Chapter 4: Bandits

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All races had gathered to build the great metropolis. Now, it is a necropolis -a city of the dead, for the dead. It is the sepulchre of the world's hope. It has died, and my hope with it.

***

Skaria walked out, next to Kerras and the ranger, Karik'ar behind them. She idly checked her viper blade. It was a long, thin blade that tapered to a point, but made of alchemically toughened steel. Terrifyingly expensive, and fast and deadly in a fight.

"I hope you know how to use it," the half-dragon ranger said. His muscular chest was slimmer than her partner Karik'ar's chest, which was bulky even under the shirt she had made him wear. He had the lean grace of a predator. And horns. But without weapons, how was he going to fight them?

"Of course I do," Skaria said. "Only an idiot would go into battle with a weapon they don't know how to use." Behind them, Karik'ar unhooked a broadsword and battleaxe from his belt. She had tried to get him to wear one of them on his back for practicality. She had seven blades on her. He had four. All of them were meant for two hands to hold, and he twirled them like they were twigs. "Karik!" she shouted, shortening his name. "Don't let anyone through." He grunted in assent.

She turned to the ranger. "How do you suppose to fight the bandits without weapons?" she asked him. "I don't see how what you're doing is smart."

Laidu stopped. "Open the gates as far as you can," he ordered. They paused, before Kerras ordered them to listen to the bloody ranger even if he sounded daft with an angry bellow. Laidu looked at the guards. "Stand back," he warned.

Laidu rolled his neck, the copper scales rather flexible. He stretched out is arms, his back, his chest almost leisurely. Then, he burst into flames.

It was only in a few places, but it was nevertheless impressive. A spot of dirt on his back ignited, along with a smudge on his arm. Then, a circle of darkness spread around his feet as his body heat charred the grass.

Skaria could feel the heat from here. She shielded her face from it with a vambraced arm. It felt like standing next to a bonfire. She had heard stories about the Fever Blood Ranger, but she had assumed that the story she had constantly heard -of him being able to heat up well past burning point and destroy by simply being near something flammable- was a fabrication. Apparently, it wasn't. She turned back. Karik'ar stared, not too pointedly, but enough.

From the slackjawed looks of the other guards, they must have not believed the stories either. Rangers did tend to become mythical warriors of unmatched prowess in stories. Laidu had apparently set one of the stories straight.

They passed through the gate, and Laidu continued onward, the rest of the warriors standing a good distance back. The gate creaked closed. Now, they waited. Skaria hated this part, but it was necessary.

It was maybe ten minutes before the bandits showed up, riding together. There were eight of them, all armed to the teeth. Their leader, mounted on a black stallion, raised his fist, and the company came to a halt a good distance from Laidu.

"What's the meaning of this?" the leader asked Kerras.

"You're not coming into my town," Kerras said.

"I think I should. It is collection day, after all," the bandit leader said with a smile. He stopped smiling when he saw the anger in Kerras's face "I see." He observed the guard. "You got a woman, two craven men, two boys, and a Half-blooded whoreson with you, and you think you can win?"

Laidu coughed. The leader frowned. "What?" he shot angrily at Laidu.

"I don't appreciate the term 'Half-blooded.' I have just as much blood as you," Laidu said. "It's disrespectful, not to mention demeaning." Skaria nearly laughed at the condescending tone Laidu had adopted. She knew exactly what he was doing. He challenged the authority, then established his own.

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