flesssh," he hissed, "And the drakesss are comin', and they don'tss like yer kind, pet." Such an insult struck deep; particularly for the Phylinx as many before the war, and still in the lands of Endrak, were held as slaves for the worst kind of debauchery.
Kanth stood and regained her composure, still massaging the dull ache in her arm. Feigning a trip, she gave the Slag a sharp kick in the ribs, "How clumsy of me. I'm sor-r-ry Slag," she said with a snarl.
In efforts to ensure the Slag was contained, Shadow redoubled his efforts in securing the wrists by working the net about the captive's arms, and tying it off. "Ther-r-re. He's drressed up like a holiday hen," the Phylinx said as he stood up and tucked the newly acquired dagger within his own beltline.
"You scale-hided bastar-r-rd! If there were not someone coming up the alley, I'd rip out your-r-r tongue and feed it to you," she screeched at the Slag as she kicked him again in the ribs, and another for good measure in the head. Kanth recovered her bow and loosened the string, replacing the shaft back into the sheath on her back. With her Inspector's badge prepared, she leaned against the wall of a house and awaited the newcomers’ arrival. Uncertain of whom might approach, Shadow and Kanth gave each other worried glances as they flanked the alley.
Standing over the bound reptile, Kanth could not help but recall her first encounter with the Slag. It was a bitter sweet memory for she had learned to trust in her abilities, but lost much along the way. It was during her first travels from Siverandora to the Freedlends that she mistakenly passed through Chen'bora, the Slag homelands, on a direct path to Corak's Pass.
Night had fallen and the air grew chill near the base of the crags. Through the stench of rotted flesh and an unfamiliar yet alarming stench wafted in on the eastern breeze. Trudging through the thick underbrush, she noted an ancient holly patch and decided the fragrant plant would do well to mask her own feline redolence from what she knew to be a foul pack following her.
She climbed up into the upper boughs of the large-branched shrub and alighted on an obscured shoot. Slowly, she took her bow from its hook attached beneath her gabardine. With the greatest of ease and prowess, she arched the bow and looped the string around the bender and pulled the bow taught.
Clutching her bow steadfastly and notching an arrow, she scanned the terrain below. Before a few minutes had passed, the stench had become stronger and her keen hearing began to detect an indiscernible language filled with hisses and clicks.
The Slag were upon her in an instant, though they knew not that she had lodged herself high into the holly. They sniffed, hissed, and began to argue amongst themselves, obviously distraught at the thought of losing their intended prey.
A tear of dread made its way out of Kanth's left eye and she slowly nodded her head in hopes to cause it to become absorbed into her cheek fur rather than falling to the ground. But her intention didn't work as she had expected. Instead, the tear slipped off a long whisker and fell.
The moment of the tear's descent was an unbearable eternity as it plunged toward the glistening head of one of her hunters below.
‘This is it,’ she thought. ‘The time of my death comes so quickly. I've only aged five years since birth and already my time is cut short.’
With nothing left to lose, she pulled the string of her bow rigid and watched as the tear struck the head of the Slag. "Sss-whaa kaasss," the creature uttered and turned its gaze upward. Its companions had heard its exclamation of abashment and looked skyward as well.
But it was too late for the one whom the tear struck. As soon as Kanth witnessed its eyes dilate and retract upon recognition of her presence in the tree-like shrub, she loosed her arrow. The missile flew true, struck the creature directly in its right eye. It fell to the ground with a sickening whump and its body twitched and writhed on the leaf strewn ground.
In the moment of distraction when the other slag peered down at their fallen comrade in confusion, Kanth leapt from the branch and onto the back of another of her assailants. Raking with her razor-like rear claws, she kicked the creature onto another and skirted the area. On the short run, Phylinx could easily out run any other man-ling, but Slag were persistent. Some said that they tracked their prey by tasting the air and their forked tongues rarely led them astray.
Those blasted reptilian bastards followed her for miles into the Freedlends. All the way to Mezer they followed; then to Sesera and even to Dran. But it was in Dran that she finally ensnared them and escaped by night to T'Aarn. Now, she faced another of their kind with and the hatred and a malice none could comprehend.
After a few moments, the rhythmic marching of disciplined guards dominated the quiet of the alley. The slag's confidence seemed placated by the fact it was guardsmen and not his Drake comrades that approached.
Vorn turned the corner, greeted by Shadow and Kanth's welcome looks of relief. The troop of some twelve men filled the tight paths then spread out to secure the two captured assailants.
The captain greeted each and formally introduced himself as Captain Theldin Stroug. "We'll take these vermin off your hands," said the commander. Aside from his strong jaw, stern look, and uniform, he seemed not much older than the young men he led. Kanth was no judge of human age, but this commander was quite smoothed skinned and lacked much of the facial hair that was so popular among the soldiers. The Legionaries that kept a constant guard of him seemed at least twice his age, perhaps even older. It was then that the captain noticed Kanth’s fixation on him and turned, noting how she favored her left arm, and said, "Perhaps you should come to the station. We have a physician that can tend to your injury."
Shadow had fallen silent when the squad showed up. He was no one of consequence with respect to vagabonds and the jailing of such… yet. He simply stood quietly in the shadows of the alley while everyone interacted with one another. Some of the guards nearly walked right into him, averting their path only at the last second after spotting the Phylinx’ yellow eyes shining in the darkness. He would smile, showing some fangs, and politely say “Excuse me…” when it happened. It was all very interesting. A whole new life opened up to the young feline.
Vorn stepped up to Kanth and took the net out his pack. "Then I would venture this yours as well, ma'am. I don't believe we've been introduced. The name is Vorn, pleased to meet you.” Vorn handed over the net.
"Well met frrriend. I am called Kanth 'Garrr. You may call me Kanth as do my other-r-r associates.”
“And judging by your badge, you're a fellow inspector as well, yes?"
“Yess, this being the reason I found it necessary to help you in your-r-r predicament. I appreciate you rreturning my net. I only wish I knew where the little fellow who was tangled in it is.” Looking over the frayed and cut cords of twine, Kanth frowned at the damage. The net would never catch a fish in its condition, but it could still hunt larger prey.
Vorn then pulled tight the tether for his pack and slung it over his shoulder glad to be done with the night’s excitement. Calling the guards’ attention and pointing to the bound human around the corner, Vorn told the guards, "Don't forget that one over there... He owes me some answers." Two young lads trotted over and scooped up the crossbowman by the elbows, stretching him uncomfortably as he moaned. ‘In the least, he was smart to keep quiet,’ Vorn thought.
After a moment of passing out orders, Theldin gave his thanks and congratulations. "If your goblin friend had not come by when he did, the rest of their gang would have slaughtered you. They are extremists you know. Followers of the Old Empire. I would not put it past them to have butchered you and eaten your flesh." He smiled noting the disgust on Shadow and Kanth's faces. "But you're lucky just the same. Come to the station and we'll discuss this further if you wish. The night is late and I am sure you need your rest."
Vorn turned to the leader of the guards. "Theldin you said your name was, right? Who exactly are these Followers of the Old Empire?”
“Aye, that’s my name. And those men; well, they believe in the time of the First Empire. It was a dark time after Zecharias left the lands and ascended to heaven. As you know, Zecharias supposedly created the Phylinx, Kanis, and such. These dung herders still think they should have dominion over the rest of the man-beasts. I’d venture they’ve never done an honest day of work in their lives. And that one,” he motioned with an intricately carved wooden baton, “that Slag is just an imbecile for falling into their schemes.” At that comment, the Slag looked up with a hateful scowl.
Vorn had never heard the tales and history of the southern lands in such detail. Intrigued, he persisted. “Have you encountered them before? And what of them eating our flesh? I would like some more information before facing this kind of enemy again.”
Laughing, the captain patted Vorn on the shoulder. “I’ll be glad to answer your questions. But first let us retire back to more comfortable quarters.”
As the captain and his men led the way, Theldin continued. “I mentioned they would have eaten your flesh, but you mistook me. Not that they would eat your flesh Vorn, but rather that of your fellows. Back in the old days, when food was scarce the old text told of humans devouring the lesser folk. Not that I believe in that rubbish, mind you. But those were the days when the Empire first formed.” Vorn was curious and pressed for more information. “You see, Zecharias was a man who walked with the gods. He was charged with creating the goblin-bloods by Hur-lo-ron himself. The god gave him the power to create life and so Zecharias created the Slag, ogre, goblin, and others that never survived to this age. But he loathed them all and fled to a cave and took with him the power. There he created Siverandora, the mother of all our kind. Kans and Phylus were created to serve the master’s house. And that is what those scheming asses base their faith on. It is a dead religion that has seen more followers in recent years. Some talk of Endrak’s rise and how it will retake all of the lands lost in the Great Revolt. Total rubbish,” he spat. “The Freedlends will never be ruled by another so-called king, and certainly not one of Endrak’s ilk.” For a man so young, Theldin knew much of history and religion.
Before long, the road ended at the foot of a great iron-braced door.
The guard station was roughly one league from the main guard barracks and sat at the center of the crafter’s market. The walled compound was nothing more than a square-shaped fort with sharpened logs forming a wall nearly two men high. Inside the barricade stood one large brick building and several cloth canopies and tents. Including the troop of soldiers that had come to the young inspectors’ rescue, the compound housed roughly fifty men, including the local tax collectors.
Kanth, Shadow, and Vorn were escorted into the main building, which functioned as both captain’s quarters and brig. The several plane carved doors led to planning rooms, a weaponry, and a smithy on the eastern facing wall. Even in the late night the coals of that fire were being tended.
As the guests stretched out and worked their soar limbs and enjoyed the courtesies Captain Theldin offered, the two criminals were taken beneath the main level to the holding pen in the basement where they would be interrogated. The methods were sometimes cruel, but effective; particularly where guilt was assured. Given the serious nature of their crimes they would be charged with assaults on two town officials and a civilian, and face stiff fines. Failure or inability to pay would result in the alternate punishments. The judge might demand a toe, or even a hand for payment of such an offense. And since many such wounds led to grievous infections and even death, those punishments were not handed down lightly.
Though exhausted and cots were offered, Vorn recalled Phineous’ command to see him at first light. And with the talk of interrogations, Vorn recalled his demands to talk to the crossbowman, but Theldin assured him that the man would be held for at least a week before a magistrate would release the man. As it was, there was a long trek back to the barracks, and most of which was up hill. Theldin offered the services of a supply cart that was to leave just before dawn, and it would stop at the barracks on the way up to the fortress.
Kanth graciously thanked the physician for what he could do, wondering what would become of her had that Slag vermin done more damage. A Phylinx with a bad arm was as good as dead, especially a female.
A thought stirred within her again. ‘Where is that goblin?’ She walked over to Theldin and asked that very question, and after hearing his mentioning of the supplies leaving in the morning, decided to hitch a ride as well.
"It was an odd fellow.” Theldin mused as he smoked a pipe with a sweet smelling herb. “He claimed he was mugged and that an inspector saved his life and was now in danger. I would not have believed him had it not been for the arrow wound on his leg. That was when he handed us your net and said it belonged to the inspector. I can only assume he meant you."
Theldin scratched his thinly bearded chin and smiled. "I didn't know they allowed women in. You know, as an inspector." Noting the growing look of disdain on Kanth's face, he quickly explained. "It’s just that someone as attractive as you might garnish the wrong kind of attention from the men. Even the most disciplined soldier loses his wits when a woman is about." Finding himself feeling a bit foolish for bringing up the topic, the captain redirected the subject. "Eh-hem, was that goblin a friend? He didn't give his name but he told us accurately where you could be found."
Feeling a bit sheepish from the young captain’s comment, Kanth explained how they had captured the goblin, bound him, then left him hidden in a public lavatory. Even bracing the door from the outside did not hamper the rogue’s ability to escape. The goblin was certainly stronger and more able then he let on during the trek.
After a few moments, the captain grew restless and bade his new friends to accept his leave. Most of the night had already passed and morning would come all too soon; as did new responsibilities.
Looking about, Kanth noticed Shadow was near, sitting on his own on a thatched cot. She gingerly reached into her shoulder-pack pouch and withdrew a small vile with a cork stopper, and wrapped in a stained brown cloth. Making sure she was not being watched, she dabbed just a little of the feline pheromone enhancing perfume behind her large ears then she walked over to Shadow's cot and sits beside him.
"You prroved yourself to be a worthy warrior-r-r in the field this night my darrk cousin. Is there any chance you would be willing to join in with the inspector-r-rs? And please, tell me about that scar-r-r on your neck."
The pheromones were working their charm upon the young Phylinx, he sniffed the air and purred, “I was cerrtainly intending on asking about becoming an inspector-r-r, or a guard. I think inspectorrs prrobably have a mor-r-re exciting time of it. It would be an honor-r-r to worrk along side of any as brrave as you two have prroven to be.” He traced a finger down the scar on his neck and glanced about uncomfortably as the topic was brought up. “Purrrrhaps we can discuss the scar-r-r in a mor-r-re prrivate setting,” he suggested to Kanth since he felt its origin was still too difficult to retell.