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TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

MrDave's picture

This is the story of a time long ago, a time of myth and legend, when the Ancient Gods were petty and cruel, and they plagued Mankind with suffering. In this time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. Wherever there was evil, wherever an innocent would suffer, there would be courage to change the world.

When a hero—Hercules—and a warrior princess—Xena—came and conquered the minions of Hera and Aries and restored peace to the land, they moved on across the world, saving lives wherever evil raised its ugly head.

Their journeys are well told. Many campfires and village squares have heard their tales. But what of the other heroes who followed in their wake…

Arbitus stooped to dump another rock from his sandal. This grassy landscape and poor roads were nothing like his beloved Gaul. He missed marching with his fellow soldiers in formation along hard paved surfaces and camping in large gatherings with amenities like hot water and plentiful food. But as the self-appointed ambassador to these beleaguered people he felt it was his duty …nay…a privilege to suffer in service to Rome. Still—he stopped again and rubbed his tender foot—he would consider it a privilege to take a hot bath as well.

As he pondered what would be his next meal, he smelled the most divine smell of roasting pig over the hillock. * That must be Tedrim ahead * his stomach thought in unison with his brain. He stood straight as a young sapling and marched down the path towards the smell.

As the rounded the bend he saw the town of Tedrim. It was much as the dozens of other towns Arbitus has passed on his way across the countryside: a few tumbledown shacks, a city square with a busy market, a tavern and a huge band camped outside.... *Jupiter’s Beard! * he thought, * the warlords are brazen to be camped so near the town!*

He crouched low in the scrub alongside the roadway and observed as horsemen, and men in armor of a staggering variety swaggered to and fro amongst the townsfolk who busied themselves with their daily chores. Arbitus felt conspicuous in his shiny armor and red cloak and comb when a young shepherd tapped him on his shoulder.

“Yeahh!” yelled Arbitus drawing his sword and swirling on his attacker.

“Baaah!” said the army of the shepherd in response to his warcry.

The boy was amused and laughed, “You must be another hero come to save us from the warlord.”

Arbitus drew the child into the shrubs, and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder comfortingly, “You are in danger, boy. Is your family being held captive? Are you orphaned?”

The boy shrugged off the hand and moved back onto the rod. “No, the warlord has been dead a month now. Xena killed him in mortal combat in the city square. Iolus, Hercules, and Gabrielle drove off the army and it fled into the mountains where I imagine the centaurs have rid us of them by now.”

Arbitus confusedly pointed at the camp, “But…who…what?”

“Heroes! ptuwie” the boy spat, “over a hundred now including you and your silly getup. They have come and are taking over things. They have been policing the streets; enforcing curfews, and stopping even merchants and townsfolk looking for suspicious activity. They are every bit as bad as the warlords.”

Arbitus was angered. To be grouped with such a band of rabble-rousers was insulting. “Never fear, child, I am different.”

The boy waved his hand in dismissal at the square-jawed centurion and herded his sheep towards the town.

The Tavern at Tedrim

Soulless Zombie's picture

Ramni’s eyes searched the gloomy darkness of the tavern as he moved awkwardly through the drunken crowds. He sighed to himself, Tedrim had been Adriana’s idea, still hell bent on finding Sinteres as always. But even she had to admit that the warlord’s trail had gone cold and stayed that way for many months. It had been Adriana’s hope that in a town full of heroes someone might have heard something about where his army was headed. It had most definitely NOT been the case.

Several musicians began to play, as the sound of music grew louder the patrons began to demand entertaining. The sound of bells melted into the beat of a drum and the hypnotic Arabian melody of the pipes. Ramni watched with amusement as the object of his affection was laughingly dragged up onto one of the tables and began dancing.

Adriana, full of verve and alcohol, revelled in the unexpected but welcome attention. She sang, her sweet voice weaving a familiar tune into the music. Over zealous hands that snatched at her petticoats and tugged at her dress were playfully kicked away as her arms glided artfully through the air and skimmed her body in a wild exotic dance.

Ramni smiled and continued to watch Adriana as she dipped low, her arms tracing a lazy pattern in the darkness, and her fingers curling enticingly as Ramni made his way through the sweltering heat of the tavern to join his fellow artisans.

As the music stopped the revelry gave way to dispute as a local farmer landed on a heap on the floor after receiving a jolt from behind. As the injured party retaliated several more joined in on the quarrel and soon a full scale bar room brawl had begun.

Ramni thought, as he watched the spectacle, that alcohol flowed too freely in this town. It made ordinary people rambunctious and turned cowards into heroes. The small band of bohemians gathered their wares and removed themselves into the village streets.

Adriana slung a loose arm around Ramni and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Oh wait, here comes some of Tedrim’s finest” she laughed as several of the local ‘heroes’ ran into the tavern to break things up.

“Some of these so called heroes are no better than the warlords they were called in to fight against,” remarked Ramni, wrapping a strong arm around Adriana in an effort to keep her on her feet.

“They’re growing restless,” she sighed, feeling restless herself – she longed for excitement, excitement and adventure – driven by her lust for revenge against Sinteres.

“Many are from the Xena School of heroes!” cried one of their group, “warlords gone good, seeking redemption… does it lie at the bottom of a tankard of ale? The end of a sword?”

“The sooner we get out of here the better,” Ramni whispered in Adriana’s ear, holding her close.

“But the fun has only just begun!” she laughed.

As the music started up again, fuelled by a combination of restless excitement and ale, Adriana grabbed Ramni by the hands and they began to dance, kicking up clouds of dust in the street.

Many people stopped to watch them. Young women secretly harboured a desire to dress in such a revealing provocative manner as the bohemians, and to live with such self assured confidence. Old men admired their energy and bright, rosy complexions while their wives dug their fingers in their ribs and moved them along into their everyday drudgery.

Adriana clasped Ramni’s hands tightly as they spun together in a dizzying motion. Euphoria over took them as they landed in a heap in the dusty street. Meanwhile Tedrim’s ‘heroes’ marched several bruised and beaten men out from the tavern. As Adriana and Ramni recovered their senses, they watched the scene with sobriety.

Adriana was the first to rise to her feet, steadier than before and offering a hand to Ramni. “Something needs to be done about this.”

Wheeling and Dealing

Soulless Zombie's picture

Depending on what happened, Meletus reflected, warlords could be either good or bad for business. It all depended on when you got to town, what the warlord had been up to, and what wares you had for sale. Arms could fetch a healthy price from a town trying to resist, provided that Xena or Hercules did not show up. Repair materials were the safer bet, though not as profitable.

Which lead to his current situation, in the middle of town, arguing with an innkeeper. You could never afford to put all of your resources into everything, which lead to the wine and the fat innkeeper giving him a sly look. “It’s a little jilted from the trip, you have to understand,” Meletus was saying. “Naturally, the texture and flavour will suffer some.”

“You do have a certain point,” the innkeeper replied, considering the small sample barrel Meletus carried. “Only we’re a small town here. Yes, this is good, but why would people buy it?”

“Come now, with a fine establishment such as this,” he said, waving his arm around the common room of the inn. “Surely, you must have some guests who pass through here, capable of appreciating this, better than the usual fare.”

“There you go, my good fellow! Wouldn’t those same men agree, that you were right to buy this? They’ll appreciate it, and make sure to come back another day, in the hopes that you have more. Certainly this is worth 20 denarii a barrel.”

The innkeeper was hooked, he could tell, but was not about to pay that outrageous price. Meletus knew he wouldn’t, but then, he already had his target price worked out. “20 a barrel? And you’ve been trying to sell me 4? You’re out to ruin me. I can afford to pay you no more than 7 denarii each.”

“7? For wine of this quality. Surely you insult those guests you have praised so earlier, to suggest that you should think them worth so little. 17!”


“Think of my poor children,” Meletus wined. “You want them to starve? I can go no lower than 15 denarii.”

“You don’t have any children, you cheat,” the innkeeper said.

“Think of my wife?”

“You aren’t married, either. Everyone knows the only thing you love is money.”

Meletus put on his best hurt look. “Well, perhaps I am not married yet, but one day I shall meet the right woman.” They were fast approaching the target price, and he knew that he would have to think quickly in order to make the deal. “The problem, you see, is simply that it’s hard to find a woman willing to accept the life of a merchant.”

“Alright, alright,” the innkeeper said. “I’ll pay 11, but no more.”

“13, and you’ve got a deal.”


“Done!” A large smile came across Meletus’ face, his hand shooting out to shake the innkeeper’s hand. Right on target. He quickly made a deal afterwards for lodgings for the night, only having to pay 5 denarii back for food.

The Outsider

Soulless Zombie's picture

Atys awoke with a start, rustling the leaves of the majestic Oak tree upon which he sat, hidden from view. The distant glow of the mass of the "heroes" camp fires bordering the town of Tedrim was slowly dying out. The stars had already retreated as the evening sky began to lighten - the moon nearing the end of its shift.

Atys stretched his cramped body as best as he could in the limited movement space of the Oak. The Oak - it had been his home now for almost a month - ever since Xena had dealt with the problem at Tedrim. He didn't think the situation would be changing any time soon either.

The "heroes" camped outside Tedrim had come to help rid the town of an evil warlord - or so Atys understood. Their selfish desires to make a name for themselves had led them to this town and so when they found out that the problem had already been handled, they weren't all too pleased. And rather than leave then and there, most chose to stick around and Atys could only watch as they slowly took control of the once-peaceful town. They had all become the people they were there to defeat.

All the while, Atys had remained hidden within the concealment of the towering Oak; watching and waiting. He didn't care much for confrontation, or for people for that matter. It was a mystery to him why he had even bothered to come here in the first place. It wasn't even his problem.

* So why did you come here then? * that ever present voice in his head constantly asked him. The truth was he didn't know exactly why he was there. He had told himself that he had come here to help. He had heard of the trouble here from Corinth, the place he had come to rest in recent times. An uncharacteristic compulsion to at least try to lend a hand had overwhelmed him. He supposed though, it was more to do with his own selfish desire for a history - or to at least be a part of one. Although he liked to think he was different, his motives for coming here were as self-centred as those of the "heroes" who had mobbed the town.

* But I'm not like them. I'm worse. They at least know who they are. *

And so he had journeyed to Tedrim - filled with hope for the future. Like the "heroes" his expectations were high. He intended to take something away from this.

This enthusiasm was short-lived, however. It almost completely disappeared upon realising the magnitude of the situation he was getting himself into. He was merely a wanderer; a lost-soul who spent more time with his scrolls and trying to stay out of sight than he did anything else. He didn't even believe in violence. What could he realistically offer the people of Tedrim? And what could they offer him? He was an outsider and always would be.

He would have headed back home if he had known where home was. He would have turned his back on the possible suffering of the townsfolk there and then. Instead, he settled and watched - watched as droves of hopeful "heroes" came and settled.

And as the days - and eventually weeks - passed, his reluctance to leave grew. Atys felt compelled to stay here - as though waiting for something; or someone. But what that was, he didn't know.

Atys reached up for his well-travelled pack, hanging on a branch overhead, overflowing with scrolls detailing every detail of his journey of re-discovery. The scrolls were the most important thing in his life and he wasn't about to leave them unattended for even a minute.

Securing his pack to himself, he swung his legs over the edge of the branch he sat upon, dropping down to the ground below; pausing for a moment to make sure his stiff legs would still support him. It would be daylight soon and Atys still had to eat. He would have to move quickly if he wanted to make it to the town and back unseen.

Atys reviewed the scene with caution. He couldn't risk anyone seeing him. Not because they would do anything to him. He just didn't like people knowing he was there.

The "heroes" camps were still; their occupants probably in a drink-induced slumber. He wouldn't have to worry about them. At least not if he was quick.

Atys proceeded stealthily towards the town.

In the Job Description...

Soulless Zombie's picture

Shea sat on the desk and put on a girlish smile. She started to twiddle with her hair and she turned over and gave her full attention to the speaker. Although he kept talking he seemed to be giving his full attention to her breasts. It was not the most comfortable feeling, having some 'hot-shot' ogling at your cleavage. *A girl of fifteen shouldn't have to put up with this.* Shea thought *but a girl of fifteen is not usually in this line of work* Besides, he was a client, and She needed to build up her clientele. She needed to be a favourite.

She sat up and mentally blocked the way that the employer's eyes followed her. She would have to play along with it. She didn't want to lose such a valuable client. Shea brought a leather-clad knee up into the air and rested her feet on the table. Eyes passed over her legs and then the rest of her.

Her piercing bright green eyes softened as she looked at the client. Although not attractive, he radiated power. No wonder he could afford her fees. She let her boots slip off and crossed her legs. The client watched her movements like a hawk, the grip of his eyes made Shea feel greasy all over.

"So…Shea Dreen… The Black Orchid was it? I don't want any loose ends and unforeseen consequences… No strings… You won't tell anyone will you? About our little meeting?" Shea shook her head and the client continued. "You can do the job?"

Shea leant over, showing more cleavage than she had intended. She ran her finger up the Client's neck and stopped at his lips.
"You know I can." She spoke softly. Before the Client had a chance to make any contact of his own, Shea back flipped over off the table, the boots suddenly on her feet as if by magic. She gave the client one more look and confidently walked out the door. She picked out a number four throwing knife from her pack and teased the point on her finger. She concealed it once more. And started off in a definite direction. *Now for the target*

Melaina makes a point.

Soulless Zombie's picture

The scream echoed through the forest, startling Melaina’s potential dinner. Thoughts of rabbits fled along with the beast itself, however, as Melaina relaxed her draw and raced towards the sound.

Her feet carried her back to the shrine where she’d set up camp and she frowned, wondering at the disturbance. A woman’s pleading voice could be heard clearly now, and a man’s gruff commands for her to be quiet. A loud, sharp sound reverberated as Melaina reached the edge of the clearing around the shrine. She saw a woman in rags huddled on her knees, the red mark of the man’s fingers already beginning to show on her dirty face from the slap she’d just received.

The woman’s cries continued unabated, and the man raised his hand again, this time in a fist. Before it could fall, an arrow whistled past his nose and buried itself in a nearby sapling. He jumped back, drawing his sword and looking towards the trees anxiously as Melaina took one step forward, a fresh arrow already nocked.

“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” she said. She nodded to his weapon. “Drop it.”

The man’s eyes narrowed and he squared his shoulders. “And if I don’t?” he asked belligerently. “Think you could take me on, girlie?”

In reply Melaina sent a second arrow after the first, burying its point perfectly next to that of the first. “Yes.” A third arrow was on her string before the man had time to so much as blink.

Scowling, the man sheathed his sword rather than dropping it to the ground. He was dressed in scraps of leather armour and could probably use a good wash, but carried himself proudly all the same. “And so why are you firing arrows at innocent passers-by, girlie?”

“Innocent?” Melaina tilted her head meaningfully at the woman, whose cries had stopped but she remained on the dusty ground.

“Her?” the man frowned, his voice growing louder as he spoke. “What of it? She’s mine. I won her fair and square. I can do with her what I will. And she was mouthing off. I won’t have that. Going on and on about her boy and how she wants to go back to him. Silly bitch is mine now. If I say we go to Tedrim, then we go to Tedrim!” He was practically shouting now. It was as though he’d forgotten Melaina was there. He’d lowered his head so he was almost spitting in the woman’s face as she cowered. His hand lifted again and Melaina coughed pointedly.

His eyes flicked sideways and he grimaced before slowly lowering his arm. “Better watch it, girlie,” he growled, “’less someone makes a slave out of you some day.” His expression turned to a leer. “Then you’ll learn how to treat men properly.”

“So, she’s your ‘slave’.” Melaina turned to the woman. “And what about your son?”

The woman cast a fearful glance at the man before stammering, “My son was going to buy my freedom. He almost had the money. But my old master gambled me away, and now Kadmus won’t wait.”

“Can’t wait. There’s pickings to be had, but not if we hang about here arguing. Other vultures will be flocking to Tedrim and leave nothing for me. We’re going!” Kadmus grasped the woman’s wrist and hauled her roughly to her feet.

Melaina sighed, “I did warn you. Let her go. Now.”

Kadmus hawked and spat noisily on the ground. “She’s mine. Won fair and square. Nothing you can do. She may be getting long in the tooth but she’s still all right in the sack. And I’ll do with her as I will.” To make his point, he pushed the woman to the ground and lined up a vicious kick.

The quivering woman watched in amazement as her master’s next action was to collapse to the ground bellowing and clutching his leg. Blood spurted bright red against his dark leggings and he clasped his hands around a deeply imbedded arrow in his thigh.

Melaina advanced on him, her bow drawn and aimed unwaveringly at his heart. “Now, you have some choices. Think carefully. You can give up all claim to this woman here and now, and be on your way. You can take her to her son with me and collect the price for her release. Or you can fight and bluster. And die. Your choice.”

“My leg, my leg. You witch. I’ll kill you for this! Fucking bitches. She’s mine. Mine, I say! Oh, by the Gods my leg hurts.”

Melaina sighted and drew back a fraction more. “Choose.”

“Fuck you, bitch. We’ll go back to her boy. Yeah, we’ll all go back. And I’ll slit your throat while you sleep. No, better yet, I’ll take that fancy bow from you and make you my new slave. You’re younger than that old cow there. You’ll be a nice, tasty treat for me. Yeah. That’s my choice.” He did his best to spit again, but his position on the ground made the attempt half-hearted at best.

Melaina sighed. “Fine. I’m sorry, then, but if that’s your only choice…”

“Heh, going to kill me while I’m lying helpless on the ground? Typical fucking bitch.”

“Just like you’ll rape a woman while she’s helpless against you?”

“I told you. She’s mine!”

“Not any more.”

The arrow made a solid thwocking noise as it drove home.

The woman gasped sharply then was quiet, her hands held to her mouth as she watched wide-eyed at Kadmus’ transformation from living, spitting, abusive bastard to corpse in a heartbeat. Melaina slung her bow and gently helped the woman to her feet. “He can’t hurt you any more now,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“Errita,” came the tremulous reply.

“It’s a bit of a shock, I know, to see someone killed in front of you like that. I’m sorry. But really, I think you’ll be better off without him. I’ll take you back to your son. You can use the money he’s saved to start up somewhere.”

Errita’s mask of disbelief and horror cracked into a smile of hope. “Yes, yes we could.” Her face darkened as she looked at the body on the ground. “And I’ll never have to smell his stinking breath in my face ever again.”

“Let us give thanks to Athena, then we can start on the journey back.” Melaina turned to the shrine and began preparations. As she lit the herbs she thought, *And after that I’ll find out what it is about Tedrim that had him so keen to get there.*

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

"Slow down! Look both ways before you cross, sonny! You there, no drinking in public!" The fur clad warrior stood in the street barking orders to the citizens. They seemed to ignore him for the most part.

Arbitus watched all of this with great interest. Further down the path an armored woman had forced a young man to the ground and was shouting at him ,"Don't you know that stealing apples is against the law!"

Arbitus spotted a tavern and headed there. Inside the dark tavern was a raucous crowd. A dancer performed ona table and several of the patrons were actively engaged in drinking and tugging at her skirt.

To one side two of the revelers had a disagreement and started swinging at each other. Arbitus and several other patrons quickly moved in and broke up the squabble and tensions soon calmed as the music picked up once more.

A farmer who had gotten caught in the middle of the tiff mumbled as he passed Arbitus, "Damn heroes, can't even have a decent brawl anymore..."

The instigaters where muscled out of the tavern and Arbitus spotted a young couple rising from the street. Several others around were watching them with interest. The young woman was looking concerned, "Something needs to be done about this," she said.

Abitus broke from thepack of enforcers. She was right, something did need to be done. There was too many tightly wound individuals in town. And too many loosly wrapped one too. "I can't help but think you are right about that. Judging from your outfits you must not be locals. Who better to comment on a society than an outside observer," Arbitus gestured at his own unfamilair style of dress, "But it would seem that helping is the last thing that this town needs. A little less help might be in order."

They looked at him like he was speaking in an foreign language. Arbitus then realized that he had been a little too forward, "I'm sorry, I am Arbitus Regium, a Centurion in the Army of Rome, and Emmisary to this region. I, too, see a problem that many of these well-meaning heroes seem to be ignoring. Would you care to talk about how we can aid this town without adding to its woes?"

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

Atys sat alone in the corner of the tavern, using the gloominess to conceal him as best as he could. It was all a little overwhelming for him - being in the company of so many people all packed into a confined space. The heat; the sweat; the drink flowing; even the hypnotic melody of the music - none of it served to calm his nerves. His fear of people had trapped him here this long and now he was desperate to leave.

He scanned the crowd with caution, mostly to make sure no one was paying him any attention. Thankfully, the mob were too engrossed in the merriment of the situation - as the music and the alcohol flowed freely - to take any notice of him. However, he would have to get out of here soon. He stuck out like a sore thumb sitting all alone in the corner here and each passing moment added to his fear that his pursuer would track him down.

His gaze was drawn to a woman who danced atop a table, her beautiful voice belting out some song Atys never knew. Obviously fuelled by alcohol. She had gathered her own band of revelers, some of whom were a little over-eager to show their appreciation for the woman's impromptu performance.

Her face was a picture to Atys - the beauty of it was enhanced a million times over by the rosiness of her cheeks and a smile which seemed to light up the dark around her. It was not a surprise at all that this woman should prove so popular with her gathered crowd. She exuded a warmth and happiness that most people would die for. A joy which Atys had never felt at all in these last three years of his life. He wasn't even sure if he ever had.

So distracted by this scene, he was, he nearly missed the opportunity it afforded him. With a large portion of the patrons distracted by this woman - and even those who weren't amongst her little audience couldn't help but watch her from afar - there would be no one to pay attention to Atys if he were to get up and leave now.

Bringing himself to his senses, he rose to his feet, trying to make as little sound as possible. Making sure no ones eyes had strayed to his path, he proceeded to make his escape. He made his way through the jungle of drunks, trying not to touch anyone and staying out of eye contact as much as he possibly could. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and the sweat forming in his armpits. Driven by fear - of both the masses of the tavern and of the chance his pursuer was laying in wait for him - he moved towards the doorway.

He couldn't help but remind himself that it was his fault he was in this situation in the first place. If he had just stayed at the Oak and attempted to hunt for his own food instead of stealing it from others he would never have been here.

His little journey to the town that very morning was meant to be a quick in-and-out job as it usually was. On any normal day, his breaking into the homes of the Terdim people for his daily feast would have taken him a half hour maximum. Even that was too long for Atys though and he had always sought a more efficient (and less illegal) way to go about this necessary chore.

And so that is why, when he had barely even reached the borders of the town, Atys gave in to the temptation of opportunity. He was making his way through the sleeping camps of the "heroes" when he saw, laying abandoned alongside one of the dying bonfires, an open-bag of fruit. Apples to be precise. It was too good to be true - all he had to do was take this bag and then he could be on his way. But nothing is ever that easy.

The bag was in his sight and he reached out for it, taking it into his possession. He felt pleased with himself for once - mostly because he wasn't stealing from the poor citizens of Tedrim today.

This feeling was short-lived.

As he turned to make his way back toward the Oak, he became aware of a figure blocking his path. His surprise eased his grip on the bag, spewing its fruity contents to the dirt of the ground.

The figure, an armour-clad woman who was obviously one of the "heroes", simply watched, paralysing him with her gaze, arms folded, sword sheathed. Atys hadn't been met with confrontation of any sort for a long time and was not prepared in the least to defend himself in a fight. The woman smiled, bringing her hands down to her hips. "Going somewhere with my apples?" She waited for an answer that Atys never gave her. The smile fell from her face, a look of disgust taking its place, as her right hand went for the hilt of her sword. "Well, you leave me no choice. I must take justice into my own hands," she said with such sincerity that Atys was scared to doubt her threat.

As he turned to run, he could hear her draw her sword from its sheath.

As he fled toward the only place he could possibly hope to lose her, the town, he could hear the heavy footfalls of the woman giving chase.

And as he fled the woman all around town for the most part of that day, he was constantly surprised at her determination and ability to find him almost anywhere he went.

This was madness.

The failing light had afforded him escape into the crowded tavern, where he had stayed for the last couple of hours. Atys refused to let himself think he had finally lost her, even as the hours passed with no sign of his pursuer, but he realised he would have to make an escape soon. He couldn't stand to be around the crowd of the tavern for much longer.

And now, even at this early stage of his escape, when he had barely reached the doorway, he could feel the relief wash over him. He was still some distance from the Oak, but at least now he was on his way.

Outside, the town was as busy as the tavern, but at least he wasn't as confined with the people out there as he was in here. Atys lowered his head as he crossed the threshold, moving quickly and purposefully to leave the town. He took no notice of the things that were going on around him. He wanted out. And he wanted out quick.

And it was then that he felt the hand grab his right shoulder, the fierce grip stopping him dead in his tracks, as did the voice: "Leaving without saying goodbye?"

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

The late afternoon sun sent shafts of golden light filtering through the green canopy above, making a shifting pattern of sunlight and shade on the forest floor. The rich, earthy scent of the forest filled the air, and birdcalls were the only sound to break the stillness.

Melaina sighed as she recalled the scene she’d passed through only a few hours before. Now she faced a trampled, muddy field dotted with the campsites of the oddest assortment of people she’d ever seen outside a city fair. And the odour assaulting her nostrils was beyond description. She made a face as some fresh – or, rather, not so fresh – stench insinuated itself into her airways.

It was some two weeks after her encounter with Kadmus and Errita in the woods. She’d found Errita’s son then asked around about Tedrim. What she’d heard wasn’t encouraging. A warlord had been causing trouble and a cry for help had been sent. It had confused her; Kadmus hadn’t seemed the philanthropic type. Then as her journey drew her closer to the village the story changed, and things became clear. Apparently the town’s plight had drawn vultures – and here they were, circling around Tedrim searching for scraps of carrion not yet picked clean.

She sighed and shook her head. Maybe she should just go. Surely some of these people had arrived with noble intentions, and for whatever reasons they had stayed and were now part of the new problem. She didn’t want to add to the town’s woes. But the sun was well below the horizon. She’d find no better campsite in the dark. May as well wait until the morning before deciding. In the meantime, at least she could have a cooked meal and a warm fire. Assuming the inn wasn’t completely overrun by rogues.

She picked her way around the fringes of the large camp, ignoring the bawdy laughter and scuffles. A man sharpening a sword paused as she passed. She heard his comment to his friend, “Eh, looks like another new one. Not seen her before. How long d’ya reckon she’ll last?” Rude laughter followed, which grew louder when Melaina stepped up her pace slightly to get beyond range of their voices.

A young man almost bowled into her as he hurried from the outskirts of the town with his head down. She sidestepped lightly, allowing him passage. Then jumped as she heard a voice just behind her say, “Leaving without saying goodbye?”

She turned her head to look over her shoulder. It wasn’t, as she had feared, the bravos from the camp come to harass her. Someone had grasped the shoulder of the young man, who looked somewhat startled at this interruption to his headlong rush. Melaina hesitated, then turned and continued into the town. *Rescuing men is not part of my job description.*

The main street of Tedrim itself wasn’t much better. She could see in the distance a group of warriors in various styles of armour strutting along in a parody of a patrol. They suddenly gesticulated amongst themselves and ran into what looked like the local tavern, pushing past a small band of gaudily dressed players who cavorted in the street. The troupe had danced themselves into the dusty ground by the time the ‘patrol’ escorted several battered people out of the tavern.

*Well, at least there’ll be a little more space in there for me now.* She skirted the travelling players, who were now staring quizzically at what looked to be a Roman soldier. Melaina shook her head in bemusement. *Is there any type of warrior not represented here?*

She pushed open the heavy door to the tavern and slipped inside, letting her eyes adjust to the dark, smoky interior. Scanning the occupants in growing amazement she answered her own question. *No, looks like we’ve got them all.*

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

Wulfgar and his horse Vägledare traveled along a small dirt road. In the distance Wulfgar could see many tents and campfires from what could be an army camped outside the walls of some city.

“What’s stopping them if it’s an army? The gates are open, maybe they're friendly.” As Vägledare trotted closer to town a small group of five men approached the fur-clad stranger.

“STOP!! WARLORD, WE DON’T WANT YOUR KIND HERE!” one of the men shouted as the rest pulled their respective weapons.

*Warlord?* Wulfgar looked behind him. “Me? A warlord?”

“Give us your weapons and be on your way before we have to hurt you,” one of the men yelled as the rest surrounded Vägledare.

Wulfgar dismounted and pulled his sword. ”So you would steal from me now?”

The men slowly circled Wulfgar. All seemed able-bodied warriors. Just as the first man pulled his arm back to swing...

“STOP!! WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?” A large man from a second group of eight men approached.

“These men are trying to steal from me,” explained Wulfgar.

“All right, men. Take them away.” The large man’s group surrounded the first group.

“No! Wait! He’s a warlord,” muddled the first man as the eight men dragged him and his friends away.

Wulfgar walked into town with Vägledare slowly walking behind him. He quickly located a stable and took Vägledare in to rest.

In the stable was a small boy and his sister tending the horses of what could be an army. Wulfgar examined the mounts as he walked by each stall looking for an empty slot. He found one by a beautiful black Arabian horse. Suddenly Wulfgar got a incredible pain in his head and flash of an image of a beautiful dark haired woman standing on the back of this black Arabian horse as she was riding along a beach.

“Boy, who is the woman who owns this horse?”

“That is Abhay, Adriana’s horse. How did you know it was a woman sir?”

“I just did. Where is she now, boy?”

“I don’t know sir. She is some sort of entertainer.”

“If you see her, let her know that I am is looking for her. “

“Yes sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“ I need to make some horseshoes for Vägledare here and a place to sleep.”

“There are three smiths in town but I would go to Dantis' Forge. He’s the best in town. However the inn is probably full with heroes so it might be hard to find a place to stay.”

“What’s your name, boy?”


“Well Owen, I am Wulfgar. Take good care of Vägledare. Don’t be scared of him, he’s really kind of timid. If you find that woman for me bring her to the smith."

What A Performance!

Soulless Zombie's picture

Arbitus broke from the pack of enforcers. She was right, something did need to be done. There were too many tightly wound individuals in town. And too many loosely wrapped ones too. "I can't help but think you are right about that. Judging from your outfits you must not be locals. Who better to comment on a society than an outside observer?" Arbitus gestured at his own unfamiliar style of dress, "But it would seem that helping is the last thing that this town needs. A little less help might be in order."

They looked at him like he was speaking in a foreign language. Arbitus then realised that he had been a little too forward, "I'm sorry, I am Arbitus Regium, a Centurion in the Army of Rome, and Emissary to this region. I, too, see a problem that many of these well-meaning heroes seem to be ignoring. Would you care to talk about how we can aid this town without adding to its woes?"

Adriana swayed precariously, still buoyed up on cheap alcohol and nervous energy. Ramni held her hand tightly but she shrugged him away. “And why should you take any interest in Tedrim’s plight? Or perhaps you seek to make a name for yourself like the other 'heroes' here?"

Arbitus considered the trim but muscular form of Ramni with a strange look on his face. He blinked few times as if he had just noticed him. "Um..no. I have made a name already. My future is assured in Rome when my service is done here," said Arbitus. He was actually blushing.

Adriana observed Arbitus coolly, even in her half-drunken state she perceived his slight, nervous glance at Ramni with amusement, raising her eyebrow marginally in surprise. Shaking away her initial frivolity she forced herself to focus on Arbitus’ words. “So why do you care what happens here? Stay a while then move on, that’s what I intend to do. The plight of these people is not my concern.”

Arbitus looked at her and his disapproval was apparent, "If you leave these people to this fate you will spoil things for all travellers and strangers around. This town has fallen under a terrible curse that seems to have eluded even the most well-meaning visitor. This log-jam of heroes needs to be cleared so that normalcy flows once again."

As he spoke he stood straighter (as if such a thing were possible) and stared off at the horizon, his strong chin thrust forward and a clenched fist over his heart. It was stirring... if a little silly-looking.

Ramni watched Arbitus with a mixture of wonder and admiration. It was rare to hear someone speak so philanthropically, even rarer still to see him have the courage of his convictions.

“Oh gimmie a break!” laughed Adriana, unable to stop herself from laughing at Arbitus’s ridiculous posture. “These people asked for help and this is what they got” she said gesturing around.

Arbitus sniffed and looked back at her, "Maybe so, but since I am here I should do something about it before I move on. If nothing else it will make me feel better." He placed a hand on Ramni’s shoulder in a friendly way, "And I have met some new friends along the way." He smiled showing brilliant white teeth and dimpled cheeks. "Let me at least buy you a meal and some drinks."

Ramni’s expression turned from admiration to sudden, shocked realisation as he stared at Arbitus’s hand on his shoulder, then looked up into the centurion’s glaring white teeth. He quickly freed himself and wrapped an arm around Adriana, pulling her close and stroking the smooth fabric of her dress in an overly compensatory manner.

Adriana rolled her eyes and shook her head in annoyance. “Well, so long as it makes you feel better Arbitus, go shoo as many ‘heroes’ as you wish to. By the way, my name is Adriana, a dancer from Corinth and entertainer to this region.” She smiled mockingly, “and this is Ramni, a… ’friend’ of mine.”

Arbitus pushed his lips together in a polite smile of disappointment, but he clasped both of their hands warmly, "Pleased to meet you both. Say, since you have been here a while maybe you could help me find a place to stay for a day or so..."

Arbitus droned on about Rome and his life in the army. He spoke of Caesar and the mission he felt that Jupiter ('no, not Zeus') had sent him on. It was only politeness that held them together. He was terribly boring.

Adriana stifled a yawn while Arbitus continued his ‘story’ – she’d heard more entertaining stories from cattle. Noticing Ramni’s nervous insistence to leave she grinned playfully and slapped Arbitus on the back in a friendly manner, startling him out of his recital.

“Arbitus, you look like a man who could do with a drink!” she exclaimed as she led him back towards the bustling tavern.

Arbitus followed her but not without casting a glance over his shoulder at Ramni. "I like wine mostly, what is the local vintage like?" he chatted amicably. A tankard appeared in his hand delivered by Adriana with a mischievous smile. He looked at the pale amber liquid and grimaced. "Beer, eh? Well if the locals drink it..."

He tossed it back without pausing to taste it. He smacked his lips and licked the foam from his lip. Several other patrons at the bar cheered at his gusto and he raised his empty tankard to them before slapping it back on the bar. "So as I was saying..." he began when another tankard appeared in his hand.

“…You were going to tell us your plan for liberating Tedrim,” lied Adriana, gesturing for the barkeep to bring over more beer.

“Not this again,” moaned Ramni, “I can’t believe you’d subject me to this kind of torture when we could be upstairs making ‘plans’ of our own.”

Adriana sought Ramni’s wandering hands and twisted his wrist hard under the table, while still nodding with interest towards Arbitus as Ramni squealed slightly in pain. “Do be quiet Ramni, I’m trying to listen to Arbitus.”

As the barkeep laid a large pitcher on the table she smiled, their noble ‘friend’ might just prove to be more ‘interesting’ by the end of the evening.

Arbitus slammed down several tankards and rather than slowing him down it just loosened his tongue more. Ramni sat in the seat, his head hanging limply back in near painful boredom. Adriana just kept pouring. Sooner or later he was going to get to the point. He droned on about his family, his brothers and sisters, and how much he missed Rome. Then he paused...hiccuped. And changed direction.

"S'pretty zimple. Dey're heroes ri'? Zo you create n'mergency someplace else. Course nothing is gonna happen 'cept they go elsewhere. Maybe a larger city whirr a group lik dis is a drop'n da bucket." Then he hit the table with his face, his helmet making an unceremonious 'clank'.

Adriana looked up as Arbitus fell silent. “Well it's about time!” she exclaimed nudging Ramni awake. “I thought he was going to drink Tedrim dry!” She nudged Ramni again and this time he awoke. “Come on, help me get him up stairs.”

“What? Up… no way, I’m not taking that guy upstairs! What if he wakes up?” protested Ramni in alarm.

Adriana sighed in annoyance, hoisting Arbitus up to his feet. He moaned slightly then fell silent. “Are you going to help me or not?” she questioned Ramni harshly.

Ramni silently picked up the slack and together they carried him up the stairs of the tavern and to their room. Adriana carefully observed the crowds to make sure that they weren’t being watched. Once in their room they dropped Arbitus’ body on the bed like a lead weight.

“Well he wanted a place to stay, I’d say we’ve done this guy a favour. Tedrim’s not a place for the likes of him.” Adriana began collecting her things together and in a moment was ready to leave. Arbitus snorted once or twice on the bed before starting to snore loudly.

“We can’t do this Adriana. What if someone saw us come up here with him? You know what these people are like! We could get hanged!” wailed Ramni as they descended the stairs back into the busy tavern room.

“If you hadn’t gambled all our money away we wouldn’t have to. Besides, you heard him before, he’s a centurion. Have you ever met a poor Roman?”

They were just about to leave when the barkeep grabbed Adriana by the arm. “And where do you think you two are going? You haven’t paid your bill yet, unless you want me to call up the guard.”

“There’s no need,” said Adriana, flicking her hair back provocatively. “You remember our centurion friend? Well he’s politely offered to pay our bill for us…” she slowly drew a finger down the man’s rough cotton shirt, parting the fabric until she met with his flesh.

The barkeep floundered, lost in this girl’s playful smile and sparkling eyes. Ramni tightened his grip on Adriana’s hand and pulled her on towards the door. “He’s upstairs,” she gestured as she tripped towards the exit, “sleeping off what’s going to be a hangover from Hades!”

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

The large muscles rippled under the silver and black fur that ruffled on her back as she moved swiftly through the forest dodging the trees as she came to them. She picked up the scent.

A rabbit sprinted for cover at the sight of the wolf nearby *Ugh…wouldn’t eat you...not raw anyway,* She thought to herself and almost smiled, well it was as similar to a smile as a wolf could muster.

She scanned the surrounding woodland. No one. With that confirmed she began to morph, willing herself to change, to be human. The back legs grew as the wolf reared, the front legs becoming arms and the fur disappeared and became human flesh, all within a few seconds. The shape of her head became human, normal once again, although what was normal for her? Was Kai meant to be a wolf or a human? This was one thing that puzzled her, something she had mused about for along time.

Her dress, one of dark greys matched the furry markings that her wolven coat bore. No matter what she wore, they always interlocked. Kaisha wrinkled her nose, still trying to shake off the feeling that it was big and black and damp. Catching her self before she scratched doggedly at behind her ear, she straightened herself and made herself look respectable.

Combing loosely through her long brown hair with her fingers *not paws*. Then she stood back and whistled. Her horse, as if from no-where appeared upon command.

"Good Xaloc." Kaisha whispered, stoking his face carefully and admiring his large eyes. "A beautiful boy you are. She hoisted herself onto the saddle, checking her sword was still scabbarded and then hanging on a leather loop. Nothing kept it safer when she… wasn't feeling herself. Kai drew the blade, a faint zing sounding from its friction against its leather prison. Shiny and keen as ever. She replaced it into its scabbard, and gently spurred the stallion into motion.

At a fair pace they moved gracefully through the trees, Kaisha feeling the wind in her face, she smiled and breathed in the scent of the forest. It was enjoyable. She blocked out the smell of any tasty morsels, which happened to be hanging about.

Hearing shouts in the distance, Kaisha called Xaloc to a slow, looking around nervously at where this source of noise was coming from. Men with dogs. They plundered heavily through the undergrowth, now caring what they stepped on. This was a chase. There was a rustling in the bushes coming closer to her location. Kaisha tried to see, but they kept low in the bushes. She trotted a little closer in curiosity. Bending down slightly and peering closely, she was shocked when some one bounded clumsily out at her.

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

Meletus had gone off to inspect lodgings before the brawl broke out. When things seemed to quiet down, he made it a point to slip back out and get something to drink while surveying the room for potential customers. A town full of heroes, needing to rebuild… the opportunities for profit excited him. There didn’t seem to be any good prospects for sales in the tavern. Until he caught site of the blonde woman quietly slipping in.

She was currently huddled as close to the fire as she could get with this crowd, her feet resting on top of a bag at her feet, a bow sticking out. The woman had the look of someone who had travelled much and was going to continue travelling - perhaps the best prospect he’d run across so far. He took his time walking to the woman with a drink, while trying to decide the best way to start the sales pitch.

He was about to start into a sales pitch for at least food and a heavy cloak, perhaps arrows, when he noticed the ring on her finger. *A devotee of Athena?* he wondered. “Good evening,” he said, attempting to sound somewhat cheerful. “Such a place as this is nowhere to be alone, especially with tales I have heard of what has been going on in this town since its plea for help went out.”

Melaina paused with a spoonful of stew partway to her mouth as the voice cut through her thoughts. She rested the implement carefully back in the bowl and turned her suspicious gaze onto the man's face. She was always wary of men who spoke to her. She'd seen far too much of their bad side to trust any of them.

"And why should you think I'm alone? Maybe I'm waiting for my friends." She turned back to her tough stew. It even had bits of mutton in it, which she savoured. It had been some time since she'd tasted anything other than rabbit.

Meletus inwardly considered the apparent hostility, which was to be expected around here. He continued without missing a beat, "You just looked a bit lonely is all, not to mention weary from travel."

Speaking through a mouthful of stew, Melaina replied, "Well, all travellers get weary. But now I've seen what's happening here, I'll be off again tomorrow. I see no need to add to this town's woes."

She glanced around at the tavern, noting the scowls directed by the local folk at the groups of warriors and rogues filling the place. She fixed an eye on the middle-aged man leaning over her table. "And what's your reason for staying? You don't look the warrior type."

The blonde woman was almost certainly going to be a hard sell for anything, that was certain. Still, she was right. He wasn't the warrior type and certainly seemed to stick out in the place due to his lack of armour. "No, I'm not a warrior. I'm just a simple travelling merchant trying to eke out a living."

Melaina snorted. "Right. Simple, I'm sure." She turned back to her stew again, waiting for this annoying, balding merchant to give up and go away.

Meletus affected an injured expression. "I'm hurt. If you do not mind my asking, what might be your business here? You don't exactly look to be the warrior type either."

Melaina sighed. A meal in peace was obviously going to be out of the question tonight. Tearing off a chunk of the bread she'd been given with the stew, she began to mop up the gravy. "I heard tales about the town asking for help, but as I got closer new tales were told. Of remnants of 'rescuers' staying on and others showing up to pick over the bones of this poor town. And I can see it's true. So," she shrugged, "I won't stay. And if you had any shred of decency, you wouldn't either. These people have no doubt put up with enough already without the likes of you preying on them."

His indignation changed from faux to real for just a moment, even if he knew he was something of a swindler. Although mainly only to the right people. "Preying? These people need to buy supplies in order to rebuild after the destruction, and those are the main goods I'm selling. People get to build their homes again, and if someone makes a little money at it, what harm is done?"

Another man nearby who was overhearing the exchange looked over to examine the pair currently talking. This man did not know the woman, but he knew Meletus. "You would be wise not to trust this cheat," said that man.

"Lies, vicious lies!" cried Meletus. "Okay, so there was that one warlord, but with the way he acted, he deserved to be cheated mercilessly."

Melaina laughed, a light, merry sound after her growled words. "And how did he act? He was breathing?" Her smile faded. "No, I've met too many 'merchants' who were little more than thieves, I'm afraid, sir. Now if you please, I'd like to finish my meal in peace."

Meletus shook his head slowly in defeat. So much for the prospects of a sale. Oh well, there was always later. Still, he could at least defend himself. "Actually, he was quite brutal," said Meletus, with a slightly worried expression. "I don't remember his name off-hand, there are so many of them around, who can? The bastard went around enslaving large groups of people, usually consigning them to a slow, lingering death. He deserved to have someone arrange to sell him a defective breastplate on the eve of his biggest battle. But, if you prefer me to leave, then farewell!" He got up and began to move, though ready to stop if she decided to ask more.

Melaina looked up from her bowl sharply. "Slavers?" She saw the man hesitate and she sighed heavily. "All right, so maybe selective swindling of that nature is defensible. But," she held up a warning finger as he turned again to face her, "don't think you'll get me to buy anything from you."

Meletus' voice was lowered an octave in defeat as he spoke next. "Believe me, I already gave up on you as a customer, though you seemed the best shot." He took a sip from his drink before continuing some. "But yes, slavers. In all my years of travel, I've seen very few who actually treat slaves like human beings. Cheat 'em all, I say. The slavers, that is."

Melaina turned her face back to the fire, "Kill 'em all I say," she muttered.

She glanced up at the merchant still standing by her table. Rolling her eyes, she grumbled, "Well, don't stay there looking awkward. Sit, if you will. And if you would, tell me of what's been happening here. How badly does it go for the villagers?"

"Fairly badly, from what I hear," he said, barely managing to find a place to sit. "Keep in mind, I haven't been here long, but you were right. Every would-be hero for 10 leagues out to make a name for him or herself has descended upon the town. The cure is worse than the disease, in this case." It felt good to finally be sitting again, even if the room was somewhat crowded. "By the way, my name is Meletus. If I might have the pleasure of your name, uh...."

Melaina popped the last bit of gravy-soaked bread into her mouth and chewed for a moment before washing it down with her drink. She regarded Meletus for a second. "Melaina," she finally replied. She leaned closer to avoid flapping ears overhearing, "And the women, in particular? Are they being left alone?"

Meletus could see why Melaina might have some reason to be concerned about how the women were being treated, being one herself. Even leaving the next day, a warning about bad conditions could prove useful. "From what I've heard, it's rather awkward. We have the would-be warlords running around, wanting to take advantage of every pretty girl - then the heroes try to save them, all the while hoping to take advantage of them as a reward. Though there are a few rumours of someone running around killing rapists and freeing woman slaves."

Melaina's expression darkened as Meletus described the plight of the girls in Tedrim, but she eased her features back into neutrality by the time Meletus finished speaking. "Yes, I've heard the same rumours," she said lightly. "And does anyone seem to be genuinely looking out for the welfare of these townsfolk, or are they all just in it for what they can get?" Melaina shook her head and muttered, "The whole bunch of 'em should be run out of town."

"They probably should," he replied, a grave expression on his face as drank again before putting his mug back down. "Oh, there are probably a few people genuinely concerned. I'm something of a sceptic," he added sorrowfully. "I've traded with a fair number of 'heroes' and find the lot of them to be as self-interested as the rest of us."

Melaina watched over Meletus' shoulder at a large figure being half-carried to the stairs. His helmet had slid comically over one eye. *Huh, looks like that Roman warrior got more than he bargained for with those players.*

She returned her gaze to Meletus. "There are few people who are true heroes. Most who label themselves such are to be trusted less than the warlords they claim to fight. Take them, for example," she waved an arm at the man and woman carrying the drunk soldier out of sight upstairs, "Why do you think they're here? To entertain the troops? Maybe... and they’re probably going to steal from that soldier. Now, if I were a 'hero' I'd race up there and rescue him. So should a bunch of these other 'heroes'. But do we? No, of course we don't. As you said, not in our interests."

For a moment, there was a look of sincere admiration on Meletus' face at the pair of entertainers carrying the soldier upstairs. She was probably right that they were stealing from him, and to steal from a soldier took guts. He quickly forced the look to become concerned again. *I wonder exactly how they're planning on getting away with it.*

Out loud he said, "Yes, that is quite a terrible thing. But what is to be done? I'm no hero, that's for certain. You see, there's a fear that stops me from being one: dying." That and the fact that there was no money to be made in it stopped him, but he didn't say that.

Melaina shrugged, "I never said it was a terrible thing. No doubt he's done things in his time for which this is just the Fates' way of paying him back. And fear of dying? I'm sure that comes into it for some. Though when you've been close to death it doesn't seem so bad. Living is much harder."

She played with her empty mug and considered getting another, but thought of the scant collection of coins in her purse and reluctantly decided against it. She sat the mug on the table with a small sigh.

"No," she stared at the now-empty stairway, "What stops us is that we don't care enough to do anything about it. I can think of circumstances where I would go rushing up those stairs, but his plight doesn't move me to do that."

Meletus had to admit to himself that he could scarcely think of circumstances that would get him rushing up the stairs. Fear of dying was enough for him. You couldn't enjoy the good things in life - or even acquire them - if you were dead and down with Hades. Then he was suddenly hit by a thought as he considered the woman sitting there. "You aren't a philosopher, are you?" he asked hesitatingly, "Or a Priest of some sort?"

Melaina's face fell and her eyes grew haunted. "I used to be," she said finally, her voice so small Meletus could barely hear her. "But that was a long time ago now."

Meletus could tell from the look on Melaina's face that this was not a good subject to broach with her. Still, being a priest would explain the ring, and Meletus could not afford to offend the gods. Who could?

"No need to say any more, I understand perfectly," he said softly. If the truth was told, he had a soft spot for priests. "You do have the look of someone who has seen far more suffering than she should have to."

Her eyes slowly cleared as the memories and images his words had conjured gradually dissolved again. "I believe all suffering has a purpose," she replied, "I have a path, and that path would not have existed but for my suffering. It is just different from the path I thought I was taking, when I was a Priestess."

Meletus considered her words carefully, the concerned expression on his face now actually genuine. Still, it gave him a small chance to reflect. Having come from a family of merchants, Meletus knew where his fortune was to be made. Still, there were moments when he had to wonder whether the Gods were worshiped out of fear or love, though he never spoke this way out loud. "That may be so, but is it the path you want?"

Honestly, Melaina had never put much thought into that. "The path I want?" she repeated. "It is the path the Goddess has chosen for me." She thought about the women, like Errita, who no longer had to suffer at the hands of a cruel man, "And yes, I believe that it is good work. Necessary work."

Any doubts he could have had about her being a priest (well, former priest) were now gone, as that was the way they tended to think. For a moment, he thought about his own life - things could have turned out very differently if not for Lycus. "I suppose that's all you can ask for. Any idea where you are off to next?"

Melaina shrugged, "No idea. I'll go where I'm needed." She looked around the tavern at the crowd which was growing ever more boisterous, a small frown creasing her forehead. "And this town certainly doesn't need one more crusader. It could do with rather fewer of them, really."

"That certainly does seem to be the case," Meletus agreed, despite the fact that the weapons he’d brought to sell should go very quickly and for a handsome price. Low supply, high demand... and the possibility of being gutted by the wrong customer. Meletus scratched his chin in thought. "You know how to fight well, do you? That bow of yours is not just for show?"

A cold eye fixed itself on Meletus' face. "You don't ever want to be in the position to be on the receiving end, believe me," Melaina stated. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously, "Why do you ask?"

Meletus beat down the fear rising in him, but let it show anyway. "We-we-well, it's just that I will probably be sold out in a day or two, and am not a very good fighter. A merchant alone makes a tempting target for brigands and ruffians, so figured we could help each other. If you were willing, I could use a companion to the next town; and I could see that you get decent lodgings and meals along the way, along with a bit extra to tide you over for a while."

Melaina sat back as far as the crammed conditions would allow. She scanned Meletus' face for signs of ulterior motives... and saw plenty. But not the usual thinly disguised lust she was used to seeing. Her quiet scrutiny continued for some minutes and Meletus shifted slightly in his seat as the silence between them stretched on.

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't think we could help each other - and at least I'm honest enough to admit I'm self-interested. You have to at least give me that."

"True," Melaina conceded, "but you may not like travelling with me." She kept her voice low, "I know you have no love for slavers, but they aren't the only ones I deal with. My work may... upset you."

Meletus' voice got low again, not cracking. He was careful in choosing his next words. "Believe me, it would take a lot to do that, after some of the lands I've travelled through."

Melaina hesitated. It was against her better judgement, but after a diet of rabbit and little else for a long time the prospect of real meals was tempting. And if she encountered anyone who needed dealing with in her own way, Meletus would just have to put up with it. If he interfered - well, her response would depend on his level of interference.

So she nodded slowly, "All right. But you won't get in my way if I have to act. And you won't touch me, lest you lose your fingers."

"Me, interfere?" Meletus said, forcing a little laugh while gesturing with his hands. "Why, I would never dream of it, and what would I do anyway? Give you my sales pitch until you died?"

Melaina couldn't help but grin at his joke. "Just so you understand." She sighed, "And I may have only been here a few hours, but I'll be happy to be rid of this place."

The look on Meletus' face said it all. "You're not going right away, are you?" she asked.

"Not right away," he replied, his voice returning to normal. "However, if my past experience is any indication, I expect to be rid of everything I have to sell within a few days."

The flickering light from the fire danced across Melaina's face as she stared into the depths of the flame. Was she selling her principles by staying here for the price of food and lodging? Meletus had indicated that the town girls were being pressed upon in some instances. Or had he been working on her weakness to prepare her for his deal? No way to tell unless she saw for herself. And the laughter of the men in the camp hadn't been particularly friendly.

She turned her warmed face back to the bald merchant and held out a hand. "It's a deal," she said. "I'll stay here and guard you until we reach the next town in return for lodging and board. And, if I recall, you mentioned a little extra coin."


Soulless Zombie's picture

Outside, the town was as busy as the tavern, but at least he wasn't as confined with the people out there as he was in here. Atys lowered his head as he crossed the threshold, moving quickly and purposefully to leave the town. He took no notice of the things that were going on around him. He wanted out. And he wanted out quick.

And it was then that he felt the hand grab his right shoulder, the fierce grip stopping him dead in his tracks, as did the voice: "Leaving without saying goodbye?"

Atys didn't need to turn around to confirm his fear that the woman who had been pursuing him for attempting to steal her food had finally caught up to him. And if he had any doubts about it, they were soon dispelled when he felt the unmistakable prick of the point of her sword poke into his back.

"You can't escape me, boy. You have wronged me and you must pay the price. It's only fair," the woman hissed at Atys as she put him into an arm lock in order to restrain him. He could smell the foulness of her breath as she pulled herself in close, lowering her voice to an almost intimate whisper, "Besides, I didn't come all this way to leave empty-handed."

Atys could say nothing. All he could do was wait for her to kill him.

Instead, she ordered him to walk with her. "And don't even think of trying to escape. I have more than one set of eyes posted here. I would find you. And maybe I wouldn't be in such a good mood when I did."

Atys walked with the woman out of Tedrim, back towards the makeshift campsite. The camp was less busy at this time of the evening - most of the "heroes" were still doing their bit for the community while at the same time ensuring the livelihoods of the tavern staff. A few camp fires burned in the area, but there was little in the way of people to attend them.

The woman stopped outside one of the many tents pitched sporadically all over the campsite. It was a little larger than the others - obviously made to hold more than one person. A light on the inside cast the shadows of several figures on the fabric of the walls. The woman moved back the flap that acted as the door and shoved Atys inside, where he collapsed face first to the ground. He was immediately greeted by the sound of weapons being unsheathed and all he could do was lay there - too afraid to look.

"Get up," the voice of the woman commanded. Atys hesitated for a moment before pulling himself up to a sitting position. He found himself inside quite a crowded tent. Three men stood around him, swords pointed in his direction, ready to strike. Towards the rear of the tent two women cowered, dirty and bruised from days of beatings. They surveyed Atys as he sat there and he couldn't help but get the feeling that what he was seeing in their faces was relief that there was someone else here to take the brunt of the torture these people had obviously put them through.

"It's okay dears, you don't have to worry about him. He won't try anything," the woman stepped over towards the men, placing a hand over one of their sword blades and the men lowered them. "Bind him and put him with the others," the woman ordered, pointing toward the women. One of the men immediately obliged, hauling Atys over to the rear of the tent and ripping some shreds off his only shirt to tie him up. Atys didn't even bother to resist.

The woman made to leave the tent once more, but was stopped by one of the men. "Where are you going now, Helene?" he asked the woman. This man differed from the others in his attire. He wore a similar studded-armour to Helene. Helene turned to face the man, placing a hand on his shoulder reassuringly. "Theo, my dear brother. I know you're getting restless, but don't worry. We're leaving tomorrow. I just wanted to make sure our coming here wasn't a total waste of our time."

Theo didn't seem to be any less irritated by Helene's response. He shrugged the woman's hand from him, turning his back to her. "And how exactly are three nobodies going to make this journey any less of a waste? What are we going to do? Take amusement from torturing them, because that won't make up for any of this," said Theo.

"Don't be so heartless Theo! I wasn't intending on torturing them," Helene said innocently. "Well not much anyway. They wouldn't fetch that much if they couldn't do anything!"

"What do you mean, sister?"

"I mean, dear brother, I reckon we can make quite a healthy profit on these 'nobodies' if we sell them to the right buyer. I hear the slave trade can be quite rewarding!"

Like snuffing out a candle

Soulless Zombie's picture

Shea Dreen let her cloak slip off, leaving her tight and ready for action. She pulled two unconscious guards behind some discarded wood so that they would not attract attention any time soon. Hearing the voices, she scaled a wall and waited for them to move away. When they did, she stayed half way up the fort walls; her feet wedged firmly in the cracks that came in old stone. *Where to go now?* Her employer had said the target would be in a higher tower, waiting to be told he was needed to give a pep-talk to his army.

Shea sighted the tower. It could be no other, So much more decorated than the shorter towers around it. *People* they thought the higher they went up, the safer they were. Didn't they know if a monkey could climb, so can people? *Well me at least*

She began making her way up the wall, her boots finding foothold after foothold until she had made her way along to halfway up the tower. At this point, Shea changed tactics. Holding onto the wall by only one foot and a gloved hand She gave a shrill whistle. It trilled and warbled until her scanning eyes saw what she was looking for. A monkey scrambled up towards her and onto her outstretched forearm, a gold piece sparkling in closed claws. All black except for its orange face and the tip of its tail. It cocked its head as if wondering what it was she wanted.

Shea tutted at its haul. "Just a little distraction for little me." She whispered and with one quick movement the monkey jumped from her arm and scrabbled to the top of the tower, darting in through the window. Shea grinned and set to thought. The window would make cross bows impossible to use. Poison did not work fast enough with out it being fired. Looked like it was back to basics.

She sighed and spryly shinned up the rest of the tower, moving sideways as she did, being careful to enter the tower through the opposing window that the monkey had. On reaching the windowsill she peeked precariously over the top. As was planned, the target was busy cooing over her monkey, who was bobbing and dancing, entertaining the target best it could. Shea lifted her body silently over the ledge. As the target turned round, he smiled. He had ordered a girl only earlier that day. He hadn't expected a foreign girl. Then to his surprise, it was Shea's turn to smile. She drew out a long dagger.

"Uh-oh." He mumbled
*Why can't people think up some interesting last words?* However, the target, it would seem, did not intend on these being his last, as he picked up the bread knife on the table beside him. *Bread knife? Bad choice. Bet you he will go for the downward pointing technique. Oh great he is. We all know the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Well I do.* Shea easily dodged the clumsy sweep and knocked the knife from his hand with ease, but was jogged slightly so that when Shea brought her own blade across his throat it only made a thin red line.

Shea Dreen stood back. He turned to her, the breath rasping in his throat and a confused look in his eye. He clutched his hands at the wound, as it started to bleed. To help him through his confusion, Shea bared her hip. At site of the tattoo, the confused look stopped. Now he knew why. Assassination

'How much?' Shea told him. The next question was 'who?' but at this Shea just lifted a finger to her lips. She could not divulge this secret. He gave her a pitying look and then started to bellow at the top of his lungs. She brought the dagger round again. His throat was now gaping. Blood trickled freely through his hands as he clutched them to his gullet. He fell to his knees, wailing from the pain, his eyes bulging from misery. Shea didn't like this. She wasn't paid to make people suffer. She brought the dagger down a final time, on the back his neck, a short but decisive tap, severing his spine, sending him to the floor instantly and ending his pain.

She pulled the body over quickly; she could already hear people at the bottom of the stairs. From somewhere under one of the many tight black tops she was wearing, she pulled an elegant black orchid flower. Opening his mouth she placed the bloom in and closed hip lips around it. She sealed his lips with was and kissed them; so as to leave the implant of her lips on his. This way, it would be known. He had received the Orchid's kiss. He obviously had enemies in high places. She packed up, wiped her dagger on the target's shirt-

The doors busted open.

"What the Hell? His girl wasn't supposed to come until another hour and I didn't know we had Foreign gir- My Gods! What have you done? He's- OH MY GODS! WHAT JUST HAPPENED? YOU KILLED HIM! YOU'LL PAY YOU LITTLE… OH MY GODS! SHE JUST-"

Shea jump out of the window. Plummeting toward the ground at a disturbing rate, she was at least three-quarters of the way down before her hands finally grasped at a hold on the wall. Hanging at such a height, she cursed as both of her boots fell off. She knew they were far to big for her odd little feet and her legs as well really, but she loved them dearly.

Above and below her she could hear voices shouting too find the girl that had killed the great military leader. Shea heard the stamping feet go down the stone steps on the other side of the wall. She cleared her mind and moved down the wall agilely. On reaching the ground and putting on her boots, She looked around, to see the monkey moving off into the distance. It was escaping. *Another little distraction for little me.*

Then the Black Orchid ran. She hadn't just climbed all the way up those walls to be denied her reward. Shea ran. Into the forest. Where she could hide. Now she could hear the dogs. *Damn. Why did they always take it personally?* At least the target knew he had been done professionally.

The people up the tower would have noticed the kiss by now. But the hunters wouldn't have been informed. They didn't even know what she looked like… Shea could turn this to her advantage. It would be too late to call back or inform the search parties that a search for the killer would be useless. Finding the assassin get you no where. Finding the employer was more helpful. Shea ran now. Into the woods. Away from the hunt. They were closing in. Closer, closer, closer. She ran and just then one of her huge boots caught under a root and she tripped over… and onto some one else.

Mel & Mel Find the Slavers

Soulless Zombie's picture

Melaina studied various of the faces in the tavern while her new-found employer spoke rapidly with the innkeeper. There was much gesticulating and head-shaking on both their parts. Shaking her own head, Melaina returned to her scrutiny. Most in here looked to be more the unsavoury types than of the heroic mould and Melaina wondered how things were in the village proper.

Eventually Meletus returned, a satisfied gleam in his eye.

Meletus had known instantly that Melaina was not about to share a room with him by the way she looked at him, even though there was a distinct lack of interest on both their parts. “Well, it’s official,” he said sitting back down, hoping her services would be worth the bribe he paid the innkeeper. “I’ve managed to secure a separate room for you, to get some rest tonight - and a good thing, too. We probably don’t want to be in the town proper after nightfall with some of the rumours I’ve heard.”

Relief lightened Melaina's features and she relaxed enough to smile at Meletus' words. "Funny you should say that. I was just thinking I'd like to venture out of here to see exactly how things are out there. And night would be the best time for that, don't you think?"

Without waiting for an answer, Melaina rose smoothly to her feet and grabbed her pack. "I'm off for a walk, to take in the night air. Joining me?"

Meletus bolted upright with a look of concern on his face they started outside. "Look, you don't want to be out there. There's talk of more than just muggings going on, word has come in of people being kidnapped in broad daylight." She ignored him as they continued out into the night, and he wondered just why he was tagging along to begin with.

Melaina looked at Meletus sharply. "You didn't mention kidnappings before. Just that some of the girls were being pressured." Her eyes narrowed. "What else do you know?" she hissed as they pushed the door open and entered the street, the cool night air blowing refreshingly on their faces after the warm fug of the inn.

"Not much," he confessed, glancing around as though afraid someone would appear to attack them at any moment. "All right, so there's a rumour here and there of a couple of bands kidnapping people. Men and women. But I don't know anything more than that."

Shouldering her pack more comfortably, Melaina sniffed derisively. "Well, you'd better show me the sights."

Meletus led the way through the village streets, pointing out various landmarks. Melaina was more concerned with the small groups they passed. They were challenged more than once by self-appointed 'patrols', and Melaina muttered, "This is awful. How do the villagers stand this going on?" At Meletus' look she nodded, "Yeah, yeah, I know. What could they do? I can't imagine this lot packing up just because they were asked politely."

The sound of a scuffle broke in on her musings and they heard a woman cry out, a cry that was quickly cut off. Melaina didn't think twice, but ran towards the noise.

*This is not our worry,* Meletus thought to himself, chasing after her. They came upon a small group trying to take a woman, one of the men having his hand clasped over her mouth. There looked to be about three or four of them altogether. He caught up with Melaina as she was starting towards the group, and grabbed her shoulder. "Do you want to get yourself killed? This is not your fight."

Melaina stared at Meletus. She could hear the woman's struggles growing feebler. "I'm afraid it is."

She quickly strung her bow and nocked an arrow. With such numbers, she didn't have time for niceties, so sent a shaft through the shoulder of one of the men. Right through. The force at this distance ripped flesh from bone and blood gouted in an arc. His yell caused the others to look up. They found themselves staring into the point of a fresh arrow aimed unwaveringly at them from short range.

"Let her go," she hissed menacingly. She could only hope that Meletus wasn't spoiling the effect by cowering helplessly behind her. *Please let him at least be looking stern, if not fierce.*

*Ewww. Blood,* he thought as the first arrow hit its mark. *Great. You went and hired another would-be hero.* He'd been trying to quietly back out of the situation when she called for the men to let the woman go. Fear prevented him from running, so he did his best to look fierce which actually just came out looking determined. "Yeah!" he called out, pulling his dagger. "Let her go or you'll be full of arrows!"

They tried to advance when Melaina let loose with another arrow in the chest of the lead one, causing him to fall to the ground. The woman slumped down in shock, Melaina going to her as Meletus trailed slowly behind.

Apart from the shock of the events, the woman appeared unharmed. "Do you live in this village?" Melaina asked.

The woman - girl, Melaina corrected herself - shook her head. "No," she whispered, "I'm with a group of players." The young woman peered nervously around. "We've been in town a little while. I got... got separated..." The events of the past few minutes caught up with her and she started to sob quietly.

Melaina sat her against the wall and looked across to Meletus, who was inspecting the fallen kidnapper. She raised an eyebrow and Meletus shrugged. "He's alive, but not for long, I think."

Melaina patted the girl's hand and moved swiftly to the man's side. Blood streamed from his chest and his breath came in gurgling gasps. She leaned over him, "Where is your camp? Who leads you? Tell me, and I may be able to save you," she lied.

The man's eyes fluttered open and he squinted, trying to focus. "Helene?" he rasped, "Is that you? Some bitch..." he paused, coughing painfully. Clots of blood spattered his beard. "...bitch took our prize away. Failed you... Helene..."

Melaina stood, staring distastefully at the corpse on the ground. "Well, at least we have a name."

While Meletus could not tell much about the man before his death, he could tell you exactly what he had been carrying in his pockets. Five denarii and one small but valuable gem, in addition to one rather pretty but worthless ring which might fetch a nice price from the less informed. Naturally, he had done his search quickly and quietly, while Melaina was occupied with the girl.

"Helene?" he said thoughtfully. "Nope, never heard of her," he lied.

Then at Melaina's look, he let out a sigh. "All right, so maybe I heard from someone who knows someone who spoke with someone, where she is...."

He argued with Melaina for several minutes after that about whether or not they should even bother, when she finally stalked off determined to find Helene on her own. "Go kill yourself if you want," he said, "but I will have no part of this. I'll be safer on my own."

Soon he was alone, and trying to walk back to the inn, when he stopped. An owl hooted. A wolf howled. Shortly, he was back beside Melaina again. "On second thought, I'll take my chances fighting the slavers. Where do we begin?"

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

In a small cramped room the legions of Rome were marching through Arbitus' head. They were performing a difficult manoeuvre where they wheeled a shield wall into a protective wedge when he awakened feeling as though he had cleaned a hearth with his tongue.

There was a pitcher of water and a basin there so he was able to rinse the worst of the filth from his mouth as he replayed the events of the prior evening. The last thing he could remember was drinking (was it the eighth or was it the ninth beer) after that it was all a haze. He vaguely remembered the circus girl. Adriana and her cute companion Ramni. He was pretty vivid. Arbitus had no illusions it was clear that Ramni wasn't going to be interested in him. But he chuckled at the adorable way Ramni blushed when he.... Arbitus was distracted from his daydream by a knock at the door.

Arbitus opened the door to see the innkeeper. He was wearing a clean apron and was holding a slate in his hand, "Beggin yer pardon sir, I hate to be awakenin' you so early and all, but there is the matter of the bill."

Arbitus had supposed there would be some charge. He was grateful for the room, and it was only fair he pay his share of the revelry from last night. But as the slate was passed over for inspection Arbitus could feel his blood beginning to boil. The charges shown were clearly not his 'fair' share. Arbitus pointed at one item, "Five meals?" he asked forcefully.

The innkeeper nervously worried his apron, "Well sir, you and your friends had dinner last night and they stopped in for some rolls and fruit early this morning.”

Arbitus pointed at another item, "Three bottles of wine? I don't remember any wine."

The innkeeper was quick to answer, "Oh those sir, it should only be two. One is a compliment of the house. The other two were gifts from yourself to the dancer and her companion."

Arbitus narrowed his gaze at the innkeeper, "Gifts, huh? I'll pay this ransom innkeeper, but rest assured that I will make sure that no Romans stay here ever again." As Arbitus counted out the coins he was dismayed to see how few he had left at the end of the exchange. "I will be sure to find those miscreants and see that they face up to their mischief," said Arbitus, "Any idea where they might be?"

The innkeeper briefly considered charging Arbitus for the information, but considering the handsome sum he had been paid he thought better of it, "She and the boy were here early to get some travelling food. They looked packed and ready to go. No idea where they were headed."


Adriana gently patted Abhay’s silky black coat and motioned for her to be quiet. The casual onlooker might have found this strange, but Abhay had been Adriana’s horse since she was a little girl and they shared a bond she valued over that of most humans. She continued to pet Abhay as she carefully unlocked the stable door and led her out into the cool morning streets of Tedrim.

Ramni would probably be on the other side of the village by now, rounding up the rest of their troupe before they headed off out of this crazy ‘hero’ infested hellhole. Abhay whinnied quietly, shaking her head; Adriana stopped and gently patted her again.

“What is it? What’s wrong girl?” she asked soothingly.

"Your fine animal has obviously realised that skipping out on the bill is wrong, Adriana. I would lay any odds you didn't pay the stable fee either."

Arbitus stood in a stern pose with his hands on his hips. He held out a disapproving finger like some scolding nanny. If the situation wasn't as tense as it was Adriana would have likely laughed at him.

Adriana could hardly contain her surprise at seeing the Roman standing before her, nursing his obvious hangover. “Arbitus,” she said lightly, “how nice to see you again before I leave. I trust that you are well this morning?”

Without waiting for Arbitus to answer she tugged on Abhay’s reins and continued walking.

Arbitus was taken aback by the nonchalance with which she had greeted him. He felt a little sink of disappointment that she had not tried to leap onto her horse and escape or shriek in alarm and attack him. *What a waste of a fine dramatic moment,* he thought.

He jogged up to her, "You stuck me with the bill last night." he said plaintively.

Adriana stopped and looked at Arbitus. “Last night I filled your belly full of ale and listened to your ever-so-dull and never-ending stories about Rome. If that wasn’t worth a few dinars I don’t know what is! Besides I secured lodgings for you just like you wanted. Now if you don’t mind…” Adriana motioned for him to get out of her way.

Arbitus would not budge. His sense of right would not allow him to be bullied by this woman. Arbitus stepped forward to get uncomfortably close to her. "I don't think you understand the difference between hospitality, service, and taking advantage of people."

He focused his intensity on her, trying to intimidate her, trying to get her to back off of her attitude even a little. "So, where does that leave us? Are you going to compensate me? Or do I have to teach you a lesson?"

“Teach me a lesson?” Adriana began giggling uncontrollably, “You are funny Arbitus, you should come with us, you would make a great comic!” When Arbitus still didn’t move she frowned at him in annoyance. “If I had the money do you think I would have even bothered to speak to you in the first place?”

Arbitus grabbed her arm; he was really starting to get angry. He wasn't trying to hurt her, but somehow he needed to make her respect his position. "Look!" he said, "I don't care about the money, and frankly I am not interested in you either. But fair is fair. If you can't pay coin, then you will have to figure out something else to trade. Your horse, maybe."

Adriana looked down at Arbitus’s hand on her arm and fiercely brushed it aside, holding on to Abhay’s reins more tightly. “You just try and take her ‘hero boy’ and I guarantee you’ll be eating soup through a straw for the rest of your days!”

Arbitus was at his wits' end. This girl was daring him to assault her. He could not bring himself to do it, even if it meant he would lose this fight. Perhaps if he worked around the issue, got her to admit wrongdoing, then he could work towards restitution. "Well can we at least agree that you have committed a disservice to me?"

“A disservice?” echoed Adriana, lowering her guard slightly; of course she knew Arbitus would never have hurt her, he just wasn’t the type. “And then what would you do once you’d got me to confess? Have me arrested? What I did was done out of necessity. You would not have me hung for a few unpaid bills now, would you Arbitus? If the truth is to be known you probably saved my life, and Ramni’s too,” she added with a sly grin.

Arbitus had dealt with savages, barbarians and dissenters in his service to Rome. He was thinking it was a good thing there were no armies of women like these. But something she had said struck him. "Saved your lives? Probably. Which means you owe me for that too. Now I am not the kind of person who would lord a good deed over someone, but your sense of gratitude is somewhat lacking. However, I may have an idea that might satisfy both of our prides. Will you listen to it without the flippant remarks and attitude?"

Adriana rolled her eyes and sighed in aggravation. “Very well, enlighten me with your wondrous ‘idea’.”

Arbitus smiled at her, "That one was free." He walked beside her down the early morning streets. 'Heroes' slept on the roadsides under mangers and trees. "The problem here in Tedrim isn't the heroes. It is the lack of enemies. These individuals have spent all of their cash and effort on the dream of being the next Xena or Hercules. They aren't bad people, but they aren't letting go either. What they need is something to fight for."

As they approached the town gates two sentries (obviously volunteers) nodded at them. Outside the town the smoke and wild coloured tents of the encampment on the fields outside Tedrim seemed even larger than it had the previous day.

"All of those heroes would drop this town and charge into battle with the next crisis... if there were a crisis to charge towards. You and your troupe could provide a valuable service if you were to 'stage' a monster for these heroes to fight." Arbitus could see the corners of Adriana’s mouth start to twitch. "Okay say it..."

Adriana just shrugged nonchalantly and looked around at the surrounding encampments. There was a time when a lost cause would have appealed to her, a time when she would rather have starved and slept on the street than lower herself to stealing. Arbitus, despite all his ‘adventures’ still had his idealism intact and Adriana wondered silently what it felt like to have such faith in humanity. “Heh, why not? Sounds like it could be fun, and I do owe you don’t I Arbitus? For the great ‘disservice’ I paid you.”

Arbitus' pleasure at her decision must have registered on his face because Adriana just snickered and shook her head. His brain had already started working out the tactics and elements of the plan. It would work, provided she and her friends didn't double cross him again. *They wouldn't do that again would they?*

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

Kassidia awoke sweating in her small bedroom. She was lying on the floor in a tangle with her blanket. Her breathing was shallow and rapid. She ran her hand through her hair and took several deep breaths.

Standing up, she calmly made her bed and began pacing up and down her small room. She tried to remember the dream she had woken from so suddenly but only the memory of her mother's scent came to her. At least she assumed it was her mother. She felt it was her mother. This woman smelt of roses, a faint yet distinct scent that seemed to have caught on a breeze and wafted in her direction. Kassidia felt tears welling in her eyes.

She shook her head and muttered a few inaudible words while staring at her candle and the flame flickered into life. She went to the small table beside her bed and opened the single drawer; from it she withdrew a quill and some rolls of parchment. She began to write, "Dear mother, I have had another incident, I cannot remember why but I awoke again tonight. I smelt her again, but that is all I can remember. I hope you, father and the others are well. All my love, Kass."

She smiled at the thought of her family safe and happy, how she longed to be with them again. However, she had set out to do something and do it she must.

She dropped the writing materials on the floor and closed her eyes. She relaxed her body and slowly relaxed her mind. As she became more and more serene the candle flame became dimmer and dimmer until it extinguished and Kassidia drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

As the sunlight came through the small window and fell on Kassidia's beautiful face she groaned, but from the light she could tell it was time to get up. She sat up and put her feet on the floor, when she felt the parchment she had dropped the night before. She picked it up and decided to send it that day with anyone going in the direction of her home. She changed quickly into her work outfit, a simple dress, although often in the evening some drunkard would ask if her could see what was underneath. She washed her face with some two-day-old water. Then she tucked her letter for her mother along with her money pouch into her dress, and left her room.

She left her water jug in the kitchen and went into the tavern. The dark room was an unwelcome change to her light and airy bedroom. However, she walked in with a smile on her face and went right up to her boss and said, "Good Morning, Jessel. Shall I start serving, or may I go out into the village for a while?" She gestured around the gloomy tavern, at the two men sitting at different tables, both staring into their tankards. She stared at Jessel imploringly. He laughed, a deep and gurgling chortle, then nodded his head. He smiled to himself as his young barmaid skipped out of the tavern.

Once outside Kassidia laughed joyously, and skipped towards a group of people who appeared to be from out of town. "Excuse me?" she began, her voice dripping with sugar, but she stopped abruptly when she saw the look on the face of a girl. She looked twisted and crippled but young at the same time. She was in deep pain and an older woman stood above her holding her hair and pulling it as though she was trying to wrench it from the other's head.

"What are you doing to her?" Kasidia cried and pushed the older woman off.

She bent down and stared into the young girl's face. Her tears were flowing freely and her bottom lip quivered silently. The eldest man stepped forward with a look of shock on his face, "H-h-how dare you? Sh-she was undergoing a p-p-p-punishment. Surely your mother p-punishes you t-t-too?"

Kassidia picked up the girl dusted her off took her hand and began leading her away. The women who had been hurting the girl screamed, "Where are you taking my daughter? She is my daughter, I have the right to punish her. How dare you? Corrie, come here this instant."

Kassidia looked down at the frightened little girl who was too terrified to move, bent down and said to her, "You can return to your mother if you wish. If not I can take you to a home where people will love you and look after you. It is your choice."

The mother shouted from her group of companions, "Corrie ignore what she says, I am your mother. Please come here. I was punishing you for a reason. Now stop being silly and come here."

Kass looked at the girl again and said, "Why was she punishing you, Corrie? Tell me why."

The girl, who seemed to be about 14, looked at her and said seriously, "'cause of Tom. Ma told me not to mix wiv the children 'ere, but Tom was different he sed he wuz gunna marry me, I fink I luv 'im."

Kassidia smiled and hugged the worried looking girl, whose expression changed to amazement then joy.

Kassidia walked over to Corrie's mother; she explained the situation and asked if Corrie could stay with her until the villagers moved on again. The girl's mother stared in amazement at this beautiful young woman who wanted to look after her daughter. Her band of travellers held their breath as one until the woman nodded, her mouth open and her eyes big and staring. Kass smiled and taking Corrie, walked away calling over her shoulder, "I work in the tavern across the street, your leader knows the one I mean."

As the two women turned the corner Kassidia looked back to see the only man who had challenged her had gone a deep red and seemed to be trying to explain while moving his hands wildly. She giggled to herself and led her new friend to the house of her lover.

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

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Kassidia held the girls hand tightly as she walked confidently through the market. People moved out of her way, not because she was important but because she had an air of grace and pure beauty that people stepped back from. She recognized many men from the tavern the previous night and smiled at them all. She noticed all the would-be heroes too, those who had broken up the brawl and those who had joined in.

Corrie seemed deliriously happy, and Kass could understand why, the poor girl was free. Kass took her to a small house on the edge of the village. She knocked on the door before promising to be back to collect her in a couple of hours. Then she left her new friend and went in search of a messenger.

Kassidia wandered back down through the village market. It seemed subdued. She nodded and smiled, she loved the way one smile could bring a persons face alive. Often people couldn't help but smile back at her. She walked over to a young man. She had seen him in the tavern before; he always seemed to be alone.

"Hello, out of work I see, it's hard to get a job here, too many heroes. That's our problem." She grinned at him. She watched as her smile flowed over him like a gurgling stream. He looked up at her, and smiled broadly. She noticed his front teeth had been knocked out. She smiled again, "Been in a fight then, don't tell me you're a hero waiting to save some one." The boy looked up at her in surprise; for a second his face clouded and she saw a different side to the harmless child she had been staring at a minute ago. He stood and began to turn; she reached out and touched his arm lightly. The boy seemed to catch his breath. He looked at her, his bare skin was golden, and his hair was fair. He wore simple clothes and he looked strong. He was a handsome boy.

"My father was killed by some would-be hero," he explained. He stared at the ground. Kassidia felt his anguish and pain; she had to physically push the tears down. She began to move her hand up and down his arm tracing soothing patterns. He looked up at her and saw her blinking away the tears. He reached out and touched her face, "Don't be sad, I have survived. Anyway, now I am looking for a way to leave here, unfortunately without money that is something I cannot do."

Kassidia shook her head and smiled again. "I know" she grinned playfully, "I have a job for you." The boy looked surprised, and then confused; suddenly he seemed to understand. "What is it?" A smile played on his lips as he asked curiously. Kass, shook her head, she leaned in close to him, and whispered seductively, "I work in the tavern you saw that dancing woman last night, I'll be there." And with that she turned and left.

Jamus stood still for a long time, before he collapsed against the wall behind him. What could she possibly want? He thought, he remembered her smile and the way she touched his arm. No one had looked at him like that since Melodia. No, he scorned himself, that's ridiculous. No one ever looked at him like that, and they never would. He reminded himself not to get involved and then turned to find peace in the forest.

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

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Kass, shook her head, she leaned in close to him, and whispered seductively, "I work in the tavern you saw that dancing woman last night, I'll be there." And with that she turned and left.

Kass, left the boy and returned to the house where she had left Corrie. "Corrie, how did it go?" "Well, I fink, they invited me to stay at their house. Tom is two years older dan me, and he said dat when I gets older he wants to marry me. Do you think my muvver will let me stay wiv him?" Kass smiled and said that if he proposed she was sure her mother would let her stay. Corrie went back inside to say goodbye, when a young man came creeping around the side of the house. He walked backwards into Kassidia. "Tom, I take it?" She smiled. The boy nodded "I love her ma'am I really do. I want to marry her and live with her the rest of my life." Kass nodded.

Later as she reflected on the young couples true love, she wished that someone could love her like that. She knew that men and women found her attractive, but often they were too in awe or married or some such nonsense. She wondered if a key to her past would unlock her future. She laughed to stop herself crying and began sweeping the tavern floor.

***Kass stood in the forest and a woman, whose face was covered by a veil, floated to her. Gently she landed on the ground, "Hello, I love you my dear, and I am doing my best to show you the way, but you are dismissing the signs. Do not forget who and what you are." Again Kass caught that scent of roses and she felt tears in her eyes. "Mother?" she queried. The woman may have smiled but Kass could not see her face. The woman reached out to stroke her arm but shook her instead, "Kassidia, are you alright? Hello? Wake up, Kassidia!" a rough voice called from the distance.***

Kass opened her eyes with a start and saw Jessel and his wife staring at her anxiously. She looked at them, curiously. "Are you alright? You fainted my dear, are you feeling alright?" She nodded and smiled unsurely. "I hope you will be alright to work tonight," Jessel said anxiously, "Can't lose my most popular barmaid now can I!" he joked. Kassidia smiled and stood up she laughed, "I'm fine, daydreaming that's all!" Suddenly the words of the veiled woman came to her head, I am doing my best to show you the way, but you are dismissing the signs. Do not forget who and what you are.

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

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"One tankard of ale please m'lady," a rough voice asked her. Kassidia poured the old man a drink and took his money. She looked around the crowded tavern. Different groups of men were gathered together around small tables, some shouting and joking, others whispering heads close together. She picked up a wooden tray and made in the direction of the whisperers, "Excuse me kind sirs," She gave them all a brilliant smile and they smiled suggestively back. She pretended not to have noticed and asked if they wanted refills. They all grinned and nodded, so she gathered their tankards together and went back to the bar. She filled each tankard to the brim, before slowly making her way back to the group, swaying her hips as she went.

The men began talking again, ignoring her presence as though barmaids cannot hear. She smiled to herself, and slowly gave each his tankard, whilst brushing against them seductively, yet innocently. "These damn heroes, why are they staying can't they see they are doing more harm than good?" one whispered vehemently. "They are blind to everything but their own needs and wants" another spat . The fattest of the group of round and pink-cheeked men, banged hi hand on the table, they all waited. "So it is agreed," he said, "we shall run a vote for all the villagers and banish the heroes forever." They all nodded in agreement except for another almost equally fat man. "I cannot see how we shall vote this when the heroes over-run our town. They will have to vote too, as they are heroes, srely it would be better if we moved on, taking our families, we could be equals. A band of travellers, we would be free, forever." The others looked at him astonished, a few nodded in agreement, but most looked at the man who had declared the vote. "He laughed, a deep laugh, very much like Jessel, though Jessel had a kind laugh. This was cruel and no-one else at the table laughed. The man stood up and snarled, "You lead your merry men off into the forest but one day I shall be Lord of the town of Tedrim, then you shall be sorry." He swept out, although only a couple of men ran after him. "I shall lead you to a new, free village which we shall create, it will be hard and we shall have to work long days, but I promise you will be free to go if you please. No warlord will take our village." The men cheered.

By this time Kassidia had realised these men were not a threat to anyone and moved on to the next table.

TOO MANY HEROES (Nov 25, 2002 - Feb 28 2003) - Open to all

Soulless Zombie's picture

Shea screamed loudly as she found herself face to face with a large horse complete with rider, disturbing, it appeared, both of them. It wasn't what she was expecting, but then again she had been so engrossed in running away from what was behind her, she had forgotten all about the in-front of her part.

Xaloc reared lifting his front legs just above the young girls head. Kai managed to hold on and stay glued to the saddle until he bolted and threw her off as the dogs began to approach barking and snarling.

Kaisha fell to the floor with a crash and landed in the litter of leaves. She scrambled up to her feet brushing the leaves of her gown and quickly grabbed on to Xaloc reins. Her eyes immediately hovered over to the quiver that was attached to her horses back.

Shea Dreen looked over at this scrabbled acquaintance. A young woman, not more than a couple of years older than Shea. Dressed in flowing garment and with a firm but pretty face, Shea gave her an inquiring look. But was interrupted by the search party.

Kaisha gave a puzzled look to the girl and then at the huntsmen and dogs that were almost upon them. “You should probably watch where you are going. What is going on?” She asked her.

Kaisha was greeted by several men grabbing her and the girl by the collars heavily, grabbing the two of them before either of them could attempt an escape.

"No miss, I think you need to watch you manners" came the gruff reply.

The girl had obviously done something. Shea had adopted her best 'I-am-nought-but-an-innosent-bystander' look, her small Asian features fitting the bill. As the huntsmen wrenched her arms behind her back she looked up at the stranger.

Kaisha struggled and attempted to free herself from the men’s firm grips but failed. The hold was too strong, even for her. She kicked and squirmed some more, still not even sure why she was being captured by some huntsmen along with another teenage girl until… blank. Darkness. She had received a blow to her head.

Shea saw the girl go down and struggled further. These guys meant business. If she had only been wearing a poison ring or six, she could knock out some of them. Her fingers wriggled to loosen the grip, but it was too late, she too was beat over the head, and Shea hung limp in their arms as both she and the stranger were flung over shoulders and carried back towards the fortress of Shea's latest target.

Kai’s eyes fluttered open and closed until finally they opened and the blur focused, becoming the image of a stone, dungeon like room.

Her eyes darted around checking for any presence other than her own and saw a mouse scuttle across the floor into a hole the other side of the room. She tried moving her neck to stretch further around but failed. *Great…stuck here for gods know what reason chained to a wall* At that point she tried morphing in an attempt to free her neck which was in shackles.

She screamed. All of a sudden she morphed back to human as the pain was to great to stand and she couldn’t breath. “Damn! I’m so stupid!” Kaisha muttered to herself. *The wolf neck’s thicker than your own!*

Looking back at the young girl who had been caught with her, she was surprised to find her no longer in a dormant stage.

Shea had struggled immensely and had to be knocked out another time before she could be restrained. Now she was hanging upside down from the ceiling, bare feet both in chains, de-gloved hands too, she removed a pin from her pierced eyebrow. Shea placed it in her mouth and set to work picking the lock around her wrists, all the while observing her company from the corner of her eye.

“Would you be as kind as to inform me as to what’s going on?” She asked in fed up Gaulish accent, having no idea how she got in this mess.

"Oh this." Shea looked at her cellmate as if noticing her for the first time. Her accent was strange too, not one many had heard, but it was faint. Shea had been out of her home country for eleven years. "Well honey, I had just finished my job and was legging it, when they all came after me and you got tangled in on it too. They probably think you were in on it." there was a clunk as the cuff round Shea's left hand unlocked.

“In on it? What?” She raised an eyebrow at the younger girl as she watched her unlock the cuffs and flip from her upside down position to land on the floor in without so much as a thud. “And could you please get me out of here!”

"Well…" Shea cocked her head to the side. "We'll start with intros. I'm The Black Orchid, but because were all so chummy, you can call my Shea. You might be?"

“Oui…quite chummy as you so politely put it…” She said sarcastically “I am Kaisha,” She paused before continuing “Now that’s over would one care to get me out of here?”

"Possibly. Y'see sweetie, The guys who have us locked up, don't want us to get out. So it's going to be no breeze. More like a small hurricane. And I can't legally do hurricanes without payment exchanging hands. Preferably yours to mine. Y'see 'cause of my profession-" Shea stopped. Holding a finger to her mouth in a motion for silence, she quickly scaled the wall and perched on the top of the door frame.

Seconds later, a hefty guard walked in. He looked around. Something wasn't right. One prisoner. One set of empty shackles.

"Oi. Where's the other one?”

Kaisha stared as this Shea as she jumped up to the door wonder why the sudden silence. The guard glared at her and she glared back. Protesting wouldn’t do her any good as she was clearly involved now in something dangerous. “Hmm?”

“Where is it?!!” He demanded approaching Kaisha rapidly.

She shrugged her shoulders as she could hardly move her head for the shackles around it.

"Nah. She can't have got out." He looked around clumsily. She sprang from behind and landed on His shoulders, looking forward over his hair and holding his head tightly between her knees, bare feet digging into his back.

As he screamed, Shea shouted down to Kaisha.

"Do we have a deal?"

“Well, since I’m probably going to die if I don’t pay you then I shall have to.” She sighed “I don’t have the money on me though, and I don’t have much. I can promise what I can to you though.”

Shea was currently swinging around whilst still latched onto the guards shoulders. "Thanks…" She yelled " It's just… I can't… kill anyone… without money. Bit of a… bummer… Deal accepted…." Shea dug her nails into the guard's shoulder and he stood still for a second. His mistake. In a foul movement, she moved her thighs sideways, head inclusive. There was a horrible snapping sound as his neck broke. A very simple move really. The guard's body fell to its knees. Shea jumped off and landed smartly on her small feet.

Kaisha gave a disgusted expression at the sound of the snapped neck, the sound of death was all too familiar to her. “Now would you please get me out of here! And pass me my quiver.” She said signaling to the object that contained her arrows by the door.

"Yeah. Wait a mo." Shea picked up the quiver *nice work.* She selected an arrow, and much to Kaisha's bewilderment proceeded to skewer a random part for the heavy oak door.

Shea picked the key ring off of the guard and selected the appropriate ones to unlock first the feet, then wrists and finally neck of Kaisha.

"I take it the wolf thing is normal for you then?" Shea asked casually as she handed Kaisha the quiver and started to pick up her own possessions.

Kai flung the quiver over her back and composed herself. “Thank you kindly.” She grinned slightly but decided not to take the conversation this way. “An assassin? Aren’t you a little…young?”

Shea had slung her boots over her shoulder, fully re-armed herself and was now testing the points on some interesting pointy objects.

"S'pose. Started young. Enrolled at the guild at six. It was either that or run of to Shanghai and become a prostitute. This seemed the better option." She grinned wildly at Kaisha. "Lets go then."

“Uhuh…” Kaisha gave the girl a strange look. “Any ideas on how to get out of here?”

"I was thinking this way. I'm sure there's a window some where along there."

Kai silently followed Shea’s lead, her bow already loaded and in her hand. She jumped backwards at the sight of a limp body pinned to the door with multiple arrows and a knife. “So you’re not totally insane then.” *should I be scared of her yet?* She asked herself after seeing the damage this small person could do.

Shea stopped and looked at Kaisha. Her almond eyes glinted intelligently. Smoothly choosing a no. 2 throwing knife from a belt Shea hurled it through the air behind her with liquid grace. The darkness further down the tunnel gave a gurgle, a clank of fallen metal and a thud.

"Maybe not." They continued walking.

They came to a junction in the passageway, one of the routes leading to a staircase with a heavy oak door separating it from whatever was behind it. The other routes lead to heavy doors that looked like other cells. “Guess we’ve just got one option.” She muttered to Shea.

"Yah. There was definitely a window down the corridor after that. It's a high one, but usable." Shea began to skip up the stairway, her small feet making to sound as they padded against the cold stone. Upon reaching the door, she tried the handle and then selected a lock pick from her collection. Then she put it though her eyebrow and picked up the key ring taken from the deceased guard. Peering through the keyhole, she pulled a large key from the ring and turned it through the lock. There was a clunk and the door swung open.

"After you, sugar." Shea smiled.

Kaisha smiled back and walked in front of Shea her bow at the ready. She obseverved the room before entering. Two guards. She took her aim within seconds and shot the first guard that stood by the door in the chest. She reloaded within milliseconds and had the other guard grabbing at his chest where the arrow had hit. It wasn’t good enough to take him down so she shot another, which pierced his heart, killing him instantly.

"Not bad." Shea retorted. "Archery is quite practical. I'm a bigger fan of the crossbow though. Lot's more fun. Smaller too." As she spoke, Shea scanned the darkness ahead. Beyond the yellow glow of torches, a whitish light glimmered faintly. "Window." She motioned for Kaisha to follow.

Down the corridor they reached the window. It was small and quite high up. Not meant for scenic views, more for letting oxygen in.

"Hmmm." Shea appeared to be weighing up possibilities in her head. Then- "Left my grappling hook at home. Give us a leg up will you honey?"

Kai sighed and put her palms out, face up and crossed over for the small girl to step up to. At least she had the advantage of height in this situation. Shea stepped up onto her hands, when Kaisha noticed her feet. Small, even for a petite person such as Shea, they were unnaturally arched and she kept her toes curled up at all times as if out of habit. Perhaps it was normal for some one of her origin.

Shea stepped up onto her hands, when Kaisha noticed her feet. Small, even for a petite person such as Shea, they were unnaturally arched and she kept her toes curled up at all times as if out of habit. Perhaps it was normal for some one of her origin. Kai didn't know.

Shea Dreen sprung from Kaisha's cupped hands easily and was sitting on the window ledge in little time at all. The wide barring on the window was more than wide enough for either of the girls to squeeze through. Shea did, and then hung her hand down for Kaisha to grip.

Kai jumped up and grabbed on to the girls firm grip, using the gaps in the stone wall to ease herself up and onto the ledge as Shea jumped down. The window was small but just large enough for her to fit through and land carefully on the ground the other side.

"A sinch." Shea grinned madly. "Now I'm afraid I need some money before I can go away."

“As I told you before I haven’t got any money on me. I could meet you tomorrow at Tendrim, it will be dark soon.” Kaisha replied, not really wanting to invite an assassin to her home.

"I'm not gonna kill you sweetie. You don't have too many enemies in high enough places I dare say. Yet. Mind you. That means you're price won't be that high. So I'd watch it." Shea looked at Kaisha's shocked expression. Shea gave her a playful punch in the arm. "Joking. Really I wouldn't kill you except for all the money in the world. Or a small portion of it. Besides, were buddies now, eh? But I need my fees otherwise I have to waste time coming back later when I could be getting a new job. Yeah?

“Well you know, I uh-“ She was cut off by a raised eye brow and quizicle look from Shea. “I-I suppose. You’ll have to come to my hut. It’s a bit of a walk, unless I can find my horse.”

"Fine. I can do walking. Not much of a horse person myself. They were big on them at home. Good for carrying sedan chairs and doing warrior-like things I hear." Shea began as she followed Kaisha's lead.

Kaisha went ahead, blocking most of Shea’s idle chat from her mind as she was concentrating on the surrounding forested area, and hoping they weren’t being followed. *This would be so much easier if I morphed then ran and got the money. It would mean no assassins knowing where I live…on the down side she might try and kill me and I might just have to attack her to protect myself…especially if she continues talking.*

The leaves were crunching beneath her steps, however quiet she tried to keep them. She heard the sound of something a little way off, not unlike the sound of her own feet but they held a different pattern. Hooves. Nearly all of Kaisha’s senses were sharpened because of the wolf, *at least there’s one advantage to being me,* she sighed. The horse grew into her range of sight and he continued galloping at full speed towards Kaisha, only slowing down at the last possible minute.

Kaisha stroked the great stallion’s head, before pulling herself up onto his bare back. She turned the horse around on the smallest circle possible to face Shea and smiled. “Sure you do not want a ride? You’ll get left behind.” She grinned wildly at the girl who now seemed even smaller, as she towered over her on the back of Xaloc.

Shea peered hard at the horse. She put the cross bow that was aimed at the horse out of sheer habit out of firing position. *Her horse. No threat. Just like a big wheel for sedan chairs.* Shea decided at this point there was no need for her to be edgy around a big, furry wheel and flipped up with ease onto the saddle.

"Not so bad up here. I've been in higher places." She spoke, a little quieter than usual, looking forward over Kaisha's shoulder.

Kai grinned at the girls attempt to hide her slight amount of fear for the beast. She tapped her heels on the horse’s side and Xaloc began to walk on “Just hold on tight,” She said as she moved Xaloc into a canter.

They dodged through the closely growing trees, jumping the occasional log, although Kaisha tried to avoid anything too bad that would have Shea thrown off.

They came to a halt a good 15 minutes into the forest. Kai looked around to see her little hut in the small clearing of trees, near the remains of many fires.

Shea, who had begun to quite enjoy the ride, pouted at its halt.
"Nice place. 'Little exposed but nice." Shea sniffed and jumped off the horse. "No offence, but do you have like a dog-flap or is there a back entrance or what?" she began idly playing with Kaisha's sword, which she seemed to have unsheathed at some point in time.

“Hmm?” Kaisha asked as she jumped down from Xaloc’s back, once again trying to ignore the girl who was really starting to annoy her. She pulled the reins over the horses head and tied him up to the metal loop that had been screwed into a large tree. “Can I have that back please,” she said to Shea (who at this point was spinning the sword around her head skillfully but dangerously) without a hint of questioning in her voice.

"Sure." Shea stopped. "I'm sorry to pry. I'm just interested in people. You have some very interesting habits that I've never seen before and I'm from Zhōng-Gho. Nice sword, by the by." Shea handed it, handle first back to Kaisha.

Kaisha smiled as she took the sword and returned it to its sheath. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just not really a people person.” She entered the hut through a small door that wasn’t very visible, but was also locked. She sifted through some of the things until she found what she was looking for. Outside the hut she handed a fair amount of coins to Shea and smiled. “I hope that’s okay?”

"Yeah sure. Very generous really. Sorry about the whole getting you stuck in a dungeon. Some bodyguards are just really touchy I guess." She smiled and blinked with her almond eyes. "So if you ever need a- Lin Zhou get out of there. I already got paid."

The monkey jumped from where he was, sniffing around Kaisha's ankles, and onto Shea's shoulder, where it started to pick at Shea's hairdo.

“Seems friendly. Is it yours?” Kaisha inquired, smiling.

"Yah, I like to think so. Bit of a pick-pocket. I found him back home, just after I left… If he'll just keep his hands to himself" Lin Zhou immediately stopped his fiddling and curled his tail around Shea's neck affectionately "he's a really sweetie." She reached up and stroked his head absent-mindedly. "So honey, like I said, if you ever need anyone eliminated for various reasons, my rates are good. Ask around, and I'll come see ya." Shea winked and wrinkled her funny flat nose.

“Right. Thank you for your help, I might look for you around sometime,” Kaisha put out her hand to shake “especially if anyone tries to kill or hunt me again. I hear wolf fur’s all the rage at the moment.” She said not quite sure herself whether she was joking or deadly serious.

Shea pulled up her baggy boots and cocked her head to the side, the monkey doing the same in unison.

"Must be going. I have more earnings to pick up. I sooo better get paid for getting clubbed round the head twice." She waved and started walking into the woods, still talking to Lin Zhou as she went. "I mean, I'm the one supposed to be doing the clubbing not vice versa. Hey I wonder if I'd get extra for weird people. Y'know, people that can do unnormal things. Like her. That would be fab. And where were you when I needed a lock pick?…" Her voice faded as she moved further and further into the distance.

Kai made a silent graceful wave as the strange girl wondered off, apparently talking to the monkey. She let out a sigh and made her way into the small hut to sort out the few grazes and cuts she had gained from her struggle.

Charis and the twins arrive in Tedrim

Soulless Zombie's picture

Charis sat on a cool, flat rock outcropping, which hung over the river. She had her favorite dagger out and was making it dance through her fingers. A few feet away, Aila and Ardal splashed and cavorted in the cold water, their voices raised in joy and laughter. A slight smile curled Charis lips as she watched them play. She watched the area around the river as well, her eyes and ears attuned to every sight and sound. Charis was the twins’ guardian. She was their only protection from the dangers of the world, and she took her duty very seriously. In Malik’s army, few women rose to such a position of power. No one else was trusted with as important a task as protecting Malik’s beloved children. The twins’ mother had been killed by a rival for his power, and it was Charis job to make sure the twins never suffered the same fate. Which was why less than a week before, Malik had called her into his tent and instructed her to take the children from the camp. He was concerned about the security of his own ranks. There had been a few mysterious disappearances, attributed by most to men grown weary with battle, and Malik feared a traitor in his camp. So, Charis packed up her belongings and those of the twins and set off for home, a quiet kingdom far to the north. Secretly, Charis believed Malik would be better suited if he simply stayed there and manned his own lands rather than seek glory and conquest among others. Still, Malik was a warlord. It was his nature to seek to expand his power, whether Charis agreed or understood was irrelevant.

“Children,” Charis called out, rising to her feet in a single, swift movement. Years of training had left her with the characteristic, fluid grace of a well-honed warrior. She moved with efficiency and style, picking up the scattered clothing on the shore and ushering the children into their dry garments. Soon, they were dressed, their faces shining with excitement and mischief.

“Why do you never bathe with us?” Ardal asked, grabbing a stick from the beach and whipping it about like a sword.

“Someone has to watch for trouble,” Charis replied, smiling sardonically at the boy as he rushed about with his make believe weapon. “Besides, I am of an age to prefer privacy at my bath.”

Aila giggled at Charis words. “Ardal just wants to be able to brag to the men that he’s seen you naked,” the girl whispered. “He thinks it will make him less of a baby in their eyes.”

Ardal growled at Aila, and began to chase her with the switch, blushing all the time. Charis suspected the boy harbored some sort of crush on her, but she didn’t mind. Actually, Ardal was the only male she’d ever met worth the time to know.

“Enough, you two,” she shouted, as they raced about, Aila screeching in delighted terror at Ardal’s assault. The boy would never really hurt his sister, no matter how aggravating she might be. That was one of the things Charis found so endearing about him. Though he tried to put on the air of a warrior, he was kind and caring, especially of his twin.

The children stopped, turning contrite gazes on their guardian. “Sorry,” Ardal grumbled, coming over to climb onto his horse. His adoring sister followed suit, and as soon as Charis had mounted, the three were on their way.

Hours later, Charis called a halt to their journey. They were just outside of a small town, and had come face to face with a huge encampment of various and sundry characters. Charis didn’t know quite what to make of the troop that had laid claim to the fields surrounding the town. Gesturing for the twins to stay behind, she dismounted and started forward, approaching one of the myriad campfires before her. She walked with a slow, easy pace, but her wary eyes scanned the area, totally aware of her surroundings. When Charis arrived at the campfire, she waited for the men and women seated there to acknowledge her.

“What may we do for you, stranger?” one of the older women rose, gathering her longs skirts about her. The others at the fire eyed Charis suspiciously.

“I was hoping you could tell me what goes on here,” Charis gestured towards the crowded field. “Who are all these men, and why have they gathered here?”

“These are not mere men,” one of the men arose from the fire and came forward to stand before Charis. He was dressed in leather armor and bedecked with chains and metal accoutrements. He towered over Charis, his mouth drawn back in a haughty sneer. “These are heroes, one and all. As are I, and my company.”

“Heroes, you say?” Charis kept her tone neutral, though her thoughts grew skeptical. Heroes were very often no more than villains in prettier dress. “Why have so many heroes gathered at this small town? Surely there is more glory to be found in Athens or beyond.”

The “hero” snorted. “There was a call sent out for aid from Tedrim, and so we all came,” he replied. From the area of the fire, a few men grumbled. “It is a good thing we did too. This town is overrun with hooligans. There was a Warlord, even, but he was chased away by Xena. Now, we all can restore order and peace to this region.”

Charis observed without speaking as the men at the fire raised flagons and tankards to cheer this “hero’s” words. She could see that at this camp, and many others, the men and women in the “hero” garb were drinking freely, and becoming rather boisterous as they grew more and more intoxicated. Charis was discussed to see a group of female “warriors” begin a suggestive dance in order to entice some men from a nearby fire to join them. “Well, then,” Charis said, “it is lucky for these people that you have come to aid them. I thank you for the information. I should be going.”

“Wait, lady,” the old woman moved forward. “Are you a hero, too? Would you care to join us?”

“No, old woman,” Charis replied, “I am no hero. I would be better off within.”

Charis returned to the horses and guided her young charges into the town. They stabled the mounts, Charis arranged accommodations for them in the inn, and soon had the children nestled snuggly into their beds. Moments after laying down, the boy and girl were snuffling softly in their sleep. They had had a long day and were worn out. Making sure they were safe and sound, Charis went downstairs, to reward herself with a drink and find a spot in the common room. She wanted to get a better feel for what went on in Tedrim before she decided what to do next.

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