On to part 2 of Pariah Company Le Reject Version. If everything works out and I’m not lazy the real version might come out in Q3 2018. I like to take my time.
Here there be dragons. It had been the first thing the ship’s captain had told him the moment they sighted land. More so than any place in the world, Western Europe had been chosen by the Great Dragons as their favorite home for more than a thousand years and counting. Wherever they went, the landscape changed. Misty mountains, swooping meadows, castles in the mountains long abandoned and now nesting places for wild wyverns. It truly was a strange land of mystic opportunities and possibilities far from which Achilleos had ever dreamed of one day seeing.
He shouldered his sack from the right to the left shoulder as he walked through the forests that still marked the majority of Germania as they had in the days he had last been here. He took a deep breath. Gone was the salt of the sea, the odor of North Africa, the dry heat of Arabia, not to mention the one-thousand-and-one corns of sand still somehow stuck between his toes over nine-hundred leagues from the sands of Arabia Felix. It would do for now.
Achilleos started whistling just then. An old tune learned by heart many hundred years ago. It was the song his mother sung to him of his father, the great explorer, who never returned, a song of love and sorrow that seemed to fit the general mood of this great forest. The road was well traveled, laid out with stone no less, with wagons passing him by left and right, forcing him to dance in between, bringing to mind memories of the great feasts and dances of the Orient. Promptly he stepped off the beaten path, making his way in the undergrowth. The ground was slowly but steadily rising, coming up against the high mountain in the distance on which fate urged him to climb for which he might see the entire region and orient himself properly. He had, somewhat, missed his turn. Reorienting himself would solve this problem right then and there. His sharp eye even saw a small castle high up. It would make for a fine observation post, maybe a way to rest for the night. His walk crouched as the incline got stepper. His tune changed, becoming the call of the adventurer, a strange music played on bongos by the people of China in his honor but fifty years ago. It seemed fitting. His whistling grew louder until the birds in the trees returned his call, making the entire area fill with music.
“Quiet there, you stupid idiot,” a voice hissed suddenly.
Achilleos looked around. The voices of the birds were quickly dying down. Nothing was around him. Could the birds in this region talk? It might be so because of the proximity of Great Dragons and their fascinating magic. He shrugged his shoulders and looked back to his climb, now rising with the need of his bare hands grabbing upon granite as brown earth and trees slowly disappeared behind him. Again he started whistling.
Again came the strange voice: “Keep your fucking hole shut, do you want to get us all killed?!”
Achilleos looked around once again. It had definitely not been an imaginary voice. But he still couldn’t see anyone. He climbed up again, near a pass that wound around the mountain, allowing access to the castle. He could have taken that of course, but he needed some upper body exercise. Bronze muscles sculpted by the finest training the world had to offer had to be maintained or it would bring shame on two millenia of hard work and dedication. As he placed his first foot on the path, rising to stand straight for the first time in twenty minutes of free climbing, someone grabbed him by the shoulder as he was already starting another song, roughly shoving him against the wall with a strength Achilleos, champion of the Gods of Old, found surprising.
“Not one more tone of you, man-bear.”
He stared into the muzzle of a firestick. No, musket they called it in these regions. He had seen them pop up here and there lately over the last two centuries. The mortals were funny creatures. Still, he had no idea if they could harm him, so he quieted down for the moment, if only to be polite. “Greetings, fellow traveler.”
It was a man wearing peculiar robes of green and black, with a small cloak draped over one shoulder, a sword on the side, a small fire stick on his hip, a long one in the hands, currently pointed straight at his magnificent nose. Achilleos’ face lit up, showing his teeth as pearly white as the day he left his island so many years before. “I’m sorry my music disturbed you. I assure you, there are others I have, if they were not to your liking.”
They shushed him again, the tall one pulling back the hammer. “Quiet. Do you want to get us both killed? What is wrong with you, ogre?”
“My name is Achilleos, friend, not ogre,” Achilleos offered nicely and in a hushed tone as to please the man. While he had been taught to be courteous at all times, the had learned the hard way to be much more so when faced with the possibility of death, as unlikely as it was for one of his standing, of course. But what were manners if none paid any attention to them?
The firestick was now lowered, the hammer slowly pushed down in its resting position. The strange man rolled his eyes and rubbed his stubbled chin. It was graying as much as the hair on his head, reminding him of the offers of a spice merchant he had known in far off Mosul. “You’re not from this region, are you, stranger?”
“Indeed, I am not, friend Greybeard,” Achilleos answered in the quietest whisper his booming organ could muster. “I am Achilleos, nephew to Achilles, son of…”
“Yeah, how you’re doing, save your breath, air’s getting thin in these parts,” the older stranger said, peering up the side of the mountain, taking a knee and going for his water bottle.
“Are you going up to the castle? Mayhaps we climb together, keep company. The way is rocky and dangerous for a man your age,” Achilleos offered kindly and went for his own bottle, of course containing wine picked up from the best wine merchant in Venice where he had returned to the continent of his birth some few months ago.
The stranger raised an eyebrow, giving him the impression of not addressing a great hero but a small child or female. “Either the devil’s talking out of you, or you are a just the most naive giant I have ever met. Can’t you hear them?” He thumbed in the general direction of the castle still fifty meters straight up.
Achilleos closed his eyes and relied solely on his ears. He filtered out the howling of the wind, the cold freshness of the air it was bringing, when just then he was hearing screeching, the flapping of wings. “I do. What are those?”
The man looked at him again as one only looked at a foreigner. “You really aren’t from around here.”
“Last I traveled these regions some fifteen-hundred years ago as I joined my friend Arminius in his glorious mission. I got lost though and arrived late,” he admitted, “It happens sometimes. But pray tell, wise old stranger, what are these?”
“Wyverns,” the grey-haired stranger said with dread in his voice. He paused for dramatic effect. Sadly though, Achilleos was unaware of that word. The man rolled his eyes once more. “Flying rodents? Fireball? Acid spit? Two wings, about yay high?” He pointed two heads above his feathery cap.
“Do you mean flying serpents?” Achilleos thought he could picture them now, the adorable serpents cruising through the air in the land of China. They had been tasty, especially with rice and a thick broth of vegetables. One alone had been able to keep him fed for an entire day.
“Yeah, whatever,” the man said, still hushing his voice, “they’ve become a real pain in these parts. You know how it is. People breed them like crazy, buy them for their households to guard and provide warmth in the long nights of winter, but they become too big on the wrong diet and eventually they run off, go into heat, and then you end up with villages needing help. But hey, it’s how I make my money.” He suddenly stopped himself, unable to take his face off of Achilleos. “Why am I telling you all this?”
“I have been told that I possess a face of great trustworthiness,” Achilleos said, putting a strand of his loose black locks back behind his ear, his muscles gleaming with sweat in the evening sun. “So do you need to rid yourself of these wyverns?”
The man nodded. “Yes, I have a handful of bombs with me, filled with knockout gas, mainly cat piss. For some reason wyverns can’t stand that smell. So I’ll have to get going before nightfall and before the wind changes.”
“Do you need them alive?”
“What? No, they’ve gone feral, they’re no use to anyone anymore,” the stranger answered, still weirded out. Then he walked off, quickly up the path with a grace that belied his age. He pulled his sword out from his belt. A silver blade. Achilleos was impressed, as he had not seen one of this kind in a long time. Maybe the old stranger was more than he seemed at first. “Wait here, you have no idea how to handle them.”
As the strange man walked off, Achilleos squatted down, drinking some more wine from his skin, watching the beautiful sunset. He remained so for five minutes, enchanted by the beautiful sight, before hearing screams in the distance, way atop of him. High-pitched screeches, the slashing of metal hitting rock, a couple of loud explosions ringing out. A man’s scream. Achilleos quickly stored his wine skin, looked up the hill to the castle above. He spit in his hands, squatted down, tensed up, then jumped as high as he could, his hands going deep into stone, as he pulled himself up as quickly as he could. The time for sightseeing was, alas, over.
He threw himself over the palisade and saw the stranger behind a big rock on the far side of the decrepit castle, the carcasses of the foreign – but deliciously looking – reptiles laying on the ground, a good dozen, but there was another one, a big one, still alive. It was wounded, red blood dripping from a big gash, but it spew fire ball after fire ball at the man, currently reloading his fire stick while trying to desperately put out his burning sleeve. Achilleos smiled. This would be marvelous fun. He threw a pebble at the creature, which hissed and turned within half a second. He lunged at it without thinking twice. “Have at thee!”
He lunged at the beast’s throat, his right arm muscle tensing, landing a blow to the creature’s head. He was surprised what it had fed upon to be twice the size of the other reptiles, a wingspan wider than a galleon. “Die, foul beast!” He punched again, leveraging his grip to throw himself into the air, going for the small dagger of meteorite steel he kept in near his manhood – for protection. It landed straight in the beast’s left eye, blinding it and causing it to scream in an agonizing whimper.
“Get out of the way!” It was the stranger again, having reloaded his firestick, he stepped out of his cover, the hammer cocked back.
“Fire away, friend!” Achilleos leaped into the air again, flying in a arch towards the stranger, just as he let loose his firestick, which exploded in a large puff of smoke. He landed on his feet just as the projectile reached the wyvern, causing it to explode in a large gaseous explosion, not unlike a fireworks display. The quickly stepped in between the stranger and the fire ball lashing out. He remained so for two seconds, then quickly rolled himself on the sand of the castle floor to douse the flames. It was his only tunic after all, even if his skin could hardly be bruised. He laughed out in utter delight. “That was marvelous, friend stranger! I am impressed by your cunningness!”
“Yeah, you weren’t bad yourself,” the stranger said, sinking to his knees, his hands trembling as the fire of the fight left him within an instance. “Fuck me, that was close. 12mm silver bullets though… always do the trick in the end” The grey bearded man clenched his fist, then reached out to Achilleos, giving it in friendship. The Greek hero accepted it with gratitude. “Thank you for your help.”
“You are most welcome, friend Greybeard. Pray, tell me your name so that we may feast and drink and be merry together tonight for we slew mighty beasts!”
“The name’s Charles Alberic.”
That night they drank Achilleos’ wine and Greybeard showed him how to roast Wyvern safely, and they feasted upon it, drinking, eating, and singing songs and telling stories throughout the night. When morning came they made their way to the bottom of the hill, a teeth of the biggest wyvern removed to prove to the villagers down below the wonderful heroic deed they had accomplished.
Achilleos waited in the town square, telling the story of their task in heroic verse, entertaining the young children and womenfolk as life returned to the village, trade resuming as if no time had passed. It was an hour before Greybeard emerged from the house belonging to the village elder, which also served as what they called a Pigeon Express’ with massive pigeons taking off in record time. Achilleos wondered how they might taste.
“Here, you earned it,” Greybeard said, handing his comrade in arms a small sack of money. Local currency was always appreciated, but Greybeard was barely looking at him as he counted Achilleos’ gratitude for his generosity and insistence on buying rounds of ale or wine. Greybeard was too busy reading a letter, his face darkening by the second. He finally put the note in his jacket’s pocket, re-shouldering his pack. Barely, just under his breath, Achilleos could hear him mumble: “Oh Philippa, what have you gotten yourself into this time…” He looked up apologetically. “I’m sorry, Achilleos. Something came up. I’m afraid our ways part here .” He reached out his hand in friendship again.
“Friend Greybeard, you are truly a joy to be around. I am a hero looking for a purpose right this moment. These lands are strange to me. Let me join you.” He offered both hands himself.
Greybeard raised an eyebrow, looked him over again, his eyes drifting towards the pocket in which the note rested. “Done.” He grasped both hands.
They remained like this for but a few seconds before Greybeard pointed towards a stable. “We’ll need horses and provisions and then we ride. I have to see a friend about a shapeshifter.”
Achilleos clapped his hands in excitement. “Lead on, friend Greybeard. Onwards! To adventure!”
“Yeah, adventure… I hope you like the traffic this time of year on the King’s Trail. Including the nine leagues ahead of us till we reach our destination.”