Everwind City. Most of the shipments we escort are en route here; it is a beautiful tumor on the face of the Verges, the largest metropolitan settlement in the entire wasteland. Shielded by three layers of circular walls, the city is at once an oasis of sanity from the constant strain of the Everwind.
We wait outside Westgate with the caravan, waiting for admittance. Once inside we’ll have to circle south through the outer district – The Rim – in order to get to our destination in the central district. Half District. This is where the primary markets are, but we four will have to valet the shipment through the slums of The Rim.
The dredges of society are forced to reside in the outer perimeter, with the middle class in the center, and finally the affluent insulated from everything in the innermost district. On Still Hill. Barricaded by three high walls, the Everwind does not penetrate there. There is only one way in, by way of Southgate. It is a place we will likely never set foot. Any merchant shipments or persons of import with business on Still Hill will be able to afford to commission the services of Supernova Security Systems (also known as Triple S), which is the largest private military contractor in the world.
The four of us, the residue of military service, are leftovers confined to a life of mercenaryship. We come at a more affordable wage than our 3S counterparts. As such, we are thought to be of inferior proficiency, a mistake from which only the miserly will ever stand to gain. It is a bane for us; we being outcasts from our own lands, fugitives, we cannot reveal our true identities. Otherwise we would be in high demand, without question. Our particular background can only be demonstrated through action.
We stand ready to deal in long-familiar violence at every moment, always on watch for anyone foolish enough to put his sword to the test. This is second nature, an easy task for me and mine. Yet we are always weary from another brand of vigilance, that of always being on the run. Every glimpse of a Northman raises the hairs on our necks, puts hand to hilt without a thought. Here in the Verges we are as remote as we can be without shipping ourselves across the Borlyphian to Geldenmark, yet we are haunted by the fear of capture at every turn.
It is the only thing we fear.
We stand outside the wall with our backs to the wind awaiting passage inside, anticipating the moment when we can be liberated from the need for eyeshields and facewraps. It isn’t a long wait and we are soon navigating the shit-addled streets toward our final destination, bypassing beggars and pickpockets and grifters, peddlers and gypsies. Shades, the largest of our group, brings up the rear of the cart pulled by three hunger-slendered brenyen. Nine, my second in command, takes point with his pet tekira trailing alongside, with me on the left and the Rookie on the right.
We make it through The Rim with no issue into Half District and lead our Drydonian employer to his destination, collect the rest of the coin that’s owed upon completion of our obligations. I divide the earnings up equally amongst my crew and we are then led by Shades, who can sniff out ale before the rest of our party can hear the music that oft accompanies it, to a house of merriment called The Grey Barrel. Once inside, Shades immediately takes up a kinship with the rolg player and a mug of grog that’s swallowed up by his massive fist, just as its containings will soon be swallowed by his bearded face. Nine and I take a spot to ourselves at a table with a single candle what looks to have been pared down at the root so someone could eat the tallow. The Rookie stands alone at a back wall, eating a potato like an apple as he always does, watching. This, the same procedure following every job.
It isn’t long before some hungry patron takes a liking to the Rook’s potato and confronts him about it, at first asking for a taste, just a little taste. The Rook ne’er utters any reply, just stands leaning against the backwall like a forgotten broomstick. Starvers like this one usually linger with a bellyful of hope until the last morsel of the potato disappears. Only then do they leave him be.
The Rook remains, always alone, takes up the rest of his leisurely leaning with rubbing at the black patch on the left side of his chest that covers his hidden emblem – the telltale emblem we all conceal to protect our identities. This hidden emblem is the only remnant left of our previous lives, much too precious to discard.
The Rook, he is small, and it isn’t long before some enterprising youth or brawler drunk off wine and the revelry of pockets fresh with coin spots the midsword strapped to his side and sidles over for a closer look.
His thin frame draws these types like a corpse draws maggots, and they spit challenges that slowly get more venomous each time he returns with nothing more than a steady gaze and a mouthful of silence. They don’t realize that he never speaks, that I, nor any of the others in our crew, have ever heard him speak. They’re just looking to tussle off some stress and he appears to be an easy candidate for such a thing.
Nine and I watch from our table as his accoster becomes increasingly agitated, until eventually Shades strikes a line across the establishment to the Rookie’s location in hopes of stealing some action for himself, which never works because his size only serves to intimidate these antagonists into submission.
But on this occasion, the antagonist’s courage is bolstered by the knowledge that his five colleagues will reinforce him, so he asks Shades what the Rook’s problem is.
“I’m just here trying to carry on a friendly conversation and your friend here seen fit to act in a most disrespectful manner.”
“I’m telling you to leave well enough alone,” says Shades.
“You tryin to save your friend an ass whippin?”
“I’m saving you one. He don’t want to fight you, but if you keep at it like you are, he will.”
“Why don’t he tell me that then?”
“By the time he tells you himself, it’s already too late. And you won’t like the way he tells you.”
Shades gives it a moment to let the statement sink in a bit and then shrugs. “Your friends is gonna hate you right shortly.” Then he walks back towards the rolg player and joins him in song, calling for the barmaid to come and wet his mug again.
The antagonist turns his attention back to the Rook and ends up with his ass busting through a table when he tries to put his hand on the Rook’s blacked over emblem. Nine and I kick back as his five friends jump to it, a couple of them dumb enough to expose daggers while the rest of the place goes quiet except for Shades saying how this is the part where they all should’ve listen to him.
The Rook sizes up his five new surroundings with a glance and resumes his nonchalant stance on the other side of their daggers, not bothering for even a second to consider the midsword at his side.
The first stands redfaced and dusts himself off, then slings a fist through the dimness at the Rook’s head, which shifts a knuckle’s width aside to let the fist slide by right into the backwall, the Rook smiles, and moments later all five of the rest are wondering how their faces came to be acquainted with the floor.
The Rook resumes leaning against the wall and waits, offering surrender or another go at it. They opt for surrender.
Next thing a surly fellow in bright red garb runs over to express his astonishment at the dazed cabal, and I deduce through his censure that he has recently agreed to employ these men to perform security detail for a selection of his wares on the morrow, but that this demonstration has caused him to second-guess their abilities to adequately perform such a duty. It is then that I make my introduction and, thanks to the Rook, acquire our next job.
We leave for Arper in the morning with a deposit 60 percent higher than our standard asking price. I think I will pay the Rook a little extra this go around.
Be sure to check out more stories from The Everwind Series here.
Official Home Page for Daniel Donche: everwindtimes.com
The Official Page for Janden Hale: jandenhale.com