"What you see. Is what you get. Don't relax. You're not home yet. Put your life into my hands, look around you'll understand." -It's the 80's, Oingo Boingo
Mina sat alone in a smoky tavern (even before the invention of cigarettes and pipes, back when mankind did his business in caves, taverns were always smoky places. This is just one of the many inscrutable laws of nature, like if you leave any cassette tape in the car long enough it becomes Queen's Greatest Hits.) accepting the congratulations and thanks of strangers for capturing the hated Bandit King. She smiled gently to most of these, and politely declined any drinks she was offered, but her overall manner was of one distracted by her own thoughts. The people assumed this was due to heroic modesty and nodded their heads, pointing at her and remarking to one another, THIS is how a hero should act.
They might have had a slightly different opinion if they could have sensed the dilemma in her thoughts.
-He said it himself... which IS more important to me... my word, or the greater good?- she thought dismally and picked idly through the bowl of beernuts (another of nature's mysteries).
-He certainly hasn't done anything to reassure me that he's not going to hurt my mother when he finds her... Dad may be an amazing swordsman but he doesn't have a chance against this guy, and with mom as magically weak as she is...-
She blinked suddenly and shook her head. No... that wasn't right... he HAD reassured her that he wouldn't hurt her mother... he'd given his word. As far as she could recall, he'd never broken his word to her... not even on small things. She groaned and put her face in her hands.
Why did this have to be so damn difficult? It was pretty straightforward... she'd gotten him into prison... he'd be tried and convicted and probably executed. Justice served, end of story. He certainly deserved justice. She'd seen first hand the kind of man he was. He liked being stronger than other people, used his size ruthlessly to get what he wanted. He had no conscience, nothing in his head was telling him that what he was doing was wrong, or if there was, it kept it's sissy mouth shut. He killed without compunction, and stole from those weaker than him. He was rude, and... and...
He had the strictest sense of honor that she'd ever encountered in a human being. Didn't that make it more admirable that he followed it even though he didn't have a conscience telling him what was right and wrong? It was also true that while he killed without compunction or regret, he was merciful to a fault. He'd been completely courteous to her even though he didn't have to be. Even when it was downright inconvenient for him to be so. Mina was in turmoil... she'd never been in a situation where there didn't seem to be a right way and a wrong way. All of this was HIS DAMN FAULT!!
She slammed her hand down on the bartop in frustration and misjudged slightly, hitting the edge of the bowl of beernuts and throwing them across the room in a shrapnel-like pattern that would have made a grenade proud. Several startled patrons eyed her, blinking owlishly in astonishment. She stood up quietly, dropped several gold coins (far more than she owed) onto the bartop and walked out without another sound.
One bar patron turned to another and whispered. "Heroes... tormented by demons the likes of which we MERE mortals could not possibly understand."
His more realistic friend turned to him sourly and shook his head. "Naw... probably just that time of the month."
His friend shrugged. "Same thing."
Several others nodded sagely. At least the ones without girlfriends or wives present.
Red was not so much languishing in his cell as sulking. It was not a particularly uncomfortable cell as cells went. It had 3 stone walls and a stone ceiling, as well as a wooden floor. The remaining wall was made of iron bars intermixed with orihalcon, and Red had a sneaking suspicion that orihalcon was mixed into the other walls as well. Probably to prevent sorcerors from escaping. It had no rats, no stray bones, not even a constant drip. It had a single wooden cot that was neither particularly pleasant nor unsanitary.
Red's only problem stemmed from the fact that he'd never been in a cell before. Never in his entire ten year career as a bandit had he been imprisoned.
It was really starting to piss him off.
To make matters worse, they'd taken his sword away from him and he keenly missed its weight at his side. All because of that... girl.
He supposed he couldn't blame her really. She was a hero after all. She was sworn to defeat people like him. Not treat them like companions and human beings. His mistake had been that he'd been around her far too long... she'd become a person instead of an object somewhere in there... he'd assumed the same had been true of him.
She'd stopped being a hero and started being just Mina.
The problem as he saw it was that the same couldn't be said of him. Who was he? What was he? She could tell him with no uncertainly who she was and what she stood for. He had to admit that he could not honestly do the same.
He sighed and stood up, stretching his arms and cracking his neck, then proceeded pacing the length of his small cell while staring at the bars like a tiger in a zoo. Except that this tiger had the equivalent strength of a bulldozer. He was going to give her a couple more hours to make her decision and then he was going to bust out of here... Mina or no Mina..
His pacing was interrupted by the sound of confident footsteps coming down the stairway. He looked up warily and put his hands on the bars, glowering at whomever was about to make an entrance. Grown men have shriveled up like slugs before the Bandit King's displeased glower; (some of them even foamed at the mouth, thus completing the sluggish metaphor) he was very good at it. The captain, when she rounded the bend and strode out into the room adjacent to his cell, did not look particularly impressed by his antics.
She grinned humourlessly and walked right up to the bars.
"Glad I could catch you at a good time. Got a moment?" she asked in that infuriatingly companionable tone.
He frowned. "I don't know... I have such a full schedule lately. I might be able to fit you in next Wednesday."
She shook her head. "Honestly... I thought you were smarter than this. How did that little girl manage to capture YOU? She doesn't strike me as anything special... even if she is an Inverse."
Red shrugged. "Appearances can be deceiving. One minute someone can appear to be in your power, the next, you are fully in their's..." he grinned suggestively.
She grinned. "Too true. Tell me Bandit King. Have you ever been merciful in all your years as a bandit?"
He shrugged. "To the weak? I suppose that is a question you'd have to ask them. To my enemies?" he shook his head. "I don't like leaving enemies behind me."
She nodded. "I don't suppose I look familiar to you do I?"
He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "No... should you? I suppose I killed someone you were close to? Someone important to you?" he smiled mockingly. "Now I suppose you want vengeance is that it? Want me to recognize my fate at the last moment? Sorry. Killing was never that personal for me."
She shook her head. "You really do like to hear yourself talk don't you? Convinced you know everyone so well. That you just have the whole world figured out." she chuckled. "I remember you Bandit King. How could I possibly forget.." she looked down, avoiding his eyes. He was stunned. from what he'd seen so far, this was completely out of character for her. "How couldn't I remember my own savior?"
Red blinked several times, opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again.
"Well... thats a rather impressive imitation of a landed fish. Still haven't jogged your memory?" she smiled. "I was being assaulted by that pig of a former bandit king when you showed up. You killed him. You saved me. It puts me in a position I wish I could avoid."
He was still speechless.
"On the one hand, you are an enemy to the country I am sworn to protect." she drew her sword and looked at it. "I meant what I said... my word means alot to me. On the other hand... I wouldn't BE here if you hadn't intervened...
He shrugged. "I didn't exactly save you by design. HE charged ME. Besides.. he probably wouldn't have KILLED you..."
She shook her shoulders. "Trust me... there are some things worse than death. So I owe you my life, honor, whatever... before I owe it to my country." she sighed. "I only hope my career survives this."
She withdrew a key from her cloak and stepped close to the door. That is when Mina rounded the stairs. She took note of the key in the Captain's hand, and the drawn sword, and instantly knew what was going on. She drew her own sword and narrowed her eyes.
"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!" she thundered, her eyes flashing dangerously.
The captain stopped dead and spun around, snarling. Trust a hero to step in at exactly the wrong time.
"Stay out of this hero... It doesn't concern you!"
"BULLSHIT it doesn't concern me! I know what you're planning and I won't let you take justice into your own hands!"
The two circled each other warily, looking for an opening. Red, for his part, watched the happenings with a bemused smirk on his face. HE knew why they were both here, but apparently they hadn't figured it out yet. He crossed his arms. This promised to be amusing.
"I should have known you would try something like this... you sanctimonious bitch!" Mina spat out the curse between clenched teeth and lunged forward in a vicious strike for the Captain's heart.
The captain parried the strike upwards and away, darting her own bastard sword downward in a riposte that would have spilled the girl's guts all over the wooden floor had she still been in its path. "As I said, this is none of your business. You couldn't possibly understand what I have to do here!"
Red shook his head.. this was looking entirely too serious and he still needed ONE of the two. He snapped his fists apart, snapping the chains from his wrists in a negligent gesture. "Hey!"
Mina twirled her blade into a backwards stance and threw her cape forward into her opponent's eyes, snapping a strike out under the captain's gaurd. Both of them ignored Red completely. "I understand that you are a vicious shit and I've been wanting to teach you a lesson since I met you!"
The captain leaped backward to avoid the strike, which lightly grazed her forearm. She hissed. "Feelings mutual, little GIRL!"
Red sighed and took one of the bars in both hands, twisting and yanking backwards with all of his strength. The bar bent, then snapped with a resounding PRANG! Both of them continued their fight, completely ignoring his antics. He shook his head again. Amazing...
The captain stepped around a thrust by Mina and kicked her in the back of the legs as she passed. Mina stumbled forward, continuing her lunge and the blade went through the bars before she could stop herself... the tableau suddenly froze with Mina staring with horror at her blade, which penetrated the bars of the jail cell. The captain had a similar look. Red simply looked irritated... he'd been forced to parry the blow upwards with the bar he'd twisted loose and it had very nearly severed the end off of one of his bushy eyebrows.
"Oh my GOD!! Red... h... are you ok?" Mina stammered, turning red...
"Holy sh...! Are you alright?!" the captain shouted simultaniously.
The two girls stopped and looked at the other for several stunned seconds.
"What do you mean, are you alright?" they both accused the other, pointing fingers.
"I'm trying to get him out of here..." the captain hissed, still in a combat stance. "What did you think I-"
"I thought you were trying to kill him you crazy bi-" Mina frowned... something wasn't right here.
"ME kill him? What are you-" the captain raised her sword threateningly.
"If you two are quite through "rescuing" me," Red remarked sarcastically. "I think we should get this over with before it attracts undue attention." he stuck the bar in between two others and used it as a lever to begin bending the two bars outward.
They turned on him suddenly. "You stay out of this... what ARE you doing?!" Mina blinked when she saw the damage he was doing to the jail cell.
He sighed. "I'm getting myself out of this cage since the two of you seem to be in no hurry to do so."
Mina turned to the captain and blinked. "You're really here to get him out?"
"Well... yes... and you..?"
"Why? Mina was confused.
"I might ask you the same question!" the captain bristled.
"I asked you first." Mina pointed out.
Red stepped out of the cell and leaned on his bar, sighing tiredly. This was going to take a while.
"Because... because he prevented me from being... molested a long time ago. His bandit gang used to be run by another Bandit King... and he was a pig. He tried to... you know. THIS bandit king," she gestured in Red's direction, to which he responded by waving a bored hand, "killed him, and took command. He saved me."
Mina gaped, then got a hold of herself, sheathing her sword. "Well... I'm trying to get him out of here because I gave my word."
"What?" the captain frowned.
"Never mind." Mina blushed. "It's a long story."
The captain seemed satisfied with this. She sheathed her sword and went to a wall locker, removing Red's sword. He dropped his bar with a loud CLANG and took it happily, and both Mina and the Captain sweatdropped at his relief at being reunited with the blade. Then they shared a scared glance when he made cooing noises at it and stroked it lovingly. When everything was back under control, Red turned to the two girls and sheathed his sword.
Red sighed. "Now then... as much as I appreciate the gesture captain... this isn't exactly a good career move for you. Not that I particularly care but..."
Mina gave him an annoyed glare and he trailed off.
"I understand that... I told you it's not as important. I OWE you."
Mina looked speculative. "Well... what if we made it look like Red overpowered you and escaped?"
The captain frowned. "Well... I guess that would work. If he could break out of his cell, he'd certainly be able to drop me... at least, if he had the element of surprise."
Mina snapped her fingers. "Well there you go. You've already made it look like you broke out on your own..." He gave her an unamused look. "Ok, so you DID break out on your own. All you have to do is hit her hard enough to knock her out, and we're home free."
"Out of the question." Red crossed his arms. "I don't hit women who aren't trying to kill me."
Mina smiled. It was a very, very evil smile.
A sudden, loud CRRAAACK!! echoed through the halls. It was a very important sounding crack. The kind of crack that meant someone had just received a major head injury.
The captain blinked, looked cross-eyed for a few stunned moments, then collapsed like a poleaxed steer.
Red adopted a similar expression and stared at Mina, who looked smugly pleased with herself. She rubbed her right fist. "I do."
Red looked at the stunned captain, and the large bruise now merrily coloring her right cheek, then back at Mina. "Who taught you to punch like that?"
He gave her an indignant look of surprise. "Wha..?!"
"Don't ask. You really don't want to know."
The escape from the prison and city was remarkably easy. The few guards they encountered were easily taken care of by Red's version of a sleep spell (namely, he hit them soundly on the head until they didn't move anymore) and the two of them were able to slip out of Sentinel with remarkably little fuss. It made sense really... why guard the inward facing side of an outpost when the enemy can only come from one direction? It was just good sense. Of course, this didn't stop Daven, an archer three years into his career who, against regulations, had stopped for a drink on the north wall where he knew the watch would be much more lax in their patrols. Just a stop for a quick nip o' the good stuff, nothing serious. When he saw the telltale yellow overcoat making its way hurriedly out of the city he choked on his whiskey and spilled it all over himself in his haste to ready his bow. Taking aim with years of practice, he sighted in on the man's broad back, biting his lip in concentration....
There was a sudden crack as the head of a rather odd staff meeting a helmet resounded loudly in the night and Daven spun dizzily around to witness a strange, purple haired man in priest robes grinning at him. Staggering backwards, he tripped over the wall behind him and fell 60 feet down to his rather squishy death. Xellos winced and managed to look apologetic (which was a stretch even for him).
"My, my... I AM sorry about that... but you really shouldn't have been drinking on watch."
He put both white gloved hands on the wall and stared out after the two fugitives. Things had not gone EXACTLY as he'd wanted them to... Gaav had been ridiculously close to one of the shards of his power, but nothing had happened... Xellos had assumed the two of them would be drawn together. Ah well... there was nothing he could do about it right now... and he didn't want Gaav to be aware of his involvement just yet. He frowned. It also wouldn't do for Gaav to encounter Lina Inverse just yet either... he shrugged.
"Ah well... a trickster's work is never done." with that, he faded from existence with a hiss of displaced air. The night remained quiet, as the two fugitives disappeared into the distance.
The captain entered her modest home to the smell of steeping tea. She sighed, kicked off her boots and sagged painfully into a cushioned chair (one of her few luxuries) shielding her eyes.
She had a headache.
Her live-in-lover, also in the guard though he'd been off duty today, carried in two cups of tea and handed one to her wordlessly. She'd always felt a bit guilty about him, since he was much younger than she, AND he was under her command, but he didn't seem to mind taking her orders, never expected preferential treatment, and weathered her rather... abrupt personality with remarkable calm.
Besides... he brewed a mean cup of tea.
He looked at her face, frowned, set his tea down and leaned in closer, examining her extremely bruised jaw.
"Good gods Tess... who did this to you?" He was the only one she allowed to use that nickname with her, and never in front of anyone else. It was just a little too familiar for the Commander of Sentinel City, Captain Tessilaine (AKA The Wolf, or simply, That Stone Cold Bitch, but never... EVER to her face).
She sighed. "It's a long story. Let's just say I had a disagreement. I lost."
He raised a curious eyebrow. "Want to talk about it?"
She frowned. He looked at her with such open concern that she found herself opening up to him without a fight. Normally with her, it was like dragging teeth. It was just one more reason why she loved him.
-Gods...- she thought... -It's like I've known him all my life.-
He listened to her tell her story quietly, only asking the occasional question to clarify something he didn't quite understand. She couldn't tell if he was accepting what she said or condemning it... in his own way, he had almost as strict a sense of right and wrong as she did. It was why they got along together so well.
Tess's earliest memories had been of the village where she lived. Fortunately for her, considering what eventually happened, she'd had no relatives in town. She'd never known her parents. The villagers had taken her in when she stumbled in one winter, half dead from exposure, and though it had been a poor village, they'd given her a place to stay; a rarity considering how clannish the villages on the frontier tended to be. She'd had to raise herself. It had made her extremely independent.
Then the Black Hills Bandit Gang had shown up.
The rest, as they say, was history.
After the story, her serious lover was silent for a long time. Finally, with a gentle grin, he gestured towards her teacup. "Your tea is getting cold."
"You... you mean you don't mind?" she asked, her love for him making her somewhat timid (something she absolutely detested. A wolf is never timid, and though she didn't consider herself to be a wolf (who does?) she was concerned that she should care enough about someone that they could make her timid).
He shrugged. "My fathe.... well... someone I knew once would have done the same thing, Tess. I can't really fault you for it. I think you did what you thought was best. That's all that matters to me."
She stared at him for a long time, then looked at the teacup. Then she reached for him. "Screw the tea."
Several pleasant hours (NO I'm NOT going to go into details... you horn dogs! -DT) later, she turned to him and smiled. Reaching out gently, she caressed the horn (NO NOT THAT HORN!! GEEZ!) on his forehead that separated him from the rest of the world. "I love you, Valgaav..."
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All original, creative-type stuff on this website is copyright to Chris Cuellar and Teresa Dietzinger, 2002
"What you see. Is what you get. Don't relax. You're not home yet. Put your life into my hands, look around you'll understand." -It's the 80's, Oingo Boingo