Ambush!

The quiet, southern part of the city, where the residents have their homes.
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Ambush!

Post by Mavarion » Mon Aug 06, 2007 8:46 pm

((NPC Post))


Dominic Snyde leaned back in the chair, his feet propped up on a desk. He was a rather thin man in his late thirties. He was agile and swift on his feet, and was extremely deft with a knife, either thrown or wielded. He had yet to lose in a knife fight, and he had had many of those over the years. The scar running from an inch to the left of his left eye to nearly his jaw was proof of that. His thin face was graced with a thin mustache, which only seemed to accent the large, angular nose above it. His teeth were crooked and yellowed, and his lips were pinched and nearly bloodless. His thin black hair hung over ears pressed tight against his head. Thin as he was, Snyde commanded what amounted to a small army in the Shanty Town District. His temper was near legendary, and he wasn't scared to kill first and ask questions later. He was smart as well, if a little sadistic, and his plans never failed. He had planned this little party today, and he knew it wouldn't fail either.

The room he was in was just one of several that he used for doing business, and they all looked the same. The desk and chair faced the only entrance, but were all the way across the room, probably close to twenty or thirty paces. The only things on the desk were two long daggers, one almost the length of a short sword. The other furniture in the room was a long table with ten chairs around it, for large 'corporate' meetings, and two paneled room dividers flush against the wall to either side of the entrance. The dividers were set diagonally, giving anyone entering limited view of anything to the right or the left.

A muffled groan sounded from behind and to the left of Snyde. He leaned back farther, cocking his head so he could look from one eye at the naked woman slumped against the chains holding her to the wall by her arms. His sneer took in the length of her.

"Not so brave now, are we, Kaydee?"

The bitch would have gone to that nobleman and his little toadie had he not stopped her. As it was, several other people from the Shanty Town had run to the promise of money and food. It undermined his authority in these parts, and Snyde was not one to let that go lightly.

The woman showed bruises nearly from head to toe on her rail thin body. Snyde himself had beaten her nearly to death. Dried blood was encrusted on the side of her head, and a trail led down her face from her nose and had dripped between her wasted breasts. Both lips were split and swollen, and one eye was nearly completely closed, a large black bruise around it. Her lank hair covered most of her face as she drooped from the chains, not even able to hold herself up. She was barely conscious, if at all.

Before he had let his men have her, he had had someone bring the little girl Kaydee was often seen with. Letting it seem like an accident, he had allowed the little girl to slip into Kaydee's room, and slip out with a message. He could think of only two people who would come to attempt a rescue of the woman.

Smirking, Snyde returned to sitting comfortably in his seat, his legs still propped on the desktop. He looked up at one of the two extremely large men flanking his desk. Each of the men were nearly six and a half feet tall and extremely well muscled. Chests as round as barrels and muscular shoulders made the men look nearly as wide as they were tall. Both blond and blue-eyed, they looked on impassively from the side of the desk, staring straight at the door from which they expected the trouble. In a rare show of eagerness and impatience, one of them was tapping the iron shod head of a large, heavy club into the palm of his left hand. The other simply held his, and kept his arms crossed over his thick chest.

When his eyes flickered to the four men, of a similar height and build as the two flanking his desk, hidden behind the room dividers, he got a nod from each of them. They were ready for action, and would do everything how Snyde wished it.

With a small smile, Snyde turned his attention back to the door, the sound of running feet hitting the ground drawing his eyes. His feet dropped to the floor with twin thumps, and he adjusted his positioning so that his elbows were on the desk, his hands clasped in front of his face.
Last edited by Mavarion on Thu Aug 09, 2007 3:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Julen » Tue Aug 07, 2007 4:36 pm

Several times during their journey, Julen tried to pry more details out of the little girl. But she only answered each of his questions by repeating that Kaydee was in trouble, that Julen needed to help Kaydee, and by tugging on his hand even harder. So Julen eventually gave up, hurrying along in silence.

Not long after entering the shanty town itself, they came to a building which appeared to have been officially abandoned long ago, although it was certainly better maintained than the tents and other unstable shelters that surrounded it. Here, the little girl paused. “In there. Kaydee is in there.”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she began dragging Julen toward the door. But Julen placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “This is as far as you go, little one. Return to the place where you found me and wait for us there. I’ll tell Kaydee what a brave, loyal friend she has in you.”

The little girl stared up at him with wide eyes. Then she turned and ran off. Not, Julen noted with some dismay, in the direction of the Industrial District. He hoped she was simply going to collect her family before returning to Lightsword Hall. But if not, there was nothing he could do about it now. Drawing his sword, Julen focused on the task of helping Kaydee, and stepped into the building.

He was about five paces into the room when he saw her. Julen had witnessed some horrific things in the last few days. He’d seen a man clutching at his throat as his life’s blood poured between his fingers; he’d seen an orc shatter another man’s body with a single swing of its massive club. Yet none of that could have prepared him for the sight of Kaydee, naked, chained to the wall and obviously beaten within an inch of her life. Julen’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. There weren’t words. There was only nausea and a brief darkness obscuring his vision as light, hope, and joy fled from a world they could no longer influence.

Two weeks ago, Julen would have rushed to Kaydee, tugged uselessly on her chains, with no other thought than getting her to safety. But Aorle had at least managed to train that much rashness out of him. Good intentions might be admirable, but they were also useless if carried out carelessly. So Julen didn’t waste his time on futile gestures. The chains were iron -- he couldn’t cut through iron. But there must be a key. Someone in this room would have a key. For the first time, Julen focused his full attention on the man seated at the desk in front of him.

Julen could have said something noble. He could have made a threat. He could have called the man a thrice-cursed- son-of-a-bitch. But Julen didn’t feel particularly noble, a threat would sound like nervous bluster, and there was no name foul enough to do justice to someone capable of so severely harming an innocent woman. So instead, in a voice nearly devoid of emotion, he simply said “Let her go.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Post by Mavarion » Thu Aug 09, 2007 3:29 am

((NPC Post))


Snyde's lips twitched into a smirk as Julen halted in the doorway, his attention obviously on the only thing in the room a bleeding heart toadie would be interested in.

Kaydee.

The smirk slipped into a mask of mock fear as Julen spoke, the witty words of the outclassed.
Julen wrote:“Let her go.”
In mocking tones, Snyde said, "Oh, yessir, Mr. White Knight, sir. I didn't know she was your maiden. Please, take her." The tone was obviously mocking, but Snyde spoke in something close to a monotone.

He stood, turning his back on Julen, trusting his guards to keep the man from reaching him. He began fiddling with the locking mechanisms on the manacles around Kaydee's wrists. Hanging by those manacles, Kaydee groaned loudly as the movements pulled at already sore and damaged tissue.

At the groan, Snyde brought his arm across and backhanded her on the cheek, the smack echoing around the room. He turned back to Julen, the smirk back in place.

"On second thought, I think I'll keep her. She has yet to amuse me as much as I think is possible."

A small hand motion brought the four guards from behind the screens, moving to surround Julen as the other two stepped in front of the desk. All six men were carrying the heavy iron-shod clubs, and willing to use them at the slightest provocation.

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Post by Julen » Thu Aug 09, 2007 10:10 pm

If Julen’s face betrayed any reaction to the sarcastic comments about being a white knight, it was not anger. Instead, more than anything, he felt puzzled. Coming here, he’d expected to interrupt some brute trying to harm Kaydee. And, indeed, she’d obviously been harmed. But this man didn’t appear surprised to see him. Had his arrival been expected? How? Why?

The idea that Kaydee might simply be bait, and that this encounter was more about him than it was about her, didn’t occur to Julen. It never entered his mind that a few bags of bread and a single speech could disturb the sinister figures who drew their power from the shanty town. If he had realized such a thing, he might have thought twice before opening his mouth on that second night. But he hadn’t. And now, it looked like the lesson might be driven home in a most memorable manner.

When the man began to fiddle with the locking mechanisms, Julen’s grip on his sword tightened to the point of pain. And when the man backhanded Kaydee, Julen’s feet moved on their own accord, carrying him several steps closer to the desk before he caught himself. Julen remembered Aorle’s confrontation with Phelan -- he’d never understood how a man could feel such burning fury.

Until now.

But he also remembered what Aorle had told him after the one time Julen lashed out against his friend. As for the lesson, remember that letting anger and pride rule your weapon like that is a good way to get innocents killed. Julen knew that he couldn’t allow rage to steal his reason, or he would lose this confrontation, and Kaydee would endure further suffering. Better to focus on reaching a better understanding of the situation. The man hadn’t told him to go away and mind his own business. He hadn’t ordered his thugs to attack. Instead, he seemed to be waiting. For what? Was there something he wanted?

“Do you want me to buy her?” Julen knew that Kaydee was a prostitute and this man was accustomed to selling her. Perhaps he saw Julen’s concern as an opportunity to ransom the young woman. Using his free hand, Julen undid the laces of his money pouch, and tossed it down on the ground, about two paces from where he stood. “There. Take it and let us leave unmolested.”

The sound of people moving into place behind him hadn’t escaped Julen. But even so, his offer wasn’t made with any note of fear. He was simply giving the man an option. The man would accept it or he wouldn’t -- if he didn’t, Julen fully intended to make him wish that he had.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Post by Mavarion » Sun Aug 12, 2007 1:27 am

((NPC Post))


Snyde watched with an eager sneer at Julen's reaction to the backhand. When he stopped before the desk, Snyde's expression changed to one of brief disappointment, again replaced by the sneer. His fingers lovingly fondled the hilt of the throwing knife on his right hip, which was turned slightly away from Julen to hide the knife. However, the way Snyde's arm was cocked made it obvious there was something on that hip.

When the pouch landed on the floor, Snyde's expression darkened, the sneer dropping from his face. Apparently the fellow wasn't getting it. Perhaps it was time to be a little more overt.

Snyde stepped forward, keeping his temper on a tight reign, until only the desk and a few feet of empty air separated him from Julen. He was a quick man, and felt confident that he could get out of harm's way before Julen could get the sword across the space and put him into danger

"Are all of you maiden-saving knights as innocent as you? If so, I'm surprised that you haven't gotten yourselves killed off before this. Perhaps it's just you?"

The questions were obviously not meant to be answered, since Snyde continued speaking. "You see, things in the Shanty Town here are done a certain way. Everyone in Marn knows this, even the Captain of the Guards. We're left alone here, and in turn, we leave everyone else alone. When someone like you comes in here, riling up the folk who have no need for anything better, with tales of riches and work, it upsets the balance. Worse, it upsets me!"

Snyde leaned forward as he shouted the last words before getting his temper back under control. The men around Julen tensed as Snyde visibly settled himself with a deep breath before continuing.

"Now, a lesson needs to be taught, similar to the lesson that I had to teach Kaydee here. Perhaps it will make you see how important balance is, and teach you not to try to take people from their rightful places."

Snyde stepped back and waved a hand at Julen, a smirk creeping over his face. The henchmen stepped forward, iron-bound cudgels waving in the air.

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Post by Julen » Thu Aug 16, 2007 6:58 am

As the man spoke, a series of realizations flared up inside Julen’s head, leaving brief, bright impressions. Someone had been upset by the speech he gave last night. This was a trap intended to punish him. He’d been an idiot to run off without bringing any of his fellow Lightswords. And, most horrible of all, what had happened to Kaydee was his fault. Because she spoke up for him. Because he cared about her.

The smirk on the man’s face told Julen everything else. There would be no settling this without spilling blood. Something stirred inside Julen, cooling his rage with a single icy breath, until anger became grim determination. Julen knew that the man expected him to lose control, to lunge forward and try to attack him. But Julen also remembered what Aorle had taught him about doing what was expected.

Spinning around, Julen charged at the thug positioned most directly between him and the door through which he’d entered. A sword swing aimed at the man’s hip would force him to choose between defending and striking with his club. If he defended, Julen would let his sword be pushed aside; if he struck, Julen would do what he could to brace himself for the blow.

But the sword feint was only a cover for Julen’s true attack. As he ran, Julen drew his dagger from his belt. Then, with all the force that several layers of metal armor can bring to bear, he body-slammed the thug, attempting to drive his dagger into the man’s stomach as he did so.

With a lot of luck, the attack would disable the thug. With a little luck, it would at least stun him. Either way, Julen would disengage quickly, and continue trying to reach the door.

Briefly, it occurred to Julen that [Snyde] probably thought he was running away. Well, let him think that. There was actually a much more practical reason why Julen wanted to be on the other side of that doorway.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Post by Mavarion » Thu Aug 16, 2007 7:47 am

((NPC Post))


Snyde watched with a grin as Julen spun away from him and went barreling into one of the four men who had come out behind him.

The only problem with Julen's plan was that there were two men between him and the doorway. As he swung at the first, that man chose parrying over injury, and was taken completely by surprise as the knife was driven into his abdomen. As he went down, the injured man curled around the knife out of reflex, inadvertently pinching his muscles onto the blade.

The second man behind him stood square and ready, though looking a little nervous as the first dropped like a sack of rocks. It seemed his intent would be to stop Julen from getting to the door, or at least to delay the smaller man until the others arrived and put him down. The two men from beside Snyde's deck closed in from behind, surprisingly quick and light on their feet for men of such large size.

The other two men from behind the screens closed in quickly from either side, clubs swinging for the back of Julen's head. Even through armor, iron-bound clubs would cause a headache at least, if not a brief loss of consciousness.

Snyde's grin spread in a smirk. If Julen succeeded in getting outside, it would have more of an affect on the people if they saw the man who kept offering them freedom beaten nearly to death in front of their eyes. And then left to rot.

And Kaydee. He would leave her with him, since she was still obviously beaten. It would make them understand that escape was impossible, and that it would be futile to speak up against him.

After all, he was Dominick Snyde.

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Post by Julen » Thu Aug 16, 2007 7:16 pm

Julen cursed when the thug he’d just stabbed clutched at the dagger. A hard sword strike against the man’s wrist severed nerve and muscle, allowing Julen to wrench his weapon free. But the extra entanglement had already cost him precious seconds. Before he could lunge at the second thug who blocked his path to the door, a blow from behind hit him solidly in the back of his head.

For an instant, everything jumped out of focus, as if the whole room had been jolted by the impact. At the same time, intense pain slammed through Julen’s brain. Reeling, he stumbled sideways, with only one desperate thought running through his mind: don’t fall, don’t fall, they’ve won once they get you on the ground.

Fortunately, his training with Aorle had taught Julen to deal with the shock of beings stuck during combat. He didn’t fall. He didn’t lose his grip on his weapons. And, although his head still throbbed, he soon managed to assess his new position. The staggering had taken him toward one side of the room, where the long table and chairs were set up.

Julen knew that the dizziness would slow his reflexes, but he didn’t have time to let it pass. He needed to stay active, to stay dangerous, or they would simply drag him down and start pummeling him. Once more focusing on reaching the door, Julen charged at the thug still blocking his path to it. This time, however, his intent wasn’t to ram him. Instead, he swung his sword at the man’s side, while holding his dagger ready to take advantage of any vulnerability that opened up when the man attempted to defend himself. With luck, Julen would be able to get in at least one strike before quickly disengaging.

Of course, this would expose him to more hits from the others. But he had to risk that. To fight defensively would allow his enemies to wear him down at their own pace. He needed to disable as many of them as possible, as quickly as possible, if he wanted to win.

And he needed to win. For Kaydee, he needed to win.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Post by Mavarion » Fri Aug 17, 2007 8:53 pm

((NPC Post))


Snyde watched with a smirk on his face, his eyes bright with anticipation. The toadie stumbled to the side from the first glancing blow to the back of his head, slipping between two of his men who didn't react quite quickly enough. No matter. He was farther from the door now.

The man Julen rushed didn't simply stand in the way. Stepping to the side, the man tossed his club hard at Julen, then crouched and charged forward, meeting Julen's rush with an attempted tackle. Each Snyde's men knew that if he tried too much self preservation, and allowed this man to escape, he would have to answer to Snyde himself while his companions held him still for Snyde's un-tender mercies.

One of the four other men grabbed the downed man on the floor, and with a hard pull, slid him off to the opposite side of the room. It wasn't necessarily a gesture to help the man, simply a way to clear the battlefield the small cottage had become. The remaining men formed a semi-circle around Julen as the tackling man rushed Julen.

The set up had taken only as much time as it had taken Julen to regain his bearings and start his own rush, although the attempted tackle had started after it was clear what Julen was doing.

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Post by Julen » Sat Aug 18, 2007 3:36 am

Clubs are difficult things to throw with any accuracy. If Julen had been thinking clearly, he would have ignored it and continued his forward charge. But he was still dizzy after the blow to his head, so the sight of a large object flying through the air at him provoked a primal response -- he raised his sword arm to shield his face. And although this turned out to be completely unnecessary, since the club struck his chest and bounced harmlessly off his brigandine, the attack succeeded in distracting him from his opponent for several seconds. In battle, seconds are everything.

Julen barely had time to realize that his intended target was now rushing at him. With his sword arm still partially raised, he was in a poor position to strike with it, although he did manage to shift his dagger so that the force of the thug’s charge would impale him on its blade. Then came the collision. The dagger sunk deep into the thug’s flesh, but the blow wasn’t nearly enough to absorb all his momentum. Julen found himself shoved backwards, struggling desperately not to be pulled down beneath the weight of the much larger man.

It was a struggle that he lost.

Forced off balance, Julen hit the ground, half-buried beneath the man who had tackled him. The impact knocked the air from his lungs, but Julen was concerned with things other than breathing. Get up, get up, get up now or this fight is over! Frantically, Julen attempted to smash the hilt of his sword against the thug’s head, just incase his dagger thrust hadn’t been enough to prevent the man from actively trying to hold him down. Then he squirmed free, praying that it wasn’t too late to get to his feet.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Post by Mavarion » Sat Aug 18, 2007 8:51 am

((NPC Post))


Julen's dagger slipped between two ribs and punctured a lung. The momentum of the man carried him into Julen, and the two of them went to the floor. Two short coughs brought a fountain of blood out of the man's mouth onto Julen's armor, and his breath bubbled and rasped in his throat.

The sight of another downed comrade had no effect on the remaining four of Snyde's thugs, except perhaps to spur them on. Like sharks scenting blood, the four men advanced as Julen struggled beneath the feeble attempts of the man on top to still wrestle the sword from Julen's grasp.

The first blow of an iron-shod club thudded against Julen's sword hand, followed swiftly by another to the same spot. Two more clubs struck home on chest and ribs, ringing solidly against the armor. One glanced off the top of the man's head who was still on top of Julen, and a crushing blow that would have slammed into Julen's face was deflected upwards onto his forehead, where the helmet would take most of the blow.

As clubs were raised above heads and fell over and over, Snyde sidled back to Kaydee and leaned against the wall next to her naked and bruised body. He reached out and calmly gripped her nipple between thumb and forefinger, squeezing brutally and twisting. The sudden pain in a sensitive area brought a gasp, and worked almost as well as a bucket of water in the face for waking her.

Her one fully opened eye looked at Snyde in horror and disgust, and Snyde simply grinned wickedly. His hand reached out and turned her head to the melee that was still ensuing.

"Do you see now, sweet Kaydee, what happens when the caged dream of freedom? Do you see what you have wrought with those dreams?"

Kaydee's eye widened in horror, and tears began leaking from her eyes. Snyde smirked as he watched first her, then the toady being beaten.

This was all working out very well.

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Post by Julen » Sun Aug 19, 2007 5:00 am

Julen heard a crunching noise as the club struck his bare sword hand. He’d gotten his fingers smashed on several occasions while training with Aorle, but this time there was no halt called, no healing offered. Fighting against his pain, Julen struggled to maintain a firm grip on the hilt. But a second strike bruised flesh and splintered bone past the point of willpower. Like bloated worms, his fingers uncurled, and the sword slipped from their grasp, to be kicked away by one of the thugs surrounding him.

Silently, Julen cursed the rashness that had made him follow the little girl without taking a moment to put his gloves back on. After all the times Aorle had lectured him about always wearing his armor, he’d forgotten such a simple thing, and it had cost him his sword. Aorle was going to kill him, provided that he lived long enough to give his mentor the opportunity.

Gritting his teeth, Julen ignored the blows to his chest, and wrenched his dagger free from the thug who had tackled him. He seriously doubted that he could still win this. However, that didn’t mean he was going to give up. Every hurt he could still inflict, every bit of damage he could still do -- maybe it wouldn’t be enough to save him, but maybe it would weaken his foes enough to save whoever came after him. In his heart, Julen knew that Aorle would never stop fighting while there was still life in his body. And that gave him the strength to do likewise.

As another hit glanced off his helmet, Julen twisted around and drove his dagger into the leg of the thug standing closest to him. Then, he yanked downward, ripping a long gash along the man’s calf. The thug’s resulting loss of balance provided Julen with a moment of grim satisfaction.

But even determination only gets you so far. Slowly, inexorably, Julen crumbled beneath the relentless bludgeoning. Pain stopped coming from specific blows and became a haze of pain, unfocused and unending. Breathing, blinking, swallowing -- all was pain. Blearily, through the legs of the thugs surrounding him, Julen could see Kaydee, still chained to the wall. The woman he’d failed. He wanted to say something to her, to tell her he was sorry, that if he could go back and do it again, he’d do it right this time and save her. But what good could such words do? And, in any case, Julen was long past any sound more coherent than a moan. So he said nothing, and the vision of her bruised, tormented body was the last thing he saw before darkness took him.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Post by Mavarion » Thu Aug 23, 2007 12:41 am

((NPC Post))


Another thug went down, holding his calf muscle together. Nearly the entire fight, not much more than thudding, grunting and the short yelps and gasps of pain as men went down. The toady hadn't even shouted for help.

"Enough." The calm, quiet command brought nearly instantaneous stop to all motion. With a snap of his fingers, Snyde pointed to the toady lying on the floor. "Bring him."

Reaching under his desk, Snyde pressed a small button, and a panel in the wall behind him popped open. He pointed to the hidden back entrance of this particular front house, indicating that his men should go out back. Two carried the unconscious toady, while one helped the man whose calf had been ripped open. The two dead men were left behind.

Snyde went around the desk and picked up the money pouch the toady had dropped on the floor and tied it to his own belt. He then turned to Kaydee and began undoing her shackles. Or at least, tried undoing them. The ungrateful bitch began struggling so much that he couldn't get the key into the lock.

"Stop it!" he said, exasperated. Still the girl struggled, and Snyde wasn't a person known for his patience. With a growl, he clenched his fist and threw a right hook into the girl's jaw. Kaydee slumped in the shackles, and Snyde quickly unlocked them. As the girl fell, Snyde caught her, not out of sympathy, but because it would be harder to lift her if she was all the way on the ground.

Quickly settling her in his arms, Snyde slipped out the back exit into the alley and shut the door. His men awaited his instructions.

Pointing to the man holding up the other injured man, Snyde snapped, "You two, back to quarters. Send men to take care of the mess in there, and to dump the bodies in the river. No good if the Captain starts seeing my dead men laying around." Those two were already moving before Snyde turned to the other men. Indicating the two who held the toady, he sneered, "Bring him to the border of the Shanty Town and where the upper crust live. Shanty people know an example when they see one, so it's unlikely any of them will help them until someone from the other side sees these two lying in the middle of the street. Lead the way."

The two men turned and quickly began slipping down the alleys of the Shanty Town, rarely noticed, and if so, quickly forgotten by those who did notice. The people in Shanty knew whose men they were, and they all knew Dominic Snyde.

As they reached the alley closest to the Residential District, the two men quickly stripped Julen of his armor, leaving him in little more than his underwear and undershirt, should he be wearing either. They then heaved him into the street.

People all around stared at the body being thrown from an alley into the middle of the street, but as Snyde had stated, Shanty people knew an example when they saw it. They steered clear, keeping their eyes fiercely averted.

Snyde passed the big men Kaydee next, and they did the same with her. A plume of dust lifted over the pair in the street as the traitorous bitch slid into the toady.

Snyde turned and began walking away immediately. It was time to get back into his shelter, and return to running the day to day business of the Shanty Town Market.

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Post by Julen » Thu Aug 23, 2007 1:31 pm

At first, the darkness held Julen. He seemed to float in it, like a dead leaf caught in the depths of a lake, barely stirred by the breezes that skittered across the surface far above him. There was no night, no day. No color, no sound, no sense of hot or cold. Just the darkness. If his mind hadn’t been so broken and full of pain, Julen might have wondered if he was even still alive. But he didn’t question the darkness, the floating. It was all he could remember.

Until a current caught Julen, lifting him upward. Now, he experienced flashes of clarity, like flecks of sunlight dancing on ripples. Just moments, disjointed and meaningless. But, nevertheless, they pierced the darkness. He felt his body being jolted as he was carried along. He glimpsed bits of the shanty town –- strange, fragmented panoramas viewed from impossible angles. He tasted the coppery flavor of blood leaking from his busted lip. And he heard the quiet that accompanied their procession, the strangled silence of fear.

Then, Julen felt himself hit the ground, and the men began to strip off his armor. The armor that Julen and Aorle had undergone such travails to gain. Weakly, Julen tried to struggle. But his body refused to cooperate. The most he could manage was biting the hand of the thug who attempted to remove Rosemary’s locket from around his neck, and all that earned him was a kick in the head, hard enough to knock loose his already tenuous grip on consciousness.

But this time, the darkness only lasted for a little while. When Julen again hit the ground, much harder than before, the impact jolted him awake. Immediately dust rushed into his lungs, making him cough. As he lay there, each hacking breath like getting clubbed in the chest all over again, Julen saw some of the shanty town’s residents standing nearby with downcast eyes. Irrationally, he wanted to yell at them. I tried to help you! She tried to help you! Can’t one of you find the courage to help us? But Julen knew they wouldn’t. He’d failed, and his defeat at the hands of Snyde’s henchmen proved, more than ever, that the shanty town’s residents were justified in their terror.

Something large and heavy skidded into Julen. For a moment, he didn’t understand. Were they throwing garbage at him? Then he realized -- Kaydee. Ignoring the pain which accompanied every movement, Julen drew Kaydee closer, pressing the front of her body against his, shielding her nakedness the only way he could. He wanted to hold her tight. But it took all his strength just to rest his broken fingers against her brow. He wanted to tell her that it was going to be okay, that he had friends who would come looking for him. He wanted to sing to her, to whisper magical stories to distract her, to offer her comfort and hope. But even croaking “...hold...on...” consumed what little voice remained to him.

Hold on. That sounded like good advice. Dizzily, Julen wondered whether he would be able to follow it.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Locked