- August 1, 2021
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 3)
“There will be more wars after this one, there will not be peace no matter who wins, so ultimately, war is pointless.”
– Quintus Lato Equitus, 448 A.C.A.
There are few things warriors like to do more than celebrate. Victory is a drug with a better high than any substance. It brings you up, but sometimes, it does this magical thing where it doesn’t bring you down. Rather, it makes you think your next victory is assured, setting you up for failure.
The Black Legion had a slew of victories over the past few days in this spectacle they put on. They made a mockery of the three great nations of Gronina by proving that one of theirs was worth five or ten of the opposition.
And worse than anything else, even the best each nation had to offer, stood little chance against the leading trainers of the Black Legion. Beastmasters, Honorguards, Jitari Blades, they were all defeated, and not one of the Black Legion’s leaders fell.
One would think that the Black Legion would be on edge, awaiting an answer from the bidding war with trepidation rather than celebration.
That is what victory does to people, and this was what victory had done to the Black Legion.
Few had the common decency to stay sober, but there was one who was still sober through everything but a lack of trying.
Andelyn Stella looked over at the sea of soldiers who had either trained for this day or trained someone else. Everyone had to put something into this contest.
They all practiced fighting as an army; they practiced naval movements and operations; the Black Legion even practiced and honed what it would be like to fight the monsters of Raydorn’s Ragnar, in the oft chance they had to invade it.
Andelyn Stella was the one who stitched them up or taught people how to stitch each other up. Few would say she did not have a hand in their victory, especially as nearly every medic found themselves as plastered as the next archer or spearman… but Andy.
Andy sat by the bar, watching everyone making garbled sounds that were close to words.
“I think you could use some coffee to go with all that ale,” she heard as Quintus came to join her, as sober as her. Though, unlike everyone else who walked by, she could only smell the soap he used to shave.
Andy gave him a little smirk as she took the cup of coffee. “You make it sound as if I have an empty mug next to me.”
“You have three.”
“Oh yeah,” she said before drinking the coffee, appreciating its warmth, “Hmmm…” before choking on its taste, “*ack* this is the worst coffee I’ve ever had.”
Quintus snapped his finger at her as he told her, “But isn’t it the best because it has now made every coffee afterwards taste better?”
Andy shook her head as she tried not to laugh. Can’t give him that, he’ll think he’s funny.
Andy looked back to everyone either drinking, dancing, or doing both. She caught sight of a few of Malum’s assassin’s watching everyone like hawks, but she didn’t look twice at them.
I think I spy someone making out in the corner, she thought to herself.
Quintus likely was watching their brothers and sisters in arms as she was, because he asked, “Hmm, is it only me, or does something feel off?”
Andy lifted her ale to her mouth as she said, “It’s probably because you’re the only one who’s sober and not drinking.”
“You’re sober,” he pointed out.
“Not from lack of trying.”
“You don’t… you don’t happen to think that might be a problem…”
“Hmm…?” Andy lifted the ale away as she prepared for the next great conspiracy.
“You know with you being three bottles in and not feeling a thing?”
Oh, this is about me. I thought it might be something actually exciting.
“I wouldn’t say I don’t feel a thing,” Andy said, purposely slurring her words, “but I’d feel more if Kronish ale was half as strong as they say!” She received a few angry yells from the Kronish legionnaires among them, so she pressed her fingertips to her lips as she laughed. “Oh, that might have been too loud.”
The dark-skinned man stared at the pale woman with this knowing smirk. She looked away first.
“You’re not fooling me, Lady Stella,” he said, “but you have convinced me that I need a drink.”
“Who said I’m trying to fool you?” Andy asked. “It’s the bartender who keeps saying he cut me off, apparently he doesn’t serve alcoholics, sounds terrible for business.”
“Oh really?” Quintus humored her as he gestured for the bartender and asked for moonshine.
“I’m a growing lad.”
“You’re too old to be a lad.”
Quintus mocked being insulted, but the moment the bartender finished pouring Quintus’s shot, Andy grabbed the bottle.
The bartender went to reach back for it, and the lean, willowy lad, stopped when Quintus put his massive hand on his chest.
“It’s not worth it, lad, we’ll pay for it.”
“What lad calls another lad ‘lad?’” Andy mocked Quintus before taking a sip and tasting how bitter the moonshine was.
“We’re not supposed to let the moonshine out from behind the table, if it gets spilled on one of the light crystals, it could cause a fire or an explosion.”
Andy and Quintus looked to the crystals lining the ceiling. They lined the walls in other rooms too. The crystals served as lamps that didn’t need to be refilled.
Andy continued to slowly sip on the moonshine rather than trying to kill herself by drinking it all at once. She gestured to the bartender with the bottle and asked, “Can’t any alcohol do that?”
“Yes, none of them are allowed, moonshine’s just the worst.”
“Oh, it’s bad for me?” Andy continued to mock the bartender. “You know my ex said the same thing and I’m still drinking.”
“Sheila was right,” Quintus said as he tried to shoe the bartender away, and then made an angry face to scare him away.
“Why’d you have to bring up, Sheila?” Andy complained. “Could have brought up an ex I don’t miss. Also, Malum’s behind you.”
“Huh?” Quintus said as he turned around to Malum’s mask.
“Oh my fuck!” Quintus cursed as he clutched his chest. “Why?”
“Harry’s asking for us, sent that servant to collect the last match’s champions,” Malum told him, pointing to the servant over by the door in the corner.
“Oh so not me,” Andy muttered as she looked over to the supposed servant Malum was talking about.
Andy immediately pursed her brow.
The servant was a woman in robes of blue, white, and gold. Even as her eyesight started to split, Andy could see the hood on the back of the woman’s robe.
Those are the colors of Raydorn, did they buy us? The thought warmed Andy’s heart, but it didn’t calm it. Those aren’t the robes of any normal servant. She looks like a Sister of Light, but they don’t have hoods, they have those… big… dumb hats…
That’s an acolyte.
She felt Quintus’s hand on her shoulder, as he told her in a mutter, “I’ll ask someone to keep an eye on you.”
“I’ll just tell them to fuck off.”
“You tell everyone to fuck off.”
Quintus smirked as he stood up half a foot taller than Malum. “Well, I’m too nice, you’d be the biggest bitch in the room if you were mean to me.”
Andy shooed him away with the bottle of moonshine. “Go, stop giving me ideas.”
Quintus started walking, and Malum waited a moment. “One day I’ll sneak up on you.”
“Well, it won’t be today,” she said before drinking.
Then Malum nodded his head before following.
Andy watched Quintus and Malum go talk to the woman at the door, and Andy couldn’t help this sobering feeling in her gut.
“Has Harry come to an agreement with the big three yet or not?” Jack asked the acolyte, who answered him in turn.
“Lord Thorn has summoned you to discuss that.”
“She doesn’t know, leave her alone,” Lucy snapped at Jack.
Malum grumbled listening to this, especially as Lucy went on, telling Jack, “I mean, why else would he be getting a second opinion from us?”
“Is that what you think this is?” Malum asked her.
Lucy turned to the assassin, whose mask betrayed nothing, and reiterated, “Um, yeah, I would, why else would they need us? Probably gonna ask who we would prefer to work with.”
That sounds too convenient, Malum thought to himself. Why call each of us, why separate us from the rest of the Legion? This is something one of my novices would attempt, yet we’re walking right into it… why…
Astrid suggested, breaking up Malum’s inner thoughts, “I thought we’re here for the highest bidder?”
Quintus agreed, “Money matters, but there’s a chance that the losing side has more money to bear. Harry may need our help discovering which horse is the best one to back.”
Speaking of strength, if this were a trap, an ambush would never work. The five of us would take down just about anyone Gronina could throw at us, and we know better than to eat the food and drink of a foreign dignitary.
Malum looked over at Lucy and Jack arguing and giving Quintus a headache as he had that thought.
Jack ceded to whatever logic Malum missed Quintus giving. “Fine, fine, I get it, money ain’t worth all of us getting wiped out,” but Lucy remained unconvinced.
Lucy tipped her head back as if she were laughing at Quintus’s suggestion. “Oh please, whoever we join wins, if that weren’t true, all three of them wouldn’t be vying for our services.”
“Is what you call what we do?” Malum asked her, drawing a rather serious glance from under Lucy’s pirate hat. “Is killing a service to you? War an assignment?”
Lucilla Nero raised her finger to her hat, and lifted it off her face, hiding nothing of her feelings. “What else would I call it?”
Malum turned away, as if in disgust. It would be hard to tell, they couldn’t even see his arms from under his cloak, his body language hidden as much as his expressions.
“Ultimately pointless for one,” Quintus answered as if Lucy’s question wasn’t rhetorical. Quintus hid next to nothing and turned his chin up high above Lucy and her words about war.
But his demeanor lessened, and his arms fell away. It appears he can hear how naive he sounds.
“There will be more wars after this one, there will not be peace no matter who wins, so ultimately, war is pointless,” Quintus said, “we’re just trying to survive.”
Lucy raised her hand to tap Quintus’s chest with her knuckles. “At least with the money we get today, surviving will become all the easier.”
“Will it now?” Quintus asked. “Where I’m from, everyone tended to go after the one with the most. People oft thought they had the best food.”
“You’re awaited in this room,” the acolyte interrupted them as she gestured to the door, “you’ll find it unlocked.”
Then she made her way far from them.
Lucy elbowed Jack, “Look, you scared her away.”
“Why… why would I care? Also, how was it only me?”
They caught Astrid opening the door the moment their eyes were turned.
“You have to knock first!” Jack told her.
Astrid shrugged, “She said it was unlocked,” and gestured them inside.
“It’s still rude,” Jack said as he entered.
Lucy entered behind him, but not without smirking at Astrid in a way that made the ax-woman roll her eyes.
As Quintus was about to walk in, Malum stopped him with a hand to his chest.
Quintus looked down at it, before looking back up at the assassin’s mask. “Yes, Malum?”
“Did the rich have the best food?”
“Of course, they did,” Quintus answered, and as he entered, he muttered, “and I hear they tasted even better.”
Malum followed, glad that he picked a mask that hid the smirk on his face.
Malum closed the door behind him and was met by a rather large study. Someone important doesn’t live here but works here. Malum was already narrowing down who was in here with them as he followed his allies past bookcases and shelves.
He took note of the crystals overhead that also lined the wood that held all the books. This is Raydorn, no self-respecting Krone would buy goods from Raydorn, and Susanna has light bulbs.
When they enter the leading passage, they’re greeted with a straight path to an eccentric-looking woman, sitting at an eccentric-looking desk, with a less than eccentric-looking companion.
Jack immediately muttered, “Kion?” at the sight of the Aurora Knight. “What are you-”
“Should have knocked first,” the woman interrupted him, then went back to finishing her work.
The room could almost hear the sound of Malum’s face tightening under his mask. He stepped forward, and demanded to know, “Who in Hedone are you?”
“You don’t recognize her? I thought you knew everyone,” Jack said.
When the leather around Malum’s hands squeaked, the eyes of most of his comrades went wide.
Save for Astrid, who hasn’t taken her eyes off the woman since they walked in.
“Then introduce us,” Malum told Jack, gently gesturing to her with his overly stilled hand.
Jack turned to her, and asked, “You’re Amidala Kain, the warlock of Raydorn, am I correct?”
The woman smiled as if in confirmation, finally lifting her head from her work. The chainlink from her glasses to her tunic’s pocket perfectly framed the smirk on her face.
“At least one of you has manners,” Amidala said, “though it shouldn’t be surprising that it would be the Starshield.”
Jack stood taken aback by the sound of his last name.
Malum stepped close to the supposed warlock’s desk, and upon having him there, Amidala did little but look up with her eyebrow raised.
“Why are you here? I thought we were meeting with Harry and-”
Jack interrupted him to talk to the Aurora Knight at the same time, “Kion, what’s wrong?” Jack reached his hand toward the Aurora Knight, but the Knight crossed his arm to avoid it.
Amidala looked to Jack and then back to Malum, making a circle with her finger. “I’ll give you a minute for your side conversations.”
Malum nearly growled as Quintus placed his gentle hand on him, and leaned over his shoulder.
Quintus gave Amidala a rather warm smile, so much so that circumstances are the only reason Malum would have called it disingenuous.
“Forgive my friends, you can understand that this is most strange.”
“Oh,” Amidala chuckled as she went to her work, which Malum had noticed was not a letter.
That’s a drawing of some sort, a rune maybe, which makes sense for a warlock.
Malum thought to himself until Amidala said, “I didn’t know monkeys knew manners, how trite.”
The mood shifted there, with even Malum taking a shift back.
Again, he noticed Astrid. Why is she standing so far away like that? She was frozen in place, separate from them. She wasn’t shaking from fear and she wasn’t clutching her ax, she was just staring…
Staring would be putting it lightly, she’s baring all the hate one’s soul can muster at this… warlock.
Malum opened his mouth to try to call to her, but again he found himself cut off by a louder member of his comrades.
Lucy slammed her hands down on Amidala’s desk as she got in the warlock’s unflinching face. “What did you just call him?!”
“I called him monkey as I now call you a squatter,” she said without missing a beat, and as Malum noted to himself, also finished the rune.
Quintus kept a cool head, but pulled back, doing little to appear small as he would to others. “Not the best way to speak to potential allies, don’t you think?” he asked her, in a way where his voice had no warmth but felt hot enough to cause fires.
Amidala tries to contain her chuckle as she takes her librarian glasses off with one hand, and then flicks her fingers over her rune with the other.
Malum was reminded then, that the worst time to confirm that something is a rune or a spell, is when someone’s using it.
Holographic light came together in the form of the rune and flew out through the room. It blew the papers off her desk, giving everyone’s hair a good kerfuffle.
“Oh, I don’t like that,” Jack said, as he took a step closer to the Aurora Knight, who promptly shoved him.
Jack looked no different than a kicked puppy with the way he looked at his lover.
“I would say that I regret that we’re not going to be allies…” Amidala said as she stood up from her desk, more winds flying from her, “… but I would be lying. This is all a final formality to clean up the mess that House Thorn has created for us.”
With a push of her hand and words they didn’t understand, the room seemed to enlarge. The floor stretched out from under them, pushing them to the outer reaches of the room, moving and turning the bookcases and shelves around. They formed a circle around the legionnaires while also trapping them inside.
Malum rolled and landed on his feet. The first thing he did was chide himself for making this mistake. I’ve let us walk into a kill box.
As Quintus rolled around and climbed back up to his feet, he called out, “I think we can guess who Harry didn’t sign a contract with.”
“You’ll never believe it,” Amidala taunted them as she raised her hands before her, and as she separated them she created a new staff.
Malum unsheathed his sword and aimed it at Amidala.
Even though there are more than a few yards between them, the Aurora Knight stepped between the legionnaires and Amidala.
“Kion…” Jack muttered, unable to understand as he screamed out, “what are you doing?!”
“You’ve been talking around us long enough,” Malum talked over his ally’s outburst, “what’s your business with us?!”
Amidala whispered some more and her desk dissipated, letting her step out beside the Aurora Knight.
She seemed hardly prepared for battle but indistinguishable from a warlock. Her belt was made of pendants that Malum noted he should cut off first. There was also her shoulderless cape that came down from her arms was of the same colors of the acolyte, something he could use to trip her up if he got close to her.
“That’s just it,” she answered Malum’s question, “I have no business with you, in fact, no one has any business with you,” and with more magical words and the tap of her staff, the bookcases turned to let armed acolytes come in.
As she’s helped to her feet by Quintus, Lucy asked, “What exactly is she trying to say? Why can’t they ever just come out with it?!”
“Whose ‘they?’” Quintus asked her in response.
“Sorry my dears, I bear you and the rest of the Black Legion terrible news. The three great nations of Gronina have collectively come to an agreement that no one shall be hiring the Black Legion, and that the Black Legion will be no more.
“And the killing that is to come, starts with you.”
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