The tunnels were cramped. Leon had to duck his head just to avoid hitting the ceiling. Petey fared much better, being so much shorter than Leon. They had not dared bring a light source instead just keeping their hands on the right side wall. Courtesy of several last minute comments from Elton, the pair knew there were no traps. The only problem was the complete darkness, no matter how safe they may be it was still unsettling to not know where you were going or what may be around you.
Well that and petey's constant chattering. It seemed the teen took some comfort in his constant talk, as his fear started to die down.
“No.” Leon said for what must have been the tenth time.
“Really? That's kinda disappointing. What about magic?” Petey drummed on without missing a beat.
Leon sighed at the question. Petey hadn’t had a real conversation in weeks, it seemed he was almost trying to make up for lost time. Leon really couldn’t blame him, when petey arrived he probably had a million questions and couldn’t ask a single person due to not knowing the language. Unfortunately Leon was the first and only exception Petey had found.
“Yes, unfortunately.” Leon still shivered at the fresh memory of how he entered the keep.
“Really!?” Petey gasped in excitement.
“How do you think you got here?” Leon said in a bored tone.
“That goddess, obviously.” Petey said.
Leons steps paused for a split second, before continuing.
“Yeah...” He said. “Her.”
“Speaking of, what about you? How long have you been here? Where did you start off? Did she tell yo-” Petey started.
“Stop.” Leon ordered, his tone serious. “Listen, kid.”
“I’m actually sevente-”
“Stop. I just met you. And I’m sure as hell not interested in talking about that God damned goddess. It’s been a long day, just do me a favor and shut up for a bit, so I can think about how we’re gonna survive the next couple of hours.”
The mood shifted into an uncomfortable silence. Leon thought he may have overreacted a bit.
“Please.” He added.
“Ye-yeah, sorry.” Petey responded.
Leon had no idea how long the tunnel was, but the count assured them it couldn’t be more than half a half-hour walk. It felt like they had already passed that point, there hadn’t been any turns or forks so far so Leon knew they weren’t lost. It was just a matter of time before they found the end.
I wonder how Roger’s doing.
How does Leon do it?
Roger thought, as he half staggered down the hallway. His adrenaline had mostly gone, allowing post battle fatigue to set in. He wasn’t even sure he could stand up without the support of the wall. While his injuries were non-fatal, they were extensive. Roger knew for a fact Leon had taken way more damage than himself. He was practically trading concussions with that large commander fellow.
Rogers mind went to Leon's history and his question was answered. There were many things Roger was not proud of in his life, and the way he met Leon was one of them.
Rogers “plan” wasn’t very well thought out. The confidence he had shown Leon was an act. If he couldn't convince his friend he was sure of his survival, then there would have been no chance of Leon leaving without him.
A sad smile made its way onto his face, as familiar thought popped into his head.
If I died here, would that be okay?
This was a common question for Roger and many other Arothians'. One he asked himself before every battle he'd ever fought. This time though he had an answer.
Yep, I’m good.
That wasn’t to say he was ready to die, far from it. If he had any chance he would grab on and never let go. He was however content, if it all ended here today, then that would be okay. He had a good life, many friends, accomplishments, even a sister. She may be saddened by his death, but she would eventually make peace with it.
Leon was made of sturdy stuff, Roger wasn’t too worried. Amelia and him would start a family and tell stories to their children of uncle Roger. How he valiantly died to protect their father.
How he died.
Roger let out a sigh.
With renewed vigor Roger pulled himself forward, his destination was well within sight. The place they were ambushed was only two doors down but it might as well have been a kilometer with Rogers injuries. It may have taken far longer than he expected or wished, but he did make it. He immediately went to work, trying his best to be quick without aggravating his head wound. When his grim deed was done he sat down, leaning against the wall. All that was left was to wait for Cli’ven.
That was much more difficult than he anticipated. His eyes slowly started to blink for longer and longer periods of time. He would consciously have to reopen them, but his focus was fading, and before long he was out.
“Sir! I got a live one!” Reported one of the surviving paladins.
Cli’ven was not happy with the way this raid turned out. Nearly half of his men died, not including the expensive Arothian mercenaries. The otherworlder escaped with Elton and to make everything worse he was also stuck behind enemy lines with no noble to hold hostage.
“Wake him.” Cli’ven ordered.
One of Cli’ven’s men and acting medic held a small uncorked vial under the survivor’s nose. With a sudden jolt the unconscious man woke, eyes wide.
“Gods! What is that!?”
“Where did they go? Elton and the boy, do you know anything?” Cli’ven immediately demanded answers.
“Let me get my damn bearings, I just woke! Where's Leon?” Rogers' question was sincere. After having woken his mind was taking its time to recall what he had been doing.
Cli’ven made a rough gesture to a corpse across from him. Where Brenan's body was laid, his tabard taken off and with Leon’s helmet adorning his head. Even Roger had trouble telling the minute differences in their size and armor.
It all came back to Roger, mild surprise and relief washed over him as he realized Cli’ven fell for his half-planned trick. Turned out Cli’ven didn’t care enough about his hired help to even recognize Leon's body, just like Roger hoped.
What an asshole.
“Well?” Cli’ven asked impatiently
“Ah, sorry. Just a lot to take in.” Roger replied, shaking his head.
“I understand that, I’ll make sure he gets a proper burial. After we finish.”
“You know he had a family, right?” Roger asked.
“And I’ll see to it they are compensated extra for their loss.” Cli’ven relented.
“Good, good. You know I have a family, right?” Roger asked, pushing his luck.
“Fine. You as well, now tell me what you know!” Cli’ven relented once more, his patience waning.
The last shred of hope for his mission was the honesty of a sellsword, which would cost him. However money was a non-issue for The Church of Dominion. Most of their followers were nobles, whose donations were generous.
“I heard Elton talk of men stationed outside the town, if I had to make a guess I’d say they were within The Forest.” Roger continued, appeased by the promise of wealth.
This was not good.
Cli’ven considered himself a brave man. Having taken part in many battles, and led hundreds of men into near suicidal situations, always at the lead. He would do anything for his god. No matter the cost to himself. This hardly mattered when he was faced with an impossible situation. The Forest was as close as Cli’ven could come to a fear. The fear of failing a direct divine proclamation from his god.
“We could follow them through their escape tunnel, Sir.” Cli’ven’s new second in command Ra'kahn answered, his predecessor having his neck snapped.
“Impossible. We have no idea what traps they may have set, or how many men he has. It's a perfect deathtrap.” Cli’ven shot down his subordinate. “No, as unfortunate as it is, we’ll have to track him down.”
“Through The Forest?” Ra’kahn asked, the slightest hint of fear in his voice.
“No. The people know his face, we’ll place a bounty and wait for word to reach us. ” Replied Cli’ven. “He can’t hide forever.”
Cli’ven hated the thought of leaving an outworlder unchecked for so long, but could do nothing to prevent it. The Forest was incredibly dangerous, and he had no clue where Elton came out at. He had no chance of leading any sizable force through without significant loss.
No, Elton would have to emerge sooner or later, and when he did Cli’ven would be waiting.
Leon lifted the heavy hatch that led out of the tunnel. Dirt and other small debris rained down on the pair, it must have been slightly buried as a disguise. This contributed to its weight, though Leon lifted it all the same, with no shown effort.
“It’s clear. Come on.” Leon said to Petey, who was right behind him.
“Awesome! So many spider webs, egh.” Petey replied thetricaly shivering.
Leon left the confines of the tunnel first, carefully checking their surroundings. Sounds of combat could be heard coming from behind, this was good. It meant they had less of a chance of being caught. Luckily no occupants were to be seen, leaving the building abandoned. They seemed to have surfaced in a shop of some kind, small novelties adorned shelves around them. Nothing Leon would ever take a second look at, it was mostly junk and useless trinkets.
“Woah, cool! Look at all this stuff!” Petey took in the room, amazed at all the marvels that surround them.
“Hm.” Leon grunted in disinterest, which Petey immediately mistook for agreement.
He buzzed around the room, picking up and inspecting anything within his reach. Due to Petey's height it was much less than he would have liked. Leon was quiet, letting Petey have his fun while he thought about their next move.
Leon was unfamiliar with the layout of the town, having only seen it from the wall and followed Cli’ven without so much verbal direction. His best bet was to loosely base his direction off the positioning of the keep. He could look to the flow of soldiers from the outside, but he wished to avoid anyone who may remember the overt pair.
“Yes! I was wanting a journal. Hey, you mind if I borrow some money?” Petey interrupted Leon's train of thought, holding a leather bound book.
“Just take it.” Leon replied.
“I can’t do that! Heros don’t steal.” Petey said nearly gasping at the thought. “I’ll pay you back!”
“Heroes?” Leon asked, genuinely confused.
“Well, I mean yeah! It’s the classic, ‘transported to another world’ setup!” Petey said, his eyes beaming. “Sapien said so.”
Leon wasn’t wearing his helmet. So when Petey had mentioned Sapien’s name he got a full view of the mercenary's reaction. Leon’s appearance was no less ghastly without his devil helm. His nose had been broken, causing blood to leak down the bottom half of his face. His hair short by necessity was messy, looking as if he cut it himself with a knife.
Which he did.
What was so disturbing to Petey however, had been the complete lack of emotion. Leon’s gaze was always steady, as if he was scrutinizing everything he could, in case it would be useful. For the briefest moment however Petey saw Leon's expression subtly change. Anger, annoyance, whatever it was, it had not been positive.
Petey didn’t know whether to be relieved or horrified when a grin found its way onto Leon's face.
“You know what? Sure, here.” Leon said, flipping a single chip to Petey.
Petey smiled and rushed to the counter, where he placed the triangular coin. Leon didn’t bother telling him a single chip would not cover the cost of the expensive paper the journal was made of. A single chip was maybe enough to buy day old bread, the journal was most likely worth a couple bars, or two hundred chips.
“Don’t forget to grab some clothes!” Leon shouted over his shoulder. “Your’s are to
eye catching, not to mention covered in piss.” Leon whispered the last few words.
Petey did just that. Taking as little time as possible, he dressed himself in working clothes. Nothing ratty or overly expensive, perfect for blending in as a normal peasant. Leon didn’t bother changing out of his plate armour, the insignia on his chest plate clearly marked him as a member of The Gilded Spear mercenary company.
“Here's the plan. I’m not familiar with the layout of the town, so we’ll need to skirt the main road. You’ll need to keep your face hidden, if you can. Whatever you do, don’t talk. People tend to remember foreigners around here.” Leon explained.
It wasn’t by any means a good plan, many things could go wrong at any moment. Leon didn’t want to overload Petey with anything too complicated, confusing the kid. Even if Leon wanted to, he was too worn out from the day's events to come up with anything better.
“Just follow me, and don’t run off. When we reach the main gate we won't have any choice but to go through the crowd.” Leon finished.
“Yeah, no problem. Follow and keep my mouth shut, got it.” Petey said make the ‘Okay’ gesture with his hand.
Leon wasn’t confident that Petey even knew what silence was, considering that since the moment they met he hasn’t once stopped talking.
Leon was right to doubt Petey.
Every time he saw something, he immediately had to ask what it was, even if it was obvious. They had only made it halfway through the town, but it felt like they should’ve walked miles by now to Leon. He was now convinced that Petey could slow time with his constant droning.
Leon had just finished identifying a bakery for the third time, when they were inevitably accosted. The one who blocked their way was a soldier, wearing the colors of House Kelos.
“Stop right there, Identify yourselves!” He shouted.
“What's your problem? I’m with The Gilded Spear.” Leon asked.
“My problem is with you, deserter. Even you paid killers have to follow the law. Count Kelos wants the town in one piece.” The soldier said eyes going between him and Petey, as if accusing Leon of something.
Leon immediately figured out what the problem was. It looked as if Leon had deserted the battle to pillage the town, and took Petey as a prize of some kind. Compared to the common person in this world, Petey had a nobleman's build. His skin was clear free of any tan, he was thin and muscleless, no sign of the hard work peasants had to do. If Leon were to sell him off as a slave he most likely would make quite the profit.
Not that he had considered the idea.
Count Kelos had previously placed a ban on pillaging of any kind, and while Leon held no loyalty to the man, he did need to follow his orders while Kelos was paying The Spear. Unfortunately, Leon needed Petey alive and free if he was going to learn what the kid knew. This meant he needed to find a way to get this soldier off their back if he was going to get Petey away.
“This kid killed one of Kelos’ men. Stabbed him in the gut when we were walking through that alley.” Leon said pointing back where they came from. “I’m taking him back for trial.”
There was a slight pause as the soldier processed what Leon said. Fortunately it seemed he was appeased with Leon’s fabrication. He was worried the man might bring up the fact Petey was unbound, but he apparently didn’t notice or care.
“Dammit! Another life taken by some brat getting hot headed.” The soldier replied, with an overly dramatic sigh, while he turned toward the alley Leon mentioned. ”Do me a favor and take me to the body. I'll carry the poor bastard back.”
“Yeah, no problem. He’s right over there.” Leon said, extending his arm in front of Petey, stopping him from following along.
He didn’t need to see this.