That Horrible Moment Chapter 8


By Donraj

        They all heaved a sigh of relief (except for Alberto and Katoi) as they emerged from the forest. Ellis shielded her eyes against the sudden glare. The sun was blinding after the gloom of the woods, and it took awhile for their eyes to adjust to the bright afternoon light. Ellis’ did first, and she squinted to make out the carts and wagons that crowded the road ahead, all headed to or from the markets of Dorter. She turned to the others.

        “We should arrive within a couple of hours. We need to come up with a plan for when we get there.”

        “I’ll come with you to meet this Tiran,” Rosa said. “If he is their target, or their ally, you shouldn’t go alone.”

        “What about Gilliam?” Ellis asked. “Alberto, you said you know a healer?”

        The mage nodded.

        “I’ll accompany the two of them to see this person, after that we can all rendezvous,” Hanlon said

        “There’s just one problem with that,” Gilliam interjected.

        “What’s that?” Hanlon asked.

        Gilliam looked at Katoi meaningfully. “How many goblins do you suppose there are walking the streets of Dorter?” he asked dryly.

        Hanlon looked embarrassed. “Oops.”

        “We can sneak him in and rent a room somewhere in the slums. You stay there with him. We’ll met up there.”

        Hanlon hesitated, then nodded. “Very well.”


        Lanal, recently bathed and wearing a fresh set of fashionable clothes, was beginning to feel like himself again as he walked through the doors of the ‘Juravis’s Eggs.’ He waved off the doorman’s offer to take his cloak, saying that he would only be there a short time. He sighed happily as he looked around the upscale restaurant. This was where he belonged, not slogging across some muddy battlefield or sulking through a forest. He ignored the fact that his clothes were stolen and his parents had raised pigs for a living. This was his place.

        He spotted Tiran at a table by one of the windows, looking over some papers as he ate. Lanal stalked towards him like a cat, slipping into a chair across from him with barely a noise. Tiran jumped in surprise when he looked up and saw Lanal sitting there.

        “W-What in blazes are you doing here?!” he demanded. “What happened to the wagons?”

        Lanal adopted a weary expression. “We were attacked. The plan backfired, almost everyone was slaughtered. I barely escaped with my life.”

        Tiran looked as if he had been punched in the gut. So much had been riding on that plan, and for it to fail…

        “How?” he asked.

        Lanal lowered his voice. “You were right, there is a traitor. One bit of good news has come about from this though. I know who he is.”

        “Who?” Tiran demanded.

        Lanal looked about nervously. “We should not speak of this where we can be overheard so easily. Is there a more private place we could move to?”

        “I have a private booth in the back,” Tiran said as he rose. “Come.”

        “As you command, my lord,” Lanal said politely.


        Gilliam looked around in amazement as Alberto led him into the cluttered shop. He had thought his travels (and especially his dealings with the unpredictable wizard) had inured him to bizarre things, but he still found himself gawking like the artifacts that filled the place like a peasant at a stage magician’s tricks.

        It took several seconds for him to notice the old crone sitting at the counter. Her small, fragile figure was almost lost amid the chaotic array that surrounded her. Alberto was standing next to her, and the two were conversing in a low tone of voice. Gilliam, not wanting to leave Alberto unattended, hobbled over, his walking stick banging against the wooden floor. He gasped softly at the stabbing pain in his side, but he forced himself to ignore it. He had managed to march all the way here, and although he was turning a bit pale he hadn’t collapsed yet. The crone turned her surprisingly bright eyes towards him as he reached the counter and leaned against it for support.

        “So, you’re wanting old Meroe to look him over,” the sorceress said, enjoying the charade. “Well, come on in back, the light in here ain’t good enough for me old eyes.”

        Back bent, she hobbled over to the shelf behind her and triggered the hidden door. As a section of the wall slid open, she hobbled inside, muttering under her breath all the while. She paused for a moment to look back at them.

        “Come on, I’m not getting any younger!”

        Once he was inside, Gilliam was again stunned by the marvels haphazardly scattered across the room. He looked around the chamber in awe until a female voice, completely unlike the old crone’s, caught his attention.

        “Well, lie down!”

        He turned towards Meroe to see a beautiful young woman wearing an exotic dress standing in her place.

        Before he could ask the obvious question, she pushed the gaping Gilliam towards a mat by the wall.

        “Lie down,” she insisted, nearly shoving the startled Gilliam onto his back. She was much stronger then her small build would have suggested. Once he sat down, she tapped her foot impatiently.

        “Shirt off.”

        Gilliam, embarrassed to undress in front of the strange young woman, reluctantly complied. Forcing him flat on his back, Meroe crouched beside him and examined him intently.

        Carefully, she peeled off the makeshift bandages. Blood had seeped into the material, and they stuck to his body, but she managed to remove them without reopening the wounds.

        After about a minute of examination, she looked up to Alberto.

        “I can fix him.”

        She turned back to Gilliam.

        “This is going to sting a bit.”

        “What’s going to sting a…”

        As he spoke, Meroe slid her hands across his arm and side, coming to a rest atop his injuries. He started to blush, but his response was cut off as he heard her chanting.

        “What are you…? Aiiieeee!”

        A shriek of pain erupted from Gilliam’s throat, cutting off his question. An electric surge of energy shot through his body, sending pain jolting through every nerve. He arched his back in agony as waves of the energy pulsed through his body, screaming like a prisoner on a torture rack.

        An eternity later, it stopped. He collapsed, gasping in relief. Meroe rose and turned to Alberto.

        “He should be alright. The wounds are completely healed; they shouldn’t give him any more trouble.”

        Alberto looked at Gilliam.

        “He looks half-dead,” he observed with some authority.

        Meroe shrugged sprightly.

        “He’ll get over it.”

        Alberto thought about it, then shrugged as well.

        “So, what do I owe you?”

        Meroe shook her head.

        “I still owe you for the eggs, let’s call it even.”

        Alberto nodded thankfully.

        “Can I move him yet?”

        “You should probably give him a few more minutes. So, what happened to him?”

        Alberto related the story of the bandit ambush, including his duel with Chell. Meroe listened intently, her eyes going wide at some points. When Alberto finished, she exclaimed, “I knew that book was trouble!”

        A groan from Gilliam signaled that he was beginning to recover.

        “Time to go,” Alberto said. “People to kill.”

        Meroe nodded. “Come by once this is done, I want to hear how it turns out.” Giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, she sprang off.

        Alberto stood there in surprise for a moment, then picked up Gilliam. As the dizzy swordsman leaned on his shoulder for support, Alberto led him out, thinking about Meroe’s words. Maybe he would…


        Ellis caught Rosa’s arm as they entered the street that held “The Juravis’s Eggs,” where (she hoped) Tiran awaited.

        “Wait here,” she explained. “Watch the door in case I miss them.”

        Rosa hesitated for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. Walking to a bench across the street from the upscale restaurant, she took a seat, careful to keep her cloak draped over her sword.

        Taking a deep breath, Ellis walked purposely to the door. Unlike the last time she had come here, Ellis had not taken the time to try to dress as if she belonged, or to clean the trail dust from her clothes and body. Her trusty longbow was slung comfortably over her shoulder, and the familiar weight did wonders for her confidence.

        As she walked in, looking every inch the lower class adventurer that she was, Olan’s eyebrows shot up. Before he could shout for her to be removed from the premises, Ellis slid forward, crossing the distance between them in the blink of an eye. Throwing her arms out wide, she seized him in what appeared to be a fond embrace.

        Olan felt something sharp sting him in the crotch. He looked down to see that Ellis had a small dagger in her hand and pressed against his groin.

        “If you so much as glance at your thugs,” Ellis said in a low, pleasant voice, “I’ll cut your balls off. Understand?”

        Turning pale, Olan nodded.

        “Good,” Ellis said. “Now, is Tiran in?”

        “Y-Yes, in his private booth in the back.”

        “Wonderful. Now, you are going to show me there.”

        Ellis released Olan from her embrace and seized Olan’s left arm in a viselike grip in one deft movement. Repositioning the dagger against his ribs, she pressed against him to shield the weapon from view. To a causal onlooker, it would appear that Olan was being a gentleman and escorting her in. She prodded him none too gently. They walked in together.

        Several of the wealthy patrons looked at her sweat-stained traveler’s clothing and dirty face with surprise and contempt, but with Olan’s arm looped around her own no one objected. Once they reached Tiran’s booth, she looked him square in the eye before releasing him.

        “Remember, even if you call your guards, I will get you.”

        Ellis was surprised that the sound of Olan’s gulp didn’t draw the other patrons’ attention.

        Letting him go, she raised her hand, smiling mockingly. Fear and disgust warring in his eyes, Olan lifted it and kissed it. Spinning on his feet, he stormed off. Grinning, Ellis let him go and slipped into the curtained booth.


        Nervous fear shot through Lanal’s body as he saw Ellis enter the dining room. How had she known where to find him? Mentally, he cursed himself for the time he had wasted grooming himself and obtaining clean clothing rather then immediately taking care of the job.

        He had been stepping out of Tiran’s booth when she entered. Springing into action, he fell in step behind a passing waiter, letting the servant’s body hide him from Ellis’s line of sight. When the waiter began to turn, Lanal faked a stumble, falling into a crouch next to a table occupied by a wealthy merchant and his women. He apologized quietly, sheepishly blaming poorly made pair of new shoes. A few seconds later, Ellis walked by the other side of the table, less then six feet away from him. Breathing a silent sigh of relief, he watched her enter Tiran’s booth.

        Lanal smiled as an idea hit him. Standing, he adopted a shocked, horrified expression (made all the more believable by the fear Ellis’s unexpected appearance had inspired in him). Carefully keeping his cloak wrapped around his body, he waited until Olan moved away and then shouted loudly.

        “Murder! Master Tiran has been murdered!”


        Ellis began speaking as she entered Tiran’s booth, hoping she was not interrupting anything important.

        “I’m sorry to barge in unannounced, but I have important information…”

        Ellis stopped talking when she saw that Tiran was dead.

        It was a grisly sight. His throat had been slashed open, and blood had soaked his clothes and sprayed the table and the walls of the booth. Over a dozen stab wounds covered his torso, as if the killer’s rage had not been satisfied by the first, fatal wound. His dead eyes were still wide with horror, and a rag had been shoved into his mouth to prevent him from screaming.

        As the horrified Ellis took in the grisly scene, she heard Lanal’s shout.

        “Murder! Master Tiran has been murdered!”


        As they left Meroe’s shop, Gilliam shook of Alberto’s support and tried to walk on his own. He wobbled for a moment, but was able to gain his balance and remain upright. Matching Alberto’s pace, he gave the wizard a sidelong glance.

        “Who,” he asked, “was that?”

        Alberto shrugged. “Eh, a lady I did some business with, I’d only met her once.”

        Gilliam glared at his companion. “And you trusted her to heal me?” he asked incredulously, still remembering the agonizing pain of the experience.

        “You are healed, correct?” Alberto replied reasonably.

        He was right, Gilliam knew. His injuries had vanished without a trace, healed without leaving so much as a scar behind. He could move without a twinge of pain or stiffness. Realizing that he had no grounds to complain did little to improve Gilliam’s disposition, but he did drop the subject.

        As they approached the seedy inn where Hanlon and Katoi waited, Gilliam spotted something on the roof of the ramshackle building. A large figure covered head to toe with heavy metal armor and holding a long spear stood atop it. Even as Gilliam watched, it leapt a dozen feet and a full story to the next building.

        Gilliam had never seen the bandit leader before, but from the description his companions had given him he knew that this could only be Drake.

        Gilliam grabbed Alberto by the elbow and pointed the fast-moving dragoon out as he moved from building to building, then sprinted off after him. Alberto began to lag behind after several minutes, but the athletic Gilliam kept up the pace.

        The chase led from the slums where Gilliam had first spotted the dragoon to the clean streets and fashionable houses of one of the upper-class neighborhoods. This was the home of the lower rungs of polite society, populated by minor nobles and wealthy merchants.

        Gilliam was lucky enough avoid the constables that patrolled the area on the lookout for the peasant riffraff he resembled. Finally, Drake leapt the wall of one of the mansions, landing in the courtyard.

        Gilliam came to a halt as he tried to decide his next move, wondering how he could continue his pursuit. Something about the place nagged at him, something disturbingly familiar. He stared at the mansion, wondering what it was. Then it hit him, and his eyes widened with shock.

        He knew this place…


        Atris Saryas yawned as he leaned back in his comfortable chair, arms stretching. His stiff joints popped as he did so, drawing a grimace from the fifty-two year old man. Straightening, he gathered up the financial papers he had been reviewing and placed them back in their portfolio. He gulped the last of his cider (he never drank alcohol, an odd trait for a nobleman) and rose, his aged body sore from inactivity. He turned towards the door to the sitting room. It was almost time for his midday meal, and his coach would be arriving soon.

        “”We need to talk.”

        Atris whirled towards the door when he heard the menacing voice, instinctively falling into a fighting stance. His eyes darted to the sword hanging over the fireplace for a moment, then back to the intruder. He gasped as he saw Drake’s imposing form standing in the doorway.

        He quickly recovered his presence of mind.

        “What are you doing here?” he dared to snap. “If you are seen here, our arrangement…”

        “That is not my concern,” Drake said, cutting him off. “Our deal is over; find someone else to harass your rivals’ shipping.”

        Atris was stunned.

        “Why?” he asked, his voice calm again. “Our partnership has served us both well, you’re bandits have had easy pickings. What is the meaning of this?”

        “Circumstances have changed,” Drake explained flatly. “We met with unexpected resistance on our last outing. Our numbers are depleted, and our identities known. I have decided to cease operations for the time being.”

        Atris stroked his short white beard thoughtfully, then nodded.

        “I see. Am I implicated?”

        “No. There is no reason for anyone to suspect a connection between us.”

        That probably meant that Drake was not here to kill him, Atris realized.

        “Very well then,” Atris said. “When this blows over…”

        An explosion outside cut off the rest of Atris’ reply.


        Rosa perked up as she heard the shouting from within. She slid her hand under her cloak and around the hilt of her sword. As she watched, the bulky doormen left their post and went ran inside. She heard the clamor of tables being overturned and chairs smashed, the unmistakable sounds of a brawl.

        If that wasn’t a signal for her to act, nothing was.

        She dashed for the abandoned entrance, unsheathing her sword as she ran. A red-haired man in a green cloak came charging out, slamming into her at full tilt. She struggled to keep her balance, falling into a fighting stance in case the man attacked her. He bowed politely and apologized repeatedly, but Rosa ignored him and charged in.

        Lanal watched her go, then sheathed the dagger he had subtly drawn. Pulling his cloak around him, he ran off, unopposed.


        Ellis knew she was in trouble.

        She wondered how Lanal had managed to pull a fast one on her, then shook her head as she dismissed the wasted thought. Throwing her cloak back, she produced her bow and nocked an arrow. Catching a glimpse of Lanal as he fled, she sent a shaft after him. It missed him by inches, thudding into the heavy wooden door.

        The arrow had the effect of panicking most of the restaurant’s patrons. Demonstrating that nothing in the world runs as quickly as a frightened rich man, they stampeded out, overturning tables in their frenzied rush. The human tidal wave effectively cut Ellis off from Lanal’s escape route, making it impossible for her to follow. She grit her teeth in frustration.

        The mob also stymied the passage of the establishment’s bouncers, who were forced to shove their way against the frightened crowd. Ellis nocked another arrow, aiming at the bouncers. The unarmed men, who had been hired to deal with beggars and vagrants, turned and joined the fleeing customers.

        Within a few minutes the dining room was emptied and Rosa was able to make her way in. Ellis walked up to her and grabbed her by the shoulders.

        “A red-haired man in a green cloak just ran out. Did you stop him?”

        Rosa, realizing just who she had ran into, winced as she realized that she had let the assassin escape. Wordlessly, she shook her head.

        Her fists clenched so tightly around her bow that her knuckles turned white, Ellis trembled with impotent rage. Lanal had been so close, but once again he had gotten away. After a few seconds she looked up to Rosa.

        “Let’s get out of here,” she whispered.


        Gilliam’s guts froze into a chunk of ice as he realized where his chase had taken him. This was his family’s mansion. He had been born here, grown up here, and he had never expected to come here again.

        He stood there, spellbound, staring at the place until Alberto caught up with him, breaking the trance. As the wizard panted, Gilliam grabbed him by the shoulder and pointed at the painted brick wall around the house.

        “Blow that up.”

        Alberto never needed to hear that order twice. In less then a minute a section of the wall was blasted to rubble. Not even waiting for the stones to cool, Gilliam sprinted into the manor, leaving Alberto behind once more. He did not know why Drake had come here, but he mean to find out!

        Gilliam tore across the courtyard and into the mansion, nearly ripping the door off its hinges as he did. He ran through the house, head whipping back and forth as he strained for some sign of Drake’s whereabouts. He spotted Evans; the venerable man who had been his family’s head butler for longer then Gilliam had been alive. Gilliam ran to him and seized him by the lapels.

        “Where is my father?” he demanded, guessing that if anyone knew what was going on it would be him. Evans’ eyes went wide.

        “Master Gilliam, you’re alive! We heard reports…”

        Gilliam shook him roughly, having no time for explanations.

        “Where is he?” he asked forcefully.

        “Master Atris is in the sitting room, going over some documents,” the butler said obediently. Gilliam, remembering that the person he was manhandling had changed his diapers as a baby, released his grip. Looking away with shame, he dashed up the stairs to his father’s reading room.

        When he got there he almost kicked the door down before realizing that it was ajar. Atris and Drake both turned in surprise to regard the intruder, and it was a toss-up whether it was father or son who was more shocked.

        Gilliam’s eyes darted back and forth between the dragoon and his father. He took in their apparently friendly postures, and in one horrible moment everything clicked together in a sickening realization.

        “Father,” he said softly, “do you know this man?”

        “Son, I…”

        Drake watched the scene unfold with calculating eyes. He quickly realized that this must be one of the survivors of the merchant band. He had no idea how the man had tracked him here, but knew that he had to act quickly. Hefting his spear, Drake charged the distracted man. Stopping with his body turned sidewise to Gilliam, he twisted forward as he stabbed at him to add momentum to the thrust.

        Gilliam drew his sword by reflex, catching the spear in a parry near the weapon’s head. Drake forced the weapons down until they nearly scrapped the floor. Stepping forward, Drake smashed his booted foot onto Gilliam’s sword, snapping the weapon in half. As Gilliam stared at the broken blade in shock, Drake thrust in again. Gilliam twisted awkwardly, barely avoiding impalement. Drake swept his spear low, knocking Gilliam’s feet out from under him

        A war cry from behind drew Drake’s attention away from the helpless Gilliam. He spun to see Atris charging him. He had taken his sword off of the mantle and held it clasped between his aged hands. Atris darted forward in a fencing maneuver, trying to thrust the sword’s point into Drake’s throat. Drake spun his spear in a pinwheel, knocking the sword out of Atris’ hands. Reversing the spear’s momentum, Drake drove it through Atris’ ribs.

        The old man gasped, looking at his former ally in shock. He turned his gaze away from the terrible iron mask to see his son still alive and regaining his feet. He started to smile. Drake noticed the expression.

        “I will kill him as well,” he whispered. Atris’ eyes went wide with horror, then his body went limp. Drake ripped his spear free, sending blood spraying. He turned back to Gilliam, towering over the kneeling man. He raised his spear once more for the kill.

        Alberto charged in. Pointing his rod at Drake, he babbled an arcane chant. An azure blast of electricity erupted from the rod. Drake hurled himself to the side with less then a second to spare. The lightning blasted a hole clear through to the first floor. Drake, knowing better then to fight a wizard in such close quarters, crouched to jump. He caught Gilliam’s eyes.

        “So your friend saved you,” he spat. “Tell me, is it a blessing or a curse?”

        That said, he leapt, smashing through the room’s large window. Glass shards went flying everywhere, and with that, Drake was gone, leaving only suffering behind.


        Evans’ head jerked towards the upstairs room as he heard the commotion there. He stood at the foot of the stairs, mentally debating whether he should go up alone or fetch the house guards. Finally, he heard a heart-wrenching scream echo through the house. It was a scream of infinite sorrow.

        After several moments, it stopped. Collecting himself, Evans forced himself to start up the stairs. Before he went more then a few steps, the door flung open. Gilliam walked out, a naked sword clutched downwards in his right hand. Evans recognized it as the one that had sat on the wall Master Atris’ office.

        Gilliam’s face was unreadable as solid stone. His eyes were red, but dry. The hand that held the sword trembled slightly in repressed emotion. Evans started to ask what had happened, but before he could Gilliam met his eyes.

        “Call for a priest. My father is dead,” he said mechanically.

        Gilliam walked past him, heading for the door. Evans gathered his nerve.

        “Where are you going?”

        Gilliam stopped and turned to regard him, an animalistic rage distorting his features.

        “I’m going to kill the man that did it.”

        Gilliam walked out. No one tried to stop him.


        It was a silent group that met in the small room they had rented in the slums that evening. Gilliam simply sat there, mentally replaying the scene over and over, trying to find a way he would have changed it. Ellis seethed with anger over Lanal’s escape, and Rosa stood off to the side, ashamed of herself for allowing him to flee. Hanlon was silent, and Katoi seemed to recognize his captors’ desire for quiet. Even Alberto, sensing the atmosphere, had left, saying that he had business to attend to.

        Finally, Ellis spoke.

        “Rosa and I are now wanted for killing a nobleman.”

        Gilliam raised his head and looked at her.”

        “So am I.”

        After a long, uncomfortable silence, Rosa spoke.

        “What do we do now?”

        Gilliam rose, a dark fire in his eyes.

        “We go to their hideout. And we kill them.”

        He looked at the two women.

        “Any objections?”

        There were none.

Chapter 9

Donraj's Fanfiction