The city that lay some twenty miles away from Haerin's hometown was just a little different. As he walked through its cobbled roads with the halfling Temujin at his side, Haerin noticed the streets were a bit wider, there were a few more people out and the houses seemed shorter. The biggest difference, however, was probably that every grown man was carrying a weaponized magic circle.

Hanging at every man's hip were tiny iron circles with magic carvings etched into them, just like the late head guard's sunfire attack, and since they were all iron they must all be military grade; in other words, they were designed to hurt people. But an entire city of people, any of whom could be desperate, twisted, vengeful, or even just plain bored, meant that every man holding a weapon would very easily go bad very quickly. There had to be something that kept these people in line, and whatever it was it was certainly dangerous. What was especially eerie was that he hadn't seen a single imperial soldier after walking around town with Temujin all day, meaning that whatever power kept these people scared enough from breaking out into total anarchy was also strong enough to suppress even the Empire itself.

"Hey, Haerin," Temujin said quietly as they walked down a street. "Don't you think it's a little odd that everyone here is carrying those magic circle things?"

Haerin sighed. "Did you honestly just notice?"

"N-no, but since you didn't seem to care I just thought it was something... normal?" Temujin blurted.

Haerin groaned in annoyance. "Why in the Engineers' names would carrying around weapons of war be something everyone does?"

"Sorry, but I haven't really travelled that far myself, y'know, so I don't really know what's normal in these lands."

"Lies!" Haerin exclaimed. "I only busted you out because you're a traveller. If you had no experience, I would've left you in there."

Temujin went quiet for a second.

"You would've left me to rot if I wasn't an experienced traveller, huh?" He turned to Haerin, his face blank and showing no emotion. "Then you ought to ditch me now."

Haerin's eyes narrowed in confusion. "What are you-"

"Listen, it's true that for the past two years I've been wandering, but I spent a year before that as a village idiot. And that's because three years ago I woke up with no memories, not even how to talk."

Haerin almost tripped in shock. "A-are you serious? But you still know your name!"

The halfling grinned. "Temujin isn't my real name." He pointed to the blade at his hip. "It's this thing's name, the one thing I could remember."

Haerin's face went slack as he stopped walking, to Temujin's confusion.

"Uhh... what are you doing?" Temujin asked, bewildered.

Haerin slowly raised a finger to point right at Temujin, before opening his mouth.

"You're... a..." Haerin began to snicker. "Bloody whiffle."

"Y'know, I heard people calling me that a lot, but I still have no clue what it means."

"It means you're a bloody dumb freak who does dumb freak things. Seriously, what self-respecting man would name himself after his sword?" Haerin's snickering grew louder, into the kind of chittering noise that would gnaw into your skull if left unchecked.

"When you put it that way," Temujin let out a little laugh. "Yeah, you're right, it does sound stupid, doesn't it?" He began laughing louder as well, and sure enough, an elf was laughing with an escaped halfling convict carrying a sword in the middle of a populated city road like a pair of dying rabid seals, and suddenly a city of armed folk didn't seem so bizarre anymore.

Sure enough, they drew attention from pedestrians nearby who were perplexed as to why there were two grown men howling in the middle of the street, and they eventually piqued a rather dangerous someone's interest.

A dwarf, reaching only Temujin's shoulder, approached the pair who were still laughing uncontrollably. He wore clothes a deep violet that seemed a little too expensive for someone who's rank in an imperial Elven city was stuck at 'knave', and he didn't carry any weapons at his hip unlike everyone else. His face was lean, clean-shaven and handsome, but his eyes seemed tired, almost dead inside. He wasn't here to laugh. He was here for something else.

"I'm sorry," he said with a low and rich voice. "But I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to stop laughing."

They didn't stop. The dwarf raised a bushy, brown eyebrow.

"I'm also going to have to confiscate that sword of yours."

Before Haerin could even process what had happened, Temujin had already stopped laughing and had his sword's blade right up to the dwarf's throat, who had raised something up to his neck to defend himself, something small, almost paper thin... a card?

"Hey Temujin," Haerin called out. "Don't kill the guy, just hurt him a little so he gets knocked out. I don't want to have to deal with more cities looking for our heads."

But Temujin didn't budge. He still had the sword up to the dwarf's card, and his jaw was clenched with beads of sweat running down his face, but no matter how much he appeared to struggle the sword stayed there, just out of reach from victory.

"I can't... budge it... any closer..." He groaned.

The dwarf looked at Temujin with a perhaps disappointed look, although that might just have been his neutral expression. "Are you really going to charge straight at me with no thought? There's no fun in that for you or me. It's a shame that I have to kill you too. I'm certain you both would have been excellent customers."


"Oh," The dwarf said, looking past Temujin right into Haerin's eyes with a dead glance. "I know you're confused. I suppose you can call me a member of an outlaw's guild. We run the city, not the Empire, and we get money by trading weapons the Empire would never give you, like these magic circle cards. They conduct magic thirty times better than steel, you know."

"H-How could you tell I was-"

"It's written all over your face. I'm a seer, you see. I see patterns others don't, and I use those patterns to make magic circles. I'm very perceptive."

Temujin was still trying to force his blade into the seer's neck, taking heaving, gasping breaths as he did so. "Dammit... I've never... seen... magic... so powerful!"

The dwarf looked annoyed. Or perhaps it was just his neutral face. "You're quite the dullard, seeing how you haven't realised that sheer force is never going to work. Oh, well. I guess fighting a halfling would be boring, wouldn't it? Your kind can't use magic." He moved to the side, sending Temujin flying as all his weight pushed him forward and almost ending in him hitting the hard, jagged cobble beneath them. The seer drew closer to Haerin.

"But you... you're a lot smarter than him, aren't you? I can tell. I think I should deal with you first." He reached into his pocket to reveal a deck, at least thirty cards large, with magic circles written into them with shimmering dark ink. Thirty different ways the Seer could kill Haerin, but also...

Thirty fatal flaws, one for every card.


About the author


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