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"Oh? What's with the Red behind you?" the bandit tilted his head, eyes narrowed at Gren.

"Why you..." Gren dropped the knocked-out Krul and marched toward the tied bandit with his right hand gripping his sword.

"Stop." Frey barred Gren with an arm. He turned to the bandit. "Don't mind him. He's working for me now."

"Huh?! Who died and made you my boss?" roared Gren in his face.

"Don't sweat the small stuff."

The bandit chuckled, ignoring Gren's outburst. "What can I say? You're really something else, kid."

"Don't call me kid, I have a name." said Frey flatly. "Frey Alcott."

"Frey? Your parents must've hated you, naming you a girl."

"I'm not here for pub talk."

"So serious." the bandit sighed. "I'm Aruk, and this moron here is Docks." he pointed at his partner tied beside him, whose eyes slowly opened from deep sleep.

Still in a daze, Docks threw Aruk a questioning glance. He looked up at Frey, his mouth a wide chasm of shock. He shifted to Gren, then to the hog-tied, fat soldier laying in a lump on the leafy forest ground behind him.

Docks' eyes bulged out of their sockets. Frey expected a shrill hysteric scream out of the short bandit's gaping mouth, but only a muted eek reached his ears.

"Oh. Docks can't talk." Aruk explained.

"Oh." Frey had been wondering why the other bandit didn't so much as squeak back in the wagon the whole ride. Now it made sense.

Docks glared at Aruk, producing muffled sounds that Frey assumed was meant to chastise Aruk.

"What is he saying?" Gren asked.

"Don't know." Aruk whistled, like he wasn't hearing the mute squeaking angrily beside him.

"Enough." Frey crouched before the unconscious Krul behind Gren. In the side pocket of the wicked man's leather trousers Frey shoved his hand, fishing out a ring with a single rusted key dangling from it.

"This is the key to all the slaves' chains." said Frey, showing Aruk and Docks the key. Gren turned sour at the side, but he didn't care.

"You're going to free them, then lead them somewhere safe. I'm sure you know where that is, don't you?"

Aruk met his cold gaze with a sly grin. "The Southern Thieves know all there is about the South. Finding a village or two that would be willing to harbor Kazilians is child's play. But really, that's not what this is all about, is it?

"After all, you're freeing us for a different goal entirely."

Gren and Docks exchanged confused glances, having been completely left out of the talk.

"And that doesn't matter to you, does it?" Frey snorted.

"Well, that's true." Aruk sighed. "Anyway, hurry up. Tree ants had been biting me since those Reds tied me here." he wriggled in place with a disgusted expression, all the while shooting Gren an oblique glance.

Frey unsheathed the smallest of the three swords hanging on his waist and knelt, behind the oak where Aruk and Docks' hands were tied together by a Gordian knot of twine around the trunk.

Gren's face was warped in sheer dissatisfaction. With his black, curved knife, Frey sliced the rope binding the two bandits. There was no turning back, as the cutting edge of the knife mowed through fibers of the twine with a soft, scraping sound.

The moment the ropes came off Aruk and Docks sprung up to their feet. Aruk did a few jumps in place and stretched his limbs, smiling.

"Now, your end of the bargain." Frey sheathed his knife. He threw the rusted key.

"Even thieves have honor." Aruk caught the key in his hand, without so much of a look. "We got this. Besides, I was getting pretty annoyed myself, seeing the Reds pull those poor children around." Docks nodded, balling his fist.

The two wasted no time heading to the roadside where the slave wagons were parked. Aruk roused the children inside the wagon awake and unlocked their shackles one by one, while Docks filed them in an orderly line.

"You have a lot to answer for, scum." Frey heard behind him.

"Like I said, I have a name. You don't have to call me scum every damn time." Frey retorted, not taking his eyes off the two bandits as they liberated the slaves.

"You didn't have to let those rascals go. I could have freed the slaves myself just fine."

"You don't have faith in me at all, do you?" said Frey, smiling. "Did you know, Gren?

"The bandits killed Dotan and Krul, because the two caught them escaping."

"What--"

"Yeah, bandits are terrible, aren't they? Not only that, they also stole all the slaves. Now that's just plain unforgivable, right?

"If I were Hugo, there's no chance I'll figure out that the real culprits are among my men."

"That's..." anything Gren wanted to say fell short. He could only stare at Frey's back, wide-eyed as gears in his head shifted and turned, digesting the situation.

Ahead, Aruk had finished uncuffing the slaves, and was then ransacking the other slave car for the rations of the slaves. He got out two sacks of the bread-like food, then followed Docks as he led the slaves into the woods on the other side of the road. Despite the rustle the two bandits made, none of Hugo's nor Krul's men awoke. Frey had Krul to thank for giving them all a good night sleep.

"Now one last thing, Gren. Can you drag Dotan here? See, it's going to be a pain to explain to Hugo why he died so deep into the forest."

"Fine, but what about him?" asked Gren, pointing at Krul, who laid tied up and knocked out at his feet.

Frey's vision swirled and shifted for a second, before stabilizing back to normal. His right arm throbbed.

"Leave me with him." he said, his voice hinting no emotion.

Gren jogged deeper into the woods without another word. As soon as his back disappeared, a smile crept on Frey's face. Muffled light escaped underneath the sleeve of his right arm. He rolled up his sleeve. The arm guard's jewel glowed a bluish-green hue.

He was feeling good. The feeling of being alive again, was good, though it would've been better if he wasn't confined in such a constricting body.

"But, something about being in this body feels so... Intoxicating." he muttered. "I wonder if it's the Karias?

"Whatever. It's not important." he looked down, at the ugly creature laying on the ground before him. The way it slept so soundly even with its hands and feet tied reminded him of a pig... Yes, a dirty, lowly pig. Livestock. He raised his foot and stomped down, pressing the pig's bulging stomach inward. Its eyes jerked open, looking up at him with a face contorted in pain and fear. Spit sprayed out of its mouth as it grunted in tears.

"That's the face." Frey smiled. A flash of silver accompanied the double-edged steel blade as it sprung out of his arm guard.

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A note from Polaris Archon

Thanks for reading! As compensation for the chapter delay, the next chapter will be released some time later. 


About the author

Polaris Archon

  • Artrud Province. North of Larcon, Asteria.
  • Archive Code

Bio: Writing is rarely a work. More often than not it's a study.

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