. “Ulafazfi Telidosse. We killin’ the menfolk or what?” asked the gravel voiced Veyahansa, pointing to a group of men separated from the crowd of women, children and elderly in the just plundered compound of a well off city dweller of the recently taken city of Tabysiifide. “You! Nedresse blood or Khiv?", she asked one burly hard staring man, his muscular arms hanging by his side, fists looking like they shaped and hammered metal into form without need of tools. They were both of the same height 5’9” but she knew she was outweighed twice over. “Nedresse mostly, some Khiv too. “ The low bass of his voice suited him. She could imagine him being heard over the din of a shop floor. There was a lessening in the intensity of his and some of the other men’s look of defiance, when it quickly dawned on them that this might be an excuse to slaughter them all on a count of racial purity or lack thereof. She let that thought worm through their heads for a moment, seeing the varied expressions race across their features like a herd of antelope before a grassfire. “You work in a smithy? You know how to work with finished metals from a smithy? Or you're just another over muscled lout wasting my ever so precious time?” He puffed out his chest and seemed to ready himself to start forward, but stayed still, if he had been by himself he would have tried to kill or maim her before he was slain himself. But he had these others with him and their families across from them. The loud intake of breath also told him he’d be alone in his defiance. “We all work, or worked, for the Gythuma Qwebokloshra. His is the biggest metalwork shop on this side of Tabsyfiide. This was his house you have taken over.” His Varii was recognizable so she didn’t have to ask him to repeat what he had said. Also, as much as he could, he kept the heat from his reply tamped down.
Ulafazi Telidosse appreciated that here at least wasn’t some sad soul looking to atone for not actively defending his city by wishing to die with it and seeing to everyone else in his charge dying as well. “Okay, go get your women and kids and such and go into the house Qwebokloshra, all of you. Get moving before I think better of it. Veyahansa! You and six of your buddies stand guard over these folk. And keep it in your shorts or I’ll tell that little evil midget Hedyonsle you married. And you know she and her hippo momma will run your ass up a tree!” That brought a round of shield beating and hoots. Little Hedyonsle wasn’t a midget but was not the demure soldier’s wife type: she had an outsized temper, utterly courageous, handy with a knife or hatchet, and had her equally turbulent mother living with her and the five kids still at home. Thus the hoots and shield slapping as Veyahansa slouched off. Keeping her face straight, Telidosse called him over to her. “ Listen. I know you wouldn’t even think of doing something disreputable as that, but some of the fellows you might pick out might be in heat so keep them, in line. And by all means, protect yourselves if any of the people here get infected with last minute boldness. But it don’t mean picking on ‘em either you get me ?” “Yeah, I, mean Yes Ulafazfi Telidosse. I just wish you hadn’t brought up my Hedy into the mix. A lot of my mates already thinks I be corralled and such.” “Well, you and I know you’re in a loving , bountiful in blessings house, right?” “ Except for that knuckleheaded older son of mine and that cranky ass mother-in law, always instigating something that don’t concern her nosy …” “Not now Veyahansa! We’ll take this up after we get this settled, okay?” “ I’d really appreciate that Ulafazfi, I really would.”
And so it went. Many of the residences were empty and dark, others packed with relatives and neighbors giving off the scents of despair and fear. Telidosse and her mates were more interested in loot than revenge killings though that didn’t stop some poor fool from getting his or herself killed resisting a soldier’s taking some heirloom or entering a room where the younger children had been hidden. Or a defender who had fled to his home to act out the final, for them, engagement in the battle: who rushed screaming at the invaders to soon be laid out beside his or her family in a variety of poses, pools of the blood that once bound them now released by the familial slayer’s own hands. “The bastard didn’t have to kill the little babes, Ulafazfi! We ain’t baby killing cocksuckers like some are! They could have lived! They should be alive now Ulafazfi!”
“ What you was going to do, Miasliedo? Start nursing the little…Oww! Hey! I…Oww!” Telidosse stood over the prone soldier and between he and the shivering with pain and rage Miasliedo. His youngest child had died while he had been marching towards the Mazimensah campaign, the news arriving just as they were enjoying the last day of rest before the final assault. “Lakalawoxla, I think you say shit just to hear how smart you think it sounds! Get your sorry ass out of here! Leave your bag! You just contributed the main part of our share to the relief fund, oh great wit. You upset?” “Godsdamn right I am!” “Want to do something about it?” “Yeah bitch, I am!” Two soldiers grabbed him before he could act out his wish. Much could be said against Lal, but cowardice and lack of battle skills were not part of them. She could have spilt his guts onto the already sodden floor with no questions asked or a need for a report.
Instead, she told the two to disarm him and lead him to where a small temple to some cult of these parts, sat like a pig in its most favorite pool of fetid muck, was about to be searched. If there was some type of feral guardian there, then they could use him as bait. Miasliedo was weeping now. Telidosse motioned for his friend to get him outside the city walls and back to their camp. A horror, a Twisted One, was found in the temple. It had been shackled to a most grisly human and animal bone altar beneath that on the first floor. A great, long armed, black furred, yellowed saber tooth thing that stood on three toed feet with the torso of a forest ape. Its head was the most horrifying though; except for the fangs, the head was that of a human being, filthy, bestial true, but human. Telidosse saw the head for herself. Lal carried it proudly on a priest of the temple's discarded staff, after having had slain it with another’s spear. On Lal’s exposed chest, his outer top garments having been slashed to trailing tatters, the tattoo of the Stalker and the Dancer. The next street away was dark. Only the reflected light of the buildings set afire elsewhere in the fallen city reflecting a weird glimmer on the white plastered walls. Except for the yellow light issuing from an open doorway. The fifteen veterans with Telidosse, dropped their loot and started looking at roofs, darkened alleyways, windows and doorways with even more caution.
“I bet you there’s a squad of them Yellow Feather boys wanting another go at us in a more personable way, huh, Ulafazfi?” They had not seen any of the Freelancers. There were some bodies laying in the street but they appeared to be the hapless militia of the city, not the heavy hitters with the three yellow feathers in their helmets. Telidosse called out for a two rank column which they hurriedly complied with. Those who had kept their shields about them crouched behind them lest a barrage of bolts sought prey from roofs or suddenly death dealing windows. As they neared the open doorway they noticed the large painted sign in both Varii, called Nedresse here, and Khiv above it. A waft of cooking odors came at them, even through the smells of battle, death, and smoke.Telidosse was first through the doorway, her sword at the ready. Inside there were empty tables and chairs neatly arranged and on one of the tables, to the left of the door, were two large bags. Beside them in two neat stacks were gold and silver coins.
As Telidosse still at the ready, approached the table, a fat dark brown woman, of mid height, who had a face that could be called goat like, stepped into the light from behind a table in the shadows of a staircase leading up to the second floor. “Most welcome of all the patrons who have graced this humble wajkhino, loyal warriors of the one and only true Ak Ghana, Tonoguru, may the sacred bolts of Shango continue to strike down his enemies, may the Stalker’s talons rip out their presumptuous hearts and hurl them, flaming, onto the pox riddled plains of Wzariz’s gloomy dominion, hail to all of you, most proud of the great ‘n true Ak Ghana’s warriors, to the wajkhino of Lologgue.” The unexpected recitation, the fat bags of hopefully gold and silver with their respective coins in neat sample stacks before them, and the scent of tongue enticing food from the open kitchen behind a polished plank bar, atop which were two kegs of mihi beer with the sigils of a famous brewer from the central region of Ne Varii, led a grinning Telidosse to believe she had found herself the most appropriate of headquarters for one of her service and rank. Sending a still on edge detail of eight to search the immediate area around the tavern which occupied a corner and sat apart from the other buildings of this particular neighborhood.
Her search of the inside of the tavern uncovered the staff and their family members, and an acolyte of the Dancer who extended blessings upon them. There were at least three neighboring households jammed upstairs quaking in fear. One man, a foully smelling and dressed bastard, said he was more than willing to offer up his two young daughters if that would please them. Ogejupamo, a father himself, thrust his sword up through the vulture’s throat and into the slime that filled it’s head, lifting the filth up off his feet, the hard driven blade could be seen from the villain’s gaping mouth.