The presence of a Reborn meant a change in the plan. We could still use the choking dust to incapacitate the enemy, but the priorities shifted.

I circled everyone up, told team what we had inside, and what we were going to do about it.

In short, the Reborn needed to be our main target. We had to rush him, and we had to take him down before he had a chance to fight back. If we didn't, we wouldn't stand a chance.

A quick word of explanation, here:

The Reborn were an interesting phenomenon. I'd dealt with plenty of them since joining the Raiders. Almost all adventurers were Reborn. When they felt talkative, some would describe living entire lifetimes in a different place. A world of glass towers and steel carriages, machines that could fly, and strange magic that let a man speak to someone half a world away.

Some scholars said they were fallen demigods, sent here as a penance for their failures in the godly realm. I wasn't sure about that, having known a few. But I had no other ready explanations, either.

I just knew they were dangerous.

I'd seen the least powerful of them shrug off blows that would kill a normal man. A Reborn Mage—an apprentice, by his own account—once took a full-on sword thrust to the chest. Not only did he not die, the man still had the strength to use a magic potion to heal himself.

Bottom line, this Gold Lion Warrior—even if he were just a middling Reborn—was priority one. We were only going to engage the other men-at-arms on our way to him, as targets of opportunity.

I reordered the teams, stacking them on the two sides of the building and foregoing the rear. We'd throw the eggs in through the side windows only, and rush the entrance, getting our full force into play as fast as possible.

I gave everyone a count down. Two hundred seconds, which was plenty of time to get in place.

We used a rhythmic "One-two-three-four, Two-two-three-four, Three-" count in the Raiders, a simple cadence that served to help us synchronize any activity where we needed to act as one. Everything from marching, to locking shields, to stacking arms in bivouac.

It ensured no one got ahead of his brothers when it mattered.

At one-ninety-five, I lit the fuse on my two eggs. At one-ninety-eight, I rolled them through the windows.

We didn't wait for them to pop. We were already moving at a dead sprint for the warehouse's main entrance.

"Go! Go! Go!"

Somewhere inside, I heard a series of loud "Bang!" sounds.

Around the front of the building, we found the main entrance. The outfit had hung up a large banner, an 8'x12' tapestry with that same golden lion device on it, dangling above the door.

I have to admit, we didn't give the sentry credit. He was disciplined enough to stand his post, had already drawn his weapon, and was ready for us when we showed. He dealt a good blow to Willow with his longsword, but Willow managed to take it on his armored sleeve.

By that time, we were already in close, too damn close for the sentry to do much by way of protecting himself. He tried to back up, but ran into the door frame. Willow got close enough to kiss him, and rammed a dagger into the gap under his armpit.

While Willow held on long enough to make damn sure he was dead, the rest of us streamed inside.

It was like running into a cloud. The choking dust was still billowing up and around the room. Our shemaghs helped catch the worst of it, but it still burned our eyes and the exposed skin on our faces.

Just like I'd ordered, our boys went to work on anyone directly in front of them, but we otherwise stayed together. Rabbit led the way to the last spot we'd seen the Reborn, with Runt hot on his trail.


The cloud was thinning out when we got to him, the dust gradually settling to earth. The Reborn was like the others, hacking and coughing helplessly.

No, I realized.

Not entirely helplessly.

Like the guard out front, he'd managed to draw his sword, and was actively scanning for targets through swollen, burning eyes.

We penned him in, swinging our hatchets like our lives depended on it. I know I personally connected twice, good solid blows that should have bitten into flesh and bone. They glanced off him without any more effect than if I'd slapped him with a bamboo reed.

This is what I meant about the Reborn being so much tougher than they should be. It's some kind of magic. Whether divine or diabolical in nature, I don't know.

After he took enough hits to fell a dozen men, he finally got something of his bearings. Still hacking and coughing, he barreled through us, spun in place, and brought down his sword in a diagonal arc.

Runt dropped like a bundle of sackcloth, his head split almost down to his jaw.

Half-high led the dog pile, latching onto the Reborn's sword arm and refusing to let go. The rest of us joined in, with Willow coming in at the last and taking his legs from behind, toppling him over.


Once he was down, I rammed my knife into his eye and worked it around until things crunched. His scream went high, and someone else knifed him low. At the same time, Half-high cut the tendons in his wrist, forcing him to drop the sword.

Like I said, you can't be too careful with these guys.

"Get the rest of them," I ordered. My shemagh had slipped down in the struggle. I'd gotten half a lungful of the choking dust. My chest burned from the inside out. I was trying to stand, trying not to collapse in a coughing fit.

The boys recovered any dropped weapons, and went to work on the rest of the enemy.

It was pure mop up at this point. Less than a half dozen of the men-at-arms had managed to free blades from scabbards. Most had collapsed to helpless vomiting. We used swift strokes as we went through them, efficient and professional. Rickard's Raiders don't dole out needless suffering. We're not torturers.

And besides, this was nothing personal.

Just business.

Officer or no, I did my share of the butcher's work. One of the captain's maxims was to never ask the men to do something you won't. Especially if it's the kind of thing that will leave a stain on the soul.

Eventually, my circuit around the warehouse brought me back to the Reborn. Incredibly, he was still alive. He was even trying to stand.

I got my first good look at him then. He was a young man, barely into his twenties. Like so many of the Reborn, he had the soft features of a kid accustomed to an easy life. It was a face at odds with the old scars I could make out. And the fresh wounds.

He looked at me with his one, un-ruined eye. I expected to see hate and accusation there, the same feelings I'd have in his situation. Instead, he looked at me with a mix confusion and sadness.

"It wasn't... supposed to be like... this..." He coughed up a wad of thick, dark blood. Someone's knife had been on target.

"Never is," I said.

"I was... supposed to be a... hero..."

"Yeah, kid. That's what they all say."

Something else joined that sadness and confusion on his face. It might have been hope.

"Think... I'll...see her... again...?"

I didn't ask who he meant. I lined up my hatchet strike, aiming it right between his eyes.

"Sure, kid. You'll see her."

This time, he finally gave up the ghost.


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