Authors: Keri L. Salyers
K L Salyers
© 2014 K L Salyers
K L Salyers has asserted her rights in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in eBook format in 2014
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the Publisher.
All names, characters, places, organisations, businesses and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
575;Year of the Copper Arrow
Age of the Winged Helm
Day of Spring
“If our luck doesn’t improve soon, you know,” the girl said with a sigh, chin propped on her hand. Her other hand idly stirred a couple of Jasmine tea with a spoon. “Then I’m finding a new line of work. I wonder if herb wizards make good coin…”
From across the scuffed well-worn table her saurian friend raised a scaly eyebrow. She took a drink from her own mug; a beverage called Blacktar as much due to its color as its taste. The Yarcka flashed serrated fangs in a smile that gleamed next to her emerald skin. “I told you, you don’t have to worry about what happened. It was not completely your fault I was injured. And I think it is an herb wizards job to make the plants grow, not burn them up”.
Aya mock-glared, a smile turning the corners of her mouth in a way she was incapable of hiding. “Uh-huh, like it wasn’t your fault we didn’t get paid the full amount from the Bounty Master on account of the fact we failed to bring the guy back ‘in entirety’ and on top of that couldn’t be exactly positive it was really the same guy on the warrant on account of-”
“Okay, Okay!” Serrtin said, raising her taloned hands in defeat. “That was my fault. Most Larren know not to challenge a Yarcka like that- especially not with a pathetic toy like he had; a shearing tool fit to shave his backside if I’d ever seen one, not to cross swords with the likes of me. But I guess no one told him that.” She sniffed indignantly. “I suppose he should consider himself lucky, I made his death relatively painless. You won’t get that from any other Yarcka.”
The barmaid overheard the last of the large saurian’s adamant words and, with a stricken look, put down the double plates she was carrying before the pair and scurried off toward the kitchen with all haste, braids swinging. Though Serrtin had been exaggerating (a little) and Aya knew it, both were too busy devouring their meals to notice. It was pleasant to have someone else cook their meals for a change.
After a third of her plate of thick stew and bread was gone, a bite of seasoned meat still in her mouth, the Bren girl told her companion, “Let’s try back at the Circuit Hold before heading out. It’s been a couple of days perhaps something has come in. I feel lucky about it. And Agemeer said to give him at least an hour so we have plenty of time.”
Her companion nodded but did not reply until the last of her food was in her belly. “Good idea. To have a job lined up right after the last one would indeed be a stroke of luck.”
Aya and Serrtin finished their meals and strode out of the alehouse, scarcely noticing the people who scattered like sheep out of their path down the road. Aya used to be all too aware how the folk of different towns would look up from their tasks, eyes growing large and unfocused and finally they would scramble like mad to get out of the way. Aya used to think it was amusing but eventually it became rather sad how so many could fear things they didn’t understand. Ignorance, most of the time, was what kept the ‘human races’ apart from the saurians like the Yarcka and even the Malorans- who were the most like humans of all the saurian species.
Not that Aya blamed the people at all. At one time, she felt pretty much the same way. At first glance, as well as second, Serrtin did cut a very impressive and imposing figure. She was taller than most Larren at a foot over three meters and set with thick layers of muscle throughout her body, which was actually a petite size for her kind. She wore a plain scuffed and scratched breastplate crossed by the straps securing her shoulder guards as well as plate armor on her thighs. The boiled leather protecting her midsection had been damaged some time ago, giving hint to the paler scaled skin beneath. Serrtin’s stature and long-bladed flamberge, not to mention the Yarcka races’ reputation for mean streaks, short tempers and pensions for hostility, kept most ne’er-do-wells at bay. Especially so for thieves, for once a rumor had been passed that a Yarcka had caught his pickpocket and proceeded to remove one of his arms for the slight, thieves altogether avoided the race. At least so in Indelsis. Other parts of the world such as Zarhethe possessed thieves who were much the less judicious.
Aya had first met Serrtin in a town not far from where they were sitting and she had not only thought the saurian was male but also the most ill-mannered crude individual ever to set foot in a civilized town. The Yarcka
and her group had been terrorizing the patrons of the local alehouse, the same as where Aya had been having a quiet meal. When two of the more rowdy men began to harass the barmaids, Aya had finally had enough. Seeing the Yarcka as the rabble leader, Aya had had the gall to tell Serrtin and her band of ruffians exactly what she thought of them and their actions. In the face of greater numbers, she stood firm behind her words. Even when only fools and the dead spoke so boldly to a Yarcka.
Serrtin had taken the words as a challenge, rising to her feet and glaring down at the tiny raven-haired girl from her lofty height as the last of the remaining patrons began to vacate the vicinity. Even Serrtin’s own men backed away.
Then the Yarcka began to chuckle. As the girl’s eyes widened, Serrtin laughed even harder and clapped her companionably on the back. Righting Aya before she fell, Serrtin professed her correct gender and pledged her friendship almost immediately to the lass with an iron spike for a spine and fire in her blood because if there was anything a Yarcka could never respect it was a coward.
Serrtin told Aya about her life as a bounty hunter for an organization called the Circuit and, for a time, the Bren tagged along with the team on their missions. One evening after their second mission together, away from the dim red light of the campfire, the Avar swordsman who had been the ring leader in harassing the barmaids during their first encounter would not take the girl’s firm declination for an answer. It was then that Aya knew that she could count on the Yarcka warrior as not only a friend but also an ally who would stand beside her.
If it were possible for a person to die twice in a single moment then truly he did. The moment the Avar swordsman’s heart was pierced through by hard steel, his body was struck by a lethal protection spell that leapt from the girl’s hands like lightning. Over his crumpled form, the girl and the Yarcka’s eyes met with mirrored expressions.
The Bren was no simple girl, she was a mage.
~ ~ ~
The door to the Circuit Hold opened with a loud screech that reverberated around the rectangular-shaped room, drawing the eyes of other Hunters. Some of those were less than friendly.
That was how it was with Hunters- everyone else was competition. Unless you were part of a team, it did not pay to be friendly. If a warrant came in, it would be picked up by the first to hear of it. Still, Aya never glared at them that way and was about to mention the lack of manners in the room when a voice called out to them.
“Oi there! I was hopin’ ye’d be back soon.” It was the Bounty Master Joln. A grizzled ex-soldier well into his fifth decade, he sat behind the Cage window. Being a safeguard against thieves of violence, the Cage was the accorded room where contracts were made and the rewards were held.
The Bounty Master had lost his left eye decades ago and wore a simple patch to cover the scar tissue. After taking a sword swipe to the face and living to tell the story, he retired to the position of Bounty Master at one of the handful of Circuit Holds. However with his missing eye, half of his teeth gone from his top jaw and an amazingly deep scar running from mouth to hairline, it was fairly obvious why he chose such a field after his dismissal. Mercenaries never cared what their bosses looked like nor the man who paid them their reward money. Bounty Hunters were much the same except with warrants.
“Were you…” Serrtin stated in response. She tended to ‘state’ things, not ask.
After a nod from Serrtin meaning she’d take care of the offer, the dark-eyed mage wandered over to the postings Board. It had grown so much since the Circuit first began but tradition dictated that it would remain ‘The Board’ despite it now taking up the space of an entire wall.
Nailed upon it in partial disarray were the most recent and outstanding warrants in Demaria- excluding the Hazelands and Thabinthira. Caricatures, names, crimes and, in some cases, last areas sighted were listed on each but the reward money at the far bottom was what Aya tended to see first. It was a habit she had picked up by traveling with Serrtin and her former team. Money was a necessity, the saurian had told her, and if one gets paid for justice then all the better; full pockets, a full belly and a clear conscience.
Some of the warrants were stamped with a purple ink gryphon, its wings unfurled. Others had the image of a sail-eared black dragon or a red dagger. Within the Bounty Hunter Circuit such stamps were common knowledge, something told to each member at the penning of their Assignment. The Gryphon meant the bounty was supplied by heads of office- usually Mayors, minor Lords or group leaders. The Dragon meant the warranted individual- called the Chase- was a magic user. The Red Dagger meant only highly skilled Hunters should attempt the search. Red Dagger jobs were extremely dangerous and sometimes even deadly.
Aya studied the warrants as if committing them to memory as she paced the length of the wall. In the back of her mind she could hear Serrtin speaking to the Bounty Master. Faces drifted by her as did names, areas and accusations. Most of the caricatures were done in a charcoal mineral stain for ink supplies were a costly commodity. Some had mixed mediums- like natural stains and water inks, reserved for eyes or perhaps hair. Stamps of Purple, Black or Red provided by the Circuit and then…
Purple, Black and Red.
All contained on one warrant. Aya stepped closer for a better look. The basic black and white coloring caused the depiction to look much like every other unbearded face on the wall with the exception of the eyes. His eyes had been afforded ink and stood out all the more due to the colorless background. Orange like amber and deeply shadowed in gray. Tearing her own eyes away to read the crime list, Aya heard her name being called.
Serrtin stood in front of the Bounty Master’s Cage arms crossed and legs in a sturdy stance. Aya recognized that position as one that, with Serrtin, gave no way to opposition. Obviously they were talking money. Serrtin always stood like that when discussing monetary compensation. “Unacceptable. For that sort of risk, seven hundred is our minimum.”
“The Bounty be set at six hundred twenty-five by the Client himself. He be firm about the amount.”
“Yeah? Then he can hunt down the Chase himself. Don’t waste our time.” Serrtin growled, setting her chin.
Aya could not help but smile. Before the Yarcka could get them banned from the vicinity, Aya stepped forward to stand beside her tall friend. “You said the payoff was set by the Client himself. So he personally came in to request the Bounty to be put on this person, to a Circuit office?”