Written by: AtheistBasementDragon
Edited by: The Usual Gang of Drunken Perverted Idiots
"I never thought I'd see those walls again." Neia said with a haunted whisper as the high walls of Prart loomed before her in thhte distance. Already massive, they grew only larger as she drew ever closer. She shuddered as the nightmare came back to her afresh.
"It was an unpleasant memory for me as well." The woman named Skana remarked from not far behind her.
"You were here?" Neia asked grimly.
Skana nodded slowly. "I was a prisoner here." Her mouth shut tight and she lost herself in her own thoughts as they drew closer.
"I'm sorry." Neia replied simply, and felt the shiver intensify. "Have you ever been here?" She asked as she glanced over at Tinamoc.
"A long time ago." The portly merchant replied, swallowing hard as he looked at the battle scarred and broken walls. "It looks nothing like it did back then."
"The last time I saw that city, it was a nearly total ruin, it traded hands twice in three brutal fights. The Demihumans took it, then we took it back, then they tried and failed to retake it. My name was born on those horrible walls, but..." Neia closed her eyes briefly to block the sight of them from herself, "but to me it will never be a place of fame, only death."
"Seems like it should be in better shape by now though. It's been worked on for as long as the capital has been, right? So the capital is nearly finished, but even from here, looking just through the gaps in the walls... well there are a lot of ruins in there." Tinamoc pointed out astutely, and Neia's already narrow eyes closed further as her brow furrowed.
"That's a good point, well we'll find out more soon enough." Neia said with a slow burn beginning in the pit of her stomach. When the caravan reached the main gate, Neia raised her fist beside her head and called a halt. The signal was imitated up and down the line and the snake like line of wagons ground to a stop.
She spurred her horse forward and raised her chin with a silent instruction to her merchant charge, and both of them went on together to the guard house.
Out of it, a guard portly enough to have passed for a merchant if not for his ill fitting, partially rusted armor, approached. Tinamoc withdrew the letter of legitimacy and passage from King Caspond and extended it out to the guard.
Neia looked more closely at him now that he was nearly within reach, his face was unshaven and the beard that grew there was unkempt. His eyes were glassy as if he were partially intoxicated and his motions sloppy. He rested his halbered on his shoulder rather than holding it ready. As if to top it all off, he stank as if he hadn't visited a bathhouse in a month.
But, he was seemingly able to read the letter, which he handed back to Tinamoc. "Very good there but, we'll have to inspect the caravan for contraband and all that."
Tinamoc rolled his eyes and replied sternly, "No you don't, the letter I just showed you expressly authorizes immediate entry for trading purposes. If you try to inspect this whole caravan of goods, it'll take all day!" Tinamoc ran his hands through his hair in a quick, agitated gesture, "Not to mention that I'll have to do an inventory all over again to make sure nobody got sticky fingers while inspecting. I can't do anything until that's done because a precise inventory is required..." He trailed off as the guard coughed loudly and extended his palm.
"Well, I could do a 'quick inspection' for a few coins you know."
"How quick and how many?" Tinamoc asked with a suspicious voice as he glared at the suddenly cocky looking guard.
The guard looked up slyly, opening and closing his extended palm urgently. "Could be over for twenty silvers, and done as fast as the coins hit me pocket."
Neia felt her temper flare up. She yanked her visor away and looked the guard dead in the eyes. He felt the death stare and the cold chill of the grave crawling up his spine. "I am Neia Baraja, squire of the Sorcerer King. You know him, the one who provides all the building materials for the reconstruction of the entire kingdom. You 'will' let this man pass. Am I understood?"
He swallowed audiably and the smell of ammonia hit the air. "I-I, well..." He stammered out and fidgeted nervously.
When he hadn't moved, Neia dismounted from her horse and stalked the ground as light as a feather in the breeze, her boots barely squelched in the mud and muck of the poorly maintained road. A rumble in the clouds overhead seemed to imitate her rising anger.
"I-" The guard began again.
"Open the gate, or I open your neck. He bears a letter of the king, defy that letter and you will be a traitor. What is the penalty for treason 'soldier'?" Neia asked and drew out her adamantite sword and raised it up.
He looked down at her, and felt like he was staring at a behemoth as the hairs rose on his skin. "I, no, go, never mind, forget I said anything. Forgive me!" He shivered as he stared into the gaze of the mad eyed archer.
"No. I won't forgive you. I'll be reporting your actions to your superior. But... as you're moving out of the way, I won't kill you. Just stay out of my sight." She spat into the dirt where he'd been standing as he stepped out of the way, and then she went back to her horse and got back on.
She put her visor back on and the gate slowly groaned open in front of her. She glared at the guard until he was out of sight.
"That was aggressive negotiation if I ever heard it." Tinamoc said with amusement, "I swear if I'd had to do this myself I could have been stuck out there for days, and who knows how much would be stolen." He said in a jolly sort of tone that made it hard for Neia not to smile.
"That wasn't a negotiation, that was a threat. His Majesty worked to hard for we who did nothing to deserve him, I won't let scum ruin what remains before we even rebuild." She clenched her fists tightly to the reigns of her horse and stared straight ahead as they began to creep through the entrance.
"Everything is a negotiation, even threats." Tinamoc said with the finality of a master of his trade.
Neia had no answer to that, and looked around instead. Her voice had carried more than intended, and various heads were poking out or up from where they'd been to see the cause of the commotion.
As they rode into the city, the stench hit her nose harder than a demihuman fist to the face. City trenches were poorly drained and the filth lingered and floated like little boats on the water. Trash heaps were everywhere and there was no evidence that anyone had made any effort for weeks to remove them. Children pawed through the refuse in search of... what? 'I don't even want to know what they're hoping to find.' Neia pondered and the knuckles on her fingers that had finally begun to relax, tensed up again as she looked around.
The solid black and blood red of her and her elites armor and their imposing equipment drew more and more eyes as they moved within. Workers lazed about, chatting or drinking idly at what should have been construction sites where shattered shells of buildings still stood. Rotted timbers, burnt timbers, broken and shattered building stones and bricks that still lay where they'd fallen years before, Neia gritted her teeth as her blood began to boil.
'They can't work even if they want too... they've got no materials, what's going on here?!' Neia wondered furiously. She caught a glimpse of a few women wearing very little but smiles, reaching out and taking men by the hand and leading them away. "At least one profession around here has a work ethic." She grumbled as she passed by a group of enterprising whores.
Tinamoc managed a miled laugh, as did the auburn haired green eyed scout a few feet behind where Neia rode.
"Maybe they do work hard, but, is it really hard work if you love what you do?" The bright green eyed Skana asked rhetorically and let out a bawdy laugh that came out with the beauty of a birdsong in contradiction to its crude cause.
"Funny, but keep it down a bit." Neia remarked and continued to scan the area, ignoring pout of the woman whose joke had failed to draw the laugh she expected.
"What the hell happened here? Or rather... why didn’t anything happen here?" Neia asked Tinamoc, aghast at the poor condition of the city. "Have we passed a single intact house that wasn’t used for prostitution or serving alcohol?
"Well, do you count that?" Tinamoc said, and pointed to a looming home that clearly belonged to a nobleman. "At a guess," he said, "the nobles have been using the supplies you’ve sent here to rebuild their personal estates and the few public buildings they need, but have been embezzling and selling the rest of the supplies, which the black market and criminal gangs have been buying up to use for their establishments, and probably their own homes. Just a working guess though." He said in a voice that suggested he didn’t think he was guessing at all.
A stray slime emerged from a drainage area and slid across the street, it was crushed under the hooves of their horses, its innards further spattered by wagon wheels as they rolled on. "I don't gamble, but I'd wager it isn't a gamble to say that the guts from that slime will still be there a month from now if it's left to the city to clean." Neia wrinkled her nose in disgust, nobody chose to 'take the bet' she'd offered up.
Tinamoc broke the silence next, "To whom were the supplies going?" He asked with his deep set eyes roaming the streets as they made their way to the merchant district.
"I"m not exactly sure." Neia said, the crown put me in charge of the capital and appointed other figures for the other cities, once I pulled our portion, the others would requisition what they needed and send it to their respective contacts here. The one sending materials here was... shit." She said.
"The one who was sending materials here was shit? Well I can clearly see that, but what was his name?" Tinamoc asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Neia shook here head, "No, I mean I just remembered, it was Count Handor, it was his man that was caught pilfering supplies in the capital. He also had one of my men killed, we took down all those who were directly involved in the killing... but before a captive could publicly implicate Count Handor, he was killed in prison while under guard. I don’t know who the Count’s contact was here, but if I had to guess, he’s dealing directly with one other noble, or he’s dealing with the temples, I’ll know which it is, soon enough." She said.
"How will you know?" Tinamoc asked. "They’ll tell me." She said, pointing to the buildings. Understanding dawned on Tinamoc"s face.
"Ahhhh," he said, "so basically anyone with an intact house or business, must be in some way connected with the trafficking in stolen goods, so if the temples have been restored..."
He paused as Neia interrupted. "...then the temples are in on it." She said with a snarl. "Go ahead and get yourself established in the market district, but I suggest not setting up more wares than we can effectively guard. Rent a warehouse we can easily protect, and only take out what you think will sell that day, it may extend our time here for several days, but frankly, I think that will work out for the best." Neia said.
Tinamoc stroked his chin thoughtfully, "Yes, I think that will work out. Plus it will be nice to be in one place for a few days, now where will you be while I finish going on my way?" He asked.
"First I’m going to check out the nearest temple, then if it is in bad shape, I"m going to talk to the priest, if it is in good shape, then I’m going to the local governor to introduce myself." She said.
"Introduce yourself gently?" He asked with a little frown and an implied criticism.
"That depends on them. But I’d prefer that if possible. If it’s not though, well then so be it." She shrugged off the implied ‘concern’ and gave him a wolfish grin.
"I'll see you when I return, Tinamoc." Neia said abruptly and then pointed at the scout behind her. "You, Skana, follow where he leads, keep our charges safe."
"Ma'am!" Skana rendered a quick salute and sat up a little straighter and her bright green eyes shone happily. 'If she'd been like this the last time we were here, those demihumans would have run for the hills.' Skana thought admiringly at the crisp picture of militaristic power that cantered away on horseback. Her legendary bow swayed back and forth as if calling others to look at the hero who bore it.
Neia was barely aware of these things, she kept her eyes focused on the spire of the temple. 'How differently it looks now.' She thought with a slight pursing of her lips, 'Once it seemed so mighty, so towering... now... like a big drum. Loud because it is hollow and empty inside.' She kept her face neutral as she rode, though every clip and clop of horse hoof over dirty stone only inspired more contempt. Contempt that spiralled into anger only barely held back when she reached the temple and saw the hovels that surrounded the huge and perfectly maintained, ornate structure.
The people around it were as shabby and unkempt as the hovels in which they no doubt lived. Many still trudged with haunted, hollow, empty eyes, and those were the more vigorous. Others were barely at a shuffle, going about their hopeless moments of life as if the siege were still fresh and their captivity ongoing.
In disgust she spat at the street in front of it and wheeled her horse about and rode toward the other large structure she could see. 'The governor's... home.' She thought, a sudden catch in the last word throwing her mentally off balance for a moment as she was reminded of her own lack of a place of her own.
Her eyes stayed locked onto it as she recalled the place where she grew up and the home she'd once had. She found few to be ones she wished to recall, and distracted herself and the quickening of her beating heart by bracing herself all the more firmly, all the more rigidly on her warhorse.
Two guards in polished and well maintained armor stood out fron of the iron gate. They remained stiff until she stopped her horse and dismounted.
"I’m Neia Baraja, and I am here with the royally commissioned merchant Tinamoc, I wish to see the regional governor. Is he here?" She asked in an abrupt, clipped fashion, standing just inside their comfort zones.
"Yes, lady Neia," a guard said, “I will send word of your arrival, could you wait here?" He asked with some timidity, the grip he had on his weapon tensed and shifted slightly as nerves revealed themselves at her identification.
"No," Neia said, "I can announce myself, and I don’t need company." She said with steel in her voice, she walked past the guard without another word, she pushed on the gate to open it with the confidence of one who owned the place before he or his companion could sputter a protest. She sniffed in contempt, 'They're marginally better than the ones at the walls or in the common streets but... no spines, and the lot of them carry more beer in their bellies than muscles in their sword arms.' She took slow, deep breaths to force herself to remain even tempered and withhold judgement. But it was not an easy internal fight for her.
This difficulty was redoubled when she saw the opulence within the manor, the rich goods, clean carpet, expensive art on the walls... she felt bile in her gut with every step.
"Bah, it’s one thing for the Sorcerer King to have better than this, he gives to his people, this man... he is clearly only stealing from them. I wonder how many homes these were taken out of." She fumed under her breath as she walked down the hall. Memories of the past carried her feet where they needed to go even without her having to control them, so it did not take long for her to find the appropriate office.
Great heavy double doors stood unguarded before her, causing her brow to furrow. 'I may not be inclined to whoever runs this place now but... still it is strange to be unguarded. She reached for her sword, though not without a pang of longing for His Majesty's wonderous bow, and drew close to the door.
The great thick, heavy wood was intended to be opened two handed, she placed a single one on the left side, the drew her ear close, inching against it with silent steps. "Mmm...mmm...mmm...ahhh..." She heard the straining sound, the heat of which melted away her initial concern. She pushed hard upon the heavy door, it snapped inward as if kicked by a horse and slammed hard against the wall with a thunderous noise.
There within the office, the regional governor sat behind his desk with his eyes rolled back into his head and his body bouncing in slow rapid motions, his face flushed and his hands down near his waste. A glass of wine and an empty bottle sat in front of him to his right, and from beneath the desk, a noise of suckling and the smacking of lips hit Neia's ears.
The noise stopped both members of the busy pair and the governor's eyes snapped down to her in outrage. Outrage that became fear when Neia snarled out an angry, "Get her out of here!"
Beneath the desk there was an audible thud from a head striking the surface as the person beneath struck themselves from trying to stand up without thinking. Out from under the desk a moment later, under Neia's stern eye, came a woman who to Enri's eyes looked underfed. A startling contrast to the governor's 'overfed'. Her skin was almost yellowed and her brown hair was far from clean. Her left eye was blackened from an impact, and she began to rush out with her head down, still gathering her dress up to cover her chest.
Neia's face was first a red blush of embarrassment, followed by a dark purple of anger, one that mirrored the governor before his 'spirit' deflated entirely.
"Who are you to..." he began, but Neia did not let him finish.
"I am Neia Baraja, the one who is providing the supplies you’re using which I receive from the Sorcerer King, and I am here with the royal merchant Tinamoc as his personal escort."
Fear stayed on his face as he looked her over, he saw her eyes moving up and down, taking him in. He was rather... large, but not in the strong way, his jowls flapped as he spoke, his skin was pale, not much for the outdoors, his clothes were very fine, with flowing white ruffles and frills over rich, brightly colored dyed cloth. He was bedecked with numerous beautiful jewels that spoke of his wealth. However around his office she saw barely a scrap of official paper or any sign of books. Neia’s immediate impression: He was worthless. ‘The opposite of His Majesty in every way.’ She thought contemptuously.
"I’d like you to explain the state of Prart." Neia said as she put her hands behind her back and folded them one into the other. Her feet were shoulder width apart and if she at first glance looked like a soldier speaking to a superior, where their faces were clear, it was the opposite. She stared with ice blue eyes as he opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish without saying a thing.
"The capital is much larger, even with your population increase, I know what supplies have gone out, and we haven’t been shorting you, but somehow only the noble houses, temples, and government buildings seem to be intact. Unless of course we count the brothels I passed by. Speaking of which, why are there so many brothels, I passed THREE just on the way here from the city gate." Neia demanded with a bite to her last word.
The governor wrung his hands fretfully, "Well... it’s an easy way to make coin, and, well, what else is there for them to do? And as to the city, well it was heavily damaged, we have been working, but it’s just... taking a little while." He said as his eyes darted around as if looking from an escape from the ice blue eyes that stared him down.
"And... why haven’t you FOUND other work for them to do? I saw that woman had a black eye, exactly how did she, or any of these others, end up in the flesh trade?" Neia asked. Her face turned dark and she removed her visor, staring daggers at him and said further, "I also saw workers with no materials to work with, I know we sent a shipment of materials to you just recently. Where are they? Show me your records." She snapped.
"Lady Neia," he began nervously, "I can give you our distribution records, but I don’t have them myself, they’re at the warehouse in the main office, why don’t you settle in first, you’re a hero to the people of this city, I’m sure they’d be ecstatic to know you’re here, and you’ll have a chance to speak before the crowds again... I can gather the relevant officials and we can have a meeting tomorrow to go over all the details of the reconstruction." He said ingratiatingly. He started to stand, forgetting his pants had been down, and hastily began to pull them up and buckle the belt beneath his gut.
For a moment Neia almost went on, but his disheveled 'pants down' moment, left her feeling dirty just being in the same room. A shiver of disgust ran up and down her body... and his suggestion had merit. 'I see he's guessed my weakness... I wonder if I will ever tire of my desire to promote His Majesty. No... no I won't, definitely not.' She thought happily, and failed to suppress the smile as she pondered the joy to come in spreading the ideals of justice and strength. She took out her visor and put it back on.
"Very well, tomorrow at noon I will return here and I expect to see the relevant officials and the paperwork for distribution and your reconstruction plan for the next few months. I had better be satisfied." She said.
"All will be as it should be." The nobleman said with the utmost courtesy in his every word.
So Neia walked out, snatching the door closed behind her, leaving the nobleman alone and to her thoughts, very likely grinding his teeth in anger.
She left the manor, mounted her horse, and cantered away from the guards without a word, for a while she was without aim, she simply looked around and took in the sights. She saw a shopkeeper hand over bread to someone, but no coin trade hands. Curiosity sparked, she approached, 'Are they doing some kind of barter system here now? Will that one come back later to work? Is that what they've been reduced to?' She wondered.
The smug look she saw on the face of the recipient when he turned in her direction to walk away, warned her otherwise. She stopped her horse in front of the baker, his white apron gray and brown from dust and dirt, his face was worn and slightly yellowed from poor diet, his hazel eyes were sunk deep into his head and barely had more than a hollow look to them as he tried to meet her eyes and failed.
"You, what is your name?" Neia asked him gently as she brought her hand out to one side so that her finger was thrust squarely toward the space between his eyes.
"Selar." He uttered barely above a whisper.
"Did that man buy bread, or did he steal it?" Neia asked as gently as she could.
"He... bought it." Selar uttered with downcast eyes and shifting feet.
"With what? I saw no coin." Neia's voice was more curious than anything at the unexpected answer, and she cocke dher head slightly.
"My life. I give bread, he gives me another day to live. That is how it is in Prart." Selar said glumly.
"I see." Neia said, "Do not move from that spot." She gave the order as she would to one of her soldiers, and wheeled her horse around. It was only when her back was to him, that Selar saw the bow on her back out of the corner of his eye.
“By the gods…” He whispered as memory stirred of green armor, cries of demihuman terror, and a wild woman running along the crenellations killing her way into legend before being swarmed under... and somehow still walking among them the same day.
"You." Neia said as she brought her warhorse in front of the man she'd seen take bread.
The smug looking man was beefy looking, but had a layer of fat from overindulgence despite his size. He had an unkempt brown beard and, like most of the city, he stank.
"Yeah?" He said with some trepidation as a full blown warhorse barred his way. He relaxed some when he saw it was a woman on top of it, only for the tension to return three fold when she saw her armor and weapons.
"I want to buy that bread." Neia said brusquely and looked down her nose at him from behind her visor.
That had him quiet. He blinked dumbly, "Five copper." He blurted out.
Neia looked down at him and playing along, she cocked her head curiously, "I don't understand, that isn't the currency here."
"Uh... what?" The brute asked dumbly.
"Right, I'm told that the currency is life, I let you live, you give me bread, isn't that how it works?" She asked sweetly and let a tiny smile grace her face.
"Ah, uh..." He began to stammer until Neia put the tip of her sword out in front of his nose.
"One of two things will be on this blade in about three seconds. Your blood or that bread." She said with the serenity of a priest, it wasn't a hard choice.
The bread slid along the tip of the sword, and Neia turned her horse back the way she'd come.
"Next time it won't be bread." She said sharply, and trotting the horse back to the baker, she held the blade out to him.
"Take it." Neia commanded flatly, and as if he'd been offered a gift of the gods, he touched the bread with both hands, and slid it down off her sword.
She rode off before he could muster up a thank you, and left him with a story he told till the end of his days.
Neia's ride through the city left her only more and more disgusted, and eventually she found herself at a large fountain in a great open square. The city square was bustling, but the fountain was dry, empty, and full of cast off trash. Like a microcosm of the city itself.
"What an image this will make... the glory of my god carried to the weak from atop a ruin full of trash." Neia muttered and hopped up, carefully avoiding as much of the fetid pile as she could, and landed at the top of the fountain with the easy grace of long practice.
The statue that made up the fountain cap was of a human, it was stained and cracked and broken in places, but, with his broad shoulders and upturned squared jaw, it was dashing enough. 'Whoever you were, thank you for giving me your shoulders to stand on.' She thought and silently uttered a prayer for the resting soul of the dead man.
Then she began to speak, putting every ounce of passion and power into her voice.
"I am Neia Baraja, here on a trade mission from the capital! People of Prart, I would know how you live!" She shouted.
The buzzing of the crowd began to still, the weight of her name drew eyes and ears, and one man close by shouted simply, "Poorly!"
"My home is still destroyed, our shops are ruins, the palaces and temples are rebuilt, but what of us? I show up every day at the same construction site, and have only enough materials to work for a few hours or less and then nothing. I’ve only rebuilt three homes in two months, and those were homes nobody owned, which the governor then began to rent out as it was "city property"!
"The price of grain is outrageous, and it is worse with any other foodstuffs, I’m eating barely more than when the Sorcerer King freed me from a prison camp!" Another person shouted.
Neia listened as the complaints rang out, the crowd was getting agitated as they vented their frustrations, Neia began to get a clear picture of just what was happening in Prart.
As her session went on, and the crowd began to grow, Neia saw that negative attention was coming her way. From behind her visor, she shifted her eyes to watch as a group of guards pushed, shoved, and cursed their way to the front of the crowd.
Eight in number, with a pair of archers and swordsmen, and two pair of spearmen, they wore simple iron half plate, shin guards, and leather boots. A quick appraisal in her mind and she'd made her determination. 'Cheap and shoddy, and with discipline no better than their gear.' She barely suppressed a snort of contempt, but let them come to the front without calling them out 'yet'.
"Ay, you lot, go back to your lives, and you up there, get down, no public gatherings without official permission!" One of the men, apparently the leader, said. He was a grizzled looking man missing a few teeth, but otherwise unremarkable to look at.
"I have permission." Neia said. "I’m on a trade mission escorting the official royal merchant, so the security and wellbeing of this town IS my business, and I’m speaking to the people who live here. Now unless you wish to take an issue with that, BEGONE!" she snarled down at them with her nose upturned as if withdrawing from a bad smell.
It sent a spark through the crowd, which was clearly not used to seeing the guards dismissed by anyone, and it agitated the guards, who were used to getting their way. Dismayed whispers poured fuel on the fire of the guard’s building anger and he and his company shook enough that their armor rattled.
He thrust his finger up where Neia stood and snapped out sharply, "The security of Prart is our business missy" the guard said. "We’ll say how secure it is and well it does, not this rabble!"
He opened his mouth to say more, but Neia seized on it. "You DARE!" She let her voice carry far and wide, "You DARE to call THEM RABBLE?! They are the PEOPLE of this city, the citizens of the Holy Kingdom, they survived Jaldabaoth even at their weakest, they endured, they carry the seed of strength in all of them, the King of another country, the very GOD of Justice, Ainz Ooal Gown, personally saw worth enough in them to see to the preservation of their lives! How DARE you refer to them as rabble! How DARE you dismiss their concerns! I will have satisfaction from you for insulting them!" Neia shouted, ensuring every word of what she said hit every ear.
"My people, I ask that you make room, I will have to teach these men a lesson about their place in this city!" She shouted, and the crowd began to push itself back to the edges, opening up room in the square. The guards were caught... off guard, this was not how things were supposed to work, this was not how things were supposed to go.
"Who you want’n to fight, eh?" The grizzled leader asked with a nasty grin.
"Do you all share his opinion?" Neia asked of the other guards. Coarse laughter greeted her, which was answer enough.
"Then all of you. Here. Now. Or are you just cowards in armor?" She said with a contemptible smile on her face as she jumped down from the fountain and walked to the center of the square with her hands folded behind her head and turned to face them.
They were almost too shocked to move. Her visible contempt was driving them to boiling anger. So it was with clear pleasure and sadistic smiles on their faces that they fanned out in a semicircle.
Neia looked at them with a bored expression on her face to meet their gazes.
"Apologize to the people of this town now, or do it from the ground when I’m done beating respect for them into you." She said.
That was too much for one of them, he broke from his friends with a spear lowered, charging full tilt at Neia. She reflected briefly that he must not have had much training if this was his method, and she simply stepped aside, grabbed the spear behind the point, broke it with her free hand, and then beat him about the head with the wood that held the point, and he collapsed in a heap after two or three carefully controlled blows.
"You two, bind that one!" She said, pointing to two people in the crowd.
They hesitated, but that was enough to drive the remaining seven to act, the archers went for their bows, but Neia had hers out faster and fired two shots before they could even load, her arrows went into their bows where their hands held the grip, severing fingers and causing them to drop the remains of their primary weapon. As their bows clattered on the stones they dropped to their knees in pain, clutching at their wounded hands. She then stored her bow and drew her sword, her sudden action had given the remaining five pause, but she gestured with her free hand for them to come at her, turning her palm up and drawing her fingers toward her repeatedly.
The guards glanced at each other for reassurance and fanned out farther around her, closing the distance gradually, something Neia wasn’t going to allow to happen. Contrary to what they expected her to do, she rushed the spearman on her left, grabbed his weapon with her free hand, pulled him forward as she twisted her body, and gave him an elbow to the face with such force that he crumpled then and there. "That’s four." She said coldly, casting off the weapon in contempt before she turned to the next nearest man. When he hesitated, she stepped on the tip of the spear, bouncing it up to her hand, and threw it left handed, butt first, into his throat. As he spasmed she closed the distance, pulled him off balance, then hit him in the back of the head with the hilt of her sword. "That’s five." She said again, and by this time the now desperate remaining three responded by simply charging her.
She leaped to one side, rolled, and activated a martial art that sped her up considerably, by the time they had turned half way around, she had grabbed one man by the throat and was pushing him into the others, the power in her legs propelling him forward, the remaining three were tangled up, and they crumpled in a heap. Neia responded to this by kicking them in their faces as they struggled to get up. "That’s six", she said as one fell unconscious, "that’s seven" she said as the next one went out like a candle being struck by a sudden wind, "and you make eight." She said as the leader managed to free himself from the tangle of now limp limbs and tried to rise, only to rise directly into Neia’s armored fist, she grabbed his helmet, yanked it off, and beat him about the jaw with it, before throwing it aside to grab his hair, and throw him towards the fountain. He fell with a clatter with his face in the garbage, and as he was bent over it, Neia considered the best lesson she could offer. Fear and intimidation was the way of authority here, that much was clear, and Neia knew quite well that there were only two ways to deal with that, and while killing was easy, there was a better option.
As he tried to push himself up, Neia walked behind him, grabbed him by the back of the neck and held him in place, and then before the entire public, she took out her sword, cut the back off his pants, then turned the blade vertical to the ground, and she began to spank the fellow on his ass with the flat of her blade. "Don’t... ever... insult... the people... you... are supposed... to protect!" She shouted, "Now APOLOGIZE TO THEM THIS INSTANT!" The man flailed and struggled, but all for nothing, as the beating went on. "Apologize NOW! To ALL of them!" Her voice carried, and laughter began to ring out, at first small, but the more he cried out in frustration against her, the worse it got, until laughter had so filled the square the others showing up, without even knowing what happened, were laughing at the grizzled guard being spanked like a child, until he could bear no more and he shouted, "I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!"
"What are you sorry for?" Neia snapped.
"I’m sorry I insulted the people of Prart!" He shouted.
"Again." She said.
"I’m sorry I insulted the people of Prart!" He shouted.
"Again." She said.
"I’m sorry I insulted the people of Prart!" He shouted so loud his voice cracked.
"Good enough." She said and yanked him up and threw him back, causing him to stumble and land on the ass she’d just beaten red.
"Your life depends on how still you remain." Neia said with contempt to the guards as she sat down on the edge of the fountain and crossed her left leg over top of her right and crossed her arms just below her chest.
She looked to the side, there hadn’t been any more hesitation, the remaining guards had all been bound.
"Now. You are going to stay where you are, and not move except to tremble, and you are going to listen as the people tell me their grievances, and when your men wake up, they’ll get the same treatment you did, THEN and only then do you have my permission to go." Neia said in a voice of steel, and the guard could only stay sprawled out and red faced and nod numbly, hardly able to believe how badly his day was going.
“Who are you to think you can get away with this?” He asked in a cracked and broken voice.
“Neia Baraja. Before you came to stop me, you should have found out who you were trying to stop.” She said flatly, giving him an ugly stare of abject disgust.
One by one the people spoke up, and the crowd grew larger as word spread, the roads into the square began to back up, and Neia heard dozens of complaints before the first man woke up, his arrogant demands to be untied went quiet when he saw the person who had beaten him was still there, and when she dragged him bodily behind her by his hair he cried out in pain. That was better as far as he was concerned than what she did next, just like his boss, he was thrown over the fountain and had his ass spanked like a wayward child. “You can’t do this!” He screamed in disbelief as she did what he said she couldn’t do.
When she was done beating his ass with the flat of her blade, she yanked his head back and forced him to his knees. “The strong can ‘take’ justice, and they can ‘make’ justice. That is the least of what has happened here. Now beg their forgiveness or it’ll be worse for you in about six seconds.” Her piercing eyes filled his vision and he felt ice flowing through his veins as death spoke to him.
He fell forward and wailed, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Under the disbelieving eyes of the crowd, before she pointed to a place near his leader.
“Sit. Stay.” Neia ordered, her hand playing on the hilt of her sword as she gave the command. He then inched his way over to the spot without standing up, and planted himself in misery, still red faced and near tears.
The cycle repeated itself for the better part of an hour until the last guard had apologized to the sound of laughter raining down on them. Neia got back atop the fountain, and she began her sermon.
"People of Prart, I have heard what you have said, and I am distressed at how low this city has fallen. Many of you were saved by the Sorcerer King, the god of justice, and yet, is this what you were saved for? To live like this? To live lives of weakness and fear and poverty, exploited by people who insult you and degrade you and take advantage of you? Is THIS how you want to live?!" She shouted, pointing out to all of them and demanding an answer.
A chorus of "NO!" answered her.
"The one true god has said that strength is justice, not because might makes right, but because only might can enforce justice, the sin of weakness has infected this place, these guards are weak, the morals of the authorities are weak, the economy is weak, and when weakness pervades, INJUSTICE REIGNS!"
"I am but a shadow compared to the might of my god, yet I had the power to impose justice on those who degrade you. You ALSO have that power. If you claim your dignity and demand that right be done, you in a mass cannot be crushed by something so weak and petty as a bully in a tin suit! Demand justice, support one another in the pursuit of fair and honorable treatment, support one another in the pursuit of strength, follow me to the justice of the one who saved our nation, follow me in the ways of the Sorcerer King, the god of Black Justice, and you WILL NEVER BE BEATEN AGAIN!"
Her speech sent a wave of excitement through the crowd, it electrified them, they cheered, up and down the streets as far as her powerful voice could carry. "Return to your lives for now, I will see to these tin covered cowards, find me in the marketplace if you have need!" She said, and she jumped down and approached the prone men.
"Get the fuck out of that armor." She said with contempt. They looked up at her, stunned. "You cannot hold the people in contempt, and remain fit to wear it. Your armor is not for you, your armor is so you can protect them, and you used it to abuse them. So you can’t have it any more. Get... the fuck... out of it. Here, now." She said with the voice of death itself. She tapped her foot and opened and closed her hand over the hilt of her sword, the threat to draw it loomed large.
Their spirits were broken. They did not resist. Their eyes shot down to the dirty, broken stones, and stayed there.
They slowly stood and began taking it off, watching every piece hit the ground and listening to the various clanging noises as the metal hit stone, it was the sound of hope fading from their lives.
"You are the product of the corruption here, you are not the cause of it. You will tell me now, everything you know. Then you will go back to your residences, gather your things, and get out of Prart and never come back, consider yourselves banished from here." The leader managed to find his voice and said, "I-I don’t rightly know everything, I’m an enforcer, nothing more, but I know that some of the ones running things came from Re-Estize, got here after the liberation, they set up shop, maybe bribed the regional governor, maybe blackmailed, I wouldn’t know that, but he’s in their pocket too one way or the other. They got the brothels, the pubs, the gambling houses, they decide what gets built and what doesn’t." He said in a cracked and broken voice.
"The warehouses too?" She asked.
"I done guarded some of those, the renters pay protection money or we..." He trailed off.
"What?" Her voice commanded answer.
"Look the other way while its robbed or burned." He finished.
"Or do the robbing or burning yourselves?" She guessed.
He gave several small rapid nods.
"How do the temples play into this?" She asked.
His eyes jumped to hers in surprise.
"Don’t be surprised, I saw a temple, it was completely rebuilt, and I’m not about to believe it is because of some devotion to the gods." She said contemptuously. Her teeth ground visibly, her jaw worked back and forth, her eyes twitched as word after word threw dry grass into an already growing fire.
"I don’t know everything, but... well the priests help keep the people in line, they are the mouthpieces of the governor, and when people get uppity, charges of heresy or blasphemy are hard to fight and you don’t even have to plant fake evidence, just have someone make the accusation and a few people back it up." He said, he began to tremble under her gaze.
"Where do they end up?" She asked.
"Prison mostly, a few of the more talented get "work release" where they work for free on what the bosses want." He said.
"Anything else?" Neia asked. "What about the brothels?"
"Who cares about them ‘ores?" He said, and found a sword at his throat.
"Oh... eh..." He stammered.
"Anything less than the truth, and I’ll cut you in ways that’ll let you enter their line of work." Neia said between clenched teeth.
The lot of them paled at her words, but the pathetic and humiliated guard didn’t have the fight left to argue, "They borrow money for things, can’t pay it off, so they work the brothels to repay the debt." He spilled out the words almost too fast for her to understand, but it all clicked into place for Neia, and she stepped back and sheathed her sword.
"OK, now you get get the fuck out of my sight, and get the fuck out of this city. If my eyes ever catch you again so much as taking a sweetroll from a child, my face will be the last one you ever see." She said, and stepped aside. "Now RUN! Run and never stop!" she barked and smacked the leader on the ass with her sword again. They ran like scared rabbits after that.
She mentally ticked off what she’d gathered from the little bird she’d just made sing for her, all was going well, but she had to inform Tinamoc of what she’d learned, as well as the rest of her company of fighters. The next move in her mind was fairly predictable, when you humiliate evil authority that way, it has to respond, and there are only two ways to do that. Against the public to remind people they’re still in charge... or against the singular party in opposition... which even if they did the first thing, they’d still have to do the second, and because she had acted in public, they would want to act against her in public in turn, by any means necessary.
A savage grin appeared on her face, the regional governor would have to act quickly, she was going to look over what were no doubt phony books tomorrow, he would definitely not want that. Quick decisions are seldom safe decisions. He was cowardly, he was weak, and he thought he held all the cards. Within a few hours if not sooner, the humiliation of several guards and their dismissal from the city would reach his ears. If she wanted this to work, she had to act quickly.
She cast a silent thought of gratitude to her divine god of justice, and after a brief stop to inform some of her people that she needed them to shadow her, she went to the next public place, and again began to speak on the subject of the god of justice, the war for liberation, she began to praise the crowd as survivors who carried within them the seed of strength, that all they needed to do was nurture it by following Black Justice and the way of the Sorcerer King. Prart was full of camp survivors and liberators, which meant it was packed with people who favored the Sorcerer King, which meant there was a ready audience for her message, and more than that, her message of hope and her praise for their potential was a welcome relief from the grind to which they had been subjected.
"When thugs come to demand coin so that your shop does not burn, stand against them, when you see your neighbor harassed by thugs, join with your neighbors, when you see the neighbors of your neighbors threatened and extorted, join with those neighbors, they cannot steal from even ONE of you, if ALL of you refuse to tolerate being stolen FROM!"
Her speeches ignited the crowds, and she went from one square to another, with some of those from one inevitably following her to the next speaking point, and after hours of this where she praised the Sorcerer King as the god of justice and the only one worth following, she got the expected result.
From her position atop another ruined public fountain, she saw them coming, a priest, who looked... rather lumpy to put it plainly, backed by several men in shining armor, they could only be paladins, and about two dozen or so soldiers. The governor was clearly not taking chances after her having humiliated the unprepared guards, these were more fit and more professional looking. Her bottom lip curled as she nodded. ‘Not bad.’ she thought to herself. "Not good enough... but not bad." She resumed her speech after the thought, having pretended not to notice them as they forced their way through.
When they made it to the front, some of the guards turned about and turned their spears on the crowd, forcing people back.
The remainder stood at either side of the priest.
"Neia Baraja, you are under arrest on the charges of heresy and blasphemy, and are hereby ordered in the name of Alah Alaf, all the gods, and regional governor Baron Nigrand en Tusia, to surrender yourself immediately!" The priest said in a voice that suggested he expected to be obeyed.
The crowd went quiet and waited for her to be taken away.
"I say I am NOT under arrest." Neia responded flatly and looked down at the priest with contempt. "I am indeed Neia Baraja, servant of the Sorcerer King, bearer of the armor of the Grand King Busar, rescuer of the Zern Prince BeeBeeZee, guardian of royal merchant Tinamoc, bane of bandits, savior of Ilyatown, protector of villages, bearer of the Ultimate Shooting Star, founder of Black Justice, arbiter of Capital Reconstruction and liaison of the Sorcerer King, and I tell you you have no right to arrest me. I am no servant of dead and do nothing gods. I serve the one god of this world. Your temples have no right to presume anything of me, least of all to accuse me of crimes against them for calling them into doubt. And as to the Baron? I come under the King's writ. I am not under his authority for as long as my mission endures. Press me, and we will see who hangs."
Silence, stunned silence endured. Eyes went wide, mouths fell open, armor clinked as those who wore it began to look profoundly uncomfortable.
"More than that, I am not under arrest because I have committed no crime, do you really need to protect the gods by saying I’m guilty of blasphemy? I can only blaspheme against the true god of Justice, Ainz Ooal Gown! Heresy? How can I be a heretic? I praise the last and greatest god, the only god worthy of worship in this world, before all the people here!" Her voice carried to the crowd, and she said, "If your life was saved by the true god of Justice, Ainz Ooal Gown, then raise your voice in praise to him!"
"Long live Ainz Ooal Gown!" Sounded with earth shattering force, echoing off the walls in the square, it rang out again, and again, drowning out the priest. Still he didn’t act, she needed more to provoke him. She kept her thoughts to herself, but stared down at the priest with blue eyes hard as steel and cold as ice.
She held out her hands to still the crowd, "Do you see?!" She said to the priest, "There is no blasphemy here, we praise the god who cares for his people, not the gods that ignore the people as they die and cry out for aid!"
His face turned purple with rage, and Neia’s company began to move from out of their positions of observation, what alone would simply look like a well outfitted soldier, gathered together in a group, became an intimidating military display. The priest however, with his eyes up on Neia, did not notice.
"I will have you dragged down from there!" He shrieked.
"You will?" Neia said laughing, "Because your gods cannot do it for you? The gods of old might have been powerful in their time, but they did not protect us! They did not instill strength in us, they did not save even a single infant from being devoured on their very altars, even as their worshipers who had lived their lives devoted to those gods, pleaded for mercy! It is not blasphemy to praise the god who acts for his people, it is not heresy to serve that god, it is heresy and blasphemy to DENY that god! YOU are the blasphemer, YOU are the heretic! You corrupt reprobate, you who steal the hope from the people in exchange for power and peddle your notions of righteousness before dead gods who care nothing for your oaths and nothing for their people! I serve the one true god in this world! Praise to him, the savior of the people of the Roble Holy Kingdom, Ainz Ooal Gown! Long may he reign!" She shouted and pumped her fist to the sky with her sword aloft as if calling for her soldiers to charge.
"Long may he reign!" the crowd echoed.
The priest could bear no more, "Get her down NOW!" He shouted, "And arrest all those who you saw speak with her!" The paladins were distraught, some of them had served with the Sorcerer King in the time of liberation, they had seen him sacrifice himself against Jaldabaoth, and they saw him risk himself and save the Kingdom at the final battle, bringing down Jaldabaoth forever.
“Sir, maybe we should…” One touched the priest on the shoulder, his youthful face anxious, nervous, uncertain. He had a definite tic at the cheek and his fingers only barely touched the priest to get his attention. He didn’t look directly at the priest as he spoke, but kept his eye mainly on the anxious crowd.
The priest flung his shoulder back with a snarl, “Do as you’re told!” He said with a deep growl, and stopped speaking.
He stopped speaking because that was when the priest saw the other members of Black Justice, and the more distraught paladins who looked around as if seeking some answers that they could not find within themselves... saw the same.
A common soldier however, was not so observant, and accustomed to obedience and unquestioned authority, he thrust his spear out, stabbing one of the peasants.
The old man he’d thrust his spear into, fell with a cry, clutching his belly and howling. “Murder!” Someone shouted.
“Murder, murder, murder!” The shout went up, and a peasant took up one of the many loose and broken stones, and from within the crowd, threw it, striking a guard in the helmet with a loud ‘tink’.
Another common soldier thrust another spear, another howl of pain, the cry of ‘murder’ redoubled and the peasants went mad with sudden anger as word spread through the crowd. “They’re killing us!” Someone shouted with fury.
"Take them if you can, kill them if you can’t!" Shrieked the priest, igniting the crowd.
To that rising madness, Neia added her powerful evangelical voice. Piercing the madness, she shouted, "Black Justice! Protect the people! Protect them all!"
As one, their bows came out and their arrows loosed in almost the very same fraction of an instant. The endless hours of training made them move like parts one creature. Like the legs of an insect all operating independently to drive the whole. They split into two directions and began to reveal what the fruit of months against skeletons, homunculi giants, and more, were like. To Neia, it was sweet and beautiful, they flowed like water as they unleashed their arrows until closing to use their swords.
Neia’s voice echoed far enough that even in the market where Tinamoc was setting up, he heard her voice and so did her warriors. "Go”, he said encouragingly as he waved his hands away from where he was setting up shop. “Leave ten for here, take the rest." He added, his eyes darting around anxiously as his heart started to pound.
The street was then filled with the black clad fighters moving like the wind, but behind them were many converted guards eager to put their refined skills to the test.
As Neia drew out her bow, she felt a twinge of pity well up from the bottom of her heart, not in that instant, for the people. Not in that instant, for the common soldiers. Rather she felt it for the members of the order of which she was once part. The Paladins. Their faces were blank, numb, reminding her of the looks on the faces of those ripped from Jaldabaoth's hell, or who had finished a hard fight and had nothing left inside themselves. Others wore twisted masks of personal torment as they were compelled by the actions of the priest to turn on the people they were supposed to serve. Her pity however, was not enough to slow her down. 'You know you're wrong, yet you obey? That makes you worse than evil. It makes you weak, and weakness is the ultimate sin.' Neia thought serenely to herself as she drew back an arrow and put a soldier down.
'Guardians of justice? Protectors of the people? Saviors of our Holy Kingdom? What nonsense.' Scorn shared living space with pity in her breast as events unfolded. Her low whisper was heard only by herself in the chaos. "All it took for you to kill the people was for a priest to brand those people heretics, and now you act to take their lives? I will correct your sins."
The priest drew a horn from inside his robe and began to blow it madly as peasants began to push back against the soldiers, grabbing weapons, rocks, or fighting barehanded against the guards over which they had the advantage of numbers.
The horn blew loud and long as he turned his body to send the sound in every direction.
It echoed far across the city, and guards abandoned their posts and headed for the sound, the garrison commander ordered the men out of their guard houses and towers, and the governor looked out the window over the city, the sound of fighting began to ring out.
Neia sent arrow after arrow into flesh, finding chinks in armor as small as an eye slit, her sky blue eyes decided who should die, based on how dangerous they seemed, relying on her training in threat assessment to make quick decisions.
She fired until her arrows were gone and a dozen bodies lay being kicked, trampled, and tripped over in the rising chaos. Her small number of soldiers began to work deadly effect on the Paladins. Black runecrafted armor deflected paladin swords, but the swords of the Black Justice warriors cut through steel like butter. Paladins fell clutching at stumps and blood flowed freely
The small numbers of her own that she had with her then entered the mad melee. They however, chose to rush in with swords, charging as Neia stowed her bow and drew her own blade. They fought their way to facing the Paladin Order's numbers themselves. To the horror of the Paladins, the one handed sword work and decisive brutality exerted against them.
The priest fell with a blow to the back of his head, still standing and blowing his cursed horn, it had done its work, if the noise of the fighting had not. Guards and new paladins began to pour into the square, drawing up ranks with leveled spears and drawn swords, the rioters were badly outmatched.
Neia furrowed her brow. "People of Prart! Fall back! Get behind your defenders!" She rushed to the front, thankful for once of her small build, she wove through them like water through cracks until she was in front of the now anxious crowd. "Soldiers! Fall IN!" She shouted, and the few of her numbers drew themselves into line at her left and right.
Neia had her sword out, "I died once on your city's walls, don't think I mind dying again in your city square!" She shouted and slid her right foot behind her, holding her sword parallel to her body over her head, her free hand came slowly up to chest height in the direction of her the new arrivals.
Her eyes swept them, "In the name of His Majesty, the god of justice, I pronounce you, sinners!" She put power into her voice to drain the fighting spirit of those in front, and hearten those at her side.
Her short blonde hair blew lightly in the breeze, the smell of blood and the sight of scattered body parts amidst the dead, she could hear the rising breath at her back. 'Survivors, survivors of the last siege. I'm sure those memories are painful, poor bastards.' She thought dispassionately as her breathing slowed and she felt her instincts kick into high gear.
There was no time for words, the guards saw the downed priest and others of their number crumpled in front of the fountain, and lowered their weapons preparing to charge. They did not get the chance. Neia was not one to let the enemy seize initiative. "Protect the people!" She shouted, and charged full tilt, the other Black Justice members had drawn their bows and fired their quivers empty before the shock had even worn off among the city guard, who had definitely not expected a single woman and ten men to go on the attack.
Guards fell with disbelieving looks on their faces at the sudden flight of arrows, with more in the air before the first had found its mark, the black clad warriors of Neia's elite hundred, despite being outnumbered, showed their worth. Screams cut off or never came before death did, and guards fell rapidly. Without waiting for orders, dismayed by the sudden offensive, they chose to charge the eleven on their own.
Neia and her warriors fell back firing arrows until they ran out, and as one they matched their commander by drawing out their swords.
"Attack!" Neia screamed and flew into them in a frenzy under the watchful eyes of an equally dismayed mob who saw eleven charge a hundred.
Neia couldn't see anything, she shouted and bit, struck with ki enhanced open palms, grabbed and threw those who dared come to grips with her, and her sword danced like a bee in the melee. Still, greater numbers began to push her little numbers back. blood splattered in her eyes when she opened up the throat of a careless paladin and she was briefly blinded.
She didn't see the horn blower.
But she did feel the change in the battle's flow, and savage bloodstained teeth were bared as she felt her people come for her.
Black clad soldiers hit en mass directly behind the ranks of the soldiers at her front, and the certainty of her victory began to rise in her heart.
Skana grinned happily as she put arrows into the unwary backs of those who went to kill her commander. They began to fall before they knew there was a threat. She gripped the horse's flanks with her thighs and cast a silent prayer of thanks to whatever clever soul invented the saddle and stirrups. Figures began to fall, she heard the sound of running feet in great numbers not far behind her. The smell of blood was in front, the sound of clashing weapons and the screams of the dying were ever louder.
She hopped up to the top of her horse's back, and barrelled it straight into the rear ranks, hundreds of pounds of warhorse slammed into human bodies, sending people flying into their comrades, trampling others. The horse reared back and kicked as it whinnied in fear, but Skana had jumped before it impacted. [Agility Boost] She activated her martial art, and planted her feet on the shoulders of the man she landed on, he went down from the sudden impact, but she'd already flipped off of him to land adroitly on her feet. She spun with her enchanted adamantite blade and cut through the armor of several men, creating a brief open space around her. her green eyes stared sharply and those who recoiled briefly, responded to the sudden challenge by the auburn haired woman.
A spear thrust out, she grabbed it with her free hand just like she'd been taught, and yanked the person forward, as he came in, stumbling and with a stupid look on his face, her sword took his head, she then yanked the spear again and taking it up, she threw it hard into the man behind him.
Then the rest of the nightmare hit, as the full hundred elites tore into the ranks of the guards who had the misfortune of responding to the horn. Like a raging flood, soldiers hopped up on debris like the river had overflowed its banks, and arrows came down like rain into the fray.
Neia smiled a bloody smile as she watched the green eyed scout tear a hole in the ranks by herself, at least briefly. 'Bold one, I'll give her that. Good with a sword too.' She acknowledged before taking a luckless fool's sword and using it to open up his own throat.
Others of her numbers, she saw began to appear on rooftops and end lives from the high ground, and pushed herself deeper into the enemy ranks.
The crowd of dirty peasants watched the horror unfold as one of the heroes of Prart disappeared from view as she was surrounded, for someone back within, though nobody but the one who said it, would ever know who, a voice came up, it was the breaking moment.
"If we won't fight for ourselves, why should they die for us?! Get them!" And the crazed peasant ran to the fray himself, snatching up a fallen sword, his scream of hate was like the creaking of a dam just before it burst, and the bowl of wrath was spilled over among the crowd. One became two became five became a horde.
Personal knives, rocks, captured weapons, anything and everything was used, including the nothingness of empty hands.
For the guards and the few paladins who had answered the call, it had become a nightmare. They were used to oppressing cowed people through fear, now they felt the fear they inflicted, some of them not for long, as a spear in the brain tends to still thought more or less permanently. While others panicked at the raw fury they were experiencing directed at them and tried to flee, tangling themselves with others and making the killing easier. The paladins who had responded to the call, found themselves killing the very people they were supposed to protect.
Soldiers in steel armor began to go down, rocks rose and fell, smashing faces into mush, paladins who desperately used their martial arts, found their counter in the black clad nightmares that faced them. One by one, they fell, some forever, some into unconsciousness.
The bulk of the fighting had lasted mere minutes, despite what it felt like in Neia's mind. However more and more began to trickle in, expecting a cleanup as the sounds died down, maybe some easy looting, they instead found themselves ambushed in ones and twos by Neia's soldiers and dragged into the city center where they were stripped of equipment, bound, and gagged, usually by a bloodstained cloth.
Neia took control quickly, she returned to the fountain from which she'd spoken and addressed them all.
"Citizens, take up swords and armor, quickly, there is no time to lose!"
When the first man had finished putting on equipment, she said, "You are in charge of the next ten to be ready, stand over there!" And she pointed to a spot a few feet away, soon ten more were with him. "Go and spread the word in the place where you live, it’s time to bring it all down, then go and seize control of an intersection, let no one under arms pass who is not dressed like us, or who is not an unarmed citizen!" She said, and he quickly departed, one by one she gave like instructions to groups of ten, and the bodies of other guards were dragged into the square and stripped of their equipment, only to repeat the process with more citizens. "The rest of you, follow us!" She called out, "We’re going to get you more equipment!" Her grin was predatory, and met by equally hungry grins from the crowd who understood what that meant.
If there had been any doubt in Neia’s mind about whether or not she was doing the right thing, it had vanished when she saw how easily the guards were turning on the people and how happy the people were that the guards of Prart were dead or dying. Black Justice, a hundred strong, swept over the streets, followed behind by a growing mob, some guards died without ever knowing they were being attacked, others died with just enough time to realize they’d made a very bad decision about which side to be on. A trail of nearly naked bodies began to form in their wake.
The mob was getting better and better armed, and a pitched fight did not occur again until they came to a barricade where a dozen guards had stationed themselves. They wore faces of men who thought themselves already dead. Blank and hopeless, they fired arrows wildly and without discipline. A few peasants fell, but the rapidly moving soldiers of Neia's hundred could easily avoid arrows fired individually, and ran low and leaning into the direction they wished to go. Their adamantite swords made quick work of guards, whose cheap swords simply glanced off the vastly superior armor of their unexpected enemies. The dead the guards inflicted, far from cowing the mob, sent it into renewed rage like it was a single wounded beast.
"You, Skana!" Neia said as they finished securing another public intersection by putting the guards to the sword. The minor wails of pain were quickly fading behind her, the smell of blood was now over a fair amount of the city's poorer districts.
Skana jogged over and snapped a salute. "Ma'am!" She said sharply.
"This is easy now, but that won't last unless we keep control! Take a dozen men, secure the paths to the governor's estate, that coward is sure to still be there. Don't let any messengers get in or out!" Neia snapped the order quickly before taking up a sword that had lost its owner, and handing it to a dirty faced young peasant boy wearing barely more than rags.
The instant he took it, Neia saw from the look in his eyes he'd never let it go. Wild eyed devotion and an instant love, he caressed the flat, bowed deeply, and rushed to join his comrades.
"Yes ma'am!" Skana replied with a wild eyed look of devotion that reminded Neia of the look on the boy's face when he looked at his sword. She rushed off and after tapping a few of her peers on their shoulders, they left with her and faded rapidly into the distance.
"Guess that one's definitely loyal." Neia muttered with amusement under her breath and dispatched some of the armed peasants to other intersections to rally new rioters and take control of various areas.
Skana ran like mad, her martial arts enhanced body moved like fire through dry grass, as did those behind her, though they took down guards along the way as a matter of course, they didn't stop when doing so. Their enchanted gear enhancing speed and stamina, she felt like a force of nature with power thrumming through her, until they could take to the rooftops and run over the top of the city, ignoring the streets entirely, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, they reached their destination in short order. She pointed to the left and to the right. "Six there, and six there. I'm on overwatch, if you capture arrows, give me half each time for my own use, and return mine to me when I use them." Skana said from their crouched position at the center facing gate of the manor. Her eyes went left and right up and down the street, and thanked her god that nothing had evidently happened yet.
She drew her bow and put the two guards at the gate down, they fell hard, blank eyes staring at the uncaring sky. "Move them out of the way, then take your places." Skana said softly, and clenched her hand into a fist. "GO!"
They went, the bodies were tossed into the bushes that ran the length of the wall, and they took up ambush positions as she instructed. "Never thought I'd be back here." Skana muttered, "But... hey, I like it more visiting it like this than the last time."
Neia having dispatched armed citizens to secure intersections, provided effective barriers to the small patrols of guards that were normally out and about within the city, some attempted to just bull past as if their authority mattered and they just died, having failed to understand the mentality of citizens who believe they have a chance to end their suffering. Others recognized the danger, and surrendered on the spot, removing arms and armor and withdrawing, either way, the intersection occupiers had more gear to hand out to more citizens who were learning what was happening.
The strength of the city guard was decreasing, the strength of the rioters was increasing, by taking on the equipment provided to the city guard. It was a delightful irony from Neia’s perspective, within a few hours most of the slums were in her hands and several of the noble establishments were occupied, with the nobles still inside them and now held by the mob, other riots began to break out independently as the pent up fury of the people turned on their oppressors, over in the wealthier quarter, this did not go as well, the personal guards of the well to do were more effective than jumped up thugs one step removed from being outright bandits.
But as Neia’s forces grew and took more and more control over intersections and guard posts, it became ever more obvious to the rest of the guards what was happening, and to conserve their strength, they began to draw back to defensible positions.
It made the mob ecstatic, but Neia knew better, she sent out other men as scouts to determine the locations where the guards had chosen to make a stand, and when they found one, Neia reacted by taking the people down a different route. However for one unfortunate group of fifty guards, they had chosen to make a stand where one side of the building which housed a tavern, with all that flammable alcohol available, it seemed a shame to let it go to waste.
Zagan grinned when he found what they’d done. He had a group of his people engage in a ‘standoff’ while the rest went through the door of the tavern that had been left unoccupied. His fellow guards looked at his big silly grin like he’d gone insane, and at each other, each wondering if they were the crazy ones.
Then he stuffed a rag into a bottle and lit the end of it on fire with a candle. Understanding dawned on their faces and they rushed to take up stray rags. Two minutes later he said simply, “Light em up boys!” And hacking a hole through the cheap, thin wood, he simply threw it at everything that moved. The howling and horror of being on fire was blessedly short lived for those who were struck. They flailed and screamed, the smell of burning flesh was sickeningly sweet, like cooked pork. Unable to fight back, some simply fled, and those who didn’t, burned… and another junction fell.
The rest gave in when they were frozen in terror, and those few survivors swiftly surrendered and were told to get out of town after being stripped of their equipment. With the fall of that juncture, Zagan captured another two blocks.
'The wealthy district. Hmpf, might as well call it the corrupt district. In a place like this, you don't get or keep wealth without being scum.' Neia groused to herself as the tall ornate buildings stood out to her. Their streets were clean, the walls of the homes were often stone or good brick, nothing cheap or shoddy. Bright colors, rich fabric awnings, and beautiful gardens of green populated by richly colored flowers. 'Every petal and brick is a stolen coin or a stolen life.' Neia thought with anger roiling in her stomach.
But it was also paying for serious opposition. She took on a predatory look and fired her snake shot. It ran through several soldier's throats before it lost power and lodged in the seventh man, and her own people ran full tilt as if they were chasing her arrow. 'Thank you my precious Lord, for the training you have given us.' She prayed as she watched her soldiers conduct a by the books breach entry, crashing through windows and streaming through doors, breaking apart as soon as they entered in order to occupy and clear a room step by step.
House by house and block by block, the wealthy district began to fall, private militias crumbled or just plain switched sides, each time the equipment or the people wearing it, fell entirely into the hands of the rioting peasants.
So it went until she came to the great temple of Prart. Atop the stairs there stood several score of paladins in shining armor. They arrayed themselves in front of a small number of priests, and the rioters following Neia began to slow down in the face of their fear of the gods. Neia's hundred however, had no such fear.
"Black Justice, fall in! Double line!" Neia shouted, and in seconds the paladins watched in confusion as many footsteps became one. "Left Face!" She shouted, and in uniform step they turned and stomped the ground.
She could see the anxiety at the unfamiliar on their faces, 'The secret military arts from the heart of mighty Nazarick... the wargod subordinate of my master, who left all knowledge behind him. Thank you, vanished Punito...' Neia praised the forty friends of her god. The paladins shifted nervously, the silence and perfect synchronicity of those still with Neia like staring into the darkness and wondering what hides there.
Neia took out her bow, the Paladins began to overlap their shields, creating what they thought of as an impenetrable wall. A grim smile came over Neia as they acted predictably to protect the priests and the place of the gods.
"Target left wing!" Neia shouted, "Loose!" She said, and the arrows raked the left wing of the paladin formation. The thick, heavy shields offered some protection, but against the enchanted bows, the archers forced out cries of pain as arms and legs were pierced. "Target right wing!" She shouted, "Loose!" And the next volley repeated the horror to the right. The paladins did not go down, but the pain of their wounds brought out their human instinct to secure themselves.
The wings began to fold in as each man sought th eprotection of the shield next to him. Neia repeated this several times as the paladins endured the barrage and waited for it to end through the use of all the arrow supplies. They silently cursed their lack of magic and archery support, but did not see the true threat.
"Charge!" Neia barked and took off at a run. The paladin formation had buckled in far as each man sought out safety for himself, and as a result Neia's numbers were able to swarm around the flanks and get behind the Paladin Order. Neia's sword rose and fell as she hacked through her opposition, the front rank held the paladins in a fixed position, while the second rank swept around, and the entire Paladin position began to collapse. Realizing they were lost, they fell back within the temple for a final stand, but the Black Justice warriors pursued them recklessly, and killed or incapacitated opposition all the way to the alter, where Neia clashed with the last of them. "Heretic! Apostate! Betrayer!" The paladin screamed her insults with reckless hatred.
She had deep chestnut hair and fanatical eyes of blue that reflected Neia's face back at her. She clashed with Neia using an adamantite blade of her own, but had lost her shield and her arm hung limp with two arrows in it.
Neia fended off the blows and avoided those she couldn't fend off, her ki powered strike hit the woman in her sternum, sending her staggering back, which put her in reach of Neia's legs. The former follower of the old gods kicked the paladin square in the chest, staggering her even further.
The noise of their fight was like a battle unto itself as their strikes echoed off the stone walls, and Neia brought her sword up, taking the Paladin's sword hand, and dropping it to the floor as it was severed.
The woman howled and held the stump aloft, blood pumping out and down her armored forearm.
Neia took up the fallen sword, and thrust it into the paladin's gut, she doubled over, cursing and coughing blood.
"One day... someone like me will fucking punish you." She said as she managed to bring her good hand up despite the pain of the bad arm, and clutch the stump.
Nea put a knee into her face and sent her jackknifing up, back, and landing on the alter to the gods.
Neia shook her head, "Doesn't matter. My god will win, no matter what happens to me. Do you surrender?" Neia asked as she brought the paladin's own sword up and over her chest where the wounded woman lay with her arms out and body heaving for breath.
"Fuck you." The Paladin spat blood out of her mouth, it struck Neia's face, and the squire only stared down at her.
"Your choice." She said, and looked up at the images of the gods, which looked down on them in turn. "And doing nothing? That was theirs. This is the result of your gods." Neia said, and pushed the woman's sword down into her chest, it slid in easily, and sank into the stone beneath, impaling the body there.
The paladin twitched, her corpse voided her bowels, and the silent eyes stared up to gods that did not care for her.
Neia shook her head again and wiped the blood away, she cast it off down to the stone, and faced her warriors that had stopped to watch the final struggle. "What a waste." Neia said regretfully, and began barking her orders again.
"Next up, the manor! We take the rats nest and all the rats inside of it!" She shouted and raised her sword in triumph.
"Leave a few peasants to tend and guard the captives and wounded here, the rest of us, we go to finish this!" Neia shouted passionately, and strode for the exit, leaving the corpse behind.
Arriving at the manor took her no time at all, and the emerald eyed scout was quick to report matters, jumping like a fawn through the grass, she made her way down to the ground as soon as she saw Neia leading the improvised army to the front of the manor.
She snapped her salute over her heart, “Ma’am, Skana reporting, we killed a great many messengers, but those dropped off and larger numbers made their way to us, we targeted those we could, but I had my twelve fall back and take up observatory positions instead. No point in dying for no reason.”
“Good job, soldier.” Neia said as she returned the salute. “How many are in there?” She asked as the force began to array themselves against the estate.
“No way to know since we don’t know how many were in there before our arrival, ma’am, however around five hundred have made it in from out here. All total that big estate could probably hold a thousand, not comfortably, or for long, but if you don’t want a long siege…” Skana shrugged, “We can burn it down.”
Neia grumbled unhappily and turned her eyes to scan the building. “That might save the most lives, but it would cost morale dearly, there are some much loved treasures of this city in there, irreplaceable things, destroying them is easy… but it would sting this city’s memory for years.”
“The city is effectively mine now, perhaps I can get them to surrender.” Neia said hopefully and went close to the gate. She shouted for all to hear, "I am Neia Baraja, avatar of the Sorcerer King’s true justice! You are guilty of blasphemy! You are guilty of heresy! You are guilty of embezzlement! You are guilty of oppression! You are guilty of conspiring against the interests of the crown! You are guilty of the murder of the people! You are guilty of the rape of desperate women of this city, for giving them a choice between hunger in their bellies and the bellies of their children, or bouncing in your beds for your cruel amusement! All of this are you guilty of, and much, much more! But that no more blood be shed, I give you choice of sentence, you may be exiled from this city forever, with nothing but clothes on your backs and what food and water you can carry, or we can fucking KILL YOU ALL!"
"All those who wish to take the former sentence, come out now!" She shouted.
A long minute of silence passed, and a few figures began to trickle out, a few fat priests, and behind them some paladins who, if Neia could read their faces properly, seemed to have simply given up the pretense that they were still agents of justice when they were confronted by the obvious corruption of the people in the manor with them. Neia was moved to pity to see their illusions shattered in the worst way possible.
"Those who are dressed as priests, give them common garb, they are no priests NOW!" She snapped.
"You, paladins, you have seen inside there what I saw, you now know there is no justice flowing from there. The Sorcerer King is justice!” she snapped out and pointed back the way they’d come, “That is not. You will lose your arms and armor now, and walk out of this city as peasants would, but that does not mean you cannot carry the lesson with you. You have your lives, and with life comes the chance to live differently than you have before. Seek true justice, and maybe you can make amends for your support of... that THING!" Neia said, and spat in the direction of the manor.
A few more trickled out, wealthy men who had profited from their crimes or the crimes of others, but didn’t have the backbone to defend themselves personally. They were each identified so that it would be known whose property to seize, and they were similarly ejected. Then, no more came out.
"The rest of you choose a sentence of death?!" Neia asked of the silent house, and an arrow sped towards her in reply. She caught it, and threw it down contemptuously.
"Have it your way!" She said, and they attacked the manor, it was not well built for defense, it was just a government building and a residence, there were many ground floor windows, and the guards, though more numerous, were stretched thin, after the first successful attempt at repelling them, Neia called her forces back, and then changed strategies. She had her archers fire at one broken window, taking down forces there and forcing the guards to stretch themselves thinner to make up for the losses.
As that was going on, she had her forces divided and attacking multiple windows at once, chiefly with rocks and stones, while a group of her elites led by the green eyed scout with the pretty smile, went to the side where cover had to be laid, and had them use ladders to climb to the roof. They secured ropes there, and then lowered themselves to the second story window, and crept in. Not expecting an attack like that, the few in that room were quickly and quietly dispatched, and then more of her team took the same route. Neia made sure she herself was visible and to focus her eyes on only the lower floors, so that nobody would notice her checking the upstairs.
When almost the entire hundred was inside that space, Neia couldn’t see what they were up to, but nonetheless she knew.
They went out the door, checking each room one by one, and eliminating anyone they encountered, when they got to the stairs going down to the main hall where the defense was taking place, they pulled out their bows and announced their presence with a volley of arrows into the enemy’s backs. When they were attacked from the rear, many of the survivors turned and charged up the stairs to deal with the sneak attack, but it was uncoordinated, and it left the downstairs vulnerable, and Neia ordered a second charge, and this time first one window, then another, then another, and then the rest of them, were all breached. Glass shattered, wood shattered, furniture crashed and fell over as bodies both living and dead fell in the chaos. But behind her own, more and more poured in, armored and peasant clad alike. The well armed and those armed only with hatred, began to fill the manor. People poured on like water bursting from a dam, stabbing and cursing and grunting and brawling was everywhere, but the main entryway was otherwise quickly secured.
That left room clearance, and though a few losses were taken in isolated places, there was little doubt about the end, and Neia went straight for the governor’s room, it was appointed with the wealth of a king, wealth she knew he didn’t deserve. She smirked, he might not have been visible, but she was sure he’d be here, so she went silent and listened, until she found the sound of breathing and detected him under the bed.
"Come out from under there worm, or I’ll set the damn bed on fire, I don’t need to drag you out to finish you." She said.
He crawled out after a moment, and was about to stand, when Neia put her foot on his neck. "Stay down maggot. That is where you belong." She snapped and stomped her foot hard on his shoulder, drawing a cry of pain from the worm beneath her.
"I’ll have your head for this!" He said sharply, in what may have been the bravest moment of his life.
"No you won’t... baron..." she said, loading the title with contempt, "because you have violated the justice of a god, you have stolen from the largess of the Sorcerer King, nobody will protect you now, even if Count Handor was willing to look the other way as you saw women forced to prostitute themselves, as your guards extorted coin from those with only one to their name, even if the King himself did not care about his people at all... NOBODY crosses the Sorcerer King, NOBODY escapes the Justice of my god." Her visor was off and she looked down at him in contempt, "I was going to kill you myself, but as I think of it now, I should leave you to the King’s justice."
"Caspond will never prosecute me!" He shrieked, "I’m a nobleman!"
"There’s nothing NOBLE about you, SCUM." Neia said, she leaned over, bending a knee and stabbing her sword into the floor, she leaned on it and looked at him with her eyes of fury, "But that doesn’t matter, because I’m going to offer you to the Sorcerer King, it was HIM you stole from, and when the nobles in the capital learn that you tried to steal from the one who is literally rebuilding our nation, that you caused a riot trying to arrest the guardian of the greatest merchant in the country, just to protect your little extortion rackets and whatever thugs wormed their way here from Re-Estize... nobody is going to stick up for you."
The baron paled.
"You tried to steal from the king of a country who could wipe out an army of almost 200,000 people, who personally killed a demon that was able to slaughter whole armies, who by himself conquered the homelands of the demihuman invaders. Exactly HOW did you see this ending for you?" Neia asked, and started laughing.
As the Baron began to wet himself, Neia drew out a message scroll and called out to Demiurge about everything that had just happened, and she could hear his outrage when he learned that a mere human Baron had tried to steal from the Sorcerer King and undermine his work. "A gate will open immediately." Demiurge said. "Throw him through, I will ask Lord Ainz if he wishes to handle the notification to the Holy Kingdom royal court personally."
"As you say, Lord Demiurge." Neia responded, and as a gate opened, she grabbed the baron by the hair, dragged him forward, and tossed him through.
When that was done, she went to the governor’s primary office, and said, "Someone ask Tinamoc to come see me, there is a lot to get done, and I don’t have a lot of time to do it. Also, someone free the people imprisoned for blasphemy and heresy, and bring them here also, I expect I’ll know some of them, if my instincts are correct."
“I’ll take care of the prisoners.” Skana said to her as she wiped the blood from her sword, prompting a nod of appreciation from Neia. There was a sea of determined faces in front of her as the green eyed scout and a now clean shaven Zagan went to carry out her instructions and the rest waited for more, and she found that she was looking forward to tomorrow.
Baron Nigrand en Tusia, regional governor of the city of Prart, landed his face on the other side of the hole in reality, it was an undignified landing, and it hurt quite a bit in his pride as much as in his body, he was already distressed enough, but that was nothing compared to when he saw the frogman standing in front of him, that only got worse, he tried to scramble away, but the frogman simply grabbed him by the foot and started dragging him along, he clawed at the floor screaming to be let go, but no matter his words or screams or struggles, he was dragged on, until he passed through a door that opened by itself, and was bodily thrown forward, where he crumpled like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
He tried to get up, but there was a dark elf child standing there that grabbed his shoulder and held him down in the kneeling position he had tried to rise from. As he looked around, he saw it, death itself, a skeleton wearing a magnificent robe, holding a very impressive scepter, and sitting on a throne that only a god could own. There was only one figure it could be.
"I am the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown. And you have chosen to steal from me. Worse, you have chosen to steal from my charity, and lined your own pockets at the expense of my name. What do you have to say for yourself?"
The baron thought furiously, his mind moved like the wind running through every excuse he had ever told himself for why it was OK to do the things he had done. Only one seemed apt.
"They were only peasants, they exist to serve the will of their betters, why shouldn’t I take from them?" He said, attempting to appeal to what he expected was another noble’s greed.
Suzuki Satoru however... saw only white hot rage, he thought of his precious friends, like HeroHero, slaving away under cruel bosses who cared nothing for their wellbeing, who took it as their right to abuse and exploit workers.
He thought of his own mother, desperately working several jobs and still subjected to the humiliation of a lecherous boss that sent her home with more tears and more poverty than before, until Suzuki was old enough to drop out of school and work so she could at least quit that job.
His emotional damper forced him to calm down, but he did not forget his rage.
"Send him to Neuronist Painkill. And keep it going until he dies of old age, make sure that is the only thing he dies of." Ainz said.
...Nazarick...The Frozen Prison...
A few minutes later the former regional governor and former baron found himself strapped naked to an upright rack and an unspeakably slimy monster was practically dancing before him, it held up a small metal device with some nasty looking spines on it, and it was explaining something to him that he didn’t really understand, about her creator suffering from kidney stones. Soon it didn’t matter whether he understood or not, only the pain mattered, only the screaming mattered, and those would continue to matter until his sixty-seventh year of life.