Lowborn Ch. 09byDarkniciad©
The wagons creaked and rattled down the road as the sun sank toward the horizon. The women were excited, because familiar bits of scenery appeared the closer they moved toward Lakenshire. Mindblind, however, was on edge. He kept his eyes roving and his ears perked to the wind. From the moment they'd set out from camp, his danger-sense had been screaming at him, though they'd encountered few people and no trouble all day.
Turning a corner and cresting a small rise, the town finally came into view.
"Please tell me I'm not dreaming," one of the prostitutes remarked.
"Yeah, this place is a real dream," Raven scoffed, and then burst out into derisive laughter as she jumped down from the rear wagon and jogged forward. Once she reached the front, she leapt up and caught on to the wagon. "I'm going to slip in and see what I can find out," she said to Mindblind and Indigo.
"Watch yourself," Mindblind warned.
"Don't I always? Where you going to be? The Cat? The Inn? I'm just going to check out the scuttlebutt. Most of the scum that will have any real information won't be up until the sun goes down."
"Not sure. The Cat, for a while. At least until they're all settled," he nodded back toward the women in the wagons.
"Meet you there, then," she said before jumping back down and almost immediately vanishing into the grass alongside the road.
"I will seek out the regional Governor," Indigo said. "All too often, such vile acts are known to those in power, though they may care little. As one of my countrymen, perhaps I can gain his confidence."
Mindblind grunted. "Good luck with that. From what I hear, he thinks being here is exile more than anything, and the only words he hears are the ones people pay him to listen to."
"Unfortunately, your words ring true. Still, I may learn something, if my father's name can purchase his ear."
Not in the mood to put up with people staring, Mindblind had suggested that they take a track that skirted outside town and then connected back up with the main road near the Cat. A few people would still notice them, but most wouldn't pay any attention to yet another wagon rolling by, despite the lateness of the hour.
When the wagons rolled to a stop in front of the Cat, it took only a minute or so for Yasmine to appear in the doorway. She let out a gasp and ran toward them. "Oh! You're alive! Thank the gods above!"
The portly madame's reaction took Mindblind aback. He'd always assumed that Yasmine took care of the girls for the same reason he oiled his armor or sharpened his sword. Genuine affection had never even entered into his thoughts.
After greeting her working girls, she walked up to where Mindblind stood next to the wagon. "I thought you might like to know that I had Delly buried in the town plot. Some folks didn't like it, and she doesn't have a stone yet, but I wouldn't see her buried in the back like a dog."
He reached into his coin purse, which was now heavy from a share of the gems Raven had fenced. "I want you to get her a stone."
She laid a hand on his arm. "You've done enough in bringing my girls back safe. She'll have her stone. She's in the back north corner, if you want to go."
He grunted and gave a little nod. "Yeah, Maybe."
She took a deep breath and looked over the women gathering their things from the wagons for a moment, then turned back. "Thank you is about all I can say."
He elbowed the wagon behind him. "Can we put these around back until we figure out what we're going to do with them?"
"Of course. I keep a house outside of town for the girls. We have a stable and a barn, if you'd like me to call someone around to take them there?"
"I'll do that, then help them settle and introduce them to the two new girls I took in. If you ever need any company, you just come on by, and leave your purse at home."
A voice arose from behind. "What is going on here?"
Mindblind gnashed his teeth, having recognized Reed's voice, and tried to hold back what he wanted to say. The moment he turned to see the arrogant lawman, he lost that battle. "Just getting back from doing your job."
"My job is to find the truth of the matter, and dispense the appropriate justice. As far as I'm concerned, you are a prime suspect."
A chorus of disagreement and outright sneers arose from the prostitutes. Betty ended up coming forward, placing her hands on her hips, and spoke for the group. "He saved our lives, I'll have you know."
"That remains to be determined. This may very well have been nothing more than an elaborate ruse to..."
An odd, sleepy-sounding chuckle drifted to Mindblind's ears, and even as he glanced in that direction, he saw Reed's face turn bright red and tighten in anger. It was Yani who had chuckled, and she was staring directly at the fuming guard captain when she did it.
Mindblind turned back to Reed to see his expression hadn't softened in the slightest. From between clenched teeth, in a low, measured voice, the guardsman said, "If you attempt to leave the area, I will consider that an admission of guilt and issue rewards for your capture. You will be questioned on this matter."
Once again, Yani chuckled. Reed growled under his breath and stomped off.
"Don't pay him no mind," Yasmine instructed. "My girls and I know you had nothing to do with the horrors that night, and we'll tell it to everyone we see."
Mindblind snorted. "Don't know that the truth's enough to stop him."
"Folk around here may not treat you over kindly, but they're just afraid of you because you're different. They despise that man because he's a corrupt scoundrel and an ass. If it comes to that, folk will stand for you."
At a loss, Mindblind could only respond, "If you say so."
"I do." She smiled, and then started waving toward the brothel. "You girls get on inside now."
Once Yasmine had walked into the Cat, Indigo said, "Come, let us drive these to the back, then you can tell me how to find the governor before he takes to his bed. It may be that we need his aid to keep your neck out of a noose with that one."
Mindblind was fortunate that the horse was already used to following the other wagon, because he didn't have the faintest idea how to drive a team. He was holding the reins, but other than a slap to tell the horse to move, he was more or less along for the ride.
Indigo took over after he'd positioned the first wagon and set the brake, in order to bring the two wagons up side by side. He then retrieved handfuls of oats from the stores to give the horses a treat after the long pull of the day.
Mindblind described how to find the regional governor's home just outside town proper, though with its size and opulence, the place would be hard to miss. He was leaning back against the wagon as Indigo had a quick snack of cheese when Mindblind saw a flash of movement in his peripheral vision.
Already drawing his sword, he spun on the new arrival. The young man's eyes bugged out as he froze in place.
"Easy, my friend," Indigo said as he grabbed Mindblind's arm.
"Snuck up on me," Mindblind mumbled as he slid the sword back into its sheath.
"M-madame Yasmine sent me for the wagons," the boy said to Indigo, trying not to look at Mindblind. "She said to stable the horses and put the wagons in the other building, if that's okay?"
"Of course, my young friend. Just leave everything in the wagons," Indigo answered.
Once the youngster drove off with the first wagon, Indigo turned to Mindblind. "I should take my leave before the hour is too late."
Mindblind snorted, demonstrating his opinion on speaking with the governor. "Good luck with that."
"I can but try, my friend," the Draxnian said, clapping him on the shoulder before walking back toward the front of the Cat.
Again, Mindblind tensed and nearly drew his sword when the back door of the brothel creaked open. Kayleen appeared in the doorway, wearing a smile that had a touch of surprise.
"Cerebus, it's Yani. You should come."
"What's wrong?" he asked as he stepped toward her.
"Nothing." She let out a little chuckle, and reached out to take his hand. "Just come."
He shrugged, allowing her to tug him inside, and tried not to think about the last time he'd passed through this portal. Once through the storage room, he let out a grunt of approval.
Yasmine had a guard posted near the back door, and two more flanking the front door. A look upstairs revealed a fourth man standing watch near the repaired railing. All were armed with short swords and — at the very least — looked as if they could handle themselves in a fight.
To their credit, all four men tensed and rested their hands on sword pommels as Mindblind walked across the polished floor toward the stairs with his huge sword strapped to his back. Only waves of dismissal from Yasmine caused the men to relax, though they still kept an eye on him.
The upstairs was a flurry of activity, with the girls passing back and forth, settling in and visiting with each other before they had to get back to work. One door was conspicuously closed. Fighting back a sigh from seeing Delly's door and knowing he'd never see her again, he followed Kayleen up the stairs.
She guided him toward an open door at the end of the landing, and he gave a surprised shake of his head when he saw Pompeil within the room, standing behind a man in robes who hovered over Yani's bedside. The dark-haired woman was sitting up, and looked more lucid than she had in days.
"Pompeil?" Mindblind asked, nothing else coming to mind.
"Greetings," the merchant said, and then asked the man in robes, "What is your prognosis?"
"The potion is working. After a few days, I should be able to begin treatment in earnest." He then asked Yani, "May I examine you? My observations will force me to take certain liberties with your person."
She shrugged. "Observe away, I guess."
Pompeil cleared his throat and looked away when the robed man clinically lifted Yani's top and pressed his ear against her chest. He then walked over to Mindblind.
"So what's all this, then?" Mindblind had to ask.
"I sought out goodman Fenthwick upon my arrival, having heard of his reputation through business partners. He is a healer versed in the apothecary as well as a devoted servant of the gods. I had already spoken to him about her condition, and he agreed to treat her. When I heard of your arrival, I sent men to fetch him here."
Kayleen stood up on her tiptoes and whispered, "Look at her, Cerebus. She looks more aware than I've ever seen her."
He nodded. "Still not done paying your debt, huh? Bet this is costing you."
"I suspect this is a debt I will never repay in full." He smiled and continued, "I am underwriting her treatment, but he has waived most of his customary fees in favor of the knowledge he believes he can gain in treating her."
"Talking about me?" Yani asked.
"Nothing ill," Kayleen assured her.
"Don't know what you have to talk about, then," Yani responded, following it up with a derisive chuckle, and then a yawn.
"The potion is going to make you drowsy," the healer explained. "Proper rest will serve you well in your recovery."
Yani shrugged. She then looked up at Mindblind and a crooked smile spread across her face. "That dickless Reed makes me laugh. Has to act like he's tough because he hasn't got anything between his legs. Came in here once and picked me. I laughed at him when he pulled that tiny little thing out."
As she talked, Mindblind could see her eyelids drooping. Whatever concoction the healer had given her, it was quickly stealing her senses. "Yeah, he's been harassing me since we were kids."
"Thought he was really giving it to me in the ass when the wagons stopped. Barely knew it was in there."
Mindblind's brow furrowed and he asked, "Huh? When?"
"When they stopped the wagons after taking us out of here. Said he was going to get even with me first."
"He was there?" Mindblind growled through clenched teeth.
Yani's eyes briefly fluttered open, and she nodded before closing them again.
Mindblind stepped back, bumping into the wall with his fists clenching tight and face burning with rage. The Lakeshore Man. Reed. He felt like a fool for not making the connection before.
"Cerebus?" Kathleen asked in a startled voice as he whirled on his heel.
"All of you stay here. Don't come out."
"Where are you going? Shouldn't you wait for Raven?"
"Stay inside the Cat," Mindblind repeated, his boots thumping ominously on the boards as he walked toward the stairs.
The guards moved back from the door when he reached the landing and headed their way. Nobody could miss the look in his eyes, and only a fool would have stood in his way when the threat he presented didn't involve them.
"Cerebus," he heard Kayleen desperately call out one last time before he opened the front door and stalked out into the darkening town.
The barracks of the city guard, the jail, and Reed's house were all situated in the same general area, not far away from the brothel. What little rational thought he had left pointed him toward the location, reasoning that it was the most likely place to find his quarry. His sword made an ominous hiss as he slid it from the scabbard on his back, and his rage seemed to double with the hilt of the sword in his white-knuckled grip.
A few people saw him as he stalked the edge of town, though he was fixated on the path ahead and didn't notice. He had eyes for one man, and one man only. Bolts slid into locks and windows slammed shut with every step he took.
The door to the jail opened as Mindblind approached, and he quickened his pace, not caring in the slightest that two other guardsmen were flanking their captain.
Reed drew his sword, while the two men at his side aimed crossbows. "So, you choose to die by the sword for your crimes, rather than in a hangman's noose?"
Kill them! Kill them all! The words erupted in Mindblind's head. At the same time, his sword burst into roaring magical flame.
All three men facing him started from the magical display, and in terrified panic, the two men with crossbows fired. Mindblind whipped his sword in a sweeping, downward arc before him, impossibly cutting both bolts in half and incinerating them before they could slam into his chest.
Burn them! Kill them! Feed me!
Mindblind stalked forward, a juggernaut of deadly promise. The two crossbows burst into flames, but unlike those shrouding his sword and dancing around his body, the men felt the searing heat. Both hurled the weapons aside to slap at flames licking up their arms, and retreated in fear.
Before Reed could react, Mindblind was upon him. The blueblood brought his sword in line, and barely managed to deflect the first slash of Mindblind's burning blade.
Give me your hate! Give me his life! Feed me! Kill! Kill! Kill!
One of the guardsmen drew his sword, darting in as Reed gave ground. Moving before he could form a thought, Mindblind whipped his massive sword into a swatting parry. The other man's blade shattered, and he screamed as the impact broke bones in his wrist as well. Dropping to his knees from the pain was the only thing that saved him from the return stroke of Mindblind's sword. Instead of removing his head, the slash grazed him, stealing his consciousness and filling the air with the stench of burning hair.
Reed took advantage of the other guardsman's attack to launch his own. He balked upon seeing the blazing steel sweeping back toward him, and his stab pierced Mindblind's side, rather than his chest.
A snarl escaped Mindblind's lips when he felt the wound, but he ignored the pain and brought his sword in line once more. Unnoticed, tendrils of flame crept down his arm toward the gash as he pressed Reed with a stab of his much longer weapon. The lawman retreated with quick, measured steps as Mindblind stalked forward, slashing and stabbing to keep his opponent on the defensive.
While Reed ran out of room, the flames licking around Mindblind's wound closed it, lending him further strength. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the third guardsman fleeing — most likely to summon aid from men on patrol. Every time Reed tried to alter his course to avoid the wall of the barracks coming ever closer to his back, Mindblind's blazing sword was there.
The wall looming only a foot away, Reed had no choice but to stand his ground. He deflected a slash, but the force was still enough to push him the remaining distance into the wall. Hampered by the barrier, his next attempt to defend against Mindblind's ferocity took the full force of the magical blade.
Reed's fine, heirloom sword fell to the ground, sheared off inches above the hilt and glowing red from the magical fire.
Mindblind let out a growl of triumph and surged forward, slamming his opponent hard against the stout wooden wall, stealing his breath. Reed slumped to the ground, desperately seeking air and wincing from the wisps of flame leaping from Mindblind's sword to sear his flesh.
Yes! Sweet pain! More! Give me more!
Shaking his head to push away the urge, Mindblind asked, "Why, you murdering blueblood scum?"
"I don't know what..."
Mindblind gestured with his sword, and a gout of flame burst forth, reddening the guard captain's arms and singeing away every follicle of hair. Reed screamed and lurched from the pain.
Yes! Yes! More!
"I asked you why!" Mindblind roared.
"For the common good. They are whores. Filth," Reed spat out.
"Filth that laughed at your tiny prick, you mean?"
"You'll hang, halfbreed. They'll make sure your neck doesn't break. Make sure that you strangle — slowly — dangling from the noose with your legs kicking in the air in front of the whole town."
More! More hate! More pain! Feed me! Give me his life! Kill him! Make it last! Make him suffer!
"Shut up," Mindblind growled to the voice in his head, only now truly aware of it — and realizing that it wasn't his own inner voice.
No! Do it! Do it now!
"I said, shut up."
Reed's face twisted in confusion and fear, as he watched Mindblind stand over him, apparently talking to himself. Unnoticed, he reached for a dagger sheathed on his belt.
You are mine! You will feed me!
"Don't belong to nobody," Mindblind retorted, fighting against the tug of the sword trying to stab Reed. The flames licking around him warmed, beginning to burn.
Mine! Feed me!
A low growl rumbled in his chest as the pain from the flames intensified. He took a step back, shaking his head.
Now! You will burn! Suffer! Die!
"No!" Mindblind roared. With every ounce of his strength and will, he tore himself away from the teeth of the sword's malevolent intelligence, and hurled it away.
A horrible, piercing shriek sounded as the sword tumbled end over end, and then slammed into the stone wall of the jail. It exploded on impact, releasing a great ball of flame and countless metal slivers that pierced the flesh of Mindblind, Reed, and the rousing guardsman. The blast knocked Mindblind off his feet, leaving him groggy from both the impact and the mental struggle against the sword.
As his senses returned, he heard Reed say, "Yes, you monster, I ordered the whores killed. Oh, I only planned to have them sold into slavery at first. The only one who was to die was that mad filth, Yani. Unfortunately, the situation was out of hand. Too many had died already. They had to die — all of them. But, you... No, you had to interfere."
"And you call me a monster," Mindblind spit out, rising to his knees despite the threat of Reed's dagger and the other guardsman trying to rise.
"Lowborn, halfbreed offal. Now, you will die, righting the crime of your birth."