Midnight Riders

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Dana and Jayden's adventures continue, with the return of a character from the short story Idiot's Graveyard.

Submitted: February 14, 2020

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Submitted: February 14, 2020

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“Are they gone yet?” Dana asked.

Jayden glanced out the barn’s only window.“If anything, there are even more soldiers than before.”

The barn had seemed a good place to spend the night.Dry, clean, empty after its animals had been confiscated to feed the army, it had been the perfect home for a wanted criminal and his, sidekick? Partner?Dana wasn’t sure exactly how she was supposed to describe herself after following Jayden for over a year.Maybe follower worked, but that made it sound like he was her master, and that really didn’t describe their relationship.

Morning found their campsite a prison when they woke to hundreds of soldiers marching down the road.The men stopped by the farm to refill their canteens at a well.The farmer watched them, more bored than scared, as he had nothing left they could take.Soldiers marched down the road, only to be replaced by still more soldiers.

“Where are they going?” Dana asked.The barn was far enough from the road that the soldiers wouldn’t hear her unless she shouted.

“Zentrix,” Jayden said.He still wore heavy winter clothes over his black and silver uniform, and was busy studying one of the spell tablets she’d found for him.“I fear Lootmore and his people are going to face the worst of the king and queen’s fury this summer.”

“Do you think they’re ready for it?”

“No.They will fight competently and courageously, and they will fall in spite of their valor. They lack the manpower to match the forces against them.”

He set the granite spell tablet aside and got up to stretch his arms.“For that to happen there has to be a battle, and I aim to prevent it.There is an old saying that amateurs study tactics and professionals study logistics. Food, medicine, draft animals, tents, warm clothes, these are essential to an army’s survival just as much as armor and weapons.Too many commanders ignore the essentials of life, assuming they can seize what they need from conquered territory.”

Jayden turned to her and waved in the direction of the soldiers.“If they run out of food weeks before the fighting starts, if they don’t have horses and oxen to pull their wagons, if medicine for common illnesses all armies face doesn’t arrive, they fail before the first sword is drawn.That’s one of the reasons we’ve come here.”

Curious, she asked, “What’s the other reason?”

“In the past, you’ve pointed out that I would have an easier time defeating the plans of the king and queen if I had more help.I can’t deny the point, especially after all you’ve done for me, but finding men willing and able to assist me is no easy task.Few would take on an army, even snapping at one’s heels as we are, and fewer still for the paltry rewards that have come our way.”

Dana put her hands on her hips.“Paltry?We’ve both got magic swords.”

Jayden chuckled.“You have no idea how much fighting men charge.Even the magic and riches we have secured would not be enough to interest most capable warriors, nor keep them long if they did come.Thanks to Clevner, I have a lead on men either bold or desperate enough to work with us.”

“Clevner wasn’t exactly the trustworthy type.He might have recommended someone as dirty as he is.”

“You make a fair point, for the men we seek could easily be enemies.Clevner spoke of a group called the Midnight Riders. Details on them are sketchy, but tales tell of a large body of horsemen dressed in black who attack army storehouses, seizing fortunes in goods before disappearing into the night.They say nothing as they load their packs and saddlebags with food, oil, candles and other goods.They only attack unguarded targets and inflict only minor injuries on the men watching the storehouses.”

“It sounds like Lootmore’s doing,” Dana said.Then she frowned.“Wait, he doesn’t have that many men, and the last time we saw him he was stealing armor. Food and candles aren’t important enough for him.”

“I thought the same thing myself.Still, they’re not your run of the mill thieves or bandits, either, or else they would rob less risky targets such as farmhouses.I believe they are either foreign agents or revolutionaries. I wish to meet them and judge the quality of their character.If they are worthy men, there is the possibility of an alliance.If they are villains and rogues, I need to stop them before they hurt people I actually like.”

Jayden looked out the window and scowled.“We aren’t far from the last reported attack by the Midnight Riders, but with so many soldiers outside we might as well be on the moon.Even looking at them disgusts me.So many following orders with unthinking obedience, attacking a nation we’ve never been at war with and have no reason to fight. I wonder what excuses they use to justify bringing horror and suffering to a neighboring land.”

Jayden’s expression changed from disgust to curiosity, and he waved for Dana to join him at the window.“Our mission is more dire than I’d feared.Look.”

Dana came over and peered out the window to see armored men carrying bright banners coming up the road.There were only a few dozen of them, but soldiers pointed and stared, some even calling out to their officers.

“I’ve never seen soldiers or mercenaries like them before,” Dana said.

“They’re neither one nor the other.Cimmox the necromancer claimed the king and queen had cast a wide net for allies, gathering up the despicable and vulgar from other lands.I see he told the truth.Those banners proclaim these men to be gladiators from Battle Island. Gladiators kill daily for pay, and they are skilled and brutal in equal measure.”

“At least there aren’t many of them.”

“That handful is worth five times their number in ordinary soldiers.If they get their hands on magic weapons and armor, they’d be worth ten times as many.Pray the king and queen are too distrustful or stingy to properly arm them.”

Army officers met the gladiators and showed them which road to take.The gladiators showed little obedience and no respect in return, but they marched on with the rest of the army.Jayden and Dana watched for three hours until the soldiers were gone.

“We must assume the rest of Cimmox’s claims were not idle boasting,” Jayden told her.“That makes every hour wasted a serious loss.We must find the Midnight Riders before they are killed or leave for safer hunting grounds.”

Dana and Jayden left the barn and kept to backways and cow paths far from any major road.This slowed them down since such routes were rarely straight and never properly maintained, but they were safe from discovery by soldiers and mercenaries. They traveled through pastures and forests, rarely seeing people.

Two days traveling brought them to a small city not far from the border with Zentrix.From a distance the city looked peaceful enough, its buildings in good repair and the citizens well dresses and healthy.A river ran along the south side of the city and had considerable boat traffic.Dana spotted soldiers, but not nearly as many as she’d expected.

“Welcome to Trenton Town, so named for its founder, Erving Trenton,” Jayden declared.

Dana saw people enter and leave the city unchallenged.“Where are all the guards?”

“They were likely absorbed into the army when it passed through,” Jayden replied. “Only a minimal force was left behind to maintain order.I am sorely tempted to work mischief here, but finding the Midnight Riders takes precedence.”

“How do we find these guys when the authorities can’t?” Dana asked.“I don’t think your magic detection spell is going to help, because it sounds like they don’t use magic.”

“Given their success rate they might, but it’s more likely they’re simply careful planners.Finding them won’t be easy.My intensions are to question the locals.Buying a few rounds of drinks does wonders to improve men’s moods.If I’m right, someone in this city knows who the Midnight Riders are and where to find them.”

Dana gave him a disbelieving look.“You’re a wanted criminal.Who’s going to drink with you?”

“I’ve found a shocking number of people are happy to do so.The king and queen have gone to considerable lengths to upset their subjects in most provinces and cities.High taxes, confiscating goods and conscripting citizens into the army doesn’t make friends.We just have to be careful about which bars to patronize.”

“You have contacts who either like you or are terrified of you in some of the places we visit,” Dana pointed out.“Is there anyone here who could help us?”

“Not this time.I was here years ago and made friends with a family of blacksmiths.I helped them escape the kingdom when the king and queen ordered them brought to Armorston and put to work producing weapons.With their departure there is no one here I know and trust.”

Unlike some cities they’d visited, Trenton Town lacked a city wall, and they were able to enter the outskirts of the city without drawing much attention. Jayden still wore his winter cloak over his black and silver clothes, including a hood over his messy hair. This meant the few people to pay them any attention gave at most a passing glance.

“Getting kind of warm for clothes that thick,” an older man said to Jayden.

“If you have summer weight clothes to spare or money to buy them, I would be most appreciative,” Jayden replied.

The old man chuckled.“I have no surplus of clothes or coins, and no hope of that changing.Sympathy is all I can share with you.Stranger, a word of warning.”

Jayden stopped.“Yes?”

The old man nodded at Dana.“Take your girl out to the countryside and leave her there.We’ve had soldiers, mercenaries and now gladiators coming through the city like a parade.Most are louts, and some no different than monsters.I wouldn’t want to see what happens if they saw a young lady.”

“Your warning is much appreciated.My niece and I won’t stay longer than we must.”

Once they were far enough away to avoid being overheard, Dana said, “If that’s how they’re acting in a city, heaven help girls living on farms they pass through.Jayden, if these men are as bad as he says, they’re going to drive honest men to rebel.”

“They might, but mercenaries and gladiators would make short work of farmers and shopkeepers.”

“I thought the mercenaries revolted and ran off.”Dana and Jayden had helped mercenaries from Skitherin Kingdom learn that girls from their homeland were being sold in Meadowland Kingdom.The knowledge had enraged them to the point of rebelling against their employers and fleeing with the freed slaves.

“Mercenaries from Skitherin Kingdom rebelled, removing thousands of men from the king and queen’s armies, but I doubt the royal couple hired men only from that blighted kingdom.Men hired from other lands would have no reason to be upset by Skitherin women and children being sold as slaves.They might even buy some.”

The city streets were slowly coming to life as more people left their homes. Normally this happened at dawn, but it was nearly noon.Had they stayed indoors to avoid the armed men who’d recently traveled through their city? That fit with the older man’s warning. Men gave them suspicious glances when they saw both Dana and Jayden carried swords.

“Who are you with?” a woman demanded.

“No one save ourselves,” Jayden answered.

“Then why are you armed?”

Dana said, “We’ve been traveling between cities.Not all the roads are safe.”

The woman relaxed.“I can believe that.Just, keep those blades out of sight.They make folks nervous.”

Finding a bar was easy.The city was lousy with them, small places that were only now hanging up signs with tankards painted on them.Jayden went in one with a few tables already crowded with customers, and the bartender said, “Outsiders pay upfront.”

“Fair enough,” he replied, and placed a copper coin on a table.He chatted with the bartender and customers while Dana kept watch at the door.

“Your girl is being mighty skittish,” the bartender noted.

Jayden sipped his drink.“You’ll have to forgive her concern, but one of your fellow citizens gave her a fright. He said she would be in danger if mercenaries saw her.”

A man near Jayden downed his drink in one gulp.“He was right, and she’s right to listen to him.Used to be a fellow was safe if he didn’t do anything stupid, like walk the streets at night.Then it got so a guy needed friends and neighbors to back him up in broad daylight when bullyboys in uniforms swaggered about.Now a man’s not safe even if he’s got a sword and twenty men behind him.”

“Here we go again,” another man grumbled.

“Don’t you give me that!” the first man yelled.“You saw what happened to the food stalls yesterday.Every one of them was emptied out with nothing to show for it but IOUs.Have any of you ever seen one of those slips of paper honored?I’ve got four of them, and I’ll fly before I get the gold they promise!”

“We’re all hurting,” the second man replied.“The rest of us don’t keep talking about it.”

“Easy for you to say,” the first man retorted.“Nobody robs quarriers.All you have is rocks.”

“I’ve got IOUs for the pay I was supposed to get,” retorted the quarrier. “I’ve been living off my savings since last year.”

“Gentlemen,” Jayden began, “we all suffer.I was hoping one of you might know where I could purchase supplies such as cooking oil.I know many who could use it.”

“There’s barely enough to go around here, and less every day,” the first man told him.

Dana kept her eyes on the street.“I’ve heard lots gets stolen at night.”

“Not from us it doesn’t,” the barkeeper replied.“Thieves take from those who have.”

The conversation went on for a while as men repeated tales of woe. Jayden visited three more bars and made inquires on where he could get common goods, or what should be common, and who could provide them.Each time the answer was the same.Few men had anything, and those who did were rapidly running out.He bought drinks for men whose clothing was threadbare and money pouches were empty, earning a little goodwill, but the answers stayed the same.

Jayden and Dana stopped that evening and got a small but filling meal from a man pushing a cart loaded with food.Most of the stores or stalls were empty.The few selling goods were either mobile like the food seller’s cart or easily concealed like the neighborhood bars that could take down any proof of their profession in a matter of minutes.

“These people look like they’ve got experience hiding their stuff,” Dana said after they’d left the cart.

“The soldiers and mercenaries we saw heading toward Zentrix were likely not the first.I imagine earlier groups failed to pay for what they took.This could make our search harder.If the Midnight Riders are nearby, these people have no reason to betray them and every reason to hide them.”

“What for?They don’t benefit if government storehouses get robbed.They might even get in trouble.Hungry soldiers could clean them out if they can’t get food from the army.”

Jayden studied the emptying streets.“You might be surprised how much support the Midnight Riders get.The goods they steal are low value.If they want to turn those goods into coins, residents of Trenton Town would be only too happy to pay for them.”

Dana’s attention was drawn to shouting by the river.She saw a large barge bump into smaller ones, as if its crew could barely control it.Men on other barges shouted insults and obscenities as the larger barge muscled its way through.“That barge is low in the water, and there’s a tarp over it.What could it be carrying that’s so heavy it could sink a boat that big?”

“I see Cimmox was being honest in all his threats.Do you see the symbols carved onto the side of the barge?GW, Golem Works.It’s a dwarf corporation that specializes in producing golems.”

Dana’s heart sank.“They brought a replacement for Wall Wolf?”

“Wall Wolf was so large it would have sunk that barge outright if someone was foolish enough to load so heavy a cargo.More likely they’re bringing a stone golem.They are smaller and lighter than Wall Wolf, if only slightly, and nearly as dangerous.”

The Golem Works barge moored itself to a dock in the city, and armed dwarfs took up guard positions around it.Any man who came too close was told to leave, and threatened with spears if they argued with the stocky dwarfs.Clearly, they weren’t going to risk losing their property.

“I imagine the stone golem will join the army heading for Zentrix,” Jayden said.

“You could burn the barge,” Dana suggested.

“Appealing, but no.My fireball spell would do little to no damage to the golem.At best I would cost them the barge, a replaceable commodity.”

Dana whistled.“Soldiers, mercenaries, gladiators, a golem, they’re not taking chances.”

“The king and queen seek to win with overwhelming force and then move on to their next target.This war could be over and Zentrix made a province in Meadowland Kingdom before autumn. We’re going to have to find or manufacture a miracle to prevent that from happening.”

“We need a place to spend the night.”The sun was going down, producing a gorgeous sunset that Dana would normally love to watch, but darkness was coming.One of the men at the bar said it wasn’t safe to travel at night. Did that mean there were thieves? Monsters?Ghosts?

“I saw an inn earlier in the day.”Jayden led the way through the city as shadows stretched across the streets. Dana kept a close eye on their surroundings, worried that they’d run into an ambush.She saw people hurry into their houses, followed by loud clunks as they barred their doors.

Strangely, some people opened their doors as night fell.Men hung temporary signs from their doorframes and set out tables. Goods offered included drinks, games of chance and meats Dana couldn’t identify.Were these people eating monsters?

“This is new and discouraging,” Jayden said as they walked by a stall selling huge feathers.

A woman at the stall shrugged.“A girl’s got to eat.Selling griffin feathers never hurt anyone besides the griffin.”

“My needs are more basic.Food, drink, oil and the like for myself and those I care for.”

The woman laughed.“You might find someone offering those, but you better be less squeamish about it than you are with me.Nothing for sale at night came here honestly.”

Jayden was questioning the woman when Dana heard squeaky wood wheels.She turned and saw wagons rolling into the city as if it was broad daylight.Men climbed down from the wagons and did brisk business with furtive citizens. “Who are they?”

The woman at the stall looked over and rolled her eyes.“Competition.They only come to Trenton Town when they’re sure they aren’t going to get their cargo commandeered by the army, the nobles, mercenaries or whatever flavor of official thieves are in the neighborhood.”

Shocked, Dana asked, “Your mayor allows this?”

“As if he could stop armed men from taking everything they lay their hands on,” the woman said with a smirk.“He sends his staff to buy from smugglers the same as the rest of us.See those old ladies with wheelbarrows?They’re on his payroll.”

Dana watched men sell food, livestock, cloth, firewood and construction timbers.At first, she couldn’t figure out why these people felt the need to come at night. These were legitimate goods and couldn’t all be stolen.That meant they were scared of being robbed.The army must have done a lot of looting to generate this much fear.

Then she saw him, a man she knew too well selling armfuls of candles to eager customers.“Problem.”

Jayden looked over from the woman selling griffin feathers.“What is it?”

Dana pointed in the rapidly dying light.“Look.”

“Who are you pointing at?”Jayden squinted and then raised an eyebrow.“It can’t be.”

“What’s this about?” the woman asked.

Jayden slapped a gold coin on her table.“For your time and honesty.Come on, Dana.Let’s go meet our friend.”

Dana’s fear vanished, replaced with a near murderous loathing.She kept her sword sheathed but gripped the hilt tightly. Jayden had a hand on his own sword as they jogged after their target.A few disreputable looking men saw them and hurried out of their way.

They reached the collection of wagons as the last of them sold off their goods.Business had been brisk, but it also appeared that none of them had brought much cargo to avoid losing too much if they’d been caught.The men were climbing back into their wagons, some of them already leaving town, when Jayden burst into a run and leapt onto a wagon.

“Hey, what’s going on?” one of the men demanded.

“Tell them we’re friends, or I tell them the truth,” Jayden whispered.

Jeremy Galfont the graverobber kept his eyes on Jayden.“It’s all right, lads.Him and me know each other.”

Jayden was close enough to spit on the man, which Dana would have done in his place.“Yes, we go back quite some time, don’t we?Almost a year.”

“Rather surprised you recognized me,” Galfont said.There was a big difference in his appearance since Dana had last seen the man.Back then he’d barely escaped horrifying monsters released from the Valivaxis, a magic gateway to the tombs of ancient elf emperors.He’d been dressed in rags, his hair long and ragged, and there had been shackles on his wrists.

Life must have been good to the graverobber (no doubt at someone else’s expense), for his clothes were finely tailored leather and his hair neatly trimmed. He drove a wagon showing no sign of wear, and the horses pulling it were young and strong.Dana didn’t consider herself a vengeful person, but seeing this repulsive man so prosperous made her blood boil.

“I believe we parted on good terms last time we met,” Galfont said.

“Indeed we did,” Jayden replied.“The passage of time has clearly been good to you.”

“That’s a tale best told in private.”Galfont’s eyes drifted to bystanders watching them.

Jayden helped Dana onto the wagon.“By all means.We’ll be glad to join you.”

Much to Dana’s surprise, Galfont didn’t panic.He drove his wagon to a small house not far from the city.

“It’s not much, but it meets my needs,” Galfont said as he tied up his horses outside the house.

“This is an interesting change for you,” Jayden replied.“Graverobber to smuggler?Thief?”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that.”

Dana jumped off the wagon and held up a lone candle.“I’m pretty sure you didn’t find this in someone’s grave.Who did you take it from?”

“I don’t rob graves anymore,” Galfont protested.“I thought you’d approve that I’ve taken up a new line of work.You were certainly mad enough about my last one.”

Dana jabbed him in the chest with the candle.“You mean was I mad that you snuck into cemeteries, dug up dead bodies, looted them and pawned the jewelry those people were buried with?Leaving their families brokenhearted, and their friends and neighbors terrified that the same thing could happen to their parents and grandparents?Yes, I’m furious!”

Galfont stared at her for a moment before asking Jayden, “So, did you find that Vali-whatever it was?”

“Found, sealed, disposed of.Galfont, you were useful to me once, and there’s a chance you could be useful again.”

“I’d really rather not.”

“That statement implies you have a choice in the matter.I’m looking for some exceedingly dangerous men who have been known to operate in this area.They use the name Midnight Riders.”

“It rings a bell,” Galfont admitted.

Jayden waved his hand at the darkened city behind them.“The good people of Trenton Town knew little to nothing about them.I think that’s becausethey are good people, not likely to associate with men who’d break into army storehouses.You, on the other hand, are not exactly good.”

Galfont said nothing.Jayden continue speaking.

“We saw you selling goods those people needed badly, so I am moderately grateful, except I wonder where you could have gotten your cargo.I think you stole what you were selling.The Midnight Riders also steal goods in this region.I imagine you’d rather not have competition, or have to deal with the armed response the king and queen are certain to send to deal with their depredations.You should be only too happy to tell me everything you know about them, in return for a generous reward if the information is accurate, and a terrible punishment if it’s not.”

Galfont looked down.“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Jayden leaned in close.“Try me.”

Galfont took a deep breath and said, “I’m the Midnight Riders.”

Dana dropped the candle she was holding.“Wait, what?”

“I am the Midnight Riders.There isn’t a bunch of men stealing.It’s just me.”

Jayden stared at him.“I’ve had several drinks today.I believe I need more.”

“That I can help you with,” Galfont said.He opened the door to the small house and ushered them in.The building’s interior was simple, with wood furniture and well stocked cabinets.Galfont brought out a bottle and cups, serving himself first before sitting at a table.

“Start your story at a point where it makes sense,” Jayden said.

“Ooh, that would be in my childhood, but I’m sure you’d prefer a later date than that.”Galfont drank deeply from his cup and refilled it.“After we last parted ways, I tried to go back to my old profession. I thought I’d be able to start right back up again as if nothing had happened.”

“Because that’s what people living here need, more despoiled graves,” Dana retorted.

“You need to stop feeding her raw meat,” Galfont told Jayden.“Anyway, it didn’t work.Taxes were so high and opportunities so few that people weren’t burying the dead with their jewelry.They were pawning it to buy food.The one time I got a solid lead on a silver ring, I found four other fellows trying to take it.I told them we could sell it and split the money, which I thought was a reasonable suggestion, when they all pulled out knives.By the time the fighting was over and bandages applied, we found there was no ring.Gravediggers had taken it before burying the body.There’s no honor anymore.”

Dana rolled her eyes.“There’s irony for you.”

Galfont scowled at her.“As I was saying, circumstances forced me to adopt a new career.In my wanderings I came across storehouses filled with goodies. Anything a man could want and more, just sitting there.I asked around and found this was meant for the army.Now me, I’m a pacifist.I never carry weapons even when I’m on a job.”

“You’re robbing the storehouses,” Jayden said.

“Robbing isn’t quite the right word,” Galfont told him.“I’ve come up with a better way.I steal from people who want to be robbed.”

“I must have done something to deserve this,” Dana moaned.“What was it?”

“I’m serious!” Galfont protested.“Storehouses with really nice things like arrows and spears, those get heavy guards.Storehouses with little things people need, boots, rations, lamps, sometimes they don’t get guards.Not enough men to go around, I’m told.”

“You’re told by who?” Jayden asked.

Galfont sipped his drink.“Clerks man those storehouses, keeping records on what comes and goes, cleaning up and so on.Those clerks are present whether there are guards or not.I figured out who these clerks were, chatted them up, spread some wealth and said, ‘Hey, you, let’s fake a robbery and split the money.’, which went over very well.”

Jayden perked up.“How does this work?”

“I figured there’s no market for armor, weapons or saddles around here.Boots, clothes, I leave those behind, too.If a fellow buys boots I stole from the army, there’s a good chance soldiers will see him and wonder where he got them.I told the clerks to tell me when they have things that can be used up.Food, cooking oil, candles, people need them, but they won’t keep them around for long. They eat it, burn it, use it and it’s gone, no evidence to get them in trouble.The demand is constant, so my customers always buy more.

“The clerks send word to me when they’ve got goods I want and there are no guards, and I show up late at night to load up my wagon.If there’s a lot I’ll come back a second time.The clerk tells the authorities about these mysterious black robed riders who robbed them.I rough the place up a bit, bash open the doors with a hammer and give the poor man a few bruises so it looks like he tried to fight back and lost, not his fault.”

Dana glared at Galfont.“I thought you were a pacifist.”

“It’s better than the clerk being suspected and hung!I sell the goods in cities like Trenton Town and give the clerk his share of the cash once the heat dies down.I’ve done it five times.”

“Astounding,” Jayden said.“This plan is so stupid it actually works.The biggest flaw is sooner or later the king and queen will post guards at all their storehouses, or set a trap at a storehouse loaded with goods you traditionally steal.”

“The thought had occurred,” Galfont said drily.“I’m already seeing more storehouses with permanent guard details.I think I’ll have to change professions again.I was planning on leaving for a less warlike home, but all the borders are closed.What’s a fellow to do?”

Jayden set his drink aside and smiled at Galfont.“You should get rich with one last robbery, with me as both partner and customer.”

“I’m not sure I like the sound of this,” Galfont said.

“I’m sure I don’t,” Dana added.

“Contact the clerks looking after the storehouses,” Jayden told him.“I need a list of places with the kind of goods you don’t bother with.Weapons, armor, wagons and more.Come nightfall you will lead me to them, I shall destroy them and pay you well.”

Galfont stared at Jayden.“How well?”

“Two hundred gold coins if you lead me to at least three full storehouses, with payment made only after I’ve destroyed all three.”

Dana’s jaw dropped.“Do we have that much?”

“We do.And Galfont, as a bonus, you can take whatever you want before I burn the rest. Do we have a deal?”

Galfont refilled his cup and drank it in one long gulp.“Welcome aboard, partner!”

* * * * *

Dana woke the next morning in Galfont’s small house.She saw Galfont leaving, looking as giddy as a child on his birthday as he got onto his wagon and rode off.She went to the kitchen and found Jayden studying his spell tablets. He took one look at her and set the tablets aside.

“You’re not happy,” he said.

“No, not happy.We’ve worked with some questionable people, but this takes the cake.This man should be in jail or six feet underground. Instead we’re making him rich.”

“He is less likely to cause trouble if his pockets are full.He is also unlikely to betray us for a reward when his own neck could end up in a noose.”

Dana sat at the table.“It feels like we’re rewarding him for being bad.I know we can’t always pick and choose our friends, especially during a war, but I think we’re crossing a line.It could backfire on us like it did with Clevner.I get that the people of Zentrix need help badly and soon, but is it always going to be like this?Looking for the least bad choice?”

“It’s been this way with me for years,” he told her.“I have had good and honest men working with me, and the experience was if anything worse.My plans could have hurt them, their families and neighbors if I’d failed.In this case the only man who’d suffer if we fail is Galfont, a minor loss to humanity, but still a loss.There are few I can count on for help, making men even as questionable as Galfont valuable.”

Dana snapped her fingers.“Sorcerer Lord Jayden doesn’t have many people he can trust, but Prince Mastram does.”

“No,” he said firmly.

“It could work.”Dana leaned across the table toward him.“There are a lot of angry people in the kingdom.We met a bunch of them yesterday.Tens of thousands of people would come to serve a prince back from exile.”

“They would die just as fast!King Tyros and Queen Amvicta would stop at nothing to kill me if they knew I still breathed.Any who came to my side would be cut down without mercy, as would their families.”

“The king and queen are already coming after you,” she pointed out.“How could they make it worse than it already is?”

“I know them better than you do,” Jayden said, his voice grim.“I saw them at their worst during the civil war.If they are frightened, they can do deeds more terrible than you can imagine.They have no shortage of mercenaries and gladiators only too happy to follow orders, no matter how terrible.”

Jayden stood up and put his hands on her hers.“Prince Mastram is dead, and for the good of the kingdom must stay dead. Even a whisper of the truth would bring down horrors beyond imagination on innocent people.As loathsome as Galfont is, using him is superior to the alternative.Please, don’t bring this up again.”

The rest of the day was spent in stony silence.Jayden continued studying his spell tablets and Dana explored their surroundings.Galfont’s house was far from any neighbor, ensuring they weren’t noticed by suspicious locals.

To Dana’s surprise, she saw shepherds guide herds of goats through the wilderness to lush bits of pasture.The shepherds were armed and watchful, with fierce dogs.Dana figured these men were keeping their herds well clear of armed men who could confiscate them.

It was nearly dinner time when Galfont returned on his wagon.He ran over and nearly knocked the door off its hinges in his eagerness to reach them. “This is your lucky night!”

Dana figured a lucky night would be Galfont being arrested by the authorities or eaten by wolves, but she bit back a harsh reply when the former graverobber sat at his table.“Most of the storehouses were emptied by the army on their way to Zentrix, but there are three nearby filled to the brim with goodies.”

“Why weren’t they emptied, too?” Dana asked.

“The soldiers didn’t have enough wagons.Word is they’re going to unload on the front and come back for the rest.”

Jayden asked him, “What sort of goods do they contain?”

“One has oats for horses and oxen, but it could be food for men just as easily. Another has saddles, horseshoes, yokes and the like for draft animals and cavalry horses.The last one is the real prize.It’s got uniforms, tents and blankets for five thousand men.”

“An army could fight without any of those,” Dana said.

“Not as well as they could with them,” Galfont countered.“There are more storehouses farther out, but they’re either empty or guarded like fortresses.It’s this or nothing.Deal?”

“What are their guard compliments?” Jayden asked.

“Ten men or less for each one, and no knights or archers.They’re more likely to run than fight.”

“What about the Golem Works barge in the city?” Dana asked.“If it’s carrying what Jayden thinks it is, we could have a fight on our hands.”

Galfont chuckled.“I saw them leave Trenton Town hours ago.They said they’d only stopped to buy food.”

“We hit them all tonight,” Jayden said.“Galfont, pack your belongings so you can flee after we’re done.When the third storehouse is destroyed, you’ll get the pay as promised.If we have to leave before finishing the job, you’ll be paid according to how much we did.”

“Fair enough,” Galfont told him.“We’re going to have to leave right away to do this.Hide in the back of my wagon and we’ll reach the first one by dusk.”

Dana and Jayden sat in the back of Galfont’s wagon as he rode through the growing darkness.It wasn’t comfortable for several reasons.The first was the wagon was meant to carry cargo rather than passengers, and there was no padding when they hit bumps in the road.The other cause of concern was how many other people were coming out only now that it was dark.Wagons shuttled around goods and people, while hunters and trappers brought fresh meat to sell.She’d never seen a city busier at night than during the day.

Jayden seemed to echo her thoughts when he asked, “Is it always so active?”

Galfont answered, “Locals tell me trade at night started last year and has only grown.They’re trying to avoid tax collectors and officials who steal worse than I ever did. Their duke has been ordered to put a stop to it, but he depends on untaxed trade as much as his people do.”

“How long until we reach the first storehouse?” Dana asked.

Galfont pointed ahead of them.“Not long before we hit the one with uniforms and tents.It’s a barn seized by the army outside city limits.I want to make it clear I’m acting as native guide. You’re on your own when the fighting starts.”

Jayden drew his magic sword.“I expected as much.”

“Did you ever learn what that thing does?” Dana asked.

“I figured it out earlier in the week.”Jayden looked almost giddy at the thought of using.He pulled off his outer layer of winter clothes to reveal his black and silver uniform beneath it.“Before we strike, I need you back in uniform.”

Dana frowned when he handed her the cloth mask, long gloves and leggings.“Then why are you trying to be as obvious as you can?”

“I’m counting on my reputation spreading fear.The king and queen know me well, but they have only vague details concerning your identity.The longer they remain ignorant of your name and face, the easier you’ll find it to move around in public.”

Dana put on the concealing clothes when they were in sight of the storehouse, just an old barn with ten spearmen standing around a fire.The soldiers looked bored and tired, and as they drew closer it was clear they were teenagers.They saw the wagon approach and barely reacted.

“Come on, guys,” one of the soldiers said.“This couldn’t wait until morning?”

“You ride at night and your horses are going to break a leg in the dark,” said another.“Cripple a horse and you’ll be whipped and branded.”

Jayden cast a spell and leapt off the wagon, landing with his sword pointing at the ground.“Gentlemen, tonight you get to choose whether you live or die.”

“Who the devil are you?” one asked.

Dana climbed off the wagon and drew Chain Cutter.The sword glowed in the darkness and made the soldiers gape in awe. “Seriously?Don’t any of you read the wanted posters?”

A soldier pointed at Jayden.“That’s the Sorcerer Lord!And unnamed female accomplice!”

Dana slapped her free hand over her face.“They’re still calling me that.”

Jayden pointed his sword at the soldiers and declared, “Run or fight, children. I should add that fighting ends in dying.”

The soldiers were far too young for their job, but to their credit they lined up and formed a wall of spears between Jayden and the storehouse.The young soldiers ran screaming at him. Their charge ended when a giant clawed black hand flew in and wrapped its enormous fingers around their spears. The youths yelled as they tried to pull their weapons free.Dana ran in and lopped off their spearheads with Chain Cutter.The now defenseless men cried out in panic as they fell back.

“Daggers!” one of the youths yelled.“Draw your daggers!”

Four soldiers broke and ran away while the rest pulled hunting knives from sheaths on their legs.The poor fools spread out and charged Jayden again.It was a desperate gambit that ended when the giant hand swept over them and effortlessly bowled them over.Five more ran off while the last cowered by the storehouse door.He made frightened, whimpering sounds.

Dana waved her sword in the direction the other soldiers had fled. “Go on, get out of here.”

“You’re not going to kill me?”

“Do you want me to?”The youth shook his head, and she said, “Then don’t ask stupid questions like that. Scoot.”

Once the soldiers were gone, an older, overweight man stumbled out of a door on the side of the storehouse.“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Galfont.I told you there’s nothing here you want.”

Galfont hurried over and put an arm around the old man’s shoulders.“There’s been a change in plans.The fellow over there is paying you a handful of gold coins.”

“Gold?”The old man smiled from ear to ear.His joy ended when Jayden bashed down part of the storehouse’s wall with his giant black hand.“Here now, what’s he doing?”

“You’re being paid enough to not ask questions.Take the money, hide it, and if anyone asks—”

“Sorcerer Lord Jayden destroyed the storehouse,” Jayden told the old man. “Galfont, I see no need for your friend to suffer injuries to make this look like a robbery.My reputation is excuse enough for him to leave.”

Jayden began chanting a spell Dana was familiar with.The old man looked puzzled when he left, saying, “Gold, and I didn’t get slapped around this time.It’s an odd night.”

“How’s he going to destroy it?” Galfont asked Dana.

Jayden finished his spell, and a tiny ember floated from his hands into the hole he’d made in the storehouse.He walked casually back to the wagon and climbed aboard.“Take us to the next one.”

Galfont pointed at the storehouse.“But you didn’t—”

BOOM!The explosion tore the storehouse apart.Burning pieces of fabric and wood fell from the sky as heavy as rain in a thunderstorm. Jayden used his black hand to tamp out a few fires that were starting to spread and had it float back beside the wagon.

“Right, um, on to the next one,” Galfont said.He waited until Dana was onboard before driving away.“Take this as a professional critique, but you need to work on your approach.Too loud, too flashy.Everyone within a day’s travel heard that, including the authorities.”

“Great, we’re taking advice from a graverobber,” Dana muttered.

“Former graverobber, thank you.The next storehouse is at the edge of town and has saddles and yokes.The noise must have drawn a crowd by now.If we’re lucky they’ll follow the sound to our last stop.”

“I’m not greatly concerned about soldiers,” Jayden told him.

“I imagine you wouldn’t be,” Galfont said as he brought the wagon to a halt next to a large building at the edge of Trenton Town.

Soldiers on guard duty were alert and looked scared.One pointed at smoke in the distance and asked, “What was that?”

Jayden dismounted and smiled at the soldiers.“Roughly one thousand gold coins worth of goods burning.Tragically for you, the event is about to repeat itself.”

These soldiers were as young as the last ones and panicked even faster.Half of them ran when they saw Jayden and the rest fell back.

“Hold them off!” one of the teenagers said.He grabbed one of his soldiers by the arm and shoved him to the left. “Go, get help!”

Jayden sent his giant hand to swat soldiers aside, and they ran off rather than face it.The soldier giving orders was the last to flee.Jayden made the hand scoop him up.The youth screamed as the hand brought him back to Jayden.

“I have a message for your commanding officer,” Jayden told him.

“I don’t know who that is!”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Dana demanded.

“I, I was under General Thrade’s command, but I was transferred to General Kame, and then assigned guard duty here after Thrade and Kame left.I don’t know who’s giving orders here.”

Jayden dropped the soldier, who ran off as the giant hand battered a hole into the storehouse.A pudgy clerk came out of a side door and said, “I would have opened it for you.”

“Pay him and get him out of here,” Jayden ordered.Galfont took the clerk aside as Jayden began chanting.Dana kept an eye out for the trouble that was sure to come.

“I hear men coming,” Dana warned.

Jayden finished the spell and sent a single spark floating into the storehouse. “To the last target, and hurry.”

BOOM!The building went up in flames.This one didn’t detonate as explosively as the last one.Dana figured it was because the saddles and yokes wouldn’t burn like fabric did, and the horseshoes wouldn’t burn at all.

Dana and Jayden climbed back aboard the wagon and Galfont drove off.They heard men in armor running toward the storehouse, and shouts were coming from all around them.Frightened people came out of their houses to see what was going on. Vendors selling goods on the streets gathered up their possessions and fled.

“The last one is on the other side of the city, and I want my wagon filled with goods from it before you blow it up,” Galfont said.“We need to hurry.If whoever is in charge here has a working brain, he’ll figure out where we’re going and try to beat us to it.”

“Get us there first,” Jayden ordered.

Galfont drove his horses hard through the streets.Twice he had to slow down to avoid groups of people coming out of their houses.One man nearly got run over, but Jayden’s magic hand scooped him up and set him down in an alleyway.

“What’s happening?” a woman shouted at them.

“Wanted criminal coming through!” Jayden shouted back.Dana would have bet good money that his warning would have sent bystanders running for cover.Instead they hurried over to get a glimpse of him.

A flash of light to their left caught Dana’s eye.She looked over and saw nothing as the wagon rocketed down the street, but as they passed an alley, she saw the light again.There were dozens of soldiers running down the streets and carrying lanterns to light their way.

Dana waved her sword to their left.“Soldiers are going parallel to us on the next street over!”

Galfont pulled on his wagon’s reins to slow down before he hit people milling around in the street.“Get out of the way!”

“We’re not moving much faster than they are,” Jayden said.He cast a spell that formed a globe of light that shot down the street ahead of them.Pedestrians flinched away from the sudden light, opening up the way for them.

“That’s it up ahead,” Glafont told them.He nodded at a large building at the end of the road.“Former church for the Brotherhood of the Righteous before they were kicked out of the kingdom.These days it stores oats.”

The converted church was guarded by more young soldiers who looked terrified. When Jayden dismounted the wagon, one ran up and said, “What’s going on?We heard explosions and screaming.Are we under attack?”

Jayden looked the youth in the eyes.“Is it really that dark that you can’t recognize me?”

The soldier screamed and ran.The rest saw him flee and followed suit when Jayden’s giant black hand came barreling toward them.He sent his magic hand crashing into the old church’s doors, knocking them off the hinges. A frightened clerk peeked out of the building as the giant hand retreated.

“You, out,” Jayden ordered.The man ran past Jayden, but to their surprise came running back.“What are you doing?”

“Soldiers!” the clerk screamed as he went back into the old church.

Dana, Jayden and Galfont spun around to find fifty soldiers marching toward them.The men wore chain armor and had shields, spears or swords, with ten men carting lit lanterns.It would have been an intimidating sight if the men were advancing.Instead they stood in a rough line, neither advancing or retreating.They were young, some younger than Dana, with a sprinkling of men far too old for the difficult job of soldiering.

“Do something,” Galfont whispered to Jayden.“Anything.”

The soldiers had them ridiculously outnumbered.Jayden was a credible threat to a group this size, but they stood a chance of killing him in battle.There was no attack, though, nor even an attempt to threaten or harass them.

Jayden bared his teeth and marched toward the line of soldiers.“This is best the king and queen can do?This rabble?Your army is preparing to invade a neighboring country, and you can’t even face one sorcerer.”

Dana caught up with him and put a hand on his arm.“Jayden, look at them.They’re called soldiers, armed like soldiers, but they’re kids and old men. Some of them are younger than I am.”

“Is that it?” Jayden demanded.“Did your generals leave behind men they didn’t trust to face the horrors of war? I can’t tell if that was an act of mercy or contempt.One of you must be an officer in charge of this mob!”

An older spearman said, “I think his name is Commander Varnos.He gave us orders when we got to this city.That was five days ago.Haven’t seen him since then.”

Jayden stared hard at the men.A look of confusion swept across his face, followed by rage.“You’re new recruits.You haven’t been given any training, have you?Your leaders gave you armor and weapons, as if that would make you soldiers, and sent you into the jaws of war.I wondered how I could enter this city so easily and strike barely opposed.”

Boom.The sound echoed down the street, a distant thunder that spoke of power.Boom.Soldiers spun around and panicked at the threat coming up behind them.Boom.They cried out in terror as a ten foot tall stone man walked down the street toward them. Boom.The golem looked like a bald, muscular man.Boom.Dana gasped when the golem blinked its stone eyes and grinned.

“Make way, mayflies,” a dwarf with a long black beard called out.He wore plate armor and held a silver amulet in one hand and a black ax in the other.“Clear the road.”

“You said the Golem Works barge left this morning!” Dana shouted at Galfont.

“We left, and we came back,” the dwarf said casually.“Upriver is too shallow for our barge to float with my friend here riding along.We were going to walk to the front lines, but a frightened human told me the city was under attack.”

“Lovely,” Jadyen said.More quietly, he told Dana, “Few of my spells can hurt the golem.”

The dwarf chuckled.“Sorcerer Lord, is it?Name’s Dunrhill Stronglock.Word was the elves killed off your kind long ago.Guess there are always survivors.I’d have some sympathy for you after what my people suffered at elven hands, but the man paying my bills is keen on hearing of your demise. Nothing personal, you understand.”

“Perish the thought,” Jayden replied dryly.“You do know an iron golem tried to kill me and died?”

“Heard about it,” Stronglock.“You had two wizards helping in that fight that I don’t see here.Odds are in my favor, not yours.”

Jayden rested his sword on his shoulder.“Feel like giving me a chance to surrender?Most of my foes do.”

“That’s reason enough not to do it.”Stronglock raised the silver amulet high.“Simon says kill the Sorcerer Lord.”

The stone golem lumbered toward Jayden as soldiers got out of the way. It hadn’t gotten far before Jayden’s giant black hand charged in and hit the golem in the face, knocking it over. The hand swung down again and again on the prone golem.For a few seconds that was enough to keep it in check, but the golem grabbed the hand and squeezed.Jayden cried out as the giant hand dissolved into black mist.

“Are you hurt?” Dana asked him.

Jayden rubbed his hand.“I canceled the spell before I suffered too much feedback.”

The golem stood up and advanced on them again.It was a serious threat, but like Wall Wolf it wasn’t fast.This gave Jayden time to cast two spells before it reached them.The first formed a shield of spinning black daggers in front of him while the second reformed his giant black hand.The golem raised both hands high to attack Jayden, ignoring Dana entirely.She drew her sword and ran at it, only to find Stronglock in her way.

“I heard about you, too,” the dwarf said.“Word is your sword is impressive.Let’s find out.”

Dana swung at Stonglock, and her sword met his ax in a shower of sparks. Normally Chain Cutter hacked through weapons, but the ax suffered little more than a nick.Stronglock swung at her head.Dana stepped to one side and hit his ax again.Sparks again showered onto the street as each weapon held.

“It’s as good as I was told,” Stronglock said approvingly.“Is that Thume Breakbones’ workmanship?”

Dana dodged another swing from the dwarf.“Yeah.Bald, rude, self-centered.”

Stronglock’s next attack went low in an attempt to hit Dana’s heels.She jumped over it and swung down, but Stronglock already had his ax up to block it.“That’s Thume, all right.My ax is one of his earlier weapons.”

Dana charged Stronglock and tried to stab him in the shoulder.The dwarf parried her sword with more sparks raining down on them.This was bad. Dana had learned a lot about swordsmanship from Jayden, but she hadn’t landed a single hit and was barely avoiding Stronglock’s ax.She’d heard dwarfs were legendary for their stamina.Stronglock could keep this fight up for hours, while she would tire far sooner.

Not far away, Jayden sparred with the stone golem.The golem tried to punch him and hit the shield of spinning blades.Black blades broke when the golem struck them, scratching its right arm from fingertips to its elbow, but doing nothing else.Jayden swung his magic sword at the golem, and to Dana’s amazement he moved as fast as its original owner, Brasten.Jayden moved so fast he was a blur as he struck the golem across its face and neck.His sword merely scratched the stone.

Stronglock kept after Dana with powerful, relentless attacks.She was faster than the dwarf and avoided the worst of it, but when she blocked one swing, he punched her hard enough to send her back three feet.

Jayden ran over and helped her up.“This isn’t going well, and the soldiers are blocking our escape route.”

Stronglock and his golem were heading for them.Either one was difficult to beat, and together they were more than Dana and Jayden could stop.Dana backed up a step, and her sword grazed the edge of a building, cutting into the stone.Inspiration hit like a thunderbolt.

“Trade partners,” she said.Jayden looked shocked by the suggestion, but she pressed on.“I can hurt the golem at least a little, and your spells should stop the dwarf.”

Jayden sheathed his sword and cast a spell to form his magic whip.“It’s worth trying.”

“Letting a girl fight your battles?” Stronglock taunted.

“Shut up and dance,” Dana said as she went after the golem.It ignored her in favor of Jayden, and she cut a deep gash in its right leg.

“Simon Says kill the girl,” Stronglock ordered.He tried to attack her and got only feet before Jayden swung his whip and wrapped it around the dwarf’s ax.The whip didn’t eat through the ax like it did nearly everything else, but Jayden was able to drag Stronglock to a halt.

Powerful as the golem was, it was tragically slow.The stone golem swung at Dana and missed, smashing in a wall of a building she was standing next to.When that failed it tried to kick her.Dana slashed the golem across its foot and left another deep gash.The golem scowled and lunged at her with arms outstretched.Dana jumped out of the way and swung her sword behind her, catching it across the belly.

Stronglock wasn’t doing any better against Jayden.The dwarf stopped trying to pull free and instead charged him.Jayden let his magic whip dissolve and drew his sword. With the sword’s magic he moved amazingly fast as he lashed out at the dwarf.Stronglock’s heavy armor stopped most of the swings, but one stroke took off half of his beard.

“You don’t touch a dwarf’s beard!” Stronglock bellowed.He pointed his ax at the soldiers and yelled, “Stop milling around and fight!”

The men looked uncertain until a lone soldier pointed and asked, “Hey, what are they doing?”

All eyes turned toward to the former church.Galfont had been busy during the battle carrying one sack of oats after another to his wagon, but the former graverobber wasn’t alone.A steady stream of citizens hauled away the storehouse’s contents.

“You thieving dogs!” Stronglock yelled.

An angry man shot back, “Who do you think grew this in the first place!”

More citizens gathered until they outnumbered the soldiers five to one.A man pointed at the bags being taken away and shouted, “We need food more than the army does!Come on, lads!Take back what’s yours!”

An already chaotic melee became utter madness.Enraged residents of Trenton Town surged into the soldiers from behind.Some men tackled the soldiers while others pushed on to loot the storehouse.Most of the soldiers were occupied fighting back, while others ran off and a few actually joined in the looting.Dana fought the golem while Jayden sent a flurry of sword swings at Stronglock.

“You people are idiots!” Stronglock yelled as he struggled to get past crowds of rioters and soldiers.He was making some progress when Jayden brought his giant magic hand down on the dwarf and knocked him over.Dana was amazed when the dwarf got up quickly, but her surprise doubled when the dwarf’s face contorted in fear.“No! Where is it?”

Dana couldn’t figure out what terrified Stronglock until she noticed he carried his ax in one hand and the other was empty.He’d lost his silver amulet when Jayden hit him.The dwarf scrambled across the street on all fours in his search for the amulet.

The stone golem was still coming after Dana, and she had to slip through the crowd to escape it.She was lucky the golem was trying hard not to step on the townspeople or soldiers when it came after her.That avoided a massacre and slowed the golem’s pursuit.As she struggled to get through the packed crowd, she saw a small, glittering amulet skid across the street.Someone kicked it by accident, then another person kicked it in a different direction.Dana and Stronglock both tried to reach it while countless people ran between them.

Dana was smaller and lighter than the dwarf, and that was just enough for her to slip through the crowd and grab the amulet.She crawled away while both Stronglock and his golem followed her.

“Stop!” Dana yelled at the golem.It continued after her.“I said stop!”

Jayden caught up with Stronglock and punched the dwarf in the face.“Tell it Simon says stop!”

The golem caught up with Dana and raised both arms to crush her.She couldn’t move fast enough through the crowd to avoid it.“Simon says stop!”

The golem froze in place.Dana got out from under it and pushed past the many people around her.“Jayden, come on, let’s go!”

Jayden pushed through the rowdy crowd to reach her, and they both ran.They saw Galfont drive his wagon away, although someone had climbed onto it and was throwing out the sacks of oats.Dana heard Stronglock hollering as he chased them, but the dwarf couldn’t match their speed and soon fell behind.They ran through the city until they reached the river.

Dana held up the amulet.“Can I control the golem from here?”

“It has to hear your orders to obey them.”

“I guess I should have told it to follow us.It could have been the help you need.”

Jayden looked back into Trenton Town.City streets rang out with the sounds of rioting.“It’s best you didn’t bring it.Golem Works would do anything to retrieve it.The stone golem moves too slowly to keep up with us, and it’s so heavy its footprints would be deep and easy to follow.Golem Works can likely track the control amulet.You’ll have to get rid of it.”

Dana set the amulet down and swung her sword at it.Chain Cutter effortlessly hacked through the silver amulet.“That overgrown statue won’t go far now.”

“Not until the dwarfs bring a new amulet and attune it to the golem, a process that could take days to weeks.”Jayden led Dana away into the night away from Trenton Town.They’d only gone a short distance when he said, “I wonder if Galfont escaped in the confusion.”

“Oh, he got away.He’s a slippery one.”

“The enemy’s attention was more on us than him, so you’re likely right,” Jayden admitted.“We’ll wait for him at his house, pay him and move on in the morning.I’m tempted to stay here longer, but with the army supplies burned, stolen or already gone there is nothing left to attack.We have to find new targets, and soon.”

“You sound awful depressed.We won, Jayden.You burned two warehouses, helped empty out another and got away with it.”

Jayden stopped and stared at Trenton Town, a city he’d left in disarray. “I have been striking blows like these for decades.None of them stopped the wars I feared would come to pass.Tonight’s victory was small, and we must strike many more like it.”


© Copyright 2020 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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