112 A Journey's Beginning · 2
he shout of the nāti youth was powerful enough to stun the entire town into silence and absolutely no one moved. That was until the sheriff piloted his Dolmen into a better position to look down at the Chainmaid from across the tracks. With a bit of hesitation, he used the external speakers of the mech to address her.
- E-e-excuse me, you in the chainmail. If you are in fact who the bounty hunters here suspect, could I ask you to move away from the buildings and towards the center of Main Street? -
Looking past the nāti and centaur, the Chainmaid inquired curiously of the sheriff as she popped another piece of bread into her mouth. The sheriff seemed unsure of how to answer that question at first but managed to put together a response eventually.
- To put it simply, while out here on the edge of the Arm we may not support the Cardinal Church, we also don’t stand against them. Thus, we respect the desire of those seeking the bounty put on your head by the Cardinal Church to actively pursue it. That is as long as they do not endanger the citizens of our simple town. The moment anyone endangers our citizens they will be considered an outlaw who we will place a bounty on that will be respected by nigh every community in the Arm. -
Listening to the sheriff explain, the Chainmaid scratched at her cheek absentmindedly. Turning her gaze onto the bounty hunters that had gathered in the tiny town, there was no doubt every single one of them had murderous intent in their eyes. This particularly bothered her, so she presented another question to the sheriff.
“I think I get it. If I stay here I’m endangering the citizens by tempting one of these bounty hunters to run out patience and attack me without thinking of the consequences. Is that about right?”
- That is correct Chainmaid. -
“Okay, just wanted to make sure. Just one more thing.”
- What would that be? And be quick before I charge you with endangering the citizens. –
“Well, since you don’t support or stand against the church, am I free to defend myself?”
- As long as you do not endanger the citizens. -
“Are any of the bounty hunters here from this town?”
- No, not one of ‘em. -
“So you don’t care if I end up killing any of them?”
- At this point, as long as you step away from the inn I don’t care what you do to them! -
A joyous smile spread across the Chainmaid’s face and she happily acknowledged that statement. Turning her attention to the nāti and centaur, the Chainmaid offered her bag of bread to the centaur.
“Alright, I’ll be right back. Oh, before I go, is it okay if I use magic Drop? I need the practice one way or another.”
“It should be alright for us to cast. We should rely only on the song of the spirits of earth and fire though so as not to risk making the elemental imbalance in us worse.”
“So, then I can cast earth and fire magic? That should be enough.”
Simplifying the answer of the spirit named Drop, the Chainmaid strolled out into the dirt road that served as the main street of the small town. As she walked away, the nāti yelled after her.
“Try not to waste anymore time than you already have you idiot! And if you think you might actually die here at least dump our supplies before you do! The horse and I have no desire to be left stranded here because of your idiocy!”
“Don’t worry Squawk, I’ll be fine. Not a single one of these talking monsters is even a Sa·B·er so they shouldn’t even be a challenge. And even if I do mess up, I doubt the Beast would let me die so easily.”
“We wish we would not talk about the Beast so carelessly.”
Drop smiled uncomfortably as the Chainmaid assured the nāti, Squawk, that she would be fine. Her casual disregard of the bounty hunters did not sit well with the wolfman who lead them and he strode out from the train station to meet the Chainmaid. Coming face to face, or face to chest considering the Chainmaid’s height, the wolfman bounty hunter met the her in the center of the T-intersection of the town’s main road. Baring his teeth at the blank faced maid before him who was barely more than a girl, he pushed back his duster revealing the revolver holstered on his side.
“You may be a Sa·B·er little maidling–”
Tilting her head as she questioned the wolfman’s choice of words, the Chainmaid interrupted him making him even angrier. His lips flared back as he snarled at the Chainmaid in continuation of what he was trying to say.
“That’s right, maidling! You may be a Sa·b·er an nary a hair more than a girl, but even a Sa·B·er has their limits. And a waif like you who doesn’t deserve to be called a maid–“
“Did you just call me a waif?”
The Chainmaid interrupted the wolfman again, but this time her naïve cheer was nowhere to be seen. A shadow came over her face as she spoke, and her left hand curled into a fist. The wolfman had no idea what it was he had done and did not care either. Squawk, and the centaur, whose name though yet spoken by her companions was Maye, both knew fully better. The strained smile that Drop donned told them all they needed to know and Squawk suddenly grabbed his staff and mounted Maye like a horse despite her not being large enough to hold an adult reasonably, even with Squawk being shorter, though far stockier than the Chainmaid. Naturally Maye was surprised, but she was significantly more perturbed than anything.
“Master! I wish you would not leap on me so casually!”
“You know full well what’s about to happen and staying is no longer a good idea! Now grab the tiny double of the idiot and get us out of here before you give me a reason to yell!”
“No need to threaten me Master.”
Pulling a small sack from her jacket, Maye scooped Drop out of the air and cinched the bag shut as she galloped down the main leg of Main Street for the gate in the town wall. Behind her the wolfman was in the middle of finishing his clarification of what he called Chain.
“That’s right, a waif! Just look at yourself maidling. Putting a bosom and hips on a stick like you is nothing but a waste.”
“So, you are talking about my figure… That was your last mistake…”
Her threat was spoken with a ruthless chill, a stream of Darkness erupted from the Chainmaid’s shoulder blades. The wolfman’s eyes widened at the sight and he reached for his revolver as the snipers scattered about the rooftops opened fire. Squawk and Maye did not see what happened next as the centaur demonstrated the controlled strength of monsters possessed by a Sa·B·er and leapt clear over the wall and gate that the sheriff’s mech could crouch in cover behind. The posted guards watched in awe and were themselves distracted from the explosions that suddenly tore through town. Maye and Squawk did not look back as they landed beyond the wall and sprinted out into the waiting desert wastes opposite the plateau. In their wake screams of terror accompanied several more explosions and the anguished cries of the sheriff over his Dolmen’s external speakers.
- No! What are you doing⁈ The town! The people! Don’t make me–! -
A short while after the last of the explosions and screams had died down, Maye and Squawk, who still sat astride the centaur’s horse half, spotted the Chainmaid heading in their direction upon a chestnut hued horse. The Darkness that had been streaming from her back was gone and only her sheathed sword resided there.
“You can let Drop out now. I’m done with those jerks.”
“And did you leave any of them alive, heretic?”
Undoing the bag that held Drop as she fell into stride alongside the Chainmaid’s mount, Maye presented a question she felt had an obvious answer. The pout that the Chainmaid donned in response though as Drop swam into her hair told a different story.
“And risk having to use my own funds to pay for everything. Of course not. I didn’t kill a single one of them. I did tell them though that if they didn’t pay for the damages to town I would kill them all and take the money off their corpses. And considering I cut the hand off of the sheriff’s Dolmen that should leave them without any money to try following us. That, and if anyone does meet them trying to chase after me, they can tell them what happens if you talk about my figure.”
“I see your priorities are as skewed as ever.”
“There’s nothing skewed about my priorities in the least! My figure is simply off limits.”
Putting on a massive pout, the Chainmaid elicited a sigh from Maye as she pressed her fingers into her forehead. Squawk however was more interested in other matters and moved to bring attention to them.
“Returning this idiocy back to the mindless drivel pursuing you, where exactly are we heading? And I do hope you haven’t just run out of town without a destination in mind.”
“No reason to worry Squawk. My thoughts may never be all together, but there’s no way I’m going to pass up an opportunity at an adventure. You two will never believe what I heard in the Adventure’s Hall!”
The Chainmaid’s good cheer set Squawk and Maye ill at ease and the centaur looked back over her shoulder at the nāti upon her back. The Chainmaid, or Chain at her title’s simplest, having seen only fifteen springs had already built quite a reputation to have a bounty on her head, and only added to it with her temper tantrum in town. It seemed all too likely that the tales of a dragon in the region would lure a young maid like her who sought to become a legend. The apprehension that Squawk and Maye felt was plain enough on their faces and Chain pouted with disappointed annoyance seeing their expressions.
“I don’t know what you two think I’m thinking, but I doubt it’s anything near as bad as you think.”
Releasing the reins of her horse, Chain guided it with her legs alone as she focused on the stream of Darkness that gushed out of her shoulder blades. With but a thought the Darkness suddenly fell down as a sheer cape with a tattered hem. Sticking her hand into it, Chain rummaged around for a bit until she pulled out a map on a folded piece of paper. As she unfolded it, Maye moved as close beside Chain’s horse as she dared so that she and Squawk could get a better look at the map. Jabbing her finger into the map, Chain highlighted a drawing about equal distance from the plateau behind them and a town in a forested region west of the desert they were riding into.
“This ruin right here. It was only discovered recently, supposedly, but there are signs of it being a temple to a spirit. The Scholar of Vaerseal in the Adventurer’s Hall disagreed with it being a temple though and said in this part of the world it’s more likely a prison for the greater spirit, Pit the Glutton.”
“I’m not fond of heeding the advice of heretics–”
“And considering its recent appearance there is always the risk of it being an Ambrosial Mirage caused by a Lucifalz.”
Maye and Squawk were quick to offer concerns about Chain’s choice of destination, but neither of them seemed to hold the dread they had before Chain took out her map. Smiling brightly, Chain put it back into her cape, which disappeared like a blown-out candle, and retook the reins of her horse.
“Well, it works out no matter what way we look at it. I get to go on an adventure and maybe learn a bit more about an ancient spirit which could help me learn where to look for wind and flora spirits, and maybe even Light and Darkness spirits. On top of that, if it is a real ruin then maybe we can learn more about what the Lucifalz have done to the world. Or if there is a Lucifalz, then Maye can do what she was doing before she started traveling with me.”
“If you do not simply feed it to the Foreigner infection I worry you do not control, heretic.”
“No need to worry Maye, I’m in total control and the Beast doesn’t have a reason to act up.”
“Hmph, lets hope it stays that way.”
Expressing his doubt of Chain’s control of the monster that infected her resulting in her being a Sa·B·er, Squawk offered a mighty harrumph. He then proceeded to kick his heels into Maye’s flanks causing the centaur to jump.
“Master⁈ Please do not treat me like a common horse! If you wanted me to up my pace you needed simply ask!”
“Heh heh! Much as I’d love to go all out to get there, it’s still a full day’s ride into the desert from here. So instead, lets just enjoy the adventure! Come on! Let’s go!”
Acting in complete hypocrisy to her statements, Chain whipped the reins of her horse and kicked its flanks urging it forward into the desert. Already urged forward by Squawk, Maye simply sighed and matched stride with Chain’s mount as they headed deeper into the desert.
Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater