|A Swordswoman's Tale
Three: A Familiar Face
Level Eight Vagrant
"SO HOW do you like being a Vagrant? Cool, innit?"
Lena Aaerdan stares at the speaker, a huge man whose leather jerkin, purple pants, olive green boots and shock of fiery hair indicate a dire need for a visit to Iske, at least for a haircut and preferably some fashion advice.
"Innit?" Stin repeats when she does not reply for a long moment.
In her hands is her reward for having played courier and badgering Captain Pukepukes for their signature knives – a suit that has some practical use but little else.
Lena sighs. "It’s … nice," she says finally.
"Aye, I knew it! Gotta place more orders with Boboko, then," Stin laughs. "Can’t be caught with nothing when the others start coming for cool gear, eh?"
She gives him a pained look, but the man does not seem to notice as he counts the fingers of his hand, then his toes, and settling on using a stick to draw on the ground.
"How many do I need," he mutters to himself as Lena opens her knapsack and puts away the neatly folded Vagrant Suit.
"I shall take my leave now, Mr Stin," she informs him.
"Twenty for men, twenty for women, that makes fifty … add ten for proud teens makes eighty…"
Her walk back to Flaris village is uneventful. On either side of the dirt road – that sport cobblestones here and there, evidence that Flaris had seen better days – Lena could see fellow Vagrants doing their bit for society.
Some are still armed with wooden swords. The sight of a youth so armed fighting for his life stops her in her tracks.
"That boy is going to fall," she whispers.
I am inclined to agree, the Voice says. From appearances alone, he cannot be any more than a tenderfoot.
Lena has seen quite a number of overly-ambitious, overly-confident youths cut down by Pukepukes, beaten to a pulp by Mushpangs, or torn to pieces by Lawolves which even she – a veteran Vagrant by now – knows better to avoid.
But this one – this youth – somehow seems different. Something in his eyes…
"Yes." She adds: "I have seen it before."
Something from your past?
Lena does not answer as her step breaks into a run, drawing her sword without a thought.
"Hang in there!" she calls out.
If the youth heard her, he gives no sign. The Pukepuke throws him a blow that he barely manages to block with his shield, but at a cost the act comes, for it shatters under the impact.
Even before the splinters settle the Pukepuke had pushed forward, knives flashing, almost spinning.
The youth falls.
The Pukepuke’s cry of triumph is drowned out by her own, and it is cut short as a combination of swordthrusts hit home. It is dead before it hits the ground.
Lena waits until she is sure it is no more, then turns to the youth. Already the earth has begun to claim him. His eyes are open, but the fire in them is fading. Fast.
"Wait!" she calls out to him. She drops her knapsack and tears it open. "I have salves, draughts-"
His eyes flicker, then train upon her. First there is confusion, then a look of recognition. But he fades.
Already she can see through him – he is beyond her reach now.
He opens his mouth to speak. She leans close. He manages two syllables.
And he is gone.