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As Ratin packed their things to go to the market, Schamm was busy cutting his nails. ‘Can’t be too careful’ was his excuse. Counting all the gold pieces, they realized that, next to buying food, searching for a bounty was of utmost importance on their to-do list. They purchased Moore meat because it was easiest to cook and a barrel that contained two litres of water. Schamm was made to carry everything once again.
‘This the place?’ the warrior asked, pointing to a big wooden building. It had a crown on top of the roof, and a small front porch with tables and chairs, where bounty hunters would sit and discuss the payments. Or at least that would be Schamm’s best guess.
‘I’m pretty sure. There is a sign that says ‘Bounty and Slave auctions’, so I’m guessing we’ve found it.’
Schamm couldn’t help but notice the worried look on the Mage’s face. Noticing this, Ratin said ‘Oh, don’t worry. I’m just curious as to why people still are allowed to buy slaves anymore. Especially this freely.’
‘Make way, make way.’ A man as tall as Schamm bumped between the two, going inside the establishment.
Schamm couldn’t make out the size of the man, as he was covered in a purple robe with red stripes. ‘The nerve on this guy,’ he thought to himself, but the thought was interrupted as Ratin nudged him.
‘Don’t go easy on him. He’s more dangerous than he seems.’
‘You know him?
‘No. Let’s just say I have a gut instinct.’
Gut instinct was the only thing that kept Schamm alive, from hunting to predicting where his opponents would strike. He agreed with the Mage. They nodded to one another and entered the building. Inside, everything was brown coloured. There was a big stage about thirty meters in front of him, with five rows of benches to the side of the main corridor that lead to the stage. The chairs were numbered.
‘Greetings, gentlemen. Have your seats been assigned?’ A young man wearing a tuxedo asked. He had a weird hat that looked like a bucket, but it wasn’t made out of iron. It was coloured red, like the other clothes he was wearing, except for his pants that were black. He had a triangular shaped face, with small green eyes, mouth and nose but with big ears. He wasn’t the prettiest of sights. And that means a lot coming from someone who’s had his mug broken more times that I can remember.
‘Not yet. We’re here to stay for the bounties,’ the warrior responded.
‘Oh, very well! Exceptionally well! I’m guessing you haven’t attended a bounty assigning yet, right?’ The two nodded at the same time. ‘It goes like this: the man that will give the bounty for the task performed steps on stage. He states what the requirements are and what the amount of money will be given. If only one person is interested, he will be assigned the bounty. If more people are interested, the bounty keeps going down by anywhere from 10-100 Gold at a time, depending on the size and difficulty level. Also, the ones that require the services can also put as a bounty several items, like weapons for example. If more people are interested in that reward, the ones that complete the task in the shortest amount of time get the bounty. Everything clear?’
‘As crystal,’ the Mage said.
‘Very well then. It looks like only a few people have arrived but rest assured the room will be full so choose your seats while you can! The closest row to the stage, with seats 1-20, is only available with payment. The ones that occupy those seats get to inspect the weapons and inquire further about bounties. One seat costs 100 Gold.’
‘We’ll get a normal seat this time. Numbers 50 and 51 will be good enough, thank you,’ Ratin said.
‘Exceptionally well!’ the young man said, going back stage and coming back with a wood circle with numbers 50 and 51 on them.
‘Whenever you’re interested in a bounty, lift this up so the one that tracks the entries will know. Have fun!’
Twenty minutes later, the room was indeed full, all of the seats occupied. Schamm had never seen so many different people in one place. So many different weapons and fur coats, armours and ****** hairs. He hadn’t seen a good looking woman in a while either, but he asked himself what some of the girls were doing here. They looked as though they belonged in a tavern or brothel, not out searching for dangerous bounties. But maybe it’s just me. Back in the day, women only took care of the children and everything at home. It’s good that they’re trying to make a living this way. An evil thought crept into his mind. Bloodshed knows no gender.
Trying to shake it off, his attention was captured by the voice of two men going onto the stage, the latter holding a sheet of paper in his hand. The first man, looking like a human meatball, short and fat, wearing a white suit of some kind, approached the podium.
‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen! You have gathered here for the bounty-claiming of the second season of the year. Today we have quite a lot of interesting bounties, but be weary… the challenges are ever so difficult!’
Schamm swallowed in fright, suspense and a sense of looking forward to the tasks at hand.
‘As always, you can register up for a maximum of three bounties! Keep that in mind! With everything out of the way, best of luck, warriors and let the bounties roll!’
The crowd started cheering and applauding and so did the two as the man stepped off the stage. After the claps started to fade, the man with the sheet of paper in his hand started talking.
‘Bounty for 650 Gold! Elimination of ten guards of the Palace of Sarahi. Proof required: Badges of honour.’
Isn’t this… illegal? Schamm thought to himself. The man stepped backward and a loud murmur was heard throughout the hall. Ratin leaned and whispered into Schamm’s ear.
‘Don’t be sceptical. These bounties are real, no matter how illegal they are. If we’re not careful, we might end up with one for our heads. We’ll discuss good ones as we have a limited amount we can-’ the Mage was interrupted by the man that stepped forward again and shouted.
‘Now, who will accept this bounty?’
A few numbers were held up. The man shouted them and wrote them down on the sheet of paper.
‘Twenty one! Thirty-six! Forty-two! Eighty-nine! Ninety-seven! This bounty will not scale down the Gold. It’s up to whoever does it first! Next bounty!’
There were a lot of uninteresting ones, numbers raised and shouted, Gold going down and weapons inspected. The two agreed to three bounties. They provided 350, 600 and 800 Gold each, but then Schamm heard something that made him realize the peril he was in.
‘Bounty for 5000 Gold! 5000 everyone!’
A loud gasp was heard throughout the room, coming from most of the people present.
‘Bounty for 5000 Gold! For the one who will bring back a proof of killing a northern warrior. But not any northern warrior! His name is…’
In a matter of seconds, Schamm’s world got turned upside down. His ears were ringing, sweat pouring on his face. The two companions looked at each other in disbelief.
‘Now, now. I know that the name Schamm isn’t that well known around these parts. It was an order coming from High Commander Gazuvius himself! He has provided us with a description: The enemy is about 190 centimetres tall, muscular. We don’t know if he’s armed, but he is extremely dangerous. It is said that he fought in the arenas of Ulrag, along with the giant Trunkarm, the infamous Mok’Rath and the deadly Galluk of the North.’
As the names were shouted, the cries of happiness died down. Those were three of the most dangerous killers, the top of the elite. No other man had ever faced them and lived to tell the tale. They were regarded as the Champions of battle, renowned across the world as the merciless, swift and powerful maniacs they seemed to be. And Schamm was the reigning champion. He couldn’t look anywhere else but at the spinning ground, feeling the need to vomit. Ratin pulled him by the arm but he wouldn’t budge. His eyes were bulging out of their sockets, saliva almost falling from his open mouth.
‘That is the end of the bounty calling, folks. Make sure to-’
The sound, along with his vision, started to fade. Heaven knows how many agreed to the bounty, and now he was also being hunted down by the army of Saudin. He almost passed out but managed to get out of the building, tripping and bumping into someone, burping at every few steps.
‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to…’
‘Who d’ja think you are? D’ye want to get yourself killed?’ Schamm realized that the man, along with three others, were robbing a helpless woman.
‘You made that girl escape! You’re lucky we got some money from her.’
‘Let’s not do anything rash.’
‘What do ye mean, ye freak?’ said one of the bandits.
‘Yeah, we don’t want your kind ‘ere!’
‘Leave before you want a beatin’, monster!
Monster… Monster… Schamm felt as though he could rip their heads off. Too many times has he been called a monster. He tried to calm himself down, but the nagging at the back of his head was too strong for him to resist. He felt his breath getting steady, his muscles contracting, his vision getting blurrier yet. His instincts took over, his sight becoming dark.
His eyes opened, he heard the shout of Ratin, though he wasn’t calling his name. ‘Friend, friend! What happened?’
‘I’m sorry’ After explaining what had happened, the lady approached him, thanking him. Schamm. She asked him if she could join them, offering her knowledge of wildlife as an asset. While talking, another woman approached them.
‘Who are you?’ Schamm asked as he took a good look at her. She was tall, not as tall as me though. She had a brown fur coat without sleeves, tied at the middle with a black belt. Inside of it, she had white fur. Quite good for the winter.
She had long, red hair caught in a ponytail above her oval face, her cheekbones and jaw line showing. Her small nose was slightly bruised, with a cold, deadly look in her bright blue eyes, but somehow inviting at the same time. Her sensual smile was further contrasted by her full, red lips and tanned skin tone, with her well maintained eyebrows. She wore earrings that resembled silver spears going through her ears, shining in the light.
‘My name is Iruka. I’ve heard that someone was trying to join you, and you seem like you’re looking for some bounties. I might be juuust the thing that’ll help you.’
Ratin leaned towards Schamm and whispered into his ear.
‘Her weapon. It is one of the Treasured Antiques. The Glaive of Strength. They say that if the wielder already has 500 or more Power, he will be granted even more based on how many enemies there are around her. It’s one of the three weapon-types Antiques. As you can assume, she will prove to be a most useful asset.’
Schamm felt the hairs on his neck raise up. He agreed to let her join after establishing some conditions.
‘What of the other girl?’ Ratin whispered again.
The warrior turned to her ‘What’s your name?’
‘Don’t you have some parents or something you gotta take care of?’
‘No… I live by myself, that’s why I needed your help.’
With a long sigh, Schamm allowed Neveah to join their group.
‘So, what do I call you?’ Iruka asked.
Ratin looked at Schamm for his response. ‘Call me Shambler. My friend’s name is Ratin.’ The Mage bowed.
‘Happy to meet you, Iruka. You too, Neveah.’ After learning that Iruka was looking for someone close to her, they decided to head east, towards Viondril.
Sceptical about everything that happened that day, Schamm only wished that their new companions would be worthy of their time. Who knows who may be waiting to stab me in the back?