Don’t push me!
The captain squealed as a bolt thudded into the door inches away from his head. Smiler wasn’t convinced that this captain was the sort of fellow that would’ve been captain material up at The Wound. Karron pulled him out of the doorway as another bolt ricocheted off the door frame and clattered into the ceiling above. Down in the darkness they all heard the distinctive click-clunk-click of a flatbow being winched to reload. Smiler rushed back to the store room to find a torch, whoever was shooting them had the advantage of being able to see them. An advantage Smiler wanted to even out before he ventured into the darkness below. Karron however had other plans. With a deep growling cry he charged down the stairway into darkness, the captain following close behind. Smiler however wasn’t going anywhere he couldn’t see the enemy and he continued his search as shouts, screams and the muffled thumps of fists hitting flesh echoed up from the darkness.
The noise was over in a few seconds and by the time he’d found and lit a torch and caught up with them Karron and the captain were stood over their unconscious assailant. The torch revealed a small cellar with nothing but a bed, a bookshelf and an overturned table and chair that were either overturned in the fracas or used as cover by the man lying on the floor. Before Smiler had a chance to get a clearer picture his torch flickered for a second and plunged them into inky blackness. Karron somehow managed to locate a lantern and flicked it to life once again illuminating the small room. This certainly wasn’t the glorious library they’d been expecting to find.
Smiler’s sensitive nose caught the sweet scent of blood and noticed that Karron had a bolt sticking out of his shoulder in the joint of his armour. If Karron had noticed it, it hadn’t seemed to register as something that would have had most men rolling on the floor in pain. Karron’s eyes followed Smiler’s gaze and he finally noticed the bolt. He looked at is as a housewife might look at a melon trying to judge if it was ripe. He gave the bolt a tentative tug, winced almost imperceptibly then grasped the bolt tightly and snapped off the protruding part of the shaft. Karron grunted quietly and slumped slightly forward as the bolt shifted in his flesh. Smiler went to help his friend but was dismissed with a subtle shake of Karron’s head and a stern frown. Although he’d seen Karron heal himself almost daily at The Wound Smiler still found it fascinating and watched in silent wonder. Karron pulled an arrow from his own quiver, gripped the head in his teeth and pulled the shaft free. He spat the steel head onto the floor before carefully aligning the shaft against the wooden nub sticking out over the top of his lacquered breast plate. Karron closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply and slowly. As he breathed out Smiler saw his jaw clench and with a guttural grunt he pulled the shaft sharply into his shoulder driving the bolt deeper and eventually out of his back with a gush of bright red blood. Karron reached over his shoulder and pulled out the barbed bolt. He looked at it for a second before dropping it, Then with a wet slither he pulled the blunted shaft from the front of his shoulder. Smiler, and now the captain watched silently as Karron began to chant a short sibilant Kopanese phrase over and over while he tensed and flexed his shoulder. With each chant the blood oozing from the hole in his muscle seemed to slow, after a minute or so there was a thick clot over the wound and no fresh blood flowed.
“An arrow does not deflect a blade” Karron stated, the deep bass in his voice making it sound like an unquestionable truth.
At the sound of movement the captain looked down to see his captive stirring to consciousness. The man lying on the floor was small; his grey hair was unkempt and had receded more than halfway back to the top of his head. He was dressed in the vestments of an Helenian priest, unsurprising as this was an Helenian temple. What was surprising was the state of those vestments; Smiler had seen cleaner clothes on beggars.
“I’ll tell you nothing!” screeched the priest, a mix of fear and anger obvious in his tone.
Smiler smiled, People always told him things eventually. He lifted the chair and sat quietly on it waiting for the captain and Karron to call on his skills.
With an easy smile the captain helped the priest to his feet and gently ushered him to the bed. “We’re here to help” he said, nodding in agreement with his pronouncement. “I apologise unreservedly for the egregious manner of our untimely entrance, but as I’m sure you’re abundantly aware certain proceedings in the region of Red Falls have necessitated some previously unthinkable resolutions to come to the fore when dealing with happenstances beyond My Company’s immediate realm of influence.”
“I’ll tell you NOTHING!” the priest screeched again, louder than before. Smiler wasn’t sure if the volume was meant to convince the captain or the priest himself.
“Dear Sir” said the captain in his honey tones “I wholeheartedly assure you that my esteemed colleagues and I wish nothing but unsurpassed health and prosperity towards yourself. Furthermore we wish to prostrate ourselves upon Helene’s’ altar and have her bless us with the ageless wisdoms enclosed in the library we know to be hidden beneath her glorious temple. Indeed we seek…”
“Where is the Library?” Karron interrupted his face suddenly inches away from the priest’s. “We seek the Library of The Octocratic Magi”
“I’ll tell you nothing.” The priest said the volume and vehemence of his statement tempered by the sight of Karron’s gleaming katana.
Karron stared unblinking at the priest for a few heartbeats. His code meant that although he could show his blade, he could never use it on an unarmed man. Indeed he would not harm the priest in any way outside of fair battle. The priest shied away from Karron’s intense eyes but did not offer any further information. Frustrated Karron turned and began to search the small cellar.
Smiler stood and pushed past the captain, he sat next to the priest and gently took his hand in his own. With a sudden violent wrench he snapped the priest’s little finger backwards. The priest cried out in pain as the joint flexed unnaturally and then snapped like a carrot. The captain’s eyes widened, a complaint danced on his lips before he swallowed it.
“Where is the library?” Smiler asked in a flat monotone, his fingers finding the priest’s ring finger and gripping it firmly.
“I’ll tell you nothing” the priest sobbed, defiance now gone from his voice.
Smiler knew he’d soon have his answer. He wondered why in the abyss the priest wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to know. Silently he leant in and whispered his blunt monotone into the priest’s ear “Where is the library?”
There was a heartbeat’s pause before Smiler’s arm tensed and twisted the finger in his grip until he felt it pop out of the knuckle like a chicken wing being prepared for jointing. The priest screamed in agony and tried to pull his hand away as Smiler felt for his middle finger.
“By The Gods Man!” The captain grabbed hold of Smiler by the scruff of his neck and dragged him away from the priest. “We are not animals and this priest is not some beast spewed from the Wound. This is not the way we do things!”
Smiler shuddered with a rush of adrenaline; if the captain laid hands on him again he wasn’t sure he’d be able to control his temper. Reddening in the face he shrugged and walked back to his chair, soon enough the captain would see that his was the quickest way to get answers. He looked sheepishly down at his feet and his face broke into a wide smile. In the scuffle the captain had kicked the priest’s bedside rug and peeking out from under the corner was a wooden trap door. Smiler pointed, waiting for the captain to compliment his good work. The compliment never came.
Karron pushed past Smiler to get to the rug, which he pulled away. After lifting the bed onto its side all four men stood staring at the large iron lock embedded in the trap door. Without warning Smiler grabbed and twisted a finger on the priest’s other hand.
“Where’s the key?” he enquired in his flat tone.
The priest screamed in pain and collapsed to the floor, his bent finger still gripped tightly in Smiler’s hand. Karron turned and cuffed Smiler hard on the back of his head.
“The captain said that is not how we do things!”
Fury rushed into Smiler like river bursting its banks, for a second his eyes locked with Karron’s and murder was plain in his gaze. The he remembered Itguar and how he’d taught Smiler to hold the rage. He remembered how Karron reminded him of Itguar, the same honour and honesty. Perhaps Karron was a little naive; he viewed the world as if everyone held the same standards as his. Smiler had unfortunately lived his life in a world where honour and honesty were rare beasts. While he accepted Karron as an authority figure, he knew that he had to look after his best interests if they were to make it in the ronin’s new world.
Smiler dropped the priest’s hand and skulked back to his seat. Meanwhile the captain was rifling through the priest’s pockets as he lay groaning on the floor, after a moment or two he held aloft a thick iron key.
“Violence is rarely the easiest way to find things” he claimed loudly, staring pointedly at Smiler.
The captain spent a few minutes checking the trapdoor from all angles, putting his ear against it while he knocked it with his dagger hilt. When he’d satisfied himself he slipped the key into the lock. It fit perfectly and twisted with a satisfyingly smooth action. The captain once again lay flat on his belly and began probing the gap around the door with the tip of his dagger. As he had tested two edges Karron grasped the door and lifted it wide open. The captain squealed again and rolled away from the door as if he were on fire. Smiler shook his head; this fellow would’ve been killed by the end of his first day at The Wound. If not by the beasts, then by anyone he’d try to command.
Karron peered down the hole. He saw a drop of about fifty feet with smooth stone walls. A dim light shone from a small doorway or passage at the bottom of the shaft. With one hand Karron lifted the priest up from the floor by his arm.
“Tell me priest, how do we get down?”
The priest looked up at Karron, a totally defeated man. “If we leap Helene will catch us at the bottom, it is a magic shaft”
In the background Smiler’s ears pricked up and he started towards the pair of men
“You will hold my hand as I jump priest?” and Karron held out his hand to the priest.
Grasping the priest in one hand and Karron in the other Smiler twisted his body, he jerked Karron away from the hole and pushed the priest stumbling face first down the hole. There was a sickening crunch as the priest’s bones shattered at the bottom of the shaft.
The captain threw his hands in the air then buried his face in them. How had he ended up with such savages?
“You can’t just believe people here, they’re not all like you. They lie, they have no honour.” It was the first time Smiler had dared to raise his voice to the surly ronin.
“True honour is reflected only in a gleaming blade”
Smiler took it as a thank you. “I’ve got rope in my pack; we’ll have to climb down”.
At the bottom of the shaft was a short passageway, hewn into the granite bedrock as if it were melted wax. The size of a door at one end, the passage widened and rose until it ended in a wall over ten feet square. In the centre of the wall was a huge golden disc. An eight headed dragon was cast in the centre of the disc, its heads all open mouthed looking hungrily towards the heavens. In dozens of concentric rings around the dragon were runes and letters in what the captain judged to be more than a score of languages. The captain looked closely at the dragon, and pored over each word and rune. For nearly an hour he worked silently, Karron and Smiler watching without comment. The captain stepped away from the disc, turned to Smiler and with a forced grin said “We could really do with a priest to help us read this”