Camon, Jorn, and Achara arose and went quietly along the bank towards the docks, able to see in the darkness by the moons’ light. They made deliberate steps, choosing a path that made their approach quiet, choosing stealth over speed. They got to the ladder at the end of the docks, and Camon climbed first, peering over the edge and looking down the docks. They were deserted. Camon then climbed all the way up, then Achara followed then Jorn. Achara readied her crossbow and Jorn his sword, and they walked down the docks towards the tavern. Camon signaled for them to come close and pointed out a small enclave between two stacks of barrels on the docks. Jorn and Achara positioned themselves in between the barrels.
Camon then glanced over his shoulder, left and right, then pushed his hair back, straightened his shirt, and rolled back his shoulders. He adjusted the sword at his waist and then breathed deeply before setting out to the tavern like a soldier marching off to war. He entered the tavern and immediately saw the five large men armed with axes and swords at a table. They were lightly armored in leather, and a few wore helmets. Their stench filled the room. None of them had shaved in months with scraggly beards. One was asleep, while the others paid him no attention. Another table had three smaller men, all with pale skin wearing charcoal-colored clothing. They, on the other hand, were well-groomed and clean-shaven with neat clothes. They were drinking and playing a game. Camon avoided eye contact and casually strolled passed them and made his way to the bar. He did make eye contact with the bartender, then glanced over towards the storeroom door. He then saw Katima in the storeroom behind the bar stand. She nodded at Camon and disappeared out of sight. Camon then ordered a drink and stayed at the bar pretending to drink it without actually consuming any of the ale.
A few moments passed before one of the three men took notice of Camon. They gestured towards him, and two of the big men stood up along with one of the smaller men in gray, and they walked over to Camon. Camon could hear their boots thud on the floor and glanced over his shoulder and saw them coming towards him. He then turned to face them. The little man looked Camon up and down as they approached.
“Nice night,” the little man greeted. “Seems a little nice to be crawling in the dirt, don’t you think?”
“Been a busy day,” Camon replied. “A man gets dirty doing work. How’d you manage to stay so clean?”
“Because we are in charge here. But it’s odd for a working man to carry a sword with him, don’t you think?”
“Can’t be too careful in these parts. I’ve heard lots of rumors about going south.” Camon said as he took a drink from his glass, this time for real.
“Especially a sword made from elven steel,” the man continued. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about a group of folks that went looking for stuff in ruins nearby, would you?”
Camon touched the hilt of his sword on his hip. “Ruins? I’ve heard about them. I think I heard something about a group that left out of here a few days ago. What’s it to you?”
“We’re looking for them. Perhaps you know where they are?”
“Didn’t you just say they are in ruins? I’m sure if you wait here long enough, they’ll come back eventually. But I would be glad to take you to them, for a price that is. It turns out I’m looking for them too. One of them owes me a lot, but I would consider a fair bargain if your price is higher. You can have your way with them whatever your business might be. And judging by your muscle there, I can’t imagine your business is very good…”
The man looked at Camon and gestured for the two brutes to come closer, “I could just beat it out of you…”
“Is that a threat?” Camon asked.
“No, because I know who you are, Paladin. And I know that if you are here, the seer is here with you. So tell me where she is, and I will let you live. Refuse, and these two will beat you until you tell us or die, whichever comes first.”
“Paladin? Aren’t those some sort of warrior? I think you’ve picked the wrong guy. I might carry a sword and all, but that’s because it’s the smart thing to do.”
“You’re not a good liar.”
“Liar? Who’s lying?” Camon asked.
“You talk too much.”
Camon chuckled. “Funny. That’s the second time tonight somebody has said that too me.”
“Maybe we can shut you up then.”
“Sorry, but I need to get going.”
“You haven’t finished your drink yet…”
“Yeah, so you’re right…” Camon picked up his drink and sipped it. Then just as he was about to set the glass down, the man slapped it away, and the two men went to lay their hands on Camon. Camon slipped out of the stool at the bar, putting the little man between himself and the two bigger men. He then shoved the little man in the chest, who was caught off guard and lost his balance. He fell into the two bigger men, and Camon bolted for the door of the tavern. The other two little men attempted to block the way, but Camon leaped on top of a chair, then a table, then another table right past their barricade, and made it to the door. As he did, the two other thugs that were awake realized what was happening. They woke up their sleeping companion, and the three little men, along with the five thugs, went out onto the docks after Camon.
Camon turned back south, where he joined Jorn, Achara, and Katima along with two other people.
“Camon, meet the warden and his deputy,” Katima said, pointing to the new people Camon had not met.
“Thanks for the assist,” Camon said. “This evens the score.”
“It looks like talking your way out of this didn’t work,” Jorn commented.
“I didn’t think it would, but let’s show them our trap.” The party of now six stepped out. Camon drew his sword. Jorn was ready with his large broadsword. Katima had her machete and knife. The warden and his companion both had Imperial short swords. They formed a line, with Achara behind them with her crossbow ready.
The three little men and the five thugs wheeled and were now facing Camon and his companions.
“About that beating…” Camon shouted to them.
“She’s the one in the back!” one of the little men shouted. “The Master wants her alive. I don’t care about any of the others. Do what you must!”
With that, the five big men lumbered down the docks with their axes and swords drawn. Achara fired her crossbow, and her bolt landed in one of the men’s chest, piercing his armor. He went down to one knee, gripping the bolt, then fell on his side. The other four closed the gap and kept coming. Jorn could hardly wait. Just as they were about to clash, Jorn attacked, thrusting his big sword at one of the men. The man parried, then counter attacked with his blade. The two then entered a contest of clashing blades away from the other three brutes who came at Camon, Katima, and her two friends.
One of the men picked out Camon and attacked him. The big man swung his ax overhead as he ran towards Camon. Camon went low into a crouching position, using his blade to block the attack. The big man then tripped over Camon as Camon stood, throwing his shoulder into the man. The man lost his balance and fell off the docks into the river’s water that swept him downstream.
Meanwhile, the other two met Katima and her friends head-on. The warden and his deputy clashed steel with the two men, and Katima flanked them. She struck one of them with her machete in the thigh, wounding one badly and sending him tumbling to the ground. The last man was quickly overwhelmed by the warden and his deputy. They disarmed him and forced him into submission.
Camon regrouped and went to help Jorn, backed up against a barrel in his duel. The man saw Camon coming and backed off Jorn to take a defensive stance. Jorn recovered his balance. Seeing the man was distracted by Camon’s advanced, he took advantage of the distraction and plunged his big sword into the man’s gut, and the big brute went down.
Camon, Jorn, Katima, the warden, and his deputy then reformed a line, staring down the three men who watched nonchalantly with cross arms with an unamused look. Finally, one spoke, “You think you’ve won.”
“You don’t have Achara, and all your thugs are incapacitated,” Camon said. “You should hire better help.”
“You fool. Do you think that we brought them here to get her?”
“No,” Camon said. “You brought them here to distract me. You came here yourself to get Achara.”
“He’s not as stupid as he looks,” one of them commented.
The one who had harassed Camon, who was their leader, called out, “Put your weapons down, and I promise you will live, Paladin. We don’t need to beat it out of you now. She’s right there, so you can just give her to us.”
“If you want her, come get her,” Camon growled.
“Fine. Have it your wa–” Just as the words left the man’s mouth, a bolt flew and struck the leader in the mouth, and he fell backward to the ground.
“Two down. You’re losing your numbers quickly. Are you sure you don’t want to surrender to us?”
The two remaining men looked at their fallen comrade without remorse then turned back to Camon. “Fool, now you’ve made us mad. We will claim her.”
“But you’ll have to go through me first, but she’s not going to make it easy for you,” Camon said. He then ambled towards them. He started to hum in a low tone and gripped his sword tightly.
One of the two men left standing began to wave his hands in the air, and a wall of light appeared in front of them. Camon stopped just short of the wall, still humming. Achara fired another bolt. It hit the wall of light and fell to the ground. From behind the wall, the second man started waving his hands and formed an orb of light. He then thrust it towards Camon. Camon threw up his sword, and the ball struck it and exploded, sending Camon onto his back.
“See Paladin. You’ve only begun to see what we are capable of. Desist. You don’t need to die for her sake,” one of the little men said.
Jorn came to Camon side.
“Ah, if it isn’t the one who failed to do this the last time we hired help to get her. It’s fortunate for the Paladin that he didn’t kill you.”
“He’s talking about my enchantment. Do what you did back in the swamp,” Jorn insisted.
“It won’t work,” Camon said. “If they are the ones that created the enchantment, then they know the counter for it.”
“Is there anything you can do?” Jorn asked.
“I’m thinking,” Camon said. They both retreated to Katima and her friends with Achara, who was behind them.
“Just give us the girl, and you can live,” The men shouted.
“I didn’t expect wizards,” Camon said. “They are using elven magic. I don’t know how, but they are.”
“What’s the plan,” Jorn asked.
“Charging them is impossible. That wall is impenetrable,” Camon said. “Katima, how far is the drop underneath where they are standing?”
“About twelve feet, I think.”
“Do you have anything explosive? Like black powder?” Camon asked.
“Lots of that. Big guns on ships use it. We keep it here for the Empire.”
“Can you get it under them. Try not to let them know.”
“That’ll blow that dock to hell. It’ll launch ‘em for sure, if it doesn’t kill ‘em!” Katima exclaimed.
“If it doesn’t, then it should be enough of a distraction for us to do something about them.”
“I like this plan,” Jorn said.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We have to keep them busy long enough for Katima to get her stuff. Now go.”
Katima, the warden, and deputy disappeared behind the line. Camon stood up and faced down the two wizards. He started walking slowly towards them while Jorn stayed with Achara.
“So, you choose death?” They said.
“No, I’m just regrouping for a minute. What guarantee do I have that you won’t kill us once you have Achara.”
“None,” they said. “But our patience is wearing thin, so you better surrender her while you still can.”
“What if I don’t want to? This is kind of fun, you know.”
“Every version of this has us leaving with her. Don’t be a fool, Paladin. You’re outmatched. And you’re just stalling. It won’t work!” the man said.
Camon continued down the docks towards the wizards. He began limping and staggering intentionally, using his sword as a walking stick. He swayed back and forth in a zigzag motion before stopping about halfway between the wizard’s wall and Achara.
“Can’t we come to some agreement?” Camon suggested. “I need a guarantee that we don’t die once you have Achara.”
“Paladin, weren’t you listening? You have no bargaining power here!”
“I know, I know. That’s not what I’m getting at. I’ve been thinking. I think you’re right. But maybe there’s something I could help you with. I mean, I’ve got magic too. What do you say?”
“Paladin, don’t be ridiculous…”
“I know everything. I really do. I know what your master is up to. Do you?”
“Doesn’t matter. He’s made us more powerful than you, the best that humankind has to offer. Now, look at you! A mighty Paladin graveling before us. Pathetic. What do you have that he can’t give us?”
“I can show you true power. Power beyond measure.”
“You can’t even stand up straight!” they laughed.
“Power isn’t measured in the strength of magic or the might of one’s arms. There’s so much more to it than that. You are just pawns. I can free you. Just let me show you the nature of true power.”
“Please, spare us your pandering, Paladin. We’ve had quite enough of it. We’ve waited far too long, and I think it’s time we claimed our prize. Now you’ve got one last warning. Move out of the way or die.”
“Death then,” Camon said. He raised his sword and took a defensive position. The orb-casting wizard waved his arms and formed a larger orb, and he then pushed it towards Camon. Camon hummed, then threw his sword up as it came at him. The orb exploded as it struck Camon’s blade blowing Camon on his back and dealing a great deal of damage to the boardwalk and the adjacent building. Camon slowly recovered, standing to face the wizards again. “Come on, Katima,” he muttered.
“He really is a glutton for punishment,” one of them said, waving his hands in the air forming another orb. Just as he was about to send it, an explosion from under the docks ripped through the night, sending the two wizards flying along with boards and debris from the docks and the surrounding structures. The orb and the wall collapsed as the wizards both landed faces forward in front of where they were standing on the docks.
Camon then rushed forward with his blade in one hand and with whatever strength he could muster. He leapt over the gap created by the second orb attack and was just feet away from the wizards now. One of the wizards recovered just enough to see him coming and thrust his hand forward, sending lightning at Camon. Camon threw up his sword and deflected it back at the wizards. It arced across them, causing them to both to writhe violently and scream in pain. Camon was then right on top of them. He thrust his blade into one’s leg in a fluid motion, causing the man to scream even louder. The mage’s back arched, and it raised his head slightly. A bolt flew threw the air and caught the man in the throat, and he fell back face forward on the dock silent. Camon then slammed his boot into the second man’s head, and the man went down and lay motionless on the dock with his companion.