Debts: Part 1
By: Jamie Bruce
This story was originally submitted to Mythic!
The cut was not deep, but still the blood pulsed from the cut vein and ran thickly into Vertus' eye. His view obscured, the world blurred through the red fog; Vertus swung the blade wildly. As often happens when the adrenaline courses like a dragon through the body, the world slowed. The blade wobbled at the apex of it's arc, it's imperfections obvious now - the rusted and pitted metal un-balancing the sword, the nicks and cuts in the blade blunted it's killing edge and the wrapping on the handle was coming unbound, the roughness of the wood underneath grinding on Vertus' palm, making the grip slick with his blood.
Vertus was drunk - again. The dwarf Kharzon slammed his hammer on the table, bouncing Vertus' head into the air. It hit the table with a thump and Vertus sprang upright in his chair, his eyes snapping open. "Whazzat?" he blinked slowly and worked his jaw, rubbing the rough stubble on his chin and blowing a belch.
"You're drunk." Kharzon's accent lilted the words and Vertus took a moment to filter them through his muzzy head. "I am. I have drunk much beer, and so I am drunk. You, master dwarf, are a master of osber- osver- observation." Vertus' hand curled around the mug in front of him, and he attempted to lift it to his mouth. He sucked on the rim for a few seconds before his shoulders slumped and he threw the empty mug to the rushes. "'S empty."
"So?" Another man had walked over to the table. He glanced briefly at Kharzon's hammer and slid onto the bench across from the dwarf and his drunken friend - now slumped artfully in a puddle of beer, his head resting on his arms. The man was robed in dark colors, the cloth worked exquisitely with minute strands of silver thread into fantastic twists and whorls that writhed across the garment like restless spirits. His hands were manicured and his nails sharpened to a point, a single silver ring on the smallest finger on his left hand bore an ebony cartouche with an ivory design worked into it; a large bird, one wing upraised, it's beak open wide - the mark of the White Raven. "I take it the job went well?"
Kharzon looked steadfastly down at the table, twisting the hammer's handle in his hand. "That's not-" "No!" Vertus interrupted, "We lost it." Kharzon's face screwed up into a grimace, barely hidden by his thick beard.
"You lost it?" the man inhaled slowly and rubbed forefinger and thumb across his eyes. He waved his other hand lazily and two heavily armed thugs stepped out of the shadows. They bounced clubs in their hands and smiled the cruel smiles of men who knew what they were capable of and were getting well paid for it. "You do realize what that item was worth?"
The dwarf shook his head slowly, the rings in his hair and beard jingling quietly. Vertus flapped his hands on the table and mumbled something incoherent. "That book was worth well over the sale price of this entire," the man searched for the word, "establishment, and the combined possessions of all it's patrons." he pushed back the stool and stood upright, the two thugs flanking him menacingly. "We will require reimbursement."
The first thug moved fast, swinging the club up behind his head and back down in one fluid motion, straight towards Vertus' head. The second was not far behind, moving to Kharzon's blind-side and whipping his weapon around at shoulder-height at the base of the dwarf's skull. Vertus' head snapped up and his arms flew to the short-swords at his belt. The club smashed down into the table, splintering the wood where Vertus' head had been moments before. His hands came up; swords flashing brightly in the candlelight and crossed in front of the thug's startled face.
Kharzon already had his hammer in his hand, but he wasn't as fast as his friend, drunken or not. He tilted his head back and there was a loud clang as the club smashed into the top of the dwarf's thick helmet. The thug's arm swung back from the force of the hit and whirled him around. Kharzon leapt from his seat and hit the thug in the small of the back, bearing him to the floor where his head hit the beer-stained rushes and thumped on the boards beneath, blood seeping from his busted nose.
Vertus slid off the bench and pushed the thug back into the wall, swords still pushing against the soft skin of the man's neck. "Where did you find these two Maekgar? Your employers are really scraping the bottom of the barrel now." The thug tried to raise his hand, Vertus' blade tapped his wrist faster than the thug would have thought possible. "Drop it." The club hit the floor. Vertus released the pressure on the man's neck and wrist and nodded towards the door. The thug nodded gratefully in return and bolted, the door slamming behind him.
The well dressed man, the one Vertus called Maekgar, tried to back away and almost tripped over the crude bar at the back of the inn, spilling someone else's drink. He raised his hands and tried to ward off the suddenly quite sober Vertus, who was approaching slowly. "We, we, we, are very powerful; you won't get away with this!" Maekgar managed, still trying to move away from Vertus, who raised a sword and grinned darkly, "Wait, ha, maybe, maybe there is something you can do for us, some way you can repay us."
Kharzon appeared behind Vertus, hefting his hammer. "He's right lad," the dwarf growled, "We must repay our debts. These White Raven fellows pay well, and often. It'd be a shame to loose a good client over a misunderstanding?" Maekgar nodded to himself, swallowed and slowed his breathing, "A misunderstanding, yes. Yes. There is, in fact, something we need done. A job that needs doing. The payment is high."
"And you'll take what we owe from that once the job is over?" Vertus' voice was almost a whisper, his eyes narrowed, swords lowered. "Yes, yes. But there will still be some left over - a very well paid job."
Kharzon looked up at his friend, Vertus looked down. They smiled. "We'll do it."
The circling Greenskin was growling bass-tone threats, saliva gurgling in its throat and dribbling from its chin. Its paws were wrapped around two of the crudest looking killing-tools Vertus had ever seen; a log with nails and shards of broken blades at the head made a vicious mace and a huge piece of rough-sharpened steel with a haft of bone fastened with cloth and wire made a giant's cleaver.
Vertus swung out again, lashing out wildly towards the beast's legs. But the Greenskin danced backwards, leering and growling its rumbling taunts. Vertus tried to compose himself; tried to make the pain in his legs lessen, and the fire in his chest go out.
But it was no use. Instead he closed his eyes, immersed himself in darkness, tried to come to terms with the truth; he was going to die.