Dedication: To Qieru. Who has been stabbing my brain with an Internet fork for months now. Because that's what sidekicks do. I loveth you!
Prologue: A Girl From the Plains
"Are you awake?"
He wanted to fork his own eyes out. Well, if that were possible, he would have certainly done so already.
No, he was lying prone on his back, and a voice, a really annoying grating voice, was talking to him…
Hell no he wasn't awake, he thought. If he were awake—which obviously, he wasn't—then his eyes would be open, and he would be confronting this…this monstrosity that dared to awaken him.
Hadn't he fallen asleep out on the plains for a nice nap? So what the heck was he doing—oh crap.
"I found you unconscious on the plains."
No shit, he wanted to tell the voice hovering in his ear. I was sleeping!
"I am Lyn, of the Lorca tribe."
And I don't care, he thought, trying to crack open one of his eyes. Argh, it wasn't easy. Finally, he managed to open one brown eye.
And then the other.
"You're safe, now."
I was before.
"Who are you? Can you remember your name?"
He blinked. And blinked again. And what the hell was covering his chest? It smelled like…like rot! Or something! He choked slightly and wheezed.
"Your name is Mark?"
What? Hell no it wasn't Mark! It's Bartholomew, he tried to say, but his mouth was absolutely parched, probably from breathing in the noxious fumes that radiated from the poultice on his chest. What the heck did he even have one on him for? That didn't make any sense!
NOTHING WAS MAKING ANY SENSE!
"What an odd-sounding name."
He could have kicked himself. Mark was not an odd-sounding name. Quite the contrary. There were probably billions of men and boys and probably a few women on Elibe named Mark.
"You know, if I had a son, I would never name him Mark. I can't believe your name is Mark. Wow, I feel so sorry for you. I just…I can't fathom why any sane person would name their child such a terrifyingly ugly name!" She blinked at him, her wide green eyes staring straight at him. "By Father Sky, I'm surprised some kind of god didn't smite your parents from the face of the planet for naming you such a horrible name."
She was still staring at him, her eyes boring into his soul, where all his dark secrets lay. Well, it felt that way. He tried to speak, but once again, the poultice choked him.
"But…pay me no mind!" she continued cheerfully, a wide grin crossing her lips. "It is a good name." Then, under her breath, "You can't help that your parents were stupid."
He felt like he was going to pass out.
WHY, IN ELIMINE'S NAME…WAS THERE A POULTICE ON HIS CHEST?!
He wasn't sick. Wasn't dying. Get it off, get it off, get it off, get it off!
But all that he managed to do was splutter a bit, slobber dripping down his chin.
"I see by your clothes that you are a traveler."
"What brings you to the Plains of Sacae?"
"Would you share your story with me?"
He tried to sigh, but it was another failed attempt, and more slobber dribbled onto the collar of his woven shirt. There really was no story. He lived on the plains. He'd had a nice little…okay, a little cave, and he'd lived in there and he'd liked it. And then, he had decided to take a nap in the beautiful sunshine, and suddenly, he was in some strange woman's—well, girl's—tent. Or house. Or whatever it was. It was awfully ugly, he could tell that much.
There were the curtains, which…well, there weren't any. Heck, there weren't even windows. Not that he could see. He felt some kind of fur beneath him, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know what it was. Probably the fur of a yeti. Chupacabra fuzz, even.
And his Deep Dark Secrets? He was sharing them with no one, especially not some random little girl who kidnapped sleeping men and dragged them—how long had it taken her to do that, anyway?—all the way to her home.
Suddenly, "Hm? What's that noise?"
Bartholomew sighed. There was no noise. It was all in her—then, a resounding crash thudded through his ears, and he nearly jumped out of his skin.
"I'll go see what's happening." Eagerly, she leapt to her feet and dashed out the door, her last words on the tip of her tongue as the door closed behind her, "Mark, wait here for me!"
Well, that was that. Bandits were converging on this little gathering of people who didn't work real jobs, and they would steal all their chupacabra fuzz and their yeti fur, and their goats, and then…
Suddenly, things grew very, very quiet.
"Oh no! Bandits!" she shouted, diving back into the house with such speed he thought he was going to fall over even though he was already lying down. "They must have come down from the Bern Mountains!"
No, I think they evolved from the fish in the local water supply and slithered onto land.
"They must be planning on raiding the local villages. I… I have to stop them! If that's all of them, I think I can handle them on my own."
Mark—no, no, no, Bartholomew—blinked and tried to sit up.
She didn't look at all sure of herself. Well, maybe she did. But biting one's lip didn't usually mean they were confident in their abilities, whether their abilities included scraping horse manure from the bottom of their boots or slicing a man's throat.
He made a strangled sound in the back of his throat and gave up, falling to the floor of the…house/tent/home…thing.
"What? You want to help?"
No, I do not!
"Well, can you use a weapon?"
This poultice on my chest.
He coughed slightly and tried to shake his head, tried to wiggle the stupid smelly Elimine-forsaken thing off of him.
"Ah…I see. So you're a strategist by trade? An odd profession, but…"
He choked. And then contemplated crying. No, he was a man! And he would not cry! Not in front of this clueless twit standing in front of him.
Well, she was kind of cute. In an ugly sort of way. He crinkled his nose slightly as the soaking wet, hot poultice fell to the rug.
Well, at least the chupacabra fuzz had something to snack on while they were gone. They could be gone a long time. Forever, even.
"Very well! We'll go together!" And with that, she hauled him to his feet, let go of his hand, and dashed out of the house. She didn't even bother to close the door.
Damn, nobody taught her any manners, Bartholomew thought.
Slowly, he ambled—well, stumbled—toward the doorway and managed to pull himself through it.
Lyn, as she had called herself—or was it Olga? What? She kept messing his name up, so he had every right to do the same to hers!—was already a quarter mile away from the home. Well, it looked that way. He squinted in the sunlight and noticed that…
There was nobody there.
Well, except Lyn. And some random shouting in the distance.
Shrugging slightly, he started wobbling over to her. Wow, whatever she put in that poultice? Could probably kill a man! Ten men! A hundred men!
Whoa…he felt dizzy…
"Over here! If you want to help, Mark, I could use your advice!"
Advice from a man…who lived in a cave…
Sure. If she wanted advice, she'd get it. She'd get his lame, crappy, bull-shitted advice, and then they would both be hacked to death with axes and pitchforks, and strung up on poles for the villagefolk to see.
Sounded absolutely splendid, indeed.
"I'll protect you, so stay close to me!"
Dear Elimine, did she have to shout so damn loud? He made a feeble attempt to cover his ears as she nearly screamed in them. Maybe safer than staying with her was…not staying with her.
"I need to be closer to the enemy."
Duh. He could have slapped himself in the face. On the, er, rather flat plains, two large men ran excitedly…somewhere. If they had a destination, it was obvious. Hell, they didn't even look like bandits. What if they had lost their goat and had found him and were giving chase?
Why was this Lyn so hell-bent on fighting two random men running in the opposite direction of her home?
He couldn't understand, and he didn't really care to try.
She took one step forward, "Yes, this should be close enough."
Facepalming hadn't been invented yet, so he slapped his face with his palm and St. Elimine saw that it was good. "No it's not," Bartholomew said.
"Uh-oh! That bandit's spotted me! He's coming this way! Let's close in and attack!"
Really, for Elimine's sake, must she shout everything AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS?!
His ears were ringing, and he felt a little dizzy as the Sacaen madwoman dragged him into the path of the incoming bandit.
Suddenly, the hulking man was there.
Bartholomew felt sorry for him. His goat… His goat would never know what had happened to its master. It would be eaten by a mountain lion and die a horrible, painful death.
But it would probably be tasty.
"Now what do I do?" Lyn asked, staring up at the bandit, holding a rusty old sword completely wrong as she looked away from her opponent and at her new companion.
Bartholomew was so… Dazed? Shocked? Scared? He didn't know. But he was so something that he could only utter out, "U-uh! ATTACK!"
And blindly, Lyn swung the sword upward.
Blood squirted all over her, and Bartholomew covered his face with his hands and fell to the ground to avoid it.
When he next looked up, Lyn was grinning. Blood covered her face and hands and the sword. Well, the guy would have died eventually after getting all of that rust in his bloodstream anyway.
"I'm great with a sword," she said, making an attempt to sheath it four times before she managed to do it correctly. It looked pathetic.
"I'll bet," he muttered.
"Victory! But…I've been injured. I have need of a vulnerary." Suddenly looking upset, she pointed at a tiny little scratch on the back of her hand before she looked up, "Look! There's another bandit over by the ger to the west!" His face must have shown his confusion. Ger? It sounded like a type of antelope. But maybe it was related to the yeti… "A ger is a type of round hut that nomads live in!" she explained cheerfully even though he hadn't asked. "Hm. I would do well to use this time to administer a little first aid. I'm carrying a couple of vulneraries in my satchel. They should heal me up. Would you get one for me?"
Get it your own damn self, he thought. But ah, she hadn't really been mean to him—aside from kidnapping him, anyway. So he grabbed at her tiny little bag and pulled one out, smoothing the gelatinous stuff on her hand. At least it wouldn't get infected now. Not that it really mattered to him if it did or not. They were her vulneraries. She could waste them if she wanted to.
"Thank you Mark! Now, let's go get that brigand over by the ger!"
He was probably searching in the house for his poor sad, scared missing goat. But nonetheless, Lyn dragged him in that direction, her blood-splattered hands leaving prints on his clothing. Ugh, he'd never get those stains out.
Well, maybe that poultice she had would…
After what seemed like an eternity, they were standing in front of a huge man who looked like he hadn't bathed in months. And judging by the smell, he had slept with his goats, too. And possibly other…things. Maybe a chupacabra.
"Who do you think you are? You think that you can stand up to Batta the Beast?"
The man sounded bored. But really, what kind of person wanted to be called a beast? He seemed to be bragging about it. Almost. Well, he smelled like one. It was good to know his sense of smell was not failing him yet.
Lyn grinned proudly and shoved her sword outward like a total newbie. "Take that!"
It barely grazed his shirt.
He flailed at her with his axe and missed.
Bartholomew wanted to smash his head into the ger in front of him. Why, oh why, was he being subjected to this? Why?
"Whew, he's tough!" Lyn said, wiping sweat—no wait, that was blood—from her eyes. "It all comes down to this next blow!"
He wondered if she realized that Batta the Beast was only standing a few feet away from her.
No, probably not.
"Mark, if I fall, I want you to flee! You must escape!"
Believe me, he thought. I will.
"My name is—"
"I know already, it's Mark." Lyn sheathed her sword.
And Bartholomew wondered what the hell was going through that obviously tiny, pea-sized brain of hers.
Suddenly, she drew her sword from her sheath, and then she was there, and there, and holy crap, how did she get there?! She was a blur, a green, epic blur, and she was whirling all over the place! He couldn't even keep his eyes on her.
When he bothered to remember to blink, she was standing next to him, grinning triumphantly as Batta slowly slumped to the ground.
"W…what? How…did you?" And then he died in one long shuddering breath.
Batta's poor goat would be a nice meal for a cute mountain lion, Bartholomew was certain.
"Whew, that was close," she said sheepishly as she tried to sheath her sword four…no five, no…six times. "I sorely underestimated him. Sorry if I worried you. I'll need to be stronger if I'm going to survive. Strong enough that no one can defeat me!"
A lot stronger, he thought. Good luck with that. You'll certainly need it.
"Aren't we going to bury them?" he asked hesitantly as she started on her way back to her…ger.
"No. They're not deserving of such an honor." With that, she walked briskly back to her home, and Bartholomew, with about three-hundred thousand reservations, followed her.
"Good morning, Mark! Are you awake yet?"
Mark? Who the hell is this Mark…person?
And ugh, who talked to someone who was out cold? Why would you tell someone good morning if their eyes were closed, and why would you ask them if they were awake if they were clearly not?!
"That fight yesterday must have taken a lot out of you."
Not really. Normal people actually sleep until the sun comes up.
"Say, Mark… I want to talk to you about something."
Dear God, don't tell me she wants to go on a chupacabra hunt!
"You have some experiences in the ways of war, I can see."
No, no I don't. I live in a cave. And I eat rabbits and whatever else I find. I have never fought anything except a cold, and I've never killed anything but conversation.
He managed to sit straight up before she misunderstood him…
"Will you allow me to travel with you?"
To my cave? Hell no.
He only blinked at her.
"What? You want me to get permission from my parents?"
Parents? What parents? He could tell there wasn't anyone around for miles. Well, now that those two men were corpses. I never said anything about parents.
"My mother and my father... died six months ago. My people—the Lorca—they don't..."
Uh-oh. He could sense that a big sad sob story was coming on… With a slightly strangled sigh, he let her speak.
"I'm the last of my tribe."
Then how are you Lyn of the Lorca if THERE ARE NO MORE LORCA?!
"Bandits attacked, and... They killed so many people. The tribe was scattered. My father was our chieftain, and I wanted to protect our people. I am so young, and my people are old-fashioned. They wouldn't follow a woman. No one would follow me."
Gee, I wonder why.
"That's too bad," he said instead, struggling to say it. But you fight like you've never held a sword before, and you're way too eager for human company.
She sniffed, wiping away a few tears that had fallen down her cheeks. Oops, he hadn't seen that. "I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I've been alone for so long…"
He didn't know what to think. Or say, even.
Which was rare in and of itself.
"No. No more," she managed, steeling her voice and turning to look at him with those wide, innocent eyes. Well, innocent except for the bloodstains on her skin. Really, she needed to bathe. "I will shed no more tears. Thank you, now I'm better."
Nothing can make you 'better', he told himself.
And then he noticed the hungry way she was staring at him. Like a dog looking at the first food it had had in two weeks.
Her words echoed in his mind… I've been alone so long… Died six months ago… I've been alone so long…
Suddenly, he had the urge to flee.
"Mark, I want—I must become stronger, so that I may avenge my father's death!"
What about your mother? "It's not Mark," he insisted instead of voicing his immediate thoughts. "It's…"
"Mark, yesterday's battle taught me something. I won't become stronger by sitting here alone."
"Tell me that you'll train me! That you'll let me travel with you!"
A strangled gag emitted from his throat. He couldn't even…even form words. He felt a little lightheaded, he…
She grasped his arms and laughed happily. "You will? That's wonderful!"
She was actually kind of cute, he thought, but it was still in an ugly sort of way. And that didn't come into effect when she was gleefully trying to strangle—well, maybe hug—him.
"Thank you! Oh, thank you! We'll be better off working together, I know it!"
Mark—no, Bartholomew!—wasn't so sure.
"You'll be my master strategist, and I'll be your peerless warrior! We can do it, right?"
More like, I'll be that one guy who randomly coughs, and you'll be that girl who can't hold a sword who slashes blindly at enemies on orders you think I'm giving.
Then he knew…that his life would never be the same, ever. And it was only four in the morning.
Well, there you have it. The first chapter of a novelization. Actually, the prologue. But it was longer than a normal prologue, so… But either way… I don't know how often I will update this. Feedback—good or bad—is appreciated, and thank you for reading!