Uncertainly, Lann skidded to a halt at the top of the stairs heading down. "Whoa. That is... a big hammer... and a bigger gnoll..."
With a shrug, the small giant tapped his own weapon. "Not so big."
Glancing at his larger companion, the first speaker replied: "You fight it, then."
"Five hundred on me winning." Hefting his pillar under his arm, Karok descended the stairs towards the red gnoll at the other side of the courtyard.
Sitting at the top of the stairs, Fiona set her sword across her lap and leaned back. "Thousand on him losing."
Glaring disapprovingly at both Fiona and Lann, Evie hmphed. "Karok is a capable mercenary, like all of us, he can handle hims-"
Suddenly, her eyes widened and she swiftly ducked. Lann, who was looking at her and not forward, found himself catching just over seven feet of airborne muscle. He didn't succeed, and got pinned under many hundred pounds of unconscious man.
"That thousand will get me a new sword..." Allowing herself a slight smile, Fiona stood and met the chieftain's charge, leaving the mage behind with the two helpless and unhelpful men.
The four of them, sitting around a warm fire, stared into the vast cavern.
Idly fiddling with the portable anvil, Evie broke the silence: "We... can do this, right?"
"Did you see that thing the other day? I did, and so did Karok. I think we're both fine with putting off the charge.", Lann replied without looking away from his whetstone. Karok only stared through the flames, not denying nor adding to the statement.
With an irritated grunt, Fiona grabbed her weapon and stood. "You two were just tricked by the light; no bear could possibly grow to that size. You two are men, dammit, act like you have a pair." Kicking Karok's leg, the shield-bearer ran into the cavern.
Before the rest of them could react to what was going on, the mercenary with the most armor slid face-first through the fire and back into the tunnel they had come from, bleeding between tears in her armor and scratching scars into the ice of Hoarfrost Hollow.
Snarling copiously, the great white bear thundered towards the three mercenaries and their oozing companion, his great red eye a frightening contrast against the white and blue of the ice cave.
Karok, with a polite cough, asked a simple question: "Run?"
He got a simple answer from both conscious companions. "RUN!"
Silk-Swaddled Messenger Boy
"Look!", said Little Red Riding Evie. "There's Ellis! My, what big rips in his armor there- ELLIS! NOOOOOOOO!"
The Plains of Angst
True to his boast, Lann cleared the entire portion of the ruins with his eyes closed. "See? Told you."
Businesslike and un-fun as normal, Fiona only kept walking and stabbing the faces of the gnolls that her nimble companion had only grievously wounded. "Why did I get stuck with you?"
Stomping the skull of a tan-clad elite gnoll, the doubly armed swordsman squeezed the grips of his weapons, almost painfully. "Because Karok and Evie had patrol today, and Aodhan won't allow a mercenary into these ruins alone. Since I hadn't been assigned for anything, you got-" his eye twitched, "'stuck' with me on your... what was it? Flower-picking excursion?"
His sentence ended with a question mark and the tip of a sword pressed into the soft flesh on the bottom of his jaw.
"I'm getting the flower for Shayla because she's paying me to, it's not for myself."
Shoving weapon and woman away, Lann gave Fiona a murderous glare that was returned in full, the two of them still strolling through the ruins at a slow pace, weapons held tense. "You do everything she asks you to? She have to whip you to do your bidding- or perhaps you're enticed by her scantily clad-"
That time, his sentence was cut off by a shield's edge hitting his skull and sending him tumbling down a set of stairs.
Shakily pushing himself to his feet, Lann took the closer of his sent-flying swords and held it at the ready. "You want to get hurt?"
"You want to die?"
Before he could respond, a massive black hound crashed into Lann's back, while a smaller brown one leaped overhead and knocked Fiona onto her back- ignoring the red spikes of her shield as its jaws snapped towards the woman's face.
Dragging her broken shield with her, Fiona crawled back until she couldn't crawl no more, her shoulder blades meeting the stone of a pillar as the great black wolf crept closer. Her sword was out of reach across the courtyard, the same courtyard they had fought the red chieftain in, imbedded in the neck of the brown wolf.
Snarling in defiance to match the wolf's snarl of... something, Fiona grabbed the pauldron that had broken off her armor and held it over her knuckles, ready to go out punching.
Crouching low, the wolf swayed side to side, preparing to leap; with an almost smile-like raising of hackles, the black animal tensed its hindquarters and launched itself forward.
Hauling her dilapidated shield to bear, Fiona braced herself for the impending impact... that failed to hit. Chancing a look through one of the holes in her shield, she saw the teeth of the wolf, its jaw open wide, not moving.
Looking around the side of the shield, she saw why: a blade, made from the great bear's bones, was imbedded halfway through the massive canine's neck. Pushing the carcass aside, Lann collapsed- his armor, too, torn to rags and his eyes barely focused.
"Oh, hey..." Dazed, the double-wielding warrior reached out and plucked something from the ground. "...a ... flower..." After holding it triumphantly in the air for a moment, his arm slumped down, sending the flower rolling across the courtyard.
After drinking half a restorative potion and forcing the rest down her comrade's throat, Fiona put the flower in her belt and hauled one of the blacked-out Lann's arms over one shoulder, and began the grueling drag back towards Colhen.
"Useless bastard,", she muttered with the smallest of smiles.
Golfhammer of +3 Kaboom
"... 'Everwhite'?", stated Karok dubiously. "Is... that a female gnoll, or...?"
Gwynn glared sternly. "Everwhite is one of the chief gnolls under Black Scar. He must be found, and any documents he has on his gnoll-person should be brought here for inspection."
The next afternoon, Karok ventured alone into the prairie. About fifteen minutes later, girlish screams resonated across said prairie as the small giant was used as a golf ball by a large pale gnoll with a hammer that, for unknown reasons, had a tendency to release a fireball around where it hit.
That day, Karok learned not to directly ask a gnoll about its gender. He also learned that Everwhite, the female gnolless, was a bit touchy on the subject.
Lann Would Have Jumped Onto A Chair And Lifted His Kilt
"Seriously, guys, look at this courtyard and honestly tell me it doesn't look like the one back in the Perilous Ruins!"
Ignoring Lann's request, Karok handed the smaller warrior his pillar and joined Fiona in trying to haul the great door open.
Apologetically smiling at the double-sworded fighter, Evie leaned against one of the wide columns. "It's not the same place, Lann. Their names aren't even identical- Ruins of Sanctity, as opposed to the Perilous Ruins. They have completely different meanings."
"You three are just ignoring fine details." Staggering under the weight of the pillar, Lann did his best not to look like a weakling in front of the other three mercenaries.
After several tries of pushing and pulling, Karok opted for the method of opening doors that had less finesse: punching it. After that failed, Fiona tried something even less finesseful: bashing it with a hammer.
Pushing the two of them aside, Evie moved in front of the door; behind her back, Karok and Lann shared an entertained look, and watched with low expectations as their magic-using companion reached forward and-
-blasted the door off its hinges.
Turning and smiling sweetly at the stunned faces of the two men, Evie took her staff from Fiona and led the way through the dark opening. After rolling her eyes at both of them, Fiona followed.
Sharing another look, though this time of sheepish shame, Karok awkwardly took his pillar from Lann and started towards the door.
Not long after fully entering the dark passageway, they heard a scream; shame shoved aside, the pair fell into a swift run towards the distant light ahead.
When they got there, they found a startling sight: Fiona, hiding behind a pillar while Evie cowered under a borrowed shield behind some large white spheres.
The two men blinked at the two women, confounded.
Then they heard the screech, and looked up.
Then they ran for cover, as a massive red spider crashed to the ground where they had been standing.
Never Trust Strangers
"Did... did Nyle really say, a 'true' giant spider?", inquired Evie nervously.
"We... we killed the one here, right?", asked Lann while brushing a hand over one of his latest scars.
Saying nothing, Fiona grimly approached the door.
"Maybe.. we... should check behind the door at the Perilous Ruins!", declared Lann.
Swallowing tensely, Karok followed Fiona to the re-sealed door. Behind them, Evie and Lann took turns trying to hide behind one another.
Once the door was opened, the four slowly walked into the hallway...
"NYLE YOU BASTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARD!", shouted all four of them as another giant red spider and a bigger, green, spike-legged arachnid crawled into view.
"OH DEAR MORRIGHAN WHAT IS THAT THING!", screamed Lann as he ran for his life down the massive tunnel in the ice. Not far behind were the other three mercenaries, and just barely behind Fiona at the back was a pair of massive tusks, swinging to and fro as a massive creature chased them.
And then he encountered the wall of ice.
"WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE~", howled both he and Evie, clutching one another in sheer terror. Meanwhile, Fiona planted the bottom of her shield in the floor, buying as much time as possible while Karok grimly and frantically bashed ice with fist and steel.
They never did determine what it was. Karok said lunch, Lann said a pig that had eaten a bit too much of Aslinn's stews, Fiona said it was a land-walrus, and Evie thought it to be a mammoth.
Evie was laughed at, and they heartily ate pig-walrus for the next month. Except Lann, of course, because his digestive system was slightly hampered by a giant tusk sticking out of his abdomen, forcing him to eat liquids for quite some time. Much to his despair, Aislinn volunteered to cook.
Déjà déjà déjà vu
"OH COME ON!", yelled Lann as he beheld the courtyard of Hilder Forest.
Karok Is Why There Is Only One Gender Per Class
"Mercenaries Fiona, Lann, Karok and Evie!"
The four in question turned at the call of their names to see Captain Aodhan standing ever-sternly.
"Come with me outside." said aforementioned captain, before turning on his heel and tromping sternly out.
They complied. The captain crossed his arms at their arrival, increasing the stern level of his features beyond that which the mercenaries thought even possible. "You four. As you are to be entering the Royal Army soon, there will be... vacancies in our ranks. Large vacancies. As such, you are each to train a rookie mercenary in your combat methods, so there's smaller damage to our current tactics."
Fiona did not respond in any way.
Karok raised an eyebrow.
Evie's shoulders slumped slightly at the impending workload.
Lann whined. "Whaaaaaat? But, sir! We have to pack our-"
"A mercenary- no, a soldier travels light. No luxury possessions beyond what is strictly needed for your survival. Your armor, your weapon, and some food- that is all a soldier needs."
Fiona did not respond in any way.
Evie groaned as she thought of her soon-to-be-abandoned weapon-smithing materials.
Lann whined. "Whaaaaaat? Captain, sir- we've spent so much time getting a lifetime's memory of things from our-"
"Good." Turning back to the general group of four, Aodhan crossed his arms. "Any other questions? Objections?" Lann raised a hand. "No? Good. Recruits! Forward!"
At his command, two men and two women approached from around a nearby corner. At Aodhan's direction, they each stood in front of their designated mentor.
Karok stared in horror at the woman who has a foot taller than he, more muscular, and who held a pillar thrice the size of his own in one hand.
Fiona raised an eyebrow at the man whose small shield brought back memories.
Evie held back a giggle as she beheld a slight jiggle from the man with the staff.
Lann tried to flirt with the woman with twin weapons. It didn't end well for him, and he had to be put back on liquid foods for two weeks.
MC B Hammer Enjoys Golfing, Too
At the back of the group, behind Keaghan, Gwynn, and the Rocheste guards, the four former mercenaries milled about. They didn't even look up when spears started flying, because frankly, they knew Keaghan could handle a couple of spears. Really now, he was famous, and they weren't- yet they could take close to half a dozen spears to the face and still live to bite the skull off the goblin that threw them.
They didn't even tense when Shakarr jumped from a ledge, from a height that would have killed any of them- because really, by this point, they had learned not to question the odd things Fomors did- like, appear out of thin air with little more than a puff of black smoke.
Their lack of interest led to Evie taking half of a massive double-headed hammer to the chest, flinging her across the canyon and into a drum.
That got their attention, but not quite quick enough for Karok to bring his pillar to bear, resulting in him also being sent across the canyon in a nostalgic trajectory starting with giant hammers. Lann, however, put his limbo training to good use, and ducked below the hammer's next pass.
He followed his flawless dodge with what he had dubbed, the 'Double Crescent' -to much mockery from his companions; they always called it the 'Ballerina Strike'- only to get hit in the face by the hammer's next pass, leaving Fiona alone against the ogre known as the Warlord Black Hammer.
With a sigh, she hoisted her shield onto her arm.
Poseidon, You Got Some Scary-A** Kids
"Oh.", said Karok.
"Dear.", said Lann.
"Morrighan.", said Fiona.
"In Erinn.", said Evie, as the giant one-eyed... thing stomped towards the four Royal Army soldiers.
"Run?", asked Fiona.
"RUN!", shouted the other three.
Not A Discworld Seamstress
It was refreshing, returning to Colhen for the weekend- then Clodagh threatened them into investigating ghosts.
They wept eight waterfalls as yet another massive spider, even more spike-clad than the green one, burst from the ground in the Ainle graveyard; bawling the loudest of all was none other than Lann, whose dozens of scars from the first three massive arachnids still ached daily...
By the end of that night, the number of scars had tripled, all four made a pledge to never go near anything with spiders ever again, and they all had deeply engraved and severe cases of arachnophobia.
Resenlian: Alchemist, Fashion Critic, Sadist
"My butt doesn't look that big when I wear that skirt... does it?", inquired Evie as she studied her copy.
"He's not as handsome as I." declared Lann simply, crossing his arms at his counterpart.
Off to the side, their Karok and the construct Karok arm-wrestled on the boxes nearby. Meanwhile, Fiona shamefully rethought her armor design as she saw exactly just how much of her skin was exposed in her twin's equipment.
"WHY-", yelled Karok as he brought his fists down on its head.
"WON'T-", groaned Fiona as she rammed her blade up its rear end.
"IT-", screamed Lann as he rapidly stabbed it in the knees.
"DIE?", finished Evie as she sent a barrage of spheres at its back.
In response, the reptile fell to a kneel and healed at a ridiculous rate, faster than the four soldiers could tear its hide.
Karok frowned, staring at Evie across the table. She stared back, a chunk of egg falling off her fork.
"That scar, on your cheek... what's it from? You didn't get hit during the last excursion..."
"Y-yes I did! When I went to find the switch for that, uh, the turning thing, a ratman came out of nowhere. It just... wasn't bleeding then!"
"Hmm..." With a shrug, Karok returned to eating.
Fiona raised an eyebrow at Evie, while the two of them were tending their weapons in the barracks.
"When did you get a scar? The last place you got hit was your leg, wasn't it?"
"N-no! This is from when I was going down the ledges, with the ones that fold into the wall. I was at the back, remember? You probably didn't see, but there was a lizard assassin that had been hiding in a barrel, he jumped me after you all started down."
"Hmm..." Turning back to her equipment, Fiona resumed sharpening her sword.
As the boat sailed out of the dock, Lann casually went over to Evie. "Hey!"
"Where were you today?"
"Riordan had me cleaning the gutters because he mistook my dumbfounded stare at Nel for a perverse one. Couldn't get it done in time for breakfast or equipment preparation. Say, that scar's new- is that from Nel's dog, yesterday? I heard it snarling and then your yelp, but I couldn't see what happened because Brakis was going on about- ... what?" Confused, the warrior looked at the mage's rapidly reddening face.
She was painfully aware of the piercing stares of Karok and Fiona.
"Dog! Hah! Hah! No! Not from her dog! Oh whoops!" Pushing on her scythe, Evie slid its butt across the deck and into the side of Lann's foot with a hefty shruck.
"AAAOW!" Clutching his foot and hopping across the deck, Lann's howls of pain startled even the Rocheste commoners back in town, as he neared the edge of the vessel.
In alarm, Karok jumped towards Lann in an attempt to grab him. Alas, his bulk was too immense- he barely brushed the back of the other warrior's breastplate, then there was a thud, then a loud splash, followed by bubbles as the air escaped from the plate armor the man wore.
Fiona turned to glare at Evie, while Karok tossed aside his heaviest equipment and dove in after Lann.
Pact: Pole-Dancing Lessons Optional
"This whole 'pact' thing doesn't worry you guys?"
"Nawwww.", came the trio of voices, in a simultaneous reply. But the lack of worry in her companions did nothing to ease Fiona; the whole 'transform into a super-being' thing didn't seem right, plus the 'destroys your clothes' part had her a bit wary on a much more specific note. In a worried silence, she followed the rest of the quartet as they trekked through the still-burning Ainle; while they reminisced about the Prince and joked about how eagerly Fiona had stripped his armor and gone to Ferghus, their shielded fighter thought long and hard about what kinds of situations would justify her flashing the entire group and any possible onlookers for a boost in ability.
Her other companions probably had much less issue with the concept; Lann was a man, prone to showing off his body- however, Lann's showing off was best done with his clothes on, because seeing his mess of scars made Evie vomit bucketloads and brought Fiona to the brink of joining her. Karok was considerably less prone to showing off than Lann would be, and would probably silently handle the situation. Evie... as far as Fiona could guess, she'd use the opportunity to make Lann and Karok uncomfortable, and tease them for days.
But Fiona, no- she was more reserved than that, more conscious of her privacy. For something like that to be worth the consequence for Fiona, there would either have to be an extremely agonizing path to get there, or a stupendously rewarding treasure at the end.
They got the former, and the additional scars to Lann brought Fiona completely over the brink, having to share Evie's bucket supply.
Never Flush a Pet Lizard
"BRAKIS YOU KOBOLD-HOLE~!", wailed Evie as she dove away from the massive jaws.
"IT HAS A MORRIGHAN-D*MNED SECOND MOUTH IN THERE!", roared Karok as he quickly changed his mind about trying to hold back aforementioned jaws with brute strength.
"GAAAAAAGH!", howled Fiona as her reflexive use of her shield backfired, conducting agonizing jolts of electricity through her body.
"TELL BLAWYNN IT WASN'T WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE!", cried Lann as he soared across the sewer, leaking internal organs and shedding fragments of armor.
The Deadliest Weapon
"Tell Theo... I loved him..."
Greatly alarmed, Fiona went to Lann's side. "What? No! Don't die! You can't die!"
Her frantic fear earned her a wistful smile from the bedridden warrior. "We all know there's no recovering from this. We've had a good run, guys... many great things slain... and a few not-so-great things..." With a group grimace, the four soldiers recalled the incident with Nel and the giant cockroach. "... anyway, it's been memorable. I... regret... nothing...!" With those final words, Lann's body lost its life- a thing echoed with the thunk of one of his gauntlets falling from his hand, which hung alongside the bed.
"F-feathers... nobody has feathers!" Desperate, Fiona rose from Lann's cot and turned to Karok and Evie; the former shook his head grimly, and the latter sobbed. Fiona's mind scrambled to and fro- and lo, she had a thought. "Eves... Evie! Wh-what about your revival magic?"
"S-still... h-has... a f-few minutes until it c-can be... be..." Unable to finish, Evie fell to her knees and wailed.
"... pancakes!", exclaimed Karok suddenly.
"... jacka**, this isn't a time to be hungry!" Enraged, their swordswoman prepared to strike the large man.
"No, Tieve's pancakes! Maybe a good food could remove the taste of the lunch Aslinn made for Lann, and revive him?"
Fiona blinked at Karok, then looked back to the dead warrior.
"... worth a shot, GET SOMETHING TASTY!"
Fiona leaned back in her chair, and breathed the fresh morning air- such a good place to get a tan. "The weather here is wonderful, isn't it?"
In response, Evie let out a happy sigh as she flipped over onto her front. Not far away, Lann was doing agility exercises in his underwear, which was something neither of the women wanted to see, and Karok occasionally chucked an exploding spiked ball across the courtyard.
After a slight wiggle to get more comfortable in her chair, Fiona lifted her shield and buffed a few scuff marks out of it; once satisfied with its condition, she moved on to her helmet- which she promptly threw at Lann's back when he reached for the lunchbox Aislinn had given the group earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the courtyard, Ahglan spun his golemy parts in massive stone tornado for the umpteenth time.
With a slight, frustrated sigh, Karok leaned against one of the tall stone walls. Every turn got him more lost, every fork in the halls more confused, each minute spent alone, worrying for his comrades; 'we're experienced', Evie had said, 'if we split up, we can cover more ground', Fiona had said, 'we'll find each other again by following the screams of pain', Lann had said. So far, he had not heard the slightest thing that sounded like one of his companions; Karok could only find rebel soldiers and the occasional crazed canine.
Not only could he not find his companions nor target enemy, but he was experiencing a problem- his bladder, which was large enough to endure lengthy periods of time without release, had not been tended to since before they left Rocheste so many hours before… and he couldn't find any sort of indication where Ortel's facilities were…
When he eventually did find the facilities, however, he was promptly interrupted by Lord Ingkells, who was holding a newspaper and was in a bit of a rush.
Fiona shielded the sun from her eyes, squinting through the window at the speck that was soaring across the ramparts of Ortel Castle; with a shrug, she dismissed it as just some sort of bird.
Let Us Celebrate Reunion With Stabby Stabby Thwack Slash
In a cloud of black smoke, Nyle appeared.
Evie suddenly burst out from behind the broken-down wall, and readied her scythe. "Nyle… you son of an Everwhite… YOU PROMISED US CANDY WHEN YOU HAD US GET IN THAT CARRIAGE!"
Watching the ensuing four-on-one confrontation with a somewhat derailed fury, Riordan came to a conclusion: they're easier targets when they're fighting each other…
Fortunately for everyone else, but unfortunately for Lann, Fiona reacted in time to grab onto the agile man's collar and use him as a larger shield than her own, protecting the rest of the group quite sufficiently at the tiny cost of rendering their bladesman incapacitated.
Author's Note: At this point of the game's progression, I became disinterested in it for a slew of reasons. This... set of shorts was originally intended as just something to write when I wasn't writing anything else, but I figure, 'meh, might as well publish it for the heck of it'.