Book II - Chapter 34

Chapter 34

 

[Oeth]

 

Oeth was unpleasantly surprised when the Mage took a lucky step on the first arrow, but after the bitch had summoned a full-blown [Barrier] he was downright furious.

His contract hadn't said anything about that.

In fact, the contract had glossed over the Magic-user's details with a brief sentence. One scribble, which labeled them an "Academy reject."

A reject.

After ordering ten men to waste their effort hacking at a frozen wall, Oeth was just about ready to call the contract a steaming crock of shit. If this was just some run-of-the-mill failure from the Academy training fields, he'd chew on his own sword. What made matters worse, though?

The woman didn't even have the god-damn decency to die.

Like some sort of manic, capable of throwing spells around with poison and shafts sticking out of them, the [Barrier] just wouldn’t fucking break. Somehow, she was still resisting.

Oeth knew his trade. Red ink contracts were his bread and butter in the Mercenary Guild, and the recent times were hardly hindering this. He'd cut down plent of men, plenty of warriors or would-be or self-proclaimed Mages, and front a hit like that: the woman was dying.

Good as gone.

Even if she'd turned by luck, she was bleeding and poisoned by a solid hit to what was likely a major artery under her shoulder. Still, there she was: clinging to that staff, crystal glowing. For whatever reason, the Mage was still fighting. All the way down to the bitter end.

He had to respect that, in a way.

He might not be leading the cream of the crop, but it was rare for a target to cause Oeth's team so much trouble.  These men were no greenhorns. Each and every one of them had been picked out, or trained up, under Oeth's watchful eyes: and they were very good at what they did.

As planned in case of resistance, the secondary target, the Healer, had already been forced to abandon his companion. Now, the boy was pitifully attempting to stop Oeth’s forward team. The men he’d sent around to cut off any chance of escape, once he realized the Mage was still breathing. Irritating as Faith magic might be, half-formed [Barrier] could be broken the second they managed to solidify. There was nothing left that could keep his men from making their way through- and even if there was? Mana always ran out eventually.

In Oeth's experience, it was just a matter of “when.”

Which left one loose end.

The unpredicted variable.

Apparently unimportant enough to be left off the kill-list, the only real resistance remaining was the spearman. Cloak-wearing, shorter fellow- for a warrior. Even if they were halfway-decent, Oeth's men outnumbered them by a dozen, though. Once the Mage lost control of their spell, Oeth's men would skewer the them in short notice.

That was all that really seemed to be left at this point. Best warrior in the world, but rush them with enough men who knew their way around a balde, and the tables would turn. Few quick steps before Oeth could put their heads in the sack and collect the gold. 

Sweet, sweet gold.

Honestly, he was surprised the third member of this party hadn't just made a run for it. Would have been the smart thing to do, considering they'd had the chance.

For a minute there, Oeth had seen them ignore a perfectly clear window, before his men came around from the side street. Then, though it might have been a sprint, they could have just left the Mage, abandoned the boy and made a break for it. If they had headed down the alley and hoped the next corner cut off the chance of an arrow in the back... it was plausible.

Oeth knew that he would have done exactly that, if he'd been in their shoes.

Or their lack of shoes, apparently.

Had they had really been walking barefoot, in these alleys?

He wrinkled his nose in disgust. Maybe, they were so desperate for the job that they couldn't run after-all. Compared to the other two he almost pitied them, but job was a job: it had to be done right. Unlucky as they were, this was the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps if they'd tried to run, he might have let them - but, they hadn't, and Oeth's generous mood had long since faded.

Faded, because somehow that Mage was still holding that bloody fucking [Barrier]

"Break it down already!" He barked, kicking one of his men in the back to push them into the fray wailing against the frozen wall. "Earn your bloody pay you bastards!"

The shouts returned with an increased pace. Axes and swords slamming against the frozen chill.

That was a real Mage's [Barrier]

Colder than ice, it still stood with wisps of frozen air swirling between the layers that held the massive form upright. Wasn't something you'd see any old day.

"Just a fucking washout..." Oeth muttered. “They had better be paying extra for this.”

Stepping back from the crowd, squinting as he peered through the thinning magic. Somehow, that mage was trying to stand. Wobbling there, legs giving up into a slowly falling lean- right hand clinging to her staff like it was a rope hanging over the depths.

Beside Oeth, one of his archers thumbed another arrow, nocking the piece.

"It's a damn good thing we hit her." Oeth grumbled, as he gave them a signal. "Bitch probably would have half this street on fire, by now."

In response, the archer drew back with a perfect motion and let fly, right towards the Mage's head: shaft disappearing in a flurry of splinters.

The woman behind the wall stumbled. Some of them must have gotten through.

The wall shimmered, then.

"It's coming down!" A larger mercenary in the front of the pack shouted as they found purchase in the magic, ripping it free with a shower of cold. "We're coming for you! Hear me?"

They were finally making headway. Oeth could see that axes seemed to be particularly effective, and he finally let himself grin; gold teeth glinting as one of his men broke through the first layer of the magical barricade.

A slow chill pooled out from it, like blood from a wound.

Strong as it was, the wall was finally crumbling, and in the far distance he could see the healer all but flailing with their faith magic: they had them right where they needed to be.

"Any second now, men!" Drawing his sword, Oeth raised a shout as he turned towards the archers. "Let them have it!"

Thick quivers began to empty, shafts zipping past as they smashed further cracks and gaps on the failing structure. A sword smashed through and out the other side, ripping free with a gust of misty wind as they cackled with laughter. Hundred gold a head had never been so easy.

Still, there was still that one object of concern.

The one with the spear was facing them now, and they'd dropped their cloak. Slender, but graceful- a woman, then? Woman, but with a spear...

Oeth's eyes narrowed as the The weapon in their hands moved at a terrible speed.

Not just any woman.

The weapon abruptly ceased its motion, as it drove itself into the stone with a horrible "crack" that rang clearly through the failing barrier. The ground beneath the spear shattered.

Oeth let out a silent curse as his men slowed their assault on the barrier, several taking a cautious step back. Some of them glanced back over their shoulders, looking back to Oeth for explanation, as the spear-user threw her head back in a bout of mad-laughter. Behind her, Oeth could see that the Mage had somehow managed to stand, bloodied arm flexing as it once again planted itself on the glowing staff.

Just his luck, on both counts. They had to deal with a lunatic, and the Mage still wasn't dead. It was one unpleasant surprise after another today, but Oeth knew it was they still had the numbers. Besides, standing or not, that Mage wasn't about to cast anything impressive after burning their stamina.

The lull was only inturrupted by the desperate chanting of the Healer, still behind them.

"Alright! You lot, we do this right!" Oeth shouted, signaling towards his archers once more as the men up front took several paces back. "Let the arrows deal with them! Get ready to deal with that spear!"

With a rush of cold he watched as the final crumble of the Mage's [Barrier] began to splinter, heavy mist pooling out like a lazy waterfall that settled about their feet. Behind it, the two figures were completely shrouded, but he knew it was nothing more than open air between them now. Nothing else remained to stop the inevitable.

"Ready your shots." Oeth growled, shouldering his weapon as the archers prepared. "Hit the Mage first if you can."

In the mist, he thought he saw the slightest hint of movement, before a voice hollered back.

"Surrender!"

A heavy accent. Oeth wondered idly why he couldn't place it, as the Spear-wielder strode out from her temporary cover of the mist. Her spear casually pointed in his direction as she shouted once more.

"Surrender, or die!"

Bravado when being faced down by a brutal death.

Wherever the accent hailed from, she was a foreigner, it seemed. Tan skin, exotic features- without that mess of a cloak, Oeth might consider her a beauty.

Quite the shame, wasting something like that in times like these.

On their shoulder, Oeth saw a blue serpent, which seemed to be rearing back with a loud hiss.

"Is that a fucking Basilisk?" One of the archers muttered. "Who in their right mind would get even get near one of those bloody things?"

"Some sort of tamer, maybe? Just stick it with an arrow." Another replied, lifting their shot. "Bet you silver I hit it first."

"Two silvers, and done."

Beside Oeth, their bows both twanged: arrows zipped towards the small blue target and-

As if a leviathan from the depths, it swallowed the street whole. Swirling, burning, expanding in a wave that crashed against the stone, the ground, the walls: it spread until it had engulfed all with horrible heat.

Green.

That was the last thing Oeth saw, before he realized he was screaming.