| The tavern is packed by the time my crew and I enter. Men hunched over tankards look up with scorn, while serving girls dressed in showy outfits smile and whisper to each other. Why is it we can never enter a place with out attracting attention? I do a quick scan of the room, at least thirty warriors, all armed, three mages, easily recognizable by their staffs and cloaks. Everyone else seem to be locals, no threat.
I stride up to the counter, and the gruff-looking barkeep behind it nods to the back room. "He's in there." He says. I place a guilder on the wood surface, mostly so he keeps his mouth shut. My crew takes a seat at a nearby table as I head to the back of the tavern.
The door to the back room squeaks on old hinges as I push it open. A single candle illuminates the small space, but it's not enough to reveal the face of the man sitting at the room's lone table. His long hat and the lack of light covers his face, but I know who I'm looking at, Diablo, one of the most notorious bounty hunters this side of the Legur River. Not the kind of person I'd like to be around, but he's the only guy who's ever killed a Northern Dragon before.
Diablo watches as I take a seat opposite him, and pour myself a glass of rum from the pitcher on the table. I check to make sure my dagger is safely sheathed inside my boot, just in case, the small room doesn't provide enough space to accurately swing my broadsword. Diablo no doubt is armed as well, but I've got easy access to the door, and my crew waiting just outside it.
I wait, sipping the rum slowly, knowing Diablo will speak when he wants to. I don't like being here with him, but in some manner, I can trust him. He's a member of the same guild as me, the adventurer's guild, and no member would dare raise arms to another without good reason. Finally, after a few minutes of silence, Diablo addressed me in his hoarse voice.
"You young to be adventurer, and girl one, too." He says, his voice has the heavy accent of the snow regions far to the north.
"Is that a problem?" I ask, "You know why I'm here. I need to know how to kill a Northern Dragon without getting killed myself."
Diablo chuckles, "Daring, female,and young? Bad trio. But you pay generously, so I tell. Northern Dragon weak, but they live in groups. Kill one, it sends out signal before it dies, alerts others, they come and don't stop 'til you dead. You need to kill before it sends out signal, one shot kill, it is called. The back of Dragon's neck has thin skin, sword pierces there, Dragon dead instantly, no time to signal. But you need to surprise Dragon, it can't see you, or it signals others."
I nod, and stand up. "Thanks." I toss a small sack on the table, fifty gold guilders, the product of almost a month of hunting bounties. It's a lot of money, but minor compared to the amount my crew and I will get after we kill a Northern Dragon. After quickly finishing my glass of rum, I exit the back room and meet up with my crew, sitting down by them. Togan, my mage, offers me a tankard, but I refuse, ale's never been a favorite of mine.
"How did it go?" Asks my heavy set ax wielder, Hans.
"It went well, and it'll be worth all the money." I say, the five of my crew grin. Togan, Hans, and Leon, my spear man, are the three boys in the group. Ohria, the quiet bow master, Crys, swordsman, and myself, are the three girls. Six of us in total, minus Flav, the horse. Most people seem to doubt our ability to fight, mostly due to our ages. Hans is the oldest at 17 and Ohria is the youngest at 15. The rest of us are around 16. Then again, no one knows how old Togan is, after so many years of living on the street, he lost track of birthdays.
"When are we gonna head out?" Crys asks, taking a swig of her ale.
I shrug, "We'll rest here in town for the night, then maybe leave in the morning. But only if the weather's kind to us. Another snowstorm will prevent us from going anywhere." My crew nods in agreement.
We sit in silence for a while, aware that several of the tavern other patrons are watching us. From behind me, I hear footsteps drawing closer, and the unmistakable sound of a blade being drawn. I dive out of the way just in time to avoid the sword that embeds itself in the chair I was just occupying. My crew is up instantly, weapons out. I draw my broadsword, feeling the well worn grip through my gloves. My attacker is one of the warriors in the tavern, and he's joined by a group of twenty or so men.
"Gentlemen," I say, trying to be kind. "We don't want to make a mess of the bar do we?"
The man who attacked me laughs roughly, "No we don't. Outside with ye!" With that, we allow the warriors to lead us out into the cold winter air. A thin layer of snow rests on the ground as my crew and I are surrounded by the well armed men. I spot Hans cracking his knuckles and flexing impressive muscles. Leon has his spear and shield held out, while Ohria nocks an arrow. Crys is grinning teasingly at a man standing across from her, taunting him with both her lithe body and dual swords.
"So, you got any particular reason to be wanting to kill us?" I ask.
"We don't like it when adventurers like you lot trespass on our turf." Come the reply from someone out of my line of vision.
I open my mouth to say more, but I close it as one of the warriors comes charging at me. I easily dodge his wild swing, and counter by swiftly bringing my broadsword down on the back of his neck. I try not to grimace when blood spurts over my armor. The man's attack seems to cue the rest of the men into motion. They swarm around my crew and I, and we spring into action. With a roar, Hans clears away several men with a strong sweep of his ax. Crys follows behind him, cutting down even more men with a quick twirl. I cast a glance over at Leon, who's keeping enemies away from Togan and Ohria. As Togan launches a fireball, Ohria sends an arrow flying. Knowing we've got this fight in the bag, I focus on using my broadsword to hack down any man who's within range.
The fight's over almost as quickly as it had begun, and my crew and I stand in a circle of bodies. The formerly white snow is stained red. As is my conscious. Killing monsters is one thing, but killing men is another.
"Anyone hurt?" I ask, pushing my remorse aside.
"Nothing too bad." Hans says, showing me a gash on his shoulder. Crys and Leon have some minor cuts, and there's going to be a bruise on my leg tomorrow from when a man threw his shied. Ohria and Togan are unharmed, meaning Leon did his job well. We practice our battle routine hundreds of times, and it pays off.
I look down at my armor, as usual, it's splattered with blood, the crimson standing out against the gleaming silver metal. I'll need to clean it again, as well as oil the hinges on my shoulder guards, they seem a bit stiff today.
It's when I look back up when I notice the rest of the tavern's patrons have been watching us, including the barkeep, who's not looking too happy about the front lot of his place being mucked up. I toss his two more copper guilders at him, and his sour looks fades a bit, but I can tell he wants us gone.
With a quick look to my crew, I turn and make my way out of the ring of dead men. I hear the others fall in step behind me, and as I untie Flav I can feel the stares from everyone who saw the fight. Crys comes over and takes Flav's reigns from me, and I realize my hands are shaking. I don't think it's because of the cold, either. Leon and Hans lead the way as we leave the town, and we're well aware that we'll never be welcome back to the town again.
Killing people like that is always hard, and I can't help but think about if those men had families. Could a little kid be waiting for a dad that will never come home?