Sisters of the Cohort Ch. 03bySoebek110©
This was evidently the merchant area, where Mikael had to admit he felt most comfortable. Shops lined the cobbled streets, with more permanent wares beyond; a tavern and a blacksmith in particular caught Mikael's eyes, though he was sure there were others.
In the distance rose larger houses, and Mikael was certain he could see a high wall separating the two Quarters. The Noble Quarter, Mikael smiled to himself, amused at their desire for seclusion. It was there he would find the Baron, of that he had no doubt, and so he would at some point need to find a way in.
This contrasted with the run-down hovels that stood to his right, his eyes drawn along a traipsing line of poor into a seedy looking area that held little appeal to the eye. The Poor Quarter looked every bit as dishevelled as the people who inhabited it, and Mikael could not help but shake his head at their plight. Lucinda had said their season had been bad, and yet they were taxed anyway -- the money no doubt going towards the Baron's already extensive wealth.
Mikael pondered a moment, remembering his six tasks. He ran each one through his mind, attempting to order them in a way that would make sense, before realising the time. Given the nature of some of them, he would be best off undertaking them during the day, not as evening set in, and so with his mind made up he headed towards the Poor Quarter.
He had a tavern to visit.
Mikael reclined on the dilapidated couch. It had once been leather, but had worn through so many times in its extended lifespan that it was now a mosaic of cloths, all sewn on to keep it functional -- barely. The tavern smelt and looked grimy, and the light was weak here. Lanterns flickered feebly overhead, the sun's rays long since passed, and a few candles stood battling the darkness on some of the larger tables. Good wax was expensive, and Mikael guessed they could not afford it.
It was very busy, too, a large crowd of people milling around the bar and elsewhere. An elderly bar wench served them all hurriedly, her face hanging in despair. It was only now, as he sat amongst the poor, that he realised how hard the season -- and latterly the taxes -- had hit them. It was all very well being told, but he had to see the devastation and misery to truly appreciate its magnitude.
Mikael stood, and was immediately buffeted by a small man crashing into his chest. He staggered backwards, though fared better than the newcomer, who tottered, then collapsed in a heap. He looked up at Mikael pathetically, evidently expecting retribution, and cringed as Mikael reached towards him.
He was light, Mikael realised as he hauled the man to his feet. Too light; these people were starving.
"I... I'm sorry," the newcomer stammered, fear still evident in his eyes. "I did not mean t... to hit you."
Mikael smiled pleasantly. "It's fine, accidents happen. May I have your name?"
"R... Richard, sir."
"Well good evening, Richard. Please, join me on this couch."
The man's eyes widened with fear once again.
"No! I c... can't do that! That's Ol... Olaf's seat!" he cried.
"Olaf?" Mikael queried, wondering if that was his target.
"Yes... the N... Northerner. He would not app... appreciate me in his s... seat. N... nor would he app... appreciate you there either."
"I am curious," Mikael asked, grabbing Richard's arm as he turned to leave. "If this barbarian is quite so terrifying, why do people still come to the tavern?"
"We h... have nowhere else t... to go. W... we tried l... leaving, but Olaf j... just followed us. And if we d... don't come to the t... tavern, he gets v... very angry."
"Thank you," Mikael said, releasing the man's arm. He darted away into the packed masses without so much as another word.
Mikael sat back down on the couch, wondering as to the man's fear. Was the barbarian truly so terrifying, and had such an iron grip on the Quarter? Why would the merchants and nobles not send their guards to intervene? Although it struck Mikael that, given the nature of these people's poverty, it was already apparent the rest of Firewatch's inhabitants cared little for them.
A loud bang filled the room as the door swung open and a hulking giant of a man thumped in. Instantly the chatter ceased, and all eyes swung to the newcomer. He regarded the tavern with a brutal grin.
The thug stepped forwards, patrons shrinking out of his way, but there was not enough room for them all to clear a path for him. The giant regarded them coldly, before marching up to the bar and snatching a jug of ale with a snarl. The barwoman did not protest.
The brute drained the jug in mere gulps, before slamming it back down onto the bar. Those closest to him shrank back at the action.
"Olaf want more!" he bellowed, before turning to the rest of the tavern. Instantly his eyes set upon Mikael. They narrowed, and his lips twisted into a snarl.
"You are in Olaf's seat, little man," he growled. "You move now or Olaf kill you."
He advanced towards Mikael, flexing his arms menacingly. Mikael held no doubt that the barbarian would indeed attack.
"I believe I was here first, sir. Tavern etiquette surely dictates this seat is mine?" Mikael said politely.
A terrified whispering went round the room as Olaf approached with a scream.
"You dare ignore what Olaf say, runt? When Olaf speak, he expect things done!"
"Does he now? Good for him; always a nice state of affairs," Mikael smiled sarcastically. "What if I told Olaf to go fuck himself? Hmm? What would Olaf do then?"
The barbarian looked taken aback a moment, then roared with pure rage. "Olaf would kill you! He would tear out your throat and use your body as a coaster!"
Mikael replied slowly, deliberately. "Well now, that's a rather big coaster, isn't it? I doubt you could handle that much ale."
Olaf screeched in anger, his face red and his eyes wide, spittle flying from his mouth. "I kill you! You have crossed Olaf for the last time!"
The barbarian charged at Mikael, his shoulders hunched to hit him as hard as possible. Mikael waited, allowing the brute to come to him, and didn't move until the last possible moment, when in one graceful dive he cleared the sofa and rolled onto his feet. The onrushing brute, confused, went crashing into the now-empty couch, screaming with rage as it disintegrated under his charge.
Mikael withdrew his swords deftly, their metal keening in the silent tavern. The patrons shrank back further, if that was possible. He watched as Olaf tossed the broken sofa remnants aside, a group of old men ducking out of the way as the wood smashed into the wall above their heads.
Olaf stood up, dazed but no less angry, and grinned at Mikael.
"You want to play with swords, little man? Olaf will show you how to play with swords!"
Mikael watched as Olaf withdrew two swords of his own from underneath his cloak. Each was a two-hander, but the brute was so large he clasped them easily in one. He began to march towards Mikael again.
He swung once, twice, three times, yet Mikael dodged. Olaf was strong, but not very fast. Mikael could keep this up all day.
"Dodge away, little man! Olaf needs no swords."
The barbarian dropped his blades, and with his newly freed hands lunged forwards and grabbed Mikael by the shoulders. Before he could react, Olaf had shaken the swords from his grasp, and tossed him against the wall like a ragdoll. Mikael slammed into it with a thud, the wind knocked out of him. He had to admit, he had not been expecting that.
He stood rather shakily, and saw Olaf lumbering towards him, clearly in the ascension. He raised his hands.
"You want to grapple, ogre?" Mikael asked calmly, his steadiness returning. "You want to wrestle?"
"I am not ogre!" Olaf screeched, spittle flailing from his mouth as he charged forwards, intending to crush Mikael against the wall.
Mikael had other ideas, rolling out of the way as the brute hurtled past him and, before Olaf could react, jumping onto his giant back. The barbarian reached backwards desperately as Mikael wrapped one arm around his thick neck, clinging on.
Olaf thrashed, attempting to throw Mikael clear, but he would not budge. He held on tenaciously with his right arm as his left unhooked the small dagger he kept attached to his boot.
"Olaf will kill you! He will kill you!" the brute screeched, turning his back to the wall to try and squash Mikael against it.
"No, you won't," Mikael whispered quietly into the barbarian's ear, before plunging the dagger into Olaf's neck.
The giant screamed, the noise becoming a strangled gurgle as blood poured from the wound, running in rivers down the thug's body. Mikael jumped clear as he fell to the ground, his body twitching, and it took mere moments for the brute's eyes to glass over.
He was dead.
Mikael staggered backwards, breathing deeply. He was dazed, winded and bruised, but he was alive. And he had satisfied the Gods' first task.
"Rejoice, friends! Our tormenter is dead," sounded a clear voice, and Mikael turned to see a tall man regarding him with a grin. He raised his drink, and the rest of the tavern followed suit. A cheer went up.
Mikael grinned, bowing low before making his way to the exit. Much as he would have liked to enjoy the situation, and perhaps even find some company for the night, he had other tasks he needed to be doing.
"Sir?" a woman's voice sounded, and Mikael turned to see a cloaked figure proffering his swords - in the adrenaline he had forgotten them. Mikael smiled, taking the blades and swiftly sheathing them.
"Thank you, Kristine," Mikael said, before turning back to the doorway. He heard the woman splutter behind him, obviously shocked he had identified her, and left the tavern with a laugh.
Still pumping from his fight with the barbarian, and the subsequent completion of his first task, Mikael strolled back outside the bar. The faint lamplight reflected on the sheen of his wet skin, and he breathed in the cold night air. It was a wonderful contrast to the dark, smoky atmosphere of the tavern.
He smiled and set off down the road, feeling the sweat on his brow turn icy in the winter air. One of his tasks had been completed -- five to go. Which to do next?
His thinking was brought to an abrupt halt, however, by a dart of movement in the building to his left. He froze, before slowly sinking into the shadows, and waited. His eyes focused on the window pane where the movement had occurred, but though minutes past, it did not happen again.
Edging forwards, he entered the building, an old warehouse in the Poor Quarter. The detritus of squalor lay scattered about, though no one was currently inside, and he stealthily made his way up the central staircase to the top floor.
He flattened himself to the steps, and peered over, scanning the dark room for a sign of whatever made the movement. It had been too deliberate to be an animal, and given the nature of his tasks, he was certain it was relevant.
Yet there was nothing, bar a piece of material flapping in the wind. The entire top floor was devoid of any signs of life whatsoever, and he slowly climbed to his feet.
Mikael approached the material tentatively, wary of the deliberate way in which it had been tied to a wooden support. He reached out, slowly untying it, and held it for the moonlight to reveal.
'Catch me if you can!' read a flowing script across it, and a wave of adrenaline thumped through Mikael.
"Ria'torr..." he whispered, a grin spreading across his face. He crouched low, and unhooked the bow on his back. He guessed it was time for another task.
He quickly ran the instructions through his head once more. The Gods of the Wilderness had tasked him with a hunt: he was to catch their chosen one, and he had been given an enchanted arrow with which to do so. Ria'torr, at a time she felt he was ready, would leave him a sign, and he would then have to track her down. On discovering her whereabouts he was to fire the enchanted arrow, and though it would not harm the elf, it would complete the task.
The instructions refreshed in his mind, he lifted his head, taking in the street below and the buildings opposite. Ria'torr was evidently nearby.
A shadow flitted down an alleyway, and Mikael was moving in a flash. He jumped from the window, landing on an overturned cart, and rolled forwards to diminish the fall. He was on his feet again in an instant, sprinting towards the alleyway, and as he reached it a small hand disappeared over the high wall at its end.
Two run-down houses stood either side of the dark passageway, and he leapt, grasping hold of the lower roof of the one to his right. Hauling himself up, he kept low, scampering towards the street on the other side and flattening himself so as not to be seen.
Ria'torr stood on a roof opposite, a grin on her beautiful features. Staring straight at him, she winked, and before Mikael could draw the bow she had vanished behind the roof.
Growling, Mikael scrabbled to his feet, his haste causing him to slip slightly, and he rushed towards the roof's edge. He dropped down onto the street below, a startled cat yowling as it hurtled away from him, and he ran to the street's end.
Turning right, he followed Ria'torr's direction, though he no longer had any idea of where she might be. Fuck, he cursed, his eyes roving over the houses. Whilst there was no time limit on this task, if he lost her then that would be it. He'd not find her again.
He came to a street occupied by abandoned storefronts. He was on the edge of town now; away from both the Poor Quarter and the shops in the Merchant District. These buildings had clearly once served an important purpose, but the evolving nature of the town had left them derelict long ago. This far away from the centre of the Poor Quarter, he doubted he would even come across any peasants.
He crept forwards, eager to conceal his location. Had Ria'torr entered one of these, he could not afford to allow himself to be seen; she would simply disappear. No, he had to approach in such a way she would not know he was coming.
Mikael's gaze swept over the façades of the buildings. Most were crumbling, the structures inside probably having already collapsed, and so he did not bother entering. His instincts told him that Ria'torr would have sought out the most stable building, from which she could scan the street and rooftops without having to worry about the floor giving way beneath her feet. That is, after all, exactly what Mikael would have done.
His eyes settled upon one particularly large storefront, with an imposing façade that maintained some of its grandeur despite having seen far better days. It looked as if it had once been a warehouse, and did not look quite as run-down as the buildings that surrounded it. Mikael paused a moment, before realising he had to make a decision as to which building to enter -- and that was as good a guess as any.
Staying low to the shadows, Mikael darted through the opening maw of the front door. The wooden entrance way had long since been stolen, and an open hole was all that remained as a greeting. Rain had left its mark on the broken floor, but to Mikael's eye the walls and ceilings stood intact.
It was dark inside, particularly at the rear of the building, where there were no windows to allow light in. It was there he hurriedly made his way, careful to ensure his footsteps made no sound on the stone floor. He paused a moment, and took in his surroundings. He could see no sign of the elf, and so made his way quietly to the staircase that stood shrouded in the shadows of the far corner.
He ascended delicately, well aware of the old wooden steps and their probable tendency to creak. He removed the bow from his back once again and notched the arrow; were his target on the floor above he would not waste time setting up his bow.
At length, he reached the top, and slowly raised his head above the floor level. His eyes quickly took in the dark room, and a smile spread across his face. Ria'torr crouched in front of one of the tall windows, periodically slightly standing and searching the street below. She has no idea I'm here, Mikael smiled.
He silently and nimbly leapt up fully onto the top floor, holding himself in the shadows. He maintained a crouch, keeping low but also readying himself for sudden movement, and took aim.
The string sang as he released it, and Ria'torr turned round in surprise at the noise. The arrow, aimed for her back, now hit her squarely in the side, and she toppled backwards with a yelp. A look of shock was on her face, and for a moment she did not move.
Mikael raced towards her, terrified she was injured, cold fear running through his body. He reached her, kneeling next to her prone form, and relief flooded through him. She was grinning, and a twinkle of laughter reached his ears.
"The Gods bless you with accuracy, Mikael," she grinned, deftly climbing to her feet. "You have completed another task. Is that two?"
"Yes, Ria'torr, it is," Mikael smiled back. The Elf giggled.
"That took less time than I had thought. Perhaps it was foolish of me, but I had hoped I would have eluded you. Or maintained the chase for a good few hours, at least," she said at last.
"You were the hardest quarry I have ever tracked," Mikael said plainly.
"I have no doubt. I am just impressed with the way you handled the hunt. How strange that sounds, hearing myself referred to as the quarry!"
She laughed again, and Mikael took in the sight. She did look fantastic, her long, dark green hair tied into a ponytail as it had been both times he had previously seen her. Her leather armour was tight and form-fitting -- although he had come to expect nothing less from the Sisters -- and he appreciated that. She wore a leather vest, unlike Lucinda's in that the armour did not extend down her arms, and a short skirt which he supposed was to allow for better movement.
His heart skipped as he realised she was staring at him, and a lascivious smile played across her lips.
"A nice view there?"
"Very," Mikael said with a grin, climbing to his own feet and stepping towards her. She did not retreat. He had a thought.
"Something has occurred to you. I can see it in your eyes."
"Well, I completed that task a little more quickly than I had expected..."
"Hmph," the elf said, folding her arms and pouting.
He ignored her and carried on. "... and I now have some time to spare. I had only thought to do two tasks tonight, but perhaps there is room for a third."
"There is, is there?" the ranger said slowly, her eyebrow rising. Her arms unfolded, returning to her sides.
"Yes, but I am... unsure of which to do next."
A mischievous smile spread across the beautiful elf's face. "I have an idea."
"Knowing your Sisters, that does not surprise me," Mikael laughed, closing the gap between them.
"And knowing what they say of you, I am surprised you are not kissing me yet," Ria'torr muttered sultrily, staring into his eyes.
"Then I shall address that," Mikael breathed, leaning forwards and pressing his lips against hers. She responded with a moan, standing on tip-toes and forcing her tongue into Mikael's mouth, where it met his own. They thrashed against each other, and Mikael's hands dropped to Ria'torr's lower back.
It was an awkward position, however, and Ria'torr giggled into his mouth, breaking the kiss and staring at him with lust-filled eyes. With a salacious grin she shoved him roughly in the chest and he stumbled back a few steps, colliding with the wall behind him. An instant later she jumped up, wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck.
Mikael groaned as his own hands moved to support her ass, and their kiss was reinitiated with passion. Mikael felt something primal driving him onwards, a certain ferocity that was absent when he enjoyed the attentions of other women, and wondered as to its cause. It was, he decided as Ria'torr's tongue jostled with his own, a combination of the public setting, the importance of his task and the fact that he had never kissed an elf before, let alone fucked one. Gods, before yesterday he had never even seen one!