Knightsbridge. Second week of the month of Cloudstears (mid-spring)
The crowd roared, and the huge human screamed back. His mouth was bloody after a hard punch from his opponent, one of the leather scaled crocodilian Meilosh. Two of his yellowed teeth glistened red in his smile as he wiped his face with the back of one hand. His knuckles were bruised and cut like tenderized meat. Layers of scar tissue built up over the years created mountains and valleys on the backs of his rough hands.
The sand in the pit where they fought had been freshly turned before their bout. Now it was stained with drops of blood and had grooves kicked in it from the short bouts of wrestling. Each of the fighters had sand caked on their legs and arms. The sauroid was thick with muscle but nearly two feet shorter than his opponent; though the human was massive for his race, he was unbelievably fast, and would dart in and punch with long arms and jump back before snapping jaws could bite down or claws could tear. Both breathed hard from the arduous battle while shouts and jeers came down from the crowd surrounding the fifteen foot circle of the arena. Bets were made and barmaids scurried to fill drink orders while the two combatants swore and grunted with pain and effort. The crowd’s bloodlust would not stand for the fighters to catch their breath for too long.
The tattooed man got an arm the size of most people’s leg around the neck of the meilosh and used his legs to pin its arms to its side. Both of them fell backwards to the sand. The sauroid snapped and tried to bite but couldn’t get to the human on its back. Both human arms were around its throat now, locked into a choke hold. The crowd reached a crescendo. Finally, the crocodilian’s struggles ceased, and he went limp. The man stood, covered in blood from numerous scratches and raised both arms in victory. Roaring, he looked up at the crowd, at his newest fans. Those who had bet on him cheered while the others took solace in beer. He brushed at the sand covering his sweaty body and kicked at the unconscious lizardman.
A small human with quick eyes and dark hair met him at the gate of the pit. A scar turned one side of his mouth up into a grin but otherwise he looked serious. “Messenger,” the scarred man grunted at the fighter and turned back up the stairs. The blonde man, still wild eyed with combat frenzy, took a deep drink from the flagon offered to him by an unusually tall barmaid. He grinned, with red teeth from his bleeding mouth, and winked at her before giving back the empty wooden vessel and followed the smaller man. The ogre with the shaved head and a top knot behind the bar was the only one bigger than the warrior, and even he smiled through his two chipped tusks and nodded respectfully at the man while filling another tankard.
As the fighter walked through the crowd at the edge of the fighting pit, several onlookers slapped his back and cheered. One gave the man a drink he accepted with a nod. The smaller scarred man eeled through the crowd without touching anyone in an exceptional display of dexterity. They arrived at a table with two gold-bearded dwarves in heavy armor and a human in travel stained leathers. The taller of the two dwarves with green gemstone eyes nodded to the giant fighter and pushed a chair out for him. The other with clear eyes that resembled diamonds laughed and said, “I knew ye’d beat that lizard. They are all ferocity and no skill!” He balanced a flagon on the hook replacing his left hand and smiled as he took a quaff.
The huge blonde and smaller dark haired man both sat. The olive complected human dressed for the road leaned forward. “Are you Agnar Raevilsen?” he asked in an educated, clipped accent.
“I am, and who is asking?” The big man drained half his mug in a single draft; the foam left bubbling on his moustache was wiped away with his left forearm. On hearing the name, an elven man in studded leather armor shot a long look at the man who had named himself Agnar. The elf got up slowly and left the tavern.
“I am a bonded courier from The Messenger’s Guild in Seagate,” the olive-skinned messenger started to say something else but was cut off by a vast, meaty hand slamming into the table.
“I asked not what you are. I asked who you are. I care naught for titles as I am of the Gorellen. You people’s clubs or associations mean nothing. Tell me your name or your deeds or begone from my table.” He never raised his voice, but everyone sitting nearby got quiet as if bracing for an explosion.
“Yes. Well… I am Teodorus Eleni that many call “The Sure.” I have a record for finding those I’m paid to track down, and I have never failed to deliver a message. I have two questions as surety, and then I can give you the package.” The messenger leaned back from the warrior and put one hand on his satchel.
“You doubt my word?” It was said quietly but you could hear a pin drop in what had been a rowdy bar.
Near the fighting pit, a man waved two gold at one of the bet takers. “Two gold the skinny human lives to make it to the door.” It was said in a whisper but it carried over the entire room. A soft, “I’ll take that,” answered it.
“Of course not, I was just given specific instructions by the sender. Can you tell me the name of your warrior lodge and the name of the cousin who last defeated you in wrestling?” Teodorus said this quickly and shifted his legs under his chair as if he was about to run.
Agnar threw back his head and laughed. “That must be that skinny pup, Eyolf. He bested me when we were boys and has never let me forget it.” A wide smile opened his beard and you could almost hear the tension leave the room. The normal clatter of service and conversation started back. “I am also of The Red Hand Lodge. THE GREATEST WARRIORS IN THE WORLD!” he said the last in a voice that echoed off the walls. “If you’ve a message from my cousin, I would see it now.”
Teodorus the Sure sighed very slightly and pulled his brown leather satchel up on the table. Opening two clasps, he pulled out a wax paper wrapped scroll and handed it to Agnar.
A young human woman, tall for an olive-skinned Alliard but nothing like on Agnar’s scale, wove her way through the crowd. She was slim and well-muscled with long dark hair hanging down her back. Her face had probably been beautiful once, but it looked like someone had tried to carve their initials in her left cheek and had taken off part of her nose. A hand reached out to slap her leather wrapped backside and hit the blade of a dagger she had drawn in the blink of an eye. The man howled in pain but she never broke stride. Reaching the table, she trailed a finger across Agnar’s back and sat down in a chair that had been left for her.
The big man broke the seals on the scroll and opened it. Two fat gold coins of an ancient design fell out. He stared at the markings on the scroll for a moment before handing it to the woman. She cleared her throat and read in a clear soprano voice, “Hail to my Cousin Agnar Demonbane. It has been too long since we’ve raised cups. It is my hope this letter finds you cleaning the blood of your foes from your axe and with a beautiful woman by your side.” Agnar put a great arm around the woman at this comment and smiled. “I am writing to tell you of an employment opportunity. There is a power rising in the Skydaggers who has need of strong arms with no questions asked. They have good gold and are willing to use it. A map is included. I am a sworn man to Cleon Auridan. Make that name known to them as he is their agent. Ask for the Kher Heb Serifla of the Atef. May your foes fail before the ale does. Eyolf Krakenbane.” She ended the reading by folding up the scroll and looked up at the others seated at the table.
The green eyed dwarf rubbed his hand down his braided beard thoughtfully. “Kher Heb means a priest or priestess that can channel the power of a god, and no one has been of the Atef for several lifetimes of men. I don’t know what a Serifla might be,” he rumbled in a deep gravelly voice.
“Atef?” The small, dark-haired man grunted with raised eyebrows.
“It was an empire that ruled much of this area a hundred or hundred and fifty years gone. They were dread worshippers from across the Salt Flats,” the woman said quietly.
“Maybe a good chance to earn more of this ancient gold.” Agnar nodded to himself as he spoke.
Teodorus cleared his throat, “If you have a response, I can deliver it. Your cousin has already paid for the message.”
“Aye. Tell him we’re in. We’ll meet his rising power of the Skydaggers, and if they can agree to our price, we’ll do their work,” Agnar answered for the group. The small man with the scarred face nodded. The woman smiled and twirled one of the gold coins between her fingers. The dwarves looked at each other grimly and shrugged their massive shoulders. The one with the hooked hand had a wry smile.
“Then I’ll take that to him. Best of fortune to you.” Teodorus got up and quickly made his way out of the tavern, shaking his head.
A couple of rounds later the crew was celebrating their coming journey and telling tales of old adventures. A fae elf wearing a suit of chain with a buckler on one arm and a scimitar in hand strode into the tavern. The elf in studded leather who had run out earlier was with him, also carrying a curve bladed scimitar. “Agnar the Red! I have come for you!” the armored elf shouted. The rest of the tavern went quiet.
The big human turned and looked at the elves armored for war. “Very good, but I don’t like boys that way. Go fetch your sister, and it will be a party.” He grinned. Everyone at his table and several others throughout the room laughed at the jest.
The fae elf had the light tan of most of his people, so it was easy to see his face go red in fury and his knuckles whiten on his sword hilt. “You slew my brother, and I have come for revenge! Do you deny it?” he roared.
“It is likely. I kill a lot of people. Why would I remember this one in particular?” The gorellen still hadn’t raised his voice.
The ogre behind the bar spoke up, “There’ll be no bloodshed in here except in the pit.” People in the room began chanting, “The Pit! The Pit! The Pit!” The elf looked around in confusion, and Agnar beamed.
“To the Pit!” The big human stood, still shirtless, raised both arms to the roof timbers, and roared. The crowd went wild. People began waving coins at the oddsmakers, and the confused elf was pushed towards the small arena.
Agnar drew a blade longer than his two dwarf friends were tall. He rolled back his shoulders and stretched his massive arms across his chest as he strode forward, still grinning and still shirtless. The scars of dozens of battles wrote their stories on his muscled torso.
The elf went through sword forms of the Bleeding Wind School. Storm Rushes from the Mountains flowed smoothly into Dust Devil into Strike of Thunder. When the man entered the arena, the elf spat at him, the spittle barely missing his right boot. Elves are tall, most of them well over six feet in height and a few several inches taller than that. They seldom looked up to a human, but Agnar was a few fingers shy of seven feet. He seemed to fill the pit. He just stood there, sword across his shoulders with that huge grin still dividing his beard. The crowd had stopped their chanting, and many gathered around the rails to watch.
The elf took the high guard position, which was a common starting form for The Bleeding Wind warriors. Agnar finally took his sword off his shoulders and stretched his neck first to the left then to the right. Placing both hands firmly around the leather wrapped hilt, he nodded as if giving the elf permission to begin.
The elf was quick. He darted forward and got through Agnar’s sweeping block. The big human’s smile did not break, even as a wound opened up across his left ribs. A right to left slash at the elf’s waist by the greatsword was narrowly dodged, and two quick strikes from the scimitar rang off metal instead of sinking into flesh. Both warriors circled one another in the sand. Agnar’s side was covered in a sheet of blood.
Another lightning strike and the big man was bleeding from his right bicep. His smile turned into a grunt and snarl. Two quick swings from his huge sword, one coming up and the other crossways, were both avoided neatly by the slimmer warrior who was gaining confidence.
The next of the whistling strikes by the greatsword met the elf’s buckler and nearly knocked him to the ground. Agnar roared and pressed, taking two more minor wounds. The man’s eyes had gone bloodshot and were wide open with gorellen ferocity. Each time he was struck, he snarled, and a bit of spittle was coming from the corner of his mouth.
With an inarticulate cry, the huge human began swinging wildly. The elf ran him through, but the savage human fighter was unfazed; the elf’s arm was swallowed by Agnar’s great paw. Pulled forward off balance the elf was smashed down by the enraged man’s forehead, leaving both of them bleeding and the elf dazed.
The gorellen warrior hurled the elf to the side against the railing almost four feet up the wall. His next strike with the huge sword was true and went half through the elf’s torso, armor and all. The thick, almost sap-like elven blood splattered onto several onlookers, inspiring gasps of disgust.
Agnar kept swinging and kept chopping at the elf, screaming in rage. Long after his challenger was a red ruin in the sand and the crowd had gone quiet, he continued roaring and swinging like a man trying to cut down a tree. After too long, he stopped, and the madness faded. His great chest expanded like a bellows and bled from several hurts. He slowly pulled the scimitar from his side and dropped it into the sand. He raised his sword to the crowd. They roared again, but perhaps not with quite the enthusiasm as before. The elf in studded leather slipped out the door without saying a word. His face was scrunched like he was fighting tears.
The blood-drenched human staggered over to his friends’ table. The backslaps were conspicuously absent, and everyone cleared him a path. His scarred, female companion poked a finger into the deep cut in his stomach and drew a hiss from the man. She popped the bloody finger into her mouth like a child with a sweet. Her smile was innocence and light, but her lips were red with blood. He blew out a long sigh as he sat, moving much more slowly now.
“We’ll take this job, but first a healer. Before that, MORE ALE!” Agnar roared, and the crowd went wild again.