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TVC BK I, T 2: Setting Out

Turn Two: Setting Out

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” I asked again.

Terv gave me an annoyed look that expressed just how happy he was to be asked the same question four times. I ignored it. I needed everyone on their A-game today and he was the weak link. Sooner or later people were going to learn of our disastrous defeat. Even if the caravan had not already mouthed off at every stop between here and Tappier folk would eventually notice that once familiar faces had disappeared. As a seventh-stage tempering cultivator, the Captain had been both our ace and deterrent. Without him, things were going to get difficult. Things to worry about in the future, I suppose. For now, we needed to get grab supplies, men, anything and everything we could use before our weakness became known. That meant no fuck-ups. We were going to ride through the valley like we were still the biggest game in town and not desperate dogs in need of … well everything. That especially went double for desperate twin brothers in dire need of medical supplies.

Something in my face must have conveyed my meaning because Terv caught himself and giving me a searching look, returned a determined nod. It would have to do. 

We rode out. Six men and eight horses. Four were to draw our two waggons. The Captain had never liked squeezing the vale folk but well … tough luck! We were going to take everything we could carry back and hole up until I figured out my new abilities. After that? That was anybody’s guess. 

——

The sun was dipping in the sky by the time we came upon Pranil. It made for a beautiful sight; the sun was low in the west, the hues of red and orange spilling across the sky behind a village we had to sort of squint at to see properly. Pranil was the third stop on our journey and the biggest settlement so far. That said if memory served there couldn’t be more than four hundred people behind those wooden walls. It said a lot. This wasn’t just a backwater, the vale folk were incredibly poor. Our entire day of travel was mostly passing homestead after homestead. However, that suited me just fine. I was increasingly convinced that this was a nice out-of-the-way starting area without any high-level enemies. It made my plan seem more secure.

Already, our waggons had a good deal of cargo. We had several fowl, two pigs, some grain and a nice heifer. That farmer looked like he was going to cry when we took his cow and he probably did when he left. Pranil though, that was going to be the real challenge. There was no way six men could take on several hundred. Luckily, we didn’t have to. They knew us there. Case in point, the men who came out to meet us looking all the while like they were being force-fed lemons.

“Still watching the world pass Jonas?” I sneered. 

The man scowled so fiercely that his face scrunched like a wad of newspaper. 

“We’re already paid up for this moon!” he growled out. 

Only prudence kept me from kicking his face in from atop my horse. The old Bunpagna loathed this man. I found that I did too. Jonas the troll. Jonas have-to-pay-the-toll-before-you-pass, Jonas I-saw-you-looking-so-I-going-to-beat-you-because-you’re-thinking-of-stealing. Jonas come-here-let-me-check-your-pockets. The man was despicable. A genuine lowlife thug, which was saying something given we were bandits. He was your classic fear the strong, bully the weak type and the number one enemy of children and small animals in the village. As a former street rat, the old Bunpagna suffered a lot at his hands when he roamed the muddy streets of Pranil. That was before he threw himself at the Captain’s mercy and got recruited into the gang. Today, he was bigger and stronger than Jonas but it was clear the old fart still couldn’t see it that way. The only one Jonas feared was the Captain. 

“Next moon isn’t for a few more days but just cause it’s you, Jonas, I’m willing to collect early”, I said with a smile.

“YOU!”

That same shared history that kept Jonas from recognising the threat I had become was the same one that had prevented the old Bunpagna from acting out on his obvious hatred of the bastard. However, that was then. Things were a little different now and I let Jonas know it.

“Yes, Jonas! Me!” I smirked practically daring him. “Now unless you’ve got money for me get the fuck out of my way! Have Pierce come see me.”

Not waiting for a response, I spurred my horse past him. The air was tense for a moment but Jonas and his men let us pass. My own men hesitated for a split second before following. Our arrival had not gone unnoticed. Eyes peered at us from behind shutters and across the street but no one stopped us. Good! It might not look like much but Pranil was a big place. They didn’t fear us as much as the other villages. If they saw weakness, they just might pull something. That was why the Captain never went too hard on them. As a fourth-stage cultivator, I was already the strongest in the village. The Captain being seventh could chop through them like an axe through jelly. Nevertheless, he had to be careful because if they committed, they could bring him down through sheer numbers if nothing else. Scores would die before he croaked, making it an incredibly stupid decision but they could if pushed. The same things could happen to me if I wasn’t careful.

We holed ourselves up in the village’s only inn. Just six men having some lunch before going about their unlawful business but to the villagers, we might have as well been devouring human flesh instead of bread. The small inn was nearly deserted, emptying out in a matter of seconds upon our arrival and those who stayed kept shooting us furtive glances. Marla, the wench forcibly elected to serve us looked ready to bolt at the slightest sign of trouble. Poor girl! Every item on her tray rattled when she brought them over on account of her trembling. 

‘Damn, that intimidate ability is really pulling its weight!’ I remarked quietly to myself.

My current class was Brigand. It gave me two abilities; [Plunder] and [Intimidate]. 

With the secondary ability proving so useful, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing the other in action. I was never a pushover, in either life, but this was different. That confidence to walk up to someone and the force of personality to make them back off instead of confronting you was invigorating. That feeling of power was like a drug. Even the unbelievably tense atmosphere that practically swamped any place we went felt natural, felt right. The men felt it keenly, especially now. It was one thing to roll over a bunch of farming steads and another to walk into a walled village of hundreds and have them avert their gazes. After a brief moment of uncertainty, they lapped it up. Already, they acted like they owned the place; laughing and joking as the ale and meat filled their bellies. It was their want, we were predators, and these weak villagers were prey. We …

Quickly, I shook my head to clear out such thoughts. Perhaps I was leaning too heavily on these new skills. We most certainly weren’t predators. Low-levelled scavengers maybe but nothing higher. There were much bigger fish out there. The Captain’s death proved that. Even ignoring the magical aspects of this world, common criminals never amounted to much, in either life. The old Bunpagna was limited by his poor upbringing and lack of education but Thaddeus grew up middle class. I knew or encountered people who fell into a life of crime. When I was younger I worked in a supermarket that got robbed, constantly. 

The perpetrators were fundamentally the same, low-level trash who thought they were ‘hard’ and other people, especially law-abiding people, were ‘soft’. They were dullards that failed to understand one thing, the common criminal much like the common man was disposable only more so. Being ‘hard’ meant nothing. They were pawns skulking in the muck, earning money for uncaring bosses who walked in the light. That’s not to say the old Thaddeus wasn’t. He was a junior manager in a real estate firm, effectively the same but with a key difference. He was in the light.

The low-level criminals in my old life were petty thieves, con men and drug dealers who scrounged on the outskirts of ‘polite’ society making ends meet by ripping off strangers and selling who knows what. Sometimes, they would make a big score only to find themselves with money they couldn’t even use legitimately. It was a harsh life where one wrong move and they would get done in by others or wind up in the big house. I could see parallels between my two lives already. For all his power, the Captain ended up living out his days in an abandoned ruin and dying in an ignoble way. To be fair, I don’t think he knew any other way to live. However, that only made my point for me. Robbing people might be a rush but if I was going to be successful in this life, the last thing I wanted to do was fall into the mindset of a common criminal. I needed to get smart, either get out of the game or find a way to become a whole lot less common.

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