And so, with this I surpassed 50,000 words. NaNoWriMo winner, right here, baby!
I still have at least one more chapter to wrap things up (my outline still calls for two more, even after I mashed up two chapters in the outline earlier for the day I skipped writing). So I'll still be able to post a chapter for you tomorrow.
Hope you're enjoying it.
And while I'm at it, thanks to my father in-law, William Roach for his recent sponsorship. Also, to Mrs. Nuttle, Olivia, and Camryn for their cash donations today at school. I'll be adding those contributions to the total tomorrow. It won't likely keep me up with the likes of what I expect to see from Cmar and some others tomorrow...but it'll be enough to make a difference.
“I always liked you better clean shaven.” Elum would say to me with a smile followed by a kiss. I took heart in those moments before my certain death that I had known and married a woman who loved me. Together we had created a son, Geon. Now he was in danger and I am not going to let something happen to him. Not without giving everything in my being to stop it.
Now I stood in the cold, fast flowing waters of an underground stream with a small pack of unruly and inexperienced miners around me. More kept spewing out out from their mines as I plotted out my attack strategy and whispered instructions to Brin to pass on to her crew.
But we couldn’t wait too long, these miners weren’t meant for this sort of work. Many more and we’d be caught and without the element of surprise we’d be caught in the water where we would be slow. We had very little in our favor in this fight and every little thing could make a difference. Things had to go perfectly if any of us were going to get out of here with our skins. I’ve been in more than a few fights in my life now. Things never go perfectly.
Elum and I used to walk the streets of Tropol together, hand in hand, carrying the infant Geon in one of our free arms. He’d take in the city with a sense of wonder and excitement. There was nothing more that boy loved more than watching people and taking in the sights of the city in those early days of his life. We’d take those walks at least once a week, my favorite time being in the autumn when the leaves were turning and the air was crisp and refreshing.
I stood up straight and walked towards the shore, the cold water streaming off me. My twin crossbows raised as I took my first step and I fired from each of them simultaneously.
Two shots and two hits. They weren’t expecting the attack and their guards were down. The advantage of surprise was successful. What’s more, my aim was true and the magic of the crossbows worked to great effect. Two shots, two kills. Even better, needed to wear down the defenses around Grayt and Andronis. With the opening shots of this fight, I just killed two of the Guild-trained killers. The fight wasn’t over, but the early success brought a sense of hope to spirit.
Geon and I would often get out of the city for a day or two to experience the wilderness. Things in the heart of the Empire of Ramis around Tropol were always safe. Highwaymen, barbarians, and monster attacks were unheard of in those parts. So much so that folks like us would take a cheap sort of entertainment going out and sitting around a campfire and spending the night under the stars. It seems stupid now, I’ve seen plenty of folks doing that out of need and wishing for nothing more than a roof and a bed. But for Geon and I it was a relaxing retreat. On those nights it was him and I. My life in the Guild just faded away. At least for a day here and there I could just be a father.
I leveled the twin crossbows at their next targets as the miners started to come rushing out of the water. With my head start and slower pace we reached the shoreline about at the same time. They followed their instructions as planned. These miners had more discipline that Grayt’s crew ever had. There was that hope again. Maybe I wasn’t going to die today.
They were to keep Grayt’s gang busy. That was where they were going to have the most luck. Once they’d cleaned up those thugs they could help me with the enemies that have talent. Grayt, Andronis, the four remaining Guild killers, Kral and Krissa. Any one of those would have been a challenge for me. There was no chance of me holding off all of them, let alone kill them. But I, alone, probably had a better chance than the miners and I couldn’t send them to certain death without leading the charge, I guess.
My next two shots went to the same target. Kral was a bigger fellow and everyone was on their guard now. I wasn’t likely to get the easy kills. But while Kral may be strong, he was just as slow. Maybe slower. So I figured if I was going to get to drop anyone easily he’d be the next best shot.
My planning paid off. One shot went right into his neck, leaving him spraying blood in a very flashy show of gore. The other shot went into and came out the back end of his right knee. The ogre-blooded brute fell in a shower of blood and screams. He wasn’t dead, although he might yet bleed out, but he wasn’t in this fight anymore either. I’m calling that a win.
Elum used to make the most wonderful rolls. for years I wasn’t sure what she would do with them, from what I could tell in the early days of our marriage she seemed to be following the same routine everyone else did when making rolls. But her rolls were sweeter somehow. Geon and I couldn’t get enough of them and she loved how much we love them. I never did have the heart to tell her that a few years after Geon was born I caught her secretly adding a few drops of honey into the batter and then brushing some honey-butter on to the top as they baked.
After Krall fell things started getting a bit harder. The amateur gang started fighting back and met the miners head on, dropping two miners for every thug that went down. And on my end the trained killers and Krissa would be on top of me soon. Andronis held back, and Grayt pulled out a wand and called on his magical attacks.
While my crossbows reloaded themselves Grayt fired a small bolt of lightning at me. My jacket saved me from most of the attack, but it still gave me a good shock and put a stagger in my step. Grayt was going to be a problem if I couldn’t get him down. As such, he became my next target.
Even with the five other trained warriors bearing down on me, I fired past them to try and get a shot at Grayt instead. This, it turned out, was the first moment when things stopped going perfectly. One crossbow bolt flew high and clattered against the stone of the alcove the weasel was in. The other bolt would have scored some sort of glancing blow, at least distracting the greasy man, but he had a magical barrier of some sort protecting him and the shot ricocheted off it instead.
There was one time that Emperor Ramis, for his birthday, was holding celebrations all over the empire. There was a play that Elum and I managed to get to. The whole thing was happening while Elum was very pregnant but when were we ever going to get to see a play again. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the show was about, but I can describe exactly how it felt when my wife took my hand. She entwined our arms and laid her head on my shoulder and soaked it all in. I know women do these things out of a sense of loving and seeking security, but I can most assuredly tell you that I felt more secure in those moments than I had ever felt before. At least until she went into labor in the middle of the third act.
I dropped my crossbows onto their hooks on my belt and pulled out my trusted axe. Just in the nick of time I raised it to block the first attack. I was quickly surrounded and in a full defensive mode. I was holding off the four killers from Tropol well enough. Krissa could have thrown the whole thing off, but it seemed she was having a hard time finding her moment amidst these four warriors who had trained in the same style for years. A style she didn’t know.
As I fought off all their attacks, taking a few blood letting nicks here and there I noticed, between the sword slashing, Grayt was preparing another attack. Even if my jacket protected me from the brunt of it, another moment of hesitation like it gave me last time and one of these guys would introduce my heart to their steel. Likely more than one.
Then I got distracted. I couldn’t see the attack coming in the rush of trying to not be killed by one of those deadly blades flashing around me as I danced of survival. But, oddly, the bolt of lightning didn’t come.
When I did get another glance at the alcove I saw Geon, hands around Grayt’s neck, choking the life out of the man. Andronis seemed to have just noticed what was going on and kicked my son. Sent him sprawling. I tried to surge forward. I couldn’t let Geon die. It just couldn’t happen.
I got sliced by every single blade for my trouble and knocked to the ground. I lost sight of Geon, but just as one of the killers was about to fold in my skull with his blade I saw the tip of a long knight suddenly protrude from his chest.
In shock, I looked over and saw Krissa remove her blade from the man’s back. The other three killers quickly sprang into action, but there was enough time for me to scramble to my feet while I defended myself.
That’s when several dozen soldiers of the empire came charging through the tunnels into the cavern. In their lead, a fey-looking man in a white jacket and hat. And almost as soon as I thought the cavalry had come to the rescue, I saw a half-dozen arrows and crossbow bolts go streaming for the Marshall. The man was talented. He could have likely single handedly turned the tide of this fight. Before he could do a thing, the Marshall was shot and dropped to the ground.
The Marshall wasn’t going to be getting into this fight, maybe no fight ever again.
I looked at him, blood splattered and laying on the ground wheezing for breath. I remember his clean shaven, overly handsome face. “I always liked you better clean shaven,” Elum used to say to me.
Chapter 29: It Ends