“Give me a real fight.” Shouted Gueneir as he raised his bloody knuckles to the heavens.
Every solider knew about the arena out in Hogsbreath. Officially it was a place that occasionally had a bit of trouble with hooligans, technically it was an illegal fighting and gambling ring.
It was one of those places that everyone knew about, talked about, and laughed about opening, but no one in authority got around to shutting down because it allowed those in authority to bet, see a man get the shit beat out of him, and bring commerce to a nothing of a town.
It also allowed certain organisations a place to scout out potential people of interest. And if people were going to pummel each other into messy juice it was better in the ring then in the streets.
As there had been a recent war, with lots of men now trained in the arts of killing lesser fortunate men, and few jobs in the area Hogsbreath was seeing a lot of business and a lot of broken bones.
Wars breed bastards like dog shit breed flies.
Up in the loosely maintained stands Sergeant McKellen and one of his more zealous right hand men were keeping an eye out for their prey.
“Couldn’t we have chosen a better vantage point?” Lieutenant Kollkie asked.
McKellen turned to Kollkie. She was a career solider, a woman who had given herself to the fighter’s school the moment she came of age. Like all female solider she had something to prove and didn’t hesitate to bash any man who looked at her wrong.
The army did not discriminate a person’s sex like other foreign lands. If you could wield a sword, swore to the king, and you’re not a coward you were in. easy.
In the army women in the had to work twice as hard to gain half as much respect among their men counterparts, and likewise, men had to work to an impossible level to get a third of that respect from the women.
Kollkie had earned McKellen’s respect a thousand times over, but he still had a few dragons to kill single handed while being blind folded before she would look at him in the same light.
“I would have gotten us better seats. But there appears to be a lot of cloaked individuals who reserved the the corners and shadows.” McKellen said and wasn’t joking.
Every single shadow had at least two shifty individuals trying to push each other of it while trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
In the stands fighters and hooligans were crying and shouting for blood. To McKellen it appeared to be the place you could lose yourself in a crowed.
“Do you see our target, Lieutenant?” McKellen asked.
“No, sir. But he can’t be too far.” Lieutenant Kollkie said and in a lower tone added. “It wasn’t exactly hard to find where he was going.”
It had been painfully clear that their target had lead the pair of them on this merry chase, baiting them and allowing him to follow. All throughout the countryside he had clearly asked every inn keeper and every passer-by where Hogsbreath was.
In itself this did not sound ominous. The target possibly had no knowledge of the surroundings or the countryside. What did strike both Sergeant McKellen and his Lieutenant odd, however, was that the man had travelled all the way from Techscope to Hogsbreath by foot and the trail of bodies their target had left in his wake.
Thieves had been beaten to mangled ruins, and bandits had been hanged by their own shirts from tree limbs.
What was truly disturbing?
Their target did not sleep in any inn. He did not sleep with any wrench, and it appeared as if he did not sleep our shit. The only time he stopped walking was when anyone stupid enough asked him for money and did not take no for an answer.
Those who had survived were clear enough. There were scores of men who were walking the road to Ballymore, each sharing bumps and bruises. They claimed that they may have asked their target for a coin or two and he told them where to get it if they wanted it badly enough.
Now their target was here and McKellen had a sickening feeling as to his goal.
Just when he thought that they had been tricked and that their prey had lured them into a rat’s next for fun, the Lieutenant nodded to an particular looking man in black. “There’s our boy.” Kollkie said.
Gueneir gave a mighty roar before he sent another victim flying.
The announcer running Hogsbreath’s underground fighting ring stood on his chair and acted as if he had just been the one who through yet another of Gueneir opponents out of the ring. “Did you see that folks?” The announcer called out.
“Can anyone defeat Guenier the hammer? Is there no man who is brave enough?”
Though the crowd were hungry for blood no one was willing to donate their bodies to Gueneir’s mercy. The Silth was in his element.
Five hundred pounds of dense bone and muscle, capable of lifting cows over his head, and punching the fangs out of a bear’s mouth, Gueneir was Hogbreath’s reigning champion.
“Excuse me.” Mr Black said as he stood next to the announcer, his voice almost monotone.
The announcer saw the beautiful face of Mr Black and sneered at the man’s clean and well made clothes. “And what are meant to be, ya fucking dandy?”
“My name is Mr Black. I represent a company that is willing to pay good coin along with many benefits for troublemakers and mercenaries.” Mr Black said.
The announcer blinked. Usually this kind of thing happened away from prying eyes. The announcer searched through the ranks of the cloaked men who were most likely searching for fighters to improve their ranks, none of them stood out or objected.
“Kick him out.” Shouted a thug with an eye patch.
An female halfling riding a male Silth with a saddle on his back broke into a laugh. “No. Give him to me to play with.” The the two and a half foot tall woman rubbed her small, gloved hand across her mount’s cheek. “Bitch, here needs another friend to play with.”
Everyone except Mr Black, McKellen, and Kollkie let out a laugh.
“How about you leave here before you get hurt?” The announcer said.
He would have let out a few choice threats and some interesting language enhancers, but from the look of Mr Black attire, the stranger did look as if he had some coin to throw around.
Mr Black turned to the crowed, his mysterious obstructed by a strange black glass visor. “My company is willing to pay twenty silver coins as a signing bonus. We are offering positions in military operations, desk positions, and several other officer positions.”
One of the men in the crowd through his club Mr Black’s head. Mr Black caught the projectile without so much as looking in the other Silth’s direction.
“Understood.” Mr Black said and withdrew five gold coins from his pocket.
The crowd abruptly stopped throwing both threats and whatever they could find in Mr Black’s general direction. The clouds above seemed to part and the sun’s rays glinted off the five fantastic beauties that lay in the dandy’s fingers.
Mr Black took out a scroll from inside his jacket and laid it onto the desk that the announcer had been using.
“Fifty grams of pure gold for anyone who can best me in a fight. Weapons allowed, magic allowed. You lose, you sign up for one year, paid work. You may even kill me if you want. Is this agreeable?” Mr Black asked, having no idea what beast he had just unleashed.
“Shite.” Kollkie muttered and her superior couldn’t agree more.
Mr Black presented the contract to Gueneir. “Do you need a rest?” Mr Black did not phase it as an insult but Gueneir sure did take it as one.
The large brawler snatched up the parchment from Mr Black and didn’t bother to read it, he just wiped some blood from cheek and mashed his thumb onto the scroll, smearing his own blood into the paper. “Good egguff?”
“Yes.” Mr Black said.
Gueneir gave a toothy smile, “Good.”
Pleased with his work, Guenier then went to send his fist into Mr Black’s face.
The crowd raised their beer tankards and put their hands to their mouths to cheer but that was as far as they got when Mr Black deflected the blow with his arm. His arm then snaked its way through Guenier’s newly opened defences and stuck the larger Silth in the throat.
One hand going towards his wounded larynx, Guenier was open to Mr Black punching his ribs, creaking them.
Guenier; acting on primal wounded animalistic impulses, attempted a feral jab and assumed a defensive stance.
In a single flowing move Mr Black caught Guenier’s fist and proceeded to use the larger Silth’s own energy against him.
McKellen tensed up as Mr Black, seemingly without effort, threw Guenier to the ground.
Not allowing his opponent to retaliate, with one hand the well dressed lawyer snatched Guenier by his ankle, lifted the larger Silth up as if he were a toy.
Without displaying emotion or effort, Mr Black brought Guenier down like a club, and McKellen would later swear in his report that the earth seemed to tremble.
The crowd stepped away from the pit, unsure over what they had seen.
“What in the Abyss was that?” Lieutenant Kollkie said, her hands were levitating towards her sword.
Mckellen didn’t answer immediately, he and the audience watched as Mr Black moved to a serving wench and gave her two silver coin.
“Please take Guenier to my cart, and be careful of his ribs. Do not worry, my company has an excellent medical benefits for employees. I would gratefully appreciate any information you have on any participant’s family or charities. As they will receive a percentage of the first week’s pay.”
The wench nodded, her eyes showing terror at Mr Black’s formal and polite tone. Unable to lift the unconscious brawler by herself, the serving elf enlisted the help of her fellow staff members.
Almost inhaling his drink, one Silth in the crowd gave his mates a bump to the shoulder and nodded to the stage. His fellow friends looked dubious until their inebriated companion gave a sinister smile as he drew out his club.
Three more bloodied thumbprints marked Mr Black’s contract.
“Sergeant?” Kollkie said warily.
“Watch him.” Sergeant McKellen said, his voice low and his eyes on the Techscope Lawyer. “Watch his style.”
The Announcer stood on his chair as the crowd exploded into gambling and whispers. “The Dandy is up against three of Curtswell’s own crew. Will the Dandy make another upset?”
Mr Black stood in the middle of the ring, his face blank as three drunk Silth with clubs and knives surrounded him. None of the three looked eager to make the first move, they were waiting for one of their own to make the first sacrifice.
Sensing that his opponents might need more incentive Mr Black pulled out on of his gold coins and taunted the Silth by juggling it on his knuckles.
Greed won over patience as the first of the drunks raised his club and ran for Mr Black which caused the other two to do the same.
As they rushed the Mr Black, the lawyer jumped in the arm spun around with his leg out. All three Silth were kicked in the face.
The gasped at the feat and roared as Mr Black became of blur of kicks. In less than a second he had already landed six blows on one Silth and as the others regained their senses changed targets.
He avoided a club that was being aimed at his head while at the same time backhanding the third Silth.
“I don’t recognise the fighting style.” Kollkie said.
McKellen didn’t comment, he continued to watch.
Mr Black avoided the knifes being aimed at his person. It was as if the three Silth were nothing but children screaming and waving their hands at the wind, the only thing they hit was the air.
Mckellen doubted that ten humans could stand up to these three rouges, drunk or not, and yet Mr Black was dealing was treating all three of them like they were nothing.
The drunkest of the three took out a knife from his boot and went to plunge it into Mr Black’s nose, Mr Black counted this by passing the gold coin in his hand to the drunked.
The drunked caught the gold coin and in his amazement was caught off guard as Mr Black; brought his leg up, connecting his toe with the druck’s chin; and then down nailing the drunk’s forehead; and then up again, hitting the drunk’s chin a second time.
Mr Black caught his coin before the drunk’s broken face hit the ground.
His opponents downed, Mr Black proceeded to juggle his coin, his expression locked in detached boredom. This was not nearly as impressive as Mr Black was performing a full split while playing with his coin, his right leg reaching for the sky while his left kept him on the ground.
Mr Black casually lowered his leg and stood in the centre of the ring, three Silth groaning around him, “Next.” the lawyer said.
“Woah.” Kollkie said as she like everyone in the crowd watched in awe at what had just happened.
Next came two brothers who were identified as the Great Strong and The Greater Spite, local bullies.
Strong managed to take Mr Black’s kick while smiling, he, however, was unable to take his brother’s punch when Mr Black shifted at the last second and avoided having the back of his head punched in.
This had earned a laugh from the crowd, which earned the brothers losing themselves to anger, which resulted in them being laid out flat on the ground, with less teeth than when they entered the ring with.
From out of the throng of stunned spectators a woman in a sensible dress and a sword in her hands came storming into the ring, “All right. All right.”
The she-elf kicked the groaning brothers who held their fractured jaws and shoulders. “Get up. Get up. What do you think you lazy curs are doing?”
She turned her attention towards the well dressed Mr Black who stood, watching her with interest.
Mr Black stood perfectly still as the she-elf waved her sword in his face. “W’at yeh think ya doing?”
“I am offering these people employment.” Mr Black said.
“You are, huh? All I see is you making the good people here black’n blue. See. I’ve got a wee problem with that.” The she-elf said.
“If you have a problem, might I recommend a lawyer.” Mr Black said and turned his head to the serving wenches. “Please take Mr Strength and Mr Spite to my cart.”
“Holdit.” The she-elf ordered.
The wenches stood in place, unsure of what to do.
McKellen watched the ladies’ indecision. In his experience, when coin was to be gained such women were rarely hesitant when collecting it. They were scared of this Silth, and it looked for good reason.
“Is there a problem, ma’am?” Mr Black asked.
The she-elf gave a ghastly smile. “I am no ma’am. Do you know who I am?”
“Kiss’en Kate. Real name: Unknown. Profession: Thief, seductress. Wanted for murder, highway robbery, suspected of poisoning a courier, public urination, impersonating a priestess. Current reward for capture is one hundred and fifty silver coins of Un Neill mint.”
McKellen had this overwhelming sense that things were about to spiral out of control.
The crowd became sour faced, and McKellen felt more than heard the sound of iron and steel being unsheathed. He needed more men, this was going to get bloody.
Kiss’en Kate didn’t bother to cutesy, her eyes twitched to wards the gold coin which Mr Black was still juggling between his knuckles and fingers. “You know me, huh? Mind tell’en me w’at yeh plan to do know t’at you found me, mmm?”
“After huge wars it is common for there to be an increase in crimes. Your country is broke, there is no work. Soon your competition and ranks will triple. The local authorities currently see you as a bounty hunter problem. Eventually, you will disrupt trade, then they will see you as a large problem.”
Kiss’en Kate placed the flat of her blade of Mr Black’s cheek, “And the wanker’s sent you to deal with me early, huh?”
“You have two choices.” Mr Black said. “Techscope hires you and your crew. You will be paid as a mercenary group. You will gain benefits. Techscope will work with the government to get you and your men a pardon for their crimes, within reason.”
“If you survive, you all will be free. Your families will be well taken care of. If you die during a mission your family, or a charity of your choice will be given your pay plus a ten percent bonus.”
There were mummers throughout the crowd.
Kollkie leaned into her Sergeant’s ear. “Can they do that?”
“Normally no, but the government is in disarray. A coup d’état will be a yearly occurrence. I have seen this countless times in the human lands. To a noble, a few pardons for some peasants will be a small price to pay for obtaining a kingdom.”
McKellen was liking this less and less with every second. Techscope was building an private army, fuelled by pardons and built on deserters and thieves. It was a recipe for disaster. These bastards would kill their own fathers for gold, they could not be controlled.
“We need to stop this.” Kollkie said.
A fun thought, but McKellen was curious as to how he and the lieutenant would achieve this without causing an incident.
Perhaps they should ambush Mr Black. Accidents happened all the time on the roads. They needed to slow this recruitment drive down and inform the higher ups.
Kiss’en Kate playfully rolled the idea in her head. “Interest’en. But ‘eres w’at I’m think’en. W’ats stoppen me and me boys here from tak’en that gold of yours?”
Mr Black turned to Sergeant McKellen and Lieutenant Kollkie, who both tensed up. “Sergeant McKellen of the Un Neill, Royal Army. Along with Lieutenant Kollkie, have brought a contingent of soldiers with them. Isn’t that right, Sergeant?”
The crowd turned to both soldiers and McKellen clenched his fists. So much for not being discovered.
Mr Black turned to the bandit queen who was red in the face and looking ready to act on her unsavoury impulse to cut Mr Black’s head off and run.
“Most of your men are deserters and hungry farmers with no experience, Kate.” Mr Black said. “In no circumstance does this end well for you. If you manage to kill me, and avoid the army, which is very unlikely. Your more skittish men will question you. You will be forced to kill them to set an example.”
The men around McKellen and Kollkie were inching away. The bandits looked terrified enough that they were willing to do something stupid.
McKellen drew out his broadsword while Kollkie pulled free her twin hand axes in preparation for a slaughter.
Kate looked like she was now seriously thinking of her chances.
Mr Black tossed his gold coin towards the nearly naked serving wench, who he had paid to move Guenier’s body. “Would you like more of that, Kate?”
The serving wench held up the coin. “What makes you think that I am, Kiss’en Kate?” The she-elf asked.
“Your breasts are out, and yet several people here are trying hard not to look at you. Others are watching you too closely, like you some unattainable prize. Are the soldiers watching the cart still alive? It will be difficult to get your pardon if you killed them.”
The serving wench admired the gold coin further, “Aye, milord. I know better than to be killing the King’s men. Just sleeping while my boys moved your cart somewhere safer.”
“You might not want to move it too far away. The farmer I rented it from for two hours will not be happy if it is not returned.” Mr Black said.
The real Kiss’en Kate snorted and turned her eyes to Mr Black. The lawyer looked no worse for wear, his shoes had few drops of blood on them but other than that there was no sign that he had been in a life threatening situation.
McKellen had a feeling that Mr Black was about to discover why she was called Kiss’en Kate.