`You ready, boss?’ Sairoc was standing next to the wagon we were supposed to protect. The people we were with were already on the carts, and the horses were all drawn in front of it.
`Ready as always, buddy.’ Kaylirr picked up his swords and put them under his belt. Their company of mercenaries was hired to guard a nobleman’s wagon on the way from Viras to the capital. Kaylirr, Sairoc and their men would walk alongside the caravan for a couple of days. Easy money. Ominous dark clouds did not hamper their good spirits as the caravan started moving through the east gate of town and onto the muddy roads. The main road was partially made out of cobble, in a recent attempt to make the journey more safe, but the sides were still very much dirt and sludge, and there wasn’t enough room for the wagons and the guards to all walk along the cobble, so they had to walk through the muddy part.
`So what are you doing after this?’ Sairoc asked Kaylirr.
They had a tradition where they would all take the coldest month of the year off. They’d save up their profits so everyone could get paid and they’d take a break. Their mercenary work wasn’t easy and in the past several members of their company quit because it was becoming too much. Ever since they implemented this vacation month, things were going a lot better. This was their last job before the month off. Rain started to fall right after they left town, and it was freezing cold. `I’m planning to go back to Viras and spend some time there. There’s a nice local inn there that I have some friends at. I’ve also been thinking about going to the library to study. I’m getting older and I don’t want to do this kind of work forever. I hear that the people who work directly for nobles are making as much money as we are, if not more, and they don’t even have to risk their life doing it.’
Sairoc laughed. The dwarf’s laugh was deep and hearty. `Bah, I can’t imagine sitting inside all day, writing on a piece of paper. It would drive me mad, no doubt.’
Kaylirr chuckled. `I doubt your legs would even reach the floor if you sat behind a desk on one of those fancy chairs.’
`Fuck off, lanky.’ Both of them laughed uproariously.
`And you, Sairoc, what are your plans?’
`Drink, pass out, drink some more. The usual dwarven holiday.’ He looked off into the distance. `Might visit a buddy of mine, but then it’ll take more than a month.’
`Oh? I rarely hear you talk about friends.’
`Don’t got many. But Raze and I grew up together. He went and studied at the Kaharis Academy for a couple years, he knows magic. Pretty rare for a dwarf, so he got an invite to the Academy without issue. Haven’t really talked to him since.’
As the rain increased in intensity, their pace slowed down. The mud was keeping the wagons from going at full speed and the driver didn’t want to risk breaking down during this weather, so they were extra careful. That also meant that Kaylirr and Sairoc didn’t have to walk fast, so that was nice. The day went by uneventfully and around dusk they set up camp. Kaylirr helped start a fire and then put down some logs to sit on.
They were roughly half an hour into dinner and winding down when Kaylirr noticed they were being watched. They were all sitting around the campfire that was staying aflame regardless of the rain. `Kaylirr,’ Sairoc said.
Kaylirr nodded. `I noticed them as well’. He had his sword on his hip and his hands at the ready. Sairoc put down his mug as well and focused. `Any second now,’ he said as he used hand signals to warn the others in their company.
Silence crept over the camp as everyone started to realize something was off, including the noble they were guarding. A few seconds went by and the silence almost seemed to pass until something darted out of the shadows and into one of the wagons.
`Time for work, boys,’ Sairoc shouted as they collectively got up and ran towards the cart. They encircled the wagon that the figure had run into and waited for a moment. When nothing happened, one of their men walked forward and tore away the fabric covering the back of the wagon. A sword pierced the fabric and slashed open his chest. He dodged to the side and rolled through the mud to avoid the worst of the attack, but blood started to appear on his clothes. Fortunately, the cut was shallow.
Kaylirr stepped forward to face the figure in the wagon. They were slender, covered in black, tight-fitting clothes and had their hair bound in a ponytail. Their face was covered with cloth as well. The only thing defining the person was their piercing green eyes. Looking at their stance, Kaylirr assumed it was a woman. He didn’t get a lot of time to look, as the figure dashed out of the cart and within the time it took to blink, their swords clashed. There was more force behind the slash than he expected and he slipped in the mud. Both of them fell to the ground. The figure raised their sword to slash at him again, but before the blade could reach him, Sairoc came in and kicked them off of Kaylirr. The latter noticed a set of two swords lying on the ground next to him. Was that what they came for?
Kaylirr reached out and grabbed both swords. His own weapon was in the mud a short distance away, so he figured he could as well use those. He unsheathed both swords. That’s when the voices entered his head.
`We can offer you a contract, yessss, we can.’
`Do not listen to the fool.’
`Destroy the world with us, vengeance will be ours.’
`We must create peace, stop this endless cycle of pain.’
Kaylirr fell to his knees, gripping both swords so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.
`Are you okay, buddy?’ Sairoc said, stepping between him and their adversary. It didn’t seem like his voice got through to Kaylirr at all. His eyes had rolled back into his skull and his tongue was hanging from his wide open mouth, drool dripping onto the muddy ground.
`The fool.’ The woman jumped up from the ground and walked towards Kaylirr and Sairoc.
`You better piss off now, lass, I’m not warning you again.’ Sairoc was clearly angry. He was also worried about Kaylirr, who had gone completely catatonic.
`I need those swords, dwarf, one way or another.’
`Another it is, then.’ Sairoc raised up his large battle axe and charged towards her. With one precise slash she cut open his chest and he fell to the ground.
She quickly faced Kaylirr, who was still unresponsive. `I can’t imagine that feels good, let me help you with that.’ She raised her sword and cut off his right arm. Kaylirr slumped forward as she picked up the arm holding the sword. Something seemed to catch her attention, because the last thing Kaylirr saw before losing consciousness was her darting away, having only retrieved one of the swords from him.
Kaylirr awoke to the sound of metal being worked. The rhythmic sound of a hammer hitting an anvil was surprisingly pleasant. He was inside and the heat was slightly uncomfortable. He didn’t remember how he got there and the ceiling was unfamiliar to him. It took him a few seconds before the memories started flooding back in. The voices in his head, the cloaked woman and the feeling of her blade slicing through his arm. His arm! He looked at his hands, but one was missing. In a panic he sat upright and the metalworking sound stopped.
`You finally woke up, then?’ Sairoc’s familiar voice came from across the room. `Please don’t get up, you’re still recovering. I don’t want you to mess up the prosthetics.’
Prosthetics? He looked at his missing arm and saw that the shoulder was covered in a metal cap of sorts. From it a small chain was hanging.
`This is the best I could do, but I’ve been following your instructions as best as I could.’
`Yes, while you were unconscious you kept going on about how you needed your arm replaced by a lantern to light the dark road to redemption. At first it frightened me, but eventually I started tinkering away and I think I’m getting somewhere.’ He pointed at the metal that was sitting next to the anvil. It looked like a hooded lantern. There was no glass in it yet and it seemed unfinished. `Why would I ask for a lantern when I’m on the verge of death and missing an arm?’
Sairoc shrugged. `Listen, I had nothing better to do while you were recovering.’ The slight raising of his voice seemed to hurt him somewhat, because he winced in pain.
`Yeah, she slashed me up good, but I’ll be fine. A lot better than you.’
`What do we do now, then?’
`First you recover, then I install this damn lantern on your stump and then we go find the fucker who did this to us, how about that?
`Sounds good to me,’ Kaylirr laid back down and as soon as his head touched the pillow, his consciousness faded again. This time instead of darkness, there was a well lit space in a forest clearing.
Two figures sat on tree stumps in front of him. One looked like a young boy holding a wooden walking cane. The boy sat calmly on the stump, legs crossed and eyes fixed on Kaylirr.
Next to him, on the other tree stump, sat a girl. She was wearing blood covered clothes and she was rocking back and forth, biting her nails and the skin around them to the point where it was bleeding. She was looking at Kaylirr as well, but her eyes kept darting all over the place.
`Thank you for agreeing to meet us here,’ the boy said.
`I don’t know where I am or who you are.’
`That is understandable.’ The boy stood up. `Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Elett, you currently possess the spirit weapon that I am locked in. My sister, Elark, is locked in a similar sword, which is currently not in your possession. I would like to ask you a favor.’
`Hold on a second, you’re telling me that you are locked in a sword. How does that even work?’
The boy raised his cane and moved it through the air, and several symbols appeared. `These are the four locks that have imprisoned me and my sister in these swords. Breaking the locks would free us. As to how we got locked in there, I’m afraid that I am unable to disclose that right now.’
`How am I talking to you two right now?’
`You held both of us in your hands recently, which gave us a space in your subconsciousness. Unfortunately, we were hasty in our excitement to be able to talk to someone and put too much strain on your body.’ The boy seemed to think for a moment, then lowered his head. `I owe you an apology, you lost your arm due to our impatience.’
Kaylirr took a step forward and paused. `I appreciate that.’ He crossed his arms. `Suppose I want to help you out, what is in it for me?’
`I can give you wealth. I’m afraid that’s all I can really offer.’ He bowed his head again. `Please help us out, I can see that you’re a kind soul.’
`Forget kind soul for a second, I want a rematch with the cretin that did this to me.’ He reached for his missing arm.
`That I can promise. If we find the four locks and crush them, I will then be able to find my sister, and through her the person who did this to you.’
Kaylirr’s eyes lit up. `Excellent. So where am I headed?’
`First you recover, it helps neither of us if you go head first into danger with severe wounds.’
He raised his cane again and Kaylirr could feel his consciousness fade to black again.
Guess he wouldn’t get his month off like he planned, but at least the winter got a lot less boring very quickly. He should have asked why Sairoc was instructed to make that lantern. He supposed that was Elett’s doing, but he forgot to ask.