A/N Disclaimer –I don't own things that aren't mine. All characters that aren't someone else's are mine…aka most characters. I don't pay attention to all those stupid things happening to FR, so I've set this story in the good old days when everything was nice and normal.
The explosion ripped through the cathedral roof like a fiery serpent ripping through grey brick. Priceless, ancient rose glass windows shattered as if in a giant's hand, and the magnificent chandelier of solid gold and a thousand candles dropped to the floor, shattering upon unyielding stone benches with a tortured groan. The sheer concussive blast of the impact lifted each and every devotee in Helm's church up bodily, and flung them against the far walls. Only by a quick spell did the tiefling cleric leading prayer stay on his feet.
Sunlight glared balefully at the musty interior of Helm's cathedral. As Father Isieron watched, mouth agape, a thick, hempen rope slithered down from the hole, uncoiling rapidly, landing silently atop the chandelier's remnants. A dark form slid down it with great alacrity, rolling away into dust and smoke the moment it struck the ground. Close behind that form levitated a sinister pair: a shabbily robed man clutching a staff, and a woman in a black cloak holding two flashing short swords.
Five blue bolts darted from the mage's staff, but Father Isieron was no fool; he thundered out a mighty prayer to Helm, and the five bolts sank deep into his priestly garments…doing no harm to the tiefling's body.
Laughing with the grim certainty of a justicar, Isieron ripped off his white robes, revealing the gleaming silver plate sheathing him from neck to toe, and the obviously enchanted bastard sword at his hip. He drew the weapon with a gauntleted hand, and it flared with the holy white energy of goodness and justice.
The mage and woman settled down upon the floor, dust swirling about their boots. Isieron pointed his brand at them, retribution promised in his red eyes, when a cough interrupted him. The priest looked to the side; the first form had somehow managed to sneak to his side, and now stood like a shadow next to Helm's sacred altar. His black garb was patched and worn, as was his grey cloak.
"Get the thing," said the shadow in a hoarse, rasping voice. As he stepped closer, Isieron saw why –his throat had once been cut, the scar stretching out across a '3' tattooed in black on the right of his jugular. It wasn't the only scar –the man's dark, lean face had been thoroughly wounded by battle. One deep gouge had torn a veritable trench down the left of his face. Beneath locks of brown hair, the priest saw the bottom of the man's left ear torn away. Isieron knew at first sight that the attacker had never had those looked at by a healer.
man stepped closer and closer, right hand wrapped around the hilt of
a worn, stained bastard sword and dragging it clear of its scabbard
on his back. The blade was ugly, notched, and pitted…but the edge
gleamed with razor-sharpness. "I'll have him."
"You've got it backwards," said the tiefling with certainty, brushing his red hair back past his twisting black horns. "Helm will have you."
The man only laughed, and rushed forward, both hands on his sword. The blades met with an almost unearthly ring. Helm's brilliant weapon slashed and danced circles and windmills about the man. But the fighter stalked Isieron in a circle, meeting each measured attack with a sturdy parry.
Isieron pushed his attacker away, muttering a prayer to Helm. A pillar of flame smashed down upon the man, and he turned his attention to the other pair. They'd gone to the altar, digging frantically through holy artifacts. Roaring in rage, Isieron was about to call on his power again, to smite the two infidels, when a sudden impact from behind nearly flung him from his feet. Only sturdy, enchanted plate saved his life.
Staggering, the tiefling whirled, blade up. His attacker raised his own sword, cloak barely singed from Isieron's attack, but he was otherwise unharmed. The only fires on him were those smoldering in his pale grey eyes.
What –how did he survive? But Isieron had no time to wonder; they were back to their deadly dance, only this time, the cleric's attacker led. Each overhanded chop drove Isieron back a step; each brutal backhand forced his parries closer and closer to his body.
Binding their blades for an instant, Isieron whispered a quick spell, and sudden strength flowed through his Helm-blessed arms. The tiefling stole the initiative, driving forward with a series of controlled but concussive slashes. His attacker gave ground freely, parrying what he could. And then, he stole the offense back. Isieron's knees almost buckled under the force of a sudden and hard riposte. What magic does this bastard have?
"Let's go!" the woman shouted, but the fighter kept pressing Father Isieron. And none of his Helm-taught arts of war could save him. Hate in his eyes, the scarred warrior drove Isieron farther and farther back. Wielding the bastard sword in two hands with the economy of a butcher and the force of an orc warlord, the attacker bent Isieron's arms so far back in an awkward parry that the Helm-touched blade fell from the priest's hands. The cleric tripped as he stumbled back, rushing back helplessly to the ground. Stone met his head with a sharp crack. As the world faded away, he saw the scarred warrior watch him with those odd grey eyes, and finally turn his back.
"You should've killed him," groused Lis as she raised the frothing mug to her lips. She glared daggers at Dev with piercing green eyes, pulling a few strands of black hair over her barely pointed ears. Besides her, the mage Alam tugged at his threadbare brown robes, but Dev knew that he agreed with his wife.
A rowdy brawl was already raging behind the trio's table, but none of them paid any attention to such madness. They'd had enough fighting for the day.
Dev just shook his head, pale eyes staring away into space. "He wasn't armed," he said in his rasping voice. "No point."
"He knows us," said Alam glumly. "We'll have to move towns. Again."
Dev raised his silvery gaze to meet Alam's black one. The dusky mage did not relent under his friend's baleful stare; he'd spent far too many summers with Dev, and knew the strange man's moods. Finally, the fighter muttered, "You want to go back, then?"
Alam relaxed, chuckling. "Not quite."
"He wasn't armed, damn it."
Lis rolled her eyes, and sighed. "Dev, one of these days, you're going to have to realize that we're not Third Company anymore."
Dev looked into his full cup, and pushed it away. As he always did. "I know."
"They're all dead, Dev; we're the only ones now, and we can't have the same honor cod-"
"Damn it, I know," he snarled, standing violently. The tavern activities raged on, completely ignoring his violent outburst. It made sense; Dev was of average height, and compact. He didn't quite draw all eyes when he walked into a room. "I'm going up. I've had enough for one night."
Alam half-rose. "Look, Dev, I'm-"
"Go dance with your wife, war wizard. I'm…I'm tired." Of what, he didn't specify. The fighter ignored the protests of his friends, and trudged slowly up a rickety path of stairs. In his room, the fighter sank down on the straw bed, fingers absently touching the badly healed wound at his neck. Their tips traced across the '3' on his throat. A mark of pride, a badge of honor. They thought the Third met its end at Korablin's Gulch…gods, if I was to go back, I'd be hailed a hero, a survivor, be the symbol of a nation…
Precisely why Dev didn't go back. He didn't want to be a symbol anymore.
Marshal Crome kept me close to him; me and Em. His two pet prides. Devoid and Empty, the real fighters, best in the army and not a drop of magic ever found on them. Real soldiers, real symbols, not like the war wizards and the uppity mages; men that the everyday soldier could relate to, men that could be seen as realistic goals. But Crome, you crusty bastard, you never told them the whole story, did you? And when Em died, right next to Reel and Tunnels, and the rest of our little Old Guard, you didn't bother to tell them that either, did you? Because we were the indestructible, the symbols, the immortal images of the war effort. And immortals can't afford to die-
Devoid slowly unbuckled his old, trusty bastard sword and slid it off his back. It collapsed onto the bed with a soft plop, sounding as tired as the former soldier felt. Third Company, under the honorable Marshal Crome, best in the world, come and see, come one come all…Marshal Crome will show you a thing or two about war, and so will Captain Em, and Captain Dev, and Lieutenant Stone…
He almost drifted off into dreams, feeling the wounds all across his body throb, those old marks that only increased the toll life had taken on him. They think I do it for the show? They think I'm trying to be popular? What do they know, the bastards…
"Nothing, obviously," she said, and Dev jerked up in the bed, sword already coming out.
The woman in the blue and red dress chuckled. "My, but you're quick." She twirled a curly strand of red hair in one carefully manicured finger, but Dev wasn't fooled by the airy disguise –she had a blade on her, and knew how to use it. He could read her like a holy book.
"Get out," he said, pointing his battered blade at her.
She pouted. "And miss meeting the famed Captain Devoid, war-hero and martyr? Alive? Methinks…not."
"Captain Dev died right alongside Stone and Crome," said Dev. "No; he died before that, throat cut out by the Chained Warlord's greatsword." Because he couldn't bear Em's death, because he rushed in like a fool…
"And he recovered from such a gruesome wound…without magic?" She sounded almost playful.
"I don't do magic," said Dev, lips peeling back in a warning snarl. "Now get out."
"Come on. Hear me out, already. I know you want to; I can read your mind, of course."
"Of course. That's not going to save you from my-sword-in-your-brain."
"Oh, don't try it, please. I'd hate to put an end to the last of Third Company."
"Not the last," he said.
"Actually you're right," she said, pleased. "But I'm not talking about those two souls downstairs." She sighed. "Captain Dev, master of his body, lord of war…reduced to mercenary work? Raiding temples of Helm on Mask's payroll?"
"I survive," he muttered, but couldn't meet her gaze.
"But you're not alive," she said sharply. "You're right; Captain Dev died. But I want to bring him back."
Why? How? Who are you, anyway, to come in here and start talking about my past? But all Dev said was, "You said there was another. Alive."
She smiled. "Come on. There's a lot we have to talk about, Dev. There's a problem to the east, back near your home. Warlords on the march, and all."
"Warlords are always on the march, woman."
"Yes…but they've rarely been led by the genius of the revered Third."
Dev frowned, lowering his sword. What? And then, his pale eyes widened. "Crome?"
The woman smiled. "I said there were others of Third Company in this world. But I never said they were alive." And then she took his hand, and the world shuddered.