B.3 Chapter 45: End Times
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Dimitri Palov peeked from his hiding spot. The marauders were nowhere to be seen, nor were any of the lumen soldiers. The shipmaster slowly crept out, his head craning to look around again. No sign of life.


“It’s clear,” he muttered out to the nearby disposals. Liam and some of the crew stepped out of their respective hiding spots, their clothes stained with grease and other fluids the man didn’t want to think. The shipmaster climbed out of the garbage collector that was tucked in the alleyway's corner.


“Where do we go?” Liam asked as he picked off the pieces of trash that stuck on his clothes.


“We find Seamus and Bjorn, regroup with them,” Dimitri answered. There was no better option for them. When the marauders raided, they had cut off transportation for the entire city. Those bastards had destroyed the ship Dimitri’s crew used to get here. Escaping was also a risk, since lumen soldiers and marauders were searching the docks for anyone trying to escape. It was a miracle Dimitri was still alive. As for his men, he wasn’t so sure. Half the crew was with him, as the other half separated soon after the raid began. Dimitri had some hope they were still alive, but he felt a pit grow in his stomach whenever he spotted the bodies scattered in the streets. While he could always check them to see if he recognized them, he was too scared to confirm it himself.


“This is insane. We’re not going to live through this,” one man spoke out in a shaking voice. He was visibly terrified, his knees almost buckling.


“Calm yourself.” Dimitri turned to the younger man. “This is nothing to us. We’ve been through hel and back, remember?” The shipmaster grabbed the crewmate by the shoulders. “Once we regroup with the others, we’ll figure out a way out of here.”


“Will Seamus and Bjorn be enough?”


“They’re more than enough. Both men have survived worse, my friend.” Dimitri gave the crewmate a reassuring grin.


The young man nodded slowly. “Alright…”


“Good. Now let us head off.” The shipmaster patted the man’s shoulder before he turned to Liam.


“Where are we going?” The wheelman asked. “Seamus didn’t exactly tell us where they were heading.”


“I have an idea where they might go,” Dimitri admitted as he peeked out into the main streets.


“Markov’s place?” The ginger asked.


“You know me so well.” Dimitri chuckled. “From what I remember, there is a passage hidden in the ‘Drunken Draugr’. If we can make it there, I can lead us to the guild’s base.”


If we make it,” Liam reiterated.


“Have some faith in me, Liam,” Dimitri dug into his tunic, his hand pulling out a wrapped dagger. “I’ve never steered you wrong, have I?”


“You’ve steered me into some questionable fights and dangerous waters,” the wheelman pointed out as he grabbed a formidable piece of debris to use as a weapon.


“Perhaps, but we’ve always come out on top,” the shipmaster said.


“Maybe. Then again, tonight is feeling like the end times…”





Dahlia followed Helen’s lead. The ex-marauder was much more experienced in this type of situation, especially since she had once taken part in raids like this. The shaman stopped when Helen did, watching as the older woman surveyed the area. She gestured to the group, her hand signs signaling for them to move back. Dahlia did so without hesitation, her body turning around to head towards the near alleyway. Everyone else followed her lead, most of the guards pressing themselves against the wall to allow some space to move.


Helen was the last to join in, her head still peeking out. “Marauder group. Looks like they’re heading north,” she muttered.


“Can we take them?” Archibald asked.


“Terrible question,” Haggard chuckled as he brandished his hammer. “The real question you should ask is, is it worth the fight?”


“It’s not,” Helen answered immediately after. “They’re not a problem or a threat. Better to conserve our castings and stamina and let them pass.”


Lilith squirmed in the packed alleyway, her nose sniffing the air. Dahlia stared at the berserker, who furrowed her brow at the smell of the air.


“What’s with her?” Elaine asked.


The shaman almost jumped at the sound of the bard’s voice. “When did you come with us?” Dahlia asked in surprise. She soon got her answer when she set her gaze upon the bard. Elaine was equipped with a guardsmen tabard, half of her head covered by the bucket helmet she wore.


“I wanted to see you all in battle!” Elaine whispered a quiet shout. “So I snuck with you all.”


“You idiot!” Helen hissed. “This isn’t a place someone like you should be in! You can get yourself killed!”


“Don’t worry about me,” Elaine protested as she shifted. The bard pulled out the lute from underneath her cloak. “I can buff you all with my magic, I swear!”


“Lute magic?” Dahlia questioned. “That’s an actual thing?” She had heard of the prospect of bards using magic, but the practice was rare. To where magic users like Dahlia doubted its existence. Yet now, it seemed like Elaine was a bard gifted with the ability to use music and magic simultaneously.


“I can use basic buffs and physical castings,” Elaine admitted. “Granted, not as powerful as a mage or wizard.”


“It might be useful…” Falrick muttered.


“Just keep to the back of the group and keep out of the way,” Helen spoke up. “We can’t be bothered to protect you if we get into a skirmish.”


“Got it!” Elaine nodded quickly. “I’ll keep out your hair!”


“Alright, shut it,” Helen growled as she waved off the bard. As the veteran watched the street, Dahlia turned to focus on Lilith once more. However, the berserker was no longer next to her.


“What the…? Lilith?!” The shaman looked around, searching for the red-haired woman.


She would find her, but not in the way she hoped for. Lilith was out on the other side of the street, the berserker on all fours as she slowly crept into a side street.


“Shit!” Dahlia shifted and struggled to leave the alleyway, her hands pushing Helen aside.


“Hey!” the veteran called out, but her tone changed once she saw what the shaman saw. “Oh, shit!”


Dahlia made sure to look ahead of the street to make sure no enemies were around. Thankfully, the street was empty. The shaman ran to the other side, trying to stop Lilith. She was too slow as the young berserker rushed off into the side street.


Dahlia turned to Helen. “I’ll get her! You keep moving! I’ll try to meet up with you later!” She called out before she headed off to follow the berserker.


Lilith was quick, her figure scurrying and sprinting throughout the backstreets. Dahlia wasn’t sure what caught the young woman’s attention, but she was sure it was going to get them both killed if she continued to run any longer.


“Lilith!” she hissed, trying to get her attention. Lilith skidded to a stop, her head raising in a moment’s notice. Dahlia was at first relieved that her words reached the strange woman, but that relief soon went away once Lilith sprinted off. She was heading to a nearby building, its scorched roof and broken windows showing it as having been raided. The half burnt banner signified it as a merchant’s guild.


The shaman was confused at the young woman’s interest in this destroyed building. Its walls were still burning and half its interior was caved in. Yet Lilith ran towards it, her feet propelling her to the alleyway beside it. The berserker would stop right when she reached the shadows, however, her body suddenly jumping back. Right when she did so, a cloaked man appeared out of nowhere, his hand holding a dagger.


Dahlia panicked, her hands forming runes.




Right when the cloaked man reached the red-haired woman, a gust of wind pushed through, throwing him back into the alleyway.


“Agh! Fuck!” He shouted out. Dahlia ran to Lilith, her hand extending to prevent the berserker from attacking the cloaked man. Once she was close enough, the shaman confirmed her suspicion. The man in front of her was a thief, his dark green cloak and boots giving him away. She recalled James’ description of them and how he was able to tell them apart.


The thief before her groaned and shifted, his dagger still poised to attack.


“We’re friendly!” Dahlia shouted at the man, her hand gesturing to the white raven painted on her and Lilith’s armor. The thief blinked and looked at the shaman.


“You’re with the Draugr? Freyja’s mercy… I didn’t think he actually came.” The man moved to stand. “We actually have one of your men in our hideout. He came to us with a group of his own.”


“He did?” Dahlia furrowed her brow in confusion.


‘That’s not right. James and Harald are off in the eastern part of the city. Unless…’


“Seamus?” Dahlia suddenly muttered in realization. Lilith perked up at the word, her gaze moving to the shaman. The berserker couldn’t speak, but her hands still moved to communicate. While the shaman couldn’t understand it, she could very well recognize the universal symbol for ‘Here’.


“Yes! That was his name,” the thief confirmed.


“Where is he?” Dahlia asked.


“He’s back in the hideout, talking with Markov.”


“Take us to him now.”





Dimitri crept through the passageway, his head turning to check the corner. It was clear, like usual.


“I never knew these existed,” Liam murmured behind him.


“You shouldn’t,” Dimitri started as he walked. “These tunnels and passageways snake their way throughout most of the city’s platforms. They mainly exist for the thieves to transport contraband and stolen goods.” The shipmaster held his makeshift torch out, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. He counted the steps under his breath, recalling the times he would be taken to the guild.


Dimitri had a history with Markov. He had lost count of the times he was taken from the tavern and transported through the passageways. However, every time, he would count the steps and turns he had taken. The thieves never bothered to try to disorient him, since the shipmaster was always drunk whenever he was abducted. Thankfully for Dimitri, being drunk did nothing to hamper his memory.


The shipmaster stopped again at a turn, his head craning to the next tunnel. He counted his steps again. As he reached the fifth one, a loud sound boomed right above them. Dimitri stopped and looked at the ceiling, which rocked and shook.


“Fireball runes,” he realized aloud. “They’re getting closer to the center of the city.” While the marauders were spread out, most of them were made up of hired bandits and raiders, set on looting and having their fun. They wore barely any protection, most of it gambeson or shoddy mail.


The ones that wore the black armor were the most dangerous ones. Hand picked by Deimos and his inner circle themselves, those men were given runes and competent weapons. They were in the eastern part of the city, possibly in the north as well, judging from what Dimitri picked up on their conversations. They were focused on burning and clearing, making sure none survived and no stone was left unturned.


“We should hurry,” Dimitri called to his men as he hurried his steps.


“Why? They can’t get to us down here, right?”


“These tunnels were made for smuggling. Not for a full scaled attack. If any of those fireball runes even hit off-target, we’ll be exposed.” That seemed to do the trick. The men all went quiet, their focus on the shaking ceiling and the loud sounds of fighting.


Dimitri turned around and returned to his counting of steps. He needed to be quick. If any of those marauders or soldiers found the tunnels, every thief in this city was screwed.





“Ember Strike!”


Flames and heat encircled William’s blade, its edge cutting through the marauder like a hot iron through snow. The herald watched as the savage’s upper half split apart with effort, sending specks of red everywhere. Without hesitation, he directed the heated blade to the next marauder. This one had better armor, however, and so William’s sword only merely gashed the man’s shoulder.


The marauder recoiled back from the attack, his scream accompanying him as he tried to gain distance. William rushed him in response. He refused to take cowardice as an answer.


“Ember Strike!” His casting enhanced his sword with flames and embers once more, giving it power as it swung down on the marauder’s skull. The strike split the poor bastard’s head in half, despite the steel helm protecting it. More blood sizzled and sprayed across the herald, but he did not care.


This was the second wave of marauders so far, and William was feeling sluggish from the fighting. He looked back to the summoning circle he had formed, the same one that he used to summon the soldiers from the capital. Its runes were dead now, but the herald only needed to force his own natural ley lines to make it work. A tiring task, but a necessary one.


“It looks to be the last of them,” one of the nearby soldiers breathed out in relief.


“Don’t rest now. There might be more coming,” William called out. He was regretting not saving a detachment of reinforcements for himself. The champion only had an eight-man group of soldiers to help him defend the summoning circle. Every other reinforcement that came from the circle either went to the center of the city or to the southern docks. William looked down at the marauder bodies around him. While most were unarmored, resembling more like raiders and bandits rather than actual marauders, a couple had decent gear such as gambeson and mail. It signified to William that these men were making their way to the iron district and, soon, the center of the city.


‘I should retreat soon, before this spot gets overrun.’


William knew his orders were to defend the spot, no matter the cost. Arthur had drilled it into his head that the summoning circle was also an escape route, just in case everything went south. William pondered on sending a spell crystal message to the outlander, to let him know the marauders were pushing through the iron district.


“Sir! More enemies!”


Before he could make that decision, the men had called out to him. The champion turned around, expecting to see more marauders. Instead, he was met with the gaze he didn’t expect after all this time. Despite the armor and the helmet hiding half his face, William could never forget the stature and eyes of that man. The same man who had forsaken the Lumen Kingdom all those years ago.


Harald Stroud took a step towards William, the simple act more than enough to cause the herald’s men to move.


William raised a hand to them, stopping the soldiers in their tracks. “Stop. This is my fight,” he called out. His men stared at him with wild looks, confusion clear on their expressions. William ignored them. They did not understand.


“I would have never expected to find you here… Fighting for the Draugr, nonetheless.” William gestured to the white raven painted on the other man’s chest piece.


“Stop this, William,” Harald suddenly spoke out. His voice sounded rougher now. Like he had gravel in his throat. “Call off these men. There’s been enough bloodshed.”


“You would like that, won’t you?” William chuckled. “You and your bastardized Jarl. He did this to the city!” The champion gestured around. “He’s the reason it must burn!”


Harald blinked at the accusations. He took a step forward. “What are you talking about?”


“I read the reports of Gryff Brenwick!” William shouted. He recalled the knight’s report. The details of the source and everything related to the fracture.


“William…” The old man furrowed his brow. “Gryff was a maniac bent on killing innocents who had nothing to do with the fracture!”


“Do not besmirch his name!” William felt his anger build up. Despite his naturally calm mentality, seeing Stroud had somehow undone it all. The past was still raw in his memories. “Gryff Brenwick and Hugo Ardel were Delphine’s chosen! They would not do such things without reason. Even if what you say is true, then what of the Draugr you follow so blindly? He’s done worse! He shattered the ley lines, for Delphine’s sake! Doomed our world to horrors!”


“William, we can help you fix it!” Harald argued. “Just stand your men down and help us fend off the marauders… If you can do that, we can fix the ley lines.”


“You don’t understand…” William shook his head as he cleaned his sword. The runes on its steel burned with life, almost itching to for a fight. “There will be no peace with the Lumen Kingdom and the outlander who threatens Azura!”