Temujin had left the shutters open last night and everyone was forced to wake up at sunrise. Haerin was already pissed off and it hadn't even been an hour yet.

As he got ready into his day clothes he almost fell asleep while standing up several times, whereas Temujin just shrugged on his red coat (Haerin had learnt the red shirt was actually called a coat, but he was still confused - why would anyone need two layers of clothes?) over his white shirt he slept in and Sokrin was simply was simply waiting at his front door so that they could all leave to get supplies from the most dangerous marketplace in the world.

The criminal guild's underground market apparently relocated every week according to Sokrin, and this time it was literally underground in a cave right on the outskirts of town. An odd place, but a secure one for sure, since no Imperial guard would even dare to go where the sun wouldn't shine - anything could be lurking in its murky depths.

The trio of travellers found the strange man they had met yesterday standing right outside the cave, with the same ridiculous hood and all, and together they weaved through the various stalls and booths that sold all sorts of contraband. Haerin carried the group's gold with them, but one thing he learnt when his father destroyed his family was that money was far more useful when you had it than when you didn't, so he kept all of it in a pocket away from prying eyes while clutching it with a tight-fisted hand. He couldn't be too cautious with his money here, which was obvious from the moment he walked in.

The entire place was screaming illegal. Wafts of a brain-melting fume washed over Haerin as he walked by one stall and the world went twice as fast, while near another everything seemed to slow down as a sweet scent serenaded him. Ragged pickpockets roamed and stole from the customers of the market - mostly scarred halflings with massive, wide swords attached to their backs; dark dwarves wearing belts with a hundred different steel magic circles attached to them; with the occasional rich elf smoking a foreign herb in his mouth from one of the shops, or walking into a perfume-scented house of pleasure. Despite the early hours, it was absolutely teeming with all sorts of filth, trickery and the dirtiest money you could possibly find. Haerin thought he grew up in a shithole, but he was almost scared to imagine what this place was like at night.

"Likin' what you see?" The hooded figure asked.

Temujin was walking with a hand on his sword and a stone-cold, dark expression. "This somehow reminds me of a very bad place and a very bad time."

Sokrin raised an eyebrow. "But I thought you were an amnesiac? How can you be reminded of something you can't remember?"

"I don't know," Temujin said, exasperated. "That's the scariest bit. I have no clue. It's not exactly triggering a whole memory, more like little... snippets, here and there. Nothing coherent, but it's definitely something."

"That's... interesting, but shouldn't we be moving along?" Sokrin asked. "We have to go deeper into the market if we want to find what we're looking for, don't we?"

The figure spoke up again. "You're right. This is the upper market, and the stuff we sell here might not be legal but it's still open to the public. The lower market isn't, we only let a select few in there. You'll see."

The hooded figure took the group further and further into the cave, the yellow light of flickering torches dimming and the stalls getting more sparse until they got so deep Haerin couldn't see his own hand in the blackness, with the chittering of the people of the market completely silenced.

"Wow," Haerin said dully. "I can really see how it would be completely impossible for the public to get into this totally unguarded, empty space. It's foolproof."

"Indeed it is," Sokrin agreed. "I'm fairly certain it's the most secure place in the entire world, from what I know about it. It guarantees that the guild will live on forever."

Haerin sighed at the dense dwarf. "Sarcasm, dumbass, it's sarcas - "

Haerin didn't know what happened afterwards, but all he knew is that a blinding, white light erupted from where the hooded man's hands were, and then he was no longer in the same dark, dismal depths of the cave or even the upper market, but rather, something entirely different, something he had never seen before and only had the occasional nightmare about before forgetting about it entirely.

He had unmistakably been teleported outside the city.

It was on top of a tall green hill with drops of golden sunlight piercing Haerin in the eyes after spending the past ten minutes in total darkness, collapsing on the ground to find himself before a few sacks and a note attached to one of them by the string. Haerin had no idea teleportation was even possible, let alone someone being magically adept enough to actually be able to use such a powerful circle - the Triggerman fellow must have been ridiculously strong, a hundred times more than Haerin was. Temujin, with trembling, shocked hands, reached out towards the note and opened it. As his eyes scanned the words on the tiny sheet, he suddenly yelped stumbled back in shock and dropped it, cursing as he did so.

"What? What did it say?" Haerin demanded.

"I..." Temujin looked at Haerin with fear in his eyes.

"What was on the note?"

"I-I..." Temujin stuttered. Haerin was getting annoyed. He grabbed Temujin by the shoulders, shaking him violently.

"Temujin! What the hell was on that note?"

"I... I can't..."

"You can't what?"

Temujin grinned. "I can't actually read."

And Haerin promptly punched the halfling as hard as he could. It wasn't that hard, mind you. He had arms about as thick as twigs. But it still hurt. The halfling reeled back, a little surprised by Haerin's sudden outburst of violence, but still grinning nonetheless. Haerin clenched his fist again.

"All right, all right, no need to hit me twice, I learnt my lesson," Temujin said as he rose from the ground, rubbing his cheek. "But it's nice to see that you actually do fight for yourself sometimes instead of relying on tricks and swindling, you know. Even if you fight like a girl."

Sokrin sighed as he picked up the note before it could be carried away by a breeze. "Looks like I'll have to read it, then." He peered down at it as if he was trying to probe the paper itself with his eyes. "To Sokrin and Company,

"We've left you supplies for the journey, and while we didn't leave him with the rest of the stuff in case he might eat it, we also gave you a steed to ride with behind the hill we put this on top of. He's a tasos named Gaelen from the plains of the Middle Sea. He can be a little prideful, but apart from that, he's a pretty friendly steed. Doesn't eat enough, though. I would've left instructions on how to ride him, but you'll figure it out. You might have also noticed that the supplies last only two weeks. That's because you'll be resupplying in certain cities across the continent. The next city you need to go to is the capital of the Panien Peninsula district of the Elven Empire, called Hrem, north of here. It'll take you two weeks. Ask for a guy named Iases the Insane. If you're wondering how you'll pay for this, don't worry. The circle already took enough gold from you. And remember, you're doing this to help us and destroy the Mazdakites. Don't forget about it. From The Triggerman."

Sokrin put down the note, groaning as he did so. "That fool, Shodok," he mumbled. "Keeps using the title 'Triggerman'. I still don't know what that means."

Haerin checked his pockets, and sure enough, there were almost no coins in any of them, much to his dismay. "The circle really did take all of our money," he quietly mourned. "It's pretty much all gone."

"Oh," Sokrin said, unimpressed as usual, perhaps a little more than usual. "That's a shame. But I don't think we'll need it, as long as we use the tasos to get to Hrem as quickly as we can." He peered down from the hill, pointing somewhere at the bottom. "He's down there."

Haerin looked down from the steep hill and sure enough, a grey-skinned, three-toed, tusked beast of a steed was standing below him, whinnying quietly with its head held high and proud despite the cramped saddle on its back and the reins attached to its tusks. He'd read about tasos in the heretical book: they were intelligent, strong beasts who even had the ability to use magic circles, perfect for war or travelling, but you had to treat them with utmost respect if you wanted to get anywhere with them. Otherwise, well... they say the second most common cause of death is being trampled by a tasos for a reason.

"Well," Temujin said, grinning. "That guy looks positively friendly. I reckon I could ride him in an hour's time."

Haerin raised a sceptical eyebrow. "I mean, if you think you could possibly tame one of the proudest animals in the world in a single day, then go ahead, be my gue - "

"He's tamed it," Sokrin said blankly.

And sure enough, as Haerin looked down, he noticed that in the time he was talking Haerin had already managed to win the animal's favour and was riding him around without a single problem. He rubbed his eyes first in disbelief, but later in frustration.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," he muttered. "The bloody halfling's already gotten a hang of riding the thing too."

Temujin laughed as he rode the hulking beast around the hill in small circles. "It's pretty fun, riding this thing. Pretty much like a horse. I guess this hill is too steep for him, though."

Sokrin frowned. "What's a horse?"

"Don't worry about it," Haerin said. "Temujin says gibberish words like that all the time. I don't think they have any real meaning."

"I doubt that," Sokrin shot back, his voice far more lively than usual, much to Haerin's surprise. "There's always a reason. For everything."

"Not for Temujin. He's a bit of an idiot. He didn't know how to talk until recently."

Sokrin's eyes were flaming with a curious fire. "I know that, but I don't think there's anyone who's forgotten how to talk. I can see into people's heads and I can tell you for sure that language is like an awful friend - once it moves in, it'll never leave. I don't think it's possible to forget."

Haerin shook his head. "It must be possible. He definitely forgot how to talk and all those nonsense words are just leftovers from him re-learning it."

"Don't you think," Sokrin mused. "It might be that he remembered how to talk, but a completely different set of words?"

Now Haerin knew he had lost it. "Huh?"

"To the north of Perechain, there is a barbaric, ancient tribe of elves, halflings, dwarves called the Sotci who no-one understands, but they can definitely understand each other. It's not that they don't know how to talk, it's that they speak in a different way to everyone else. So what if Temujin is someone like that?"

"Huh," Haerin said. "Interesting. I don't care much, but I'm pretty sure that was the closest thing to a genuine passion you've ever displayed. Congratulations."

Sokrin blinked. "I'm just curious, that's all. Nothing else to it."

"Anyways, shouldn't we be - "

But Haerin was interrupted. The loudest sound he had ever heard had just punctured a hole through his eardrums.

He thought he'd heard some loud things before: Temujin's snoring, for one, made it nigh impossible to sleep last night, but this noise was beyond anything else. It was like the roaring flames of a sunfire explosion compressed into a noise that lasted less than three seconds and amplified two hundred thousand times. A weird, metallic ringing noise was drilling in his ears, something he'd never heard before, and all went silent for a moment but the ring. He felt like ripping off his own ears and trampling them, but he somehow managed to resist the temptation. He had no idea where the sound came from either, and Sokrin looked so pale he almost looked like he was about to pass out. The only one who seemed mostly unfazed was Temujin, whose eyes had suddenly sharpened, his knuckles white and tight as they gripped Gaelen's reins.

Haerin turned to where Temujin had been staring at, his ears still ringing like hell, and found standing there an elf in a red shirt - no, a red coat and black trousers with a red stripe going down its side, grinning as he held a... wooden spear? It was hard to tell, but it was about as long as a halfling's leg and had what looked like a spike on one end, but it was off-centred as a deep hole went right in the middle of the wooden pole. There was also a strange sort of shape on the other end, like a lopsided triangle, but Haerin had no idea what that would be for. Smoke trailed from the hole in the centre of the staff. And while Haerin's ears were still deafened, he could see what words the man was forming with his mouth.

"It appears you're here to stop us. I'm afraid that we, the Mazdakites, must destroy you."



About the author


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