They smelt no better than outside, but Darren appreciated stepping inside the decrepit buildings. He could tell they were small, salt of the earth type things when they were in their prime. It was a nice thing to think about during those moments where he struggled between windows and doors, in those moments where he had to re-enter the alley. The horn still trumpeted at seemingly random intervals and he could hear something else the closer he got, almost like distant yelling, but he couldn’t decipher it. “What in god’s name is happening?” he thought to himself as he limped between the next two houses. He went up
to the window of the next house, one that was slightly higher than the others and slowly struggled to pull himself up. Darren made it halfway up the wall before it started groaning suspiciously
climbing a little faster now he felt something give under his foot. Feeling the whole of the wall begin to buckle under his weight he braced himself as wood splintered and snapped as the wall was brought down. tumbling in Darren hit the floor with a thud, letting out a weak groan, everything hurt, he was starting to feel dizzy, and the simple act of just moving down a street made his whole body feel like lead. He fought to sit upright and took stock of his surroundings. He was in what looked like once used to be a parlor. A table was set against the door and chairs laid broke, burnt, and scattered around the room. There was a burnt flag set above its fireplace depicting a blue rose. Two partway melted guns and some type of arquebuses by the looks of them stood crossed below the flag. Deciding the guns would probably be useless, he crawled to the window across the room from him. The horn stopped but the yelling hadn't. It became distinct now, audible, but he could not make out it's meaning. Though as it echoed hauntingly through the ruined buildings it was clear to him that these were not the cries of an animal. No, these were spoken from a foreign tongue, one that he could not quite parse, but understand the urgency of nonetheless.
Standing himself up and using the window to balance him he peeked outside to the town square. He saw it and hope flared within him, his wagon was set at the center of the square in front of it was a fire with horse’s leg on a spit roasted above it. Two gobbos stood at the fire speaking in an alien language and the sound of battle sounded dangerously close. “Is it the crusade? No, they would have won by now it must be a falling out.” deciding that the barbarians were turning on each other Darren thought it would be his best chance, if he could reach the poultices then he wouldn’t be caught off guard a second time. He drew the string back on his crossbow and dropped one of the demon’s crude bolts into it still believing that such crude demons didn’t deserve bullets. He kept himself low to ensure he had the element of surprise and took aim at the nearest gob of the two. Darren put more faith into his marksmanship than anything else. He watched the way the pans rattled on his wagon and recalled how loud the crossbow sounded when it first broke his rib. He aimed above the gobbos head, slightly to the left.
He fired, the bolt whistled through the air barely giving the demons a chance to turn their heads to the noise when the bolt slammed into one of them. Piercing its heart directly and dropping it dead.
Darren liked crossbows. The other creature spotted him and hastily drew a club almost dropping it in the process. Darren’s heart started beating faster again and he got that strange feeling again like his brain knew the pain was there but detached it from him. Sent it far away. He drew his parma and sword, leaping over the window with new found energy, his leg was dumb but he kept a brisk a pace as possible trying not to let the animal get its bearings. A stinging pain shot through his other leg and instinct took over as he fell on his knees before he knew what he was doing he stabbed directly behind him putting his sword through the head of a third gobbo. Time slowed down as he heard the quick footfalls of the club gob closing in on him, he felt the shock through his parma as he quickly put it between him and the club. It backed up, knowing speed was on its side it could attack whenever it wanted. Darren could only counter “Not gonna die,” he thought he was too close his wagon and the supplies were right in front of him no more than a meter away. There was only one thing to do, his gun was his only hope. Throwing his sword in an attempt to distract it while he reached down for his weapon. The demon took initiative as soon as he disarmed himself, charging in he went to strike. Darren grabbed his gun fast as lightning he brought his arm up and came face to face with the dead eyes of the demon.
It took his mind a moment but he finally processed it once a blade slid back out from its neck, a silver blade polished to an almost unnatural shine. Standing before him was a man though he looked like no crusader. He wore no armor but was dressed in simple mostly ruined sackcloth and soaked in blood. He had broad shoulders and with arms of slab-like muscle more akin to one of a life of heavy labor rather than a knight. The square was lousy with monster corpses now that he had a good look at it “Did this man kill them all himself” he found that hard to believe when he struggled with four.
“Who’re you?” The man asked him. his voice was neutral, and his posture was more guarded than outwardly hostile. Darren opened his mouth but choked up his body became heavy again pulling him to the ground, vision becoming hazy, and pain assaulting him at all angles. His heartbeat was beginning to sound more distant, duller. He reached out his hand to the man, pleading.
“The wagon, poultices!” the man’s eyes widened for a moment, quickly turning around he ran up to the wagon. Attempting to throw open its side door the lock wouldn’t budge once, twice, three times. The stranger then kicked the door with the force of a trebuchet making it explode into splinters. He headed in. Darren heard a quick moment of rustling before his head popped out from around the door.
“This’un- oh fuck!” he held up the right potion but his hand slipped smashing against the ground with a resounding crack that made Darren inwardly cringe at the notion that someone could handle a potion worth a servant’s yearly wage like that. Darren nodded to the man and motioned for him to grab another fast. He came out this time more carefully, popping the cork he handed it to Darren who swigged it with the wild abandon of a man close to death breaking out in a coughing fit in the process. Not even a moment after he began to seize on the ground an intense pain that doubled everything he felt so far wracking his body but he was prepared for this. “I-I’ll get another.” The man said nervously eyeing him as he backpedaled towards the wagon.
“It. Is. Fine” Darren said towards gritted teeth, he could feel the rib in his chest get forced back into place through brute force his metabolism working overtime to knit damaged skin together forming large patches of scar tissue over the wounds. His seizing soon ceased his wounds fully healed all that was left was an intense hunger. He looked to his wagon hoping the gobs were just fine with his horse and ignored his provisions he then looked back at the man. He wasn’t a knight but he was a demon killer and no ordinary peasant owns a sword like that. “You wanted to know who I was right? So, let’s eat.”
As Dawn turned to day Darren came to appreciate the peasant proverb “hunger is the best sauce” The mutton he brought from home took forever to roast over the fire. Meanwhile, the stranger was frying some sort of large mushroom over his fire and it seemed like it was almost done. Darren crawl-scurried over to his fire.
“Trade you, half for half?” He asked inclining his head towards his slow cooking lamb. The stranger gave him a puzzled look before shooting him a toothy grin.
“Seems a bit rich for my taste, but ‘ell when am I gonna get another chance like this.” He took a long knife out from his belt, he divided the mushroom into equal portions and stabbed one-half through his knife. He startled Darren by snatching one of the bolts from his side faster than a man of his size should move and stabbed the other mushroom through it and tossed it to Darren.
“So the first question’s mine,” Darren announced. “Why have you been so trusting of me?” He bit into the mushroom, he didn’t know what he was expecting but it was underwhelming in all aspects. Neither delicious or rancid it tasted rather plain but it felt filling which was the most important thing for him right now, he began to eat it with a bit more gusto.
“Well, you were wearin the colors of the church for one.” Darren internally praised himself for that “knew it.” The stranger then took a bite of his own shroom, he continued talking with his mouth full. “An also, yous from the Argoney house ain’tcha.” Darren shot the man a look, as mispronounced as it was that was way too close to his name for coincidence.
“Y-you pronounce it Argonne.” He shook his head. “And how did you know?” He felt a twinge of unease, biting down again all he tasted was iron, he didn’t realize he finished that fast.
“The feathers for one.” He pointed at the crest on his doublet’s shoulder. “Though I s’pose anyone can fake a crest, was the carriage full-a medicine that sold me. Yous people used to come by the village all the time before, ya kept pa running way past his due date.” He slid the rest of his shroom back into the pan. “You can ‘ave the rest.” He took a spare piece of cloth nearby him and began using it to polish his knife.
“Used to?” Darren was beginning to feel very nervous, the man seemed to notice it and tried to give him a reassuring smile, resheathing his knife he brought his rucksack to him.
“Nah, no, no, no. I ain’t implying your people left dad to die, yous aren’t the problem. I lost my village to slavers, demon slavers. It wasn’t but a short while ago, I suppose that’s where yous were heading through guess ya made a detour?” Darren swallowed he thought of what might have happened to his father’s caravan. He needed to get back but he had no horse. He decided he’d see if the stranger could help.
“So how did you end up in this village anyway?” He set the bait.
“Gonna get em back.” The man replied near instantly. “I heard they were here but I must’ve missed em.” He stood up. “Not really sure where’d they be now.”
“We should go back to your village,” Darren interjected sounding a bit more desperate than he may have liked. “Bandits always return once the retaliatory force leaves. You can bring my carriage you have a horse, right? you’re bound to be hurt on the way.” He nodded back to him when he asked about the horse, the man turned to the horizon, looking into the distance.
“Is that right?” He replied scratching the back of his head. “I guess I can saddle my horse up to your wagon then, but why are you so willing to help me?”
“Your village was a major source of profit.” Darren may or may not have lied, he never really paid attention to his father’s spreadsheets and charts. The stranger nodded at this, it was perfectly acceptable for a merchant to be concerned with gold after all. “By the way, the demon. It isn’t gobs, is it? They look too similar and no offense intended but you’d of probably called off your hunt after this. What took down your village?”
“A fox.” Was the only thing he replied with.