Sensitive ears.

For nearly a whole week Jessy had been forced to ride hard through the forests of Un Neill, stopping only to swap horses at the outposts and check in stations.

What meals he had been allowed to indulge in was a fasting of bread, cheese, and water that he would not drink unless it had been boiled beforehand.

What sleep he found was limited to stops to rest the horses and always there was the road.

The group were close now; perhaps a few hours ride to their destination. Jessy could almost make out the tips of large towers, but as they grew closer to sanctuary things became complicated.

The group was carrying a royal family’s ransom, or at least a key part to one ton of 99.99 percent pure gold and news travelled faster than any horse. All it would take would be a single slip and the whole city would burn itself down in civil war.

Money did strange things to people’s moral compasses, things Jessy would like to not to experience if he could help it.

What time is it?” Asked a man who wore the wooden mask of an owl.

By reflex, Jessy rolled up his sleeve and held his thumb over an unusual green vein in his arm.

A set of numbers penetrated his filth lined skin with green luminescence. “3:17.”
Jessy said and quickly rolled down his sleeve, but not quickly enough.

A gloved hand with iron finger nails stitched into the fabric snatched up his arm. “You mind not show’en your trick till we gets to the city, Bear Cub?” A woman hissed through a roughly made mask that loosely resembled a crow.

That was the name Jessy had been given, Bear Cub. Nothing original and almost demeaning, but it suited a purpose as did the masks.

Ease, Crone.” Came the warning tone of a man wearing hooded cloak that somehow shielded his face in an impenetrable wall of shadows. “We all need rest. The boy is unused to the road.”

Jessy knew the man behind the magic hood to be one Sargent McKellen, his protector and guide. He was also the jerk who had been pushing him since they had left for this journey.

The teenager felt miserable, he was ready to pass out from exhaustion, the damp air was freezing his body to a block of ice, and he craved something deep fried and covered with sugar. Jessy was also desperate for a chat but McKellen had voiced against it.

There was an accent on Jessy’s tongue and out here in the wilderness one’s level of paranoia was the difference between a friendly nod and a friendly sword in your gut.

Owl gazed at the large trees which painted the background. “We will be crossing the first checkpoint. The masks will be off and the papers will be out.” He turned his head to McKellen and Jessy could almost see a pleading expression in his green and intelligent eyes. “May we not discard our disguises now?”

Fool.” Crone whispered, though the words were low there was harshness to them. “The thieves’ guilds have repaired much of their networks. Mark my words they know we’re coming before we did.”

Jessy knew nothing of the many guilds and structure of Talia. He barely knew about the mobs and gangs of his world, but he knew enough to be seriously concerned about running into such people without a tank or access to orbital lasers.

He wanted to speak out his worries but managed to stop himself.

The people of this land could hear a cricket fart a town away and could be listening to every word the group made, just one of many benefits and curses to them being Wood Elves.

At the beginning Jessy had laughed about the idea of taking a weak long vow of silence.

Back in the bad old days talking had never been one of Jessy’s strong points, he used to go for weeks without communicating to a single soul, however, this week had to be labelled a torturous exercise for which Jessy was desperate to cure.

Just a peep, just a whisper, anything. He might have already cracked if Crone had not threatened to cut out his tongue and put it in a soup.

You aren’t wrong about that, love.” Came a pleased and egocentric voice that caused cold steel and iron to be drawn.

The Sargent viscously pulled Jessy to his side but was interrupted from unsheathing his sword as the sound of a dozen bowstrings being pulled back caught his long Wood Elf ears.

The group was surrounded and from the lack of a single sound being uttered, these men were not simple highway men.

The intruder’s gaze rested on each of group but his brown eyes nestled on Jessy’s back pack. “And who do you lot pretend to be now? Hmm? Simple harmless merchants out for a stroll?” The intruder was trying to make a joke but nobody was laughing.

Jessy was not yet up to the stage of pissing himself, true he was frightened, but he had been here before. The streets of Brooklyn, the crater town that was once Detroit, the shanty towns of Nebraska, and he had always survived.

We have business within the city.” McKellen said but doubted that is was going to be that easy to reach.

The robber scratched his cheek as if to ponder something, the man was obviously a dick who had no intention of allowing this to transpire. “Well, you see there’s a rumour going around that a huge shipment of gold is being transported from a nothing out of nowhere. Enough gold to build a brand new magic academy.”

Owl opened his arms as if daring the scum to search him for this supposed treasure. “Does it look like we have a mountain of gold on us?”

The robber smiled. “Won’t know unless you toss us you purses now, won’t we?”

So this was a robbery, wasn’t that just Jessy’s luck?. Just a few miles from the city and they got mugged.

Jessy held up his hands and tried to imitate Crone’s cockney like speech. Having spoken little during this whole name thing the teenager’s voice became rough and pained making him sound more like a rural farmer with a lisp. “Have’ns got a copper, Gove.”

The thief raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “That is the worst fake accent I have ever heard. Are you addled, boy?”

The Sagent tried desperately to save the situation. “You’re wasting your time.”

One metric ton of gold brought a lot of paranoia, fearful that something like this would happen the heads of the magic academy, the witch clans, and Jessy’s company decided that it was best to make it difficult for thieves to steal both the gold and Jessy’s loyalties.

In order to get the gold you needed three things, a digital locker, Jessy or another foreigner, and the micro SD card that held the gold. The SD card was smuggled in the academy, the bag was with the witches, and Jessy was sent on ahead to make sure he didn’t sleep with any other elves.

The robber didn’t seem to care if Jessy’s group had coin or not and McKellen suspected that this might not be a simple band of bandits out to harass a few merchants..

Just give us the boy’s bag or…” The thief allowed the sentence to linger.

An arrow shot a hair from Owl’s ears, illustrating what would happen if something else happened.

The thief turned his head to Crone and narrowed his eyes. “You. Witch. I don’t wanna look over my shoulder when I cross the street. Take off the mask.”

The Crone didn’t bother to look to either McKellen or her other two comrades. What the thief asked for would have been easily granted, the group of course had their faces covered and he wanted to know who he was dealing with, an understandable logic.

However…

Knowing that what she was about to do was stupid and possibly get all of them killed the Crone held her mask’s long nose as if she were playing a flute.

A dart burst out from the mask’s left nostril like a silver boggy and sailed true into the foolish robber’s forehead.

McKellen didn’t waste time, he had no idea where or how many snipers nested in the trees but as his military mind performed calculations he knew the best place he would pick to ambush suspected prey.

With careful fingers Sargent McKellen liberated Jessy’s bag and threw it at what he hoped would be a cluster of enemies, “The gold’s in the bag.” he yelled.

The leather bag sailed through the air, passing the crumbling form of the poisoned and dying robber, to touch down at the feet of the nearest bandit.

The insuring explosion was deafening.

Jessy was not a fan of explosions outside of movies as his interests in destruction lay solely as a hacker, his skills based on robbing corporations that liked hiding toxic wastes under playgrounds.

Jessy’s friends at the company, however, were traditional anarchists who enjoyed blowing things up to escape boredom, and in their virgin Wile E Coyote logic thought it best to hand their inexperience friend a number of easy to make recipes.

They this gift, however, was out of two reasons.

One was for respect as Jessy was the only one of their number to have sex with an actual woman.

The other reason was because they were secretly jealous the hell out of him, and born from this jealousy Jessy’s friends. Aka the Fucking Douche-Bags. Gave their long time friend the most unstable garbage they could find in the hope Jessy would be forced to wank off with a hook for hand.

Sensitive to sound the thunderous boom of a highly unstable explosive being detonated caused every Silth bandit to cover their ears, the closest had fallen unconscious while others became dazed as their ear drums exploded from the shockwave.

McKellen could feel his teeth vibrate and his body felt like runny eggs but he enough sense to cover his ears, he had clear nightmares of fifth member of their group to take it upon himself to carry just one vial of Jessy’s explosives.

McKellen only had the faintest recognition that Jessy was dragging him to his horse.

As the only one who wasn’t deaf, Jessy could hear whooping coughs from the forest around him, a side effect of the insidious smoke bomb pellets he had stashed inside his purse along with the main explosives.

Despite their size the pellets had saturated the area in putrid darkness.

Having enough sense to plug their ears with wax after Jessy’s last demonstration of the bombs Owl and Crone were ready.

Seven sparks of blue fire sprang from Owl’s finger tips.

Jessy didn’t know if any of the magical shit found their targets as he was too busy getting a nauseous McKellen up on his horse, “Come on you sonfabitch. Damn you weigh like a fucking ton.” he had chosen the wrong time to speak.

Up in the trees a cloaked mercenary drew back his bow and allowed his arrow flight.

Owl looked back just in time to see Jessy get hit in the back with an arrow, “Cub.” the wizard shouted and flung out his hands to the culprit.

Four hail stones the size of fists materialised from the moisture in the air and missed the agile sniper who was already sending his next missile at the eager spell caster.

The arrow bounced off owl’s force shield.

Whoever this sniper was he was a grade above the rest of his kind. He had already reloaded and moved to another branch by the time the first arrow struck.

Hooooollllly shit.” Jessy screamed as the pain finally hit him.

The arrow had been intended to maim and not kill the illusive teenager but that didn’t stop it from hurting like a bitch.

Jessy breathed in and out in deep rasps as he tried to take out the arrow. “Pull it out, pull it out.”

But no assistance was coming. Crone and Owl were having troubles as the bomb brought on a new threat.

Wolves made of vines and shrubbery attacked both the bandits and Jessy’s group, hiding in the shadows Jessy caught a glimpse of men dressed in black leather were sticking a forth group of men with pointy things.

McKellen didn’t know if the bomb summoned these factions of if they had been watching them this entire time, in either case this situation was one large cluster fuck.

Going for the horse had been a mistake, McKellen was too large a target, but still he had to try and get the boy out of her. “Cub, take my…”

Jessy gazed upwards to see an arrow sticking out of Sargent Mckellen’s eye.

A sharp pain penetrated Jessy’s neck, and by reflex he pulled the intrusion away. His vision blurring what Jessy saw in his hand was a dart the size of his index finger.

Crap.” Was the last thing Jessy could manage to say as he fell face forwards into the damp grass.

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