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Unread 2nd of May, 2007, 12:05
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·····Subchapter 10a - Song and Blood

The Inn taproom was smoke filled and crowded, rotting straw decorating the floor and rude tables with the bark still attached clustered closely together. Nicos had performed in locations like this regularly when he had just been starting his career, even though he didn't need it to defend himself it was in these locals that he learnt to always carry a dagger strapped to his boot. A visible blade did much convince potential trouble to find amusement elsewhere.

The evening's entertainment and the reason he was sitting on a stool in the corner of the Rat's Nest walked into a clear - if not clean - space in one end of the room with an instrument in one hand. A few heads turned to watch her but the noise emanating from the crowed barely dropped in recognition, causing Nicos repress a smile. In places like this you need to work hard to earn the attention of a crowd more interested in drinking then anything else.

The performer was a young women, of either her late teens or very early twenties, thin with long dark red hair pulled back in a ponytail. Dressed in a woollen shirt dyed black with bluehighlights, a grey blouse and a black coat, she cut a striking figure in the crowd of men dressed in rough mud splattered work clothes. To her credit if the young lady was perturbed by being ignored she didn't show it, instead she simply picked up her instrument and began to play a tune to accompany her singing. In this corner Nicos leaned back and with half closed eyes and settled in to listen, the rest of the noisy crowd washing over him unnoticed.

Many minutes later at the end he opened his eyes, satisfied with what he heard. She had the potential to go a long way in the trade, all she needed was experience and the luck to last long enough to get it. As his focus spread from the now silent performer collecting the scattering of coins thrown her way, a conversation at a nearby table with three mud splattered workmen grabbed his attention.

"Ya like tha music Rug?"
"Ya have'n said a word all night'."
"Ha! Ya do like her, bit skinny for me. Buy her a drink, I won' tel ya misses if ya wan' someting on tha side."
"Ha ha! If ya won buy'er a drink I will!"
"Jon, Jon si' down an' shuddup."

Nicos glanced over at the young performer who was now starting to make her way toward the nearby exit, noted that she wasn't carrying a weapon and began scanning the crowd for her backup. Some people people don't like ruining a carefully constructed appearance by having a weapon at hand, so the favourite alternative to do then is have a backup hidden away in the crowd who can step in if trouble starts. Being able to fight well in these situations is secondary to looking meaner then everyone else put together, leading some people to consider the job as much an art as the performance itself.

"Hey lass!" the drunken workman yelled out as his companions tried to quiet him, lurching to his feet he stumbled into the path of the young performer and grabbed her arm. "M'friend wannsa have a talk with ya."

"Let go of my arm," the young women replied in an even tone of voice and an unreadable expression.

With a last frantic glance around the room full of people ignoring the confrontation, Nicos reluctantly concluded that if she had a backup he had long since lost interest. With a sigh the bard adjusted the sword at his side and stood up, he had played the role in the past and knew what to do, but missing an arm and not bulking large in size attempts to intimidate usually failed leaving the confrontations to turn ugly.

"Weer just bein' friendly-like," the workman said not letting go. "Wuts ya problem?"

"Jon shuddup," one of his still sitting companions called out.

"I said let go," the young women repeated.

"Ah there you are," Nicos said with a smile approaching the group.

"Buddy, this is a private convorsation," the offending workman said to to the bard.

"The lady doesn't seem to want to take part in it," Nicos said, his smile turning into a grin. "If you want to talk to someone so badly, why not let her go and talk to me instead?"

"Oh," the workman said, letting go of the young woman's arm to stand an inch away from the bard. "Are ya going ta make me?"

The two men stood silently facing each other, the workman glowering and the bard smiling in a pleasant manner. At the table the two sitting men stirred and Nicos silently cursed, if it came to a fight he would have to try and deal with all three of them at once. The stand off continued unabated, neither man willing to back down or make the first move, until finally the young women who was waylaid broke the stalemate.

"Oh this is pathetic," she exclaimed. "You seem so enthralled with each other, should we leave you two alone to get better acquainted?"

A chorus of weak laughs emerged from the nearby tables at the joke and the tension that had been growing ebbed away. Fishing a coin out of a pocket the women tossed it onto the table.

"Buy yourselves a round on me, I-" she said, glancing at Nicos them quickly correcting herself. "-We have to be somewhere."

Grabbing him by the shoulder, the young women propelled Nicos towards the exit while he gave a friendly wave to the man he had narrowly avoided a fight with.

"You didn't need to do that, I had it under control," the young women said.

"Oh I'm sorry," Nicos replied in an amused tone. "Should we go back so I can reintroduce you?"

"Never mind," she said with a grudging smile. "Thank you anyway."

"Thank you for getting me out of a fight," the bard said extending his hand. "I'm Nicos."

"I know," the women said as they passed through the exit. "I've seen you perform, I'm Lynn."
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Unread 2nd of May, 2007, 12:22
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"What bought you to a place like The Rat Nest - besides trying to pick fights?" Lynn asked as the pair passed through the exit into the chill Enderin night. "That place seems a bit rough to be your regular - no offence."

"Hey I could have taken him," Nicos said in an injured voice.

"I'm sure," she replied in a tone dripping with sarcasm. "Really, why were you there?"

"You actually."

"Me?" She said with a dry tone of shock, pausing under a spluttering street lantern that dropped a pool of flickering amber light on the abandoned street. "I knew I'm good but I didn't expect that I would get a fan club this early in my career. Should I expect the rest of my fans to make the impression you did?"

"I doubt that, I like to think that I'm- AHH!"

A crossbow bolt flew out of the darkness cutting Nicos off mid-sentence. The world seemed a disinteresting place as he hit the floor, the burning pain in his shoulder a small thing and somewhere in the distance he dimly heard Lynn shouting unintelligible words. It all sharply came back as she pulled him to his feet and the pain from the wounded shoulder exploded in an agony that left him gasping and blinded by tears. Moments later, without quite being aware of how they arrived there, the pair ducked down the entrance to a narrow alleyway and collapsed against one of the walls.

"Shit, shit, shit," Lynn swore viciously, alternating her attention from where the bleeding bard lay and the entrance of the alley, holding a long slender and very sharp looking knife that previously had been hidden somewhere under her clothes.

"You do have weapon after all," Nicos murmured still half in shock from the sudden attack.

"Shit," the young woman continued, finally kneeling besides the wounded man. "Shit this isn't good."

"Lynn," Nicos tried to interrupt her, struggling into a sitting position and gritting his teeth against the pain.
"What the hell happ-" she continued.
"Lynn just ta--"
"Gods you're bleeding all over-"
"Lynn calm dow-"
"They will be here any mome-"

Lynn looked at Nicos with wide eyes, caught halfway between panic of a moment before and shock at his sudden outburst. In the silence that followed the gentle noises of a city at night drifted over them, voices from the nearby tavern blurred together in an unintelligible mess, buildings creaking as they settled in the chilly air, a dog barking in the distance.


"Shh," the bard said with a held up hand, shutting his eyes for a second against a new wave of pain. "Listen."

"What? They could be here any mo-"

"Listen," he repeated. "What do you hear?"

"Umm.." Drawn back into a semblance of calm by Nicos' tone, Lynn cocked her head to the side, taking in the sounds of the city. "Nothing, they must be sneaking up-"

"They're not," Nicos dismissed. "If they were going to jump us up close they would have done so already. If it was a lone sniper then he might wait around a minute to see if we pop up again, but it's more likely he'll have left in case we have friends nearby."

"How do you know?"

"Hush a second," Nicos muttered, taking his hand and probing at the wound in his shoulder. The resulting pain escaped his lips in a soft whimper and left the bard drenched in sweat, there were cantrips - simple songs and melodies which could dull pain - but there was no opportunity to use one here.

"You know that it was a lone sniper because it's the only thing that fits what happened," Lynn said slowly, her knife returned to its hidden hiding place, watching Nicos' self examination with concerned eyes. "So you know what they'll do because it's the only smart thing to do ... right?"

"Right," Nicos said, slumping against the wall and shutting his eyes again.

"How did you work that out so quickly, and while you're hurt so badly."

"Experience," the bard murmured softly. "After enough close calls you learn to pay attention and think quickly." It was strange, despite the cold night he felt very warm and comfortable leaning against the brick wall of the alley. Even the pain in his shoulder had started to fade, it seemed as if just shut his eyes and drifted away then everything would be alright.

"So what do we do now? Nicos? ... Nicos!"

Jerked back to the present by what felt like a tremendous shaking, Nicos opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He immediately regretted the latter, as it set his wounded shoulder off again in a way that reminded the bard of a similar injury, an injury he would sooner forget.

"Nicos, are you alright?"

"I'm fine," he lied automatically, blinking away the tears that had appeared. "Now we get off the street and to somewhere safe. Do you think you can help me to my apartment?"

"Yes sure," Lynn said, slinging the man's arm over his shoulder and helping him stand with a grunt of effort. "Where do you live?"

"Over by ... by ... in Millers Road," Nicos said, trying to concentrate through the disorientation the sudden movement had caused in his head.

"That's a fair bit away, my place is close. We'll go there."

"What? Your place? Okay, that ... that'll work."

"Are you sure you're okay?" Lynn asked again as they set off into the night with a shuffling awkward walk.

"I'm not going to bleed to death or anything, just - just don't let me fall asleep."

"You better not fall asleep," Lynn replied with a forced light tone. "A beautiful young maiden invites the infamous Nicos to her quarters only for him to fall asleep? Your reputation would never recover."

"There is that," Nicos said with a smile - the first since the ambush. "Did you ever hear the story of Able Roberts the Baker?"
Unread 28th of June, 2007, 00:55
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"So there I was, a reproduction of the classic Silven Forest in one hand and the shredded remains of my pants in the others."

Lynn's laughter echoed through across the dark empty streets of Enderine, the silvery pearl of joy a counter part to the bloodsoaked bard half slung over her shoulders.

"What did you do then?" the young women asked, her curiosity only half feigned.

"What could I do?" Nicos replied with a shrug, wincing as the movement tore at his wound. "I decided I'd over stayed my welcome and slipped out of town that same night."

"That's a terrible story," Lynn said as they walked up a side street and paused before a narrow wooden door. "This is me, hang on while I unlock it."

Lynn's place was - to put it diplomatically - small. A 10 foot square room dominated the place, an unmade bed jammed into one corner, a dresser painted a garish yellow and purple and an ancient and frail looking table and chair. On top of everything was a mess of random items, clothing, parchment, and empty bottles. A darkened door way in one wall led off to somewhere else. Half-carrying Nicos over to the bed, Lynn placed him on it then stood back to look apprehensively at the blood soaked tunic.

"Maybe I should go get a healer ... " she offered tentatively.

"Never mind that," Nicos said gruffly as he cut away the tunic to exam the hole in his shoulder.

"It's not just a scratch."

"I noticed that myself," Nicos said. The crossbow bolt that had caused the wound had been knocked loose at some point during the events, accounting for the large amount of blood lost. While it might have been better for it to stay, it was too late to do anything about it. "Do you know 'The Green Morn'?" he suddenly asked his unexpected host.

"I - what?"
"Do you know how to play it?"
"Ofcourse I do, everyone does."
"Play it for me."
"What? Now?"
"I'm going to go find a healer."
"Lynn no," Nicos said reaching out a bloodied hand. "I'm asking for a little trust, try this my way. Please."

The young women stood over the wounded bard indecisively, then picked up her instrument and say down on a stool. "Okay, but after this I'm getting you a damn healer."

"Don't make promises you won't keep," Nicos said with a smile as he layed back and shut his eyes, letting the simple tones of the ancient tune wash over him. Like many cultures the ancient human legends, tales and songs 'The Green Morn' had been borrowed from an older-still culture, this one an elvish song. So when he began singing along to the tune it was in an elven and magical form.

The words flowed forth in the inhuman tongue, and a rainbow of lights flashed in the bard's mind. Arcane energy not meant to be manipulated and channelled by humankind coursed through him, causing his body to arch in a twisted mixture of agony and bliss. Moments stretched to hours as days collapsed into seconds, causing his senses to spin, split and reassemble in a dizzying array.

The song ended and Nicos lay on the bed gasping, soaked through with sweat. A hard absolute silence dominated the room as Lynn looked at the bard, and the new pink flesh that but minutes ago had been a ragged wound.

"That was ... was ..." the young woman said, looking at Nicos with something between awe and suspicion.

"It was efficient, if draining," Nicos commented while exaiming the completely healed wound.

"You can perform magic?" Lynn half blurted half accused.

"I know some mages who would argue that definition," Nicos said wryly. "What some consider magic others consider something totally else. I just call it a trick, a useful trick that I've had to use far too frequently of late."

"You can heal yourself? Lynn said, the accusation draining from her voice.

"Sometimes," Nicos said, rolling his shoulder and pleased to discover that there was no residual stiffness. "Why, should I start getting ready to be lynched for witchcraft."

"No, nothing like that," Lynn said drawing into herself as if mentally considering something. "You said it's just a trick?"

"A useful and fairly complicated one, but yes."

"Could anyone do it?"

"Maybe not everyone," the bard considered, pulling himself to his feet. "I'm no expert but I think more people could do it then is commonly believed."

"Do you think that," Lynn said her voice retaining an edge of contemplation. "Well, could you teach me to do that?"

"Well now," Nicos said with a half smile as he looked at the attractive young women who had invited him into her home. "Why don't we talk about that?"
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Unread 28th of June, 2007, 00:55
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"I'm not going to sleep with you."

"What?" Nicos said with shock. "I never-"

"I know your reputation," Lynn interrupted. "I just want to get that out in the open. No sex."

"Well if you know my reputation, then you know what I'd think of ultimatum like that," Nicos said slyly. "They're not the most effective way of getting your point across."

"Yeah but you'll be amazed at how dragging someone's bleeding body through the dark streets will kill any chance of romance."

"Ah that," the bard commented in mock anger. "Curse my frail mortal body. So you want to learn magic."

"It seems interesting," the young woman said with feigned disinterest. "I mean, you don't see it very often."

"This isn't the best way to do it," Nicos shook his head. "Look if you want to learn to use magic I can introduce you to some people who would be willing to teach you, it's a lot of study ..."

"No, they're - it's not really the thing."

"- or I know of some religious orders that aren't too horrific that use something similar to magic?"

"No, I like ... living like this. My life. Singing, playing, living. I don't want to give it up, even for the chance to learn how to use ... do we have to call it magic? It sounds so stupid, like something from a child's story."

"Let me know if you come up with a better term," Nicos commented dryly. "Look I don't really know how to use magic. I've just picked up a few tricks along the way, most are absolutely useless - want to know how to change your hair colour? And I've never tried to teach anyone before, even if you could learn I don't know if I could teach it."

"While you're trying you could give me a few singing lessons in the meantime."

"You could use them. Look we can spend some time and I'll see if there is anyway I could teach you, just keep in mind that this is new to me and it might be beyond both of us."

"It should be fun in any case," Lynn said. "Your reputation says that much, even if I won't sleep with you."


Hours later as the first, faint pink traces of dawn brushed the eastern horizon and the city began to stir, a pair of bards furtively crept out into the shadow drenched streets.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Lynn breathed into Nicos' ear as she tried her best to be invisible at his side.

"We have to get to somewhere safer," Nicos answered softly, trying to watch everything at once. "If the assassin is out here he'll soon get desperate enough to try breaking in anyway."

"You're right about that much at least," a mysterious, hate filled voice said loudly. Spinning about, the bards were in time to see a man step from the shadows with a naked blade in hand. "And so it ends, Nicos!"

"You!" the one-armed bard said, falling back into dramatics to cover his surprise. Looking the man over, the bard noted the quality clothes and trendy hairstyle marred by what seems to be mud and derbies of a night lying on the street. The sword in his hand was gold inlaid but looked very functional for all its fancy as it rested it hand that held it in comfort. Digging franticly though his mind however, Nicos could not find hint, scent or clue to who the man was.

"Could you give me some help here?" he added in a mocking conspiratorial tone. "I can't remember who you are."
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Unread 28th of June, 2007, 00:55
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"You might not remember me, but you will remember Cyrinthia. My name is Aretho Bertayo, you killed my sister. Prepare to die."

"Woah woah woah!" Nicos exclaimed holding up his hand. "Cyrinthia Bertayo? Red hair, about so tall, engaged to Lord Fuo? I didn't kill her, she was alive and well last I saw her and that was some time ago!"

"You killed her as surely as if you had held the blade yourself," Aretho said through hate clenched teeth, brandishing his sword. "I know what you did to her, everyone does. She was soon to be wed but you couldn't leave well enough alone. You ... you ... bed her, took her innocence. Fuo found out and called off the wedding, she was in scandal, her life ruined and killed herself from the shame. All because of you."

"And you're here to avenge her with my blood I take it?" Nicos said trying to gauge the man's mood and intention. "I don't suppose you would listen if I said she made her own choices."

"She was a victim of your lechery!" Aretho exclaimed. "And deserves vengeance!"

"Well in that case there's only one thing I can add," Nicos said in an off hand manner. "She enjoyed it."


"You think I took her innocence?" the bard commented with scorn. "You think I seduced her? You're a fool! Your sister was a willing, eager part of what happened. She wanted it, she moaned my name as I took her on Fuo's bed."

"Shut up!"

"Nicos?" Lynn said uncertain.

"Innocent? Ha!" Nicos continued heedless of the man's growing rage and Lynn's confusion. "The things she let me do to her, eagerly suggesting them, things twisted beyond your imagination. I took nothing from her that hadn't been taken by dozens of-"

"I'll kill you!"

Driven past the point of rage by the bard needling, Aretho leapt forward fuelled by reckless anger. Reacting as if it was what he expected, Nicos leant aside so the blow went wide, drawing his own sword in the process and flicking it at the man's face. Yet for all of Aretho's rage, his reflexes remained true and he dodged, taking the edge of the sword alone on an ear.

"Watch out there," Nicos said with a wicked smile. "When you play with knives you sometimes get cut."

"I tried hiring an assassin to kill you," Aretho said, drawing his anger back under control. "I even tried shooting you from the dark, but this is what I should have done from the start. Face to face, taking the pleasure of seeing you die slowly on my own blade."

"Those are strong words for the brother of a drunken harl-"

With a cry Aretho leapt at the bard again, feinting a blow at his head before launching a crippling swipe to the knees that Nicos barely blocked. High, low, left, right, Aretho's sword moved in a golden blur almost too fast to see as Nicos was forced to retreat step after step, picking up a light cut on his cheek and a bruise on his hip before his opponent extended an attack too far allowing the bard time to slam his sword hilt into the man's chest, driving him back.

The pair stood panting on the empty predawn street, an unspoken moment of truce in the duel to the finish. Watching the man watch him with hate filled eyes; Nicos felt a shiver of fear crawl up his spine. In a straight duel the man's talent far outweighed his, there was a strong possibility that the bard would not walk away from this encounter.

"And to think," Aretho spat. "Cyrinthia was taken by someone as pathetic as you, not even a real man, half a man, a cripple who-"

Giving a cry of his own as a blinding rage arose to cloud his wits, Nicos leapt forward with all the speed the gods granted him. Barely brushing aside the man's sword, he exchanged a cut along his ribs for moving close enough to deliver a thundering head butt, sending his enemy staggering backwards.

"Cripple?!" Nicos screamed at Aretho as he hacked blows at the man's face and throat. "HALF-MAN?! I was more then enough for your slut sister! Did she kill herself out of shame or because she knew I didn't want her anymore? That she would never know touch as good as me again? Surrounded by pathetic excuses like you? Is that you hate me, that after me she wouldn't let you touch her anymore?"

Back and forth the pair moved, shouting insults and taunts to make even the most battle hardened mercenary pale at the implications. Hatred grew and flowed in the dark street as the moments passed, words that could never be undone were exchanged in a fight that would only end in the death of one or the other. Aretho drove his blade at Nicos' exposed left again and again until the bard had a second cut crossing the first on his ribs that ebbed his strength away. Nicos used derision and dirty tricks to move past the superior guard of his opponent, too far gone in rage to call forth arcane aid, until the man sported a deep wound on his leg that wept blood at a furious rate and limited his movements. Blow after blow, after cut, after riposte, parry, kick, punch, and bite were exchanged as arms grew heavy and energy faded until the conflict carried on by nothing more by hatred.

In the end, Aretho's rage proved the stronger. Nurtured and stoked for years, it served its master true and mere minutes after the duel began Nicos' sword went skidding over the cobblestone street as the bard collapsed to the ground, exhausted, bloody and beaten. Standing over his fallen foe, though no less bloody or exhausted, Aretho draw back his blade for one final swing.

"So you come to a better end then you deserve."
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Unread 28th of June, 2007, 00:55
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Time slowed, moments stretched and distorted as death descended upon him. The predawn sky highlighted the crimson stained blade as it played a sanguine light over the swelling fog that surrounded him, a testimony to the blood spilled and an omen of what was yet to come. In a desperate still functioning part of his mind, Nicos refused to believe that this was how it would end. He struggled to move impossible heavy limbs, to roll, to cry out, to do something - anything - to avoid the inevitable fate declining towards him.

In his mind's eye, images of his life flashed before him. A small garden of frustration. A white gold ring of history. Rotten straw of despair. The hot fire of loss. Silver hair of love. Weathered face of respect. The lure of unknown adventure. Red hair of passion. All and more flowed past in the blink of an eye along with the realisation that this was how he was going to die, in the empty dark street on the end of a vengeful sword.

Then fate shifted and the future changed, Aretho's blow went wide as he stumbled forward, revealing Lynn behind him. Forgotten in the heat of the moment, she had silently moved around and behind the combatants, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. With an ugly expression adorning her normally appealing face, she pulled her blade from his back. The moment's distraction and sudden hope was all Nicos needed, lashing out with a foot to send the already unsteady man to the floor, a roll and the bard regained his feet his sword once help in a hand sticky with sweat and blood.

Kicking Aretho's dropped sword to the side, Lynn hefted her own blade, a silent question to her fellow bard, leaving the choice of how to finish it to him.

"No let him be," Nicos shook his head. "Your blow was deep and he might not survive it on his own. He might not want to." Leaning down with a wince, he spoke to the man with a low, intimate voice. "Aretho for all you blame me for Cyrinthia's death, there's more to it then that. Where were you when she was in need? I made her no promises I wouldn't keep, but you were her brother. Where were you?"

Standing upright again, he learnt his weight heavily upon the young women besides him as the aristocrat looked up with pain glassed eyes. "Cyrinthia's death is one too many in this whole affair. I won't kill you. I won't end this. What happens next is up to you, if you come after me again we'll finish it then. But my death won't remove your guilt or self loathing, that you will have to do yourself."

With a final shake of his head, Nicos turned and limped off into the predawn city.

"Is life with you always this ... interesting?" Lynn's dry voice was heard to echo back to where Aretho lay, eyes beginning to well with tears.

"Like this?" Nicos replied sounding shocked. "No, sometimes there are ogres."
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