tagSci-Fi & FantasyLowborn Ch. 08

Lowborn Ch. 08

byDarkniciad©

Mindblind stood staring at the wall, fist clenched tight around his sword hilt, and his vision red with rage. He tried to master his emotions, as he'd done all his life, but it was having no effect.

After everything — even killing the last of the assassins — he was no closer to discovering who was really behind it all.

Behind him, Indigo related what he'd learned from the women locked in the back of the establishment. The assassins had stormed their family farmstead, killing every male, and forcing the women to provide cover during the flight from Draxnog's wrath.

Apparently pleased with the convenience, the guildmaster had kept the women in tow. Since then, they had served to slake the carnal lusts of the guild, and provide a concealing front for the murderers by cooking for the eatery.

"There's more than enough here for them to take this place as their own, or pack up and go home without having to worry about coin for a while," Raven said.

"Blood money," Indigo said with disdain.

Raven countered, "You don't think they've given their share to deserve it?"

"True."

Voices raised in anger snapped Mindblind from his state of numb rage, and he spun on the open door, sword at the ready.

"Easy," Raven said before darting past Indigo into the hall. Her battle-ready posture immediately dropped, and she chuckled.

"What the hell is it?" Mindblind growled — the first words he'd uttered since finding out that the guildmaster hadn't written down who had hired him.

Raven walked back into the room, still chuckling. "I was wondering what we were going to do with the fat fuck swimming in his own piss out there. Problem solved."

Mindblind finally sheathed his sword and followed Indigo into the hall. The handsome Draxnian muttered something in his own language and froze before Mindblind could see what had caused the commotion.

In the hall, one of the women had retrieved a kitchen knife. Her skill at carving meat and vegetables apparently extended to carving human beings as well. She consoled the youngest woman of the group, bloody knife still in hand. Even though he couldn't understand more than a few words, it was enough for Mindblind to fathom that the fat man had taken the young woman as his own — frequently and violently.

"Tell them this place and everything in it is theirs now, as long as they don't mention that we were here," Raven said.

Indigo nodded and walked toward the women, still looking a little pale.

"Except this, of course," Raven whispered, patting the pocket where she'd stuffed a bag of gemstones. The small, easily concealed sack would have ensured that the guild could quickly relocate and set up shop elsewhere, if necessary. Since they no longer had any use for it, she had appropriated it.

When Mindblind barely reacted, she asked, "You okay?"

"Fine," he growled under his breath.

"You've got to get it together. We need to get back to the Wench. The law is on the take around here, but they can't completely ignore random bodies. The last thing we want to do is be anywhere near when this all starts coming out."

"Seems like the law's fucking corrupt everywhere."

"Everything's corrupt. Rotten to the core. Come on. I need to knock back a few and sleep for a couple days."

Though he nodded as he followed her out, Mindblind doubted that sleep was in his immediate future.

****

Knocking back a few proved to be a vast understatement. Mindblind was taken aback and more than a little baffled as Raven seemed to toss all caution to the wind. She didn't bother with beer, going straight to whisky in large quantities. Lost in his own chaotic thoughts, he nursed the same flagon the whole time.

At some point, Kayleen had come down and whispered something in Raven's ear, which had the effect of partially sobering her up. She had left without a word — more than a little unsteady on her feet. He knew that he should probably be concerned, but nothing seemed to be able to compete with the red rage slowly boring deeper into his brain.

He had no idea how much time had passed when Kayleen stopped at his table again, though the shorter candle in the middle of the table suggested it had been a while.

"I... Can I talk to you?"

It took a moment or two for her words to pierce the chaos of anger roiling in his mind, but he finally answered. "What is it?"

"Not here."

Letting out a grunt, he stood, and noticed that the blonde's eyes were red, as if she'd been crying. "Okay, let's get out of here."

She led him back to their room, and he was surprised that Raven wasn't there. As she shut the door behind them, Kayleen said, "She's with her sister. That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I'm really worried."

"Okay, what's wrong?"

She plopped down on a bed and cradled her head in her hand for a moment. "Yani was acting odd. That's why I came to get Raven. She stopped and talked to the innkeeper on the way there and got some sort of potion. After she drank it, Yani fell asleep."

"Probably a good thing."

"That's not the problem, though. Raven was on the verge of passing out too, and she started talking — saying terrible things. She was saying that Yani would be better off dead than mad. There were other things, but I couldn't understand her. I'm not sure she even knew I was there after a while."

"Probably just the booze talking. You know how that is."

"I do, and that's why I'm worried. This is something else. Cerebus, she's hurting. She hides it in the way she acts, but she's in pain. She has been for a very long time. We... We talked a little at night, and she told me some of the things that have happened to her. I can't imagine how anyone could survive through what she's endured."

"She has, though. Look, she's tough as nails. That ain't all an act. Maybe she plays the part sometimes, but it's who she is. Her sister's getting worse, and maybe she's having trouble dealing with that right now, but she will."

He paused, thinking about the way Raven acted around Kayleen. It made him consider that there might be a soft spot in her iron exterior. "Don't mean that you shouldn't try to talk to her, though. And you can keep an eye on her. If she starts talking that way when she's not boozed up, let me know."

"Are you sure?"

He shrugged. "When can you be sure about what anybody else is thinking? All we can do is the best we can."

"Do you think there's anything that can be done for Yani? If she got better..."

"I don't know. Never seen anything like it. If you can try to watch out for her, that might help. Get her that tea when she needs it."

"She does seem to listen to me a little when one of her spells comes on."

"Good." Though he didn't say anything, his own red rage had dulled as he talked to her. "Think you have a knack for that."

"I'll do my best."

"And we'll both keep an eye on her. Why don't you go to bed? They're probably both out for a while between the booze and whatever Raven gave Yani. Not doing anybody any good if you're dead on your feet."

"I'll go stay with them. I already asked Cammie to switch rooms around. You can have this one to yourself."

"Go on, then."

Kayleen stood up and walked to the door. She paused before opening it, though. "There's more to you than people see, too. There's more to you than you know. You're a good man. Better than most."

He let out a snort. "Don't know about all that."

After she left, Mindblind slipped out of his gear, propping his sword up next to the bed — thinking he should take his own advice. Now that he wasn't overflowing with blind anger, he felt his eyelids getting heavy. He wasn't going to be of much use if he was exhausted, either.

It still took him some time to fall asleep after hitting the rack.

****

Mindblind's sword swept in great arcs, cutting down all that stood before him. Whole tribes of goblins fell like wheat before the scythe. The blacksmith who had cheated him when purchasing his first sword. Arrogant Reed, calling his mother a whore. They all died in a rending of flesh, crunches of bone, and fountains of blood. Then, a sudden attack.

His fingers dug into Raven's shoulders, shoving her upright with a roar as he tried to sort through the chaotic fusion of reality and dream.

"Easy," she slurred, prying at his fingers.

She was naked, sitting astride his body, but it still took several pounding heartbeats before that registered and he relaxed his grip.

"Much better," she said, reaching for his breeches and ignoring the angry red marks on her shoulders.

The door opened and Kayleen hurried into the room looking bleary-eyed. "What's wrong?"

Raven looked back over her shoulder. "Mmm... Nuffin'. Get over here, honey."

"Not in the mood," Mindblind growled, pushing her hand away as she tried to expose his manhood and Kayleen closed the door to the room.

"You've got to be kidding me," Raven said, wobbling unsteadily atop him. "Fine. Kay and I can play, then."

The blonde stepped up next to the bed and reached out to caress Raven's shoulder while leaning in to whisper something to her.

Raven snapped in response to the quiet words, "Don't call me that. That's not my name." She tried to slide off her perch atop Mindblind, but her inebriated state made it more of a lurch.

He moved, pulling his legs out from under her, and at the same time, Kayleen slipped into the bed and threw her arms around the dark-haired woman. He could only hear a few words of what the blonde said as she pulled Raven close and held her tight. "It's okay to need..."

"Get off me," Raven protested. She struggled a little, but Kayleen held on strong. "Get... Get off," the thief repeated, but this time, it trailed off into a sob.

Mindblind watched in stunned amazement as the hard-edged woman melted into Kayleen's embrace, sobbing into the blonde's shoulder. Kay held her, stroking Raven's hair and back, rocking from side to side. After long minutes, Raven's sobs quieted, and Kay guided the other woman to lie down. Mindblind scooted farther onto the opposite side of the bed, giving them room. Once the two women had fully reclined, Kay looked over Raven and gestured with her eyes.

Interpreting the signal as her wanting him to join in the embrace, he shrugged his shoulders and lifted his eyebrows. Kayleen's gaze intensified, and she nodded her head almost imperceptibly.

Tentatively, he rolled onto his side and slipped an arm beneath Kayleen's and around Raven's body. Though he couldn't hear them, he could still feel sobs shaking the thief. He moved closer, letting his body come into contact with hers — more than a little surprised by how good it felt.

Ever so slowly, Raven's sobs stilled, and her breathing slowed. Mindblind had nearly dozed off when he felt the mattress shift. Raven whimpered as Kayleen slipped out of the bed, but Mindblind pulled the dark-haired woman closer, quieting the unconscious protest.

Kay leaned in and whispered into his ear. "Please, just hold her. She needs it, but she's afraid to ask. I need to get back to Yani. Cammie is watching her, but she has... She has someone waiting."

Mindblind gave a slight nod in response, and then heard Kayleen tiptoe across the floor, followed by the creak of the door opening and closing. Snuggled up next to the thief in a strangely comfortable embrace, he drifted back off to sleep.

This time, no dreams of blood and death haunted his slumber.

****

Sunlight shining through the window and the heat of the day dragged him back to wakefulness. Raven was lying with her head on his chest, and her expression bore hints of a smile. His arm was asleep from lying beneath her, and he moved, trying to pull it free without waking her up.

"Mmm. Just a minute more," she said in an uncharacteristically soft voice. She raised her shoulder, allowing him to move his arm, which he lifted to stroke her hair, though he could barely feel it through the pins and needles of returning circulation. She moaned again in response.

Sweat was beading on both of their bodies, and kicking away the covers with as little movement as possible did nothing to alleviate it.

Raven sighed, giving in to the inevitable, and braced an arm on the bed to lift up from his chest. Before he could think of anything to say, she leaned in and gave him a peck on the lips. "Thank you."

She sat up and wiped her brow — and then a bead of sweat running between her breasts. She fixed him with a gaze surely meant to be stern, but still shot through with hints of the gentler emotions that had overwhelmed her the night before. "I swear to the gods that if you ever tell anyone about this, I will cut your balls off before I slit your throat."

"Who'd believe me?" he responded, and then chuckled.

"There is that," she said, and flashed him a smile. A second later, she pinched her eyes closed and groaned. "Gods, I feel like I have an army of dwarves marching on my head."

The door creaked as it opened, but only wide enough for Kayleen to peek in. "Is it okay if I come in?"

"Yes, Kay," Raven answered as she moved to lean up against the headboard.

The blonde opened the door a little wider, and then struggled to pull inside a narrow shelf cart. It wouldn't have been difficult if she had fully opened the door, but knowing that Raven was nude, she avoided that. Once the cart was inside, Mindblind could see a pitcher, two cups, and a large ceramic bowl sitting on top. Kayleen also carried a bundle of what looked to be Raven's clothing under her arm.

"So, you're not too mad at me?" Kay asked as she pulled the cart up next to the bed.

"No. Thank you, Kay. But like I told him, if you ever tell a soul..."

The blonde offered a beaming smile. "I won't. I brought some cold water to drink, to help with the hangover, and some to wash with."

"Gods know I need it. I've got rivers of sweat running between my tits and down my back into my ass," Raven said as she levered up from the bed, slipping back into the character with which they were all more familiar.

Kayleen sat the bundle of clothing down on the foot of the bed. "Yani seems better today. I didn't give her as much of the tea, and she's been up and talking. Becky is with her, but I should probably get back."

"Thanks, Kay. I may come see her later," Raven said as she picked up a cloth from within the bowl and squeezed excess water out of it.

"I'll be there if you need me," Kayleen said, and then snuck back out the door while Raven wiped away the sweat on her face.

Raven turned back toward the bed. "I've been thinking that maybe we should buy another wagon."

"Suppose it would be faster if they all could ride," Mindblind agreed, rising from the bed with intentions of pouring a glass of water.

"I had the greasy bastard move the one we have out back. He's got a hidden gate in the wall back there. When we leave out of here, I'd rather not leave by the normal gates if we can avoid it."

Having a little trouble keeping his thoughts focused with Raven standing nude next to him, washing her breasts with the cloth, he said, "Probably a good idea. I guess we should start looking around."

"Fuck that. I'll have Magar send word around to find us one and a horse to pull it — though I'll have to tell him to make sure they just find it and don't pinch it. Last thing we need is a stolen wagon right now. Gave him some of those gems to fence, too. Can probably sell them to anybody in dribs and drabs later, but for now..."

Mindblind downed his cup of water in one long pull. "Roads will probably dry out pretty fast in this furnace. How long do you figure if they do, and it doesn't piss and pour on us?"

"If we leave at daybreak, we can probably make it to Lakenshire by dark."

"So, tomorrow, if we can find a wagon?"

"Tomorrow, whether we find one or not. I don't like hanging around anywhere there are bodies I'm connected to."

It was hard to argue with the wisdom of that.

****

The taproom was loud with laughter and chatter, rapidly filling with smoke despite numerous wide-open windows. An evening overcast had resulted in nothing more than a few sprinkles, but thankfully broke the sweltering temperature of the day. The reprieve had encouraged the townsfolk to leave their basements or wherever else they'd taken shelter from the heat.

Alice and the women who were staying at the inn did a brisk business, and were rarely in attendance within the taproom for more than a few minutes. Mindblind had little doubt that the girls who were bunking at the bawdy house were doing just as well.

Though leery of the Draxnian at first, Indigo's charm had won over the trust of the taproom patrons in time. He held court at a table near the bar, speaking of his homeland and making ladies swoon.

Raven was in good spirits, as her sister was much improved from the downward spiral of recent days. Yani sat near Indigo — who was helping to keep an eye on her — flirting with men who mistakenly believed she was a potential bedmate who would only cost a few drinks rather than hard-earned coin.

Kayleen also watched over Yani, though she did so while carrying trays for the barkeep. Once again, flustered barmaids had made her request for temporary employment an easy sell.

Mindblind was at ease, drinking his beer and watching everything unfold. A second horse and wagon now sat in the yard behind the inn, already provisioned and ready to roll out in the morning. It was larger than the first, and unless they chose to do so, nobody would have to walk on the last leg of the journey.

The journey home.

It was hard to believe that by this time tomorrow, they should be back in Lakenshire. The whole thing was almost a blur as he thought about it. He knew his family would have noticed his absence by now, and heard about what happened at the Cat. That thought caused his vision to go red, and he chased it away with a long pull that drained the beer from his mug.

He started upon turning toward Raven and seeing a woman whispering in the thief's ear whom he hadn't even noticed approaching. Raven's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, and the other woman vanished into the crowd a second later.

"What's up?" he asked quietly, using his empty mug as cover.

"Magar has a couple of the guards on payroll — beyond the bribes. They passed the word that someone came into town and has their bosses asking questions about us. Get Indigo, Yani, and Kay. I'm going to grab Alice and send someone to the Cradle. Tell them not to make a scene, but to get their stuff and get to the wagons — fast."

"How long?"

"Magar's boys will throw them off the scent for a while, but not long. Make it quick. I want to be out of here an hour ago."

"Got it," he said as he stood and headed to the bar with his empty mug. Raven walked along with him, but once they reached the bar, she slipped out the door and into the hallway that connected to the inn.

Mindblind left the barkeep a tip, and then set about the task of gathering up everyone still in the taproom — all the while cursing the decision to leave his sword in the room.

He wasn't going to feel comfortable until that weapon was once more strapped on his back, within easy reach.

****

Raven paced next to the wagon, twitching at every hint of movement, tiny sound, or shifting breeze. Mindblind stood nearby, somehow containing both his own nervous energy and a nagging desire to draw his sword — to feel the leather-wrapped steel sitting comfortably in his grip.

Indigo sat in the driver's seat of the new wagon, ready to snap the reins and move out at a moment's notice. A sandy-haired blonde girl named Frannie, who had revealed some experience driving a wagon on a farm before she had turned to prostitution, held the reins of the other wagon. All of the other ladies of negotiable virtue had hastily gathered their acquired belongings and climbed into the wagons, ready to leave — except two.

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