Thick As Thieves

From the journals of Kunail the Accursed.

War. I thought I’d left it behind me. But there’s no escape. From the horror. From the glory. These people, these humans of Trapis-town – they didn’t deserve the calamity that befell them. No one ever does.

We made our preparations as best we could. Lightning traps. Pits of spikes and electricity. Trained these country bumpkins, made our plans, until there was nothing left but the waiting.

We knew who was leading the army to come against us. The Heartless bastards, apparently fathered on an elven noblewoman. They were his favourite weapons, Aislinn and Aidan Rising. Who could say what horrors they’d have planned for us?

We drowned our fears in last minute planning and revels. A mail-carrier arrived, and only “Jerart Batler”’s quick thinking put the woman off the scent of us four escaped convicts. I got a message, far too late, from my old friend Constant. Animae surrounding, how can I tell him what has happened to me? And I intercepted a message intended for our old Warden, Share. Who I killed. And who is not dead, but no longer living. Like me, he has become uthiri [Elven word for vampire]. I made him, somehow. When I feed … I doom my victims to share my curse. When this business in Trapis is finished … I have a mess to clean up.

“Jerart” and Nakk both got letters as well … but if they cared to share the contents they’d have told me.

There was a feast. I understand the townsfolk had revels. That Nakk and his young protege, Buck, had a rematch, and that it didn’t go well for Buck. That “Jerart” sealed the deal with Mayor Franca. That drinks were had and toasts were made. I spent the whole event huddled in the belltower of the half-ruined church, feeling my guts clench and my fallow veins throb with need.

One of my squadron of Archers, Maggie Sureshot, even saw fit to bring me a meal. She had no way of knowing I couldn’t partake. That my deathly pallor and sunken eyes were something no mortal food could fix.

With the dawn, came the war.

The enemy force came down the hill, all sound and fury, screaming their war cries as they advanced. I was thrown back years, to the old War, and if my blood were not dead and rotten in my veins it would have begun to sing.

It all went well at first. Jin’s traps did their work well, and the first rank of enemy troops died in blue-white bursts of lightning. My archers targeted the troops who survived, and Nakk’s Knucklers were playing cleanup. The mad bastard tried to use that infernal lightning-pole – but it backfired. Quite literally. Not the first thing that would go wrong that day.

“Batler’s” runners – Jerart’s Lookouts –  did their work well – he co-ordinated our troop movements, keeping us one step ahead of the enemy. And he had a plan to get me back to fighting fit – sending one of our scouts to pull a wounded enemy off the battlefield so I could feed. Of all my… allies, he’s the one who seems to take the most practical interest in my condition. I can’t help but wonder if he’s working an angle. His type always is.

The first real casualty was Nakk’s hand. I could have told him that charging headlong into the mass of the enemy was a bad idea. But he probably wouldn’t have listened to a knife-ear. His troops rallied to his defense, and got him off the battlefield. But the enemy took advantage.

Their troops closed in. The lightning traps did not deter them. Our trap of boiling fat barely slowed them down. Batler’s man arrived with a grisly meal for me. Then came one of those moments in war … the kind that make you feel a wretch for having lived. I descended the bell-rope to feed. And my archers were defenseless when a flaming arrow struck the boiling fat – setting it alight in a massive explosion that brought the whole tower down on top of us.

Nakk, in the field hospital, did what had to be done to get himself back out on the battlefield, I heard this part from one who was there. Crazy round-ear poured that silverflame quicksilver on the stump of his severed hand – and grew a new one, of silver that responded to his very thoughts. Must have hurt like a bastard, but he went right back out there into the middle of the battlefield.

Jin saw his moment to strike at the enemy troops, flush with success. To hit them at their flank where they were weakest. He led in his raiders, armed with spears and lightning. What he did not expect, was a black-clad warrior whom he knew of old. They engaged in a heated duel on horseback. Words were said, and blows exchanged. No one was close enough to hear for sure.

Meanwhile, Heartless’ troops were pouring into town, and though Nakk rallied our forces, we were hard pressed. I don’t expect I made matters much better when I burst from the wreckage of the church, a shard of holy-wood in my side, unleashing the monster I’ve been shackling – a thing of talons and fangs and endless thirst, bestial and savage.

Then there came a whistling from above – the sound of a catapult ball, heading for our headquarters.

“Batler” did his best to evacuate the HQ, but the one person he couldn’t save was Annish Franca, who was doing her duty – making sure those under her charge were safe. The town hall was demolished in the explosion. And what emerged … was a quicksilver golem, 9 feet tall, shining chrome death. One of those things had nearly doomed us all in the mines – and we didn’t have Nakk’s lightning totem to help us now.

So I used the only weapon I had at my disposal – the Arrow of Time I found in the mines. It worked. After a fashion. My aim was true and I struck the construct in its metal chest. But as the qucksilver melted into un-time, what was left behind was Annish Franca. The quicksilver must have bonded to her. Franca herself began to melt away, losing five years, then ten, then twenty. The arrow did worse than kill her. It left her a babe.

Jin’s battle was going hard, and only his lieutenant’s timely intervention saved him. But we needed to take out that damned catapult before the whole town was rubble.

Nakk, Batler and I rallied the troops for a decisive push, throwing back the enemy.

And that’s when the cart in the enemy camp started to rumble and shake.

Nakk had learned to transform his new hand into any number of deadly shapes – knives and blades, dealing death all about him.

Jin’s cavalry leaped into the midst of the enemy, slaying left and right.

I dashed through the battlefield, picking off the enemy here and there, Athano swooping and diving.

Even Batler got a few digs in, disguising himself as an enemy soldier long enough to sneak into their midst and sow confusion and terror. He set of an explosion of lightining that decimated their front lines, allowing our troops to close in.

And then the cart exploded, and the dragon emerged. I’d thought their kind extinct this far south. I thought wrong. It was that conniving wizard Hartzell controlling it, with a glowing magical bridle.

Jin, the godsdamned fool, managed to knock Hartzell off the saddle. The dragon, free of her master, worked to free herself of her bonds as well – and Jin, crazy roundear that he is, leapt aboard her just as the beast shot skyward.

I don’t remember who killed Hartzell. I had bigger things to worry about. Like a hopping mad Dragon raining down fire from the sky.

Nakk managed to turn his limb into a shield to protect himself from the flames. I managed to use an enemy soldier for cover. Not everyone was so lucky. Friend and foe alike were consumed in conflagration. Among all the horrors of war I’d experienced, watching flesh melt off human bones was something new.

Batler might have seen his last sunrise if Nakk hadn’t tackled him out of the way in the nick of time.

I don’t know how that mad bastard Jin clung on as long as he did – or how he forced the beast to land. But he couldn’t keep control of it for long.

I saw an opportunity – Aiden, one of the two generals, open and undefended. So, singing the war-song of my people, I ran up the landed beast’s wings, vaulted off – and pinned the preening butcher to the ground with my blades. One general down

The wyrm struck at Nakk like a whipsnake from the Ollu Sandflats. But the mad bastard held it’s jaws open. You could see the strain it put on him – every muscle in him strained and flexed – until he shaped his metal hand into a blade, and cut through the roof of the dragon’s mouth into it’s brain. Damndest thing I’ve ever seen.

The enemy force was broken after that. Aislinn surrended shortly after – what could she do against they who’d just slain a dragon and pinned her brother to the ground?

But as the dust settled, who can say who really won? Trappis-town is half destroyed. We lost good people. Maggie Sureshot. Young Buck. “Awful” McKie. Poor Annish Franca. And though we have these two princelings to ransom – what price will Count Hartless accept? I, for one, think we should sell them to the Elvish Commonwealth. My urban kin have their own kind of justice to mete out to butchers and war criminals.  

"Count Heartless is coming, we must prepare for WAR!"

The heroes made their way out of the laboratory to the assembly area, where they found Osmun's Spyglass.  Finally, they were able to find directions to the Central Battery, where all the remaining workers were gathering.  

There, they met Delan, whom Jin had been contracted to kill.  The leader of the workers, Delan explained carefully the nature of the Central Battery and guided them to disassemble it for Crate Storms, several orders of magnitude more powerful than Bottled Lightning.

The heroes led the workers and several wagons of lightning out of the Silverflame Mine, where Delan dutifully helped them destroy it with a powerful detonation of lightning.  Though the workers spurned Kunail for his elfhood, they were nonetheless thankful for being rescued.  Brolin the Journeyman Priest was sent ahead to prepare the town for their arrival.

During the night, Kunail encountered the Elven hunter he had killed earlier… he too, was a vampire.  After a brief battle, the Hunter flew away, unharmed by Kunail or Nakk.

When the team finally arrived the next morning, they created a War Council and set about making the most of their three days to prepare for the battle.

Jerart Batler
Kunail Murai
Jin the Shade
Annish Franca
Okren Chandler
Young Buck, the Blacksmith
Brolin, the Priest Journeyman
Delan (deceased)
The Knucklers (30) – CQC, melee, and archery. 16 swords/16 bows with steel tip arrows
The Dunish Wardens (45)  - trained in CQC, armed with iron-tipped spears
Jin’s Raiders (10) – cavalry black ops, trained in traps and bombs, armed with spears
Jerart’s Lookouts (9) – Jerart trained to spot incoming forces and identify threats
The Pathfinders (5) – Kunail trained scavengers
The Young Drummers (10) – War drummers to keep morale up and for basic communications
The Hospitallers (10) – Children and non-combatants running first aid out of the Butcher Shop
The Fire Wardens (10) – Using the fire code set-up by Okren, these non-combatants use buckets and fire lines to put out fires with well water.
Scarecrow traps
Road Pit traps
Boiling Fat traps
Pit Spike traps
Sling Tower traps
The Knucklers, with melee and ranged training
The Dunish Wardens
The Young Drummers
Jin’s Raiders
Palisade Wall
Arrows and spears, with steel heads
Hospital with poultices
Fire Fighters
Battle Plan + Strategies
9 lightning casks
5 crates of 5 bottled lightings each
16 bows
16 swords
9 ammo for spears
9 ammo for archers

"Nakk Upon the Rooftops," Symphony for the Dead

Our heroes had freed Trapistown for a time.  Out from the yoke of Count Ephraim Hart, they celebrated their freedom.  With the aid of a passing merchant, our heroes donated their one hundred coins – all the money they had in the world – to buy three kegs of beer that were marked for Warren, the prison from which they escaped. 

The Con Man – now calling himself Jerart Batner – went to the butcher's shop.  There he convinced the Butcher to leave, and drained the Sheriff's body of blood into Kunail's waterskin, hoping to keep the elf's thirst for blood under control.

Kunail, in the meantime, set to fashioning a new handle and hilt for the Sheriff's saber, using the antler from the deer he had caught days before.

Jin got the party started early and sat down at a gambling table in the local inn.  When he was caught cheating, a muscled blacksmith named Young Buck flipped the table over onto him. 

Nakk walked across the breadth of the town to the burnt down church tower of Trapis, and there found Okren Chandler, the town's priest, digging graves for the recently deceased mercenaries.  Without a word between them, they dug eight graves each – six foot deep – and filled them, until the sun went down.

Come nightfall, Kunail bid that they start the party without him, and ventured into the northern half of the White-Bone Forest.  There, he found the four of Hart's mercenaries that escaped.  Hoping to take one of them hostage to interrogate, he shot one with an arrow before the remaining three rushed him – he loosed another arrow into the belly of one, before two mercs tackled him to the ground.  Drawing his new antler handled saber, he killed one before the other stabbed him in the hand.  He felt the hunger come upon him, and ripped the merc's throat out, drinking deeply… before he realized his bloodthirst had killed them all, leaving no hostage to interrogate.  Cursing himself for losing control, he wiped the blood from his mouth and headed back into town.

Not ones to delay a celebration, Jerart cracked open the first of the kegs and let ale flow like water.  Soon the whole town was soused, maudlin with freedom and strong beer.  As Virtue tried his best to pry Nakk's backstory out of him, the young buck blacksmith approached their table and challenged Nakk to a barfight.  The bar moved the tables out of their way, and thus the song "Nakk Upon the Rooftops" was born.  They fought on the bar floor, they fought on the bar top.  They crashed out of the bar windows and fought in the street, then fought upon the rooftops, leaping from building to building as the town cheered on the moonlit silhouettes.  Finally, one massive uppercut sent Young Buck flying off the roof of town hall into a wagon of hay, before Nakk leapt into a flying kick that shattered the wagon into kindling.  "Nakk Upon the Rooftops" would pass into legend, and spread like wildfire through the Pathless County…

Finally, Kunail returned to town, his wounds already healed from the blood he had drank.  He found his comrades getting drunk and drunker around the table.  They were talking about the distinct lack of men in the town.  Mayor Annish shakes her head and tells them about Silverflame Mine, where Count Hart had conscripted their husbands, fathers and sons (and not a few daughters, wives and mothers) to work the mine.  With their crops failing, there was no other way to make a living.  She and Virtue ask that the party go and rescue the sixty-odd miners from Silverflame Mine.

Nakk and Okren had struck up a cautious friendship based on their work from earlier in the day.  Taking careful stock of Nakk's character, Okren suggests that they could take  short cut – a rope bridge across the the Chasm, that would save them a day in their journey.

Mayor Annish Franca and her bookkeeper Virtue, clanked their mugs and toasted our heroes (though Virtue grumbled that one hundred gold could have been better spent).  Annish unwound, letting her mayoral manner slip, until Jerart found her head on his shoulder.  He turned her face toward his and hesitated for just a moment… then he kissed her.  She kissed him back, before slapping him.

Finally, in the dull hours of the of the dark morning, all lay asleep and dreaming save Nakk.  He climbs the hill up to the burnt-out Church, thinking about the wife and child he lost to Krev the Unclean, fifteen years ago.  Wtih starlight shining through the cracked open roof, Nakk pleaded with the silent ancestors.  "I've spent fifteen years in prison.  My wife and daughter are gone.  What do I have to live for?  Why am I still here?"  

To his surprise, a deep voice answers.  "If you dedicate your life to something larger than yourself, if you work for the greater good of all who still live in this world, will you not have purpose?  Sometimes destiny is not thrust upon us.  Sometimes it must be chosen," the voice says.  It is not a god, or a saint – it is Okren standing behind him.

At dawn, Jin is woken up under the table by a young girl with sad, golden eyes.  She gives him a single silver coin and asks him to kill her father, a man named Delan.  Jin takes the job…. his first as an assassin.

The others wake up shortly thereafter make their way to the shortcut Okren showed them.  Unfortunately, years of hard use and little maintenance left the dangling rope bridge very precarious.  Unwilling to leave their possessions behind, the party agreed to cross one at a time… however the seemingly bottomless nature of the Chasm paralyzed each in turn, rallying the others for help until – bearing all their weight – the bridge snapped.  Luckily, Jin had tied everyone together with his rope, so Kunail and Nakk were able to keep Jin and Jerart from falling to their deaths.  Straining against gravity, the elf and the boxer climbed onto the cliff edge, where they pulled their friends onto the grass.

When they found the opening of the Silverflame Mine, they saw that it was dug into the roots of a Covenant Tree – an ancient and magical lightning rod that was the cause of the smell of ozone and the constant threat of storms.  Kunail knew that the elves named it a Covenant Tree because of a story about the war between the anima of the Sky and the anima of the Earth, where lightning was used to great effect to scar and scorch.  They forged a peace, and wherever grows a Covenant Tree lightening will only ever strike in one spot.  Jerart knew from his business dealings that Covenant Trees were intensely magnetic and often drew metal up out of the ground, making the area around it rich with mining prospects.  

From a distance, they saw a haggard man running out of the mouth of the mine, chased by men with strange, silver coloured limbs.  They leapt into action and rescued him… His name was Artzell, foreman of the Silverflame Mine.  Kunail's interrogation techniques undid the rest of his lies – they found out he was really a wizard working for Count Ephraim Hart, designing weapons of great destruction to deter the elves from ever attacking humanity again.   The party ties him up and head into the cave, hoping to discover his lab as well as rescue the Trapistown citizens.

Inside, the party continued fighting more of these "quicksilver men," as they continued interrogating Artzell about his work.  Kunail got increasingly angry about the horrors that Artzell would inflict upon his people, but Artzell began to turn Nakk against Kunail by revealing the awful war crimes Kunail himself committed during the War.  Rivenwood, Algeron and all the other innocents slaughtered by the elves.  

When an undetected trap was sprung, Artzell seized the oppourtunity to slip away, but not before making one final speech: That in order to prevent the horrors of war, Artzell would commit any crime, die any death.  

With Artzell fled, they were lost in the middle of a vast mine.  The party took turns trying to navigate through, Kunail with his hunter's eye, Nakk with his climbing strength, Jin with his light feet.  Jerart searched the body of a dead miner and found that they weren't just mining the quicksilver substance, but also lightning itself – bottled and weaponized.

Finally, they found themselves in Artzell's laboratory, filled to the brim with his experiments, the utility of some of which were inscrutable.  There was a frosted mirror that would show a slightly out of sync reflection; there was an arrow frozen in time, hanging in mid-flight; a saddle and reins the size of a wagon; a bird skull the size of a man's head, hanging by a string; a totem poll crackling with lightning; and a stone bath of bubbling quicksilver.  

Jin quickly swept the contents of Artzell's desk into his sack, hoping to sell it later.  Kunail, fascinated by the arrow, walked towards it… Jin, seeing the tripwire was able to stop Kunail just in time.  Having avoided the tripwire, Kunail plucked the Arrow of Time from the air.

Jerart was able to find The Traveller's Notebooks, a way to communicate across long distances – written inside it were details of the many experiments in the Silverflame Mines, but also correspondence between Artzell and Count Ephraim Hart.  Jerart analyzed the book, and decided to try and inmitate what he knew of Artzell to con Count Hart into revealing his plan to him.  Jerart wrote in the notebook…

Nakk, curious about the metal-limbed quicksilver-men they had fought, approached the stone basin of bubbling liquid metal.  No heat came off of it, though a simple corked oil lamp sat on stone ledge.  Nakk went to pick it up… and a massive chrome hand grabbed his wrist.  Quicksilver splashed everywhere, and an eight-foot tall Chrome Man steps out of the metal bath, slamming his massive metal fist into Nakk's chest.

It was uncannily large, inhumanly strong and seemingly impenetrable.  Kunail was thrown across the room, crashing into a stone wall.  Nakk spit blood from his mouth.  Jin was kicked aside like a rag doll into the tripwire… but luckily the Shade had built up an immunity to that particular poison.  Finally, Jerart took his Bottled Lightning and tossed it against the Chrome Man, electrocuting it.  Though the others were struck by the lightning as well, it seemed they had found the Chrome Man's weakness.  

Nakk, Kunail and Jin picked up the massive Totem Pole, hoisting it on their shoulders like a battering ram, and shot a white-hot beam of lightning. The Chrome Man's silver skin rippled in pain, and warped into heavy hammers.  Kunail and Jin found their legs swept out from under them, leaving only Nakk carrying the Totem Pole.  Nakk strained under the heavy weight of the Totem, but its heaviness was no match for his tree trunk legs and rock hard shoulders.  He braced himself and shot another white beam, just as Jerart tossed his last Bottled Lightning at the Chrome Man, and the two collided in a brilliant flash of light.  

The Chrome Man fell to his knees, silver skin dripping, but still alive.  His face shifted and ran, dripping off his chin, until the face of a man was revealed.  And there came Jin, running towards the Chrome Man with steps so quick and light that no man could tell whether his feet touched the ground.  "Symphony for the Dead,", Jin murmured.  One moment his sword was sheathed and then his blade was out.  The Chrome Man lifted his hand up to protect himself, and Jin smirked.  "First movement!" Jin cried, and leapt into the air, flipping the sword to point downwards.  "Death from Above!"

The sword entered the Chrome Man's hand and twisted through his shoulder and into his chest.  He dropped dead and the quicksilver bled away, revealing a large man missing all his arms and legs.

Though they were battered, bruised and bloody, they caught their breath and came back together to read what was being written in the Traveller's Notebook.  Ink scrawled in urgent penmanship.

Bring the quicksilver to Trapis and move on to Phase Two.  And hurry, Artzell… otherwise the Gorons will not be pleased.

The prison's defenses do not end at the gate.

The prisoners escaped, and thunder rolled across the Pathless County.  The sharp arms of a bone-white forest stood raised, empty of leaves, cradling the dark sky, and begging for rain.  The sweet pungent zing of ozone filled the air.  Far off in the distance, dogs barked.

Enough of the scenery.  We follow the prisoners.

High above them, the owl Athanö' drank in the night and searched for the horses and supplies that belonged to Warren inmate Stalk. The gang leader had revealed his own plans to escape Warren to Jin, and now the prisoners would steal them.  The great white owl swooped from star to star until it returned to whisper in Kunail's ear.  Ahead, Athanö whispered.  Under the tall tree.  This side of the river.  Death.

As the sound of hunting dogs grew closer Kunail Murai led them into the brackish river, covering their scent.  Though the surface stirred, whatever eldritch thing dwelt under its surface ate nothing that night save arrowhead.  The Confidence Man breathed a sign of relief.

Soon the barking of dogs grew faint, then silent.  But to cross the river again, back to Stalk's supply point, they would have to submerge themselves in its opaque black waters.  Enter Nakk.  By strength of arm, sweat of brow and force of will, the Dunish-man splintered a tall tree, felling it to lay a gentle crossing to the other side.

They were close.  They could see the tall tree, hear the horses.  But when Jin the Shade approached the tree, he smelt blood.  Lightning struck, and they saw:  heads swinging from the branches, faces twisted in shock and fear. 

Seeing the area was clear of danger, Kunail jumped from his perch in another tree and breathed into a horse's ear. "Who killed these men, Brego?" The elf listened closely to the horse's reply.  "Six legged creatures," Kunail reported.  "They killed them, cut off their heads and took all the swords."

"Gorons," the Confidence Man said, and they all understood.  The Gorons were the four-armed natives that called the Pathless County their home, and had taken insult at the arrival of men.  Everyone agreed to bandage their wounds quickly and make camp far from this dark place.

Nakk studied the bloody visages the Gorons had left swinging in the wind.  He had spent fifteen years in Warren, but he recognized them from his time in Dunish.  Jin confirmed his suspicion – some of these heads belonged to well known hired men from the Dunish underworld. 

Under their gory necks sat a chest full of bandages, rations and poultices for treating wounds, and Jin set quickly to remove any dangerous traps.  Kunail bandaged the ragged wound High Warden Share had carved into his side.

When they finally made camp a couple of hours away from the supply point, they drew up a plan:  Follow the river until Trapis town.  But Kunail had other concerns… the Hunger rose in him, like a the wind howling through his heart.  The Confidence Man bound Kunail into his debt that night by offering the elf a few drops of his mortal blood. 

The sun rose, but Kunail did not die.  He drank the watered blood from the Confidence Man from his wineskin, but still he grew weak from hunger, sick from thirst.  No food nor drink would sate him.  On the third day, Nakk found an arrow-pierced deer, fresh dead and escaped from its hunter.  Kunail walked into the dark of the forest, found that hunter, and drank deeply from his gory throat.  It was only after his Hunger subsided that he realized the hunter was an elf.

Through the wild Pathless Forest they walked, days on end.  Jin kept his knives sharp.  Nakk kept his misery unabated.  Kunail kept his Hunger at bay.  The Confidence Man pondered his next name.  Then they fell into the arms of Mayor Anne Franco and her faithful deputy, Virtue.

Franco and Virtue were looking for warriors that could free them from the yoke of Count Ephraim Hart.  She offered every piece of coin her town had to buy the services of the prisoners.  Not only that, she could get them past the blockade that the Wardens had set-up near Trapis. 

The Confidence Man plied his trade lovingly, promising nothing, taking everything.  As the prisoners rode in the back of horse wagon, Jerart Butner sat up front with Anne Franco.  Widowed this year past, her husband had been shot in the street by Count Ephraim’s men, pierced with a dozen arrows for no crime save speaking up against tyranny.  As she fell asleep, her head lolled onto Jerard’s shoulder and he whispered, “I will have your fortune.”

In the back, Virtue’s eyes could not leave Nakk’s scarred face.  Virtue was Franco’s money man, famed for his honesty, this all in trapis knew.  What they did not know was Virtue came about his tight-fisted miser’s soul through losing his fortunes and nearly his life to gambling in the fighting pits of Dunish.  From there, he recognized Nakk – legendary fighter.  It was almost enough to keep Virtue from shaking with fear and adrenaline as their subterfuge at the blockade passed.

The Wardens at the blockade were no match for the guile of Jerart Butner.  With coin in greasy palm and teeth in brittle smile, the Confidence Man opened the way without the discovery of his fellow ex-inmates.

They parked their wagon at a cottage at the edge of town and set their dusty feet down on the streets of Trapis.  A black-burnt church roared anguish against the rising sun.   Sharpshooters stood leering from the rooftops of the town hall, and men with swords walked brazenly in the streets.  The wind blew and shuttered windows rattled. 

What else can people do, when the lawmen are lawless?

There were many people that claimed to witness the fight that day.  If tales are to be believed, the whole town was watching.  They say a swarm of arrows shattered the shutters, nailing the wall behind Kunail in rapid succession.  That the elf returned fire. They said that for Kunail, this battle started with an arrow, but it began long before that in a place very far away.  The day that Kunail walked the blood soaked streets of Galarai, the City of Silenced Song. 

Children cowered, told that the Lawman pulled the arrow out his cheek, crimson flowing like tears, white teeth grimacing through where skin should be. 

Men argued over whether Jin climbed spider-swift to the roof of town hall, slashing the throat of one sharpshooter or if he caught the bow in midair.  They fought over the details of whether he let loose a flurry of arrows, raining barbed steel and feather on the platoon below, or shot down the mercenaries with one arrow each, pointedly and with grim menace.

The drunkards and the slatterns laughed and blushed over the stories of Jerart Butner flailing one way and then the other, confusing the mercenaries that were charging the preacher’s house, just before they were filled with arrows or dropped, necks broken.

Only two witnesses were truly there:  Anne Franco, and Virtue, and Virtue only ever told one story: There were twenty mercenaries.  Four prisoners.  The odds were far out of favor… but the odds had never fallen towards Nakk, and fortunes had been won on the skin of his knuckles.  The accountant’s eyes would gleam as he described how from behind the preacher’s cottage, the seven horses of Franco’s wagon reared and whinnied like the horsemen of world’s end.  How Nakk gripped the reins in both hands and came charging towards the crowd of mercenaries. 

Whether any of it is true, the facts remain.  Eighteen bodies were buried in the graveyard the next day, and none of them belonged to Trapis.  The wounds were various – trampled, gutshot, becks broken, throats slashed. 

And the sun rose on Trapistown.

"For crimes against humanity, I curse your name!"

Peace creeps into the Continent and falls upon the armies of elves and humans.  The song of swords fades from the battlefields, and grass grows in the boot prints there.  Rivers once red with blood now run clear, what crops not burned are reaped.  The armistice takes hold, and in the Tornell Empire and Eleven Commonwealth both, wounded kingdoms bury their dead while sharpening their swords.  There is no rejoice in peace; the trumpets play only dirges.

No kingdom mapped was untouched by the war, but not all lands are drawn on such maps.  Neither elf nor human wore crowns in the white-bone forests and salt-deserts of Pathless County.  Thus the Tornells, in their infinite wisdom and unlimited malice, built their Warren.

The Warren was a prison, far from civilization.  More prisoners arrived every day, but one cell in particular held three men: 

Jin was a thief, but no ordinary burglar was he – hidden away in one of his safehouses was the fabled sword of Dunish Kings, proof he was the greatest thief in Dunish.  That was before his confidante snitched on him, pinning the theft of the King’s crown and lute on him, sending Jin to Warren.

The Confidence Man chose whatever name suited his schemes, and it pleased him to be known as Ron Grits.  No one knows how many fortunes he has swindled, hearts he has broken, wars he has started.  How could anyone trace them to a man who lies as easily as he breathes?  That is, unless you had the misfortune of trying to swindle the same man twice, as he did to the Baron of Trapis.

And Nakk.  A man of low birth and lower ambition – keep his family happy was all he wanted.  He fought in the boxing arenas of the Dunish underworld and many fortunes were won on the skin of his knuckles.  But the crime lord Krev the Unclean had other uses for Nakk – enforcer, intimidator, murderer.  To all these Nakk bowed, save when Krev told him to lose his final bout.  For Nakk’s disobedience, Krev destroyed his family.  Nakk was in prison for the murder of forty-three of Krev’s guards on that fateful day.

Save for the Con Man, they did not count the days.  No one had ever escaped from Warren.

Enter Kunail of Eloreth, elf of the wastes, officer of the Commonwealth forces.  Kunail wasn't just a criminal, he was a war criminal.  Tales of his bloody deeds were still told to frighten green recruits on both sides of the war.  That he had deserted and committed himself to repenting his crimes mattered not:  The wardens stripped him of uniform and commission, cursed his name and deeds.  

High Warden Share visited their cell himself, reminding Kunail of the Surrender of Rivenwood:  One hundred humans killed for pleasure by the elves under Kunail's command.  High Warden Share promised Kunail that his stay would not be pleasant.

However, Kunail had entered through a backdoor heretofore unknown to Jin and The Con Man.  And so an elaborate plan came together.  It was the stuff of stories:  Chickenbone lockpicks and spying on the High Warden's letters.  Smuggling flint and lamp oil out from the salt mines beneath the prison.  Spotting the brass key around Share's neck during Kunail's daily beatings.  Keeping tabs on the watch schedule, noting the lazy Wardens.  Knocking out the snitches in the prison yard with a single punch.

Other strange happenings:  The discovery of a dark abyssal cavern, home to something with long and leathery talons.  The dark-skinned gang leader who took Jin aside to tell him of Kara.  And a visit for Ron Grits:  a woman with a dark veil gifting him with a plain gold engagement ring.

Everything was ready and they set the plan in motion.  Two guards died right off the bat, one blue faced in Nakk's choke-hold and the other's throat slit by Kunail’s quick hand.  Jin quickly let them all out the cell, and they went to reclaim their possessions while Nakk and The Con Man went to start a fire in the lumber room to distract the Wardens.

They found all their gear and opened the door to face High Warden Share.

He had fought in more battles that all of them put together.  In the end, Share was only one man.  He fell, hamstrung and life’s blood leaking, but not before striking out one last blow and burying his sword deep into Kunail’s ribs.  Kunail's felt his breath fleeing, darkness falling, and fell into the sleep of the sword.  Death called his name.

Nakk returned to find The Con Man and Jin carrying Kunail, bloody and barely standing.  Blood dripped from his chin and painted the skin around his mouth.  Something had happened, but there was no time to explain.

They ran deep into the woods, fighting off their pursuers.  Fooling some, killing others.  The shriek of giant bats echoed across the forest.  White trees with their bark peeling stood stripped of leaves, branches like fingerbones pointing to heaven.  They were fleeing.  They were starving.  They were bleeding.  

They were free.


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