The Burnt World of Athas

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"Mercenary's life were full of surprises. Most are unpleasant", commander Yessarian was mediating on the new problem. She used to diagnose unfamiliar experiences from several directions, before approaching the task. Tackling the current situation from any angle though, only served to darken her mood.

The Half Giantess warrior cowed against the huge Mekillot bone of the large tent frame. Rising four feet above her Half Elven commander, still the huge woman managed to look like a small girl about to receive thrashing.

"Now what by freaking Hamanu's tail were you thinking when you purchased this miserable cunt"? Anger served to emphasize commander Yessarian's sharp features which only made her look more dangerous. "That was a rhetoric question", she said as it appeared like Lissaet was about to comment, "I know damn too well how your little shite of a mind works. I'm running a mercenary troop here not a fucking brothel, though some of you may have a problem distinguishing between the two".

Words like rhetoric or distinguish were far beyond the Half Giantess simple mind, but she didn't have to be a genius in order to tell when Yessarian was really pissed. She kept silent knowing full well that opening her yapper would invite further trouble.

"As for you Mealiay", she turned now looking at her logistics officer making a note to distort the small woman's name (her real name was Melian, Mealiay was a type of a sex disease), "where did you get the brilliant Idea our troop needed another whore, and a male whore above all"?!

Melian if she noticed the offence let it pass, her long acquaintance with Yessarian made her familiar with the woman moods. "Actually I got this Idea from you commander". When Yessarian didn't comment she felt more confident to continue. "Last week when you got that concubine slave as a present from lord Kotler you started some girls talking in the camp". The logistics officer pointed at the lithe youth standing ready at one of the tent corners. "The girls say that since we have female whores in our retinue, we should also have male ones. Unknowingly you caused some unrest receiving that gift".

"That's ridiculous, we have enough male troops around willing to satisfy any such need. More than willing, in fact most wouldn't mind if the hole they are sticking belongs to a woman, a man or the rear end of a Crodlu."

"Nonetheless some girls are saying the commander snobs herself in luxury of a noble, they are saying you don't want to share".

"Let me guess, when you say girls you actually mean a particular girl"?

The logistics officer silence only verified her suspicions.

Yessarian sighed and sat on a decorated field hammock, the only sign of luxury in the Spartan tent. "Uhelah, right? That witch is looking for an edge since the black spine campaign. One day soon she will make the move against me".

The crimson wyvern mercenary legion was run more or less democratically. It didn't meant to say that leaders were chosen by votes, but the chief commander always enjoyed a large support with the captains and the troops. Yessarian knew her people followed her for the last four years on account of her experience and the fact that she proven so far to lead them through several hard campaigns successfully (survival considered a success on harsh Athas).

"It's not as if things were so great of late" she thought. Their last contract was a disaster. They have fulfilled their part to the word, but on payday their employer (A noble of house Ketelatzekla of Draj) had a nasty encounter with a stranglers noose. The assassination wasn't in any way connected to the legion but part of an inner Drajian feud. House Ketelatzekla plunged into an assassinations war which practically wiped it off the face of Athas. Despite her best efforts Yessarian wasn't able to convince, threat or plead with their employers to fulfill their side of the contract. Since their Job was of the security type (the type that doesn't bring loot), all they had to show after an entire season of hard desert fighting were their new scars. No one really knew besides her and Melian how much was left in the dwindling legion's coffers, but the mercenaries didn't need that knowledge to guess the situation was dire. One had only to chew on the smaller food rations distributed.

The botching of the last contract was in no way Yessarian's fault but she didn't delude herself that it mattered, she could hear the grumbling behind her back. Things stood at an edge and might turn anytime against her. Losing an important battle for example, or losing an important contract or even a scheming rival could tip the scales. She would be replaced, and it would matter little that none would have fared better in her shoes. Somehow she will have to neutralize Uhelah and she had to do it quick, the girl was getting bolder.

When she accepted the slim olive skinned youth as a present from lord Kotler, she was not aware it may serve as a weapon in her rival hand to seed further discontent amongst the legion. "Every move I make is assessed, every step I do I have thousand eyes following, waiting for me to stumble". she thought disdainfully.

The commander looked at her officer, this time the anger that was in her eyes a moment ago gone. Melian was the only woman in the legion who actually tried to look like a one, wearing a real dress knitted from expansive Drajian colored hemp, she held her red hair in long braids which she fixed everyday, and never displayed any tendency of imitating the legion's male language or habits (like most of the fighting warrior women). She had no real fighting skills but nonetheless was accepted as a high ranking legion member, her value not to be questioned. "You only wanted to save my stupid arse and I jumped you like a Kierre in heat." Yessarian made a mental note to make her logistics officer know she was sorry, later when there are no other people around.

"So, buying a male pleasure slave would shut up some yawpers"? she wasn't shouting now, which was probably the reason why the Half Giantess Lissaet, sent as an escort with Melian to the market, felt bold enough to reply.

"Yeah, he was really really cheap commander, a bargain".

"I bet he was", Yessarian looked for the first time at the sorry heap of a man sitting cross legged on the floor. "This supposed to be a pleasure serf", she thought amusingly, "nothing appetizing about this disgusting creature". He was a human male, that was obvious. Except his gender nothing else like age or looks could be determined under what appeared like a lifetime pile of dirt. A huge beard covered his lower face, a very uncommon sight on hot Athas. His tattered clothes would be considered stinking even by the very low standards of the crimson wyvern camp (which could be detected miles off only by smell).

"Lissaet, Please don't tell me you spent more than two hundred silver Gehats on that slave or I'll get real angry".

Lissaet the Half Giantess smiled showing a frightening mouth full of filed crooked teeth, "would you believe only fifty commander"?

The half Elven commander raised an eye brow, "That's too cheap, you sure he doesn't carry some terminal disease". The price of an unskilled healthy human male that could provide yet years of cheap work was usually no less than one hundred and fifty silver.

"Seller said he was feisty, got the strength of a Mekillot. Needed a special collar for him and even that didn't work". "Don't worry commander", the Huge woman made an ugly smooching sound towards the man sitting on the floor, "we clean him up a bit and he turn out just fine".

"Feisty, you mean like the kind that tends to flee into the desert"? Yessarian eyed the man skeptically, he looked docile as a Kank, she doubted there was a grain of fighting spirit in him.

"The seller told us he tried to run three times and they had to put into a special psionic collar, the kind that opens an automatic link between the slave and a psionic master", replied Melian.

Yessarian knew the device her officer was talking about, it was a cruel and usually applied to important war captives. She never heard of it being used on a slave since the effort of creating one made it more worthwhile just to replace the slave. "That story stinks even more than that wretch you bought", she touched the man with the tip of her riding boot. "Kalak's madness", she flinched, "the man didn't move a muscle since he was brought here".

"I know it sounds weird", Melian shrugged her petite shoulders, "but for the price he was asking I was not going to argue".

The commander took a deep breath, when she agreed to take the slave Mari as a gift from lord Kotler, she wasn't aware of the trap she was digging to herself. "Every move I make is under scrutiny, I try to avoid mistakes like angering a good employer by refusing a gift and they manage to turn that against me". "Screw the lot of them, what I need now is a dignified way to get out of this". "Half the camp are outside the tent now waiting to see how I resolve this. Control I need more control.

" This is what we do", she finally said, "Mari is not my property he is the legion's. I agree that we somewhat may need male harlots, if only to shut some mouths, and I'm more than willing to give up Mari for this cause", she turned to the youth whom was eying the exchange nervously, "You can keep that piece of miserable slave on the floor for the same purpose, though I doubt there is going to be much demand". "By the Oba tits, they sure have low quality for Harem boys in Draj this days".

"Wait I'm not done", she raised her hand stopping her officer whom looked like arguing. "The harlots that we have in the camp take money for their services, I think the same rules should be applied here, though the money would go to the legion's coffers since both males are the legion's property, for price determination I say we use the usual method of a Rekotorions Bid".

"You don't mind giving up Mari, he has been a great help to you those last couple of weeks, being educated and all"? asked Melian.

Yessarian suddenly understood, Melian knew that she would give up Mari the moment she finds out there are grumbles in the camp concerning her keeping a personal slave. The logistics officer purchased the other slave just so she could keep Mari. She understood or at least thought she comprehended the motivation behind her officer's actions, Melian have revealed her true feelings for her long ago. Yessarian turned her down as she did with every other legionaries saying that sleeping with her officers was bad practice of prejudice. "Shit, it's not like I was doing something with Mari, he is too young to be my type just like woman are not my type dear Melian, I whish it was not so hard on you".

Turning again to the man sitting on the tent's floor she kicked him cruelly in the ribs, "You hear that you pile of shite, from now on your arse belongs to the legion. Your job is to keep the ladies happy at night, by day you work hard like everybody else. Your previous master say you are strong, you will be attached to Kokadel, he is our weapon smith, he's nose was cut off years ago so I guess you'll get along just fine".

"Oh, one more thing", since the last kick didn't bring out any reaction she booted him again, more viciously, "if I ever hear of any trouble coming from you, your stay with the legion is going to be a very short one, I'll not even waste time on trying to put you up for sale, is that clear"?

Again there was no reaction from the man. "Did you even understand a word of what I was saying? You bought an imbecile Melian", she cried. Annoyingly she reached down, grabbed his hair and pulled his chin so as to force his eyes to level with hers. The commander's hand raised to strike him again in order to get some reaction suddenly froze. Her arm went limp with a shock. Between the bush of hair and beard the most peculiar set of eyes she were inspecting her. It was not the fact that they were huge, huge for a human or even an Elf, nor was their color of deep blue almost purple which she have never encountered before, not even the pupil that was slanted as that of an animal caused her reaction. It was the intelligence she sensed behind those eyes that stayed her hand. Those inhuman eyes were inspecting her with such intensity as if they could borrow a hole through her mind. At last, as if content of what he saw, the slave raised a big hand and with a gentle movement, almost a caress, removed her hands from his chin and hair. "Crystal clear commander Yessarian, you will see no trouble coming from me", he's voice was deep and his speech slow with a peculiar accent. Try as she might Yessarian wasn't able to put her finger of the region it came from. Somehow it reminded her of the gray northern mountains ridge, it sent a shivers down her spine.

"You don't talk to the commander like that", the Half Giantess Lissaet yelled, the huge woman was obviously not impressed by the voice, "you don't call her by name you little shite, heck you ain't even earned the right to call her commander", raising a huge leg, she was obviously planning to stomp the man right where he sat.

Yessarian raised her hand before the situation turned ugly, "There is no call for that Lissaet, he meant no harm". "Just take him and Mari outside Ok, and clean him up so he will be serviceable for tonight".

"What was it all about?", asked Melian after the grumbling Lissaet left the tent accompanied with Mari and the new slave, nothing escaped the officer keen eyes, concern for her commander was obvious on her face.

"Where did you say you bought this slave from?"

"I didn't, it was at Nibenay slave market, three days ago from a trader named Asalleem, we worked with him before, he sells good merchandise". "Do you fear there is foul play involved? Just say the word and I'll arrange for the new slave to disappear silently".

"No that's wont be necessary, I guess that as long he as he wears the collar he can't escape or cause any damage, at least he can be easily be put under control". "I'll give it a couple of days to see how he adjusts".

Melian nodded her head in discontent, "I'll keep a close eye on him anyway just to play safe".

"We always do", Yessarian forced smile only emphasized the stress she has been in the last couple of months, "We always do".


Yessarian current commander of the crimson wyvern mercenary legion commander twenty sixth in line surveyed the Elves below. Being hybrid man and Elf she didn't much cared for her prejudiced relatives. Nonetheless she couldn't but admire their running skill. Juhud's companies on the run were a magnificent sight. More than a mile away she could easily pick out individuals amongst the units. First amongst them would be Juhud, the tallest Elf Yessarian ever encountered. She could easily visualize the huge thin form distinguished strides, the effortless flow of the immensely long legs, and the strong thigh muscles pushing at the soft sand. Next to him, carrying the flag with a crimson wyvern and a blue long bow of the dune rippers was Jeale swift stride, unhindered by the extra burden of the battalion banner.

To the ignorant viewer this might look like a disorderly rout, the commander new far better. Juhud Kept his three Archer companies, sixty men each in a tight formation, he has yet to give the order for a dispersed sprint. She was hoping he would not give it too late. Too much depended on Juhud timing ability. She always found it hard to trust an Elf, old habits die hard, but she had to accept that the dune rippers battalion loyalty to the legion was unquestionable. They were the remnants of a desert runners tribe who came upon difficult times. Instead of joining another Elven tribe and becoming a Jada (the almost equivalent of a slave) they offered to join the legion. Juhud was a second generation born after the join up. He considered the legion his tribe and Yessarian his tribe leader. In fact, Yessarian herself has joined the legion only thirteen years ago after escaping the gladiator stables of Tyr, thus was more an outsider to the legion than the Elf.

She was standing on the ruined wall of what appeared to be an ancient fortress built on top a west and south west stretching canyon wall, dominating a barren valley to the east and the huge canyon old riverbed. Reddish brown hued stone made guard tower stood north on the opposite wall of the canyon. A stone bridge once might have connected the two walls, but now it lay in disheveled ruin, only the northern tip extending a few hand off the cliff face remained, coming to a hundred hands span of sheer dropdown.


Returning her sight to the runners below she cursed disdainfully. The Elven battalion pursuers, two battalions of Crodlu riders light cavalry were gaining fast. "Too soon, much too soon", she whispered to herself. Her plan was not simple enough, too much has depended on timing and apparently she had miscalculated. This was not a mathematical quiz though, real life would be traded for a little gain.


Her orders given to her by her employers were to prevent the medium sized army on the plain to her east to reach the besieged Red springs fort. Lord Kotler's (their current employer) army has been blockading the fort for eight months now without any real accomplishment, except maybe for stopping the precious copper shipments extracted from the mines below the fort to reach their destination. Yessarian didn't feel much enthusiasm about signing with lord Kotler as sieges were known to be long and tedious business, with almost no loot until the end. On the bright side, the crimson Wyvern legion wasn't equipped with siege engines or any siege capabilities, which meant the role reserved for it was to sit on their arse and to counter any break attempts. Anyway, things being the way they were She couldn't afford to be choosey.


Time for sitting Idle was over now though. A strong relief force was sent by Merchant House Ketaxzel owner of Red springs that could pin Lord Kotler forces against the fort, changing the small war rules and tipping its scale in the Ketaxzelians favor. When word came from lord Kotler spies that a large force was assembling in Draj with orders to lift the siege, Mualah, Lord Kotler general on the field had sent Yessarian and the legion to stop it by all means available.

"Divide and conquer, more easier said then done", Yessarian first thought when her scouts first returned with report of the size of the force they were facing.

It appeared that House Ketaxzel pulled all available resources, assembling a massive armament, fielding various types of units. The scouts even recognized shock troops of the despicable merchant house Stel. But the most troubling news were two companies of fully armored Half Giants and two battalions of light cavalry almost four hundred strong. The force advancing quickly on the besieged fort was superior to the legion on almost every aspect and counted about three times the legion size. Hardly a good ratio to fight an offensive war.

There was more then one way to skin a Kank though. Yessarian was best at pinning down her legion's superior traits over an enemy. She also had the gift to turn these traits into the crucial and the decisive elements of any battle. Maneuverability, except for the light Crodlu riders the Wyvern legion was faster, add the fact that the assembled force was built out of several fighting groups with weak central control and you might devise a good working plan. First she decided to get rid of the light cavalry, as it presented the toughest problem. For accomplishing step one of her plan she needed to draw them far enough from the main force. All they needed was a good reason for branching, something that would be hard to resist. Something like an Elf Bait.

For the last three nights the four Dune Rippers companies stalked the Ketaxzelian camp. Skillfully their long bows picked available targets. Considering

the Elves excellent night vision it is no great surprise the Ketaxzelians learned

very soon to keep inside their tents. Any retaliation forces sent into the desert

came empty handed, easier to trap the wind than an Elf at night. These attacks

had no real affect, except maybe to bring down moral. Their real purpose was not inflicting casualties, but to make the conflict more personal. Yessarian knew that when emotions are involved, the mind works less clearly.

On the fourth day, the Ketaxzelian force found itself at it's last leg of the march about to enter the great Aluviel Canyons. Three miles east the canyon bed Dune Rippers waited in ambush. The first hail of arrows shot in broad daylight was deadly, felling a score of the advance force. The attack exposed the Elves position though. Fast, faster than she would have attributed to them, the light Cavalry mounted Crodlus and went into hot pursuit. An Elf on foot was fast, although the Dune Rippers were somewhat slower than the average Elf, as the generation born to the legion never had to participate the desert runners famous marches. They had a good head start on the Crodlu riders but their pursuers were gaining fast.

"Four hundred strides, ech, why doesn't he give the word for a sprint? Juhud has lost his touch", that came from Coalian, there were murmurs of agreement from the warriors around him. The strong Elf warrior stood on the wall beside her, commander of the only Ripper company not participating in the mad pursuit below.

Yessarian lay a calming hand on his shoulder, "Apparently Uhelah was not the only one nosing for promotion, I guess Juhud needs to start looking behind his back. Maybe we could start together a coalition of old timers soon to be replaced " she mused. At that moment the Rippers flag was raised twice, finally Juhud gave the signal. And as if their previous dash was only a stroll, the Elves unanimously went into a mad sprint.

"You all know the drill gents, Coalian, we wouldn't be able to see the rest of the Ketaxzelians force from down below, throw us a fair warning". The only response she got was a grunt, all eyes were on the race below.

Jumping of the broken wall, the commander hastened her way down the Canyon wall to the south. An old pass snaked it's way on the southern cliff, the one not facing the drama below. It led to another hidden canyon invisible to anyone coming from the eastern road it was open south and west. Connecting with the main route it created a sort of a crossroad with sheer cliffs on every side. The rest of the legion waited around the bend silent and ready.

"Too many factors are left to chance", acting her usual self Yessarian started finding the many holes, real or imaginative, in her plan just the moments prior to battle. "A major fuckup would be me falling down the cliff and breaking my stupid neck", she cursed silently as she almost stumbled on a large rock. "Keep a clear head girl, you got it all covered, nothing more you could do". "On the worst case we can always fold and be out of here in no time". She knew that trying to calm herself was a lost cause, a battle lost before it begun. Her feeling of anxiousness would only grow and reach its peak moments before the battle. Finally breathing hard she arrived at the end of the hidden pass, there awaited saddled with full battle gear, Fury, her heavy Crodlu steed.

She let Lieon her small page boy in assembling her weapons, working with swift methodology bought with hours upon hours of training. Bone Shield on her right (Yessarian fought with her left), the obsidian tipped Lance resting on her left thigh. A heavy mace secured to her hip and a heavy steel sword at her belt that traditionally belonged to the legion commander. On her head she put a helmet made of a Klar skull protecting the entire face. Her armor pieces were made from the skin a blue elemental beast from a long forgotten age.

Fury was not clad in less impressive manner. Carrying a full barding made of tough black leather, wearing obsidian spurs extensions on her claws and a vicious pointed head piece to enhance her ramming attacks, she looked every bit ready for the kill as her mistress. Together they were death, woe to any who would stand in their pass.

Without touching the steers or using the spurs she made the Crodlu trot forward. It was her special psionic talent, her affinity with animals and the ability to communicate with some of them with ease. "Good luck commander", Lieon shouted after her. "Wyvern triumph", she shouted back the legion battle cry while hoping she didn't need any luck to win this one. Taking her place at the head of the Legion's Cavalry Battalion (one company of heavy cavalry and two medium) she surveyed her men. Raven her second has done a good job assembling the troops, she took a mental note to comment him later. No time to make correction anyway. "Not a moment to soon she reflected", the first of the Elves appeared around the bend. Keeping a steady pace the Elves formation passed them in its westerly direction. It was no longer a tight formation, but a mad dash now, every man for itself and for his miserable hide.

"Hold it", Raising her hand Yessarian felt every hair standing in the intensity of the awaiting battle. Blood pumped in her ears making the world a mishmash of unrecognized sounds. Beneath Fury tensed, somehow through her mistress receiving the same wild experience.

The last staggers of the Reapers came into view, the light Crodlu cavalry less than ten strides behind.

"Charrge", she shouted, doubting that anyone even heard her cry. Lowering her hand the crimson wyvern commander galloped forward.

Time Slowed.

"One", Under her thighs Fury jumped like a huge grass hopper, starting slow but gaining speed with each huge stride of her powerful hind legs.

"Two", rider and steed became one body and soul, unstoppable machine.

"Three", The world focus became narrow, forgotten were her battle plans , her doubts, her fears. Even her men were forgotten at this moment, she might have rode alone and left them behind for all it mattered. Nothing but the Kill ahead.

"Four", Most of the light cavalry have passed the bend still hot in pursuit, none of them yet noticed the danger approaching from their left flank and rear.

"Five", raising her lance she prepared for the jarring impact.

"Six", An Elf stumbled, he was on his feet in no time, but his delay was sufficient for one of the riders to gain on him, the white bone spear went through his entire body. She knew this one by name, she knew all her seven hundred legionaries by name. "No Time for grief". Another Elf fell and then another.

"Seven", Fury now ran at her top speed, she was rode fast as the Ketaxzelian light Crodlus. The smaller beasts were slowing down, tired after their long sprint. She knew Fury wouldn't be able to maintain this pace for long.

"Eight", She wouldn't need to.

"Nine", A Ketaxzelian soldier suddenly turned his head in backward. Maybe it was a hyper sense that warned him of the approaching doom or maybe he just heard them. The terror on his young face was clear below his high helmet. "He haven't shaved his first beard yet" and then, "you notice the weirdest of things in a battle".

"Ten", the world exploded back into action.


The lance broke into the unprotected side of the young warrior. Forcing herself to the expected jar she watched with satisfaction as the rider flew off the saddle. At the same time Fury rammed into the much smaller Crodlu flank with the ferociousness of a Kierre. The Lizard mount was knocked off its feet burying the poor rider beneath its great bulk. Fury jumped over the fallen enemy already seeking another target. Although the momentum of the charge was completely depleted, Yessarian still kept her hold on the lance and could still bring it to a good use.

The Legion line was spread thin, trying to encompass as many enemy chargers, a formation planned to achieve critical damage in the initial attack and breaking the already loose Ketaxzelians formation with one decisive stroke. As for the depth of her line Yessarian was unconcerned, the legion main force, consisting of pike foot soldiers, was dogging close behind, geared up for closing any gap.

Turning her mount right she let another fighter skewer himself on her lance exercising his own Crodlu's momentum against him. The lance tip broke on the rider's tough armor, but still served it's purpose, felling the unfortunate soldier to the hard soil. Drawing out her long mace she captured another rider with a glancing blow at the back of his head.

Most of the legion riders have concluded their initial onslaught now, most were already into heavy skirmish as the charge maneuver has served its cause. The chase was broken, Ketaxzelian line completely smashed in several positions. Having no real axis to begin with, the dispersed light cavalry served as easy pray for the legion's more experienced and better equipped riders. Keeping a tight line they ganged up on the smaller mounts dispatching them efficiently. Cracking the enemy center was not the purpose for this battle though, only a tool. Anything less than total annihilation would be considered a failure.

Pushing forward the commander anxiously counted moments, time was crucial. In her frenzy Yessarian almost failed to notice a well planned stroke. Yellow clad warrior carrying the insignia of house Stel reared from her unprotected left and tried to sneak an a vicious night black obsidian broad sword through her defenses. Left handed Yessarian was at a learned very early to guard her less protected flank. Throwing her bodey desperately to the right, she let Fury be her shield. The jagged edge weapon deflected by the Crodlu barding and tough scales came off mark.

Swinging her mace in a wide arc to build a momentum, she countered. The sword gave the black warrior the advantage of a better reach and a faster stroke over the mace, but when it came to speed, Yessarian skill more than evened the odds. Quicker than a snake, using strength and reflexes honed by years of servitude in Tyr's arena, she brought the mace down. The man had barely enough time to bring his oval shield, painted with the crossed scimitars upon white field emblem, to counter the ferocious attack. Wooden splinters rained all over as buckler and steel made contact. Yessarian felt the pressure resisting her weapon give away, and expecting some kind of trick pulled quickly back. Another attack didn't came though, the fighter's shield arm hung limp at his side, broken and useless from the intensity of the stroke. With a shout of triumph, she brought the mace one last time at the now vulnerable side, completely smashing the warrior's left collar bone.

Lifting her head, she tried to get a brief situation assessment. Most of the mounted cavalry force have passed her by now. Cleaving their way through the entire enemy force from south to east. Later it was estimated that almost fifth of the enemy force (about eighty strong) was destroyed in the initial attack. Most of the Wyvern cavalry legionnaires now doubled back and started skirmishing with individual targets. The only chance for the Ketaxzelian had to escape laid in their ability to regroup in places were the legion still didn't have control and try to escape back eastward, or otherwise hold the line long enough for the rest of the force to arrive.

The legion was hardly going to let them do that. The last three companies of foot soldiers have finally reached the field. Poe Vandalk, second in command and officer in charge of marching death battalion arrayed them in six formations, each consisting of three rows of pike men. They formed in deadly order to the eastern flank, capturing the Ketaxzelian in deadly boxes. Heavy Cavalry at their back and front, a sea of spikes at their left and the canyon to their right the Ketaxzelian best choice was surrender.

But the legionaries didn't allowed them the luxury of yielding. Anyone dropping down his weapon was quickly dispatched with cruel professionalism. At some places, especially were there have been a large concentration of Stel warriors, pockets of resistance still held. It was a last act of defiance but it was futile. Juhud Elves, now no longer threatened, doubled back from the chase and found these concentrated enemy pockets, an easy target for their long bows. Shooting without discrimination from a minimum range they made every arrow count.

A group of house Stel riders suddenly broke the blockade, making a run for it. Turning their mounts they charged madly eastward, slaying any who stood in their pass, legionnaire or ally. Their leader a dark clad huge man was a terror to behold. Unlike the rest of the Ketaxzelian cavaliers, he mounted a heavy Crodlu with full and very expansive barding. His headpiece was made in the form of a human skull, offering a grinning visage of death. Here and there below the black armor patches of black striped yellow skin (not unlike the skin of a desert leopard) peeked. To complete the diabolic picture, he carried a thin human length carved steel sword in one hand, which he already used skillfully to dispatch three legion riders. Now whenever he went, people simply cleared the way, letting him pass unhindered.

Yessarian realized with horror that she knew the guy. His name was Ikarius, assassin for hire and a mercenary like her. She even had once the dubious honor to meet with him once in person. Igial Abshalam, former wyvern legion high commander tried to convince him to join the legion. But the man was not team player, he wanted to be his own boss. He was not even human in the real sense of the word, being a new race, some sort of hybrid of man and leopard, he combined the deadliest characteristics of man and beast. Last she heard, he was working for house Shom, and was making quite a name for himself in the Ivory Triangle region. He started his very own small company of retinues, specializing in high level assassination jobs. The only explanation for his being here amongst the Ketaxzelian troops was that someone had offered a generous sum for a hit job. She could easily think of several possible targets, herself being not the least amongst them.

No time for cold feet now though, a breakthrough could give heart to the remaining Ketaxzelian cavalry invigorating them into trying more such coordinated attempts.

Placing her mace back in her weapon belt, Yessarian swerved Fury, directing her steed to a collision course with the black rider's pass. The big Crodlu charger had a large leather belt strung around the base of the neck. It held several extra arms ready for usage by the riders. People tended to drop and lose their weapons a lot during battle. The legion experience indicated that the weapons belt, or the damn extra armory as it was nicknamed , could be a real life saver, sometimes spelling the difference between victory or defeat. From this belt the commander lifted with her free hand a cocked heavy crossbow.

"One shot !", "Man or Steed?!”, she pondered.

While dispatching the man was her aim, the Crodlu presented an easier target, and a man on foot amongst raging Cavalry, especially Crodlu cavalry with sharp rending claws, was dead meat. "Let's see how good you are on your feet master Ikarius".

Aiming low, as to catch the riding beast on the less protected belly, she gave a short pray to all the gods that hold true the archer hand and let go. The short shaft flew true burying entirely in the soft belly. The poor beast continued running for a few strides then reared backward and toppled to the ground on it's back, it's great hind legs uselessly kicking in anger and agony against the clear sky. The rider somehow managed to clear free from the stirrups, jumping at the last moment before the beast hit the ground. The next Crodlu staggered, almost colliding with his fallen brethren, but managed by luck to stay afoot. His rider was not so fortunate. A red feathered arrow sticking from his back indicated another soldier will not be returning to the Ketaxzelian lines. The last Crodlu didn't fare so well either, It's legs tangled with his slain bigger brother he toppled to the ground, tossing the rider into the air. He painted a small arc in the air, falling back to earth he came to rest at Yessarian's feet. Fury reared her ugly head, the huge beak came down and with a snap closed about the mercenary's neck. A small geyser of blood erupted from the ruined blood vessels staining the dusty road with colorful patterns.

Seeing that Ikarius was not dead only stunned from the fall, the commander urged her Crodlu onward, hoping to dispatch him swiftly while he still lay befuddled.

Drawing rune decorated steel sword from its sheath, she braced for a quick stroke, but miscalculated the assassin's stamina and ferociousness by far. The black clad warrior ducked with ease to the side, retrieving his curved sword of steel while rolling back to his feet. Instead of running away he braced himself for another pass his sword raised En Garde position. This time she took more care with her aim, planning a Fendente high stroke, using her higher position and charge for building momentum. Her sword landed true but the carved sword countered with a jarring force that almost made her lose grip on her own weapon. Circling Fury she prepared for another pass wishing she still had a cocked crossbow. Ikarius didn't wait for her to have another go. With the speed of a Kierre after his pray he sprang and was on top of her in a heartbeat. Jumping Fury's large back he used Yessarian's hair strands as a leverage to gain hold almost snapping her neck in the process. She swiveled her elbow backward trying desperately to get him off. Her hand connected with her tormentor's lower jaw sounding a satisfying crack, but his hold didn't slackened.

Panic clouded her mind. Forgetting anything she knew about close hand to hand combat she simply rained blind strokes one after the other. One such strike found something soft, drawing a howl of pain from the man clinging to her back. His shout was that of a beast, nothing human about it. With another beastly cry of despair the assassin fell back, losing his perch. His hand though, still held firm to Yessarian's hair rust colors locks. Choosing between a broken back and falling down, she slackened her grasp on the saddle, letting herself fall backward.

Yessarian landed on top of Ikarius, for a few seconds immobilized as the air was drawn from her lungs in a grasp. When finally breath came back she rolled to her feet dazzled but mostly unhurt. Ikarius lay still as a rock. Having taken most of the fall impact it was not without reasoning that the man won a broken his back for his efforts.

Somehow during her fall Yessarian managed to retain her hold on her weapon. Ignoring her own throbbing body she limped back to the body, intending to make sure he was not going to get up this time. It almost cost her life. Realizing too late that the beast man was not dead only acting, she barley had time to avoid the long dagger thrust. With the sword she deflected the thrust in the last moment, sending a slash intended at her belly to chip her thigh. "Not fair" she cursed, "the bastard has more lives than the hellish cat which spawned him". She checked her blood soaked leg. The wound appeared superficial, but one could never be to careful with an assassin induced punctures. Their weapons tended to be coated with an assortment of poisons. Some had the vitality to fell a Mekillot. Her delay gave Ikarius enough time to regain his feet. Sword carried in his right, the bone dagger in his left he came quickly for the kill. The horrible skull face mask fell off his head during the tumble, but he didn't need a mask to cause terror. His face was an array of black stripes upon yellow skin, with red tattoos painted on each cheek. His eyes were those of a man but with the iris of a leopard. One could hardly tell where the animal ended and the human started. Even his human mouth, now smeared with blood caused by Yessarian's punches, held two rows of sharp yellow tusks.

With a gurgle that was something between a cough and a laughing sound he lunged, Riverso high to the right cheek, a Seconda with the dagger protecting his left upper side. Yessarian was not to be taken so easily though, lunging below his left dagger she attempted her own Mandritto, a low cut. Jumping quickly back she noticed with satisfaction the red ribbon she managed to leave on his thigh.

The man laughed and saluted her, "was he mad?" came the brief thought. "Probably yes”. Most unique new races she met were not mentally stable.

"Yessarian desert fox, how convenient, you save me the bother to chase you all the way to Red springs". His reaction both surprised and frightened her, it was obvious her head was on this bounty hunter's list. She didn't answered his provocations though, if he wanted to waste breath on idle talking it was his trouble.

They circled each other carefully, the assassin letting her wide berth having learned a lesson in underestimation. En Garde his right arm in Tierce blade up and to the outside, wrist pronated, his left in quarte blade up and to the inside, wrist supinated. Cutting false edge with his right under his left. "How Ironic that he excels in fencing style called tiger".

Yessarian found herself pressed hard against a superior fencer. The sword was

one of her favorites, Mikanos, her old weapon arena master taught many uses of the ancient arte of crossing blades. In fact her technique was the only thing that saved her so far. Her adversary style was blunt almost to the point of being simple, but still all she could do was to defend as his inhuman raw strength and speed compensated for his lack of skill. Fencing with two hands gave him a huge advantage. Yessarian noticed he wore no boots, his bared nails were the long claws of a tiger. His legs moved nimbly and silently on the barren earth, leaving almost no trace the gray dust despite his great bulk.

"Like a leopard", she thought, "I must do something or the legion will have to pick a new leader". "Either he will kill me or I'll get trampled by a Crodlu, I have to get back on Fury".

Lunging from the left low she made him jump back, it was no real attack, it only meant to give her the time for locating help. Most of the fight have moved east from their position but a few skirmishes still held nearby.

"Hey", she called for a passing rider showing the right colors, "Help here". The rider turned for a moment before continuing on her way, it was Uhelah. Later the girl could always claim that she didn't see her commander, which was reasonable enough explanation. But Yessarian knew she saw her and knew that Uhelah knew that she knew.

"I'm dog meat, or rather cat meat", she reflected sadly, "how did I let things to deteriorate so that she doesn't obey a direct order from her commander ".

While she turned to Uhelah with her cry of help her head was turned. Ikarius took his chance and gave a wide high chopping stroke. Have she gone to battle without a proper head piece, Yessarian head now would be rolling on the ground. Instead the strike caused her helmet to fracture in several places. She let it fall to the earth as it now interfered with her sight.

Saline wind suddenly picked up unfurling the her long braid. She felt the bitterness on her lips as salty sweat drops fell from her cheeks. Perspiration was a luxury in a world almost devoid of water, but she couldn't help these drops induced by fear. Yessarian couldn't remember when was the last time she was so afraid.

The attacks came more decisive now, relentless as if trying to wear her down. Her parries became more desperate and her counter attacks less frequent and less accurate. The force behind each attack was like the swing of a half giant. Steel rang against steel time and time again, ringing with unfamiliar sound. At last came the inevitable. A strike came with such a force that made her numb fingers to lose their grip on the sword. She stood defenseless for a moment, waiting for the strike which never came. The curved steel sword rang an eerie wail against an obsidian lance.

Looking to her left rode two figures on a Heavy legion Crodlu. The first she recognized immediately, it was Raven her second in command and acting commander of the mounted heavy battalion (crimson Impalers), the second was hard to place at first, but then she recognized him too. It was the new human pleasure slave, he was perched uncomfortably behind Raven.

"What the hell is he doing here?", she managed to think, "he is supposed to keep at the camp with the washers, the cooks and the whores".

Seeing the odds were now against him Ikarius howled again furiously, aimed his knife and threw. Weaponless she barely had time to defend herself. Raising her hand she stopped the deadly projectile from puncturing her belly. Instead it buried itself in her arm to the hilt.

Cursing the tiger man then ran like all armies of king Hamanu were on his tail. He stopped only to mount Fury, the trained Crodlu resisted the unfamiliar handler, but with a few vicious kicks using his claws as spurs he convinced her to cooperate. Instead of running eastward though, towards the approaching Ketaxzelian force he directed his new mount to the west, disappearing amongst the combatants.

"Are you Ok commander"? Raven extended his arm, but she couldn't bring out the force to bring her own arm up. The new slave, jumped nimbly from the beast back, with ease he lifted her and placed her behind Raven.

There were too many unanswered questions but she would have time for those later. Surveying the field Yessarian gave a quick assess of the situation. The battle was dwindling, they have accomplished what they came here to do. The Ketaxzelian light Cavalry escort force was all but finished. Her men have mostly done fighting and have begun looting.

The battle ended not a moment too soon though. As she saw the breathless sprinting Elf coming towards her she already knew what he was going to say. He was in Coalian's Ripper company, the one left to survey the battle from above.

"Commander, the main force is on your tail, they would be here in ten minutes tops".

"Tell Coalian to give us a head start, shoot them but clear off the moment they clear the first ridge or you will get trapped on that canyon".

"Sound retreat", she turned back to Raven.

"The men creased his forehead, "what about the loot"? Raven was a good man, reliable, he would never make for a good Legion commander though. He simply didn't have the head for the politics involved.

"Forget the loot, no time, take only their remaining Crodlus".

Raven took out a small horn and gently, like kissing a woman he blew three clear notes.

Looking westward Yessarian saw heavy clouds building above a far mountain ridge, she knew they held no promise for rain. "All in all not so bad, she reflected. For some reason, the sinking in her gut didn't subside.


Her mood didn't improve three days later at the camp back at the siege despite the fact that every one credited her for the last victory.

After dispatching the Light Cavalry she let things run by the Book. The Ketaxzelians in their haste to reach the fort forgo the use of Mekillots towed argosies. Yessarian simply sent her entire ripper battalion with simple and effective tactic. The Rippers positioned themselves at their bow range limit which was somewhere around four hundred yards arrayed in long lines. Now consider being on the receiving end of two hundred and forty arrows shot in union by archers that practice hitting desert mice at the age of five. The Ketaxzelian had few choices. If they chose to retreat, they would be chased mercilessly by the rippers. If they chose to charge, the Elves had specific orders to disengage. There was no force fast enough capture them or vigorous enough to keep up with them. When the Ketaxzelian would give up the Rippers now would return and the show would start all over. The Elves just had to make sure they had enough open ground to run to and they would be able to wear down a force almost ten times their size. And so it so became that the pass left in the desert behind the Ketaxzelian relief force could be recognized by the countless of bodies and deserted wagons. At last the Ketaxzelians did the only reasonable thing they could. They camped in a more or less defended position where they could trap the Elves if attacked. Yessarian whom was in touch with her Rippers the whole time, ordered the Rippers to keep them locked in their position. She had no intention of attacking, her objectives were fully accomplished. She had prevented the relief force from joining with the Fort and that was enough. She could keep them bottled up as long as she needed, or at least until another force would be coming (though she felt it was highly unlikely). As for the battle fought, it turned out result were better then she have hoped for. Only fifteen dead and thirty five wounded, most were from the Cavalry battalion. In exchange, they slew and wounded almost four hundred light Cavalry, and even had one hundred and twenty Crodlu mounts to show for it a more than a fair exchange. The only sour point was that her scouts found Fury in the desert. The beast man slew the Crodlu and drained her blood for nourishment.

No further trace of Ikarius could be found. Checking with Mualah, Lord Kotler general on the field commander of the besieging forces, he claimed there were no reports of anyone breaching the blockade, man or beast. Despite his confidence, somehow she was certain the assassin already sat comfortably within the fort walls. He was a worrying factor, an enigma which she needed to solve. There was little info though that could be scrubbed here in the desert, far away from her city contacts. What she did learn, helped none to improve her foul mood. Ikarius it seemed, have begun working four years ago in Nibenay, about the same period which she became commander of the legion.

Having build a considerable reputation in the Draj as a freelance assassin, he started to acquire some followers and retainers. Some were even notable enough to retain their own reputation. A bard named Gafad a master in poison and it's uses, Muhalock, a former gladiator Mul slave, Ketechinak, a brutal Thri Kreen warrior and the rumors said his latest acquisition was that of a young talented elf defiler/psionic.

Far too many skin jobs were attributed to this bunch too be true, though if only a grain of the stories were correct, Yessarian had much to worry about.

Trying to scratch an itching at her lower back, Yessarian found that it was an impossible task with her wounded left arm tied in a sling. Outside the command tent, laughter, music and other sounds of merriment filled the night air. The Legion survived another battle, they were alive and that was enough a reason for a party. Loot was distributed, which was always a happy occasion. The wagons, left by the Ketaxzelian forces on their run from the Elves were full of nice surprises like weapons, food and water. The captured Crodlus would be partly sold, partly kept to nourish the ever hungry mouths in the legion. "All in all, nothing to complain about", A word came that lord Kotler would be arriving himself for the Siege. He send a message telling how pleased he was with their recent accomplishment. It was not over presumptuous to believe she might be able to squeeze a bonus out of him.

"So why am I sitting here brooding like an Inix whose tail was shaven?", She wondered. "That's because you can never stop worrying for real or imaginary reasons, admit it girl you are addicted". More then anything else she wanted to lay her tired head upon her furs and to sleep her worries to oblivion.

Giving a great sigh she went yet again about her endless list. There were the usual day to day worries, like keeping the men fed, clothed and sharp. There were every day disputes and bickers, fights and boredom she had to solve and avoid. There were the post battle worries, of burying the dead, and taking care of the survivals, of distributing the loot fairly, praising those who should be praised and punishing anyone who deserved a punishment.

There were always the future problems like where will they campaign next and where should the go to get a reasonable contact. And of course her personal problems, like the leadership threat presented by Uhelah was always there hovering like a sand storm.

"What would Igial Abshalam do? He always liked solving his problems while taking a shite", the memory of the tough quirky leader brought a genuine smile (rare occurrence these days). "It does no good for yer pretty face to worry so much, go outside smell the air, something will come out", he would say.

"Well staying inside the stuffed tent would do you no good, only to contribute to your reputation of being standoffish". A commander had to keep a certain distance from his subordinates, but also had to avoid being becoming aloof. A party was something she couldn't miss, she had to make an appearance. As much as she would like to simply lay her acing bones, sleep was an unaffordable luxury. Picking a soft Drajian cloak she stepped outside the command tent, bracing herself for the chill. The air tasted refreshing, wholesome, the way it does when it's been touched by cold winds.

"Bring you something from the fire?" She asked Codoul, one of the three guards outside her tent. Since she has learned she was in an assassin list Yessarian took care to triple the guard around her tent. Not that it was much likely for Ikarius to strike in a middle of a camp full of hostile troops, but one can never be too careful.

"Na, the boys need to stay sharp, they will drink at the end of their shift". He pointed at the two trained Jahkars held on a long leash, "Now Duka and Jara here would appreciate something to eat".

"Well I'm yet to see a Jahkar who doesn't appreciate food", she thought. The stupid lizards wouldn't refrain from eating carrion months old. It was rumored they would eat sand if hungry enough.


Large crowd stood before nice fire singing and laughing. Loot distribution is always the peak of mercenary life. The legion rules forbade individual looting on the field. Anyone caught pilfering was hanged or banished into the desert with arms amputated. The phenomenon existed to an extent but was the exception rather than the rule. Strict codes dictated the exact portions, from the high commander to the lowest cook. The only exceptions were the courage bonuses. Five percent of any loot would be given for any exceptional displays of courage or smart fighting. The legion commander was given the honor to choose the individuals, companies or whole battalions that would benefit from the extra booty. Yessarian changed the rule, and now the companies commanders distributed the courage bonuses as they saw fit amongst their man. It was very popular decision at the time, giving her much credit, but now she regretted it. It took of her hand an annoying responsibility, since there would always be those unsatisfied with such decisions and It caused the company wealth to be distributed more evenly. On the down side, it also took away some of the high commander leverage and bestowed it on the lower officers levels. Uhelah as a company commander for instance used the privilege to enrich her supporters. But there was nothing she could do about it now. At least she retained the responsibility of dividing the courage bonuses between the company leaders. Today for instance, she took care to let the Dune Reapers Battalion get almost the entire bonus. No one argued, the Reapers role in the battle had been the most dangerous and most crucial. It would be a just compensation when they return.

A skinned Crodlu was turning merrily over the fire, Geitar, the Half Giantess master cook, was peeling off stripes with a huge bone cleaver. Someone found a barrel of mead amongst the abandoned wagon. Now it stood open for anyone to dip their cups in. Many red noses indicated that dipping had already been going for some time. Two barrels of water stood nearby, also part of the last battle booty. Every now and again a group of legionaries took someone by force and roaring in laughter threw him in. Yessarian as much as she disliked the wasteful behavior decided to let the matter rest. "Let the boys play this night, they deserve it".

She approached silently the celebrating circle and sat at its edge without being noticed. She wasn't one to make a grand entrance, not because she didn't want to, but because she didn't knew how. Some leaders were like beacons, shining amongst it's peers. Others like legendary legion commander Kiligian carried immense charisma and the oratory skill to sway any crowd. Some had an excellent mind for politics, a skill important both for getting the best contract and navigating the dangerous dunes of mercenary leadership. She had none of the above, the only field she excelled was the battlefield. There she could always come with the best plan, there she shone, her bravery and self example giving heart to her men in the darkest hour. Many times it didn't suffice.

A Rekotorion was taking place, a sort of an auction for the highest bidder, only that several items were bid at the same time. She set her eyes on a small iron rapier. It was not fancy but looked of fine quality, a tool of functionality. Following her last encounter with the assassin she swore she would teach herself dueling using two weapons. To her delight few people if any showed interest in the knife, actually there was little interest in most of the Rekotorion bids tonight as almost everyone presented were gathered around one auction. Four impressive piles of coins, not all of them ceramic but also silver, sat on opposite edge of a circle drawn on the ground. The four participants shouted their bids to a great applaud and laughter of the spectators. Looking around the commander looked for the item that was auctioned.

"What's game here Lissaet"?, she nudged the Half Giantess who was clapping hands and jeering with the rest.

"Oi, commander, didn't saw you coming. They are bidding oo's to bed that pleasure slave boy me an officer Melian bought".

This explained the interest and the laughter, it was the first time for slave boy, a pleasure slave actually, to stand on the auction shelf. It didn't explain the high sums involved though.

"Oi myself won me Mari for this night" the big warrior beamed. Indeed the slim Elven youth sat docile and frightened in her lap. To emphasize her pleasure, she slapped his buttocks, causing him to jump with fright. "Don' be so eager boy", Lissaet smile was hardly pleasant, "there'll be enough time tonight for squirming and jumping". Yessarian started to have second thoughts about giving away Lord Kotler's gift to be used in such a way.

Pressing forward she tried to locate the slave on auction, he still owed her explanation as to what he has been doing in the battle field three days ago. During the days following she have been to busy and this small but important detail slipped her mind. She asked Raven about it, but all he could contribute little, claiming the slave jumped behind him in the middle of the raging battle, screaming that the commander needed help.

He sat alone on a rock, very near to the fire, exposed for all eyes to behold. Yessarian had hard time locating him because he was almost unrecognizable. Someone took the effort to clean, shave and to cut his wild hair short, legion style. His dirty rags were gone, and he was given clean pantaloons, his chest remained bare.

Beneath the rags and the dirt there was the most beautiful boy/man she ever sat eyes upon, he was glorious. If a sorcerer king would have ordered a sculpture to create a portrait or a statue of himself, this is would probably be the way to do it. Huge shoulders rested on almost perfect proportioned body and muscles rippled on the proud chest and flat stomach which met wasp narrow waist. His golden skin was marred here and there by old scars that only added to the overall impressive visage.

And of course there were the eyes. Those amazing bluish purple eyes caught her like a moss caught in the flame of the lamp. She felt as if they were drawing her like vacuum compelling her to take a dive.

"Those are endless chasms, there lies the pass to oblivion", she had a frightened reflection and averted her face. Feeling suddenly very hot she knew her face was red to the tips of her hair and was grateful for the concealment offered by the night.

"Fifteen Drajian silver and five ceramic", the bidder was Ekatan, a man actually of the armed crushers foot company. He was known for his great liking of beautiful boys, and was called "rear breach" though only behind his back and from far away. A great cheer of laughter went in the crowed. "Ay so all of ye oos been laughing their arse, mind ye I'll be visiting each one of ye", Ekatan was drunk and more than a little pissed.

"Ill match your bid and add one Drajian silver", the voice rang shrill above the other voices.

"Well Surprise surprise, so Uhelah decided she needed a warmer bed tonight or was it just one of her schemes to gain favors. Now this gives me an interesting thought".

Before she even had time to give the idea a second consideration Yessarian heard the words coming out of her mouth, "I'll match your bid and add a gold coin".

All faces turned in her direction.

"Yessarian, what a pleasant surprise, Ill match your bid and raise you another Kalak golden", Uhelah's forced smile indicated she was anything but pleased. Yessarian didn't missed the fact that her officer took care to omit the "commander" prefix to her name. There was only one person called commander in th

Nels Anderson