Chapter 3:


The Scorned

I woke up with a groan and rolled over, desperately trying to ignore all my problems.

Eventually, I struggled to my feet, knowing that I had to go somewhere. Anywhere. I squatted down to say one last goodbye to Rebecca and picked one of the nearby roses to hold on to. With that, I took off in a random direction, running hard and only looking far enough ahead of myself to watch where I stepped.

I ran for hours, expecting to get tired or thirsty or SOMETHING, but it never happened. I passed streams but felt no need to stop and drink. Night came and went, but still, I was able to run without slowing or stopping.

After what I assumed was a full day of running, I reached the edge of a town whose gates were wide open, yet no one was entering or leaving. I was hesitant to approach, covered only in tattered clothes, and hard to explain scars. I slowly snaked my way from tree to tree until I came to the main gate. Two sentries were standing guard, with lazy demeanors. One turned to the other and I could hear him mumble something before ambling back into the city. With only one guard on watch, I was able to sneak by with only a thrown rock and some quiet footsteps.

Once inside the gate, I continued moving quietly. I was far enough inside that I wouldn't be noticed by the already inept guard and began taking in the town around me. It appeared to be on the poorer side, comprised mostly of run-down huts and uneven dirt roads. I started walking through back alleys to avoid all of the vendors set up in the streets. They were all trying to sell either slightly rotten fruit or random trinkets. I even heard one vendor begin to argue with another about who was in the correct spot despite plenty of open space. I quickly ducked behind the offender's cart and grabbed a cloak of his that was slightly less tattered than what I was already wearing. After wrapping myself in it and ensuring my face was well hidden, I began to walk down the main road.

I soon found a building tucked into the back of the small town square, that had many voices coming from it. Hoping it was the most likely place to ask my questions without raising too much suspicion, I walked to the door.

The building, which I later learned was an inn, was relatively empty when I entered. The few people inside barely stopped to watch me walk to the bar. Predictably, the innkeeper was behind the bar and only stared at me when I sat down in front of him. Eventually, he grunted out, "We don't get many visitors in our small town. What are you doing here?"

I had no idea what to say, so I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. "I'm a traveling sword for hire, but my horse took off in the middle of the night and took everything I own with it. I only just managed to make it here alive."

He only scoffed at me, muttering that I must be a shit sword for hire to not even have a sword. Then, in a gruff voice, he asked, "What do you want?"

"I have nothing, and I'm looking for a way to make money. Do you have anything I can do or maybe know of anything?"

He replied with another scoff, "Did you not see our town on the way in? We don't even have enough money for ourselves with all the bandits about. How do you expect me to pay you?"

Before I could ask what he meant by that, the front door was kicked open, and two burly-looking thugs stomped in. The other patrons instantly moved to the opposite side of the room, trying to get as far away as possible without leaving their drinks. The first thug walked up to the now nervous innkeeper and, in a deep voice, asked, "Where is our money?"

The innkeeper quietly replied with downcast eyes, "You weren't supposed to be back until next week. You know I won't have enough until then."

The first thug smiled at the news and slowly pulled out a sword, "You know the punishment for non-payment." Suddenly I heard a scream and saw that the second thug held a woman, who I assumed to be the innkeeper's wife, with his sword pressed against her throat. The innkeeper fell to his knees and began to incoherently beg. The first thug seemed to finally notice me and asked: "You going to do anything?"

Shrugging, I replied honestly, "No. This has nothing to do with me and I could care less about what happens."

He started to laugh at my answer, then, with a quick motion, slapped me across the face and sent me sprawling to the floor. The motion caught me by surprise, but what surprised me more was that I felt nothing from the hit. The first thug stood over me, then said, "I can't stand people like you. Only caring when it's convenient." He reared back and gestured to everyone watching. "People call ME an asshole!"

Then he stooped over to pick something up off the floor, and I noticed that Rebecca's Rose had fallen out of my pocket.

"Give it back," I said flatly through clenched teeth.

"Oh! Now you care?" he taunted me. I watched as everything seemed to move in slow motion as the first thug threw the rose on the floor and crushed it under his boot.

I slowly rose to my feet and began to feel the all too familiar feeling of my blood boiling as I allowed my rage to take over. The first thug stared me in the eyes, then tried to lunge forward at me with his sword. It too, seemed to move in slow motion, and I easily sidestepped the swing. As he turned to tried and recover, my fist was already slamming into his jaw, sending him crashing into a table. In seconds I was standing over his body, ready to finish him, when, suddenly, my chest seemed to move forward on its own, forcing me to slam into the bar.

Looking down, I found the second thug's sword sticking out of my chest. Grunting only from effort and annoyance, I grabbed the blade and began to push it back out. After a few moments and some noises I never imagined would come from my body, I heard the blade clatter to the floor behind me. I turned to see the second thug staring at me with terror in his eyes. I looked back down at my chest to see a nasty scar had replaced any sign of a wound. It had formed so quickly that the scar tissue had formed underneath a streak of still-wet blood.

Not sure what to do, the second thug took a wild swing at me, but, again, it seemed to be at a snail's pace. I caught his arm out of the air and gripped it roughly. Holding it tightly with both of my hands now, I gradually squeezed harder and harder, listening to and feeling the bones crunching under my hands. I caught myself grinning and realized that I was enjoying what I was doing to him in some sort of sick way. Hell, I was having fun.

I suddenly squeezed as hard as I could and listened to the crunching of bones under my hands. Far away, I could hear someone screaming and begging. It might have been the thug, but I honestly didn't care. When the loud cracking gave way to small pops, I let go, and he dropped like dead weight to the floor.

With both thugs on the ground, one passed out and the other writhing in pain, I slowly came down from my anger high and looked around the room. Everyone looked like they were trying to press themselves into the walls, trying to get as far away from me as they could. I slowly returned to the innkeeper, who stared back at me with fear in his eyes. I asked him in a deep voice, "You've seen what I can do. Now, where can I earn money?"

Stammering, he answered, "T-T-Two towns to the west is the capital. You... uh... They have quest boards all over, and the pay varies depending on the difficulty of the task. You'll definitely be in high demand."

I only responded with a grunt, left the bar, then the town, and started running in the direction of the capital, leaving them to figure out what to do with the thugs. Not caring what it was.

N. D. Skordilis
Lee Jongki
Real Aire