Carts and horses wound their way through the crowded streets of Rendarren, wheels clattered over cobblestones and people traipsed along discussing a multitude of things that were affecting their daily lives. Everywhere people mingled and shared their news, who was betrothed to whom and where they had bought that hat or scarf.
Illora was awed by the bustle of the crowd, never before had she been somewhere with so many people. The monastery and school had housed several hundred but nothing even close to the masses which thronged around her. As well as the immediate commotion she could hear the sound of market stall owners touting their wares further off into the city. She kept her hand clamped down over the pack which swung over her shoulder to her thigh. There wasn’t much in it worth stealing but a robber wouldn’t know that until they got it away from her and checked through the contents. Mostly the sack held herbs which she had identified and picked on the road to the city.She still wasn’t sure yet exactly what she was going to do now that she was out of the Monastery. She had several skills but as yet she wasn’t sure how to go about using them. It had been a hard judgement by the old masters to have her banished and the injustice of it still churned inside her. Despite the fact that Raynard had attacked her and been killed by his own weapons she was still responsible for the blow which ended his life. The only thing that had saved her from a death sentence was the accidental nature of the death. Maybe she could simply wander for a while, see the world and its landmarks, trade for shelter using and just generally explore. If she found somewhere where she was comfortable enough to settle down then she would stay but if not then she would gain knowledge through travelling. Slowly she moved to the edge of the massive crowd which forced its way down the street. Whilst small groups loitered near the fronts of shops a vast majority of people travelled using the centre of the road. Only taking the edge if the way forwards were blocked.
For a while the eelim rested against the wall of a nearby building, the smell of something cooking nearby stirring her stomach and making her aware of how hungry she was. She had captured a rabbit a few days back and roasted it. The food had run out last evening and she now found herself at nearly midday with an empty stomach. For a while she considered rejoining the press, surely that would be the quickest way to find the market and sell her herbs. The thought of returning to the packed crowd didn’t appeal to her however so she slowly wandered down the edges of the street.
Up ahead she could see a small group of lads stood outside of a shop named `The Bubbling Cauldron’. The hanging sign advertised magical remedies and alchemical items and as the young woman moved closer to the door, she watched two of the boys split from their friends and go into the shop. The two left outside looked around carefully and the wary expressions on their faces were enough to make Illora stop in her tracks. She could see from here that one of the boys waiting outside was quite heavily built and was nearing manhood if he had not already passed into it. Not noticing the eelim watching, the elder of the two nodded and they both slipped into the shop, following their colleagues.
Illora was unsure of how to proceed the gang was obviously up to no good. The look in their eyes had told her that much. You didn’t need to be a genius to recognise that they were watching for people who might hinder whatever they were about to attempt before deciding the coast was as clear as it was likely to get. Whoever owned the shop was about to be in real trouble and that knowledge alone was enough to make her decide to intervene. Her pace increased in beat with her heartrate, moving swiftly to reach the door of the shop and step through into the building. As she entered she could clearly see the first two boys talking to a young eelim woman like herself. She was tall with short cut black hair. A black mages robe draped over her shoulders. Her attention was completely taken by the boys at the counter. The other two boys were stood by the shelf nearer to the door and as she entered Illora saw one of them, a tall slim boy with brown curls, tuck something inside his long robes.
She cleared her throat loudly so that all of those present looked up. Even the woman at the counter glanced in her direction.
“Okay boys, put it back and then I think you should leave. I’m sure that this young woman doesn’t want the kind of business you are conducting.”
The eelim at the counter looked confused for a moment before her face settled into a scowl.
“Thieving rats, should have known that you wouldn’t be old enough to know how Wendil root is used.”
The boys scowled. The curly haired one had the good grace to look embarrassed and appeared to be about to return the stolen goods before his friend gripped his sleeve and spat on the floor at Illora’s feet.
“And what are you likely to do about it stringer? The ways I see it we have you both outnumbered two to one and neither of you is armed.”
At that he reached to his belt and pulled out a wicked looking short sword. The two boys at the counter drew daggers and turned to face the store owner.
“No spells witch or I’ll make sure your lady friend here ends up as the finest cuts on the palace table.”
He tilted his head to one side and spoke to his followers. “Get what you can guys; the best stuff will be behind the desk. Tie up the witch and then get over here for this other stringer. We’ll have more time to make a getaway with them out of the picture. Karl, pull the bolt on the door and change the sign to closed. We don’t want any disturbances.”
One of the boys by the counter moved across the room and fixed the door. Illora glanced over at the shopkeeper, who was watching her intently. She was weighing up the chances of her customer getting killed if she tried to cast. Imagining what the young woman was seeing it was unsurprising when she found the odds unfavourable and dropped her head. Illora knew that she appeared as a tall gangly looking woman even by eelim standards, her frame was like wire and the loose fitting clothes of the monastery hung from her limbs whilst her sever haircut made her head seem disproportionately long. The shopkeeper held perfectly still as the second boy from the counter wrapped a length of rope he had gathered from one of the shelves around her. He pulled it tight and made the young mage gasp as the cord squeezed her ribs.
The curly haired one stepped up behind the leader and started talking quietly. Illora’s keen ears picked up every last word that the boy said.
“Don’t you think we should just bolt Tag? They already know our faces, and Karl’s name. We should cut our losses, leave ‘em tied up and get outta here. If we don’t take nothin’ maybe they won’t even report it.”
Without taking his eyes from the captive at the end of his sword Tag reached behind him and grabbed the skinny boy by the front of the tunic.
“If you keep reminding me that you got no stones Clig I’m liable to kick you outta the gang. Now shut up and get on with the cacking job.”
With that he hurled the young man away, and into a set of shelving nearby where he knocked a collection of vials and amulets across the floor.
“Still you do have a point, these stringers will rat us to the guard as soon as we’re clear of here. Seems we’ll have to make sure they don’t conv to anyone. Grim, soften that one up. Don’t kill her though, that’s gonna be Clig’s job. I’m fed up with his whining. He’s either in or out! If he’s out, blade ‘im.”
Clig started to whimper as Karl dragged him to his feet, hauling him over to the counter just as the one who had tied up the shopkeeper, Grim, grabbed the young woman by the back of the neck and hurled her across the desk and onto the floor. She cried out, unable to brace herself against the impact thanks to her binds. She coughed as the air was blasted from her lungs by a swift kick from Karl. He followed up by spitting on her.
“I cacking hate eelim, always wheedling their way inta human places.” He kicked her again, this time catching her in the face.
Illora tried to keep her eyes on Tag, starting to get desperate that he would drop his guard slightly. She didn’t know how proficient he was with the blade in his hand and didn’t want to risk getting herself run through if it turned out he was as in tune with his weapon as she was her own abilities. It didn’t take long before she got her chance. Tag looked over his shoulder for the briefest second as the Woman behind the counter started to sob and cough in pain.
As the leader’s eyes flicked back to her, she span around and whipped her left wrist into the flat of the weapons blade, forcing it wide and stepping inside the young man’s guard. For a moment he looked shocked before a look of anger passed onto his features. He didn’t have a chance to put the anger to good use as the combat master brought her knee up and clattered it into his jaw. His head snapped back and he fought to regain his balance as his teeth spiralled through the air. The monk didn’t give him the chance, pushing her attack. Gripping his left shoulder with the hand which wasn’t blocking the blade spun him so that his back was to her. He was hers now and she used the opportunity to make sure that he was out of the fight for good. She gripped the wrist of his hand which still held the short sword and wrenched it up behind him. The rest of the gang had turned to look at her now and seemed in complete shock that their leader was being beaten. During training in the monastery the opponent had always been told to submit once the pain was too great, but this wasn’t training and her opponents weren’t honourable enough to keep their words of surrender. She pulled up hard, a heavy pop sounding around the room as his shoulder dislocated. He screamed briefly before Illora pressed her knuckles into the pressure point below his jaw, he passed out almost instantly and collapsed onto the floor.
Grim and Karl stood ready, watching her with their daggers pointed. Both were a deathly shade of white, paralysed to the spot with fear. Clig drew back and pressed himself against the counter, wanting to get further away but unwilling to risk getting closer to this close combat monster which stood amongst them.
Karl lost his nerve first, screaming a battle cry and charging the eelim. Terror plain on his face, Illora sidestepped his charge and spun her leg around, catching him a savage kick to the ribs and pushing him away even as he tried to adjust the swing of his blade to cut her. He would have caught his balance if he had not met the unconscious form of Tag. Instead his legs went from under him and he crashed face first into the shelving unit which the boys had been stealing from earlier. For a while he lay on the floor moaning before finally going quiet and letting unconsciousness sweep over him.
It was Clig who warned the monk of the danger. Screaming “watch out” before she remembered that she had been fighting two opponents. The knife blade came down from a high overhead swing and would have cut straight through her defences if a wooden staff hadn’t intercepted it inches from her face. For a brief moment she looked around and noticed that the spell caster was lying facing her, a smile evident on her battered face as her fingers twitched down by her side. Illora didn’t miss the opportunity, moving low and sweeping her opponents legs out from under him before he could dislodge his weapon. He tumbled sideways but arrested his fall with his arm before he could take any more damage. The eelim had no intentions of letting him recover to a better footing and crashed a heel into the space between his shoulder blades. The young man’s arms collapsed and Illora helped him on his way by making sure that her other heel connected with the back of his head moments after the first took out his strength. Grim’s forehead hit and bounced from the hard tiled floor and the brutal robber was still.
The store was silent for a moment before the monk twisted and launched herself back onto her feet. Clig stood by the counter, the short sword in his hand and the shop assistant held with the blade across her throat. A look of pure fear boiled through his eyes, desperation embodied.
“D..d...don’t take another step...o..o..or I swear I’ll kill her.”
Illora held up her hands and turned on her calm placating voice. Gone was the deep authorative teaching tone which she had tapped into upon entering the shop. She needed a way of bringing the boy back from the brink.
“You don’t want to do that Clig; if you wanted anyone to die here today you wouldn’t have warned me about the one behind me. Besides, then you’ll be doing exactly what Tag wanted you to do. Do you want to become someone like him? Because look where those kind of people end up.”
The curly haired youth glanced around the room at his would be accomplices passed out all around the room. He shook his head.
“I don’t want to go to jail. They forced me to come along and now I’ll be for the lock up for certain.”
The young woman he held captive sighed.
“As far as I can see child you have broken no laws. You are still in the property so you have not stolen. You have yet to attack myself or the lady who has so graciously helped capture these thugs. In fact you were attacked by the gang leader yourself when you argued against lawlessness. Couple that with the fact that you warned our friend ...”
“Our friend Illora that she was about to be attacked and I can’t see how we could fail to convince the guards that you are one of the good guys.”
Clig blinked for a moment and seemed to be weighing up his options. His eyes darted rapidly from the weapon to Illora and back. He seemed to tense and the weapon moved across the eelim’s chest. Illora started forwards, cursing that she hadn’t tried to take the young one down sooner. She reached his side and drew her arm back for a backhand swipe as the sound of rope hitting the floor sounded loudly in the quiet building. The shopkeeper sighed and bent over, rubbing her arms where they were bruising from the tight binding.
“Do me a favour lad, go and find a green bottle on the shelf over there. It should have a blue liquid in it, bring it over to me won’t you?”
Clig looked up and was shocked to see the warrior so close. In panic he dropped the weapon to the floor and tried to move away. She lowered her arm from her halted strike and nodded to the young boy who seemed to visibly relax at the gesture and moved to find the potion his former captive had mentioned.
The young monk knelt down beside the shop assistant and tilted her head so that she could get a clearer look at the damage. Already the wounds had started to swell and it would be an ugly patch of bruising come the morrow.
“You have my thanks sister Illora. Without your presence here these scum would have undoubtedly killed me. “
Illora smiled and sighed slightly.
“If I had not interfered you would have been robbed at worse. I should have stayed out of it and you wouldn’t have been so abused.”
Clig took this moment to reappear with a green bottle. He had already deposited all of the items which had still been inside his coat pockets on the sideboard before returning.
The owner tried to laugh but it came out as a hacking cough in her throat. She took the proffered bottle from the boy who took a step back once again. In a single sweep she tipped the entire contents of the container down her throat, swallowing it in great draughts until nothing remained.
The magic was almost instant and even before the mage could finish grimacing at the foul taste of the liquid, she was recovering. Illora could hear the sound of ribs cracking back into place and the swelling was already fading. With a gasp of breath, she sat up straight and a smile passed over her thin lips.
“Much better, tastes foul but it’s better than having blood in your mouth. “
Illora helped the young woman to her feet and checked over the wounds on her face. Already they were completely indistinguishable against her fair skin.
She got to her feet and turned to the young boy who still stood a little way off, watching fearfully to see whether the two eelim women would keep their word.
“Boy, if you want to strengthen your claim as a good citizen you could help by running along and finding a Caper. You don’t have to come back here if you don’t want, just make sure you tell a militia man and I’ll be happy. If you do come back I might have something which will interest you, it’s your choice though.”
Clig nodded and took his cue to make himself scarce, struggling with the door lock for a moment before he slid it back and bolted into the street.
The spell caster glanced around at the destruction all around her before looking back to the monk.
“Well Illora is there something I can get you? The store has seen better days but I’m sure that we still have enough stock for whatever you might need with a big discount of course. How can I help?”
“Nailo. Sorry where are my manners? Nailo Chaila at your service.”
“Miss Nailo. I was actually in town to sell.”
She showed the herbs she had gathered and between the two of them they quickly came to an understanding that whilst she was wandering the wilderness she would keep a weather eye for herbs which the spell caster might use for potions. Whilst she was in the city Nailo would provide her with free room and board as long as she helped run errands and would be able to act as security in case more toe rags tried to rob the place. They had just settled for a glass of Champa when there was a sharp rap on the door and a man and woman in the uniform of the militia stepped through. Both held a weapon ready and looked around the scene in disbelief.
“What in the hells happened here?”
It would be late at night before the officers would finally finish with their questions and the now conscious robbers were escorted away to the jail house. Illora had arrived in Rendarren and had already started to make a name for herself.