Double Trio: Chapter 3

By snakeslitherer

Baldwin sullenly slumped towards the campfire, his visage devoid of any expression. He was defeated, pure and simple, having made what could very well be the worst decision he had ever made. He prided himself on being a leader, at least for two mercenary misfits like himself, anyways. But to fall for the wiles of mamono, and worse, to be lied to by his own comrades in the process, was devastating. He, Cwichelm, and Anselmo were outlaws now, and they would never again be welcome in the Empire.

Anselmo, on the other hand, seemed not to have a care in the world. He was eagerly chattering away with Ahmose, his arm wrapped around her shoulders. Ahmose's pointy ears twitched rhythmically with each word he spoke, her face blushing darker gazing into his brown eyes. He was telling some tall tale about how he, and he alone, fought an entire troop of goblins. Baldwin didn't even want to digest and refute the obvious lies, but he knew that it was Cwichelm's magic, Baldwin's sword, and, yes, Anselmo's crossbow, that, together, sent the little green bastards to hell.

Cwichelm sat with Brigid, the two quietly enjoying each others' presence. Cwichelm was not much of a man for words, and it did not surprise Baldwin that the battlemage did not speak. It was more surprising that Brigid was silent as well. She had just finished singing a silly little ditty for the group, strumming her zither to the tune of a foreign melody. Her voice was beautifully haunting: it was like hearing the melancholy song of a troubadour long-dead. Could it be possible, Baldwin thought, that they might have the magic to keep preserved the voices of the present for future generations? He did not know, nor did he want to find out. Such magic was anathema; but so was this very group, he noted to himself.

Baldwin, lost in his thought, only barely noticed Cassandra walking to his side. The back of his hairs tingled, and so he turned around to witness the wild-haired centaur come up to him. He was still mystified by her actions. Why was he not raped? For that matter, why not his comrades? What sort of restraint prevented the mamono from making three simple mercenaries theirs? But he did not want to ask right away.

"Baldwin, are you alright? Did I hurt you during that incident?" Cassandra asked, her youthful, yet windswept face wrinkled with worry.

Baldwin did not reply, but instead merely stared emptily at her.

Cassandra, undeterred, placed her hand on Baldwin's shoulder. "I know it's... unexpected, but we didn't want to deceive you like this. But this is the Empire, we didn't have much of a choice."

Baldwin placed his hand on top of her hand, a wan smile slowly forming on his face. "I do not blame you, Cassandra, nor your friends; I don't blame my own, for that matter." He paused for a second, trying to find the right words. "I'm- I hope we reach this temple to the Emperors of the Damned soon and get this over with."

"I can read between the lines, Baldwin," Cassandra accused. "You want to be rid of us, even though you know you won't be welcome in the Empire anyways."

"You're not wrong, Cassandra," Baldwin admitted. "My life's mission, everything I stand for, has been to fight against you and your kind. Don't expect me to suddenly be so welcoming. I may be polite, yes, but not your friend."

Cassandra smirked. "Ha, so there's a blunt side to you, dear knight. But I understand your hesitancy."

Baldwin nodded. He could see that Cassandra had a gleam in her eye, the kind that showed the mamono within that wanted to take him aside and ravage him. But she was keeping it under control somehow. Again, why was that? Baldwin needed to know.

After an awkward pause, he asked, "Why haven't you... taken us? Is that not what you mamono do?"

Cassandra did not look too surprised by the question. She sighed and replied, "We've been explicitly ordered not to engage in such relations for now. The quest comes first and foremost. Such is the word of our mistress."

That led to another question. "What is so important about this 'Great Scepter', anyways? Why hire three mercenaries to deal with this issue? Do you not have your armies of mamono to take this temple at a moment's notice?"

Cassandra shook her head. "That's not going to work and you know it. If we sent out a legion of mamono to take it, you know you'd get a crusade in response. That would just lead to unneeded suffering and lives lost. The attention, also, would draw them towards the temple, and we don't want them to take it for their purposes." She sighed, her hoof involuntarily stomping the ground. "Brigid knows the most lore about it, and about the Emperors of the Damned, but-" she glanced over to Brigid "- I don't think she's available for now."

Baldwin simply nodded. "Thank you, then, for being honest."

Cassandra turned back to him, raising her brow. "So what do you want to do with us, O valiant knight? Cast us aside, perhaps?"

Baldwin laughed, full of sardonic mirth. "I've already signed my life away to you, haven't I? I'll have no other choice but to help you out! Besides -" he gazed toward his comrades "- someone's got to babysit those two. The Gods only know what kind of trouble they'd get into without me."

Cassandra chuckled, as if to agree. "You're right, they do need a leader. And I think you're a good leader of men."

Baldwin murmured a simple "Thanks", his cheeks reddening a little bit. Looking up at the waxing moon, he said, "I believe it's time to sleep. We'll need it for the journey ahead." With that, he pulled himself up.

Before he could go, however, Cassandra seized him by his shoulders and planted a quick kiss on his forehead. "For luck," she explained.

Baldwin blushed red as a beet, any objection he had dying down in his mind, and he retreated to his tent. Seeing Baldwin go to his tent, the rest of the group followed suit shortly after.

Anselmo had a pleasant dream that night. He was dreaming about everything he would do with Ahmose. That brown, cute little Anubis gave her all in the pleasures she gave to him, and Anselmo, mere human that he was, felt in the dream that he was giving his all as well, even if it would kill him. If his exertions were too much for him, well, so be it! All for this wondrous, new type of loving, he would give everything for! Ahmose looked up at him, and grinned. She seemed not to be awkward here, but rather the greatest of lovers blessed by the Gods.

But, alas, all this pleasurable lovemaking had to end. Ahmose stopped herself, to Anselmo's surprise, and, in a voice tinged with some sadness, told him, "I must leave." But with a seductive smile, she added, "Don't worry, this won't be fantasy for long." She brushed her paw on his cheek, before disappearing. He felt an overwhelming sensation of emptiness and loss replace her presence. The next thing he felt was a sudden, sharp pain in his side.

"Anselmo!" A familiar voice yelled.

His eyes swung wide open. Groggily looking up, he saw Baldwin standing above him with a stern gaze.

"Shit, is it time already?" Anselmo grimaced, the boot still leaving its impression on his side.

"Yes, Anselmo. Now get moving, you're too old to whine."

Anselmo loved his friends, but there was a time when he wished he could punch Baldwin for disturbing his beautiful dreams. Alas, the world was cruel, and so he got up from bed. He packed his things and disassembled his tent. He looked around to see everyone else doing the same. Ahmose, who had finished packing her things, brought over the rouncies. She brought one over to Anselmo. He put his things onto the saddle, and gave the horse a cheeky slap before pulling himself on.

Ahmose quietly shook her head, giggling at that antic of his, before she got on her own horse. Never before had she met such a silly, lively man like Anselmo! She'd known a couple of men, her friends' husbands, who were lively in their own ways, but they weren't like he was, not to her anyways. Just being around him made her feel more alive. So naturally, she drove her horse to keep close to him.

Just a few yards from them, Brigid and Cwichelm were working on their own packs. Cwichelm pulled up his equipment onto his courser's saddle, but did not climb up as Anselmo had. Instead, he turned to Brigid and her horse. Holding out his hand, he asked, "Need help?"

Brigid smiled, a warm spot on her cold, pale face, and her hollow voice answered, "I wouldn't mind." She took Cwichelm's hand, whose warm and rough hand felt amazing to her own cold and clammy hands, and climbed up on the stirrup, one foot at a time, to saddle herself. She held onto Cwichelm's hand for a while longer, enjoying the warmth he provided. That warmth, that feeling of being held by a loving man like that, was such a foreign feeling to a girl long undead. It made her feel less cold inside, as a matter of fact.

"Do you know what you smell like, Brigid?" Cwichelm asked.

Brigid frowned. She'd gotten her fair share of wizards down south who had said she smelled like death before. Even if they meant well, it was still a bit insulting. Even if she was undead, it still wasn't nice to go around telling her she smelled! But she decided to play along anyways.

"What do I smell like, Cwichelm?"

Cwichelm smiled, and told her, "Like flowers."

Brigid blushed, trying her best to hide the fact, but she was too late. Cwichelm grinned in satisfaction, knowing he had gotten through to her, before kissing her hand. He let go of her and went to mount his own horse.

Under her breath, she muttered, "Ah, what a strange wizard he is..." She adjusted herself and rode up to Cwichelm's side.

Finally, there were Baldwin and Cassandra. Baldwin packed his things up and laid them on top of his destrier. The horse whinnied as Cassandra trot over to Baldwin.

"I wonder what regular horses think of you centaurs?" Baldwin asked Cassandra, as he finished tying down everything.

"How do you humans think of elves?" Cassandra countered, annoyance barely disguised in her tone.

In playful retaliation for the slight, Baldwin went for the jugular. He switched to his formal, courtly register, and asked, "Do you get that question a lot, madame horse?"

Cassandra wanted to kick him right in the balls, but she let her temper settle and instead said, "You're an idiot, Baldwin."

Baldwin chuckled and hopped on his horse. He spared a quick glance at Cassandra, and asked her, "Are you staying as a centaur?"

"Don't worry, our magic works well enough. A little illusory spells, some alterative casting, and a heap of faith, and the average human wouldn't ever find out."

"But aren't you still in mamono form?"

Cassandra sighed. He wasn't catching on. "Yes, you'll see us as mamono, but others wouldn't. It's the faith that we aren't mamono that makes people think we're regular girls like them."

Baldwin scratched his chin, the information finally clicking. "Ah, I see now. Well, it worked well enough on us, so it should work for them."

With the conversation done, he took his horse's reins firmly in his gauntleted grip. Looking to his friends, and then to the mamono, he yelled, "Comrades, let us sally forth!" He followed up that call with a flick of the reins and a gallop. He rode first in line, followed by Cassandra, then Anselmo and Ahmose, and finally Cwichelm and Brigid. Thus the journey began anew.

[The Inquisitors slowly catch up to the group, but they meet the Order, who want also to take the double trio for their own glory]

Inquisitor Banden and his company had been following their prey's trail for the last few days. Following Priest Ranno's advice, they had kept themselves at a distance from their quarry. The company, forty strong, was composed of Banden, three lieutenants, six warrior-priests, and thirty auxiliaries. The auxiliaries were the usual rabble: naive, idealistic peasant boys with no better choice of adventuring group, faithful commoners who sought to fight against evil heresy, prisoners who exchanged the chains of the dungeon for the chain in their mail, deserters who managed to escaped the gallows, and a few repentant heretics here and there. Their only qualities were their numbers and their fear of the Inquisition's wrath. The lieutenants were Inquisition men-at-arms who had proved their worth, and thus were given chain and plate armor, often obtained from the clean spoils of war, and were armed with lances and falchions for quick charges against heretics and other such scum. The warrior priests, sworn to the Church-Law and Goddess Laht, used their holy magics, but were oathbound to only use blunt weapons. Of course, a hammer or mace could still kill a man just as well as any other weapon.

The hypocrisy sickened Lieutenant Ganzes. Not that he didn't mind swinging a flanged mace into a heretic's face, but he didn't try to hide behind some useless oath to Laht. He was content to prove his faith through action. Ganzes, riding astride his black courser, wore his steel plate well. Such were the profits of heresy-hunting.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden thundering up the road. "Another party out here, eh?" Ganzes grimaced. He was not in the mood for fighting, especially this early. He could see small, narrow clouds of light-brown dust form in the horizon. "A small one, by the looks of it."

He turned to his compatriots and gave them the signal to stand firm and prepare for battle. The lieutenants trotted off to the side of the road and readied their lances. The auxiliaries crouched down into formation; the crossbowmen and archers notched their arrows and bolts, and the spearmen knelt to form a spear-wall. The warrior-priests stood on the sides of the formation, each with hammer and mace out, and spellhand ready to cast their magics. If this party valued its life, it would stop and yield to the Inquisition. If not, well, the company would have some practice against clearly suicidal victims.

Inquisitor Banden, who was at the rear, rode up to Ganzes. His ruddy face was turning a light shade of purple with anger. He did not want delays, not when there was work to be done. "What is the meaning of this, Lieutenant?" His words came out slowly, with a subtle shakiness in the enunciation.

"M'lord Inquisitor, there is a party coming forth against us. I took the liberty of-"

"You do not take liberties, Lieutenant. That is for me to decide!" Banden growled.

"Yes, m'lord, I apologize," Ganzes answered, knowing full well it was better to appease Banden before he did something drastic again.

Banden, gazing over at the dust clouds as they came closer, nodded to himself before telling Ganzes, "Your initiative, however, is not unwelcome, Lieutenant."


"Hold the formation here, Lieutenant," Banden ordered imperiously. "I will stand before this party myself. If they attack, you know what to do."

"As you command, m'lord."

Banden rode his horse roughly five yards in front of the company, keeping his posture straight and his gaze strong. His weathered face had seen many years of war and violence, and much blood spilled. That same face showed no emotion, his face returning to its normal flush.

The unknown party finally came within the Inquisitor's sight. The first thing he saw was a banner, held high on lances owned by eight cavalrymen. On that banner was a white sword on a black field.

"The Order," he heard someone, he didn't know who exactly, murmur behind him.

But the Order it was. The Knights, seeing the formation of Inquisition men before them, swung their horses out of the way to avoid impalement. Once the knights had their horses under control, they trot back up to Banden in orderly fashion. Each knight was well-attired in the finest armor money could possibly buy: plate and mail under surcoats with the Order's heraldry. All men had excellent arms, as well: swords, hammers, maces, axes, and lances, in the best shape possible.

One of those men, a large knight on an equally large horse, rode towards Banden. He wore a winged helm of red-dyed horse hair.

"Brigands, scoundrels!" He yelled, his voice muffled by the helm. "Why have you challenged the Knightly Order of Heroes? Do you wish to die by our hand?"

Inquisitor Banden answered, "We are Inquisition men, seeking a band of heretics and monsters that are fleeing from justice!"

The knight looked at the men still in formation, and scoffed. "And you seek this band by preparing to fight knights on their holy mission?"

"My apologies, Sir Knight. We have been on edge today. I will ensure, however, that this does not happen again."

"Good, Inquisitor. Now, as a sign of good faith, where is this band of heretics you seek?"

Banden sighed. The foolhardy knights were going to ruin this whole quest, weren't they? But he had to answer him, for the sake of diplomacy. "We have tracked them, and we believe they are headed to Amalzigas. I must admit, however, that I do not know this area well."

"Do not worry, Inquisitor, this is my area of expertise. If I were a criminal, as these dastardly heathens are, I would not take the main crossing at Amalshaven. There's too many witnesses and too many risks. So I suspect they would take the crossing in the hills, where they could cross unseen."

Banden nodded. "Right, then these heretics of ours will have taken that route."

"Yes, that's correct."

"Hmph, that will help us out tremendously, dear knight."

Banden wasn't sure, but he could feel a smug aura coming from inside the helm. Deep down inside, Banden wanted to show him what Inquisitors were capable of, and not just with words, either. Nevertheless, his rationality won over his temper, if only for a little bit.

"Perhaps we could help each other out more, Inquisitor," the knight continued.

Alarms were ringing inside Banden. This wasn't going to be good.

"Why not work together to bring this band to justice?" The knight asked. "We knights, with some auxiliaries, of course, would hunt for these men from one side of the Amal, and you and your men could hunt from the other. No matter which way they go, they would be surrounded by holy warriors of justice! They would surely be swiftly put down like the dogs they are!"

It was exactly as bad as Banden thought it would be. Not only attacking the group that he was ordered not to interfere with, but also entrapping them. A battle against three mercenaries, one a confirmed battlemage, and three monsters, was going to amass plenty of casualties among his men. "But that never mattered much for the Order, eh?" Banden thought to himself. "Only glory, honor and the Gods' will! Even if there were subtler, more effective ways of dealing with these heretics, the Order would never see them used because of their own naive chivalric ideals!"

But Banden couldn't just say no to these men, ostensibly his allies and fellow heretic-hunters. He couldn't attack them without causing yet another inter-organization conflict, no matter how important this artifact was. So, with a heavy heart, he nodded to the knight. "That is a good plan of yours, sir knight. My men and I shall take the Ducal side of the river, if you knights take this side of the river."

The knight clasped his hands together on the lance-shaft, and thrust it upwards. His fellows followed suit. "So shall it be!" They proclaimed in perfect unison.

Banden would have laughed at the silliness, but he knew better. "We shall meet you, then, at the river Amal!" He turned towards the company, and yelled, "Step aside, men! Let these knights sally forth!"

The Inquisition men dutifully broke formation, gathering themselves on one side of the road or the other. Banden took his place next to Lieutenant Ganzes. Once the dust cleared amidst the shuffling of men and horses, the knights thrust their lances upwards once more, and yelled, "Sally forth!" They spurred their horses forward and galloped away.

Once the knights were far enough away, their presence only confirmed by their dust trail, he swung over to Lieutenant Ganzes. To the man's surprise, Banden wasn't angry, but in the place of that anger was something far worse. That grin on Banden's face could only mean...

"Lieutenant, take Lieutenant Herzal and twenty auxiliaries, and head to the Ducal side of the Amal. Once there, I want you to help the knights in any way possible. We'll follow behind the two of you to station pickets just in case. This may not be such a bad thing after all..."

Granzes, gulping out of sudden anxiety, followed his orders and took off with his detachment of men. As he marched with his men, Granzes churned his mind for any reason why the Inquisitor would suddenly change his mind. When he finally realized, he grew fearful. "You smarmy bastard..."

The Double Trio had, after another two days of travel, finally reached the border of the Duchy of Amalzigas. This land, Amalzigas, was so named for the great River Amal that ran the length of the Duchy, neatly depositing itself and its sediment at a delta, where the waters flowed into the sea. Clear fresh water ran along the portion of the Amal that bordered the Bishopric, but further down it would slowly darken and finally turn brown with mud and washed-out sediment.

Here, though, the water was down at the bottom of a canyon, with the group on the top of a cliff to the right. To the left was another cliff, although what lay beyond was hidden in layer after layer of thick brush and trees. In between the cliffs and over the river, a bridge just big enough to fit the group with the horses. That bridge, however, didn't look well-kept, its planks slowly rotting away.

As always, Anselmo was the first to comment. "Shit, we have to cross that thing?"

And as always, Baldwin replied to that comment. "Shut up, Anselmo. Do you have any better place to cross this river?"

Anselmo, rebuked, did as he was told. Ahmose, however, pouted and stuck her tongue out at Baldwin.

Cwichelm got down from his courser and examined the bridge for himself, carefully avoiding the cliff's edge. He grunted. "It isn't so bad. Seen worse back home."

"You sure, man?" Anselmo asked, shifting himself anxiously in the saddle.

"We'll have to go through one at a time," Cwichelm added. He looked reassuringly at Anselmo. "Don't worry, this won't be like the ruins of Qisbath."

"Let's start, then," Baldwin said. "We shouldn't waste time here."

Before he could reply, Cwichelm jerked his head to the woods, and then towards the road behind them.

Cassandra looked up, her horse-ears twitching. "Yes, I hear them, too."

Ahmose deeply inhaled, the air tasting of iron and sweat. "I s-smell them."

Brigid closed her eyes, and she saw them in her mind's eye. In a sing-song voice, she murmured, "Yes, the 'Holy Ones', Eight apiece!"

"What is it?" Anselmo asked.

"'Holy Ones'?" Baldwin pondered aloud. "Damn, we've got Churchmen on us!"

"Fuck!" Anselmo yelled, throwing himself off his rouncey. "We gotta fight 'em!"

Cwichelm grinned, a tinge of bloodthirst glowing in his eyes. "Agreed. A good fight this'll be."

Everyone else got off their horses and prepared for battle.

Anselmo thrust his pavise into the ground where he stood, the swordtip of his shield's lewd art buried under dirt. He got his crossbow out, and loaded the first bolt onto it. As he strung the crossbow, one crank at a time, Ahmose ran over next to him with her hand on her scimitar.

"I-I'll d-defend y-y-you with my l-life, Anselmo!" Ahmose declared proudly.

For once, Anselmo didn't have an appropriately witty retort. He just said, "Yeah, you too." He'd had many a woman declare their love for him, and their hearts were soon broken. But no woman had ever said that she would fight with him on the field, life on the line, to show her love for him. It was a surreal feeling.

He finished readying the crossbow, and shouldered it, leaning its body down onto the pavise to give him support.

Baldwin drew his yar-spear, holding it under-handed with his left hand. With his right, he began checking his magic. With a snap of his fingers, a tiny flame lit on his index finger. Snuffing it out with his thumb, he parted his fingers, and this time little sparks of electricity crackled between them. Closing them off, he then rubbed his thumb down his finger, and a black, slimy worm wriggled out from his fingertip, and then burrowed itself in his thumb.

Brigid, observing the magic at work, said, "I think this magic will need to be stronger for our knightly friends." A smug grin spread across her pale face.

Cwichelm laughed heartily at the teasing. "Aye, and there's plenty more to give them, Brigid!" He balled his hand into a fist, and when he opened it back up, his palm was aflame, with the black worms, now forming into all sorts of insectoid shapes, riding the little flashes of lightning around the fire.

Brigid giggled, and in turn took out her zither. She strummed an energetic, joyful tune, and sang, "Afgaahz amuluoteni enflanuns!" Suddenly, atop the flames stood two figures, a male and a female, in living color. They were waltzing in place, the woman guiding the man with every sway.

Cwichelm, seeing the figures, laughed. "The fury of love, eh? I should've known you could speak the Elder Tongue!"

"Of course I could, you big lug! I'm, what, five hundred years old, after all!"

"And still in fine shape, too!"

Still laughing, Cwichelm crunched down the fire and the figures into his fist, and his hand returned to normal.

"Are you ready, dear?" He asked Brigid.

"Of course, darling!" She answered, quickly kissing his hand.

Baldwin unsheathed his bastard sword, its sheen bright even with the setting sun. Remembering his Order days, he thrust the sword up into the air, the light shining forth in all directions. He pulled it back down, and laid it on his shoulder. He drew his shield, strapping onto his left arm.

Cassandra came by his side, pulling out her curved bow and stringing it. "You seem ready as ever, Sir Baldwin."

"I'm always prepared for battle, Cassandra," Baldwin replied testily.

Having strung the bow, Cassandra notched her first arrow. She began pounding the ground with her hoof, each time sending a piece of grass flying.

"Nervous?" Baldwin asked.

"I-I haven't really fought any Churchmen before," Cassandra admitted.

"Me neither, so that makes two of us."

Cassandra laughed, but still she was nervous.

By the time everyone was prepared, the 'Holy Eight' had thundered through the road and were near the bridge. The pounding of hooves on the dirty road, the clanking of armor bouncing in the saddles, the whinnies of the horses, and the silence of the men who rode them.

Baldwin caught a brief glance at the group. The eight men were all on their horses, with banners on their lances. Seeing the white sword on black, he drew his breath. "The Order..." he thought. "My old friends after us."

After that, he didn't have much more time to think. The knights lowered their lances and charged at them. With its distinctive twang, Anselmo's crossbow loosed its bolt onto one of the horses, piercing its front leg. The horse buckled and sent its rider a yard in front of it. The knights behind him tried to move out of the way, but to no avail. He was trampled on by his own comrades' horses, who charged past him.

Anselmo ducked behind his pavise to reload. Cassandra shot an arrow at the knights, striking one's horse in the eye. It, too, fell down, but its rider held on. However, the rider was crushed under his horse's weight when it fell.

The lead knight charged at Baldwin. Baldwin lifted his shield to protect himself from the lance, which struck just a few inches above his hand. The lance broke off in the shield, its splinters flying all over the shield. Baldwin jerked the shield away, and swung his sword at the knight. He narrowly missed, only managing to scratch the horse.

Cwichelm popped out from cover and shot a bolt of flame from his hand. It struck a knight in the chest, which stuck to his cuirass and quickly spread like wildfire. Screaming from the pain, he threw himself off his horse and tried to roll to put the flames out. But the fire only kept burning, and he kept screaming and crying. Soon enough, however, his agonized screaming ceased; the poor bastard had roasted alive in his own armor.

Five knights still remained to fight on.

Realizing the danger Cwichelm meant, two knights charged at him. Cwichelm, however, was prepared. He thrust his yar into one knight's horse, piercing it straight in its throat, then pulling it out. The horse collapsed, throwing the rider out of his seat. He used his magic to send an arc of lightning at the other knight. The poor bastard danced with the blast of electricity, before slumping over.

Three knights.

Baldwin turned around to meet the lead knight, and saw behind the knight twenty-one men, each with the white hand emblem on their helms. Spearmen, bowmen, a hammerman, and two men-at-arms on horseback: individually, they weren't a threat, but with multiple fronts to fight on...

"We've got Inquisition men, too!" He yelled in alarm.

Anselmo and Ahmose turned behind them, seeing the bowmen ready to shoot.

"Ah shit! Archers!" He managed to yell just before the volley launched. Bolts and arrows flew from the other side of the river towards the group. Anselmo placed himself in front of Ahmose, ready to absorb the brunt of the arrowfire. An arrow struck him in his right shoulder with a sickening thud. "Oh Gods!" He screamed out. Even in the midst of the pain, however, he tried to blindly fire a countershot. Shouldering the crossbow despite his pain, he loosed the new bolt towards the archers. Whether he hit anyone or not, he didn't know.

Ahmose held him up with her hands under his arms. "C'mon, Anselmo! You've got this!"

"Fuck! I know, but shit, does it hurt," he hissed out.

The arrowfire struck Baldwin's shield in a couple of spots, none thankfully causing as big a hole as the lance did. What concerned Baldwin more, however, was Cassandra's pained whinny. He turned around to see an arrow stuck in her back left shoulder. "Cassandra!" He cried out, as the lead knight came back to finish the job.

The initial anger boiled into rage, and that rage gave Baldwin enough strength for what he needed to do. With a single swipe of his sword, he decapitated the lead knight's horse, which fell before him. The lead knight scrambled out from his saddle and unsheathed his longsword.

"A clean blow, that was," the knight said. "You're a good fighter for a heretic."

"I'm no heretic, Sir," Baldwin answered. "I'm not here because of their words, but only for their mission."

"And that is the same thing in the end, is it not?"

"You misunderstand, but I don't think we're going to get anywhere with this conversation."

"True enough. Now, heretic, en garde!"

Baldwin gripped his sword tight, and prepared his shield for a fight. The knight held his in an aggressive thrusting position.

After a split second, the knight charged full-speed. With all of his might he thrust the sword towards Baldwin. Baldwin, however, threw his shield up just in time, stopping the sword in its tracks. Not wanting to give the knight a chance to throw him around, Baldwin slid his arm out from the shield. It fell harmlessly to the ground; the knight's sword, however, was pulled out from the shield just in time to make a swing. Baldwin blocked it with his own sword. With the clanging of the swords ringing in their ears, both men pulled their swords apart.

Without the shield getting in his way, Baldwin turned his sword horizontally, and switched to half-swording, his free hand on the blade. The knight, on the other hand, only adjusted his hands, squeezing tightly on the grip. The knight pulled his sword upwards, for a second swing, as Baldwin moved his sword into thrusting position. As the knight swung downwards, Baldwin swiftly dodged the sword, and with the precious few seconds he had, Baldwin thrust his sword into an armor gap in the knight's side, just below the armpit. With a heave and a cry, the knight fell, struck in his heart.

Baldwin pulled his sword out, looking down at the dead knight. "It's a shame to have killed you, sir. In better days, you would have been my friend." With a sigh, he turned to Cassandra.

Cwichelm and Brigid had managed to avoid the arrows, thanks in part to Cwichelm's speedy usage of a magical shield. A solid black darkness had formed a globe of protection around the two of them, and any arrow that flew into it was absorbed, or rather, devoured, by black cilia that pulled them into the darkness itself. With the two safe from harm, Cwichelm ordered the shield down, and the darkness obeyed, sliding back into its master's body.

Brigid stared at him, amazed at the darkness. "How in the hell? Is that a shoggoth?" She asked.

Cwichelm was puzzled. "A what? No. This is something different: this is the price my bloodline must pay."

Before Brigid could question him more, the knight whose horse Cwichelm had felled attempted to get up. But Cwichelm put an end to that quickly, impaling the man with his bloody yar.

"It seems we've got more men to deal with," he said, moving forward to join the others. Brigid followed behind, keeping her zither ready for a magical song.

The two went over to Anselmo and Ahmose to check on them. "Anselmo, you okay?" Cwichelm asked

"No, I'm not, dipshit!" Anselmo growled.

"That's good, if you can still talk shit."

"Fuck you, man. I think it hit a nerve or something."

Ahmose piped up, saying, "H-hey guys, w-we need to get out of h-here!"

"Yes," Baldwin said, as he came up with Cassandra limping behind him. "We're getting tired and wounded, and we've got two knights still wanting a fight, and twenty men on the other side of the bridge.

Anselmo thought for a second, despite his injury, and said, "You think Ahmose and I can use the pavise to escape down the river?"

"With a drop that high?" Cassandra asked skeptically.

"Better hurt from the fall than dead... Wait a sec." Anselmo looked over at Ahmose, and quickly began tearing her clothes off.

Ahmose yelped in surprise, about to struggle against him, before she understood what he was doing. She helped him remove her all of her clothes from head to toe, leaving her with only a loincloth for modesty.

"Bad time to be horny," Baldwin told Anselmo.

"Yeah boss, but this is different!" Anselmo replied. He took the clothes and tied them together as quickly as possible, forming something like a parachute made of rags.

"That's the smartest thing you've ever come up with," Cwichelm teased. "Perhaps you should get shot with arrows more often."

"Yeah, fuck you too, Cwichelm," Anselmo retorted with a smile.

"Alright, then, if you're going to try it, then do it soon," Baldwin said. "Cwichelm, you and Brigid hold off the bastards on the other side. Cassandra and I've got the last two knights."

Everyone knew what to do. Anselmo, with help from Ahmose, heaved the pavise out of the ground, and quickly tied the parachute to the pavise. Once they were finished, Ahmose strapped the pavise onto her back. She grabbed ahold of Anselmo, with her hands around his waist. They rushed to the cliff.

Anselmo, feeling a deep pit in his stomach form at the great height, told Ahmose, "If we get out of this alive, I don't care what anyone says. You and I are going to FUCK."

Ahmose giggled. "You better be ready, then, because here we go!"

And with that, the two jumped from the cliff. The raggedy parachute burst open, stopping their fall from turning into a splat, and instead let them glide safely away.

The bowmen shot a volley at the parachute. Some of the arrows managed to rip holes through the rags, but the rest missed their mark.

And so Anselmo and Ahmose flew away, ready to fight another day.

Baldwin and Cassandra marched up to the last two knights. Both were prepared for another charge with their lances. Baldwin readied his sword for a swing, and Cassandra pulled back another arrow.

The two knights charged, and Baldwin and Cassandra responded with their own attacks.

Baldwin swung his sword diagonally, hoping to cleave another horsehead in two, but instead only managed to sever the lance and scratch the horse's shoulder. Still, the force was enough to have the horse rear up, which Baldwin used to take a thrust at the horse's underbelly. He plunged it deep into its heart, killing the brute in one stroke. Its rider fell backwards, and Baldwin finished him off with decapitation.

Cassandra, at the same time, shot her arrow, but the arrow bounced off harmlessly from the plate. She couldn't string another arrow in time, so she stepped aside from the charge. The lance, however, was not so easily deterred. It scratched her on her side, causing a big gash to form.

Baldwin, seeing Cassandra hurt once more, once again grew enraged and followed after the knight. Cassandra joined him, and the two of them together managed to throw the knight off his steed. Cassandra stomped with both front hooves on the knight and with a sickening crack, his ribs were crushed. Another stomp, and he breathed his last.

"I'm alright, Baldwin," Cassandra reassured, before he could even ask the question.

"Good," he sighed, feeling suddenly tired.

"C'mon, get up on my back, Baldwin."

"You sure? Wouldn't it hurt?"

"No time to worry, we've got to get Cwichelm and Brigid out of here!"

Despite her reassurances to the contrary, when Baldwin pulled himself onto her back, Cassandra groaned in pain. Baldwin tried to sooth her with a cheek carress from behind, but it wasn't enough.


Cassandra limped over to the bridge. Cwichelm and Brigid were doing well for themselves, Cwichelm fighting off the spearmen and Brigid singing a song based on an old peasant's dance.

"Yea-ho, to and fro, stomp the gobbo on 'is toe!

If he makes a show, stomp on 'im some mo'!

Yea-ho, hock and hough, the wolf come a-blow,

Came for the doe, and left with a bow!

Yea-ho, bloom and grow, if ye see the snow,

Eissa bless ye now, and leave without a foe!"

In the middle of this hollow-voiced song, which made it sound more like a memory of the song, came the different song of battle, as Cwichelm fought off each of the men that came before him. As the first stanza ended, Cwichelm grabbed ahold of one auxiliary's spear and used it to throw the fellow off the bridge into the canyon below. But there were still many men he had to fight through, and he was growing tired.

Cwichelm, sensing Baldwin and Cassandra's presences nearby, yelled, "Go on, Baldwin! Cross the river some other way! I'll hold the bastards off while you run!"

Baldwin shook his head. "No! I can't leave you here. I don't care what magical trick you have!"

Brigid stopped singing. She told Baldwin, "Go, fair knight, and flee far away! Take care of Cassandra, then gather our flying friends, and we shall yet meet again!" Without the singing, Cwichelm seemed a little weaker than before, losing his strength and the will to fight. When she started back her singing, Cwichelm regained his previous strength, and fought harder than before.

Cassandra turned away from Cwichelm and Brigid, and with Baldwin on her back, galloped away from the bridge, going back down the road to find another crossing.

Thus only Cwichelm and Brigid were left on the bridge.

Cwichelm was growing impatient with the slow progress of fighting all these men. A beast of rage slowly festered inside him, giving him more and more power with each passing second.

The bowmen fired another volley. Cwichelm, distracted from the fighting, couldn't lift up a shield in time. He heard a gasp from Brigid, and she stopped singing.

The raging beast now demanded to be released, and Cwichelm, afraid of the worst, gave in. As he gave an animalistic roar that no man should ever utter, black tendrils crawled out from his skin, encasing him in red-black darkness. With this newfound power, Cwichelm gave everything he had to the offense. He pulled out his axe, and with both yar and axe, slaughtered the Inquisition men one by one, their fearful screams useless against such a force. The blood that splattered on the darkness enshrouding him was quickly devoured by it, the black cilia once again absorbing it all.

He decapitated the last man on the bridge, and pressed forward to deal with the remaining men. One of the men-at-arms charged, but that was a mistake that quickly ended his life. He threw his yar at the horseman, impaling him straight in his belly. He slumped dead off his horse. The other man-at-arms chose to flee rather than fight. Fine with Cwichelm. He was concerned with the bowmen who shot Brigid.

He charged after them as they shot at him with their arrows and bolts, but it was useless. They were slaughtered just like their comrades were. As he killed each man, Cwichelm began screeching and screaming incomprehensibly, even growling and roaring like an animal.

Eventually, it was over, and, as Cwichelm hatefully glared at the corpses of the men he killed, he saw one of their faces. It was a youthful face, no more than a boy. Blonde-haired, freckled, and with dimples where once a smile would've lifted spirits with its joy. "He looks just like him," Cwichelm murmured, his speech coming back to him as the rage cooled down.

He hobbled back to the bridge, the darkness outside him retreating inwards. He lost more and more of his strength, until he collapsed and fell over backwards just a few feet away from the bridge.

"Brigid..." He gasped. His eyes were feeling heavy; he felt like taking a very deep sleep. But before he could close his eyes, he heard someone walking towards him from the bridge. He was too weak to pull himself up to look, but he could feel... How?

"Brigid..." He called out longingly. He suddenly felt a coldness touch his hand. With that touch, he closed his eyes and slept.

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