Here is the second of the first person perspective stories I've been writing recently. The third one is close to being finished but probably not this week. This one is longer than the first one and is set more in the middle of Nathaniel Drakkon's career as a mage of Weissland, while the first was nearer to the beginning of his career. Enjoy and comments are very welcome if anyone is reading.
I have been kneeling here for half an hour. The woods, trees, bushes, around me, you know it just like I do. It is no different here to the rest of Weissland. They are waiting for me to give the signal. The camp I am watching is full of bandits. The bandits are wearing Weissland Army uniforms and it makes me sick to my stomach. Scum using stolen livery to prey on the unsuspecting. And me, a mage called Drakkon, waiting to prey on these bastards. I told the soldiers under my command, no survivors, none at all. I wonder if that is too harsh. But at least this way I am doing my bit to ease the burden on the prisons. Quite the pragmatist I have become. It is time to rain down righteous fury on the lawless. I move my hand, a simple thing which is replicated by officers in the gloom around me. One hand movement and I have beckoned death to descend on the woods. I can already feel the icy grip reaching out to choose amongst those assembled, them and us, it matters not a jot to impartial and implacable death. Bows are raised, strings pulled taut and released.
There are screams as metal and wood pierces flesh. I savour the seconds, as I draw my arming sword, plain and unadorned, and heft my obsidian staff. I am running, picking up speed, and I see terrified and confused faces rushing to meet my fury. I wear the black robes I usually do; my men wear armour covered by black tabards and heavy brown cloaks. We move to slaughter men in Weissland blue, and it feels wrong and right in equal measure. My men swarm into the camp from their cover, and the sounds of battle swim in my ears. I can hear the bellows, the shouts, steel clashing, cracking against wooden shields, and the sick meaty thumps as flesh shreds and bone grinds. My only words are “The fury of Weissland falls upon you! No respite and no quarter.”
I pull my sword up to block the first strike of an enemy, a flash of anger in the man’s eyes. Blocking once more I bring my staff around as my body twists and I feel it connect with his face. He staggers but even as he attacks again I am going into a crouch as I turn, my leg sweeps around at shin height, and gravity takes its toll on the bandit. With a grunt of satisfaction I rise facing him once again, before impaling his chest momentarily to the soft soil of the ground with my arming sword. I mutter “True Weissland steel indeed.” Moving on, only seconds have gone by, and the battle still hangs in the balance.
I can see one of my men, Kevin Darvas by his mighty stature and mane of pitch black hair, punching bandits so hard they react like they have burst like ripe fruit under a hammer. If Darvas had fought in the Crint brawls of my brother and my youths I would have a hell of a lot more scars than I do. His sword finishes them mercifully, he realises there is no time for sport. I must keep my hand in and do my fair share. Summoning a measure of my power I voice words of an ancient and revered kind. A dark nimbus of blue and red energy coruscates around the tip of my staff, the dragon wings and sword headpiece mirror the sheen from the magic. Death leaps out violently as I make three bandits melt into slops of skin and fluids. If I am judged too cruel and sadistic by those who come later, I would ask for calm, reserved objectiveness. For me the mage is a confusing duality, the contemplative mind fused with the raw ferocity of emotion and imagination without confinement. A fireball is just a source of light and heat until it is directed with will and purpose, at which point it becomes a deadly weapon with potentially horrendous effects. The same can be said of any weapon, for I deem a sword just shaped metal until lifted in hands willing to stab and thrust and slash and carve. I am the weapon, I am the mage, both instrument and wielder combined, and my conscience all that allows me to be balanced in such an equation.
We are the authority. They are the criminal. Their punishment is decreed by higher men than I; we must carry it out and not shirk from our grisly duty. Does the butcher weep for the animals that feed the people? Do the gods weep for the people crushed by rockslide or drowned by flood? Most likely not is my glib response. Then do not judge Nathaniel Drakkon harshly for wearing the executioner’s hood.
Two more bandits leap at me like they are desperate to die. It only takes one to get lucky but my gut tells me these simpletons will not be the ones to kill me. One is a woman who seems too young to be a murderous bandit, and she wields a double-headed axe in both hands. At one time the thought of her age would give me pause, but eleven years of fighting Weissland’s enemies has left me at times, remarkably indifferent when someone is swinging a weapon at my head. Sidestep, back-hand slash, return swipe at the neck, and it is all over but for the body falling down. I turn my gaze to the man, long dreadlocks frame a lean face with sullen eyes, and he bears the years of experience that mark my own countenance. The old but well-kept sword and round shield give me an inkling that he is not to be underestimated. I rarely make that mistake, and despite the levity I might display in dire circumstance, I always take a fight seriously. The witty banter, insults, and one-liners simply help my foes along the path of underestimation themselves, taking me for an arrogant, brash, and unconcerned combatant. I provide the challenger with an example by saying with mock regret “Sorry, she wasn’t your sister was she?”
The seasoned bandit takes it in stride, a pleasant surprise. He rumbles with a deep yet smooth voice that has a hint of menace like a shard of glass wrapped in silk “Just another sword-arm, another hand waiting for a cut of the loot. Nobody to bother about, just like you when I end you.”
“Not the most loyal bunch are you? Although I suppose it helps cut down on the number of friends coming begging for help. I never have a moment’s peace.” I play it just a little irreverent, snidely putting him down. Come on, take the bait, and make a rash move. I almost will him to attack but he is having none of it.
The bandit circles right, and in response I move left. He says “Oh, my heart bleeds for you. It’s really annoying when friends only keep you around for what you can do for them. But I suppose they wouldn’t keep you around for your personality.”
The cheek, I actually feel slighted, I sarcastically think. I’m bloody good company. I almost feel like keeping him alive for the sharp badinage, but I said no survivors and it is not fair on the troops if I do not follow my own orders. With a wry smile I take the initiative, swinging from the shoulder in a powerful attack. I keep my staff back to act like a shield and force the bandit back with a series of slashes. He is quick on his feet, dodging and fending off the strokes which get too close for comfort. We are just getting into the flow of the duel when I am taken by surprise. The bandit is suspended with equal shock on his face, and then slumps down dead. The woman who pulls her spear from his back gives me a brief nod before searching for more bandits to skewer. I remember her name is Silvia Baker. I must talk to her about the concept of fighting fair... and congratulate her for ignoring it completely.
I move on, noticing that the ranks of the bandits are thinning rapidly. If I want to make a good showing of myself I better get a move on. I jog forward towards the interior of the camp; the bandit leaders will be here I am sure. Some of their guards charge at me, weapons brandished. One of the bandits shouts at me “Die!”
I reply casually “I think not worm,” before stabbing him rather brutally in the gut. As I withdraw my sword he spills forward to the ground, in rather more ways than one. “I’ll not be undone by the likes of you.” I begin to muse that if you are going to threaten to kill someone you should put a bit of bloody effort into it, have some flair. Do not just say die, it is so mundane. I favour something like ‘prepare to die!’ or some sort of witty putdown. Obviously if you are short of time you do not need to say anything, the grim silent approach works for some people. I just think if you do say something you should not waste the opportunity to be memorable. You never hear minstrels and maidens singing of the great hero who boldly declared “die!” with a grimace on his face that just makes him look constipated, that would just be ridiculous.
The next few bandits fare no better against my fury. I crack the ribs of one bandit with my staff while exchanging sword blows with a second. They rush me again but I am more than ready. Speaking words of power I blind them momentarily with a flash of light. I take my time as they lurch about with arms outstretched groping for some sense of location. I thrust my blade into the chest of one bandit before slicing the other’s throat. It seems that a few others have been caught by my spell so I move on and leave them to the troops. I want the leaders; I want to execute them personally. There are three leaders that our intelligence has revealed, two men and one woman. They are a brother and sister, and a cousin, one happy criminal family. Sometimes I despise people for having a happy family when mine was shattered. That is wrong but I just cannot help it. At the very least I do not harbour such resentments for people unless they do not deserve happiness. Criminals, traitors, and necromancers, why should those bastards have family when I have lost mine?
I see the large tent ahead of me. Two bandit guards move to intercept me but a few words and a wave of my staff pounds them into the ground like so much ooze. I am not in the mood to be delayed by fodder. I leave my staff outside. I enter the tent and one of them lunges at me. I grab her arm and twist, putting her arm behind her back and pulling it up until she yelps in pain. Casually with just that one-handed grip I push her to the ground some distance away. As an afterthought I say “Do not try my patience bandit, it is not infinite. I’m going to offer the three of you a chance to talk. Rest assured if I wanted you dead I would have burnt you to ash already.”
One of the men, the oldest, the cousin, said “Talk about what?”
I sat down in a seat, very unconcerned about any threat they represented, and rested my sword against my leg. With a wry smile I replied “Good to see one of you has some brains.”
The brother pulled a throwing dagger and sneered “You don’t mage!” Because I really did not see that coming. I can see his muscles tensing, the flick of the wrist, and the dagger flying with deadly accuracy.
I say a few things they do not understand and the dagger stops in mid-air about an inch from my face. I display no sign of worry to them. Internally I know that was a risk, but a calculated one. A moment later and that spell would not have saved me in time. My card-playing face is firmly fixed. They show their shock as I pick the dagger out of the air and place it on a table. They might as well have shown me all of their cards at this point of the game. I say calmly “Perhaps you should use your brains young man; you knew I was a mage. Now sit and we will talk.”
“Ok” he relents, sitting down as his sister pulls herself up into another seat. He adds “What do you want then?”
I want lots of things. Specifically I want answers and they better provide them. After all, torture can be so messy. Like a lion circling its’ prey I say “I want to talk about names... and rewards.”
The woman wrinkles her nose in annoyance. It would almost be charming if she was not a thief and a killer of innocents. She barks at me “Speak plainly! I don’t have time for games.”
Slyly I speak again “Do not ask a mage for a straight answer, you will not like it. We deal in things which would shatter your mind.” A little drama never hurt and they will never know if I am exaggerating. I will let you decide for yourselves if I am or not. Still there is no time to prolong this further. I continue “You are guilty of many crimes against Weissland and her people. I am giving you a chance to atone, a rare gift which will not last forever. Do you want it?”
The cousin asked cautiously “What do we have to do and what do we really get out of it?”
“The uniforms you have come from the black market. I want to know who sold them to you. Give me the name and you walk free. No arrest, no prison. Your men are dead but you three could live to see another day.”
The brother bandit scoffs “What assurances do we have?”
I reply “My word is worth a great deal. What I have said is what will happen. Give me the name.”
They look at each other, silently conversing on what to do. Finally the cousin says “We bought them from a man called Garren Folge. I don’t know how he got them but that’s who we paid for them.”
Standing I said “Thank you. Come with me so my men won’t attack you.” I walk outside without giving them a chance to attack me. Outside my soldiers are waiting, checking the dead and other after battle tasks.
One of the sergeants, Tevis, asks “Do you want them arrested sir?” His accent is thick like mine, and I find it refreshing to be serving with another Crint native.
I raise a hand and say “No sergeant, we will not be taking these three into custody.”
The sister adds “Yes, back off, we’ve made a deal.”
Looking up I smile slightly. Turning to face her I speak with a hint of fake civility “Oh look, the sun’s coming up. You’ve lived to see another day.” Before they respond my hand is in the air and words of magic are pouring from my lips. Lightning strikes down from the clear sky to hit the bandits.
The brother snarls as he is electrocuted “You lied you bastard. You said we could go!”
I prolong their deaths long enough to explain with wicked irony “Actually I did exactly what I said. I said you would walk free, but not how far. I said no arrest, no prison, but I never mentioned no execution. I told you the three of you would live to see another day; now you have I can execute you for your crimes without any guilt on my conscience. Well maybe a little guilt for the deception.” They died shortly after I finished speaking. That should provide ample lesson to enemies of Weissland who cross my path, there is no escaping my retribution. After sheathing my sword I help the troops clear up the mess as well as do what I can to heal our wounded. For now they will be moving on and out of my command. Once more I go back to my solitary wanderings but there is still a mission for me with these bandits.
It takes me a week to find my way to this small cottage, a week of broken bones, bloody knuckles, and brutal interrogations. Silently I slip inside and sit down in a chair by the fire place. I start the fire up and listen to it crackle and hiss while I wait. In the dark I think about what I am about to do, quietly questioning my actions. The answers satisfy me so I will not leave. Using my magic to reach out I know three people are sleeping upstairs. I am waiting for the fourth to return. It takes a while but eventually the door opens and a man in plain clothes with a shaven head enters, closing it behind him. My chair is facing away from him and the high back conceals me. I do not care about hiding though. Ominously I say “Welcome home David.”
He starts like a frightened animal “W-who’s there? What’re you doin’ in my home?”
I stand slowly and face him. Calmly I say “My name is Nathaniel Drakkon, a mage of Weissland. And you know why I am here, be thankful I did not pass this on to the Seekers.” I love seeing the reaction the mention of their name provokes in the guilty. David does not disappoint, he is visibly afraid. I continue “David Harrington, you are a traitor to Weissland for the crime of selling uniforms and armour illegally to the black market.”
David growled “What the hell are you talking about? I’m no traitor!”
I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, he does not believe that any more than I do. The evidence is clear. I reply “Don’t be so loud, it’s far too late for such noise. I have the evidence, the documents that show the equipment went missing in your possession. You were a fool to think I would not find it.”
David was indignant “You can’t prove anything. And if I deal with you now nobody else will find out.”
I smiled humourlessly “First, you’re an idiot to think you can kill me. Secondly, I did tell people what I was doing and where you live. Thirdly, kill me and you won’t find out what happened to your lovely wife and children...” It is a cruel thing to say but I want him to suffer mentally if only for a moment.
“You bastard what have you done?” He starts forward but my sword pointed at him soon makes him stop.
I let him off the hook as I say “Nothing, except give you a taste of the fear you have put people through. The armour and livery you sold found its way into the possession of bandits. Those bandits used it to attack innocent people unawares, stealing their belongings, killing some of them even. People have lost their families because of your greed and treachery.”
David seemed shocked “I, I never thought. I just needed money for my family, times were tough. And, and then these thugs tried to get several men at the armoury to lose a few shipments. Nobody told anyone about it for fear of the city watch or the Seekers coming down on us all. I suppose I was the only one desperate to give in though.” He gave up any thoughts of conflict and said “What happens now?”
I give him the truth “The penalty for these crimes is death. I cannot let you go, nor can you go to prison, they would simply execute you anyway. If it makes you more comfortable I’ll make it as quick and painless as possible.”
David responded “Not really, no.”
I repeated “Not really, no. Still I’ll make sure nothing happens to your family.”
“You will?” He asked.
Honestly I answered “Yes I will.” He nodded slowly but firmly. Quietly I raised the sword again and gripped his shoulder. One sharp push and I impaled his heart. It was over quickly. I left the parchment on the table. It was his death warrant, which was signed by myself and bore the seal of the mages and of Weissland. All official, all taken care of, and now that I am done I feel no more fury. All I feel now is disillusionment, not in my duties, just in a world which creates these situations.