Sisters of the Cohort Ch. 04bySoebek110©
Mikael awoke with a start. He had not meant to fall asleep, and the realisation that he had sent a cold shiver running down his spine. He rubbed his forehead, clambering to his feet, and looked around. He was lucky nothing had happened.
He shook his head and glanced about warily, making sure that everything was indeed alright and that nothing was missing. His swords were still sheathed by his side, and he was fairly certain he had not been killed. Lucky boy, he thought to himself as he scratched his head in disbelief.
With a long exhalation of breath, he stretched, allowing himself to relax as it became apparent no ill had befallen him in his moment of stupidity. Pale sunlight filtered through the abandoned building's tall windows, and the weak rays highlighted just what a rundown place it was. Dust settled heavy on the creaking floors, and Mikael glanced behind him at the wall he had rested against. It was cracked, though did not appear unstable, but he was pleased he didn't have to stay any longer in the warehouse's husk.
He could feel the cold, and shook himself in an effort to warm up, his joints creaking as they were called into action. His sleep had not been particularly comfortable, of that he was sure, since he had grabbed it whilst sat on a hard floor with his back against a wall. Oh, how he wished he could have returned to the Sanctuary with Ria'torr, with its soft beds and warm rooms...
Soft bosoms and warm bodies, more like, he grinned to himself, finally feeling ready to face the day. He made his way towards the central staircase, noting with a small smile the arrow that he had fired at Ria'torr the previous night, which still lay by the window. It would probably remain there a long while before someone finally found it, by which time the shaft would have worn through to the point it became useless as a projectile.
He double-checked his armour and weaponry, and, quite sure that it was all intact and on his person, strode downstairs and then out into the street. The pale sky was washed out, though he could tell it was probably mid-morning. He could not be certain, but the position of the sun and noises of the town suggested he was not far off.
Mikael puffed out his cheeks and sucked in a lungful of the icy air, heading off towards the Poor Quarter once more. He saw no one on his journey there, the area in which he had slept truly abandoned, and it was not until he neared the tavern where he had slain Olaf that he finally bumped into someone.
They nodded at him and smiled broadly, and Mikael was not sure whether he was recognised as the killer of their tormentor, or if their lives had just been improved so significantly by Olaf's demise that they were in a generally good mood.
Either way, they're about to like me a whole lot more, Mikael smiled, slowly winding his way back to the Merchant Quarter. The foot traffic increased markedly as he did so, and by the time he was in the marketplace he found himself fighting through a veritable press of bodies.
He paused, wondering as to the task he would first address. He had three more to do, the others completed the night before, and ran them through his mind once more.
You must acquire a rare herb, though it will not be easy to find. The store in Firewatch should have some, but you will likely have a fight on your hands obtaining it. Quintia's words had appeared to him as shimmering golden letters, forming in the air between them as she had given him her task.
You will not be tasked with using magic, as that would be unfair given that you have not yet learned how to do so. In the absence of a spellcasting challenge, this is your quest.
He nodded to himself, remembering that task. The next...
"My task is simple," Melissa had smiled. "There is a healer who works within the Baron's abode, and she is very talented indeed. Her many self-written tomes of medical knowledge are sought after, but she is also very aloof, choosing only to aid those who can afford her services.
"She is currently teaching the Baron's son, and whilst the Gods of Health do not wish to disturb their studies, as another doctor in the world is something they wish, you are required to take from her one of those books. Once it is in your possession, deliver it to the medic of the Poor Quarter. There it will go to good use, and perhaps it will even encourage the healer to be less selfish with her talents."
The third task he remembered well, the sight of the poverty-stricken downtrodden reminding him of it constantly. He was to enter the Baron's home and destroy the treaty that allowed the peasants to be taxed. The season had been poor, and they could not afford it, yet their meagre coin was being taken nonetheless. The Gods wanted that situation addressed.
Mikael looked around, careful to avoid a street urchin as he hurtled past, and scanned the marketplace. Whilst he was here, he decided, he may as well complete the closest task. With that, he set off.
The Alchemical Shoppe was a dingy little place tucked away in the corner of the Quarter. He rolled his eyes as he saw the name, the attempt at faux-antiquity lending the place a seedy air, and it was with an unnerving trepidation that he pushed open the store's heavy door.
Inside it was dark and dusty, and Mikael was quite certain the shop was rarely visited. It was packed with a vast array of strange merchandise, not least the rare and exotic (and in some cases illegal) herbs displayed on the far wall. An elderly crone sat behind the desk.
"What can I do fer ye, dearie?" she croaked at him.
"I'm looking for some lovewort," Mikael replied steadily. He was sure she would deny having any, but it was his task to obtain some nonetheless. He could not fail the Gods now.
Her eyes darted shiftily. "I'm afraid I don' have any o' those, bit is there anythin' else I can help ye with?"
"Listen, I don't want to cause any trouble; I just want some lovewort, and then I'll be on my way," Mikael said calmly.
"I've already told ye, I don't got any," she shot back, her voice dropping and her eyes narrowing slightly.
"The thing is I know you do have some, and as I said, I just need to get hold of a little. I'll pay you handsomely for them, and I won't even enquire as to what you've being doing with them, because I know they can be used for some pretty dark rituals."
"Listen, boy, I don't have any o' that herb. And if ye ask again, I'll be forced to hex ye!"
"Try me, crone. I'm willing to buy that herb, because I need it - the Gods demand that I get it. But if you won't sell it to me, then I am going to get it another way. You see, what I'm trying to say is that the only difference in this outcome is not whether I have the herb on me when I leave -- I will -- but whether your shop is intact when I do so."
"Threatnin' an ol' lady now, are ye?" she cackled, although her eyes betrayed her loathing. "Well I'm just gonna have to hex ye! Ye think I'm a crone, eh? Well I've gotta surprise in store for ye!"
A bright flash filled the air, and Mikael felt as if his flesh were aflame. A glass vial shattered behind him with the force of the blast, a luminous blue liquid leaking onto the floor. A witch! Mikael's mind screamed. So this was his true task, not obtaining the herb, but slaying a Hag -- a witch who had turned away from a simple life of secluded magic to indulge in evil rituals.
"Oh look what ye've gone and done!" the crone laughed. "Ye've spilled me hair growth potion! Least that's easy to remake, which is more 'an I can say for yer bones!" Lightning seared from her fingers, crashing into Mikael and causing his legs to give out. He collapsed to the floor, unbearable pain searing through his body.
The witch stepped out from behind the counter, her eyes ablaze with magic.
She cackled again. "I can see ye ain't likin' this, but it's gonna get worse! No one takes me precious lovewort. I went through too much gettin' it to lose it to some whelp now!"
Mikael kicked out, his foot colliding with a shelf of potions, which collapsed to the floor at the impact. Vials shattered and glass sprayed the room, myriad liquids coalescing as their contents mixed. A foul smell filled the room.
The witch staggered backwards briefly, taken aback first by the sudden movement and then by the smell. Mikael's hand shot out, grasping a large shard of glass that had come to rest nearby, before he drew it underneath his body once more.
"Ye gonna regret that, boy. They were expensive magics, and you just went and ruined 'em. I wouldn' wanna be in yer shoes right now!" She laughed again, raising her hands once more as her eyes glowed increasingly brightly.
"And I, yours," Mikael said with a pained grunt as he hurled the pointed shard at the crone. She staggered backwards, the glass protruding from the space between her eyes. Sorcery crackled on her fingertips as she collapsed to the floor, and Mikael could only watch as the energies she had gathered tore her body apart.
He breathed out heavily, placing his head on the floor and closing his eyes. The pain had begun to fade, his limbs feeling normal again, and he pushed himself upright. The witch's corpse had simply evaporated, obliterated by the magic that she had channelled through her body, and he walked unsteadily to the counter.
"Sorry I had to do that," he said quietly, addressing the patch of ground where the crone's body had been, her tattered clothing all that remained. "Although it does look as if I did the world a favour. The Gods only know what you were using this herb for."
And in fact, they probably did, he smiled as he pulled the herb from the pouch she had worn at her waist. Which is why I'm here.
The herb obtained and the witch slain, he made his way swiftly towards the shop's door. Such blatant use of sorcery was not likely to have gone unnoticed, and Mikael wanted to make a quick exit before a crowd arrived at the store. It would not do to get caught up in accusations of witchcraft.
Two tasks to go.
Mikael walked hurriedly back through the Merchant Quarter, pausing only when he was far enough away from the witch's shop that he was quite sure he would not be caught up in the aftermath. Indeed, an excited murmuring had begun to filter around the marketplace, the townspeople growing agitated as rumours of a magical battle spread.
He breathed out heavily, relieved that no ill had befallen him, and planned his next move. Both of his final tasks required him to enter the Baron's residence, and such a thought was not overly appealing to him. Whilst he hoped he would be able to do so without being caught -- the Gods would surely not send him to his death -- the punishment if he were would be severe, and he did not think he could count on the Sisters to step in and save him. He was not yet a member of the Cohort, after all.
Tentatively, he approached the high wall that separated the nobles from the rest of the town. A large gateway stood at its centre, and four armed guards clutched pikes in front of it. They clearly want to keep people out, he grimaced, his job made harder. There was no way he was getting through that gate.
He turned around, scanning his eyes along the length of the wall, attempting to find a weakness or an opening. There was none; not a single house that backed on to it was tall enough to allow him to clamber over, even if Mikael had been willing to do so in daylight.
He puffed out his cheeks. Every other entrance would have a similar guard, he was sure, and the wall was enough of an obstacle to prevent him merely climbing over it. He pondered as to his next move.
The Gods of Stealth... he thought, wondering what they would want him to do. He could not stick to the shadows -- there were none, and besides, it was broad daylight. There were surely too many people around for him to remain hidden, and one person acting so suspiciously would stand out in a large crowd.
Mikael's eyes opened wide as a thought flashed into his mind. Of course! There was a large crowd, and that included the groups of nobles who moved through the archway. The Gods of Stealth may have represented the art of remaining hidden, but that did not necessarily mean skulking around in the shadows -- it dawned on Mikael that sometimes the best way of making sure you weren't noticed was by becoming one of the masses.
That thought in his mind he sauntered towards the gate, though he remained careful not to attract undue attention. He needed to find a noble's retinue and latch on to it, preferably without the noble in question noticing. If he could make his way through the gate without anyone realising he didn't belong, then he would be free to move about the Noble Quarter as he wished.
A shout to his right caught his attention, and a noble and his retinue strode into view. Mikael instantly stood tall, hoping to blend in with the man's numerous guards, but his heart sank as they passed him. All were dressed in bright red livery, and despite Mikael's best martial pose it would be apparent that he was not one of them. His shoulders dropped, and he watched as the noble and his guards were waved through into the Quarter.
A long while passed, the day growing inexorably older, and Mikael's heart sank lower and lower. He suspected there was no time limit as such on these tasks, and that completing four in two days was a very good pace, but he had wanted to impress his companions by doing all six in that time. He was meant to be exceptional, and he wanted to show that, but as the sun began to set he suspected he would not get that chance.
It was then that regimented movement caught his attention. The crowds had been slowly drifting home, many having to travel back to their houses beyond the borders of the town, but numerous people still lingered in the darkening marketplace. The ones that caught Mikael's attention, however, were the noble couple who moved purposefully towards the gate, and the guards that followed in their wake. They were not wearing a uniform, merely bland but functional armour, and Mikael saw his opening.
The noble couple stopped to browse the wares of a foreign merchant who was just about to pack up, and Mikael took the opportunity to dart forward. He sidled up to the group of guards, hoping that they would be underway soon and no one would notice that he did not belong.
"You are not one of my guards," said a woman's voice, and Mikael's eyes shut as a silent curse ran through him. "What are you doing here? Speak quickly, before I run you through, assassin."
Mikael turned slowly, cold fear running through him as the other guards started to notice his presence. The nobles, however, remained oblivious. But they were not the ones with the swords.
"Look at me, assassin. Tell me what... Mikael?!"
His eyes opened wide as he saw the face of the guard captain. And recognised her.
"Rose! It has been too long," he cried, a grin spreading across his face. Truly the Gods were on his side.
He knew Rose, and had done so for a while. She was an experienced warrior, a woman of her late-thirties, and Mikael had both worked with her and encountered her on the road numerous times. Guards of people and caravans tended to meet as their work moved around, and Rose had been no exception.
She was fairly tall and very attractive, with short, brown hair, and her steely blue eyes lent her an air of authority that had served her well in her rise to guard captain.
"What are you doing here, Mikael?" Rose said, her voice dropping as she ushered him away from the group. "Please tell me you have not fallen in with assassins."
Mikael spoke sincerely, understanding her concern. "Honestly, I have not. But I do need access to the Noble Quarter. I fear the only way I will get it is by accompanying a noble through."
"May I ask why?" Rose said, her eyebrow rising.
Mikael shook his head sadly. "No. I cannot tell you. I am sorry, Rose, but you at least know me -- I have never taken the wrong path."
"That much is trueI have always been able to trust you."
She sighed, glancing back towards the noble couple, who remained locked in an exchange with the merchant.
"Very well," she said softly, waving Mikael with her as she strode back towards the group of guards. "Come." The men and women under her command looked on for a moment, mildly interested, before they caught their captain's glare and swiftly glanced away.
"Thank you for this," Mikael breathed quietly to her.
"I believe that your intentions are pure, Mikael, and will not pry," she smiled. The expression slowly broadened into a grin. "And besides, I owe you a favour. There are not many people out there who have saved my life, and I repay my debts."
Mikael laughed. "As far as I recall, Rose, you repaid that debt the very same night. And the night after that, and the night after that..."
"I would not consider those evenings a suitable reward," she chuckled low. "Even if you had not struck down that orc as he readied the killing blow, I would have made sure that you spent those long nights with me in my tent."
Mikael opened his mouth to respond, but before he could utter a word Rose had lifted her palm. The nobles she had been tasked to guard had finally made their purchase and were ready to move on.
They strode off, and the guards hastily followed, Mikael standing by the side of the group as they made their way towards the gates. They reached them quickly, and a wave of relief washed over him as the pike-wielding soldiers parted to allow them through.
Soon he had passed into the Quarter, and as the nobles and their guards rounded a corner, moving out of sight of the soldiers on the gates, Mikael peeled away. He glanced back as he did so, his eyes meeting Rose's, and mouthed the words 'thank you'.
She winked in return, a playful smile on her features, before turning the corner with the rest of her guards. Mikael watched after her a moment, slightly saddened that they did not have more time together - especially in private - but the thought did not long linger in his mind. Sex hardly seemed to be something he would now go without, and it did not look like Rose had changed. She had a small unit of guards under her command, and Mikael was sure it remained a rare occasion when she did not have company during the night.
After the captain's lovely form had disappeared down the street, he turned away, scanning the large houses in an attempt to locate the Baron's. He had work to do.
The rich area was quite uncomfortable for Mikael. It was not so much the luxury of his surroundings -- he would, after all, have to get used to such opulence in the Sanctuary -- but the manner in which the people around him conducted themselves. The few nobles on the streets, most without an escort in their own Quarter, held themselves aloof from Mikael; even those who deigned to meet his eyes seemed to regard him as a lowly creature, fit to be ignored.
Such an attitude, however, worked in Mikael's favour, as no one seemed to take any notice of his movements. As such, he had not only located the Baron's abode, but even manoeuvred himself into the alleyway that stood beside it.
The afternoon sun hung low in the air, and though its feeble rays had not quite settled into dusk, long shadows still stained the cobbled streets. It was in such inky darkness that Mikael now crouched, regarding the high wall in front of him. It was taller than a man, and Mikael suspected quite adept at keeping out unwanted intruders, but he was not daunted. The Baron, clearly a vain man, had adorned the side of his house with gargoyles. It was quite apparent that he was either unconcerned with the threat of robbery, or merely too stupid to realise his error.