beginning’s end

In the Archenland Forest
Middle Archenland

You stand at the edge of the Archenland Forest, where it begins to give way to the Archenland Plains to the west.  The trees here are widely spaced, though to the north you can see rather more of them, shading the grassy turf. To your south and east, you see the low mountain range that separates you from the Southern Desert.

Lanisen makes his way along the path through the woods. His clothing is dark and stained, and there is a certain alertness in the way he walks that suggests he’s making a point to be aware of traffic before or behind him and is more than ready to disappear, should any other traveler overtake him.

Colin is in the branches of a tree along the path, silently enjoying the fruit for breakfast. He’s mostly out of sight, which he probably wishes as he has a clear view of the forest below and beyond where he can watch who passes by.

Lanisen continues to follow the road, making very little noise as he passes. As it’s a fairly windy day, his movement might pass for wind in the grass, if someone happened to only see him out of the corner of their eye.

Colin finishes his breakfast, changing positions slightly. He glances down at the road and sees the lone traveler walking towards his tree. His eyes narrow and he watches silently, his brain whirring. He waits…

Lanisen keeps on, unaware of overhead observation.

Colin moves slowly, trying to be as silent as possible. Using his arms only, he lifts his body upwards and uncrosses his legs, letting himself back down onto the branch in a crouching position.

Lanisen slows and stops at some sound, glancing over his shoulder. He looks up and down the road, standing uneasily for a moment, then slips out of sight into the tall grass at the side of the road. Beneath Colin’s tree, though he doesn’t know it.

Colin’s lips twist into a smirk. Gripping the branch, his muscles bunching, he pushes off with his feet and drops. He holds the branch long enough to direct his fall, turning it loose just as he drops directly in front of Lanisen.

Lanisen lets out a yell and tumbles backward, quickly putting a healthy amount of space between himself and the man. He scrambles to his feet, standing in a defensive half-crouch, then recognizes Colin and straightens slightly, though still guarded. “You drop out of trees at everybody or just me?” he demands.

Colin smirks slightly, folding his arms and leaning against the tree. He leaves the question unanswered.

Lanisen swallows, still breathing quickly, and lets out a mild oath. He straightens his tunic and turns back to the road, obviously eager to be on his way. He glances down the road behind him briefly.

Colin raises an eyebrow, his eyes raking over the boy’s appearance. “Glad to see you’re still alive.” He comments.

Lanisen gives him an oblique look, already walking away. “Generally try to stay that way.”

Colin removes his back from the tree trunk and matches him step for step. “I find it rather surprising, considering your charming master.”

Lanisen swallows. His color fades slightly, but his face shows nothing. He keeps walking, neither slowing nor speeding up.

Colin folds his arms across his chest as they walk. “Where is he by the way? Is he with you?”

Lanisen asks brusquely, “Look like it to you?”

Colin shrugs. “I don’t know. He strikes me as the controlling type who would follow you just to see what you’re up to.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe he’s got other stuff to do.” He steps up his pace slightly.

Colin matches his pace, his manner casual and relaxed. “Perhaps, especially since he has his own business to run. What did he say he did again?”

Lanisen says shortly, “Leatherworkin’.”

Colin’s demeanor is nothing but casual as he attempts to carry on an amiable conversation with Cal. “That’s hard work. Smelly, too. How do you like it?”

Lanisen says noncommittally, “‘S all right.” He keeps his eyes straight ahead, sending every signal it is possible to send that he does not particularly want to continue the conversation, thanks.

Colin must be the most clueless person in the world, because he continues to follow Lanisen stride for stride. “Fascinating. What’s your favorite part of the job?”

Lanisen says, “Pretty much every part smells.”

Colin snorts. “And you like that?”

Lanisen glances over his shoulder again. “You can get used to ’bout anything.”

Colin says, “I suppose so. How do your parents feel about the job?”

Lanisen has gone quite pale under the relentless questioning, but it could be heat exhaustion or something. “Have to ask them.”

Colin ahs. “Right. Probably don’t talk to them much, do ya? I didn’t when I was your age. Just wanted to be left alone, you know? Hey, where are you from?”

Lanisen starts to say something that starts with an L, then switches mid-syllable to “Carmichael.”

Colin nods. “I know a lot of people from there. Do you know a girl named Cally? With the similarity in names, perhaps your sister?”

Lanisen says, “Don’t got a sister.”

Colin says, “Ah. Shame. Nice girl, if I recall.”

Lanisen says, “Real pretty hair.”

Colin brightens. “So you do know her?”

Lanisen shrugs. “See her in the tavern sometimes.”

Colin says, “Small world.”

Lanisen shrugs again, in a who-knew kind of way.

Colin continues. “It’s funny. The little odd coincidences in life.”

Lanisen doesn’t answer, just keeps walking.

Colin continues on obliviously. “What brings you to this part of the woods?”

Lanisen says, “Just passin’ through.”

Colin watches his face. “Where are you headed?”

Lanisen finally breaks. He rounds on Colin belligerently. “Pretty sure it ain’t your business.”

Colin arches an eyebrow. “There’s no reason to get all offended now.”

Lanisen ignores this, returning to striding down the path without speaking.

Colin resumes his pace. “Are you still in the man’s service? Or…does your destination lie in a place where he cannot reach you?” He fishes.

Lanisen releases a breath. “What part of ‘ain’t your business’ don’t you understand?”

Colin retorts, “Because there’s something you’re not telling me, and in these rocky times that makes it my business to find out what you’re up to.”

Lanisen snorts derisively and just keeps walking at a fairly strenuous pace toward the town.

Colin catches hold of the boy’s arm. “Now look here…”

Lanisen reacts instantly, jerking his arm away.

Colin grabs the boy’s arm again and propels him towards a tree, trying to pin him up against the trunk and make him look at him. “Looks like you’re in rather a tight spot. Why won’t you answer my questions?”

Lanisen stumbles backward, fighting the whole way. Failing to escape, he eases backward against the tree trunk, away from Colin, and says, carefully even, “Let me go.”

Colin shakes his head. “Nothing doing, lad. Not until you tell me where you’re going. I wouldn’t mind a few details about your master as well. Shouldn’t be too hard, since you and I both thought he was going to kill you.”

Lanisen is breathing quickly. “Somebody’s gonna come along the road,” he says, still keeping his voice flat. “Who do you think they’re gonna side with? The disgraced knight, or the poor kid he’s got pinned to a tree?”

Colin snorts. “You know as well as I how little this road is traveled these days.”

Lanisen swallows hard, his eyes darting to the road beyond Colin. Without warning, he kicks viciously at the man’s shin, simultaneously shoving him off.

Colin grunts as one leg buckles under him. He fights for his balance and is able to keep from falling to the ground. He lunges at Cal.

Lanisen has already darted backward out of his reach. He pauses a split second, his eyes wide, then turns to flee.

Colin’s arm grapples at the boy’s neck, clenching onto his tunic. “Oh no you don’t… you realize how this looks, mate? What aren’t you telling me?” He bellows the last sentence.

Lanisen cries out and flails against his assailant. He jabs one elbow hard back into Colin’s gut. “Let me go!”

Colin starts to repeats himself, holding on to the thrashing boy. His breath goes out with a whoosh as Cal’s elbow connects with his diaphragm and he can only grunt gutterally at him.

Lanisen, seeing that this is effective, repeats the jab, putting all his adrenaline-fueled strength into it.

Colin twists, using his elbow to block the force of the blow. He thrusts his fist into the boy’s collarbone and shoves him back up against the tree, still holding tightly to his tunic. He wheezes, dragging air back into his burning lungs.

Lanisen grunts on impact, hunting frantically at his side. His dagger appears in his hand a moment later, and he slices wildly at the hands restraining him.

Colin jerks his hands away just in time to avoid a serious injury, the blade very slightly grazing him. His eyes widen in surprise but he does not hesitate to kick at the boy’s knees, simultaneously grabbing for his wrist to gain control of the blade. “Bloody…” He shouts, unable to form an entire sentence.

Lanisen grapples with him for control of the blade, his hand tightly clenched around the only secure grip of the hilt. His knees buckle at the kick and he goes down, the dagger swinging dangerously.

Colin twists to avoid the blade, again narrowly avoiding a serious injury. He fights to get behind the boy, putting a knee in his back and shoving him forward.

Lanisen hits the ground with a umph and a groan, still fighting for all he’s worth, and definitely not giving up the dagger.

Colin grabs Cal’s wrist, fighting for the dagger. His other hand clamps down on the shoulder of the same arm, right in a sensitive spot on the neck. He squeezes both of his hands with all of his might.

Lanisen whimpers in pain, but even so he refuses to relinquish his only defense. His fingers are clenched in a death-grip around his weapon.

Colin attempts to bend the lad’s arm backwards, grunting with the effort.

Lanisen screams. Like magic, the dagger drops from his hand.

Colin releases his shoulder and simultaneously brings the boy’s arm behind his back. He gropes in the grass, trying to locate the dagger. His fingers close on the hilt.

Lanisen gasps a sob of relief and for the moment makes no further attempt to fight, though he’s tense as a coiled spring and shivering with adrenaline.

Colin brings the dagger to the boy’s throat, breathing heavily. “Something…tells…*gasp* me…that you’re… hiding something.”

Lanisen is breathing equally heavily, but he stops the instant the steel touches his throat and goes rigid.

Colin slowly pulls him backwards by his tunic, careful not to cut him. He pulls him into a sitting position, crouching behind him. “Was that really necessary?” He wheezes.

Lanisen complies, wary of the dagger. He keeps his chin up and eases backwards away from the blade instinctively. His breath still coming in uneven shudders, he answers, “Wouldn’t let me go.”

Colin retorts, “You wouldn’t answer my question.”

Lanisen doesn’t seem about to answer it now, either. He stays very still, recovering his breath and considering his options, then abruptly grabs the wrist of the hand holding the dagger and yanks it down and away from his throat, simultaneously lurching backward to throw his captor off balance and trying to scramble to his feet.

Colin roars as his wrist twists painfully. As he grabs for Cal he misjudges with his knife hand, accidentally slicing Cal on the forearm.

Lanisen cries out, but the cut isn’t deep. He’s on his feet and lunging for freedom.

Colin throws his arm around Cal’s knees, hindering his escape.

Lanisen goes down, windmilling wildly, kicking Colin in the chest as he does so.

Colin shoves his knee in Cal’s back again, practically climbing on top of him to hold him down. He puts the knife at his neck again, cursing.

Lanisen goes perfectly still again. “What do you /want/?” he rasps.

Colin grunts. “I want you to tell me the truth. Who are you?”

Lanisen answers promptly, “Cal.”

Colin pushes his knee further into Cal’s back. “Right.” He says unbelievingly. His expression flickers, unseen by the pinned boy. He’s clearly grasping at straws but he doesn’t need to know that. “Where is your ‘friend’?” He spits.

Lanisen lets out a small, strained, hurting noise. “He’s– he’s in Carmichael!”

Colin lowers his head to whisper in the boy’s ear. “No he’s not.” He pauses, then reveals “I followed you both the other day.” How far, where, and all the details remain unspoken.

Lanisen, as when the dagger first came into contact with his throat, holds his breath. He doesn’t struggle or speak, though he cringes from the breath on his ear. His heart, if Colin can feel it, is pounding.

Colin’s hand does indeed pick up the rapid beat of Cal’s heart. He says nothing, letting his words sink in and do their work.

Lanisen remains perfectly still, frozen with shock and fear. His fingers dig into the turf. But his voice is only scared and confused when he asks, a moment later, “Followed us where?” His heart pounds on.

Colin says knowingly, “Where do you think? I know you’re not who you say you are.” Keeping his eyes open, his lips move in a silent, unseen prayer.

Lanisen asks, “To– to Carmichael?”

Colin says firmly, “No.”

Lanisen squeezes his eyes closed, unmistakably terrified. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” he whispers, clinging to the grass beneath his hands like a lifeline.

Colin presses the blade closer to intimidate the boy. His skin remains uncut. “How many are there of you?”

Lanisen jerks back from the blade, his eyes still tightly shut. Another whimper squeezes out of him, but nothing useful as an actual answer.

Colin barks, “What’s your real name? How many are there of you?”

Lanisen flinches at the shout, cowering in the grass. His mouth works soundlessly for a moment. Finally, he answers, whispering, “F-five.”

Colin releases a silent sigh. “Including yourself?” He snaps.

Lanisen doesn’t dare nod, the knife still far too close for comfort, but he breathes, “Yes.”

Colin lets this digest, his thoughts spinning. “What is your next target?”

Lanisen shakes his head very slightly. “I don’t–”

Colin holds the blade steady, making sure it doesn’t cut the boy’s skin. “What, they don’t tell you anything?” He says sharply.

Lanisen tries to ease back from the blade again, but he’s out of room. “Please–” He half-lifts his head, still trying to get away.

Colin shoves his other hand at the back of his neck, careful not to shove him into the blade. “Stop that!” He roars. “What’s your leader’s name? What are the names of your other friends? What is your next target?”

Lanisen cringes again, clenching his teeth to stop them chattering. It’s obvious Colin isn’t going to get much out of him in this state.

Colin curses at him. Keeping a hold on the neck of the boy’s tunic he scrambles off him and hauls him to his feet, jerking him around to face him. “Answer me!”

Lanisen stumbles, then gets his feet beneath him. “D-Dorian,” he chatters. “Zan. T-Tor, Shenzi.”

Colin says harshly, “That’s only four.”

Lanisen raises his head, and despite everything he manages to muster up a measure of derision. “/Cal/.”

Colin shakes him by the collar of his tunic. “Who’s real name /is/?”

Lanisen cries out and clutches at the wrist of the hand holding him. “Cal!”

Colin shoves the hilt of the dagger into the pressure point in Lanisen’s shoulder.

Lanisen’s face twists with pain. He begins to fight the hold on his tunic again even as his knees begin to buckle.

Colin shakes him again, holding him up. “I can shove your face in the dirt again!” He threatens.

Lanisen deliberately straightens, pushing himself up despite the added pressure. He locks his knees and stands, shaking with the effort and breathing through clenched teeth.

Colin meets his eyes, a muscle in his clenched jaw twitching. “Fine then.” He jerks the boy around and shoves him forward, still holding on. “Let’s see what Lord Barron has to say.”

Lanisen immediately stiffens, stumbles forward, and braces his feet against the ground ahead. The technique is surprisingly effective.

Colin stumbles, running into the boy from behind.

Lanisen obviously expected this and even put some backwards momentum into it. He doesn’t budge.

Colin knees him in the back of the knees. “Move along!”

Lanisen’s knees bend and he has to stumble forward, but he just repeats his previous action. This time he grabs a branch as well, bound and determined to keep fighting.

Colin curses at him, putting the knife at his throat again. “MOVE!” He bellows.

Lanisen immediately grips Colin’s wrist, apparently pure reflex, and jerks it forcefully away from his throat, at the same time twisting away from the hand holding his tunic.

Colin twists, the hand holding Cal’s tunic releasing him and simultaneously going around his neck into a chokehold.

Lanisen tries to duck out of it before it’s fully established.

Colin uses his hand to smack the boy in the face, trying for his nose to temporarily blind him as he tries to establish the chokehold.

Lanisen gasps as the blow connects, knocking the back of his head into Colin’s chest.

Colin grunts, Cal’s head narrowly missing his own face. He quickly completes the chokehold, bringing the knife back to the boy’s throat. “We either go see Lord Barron or you start spilling your guts.” He snaps.

Lanisen can’t see or breathe, is scared and in pain, and panics. He thrashes thoughtlessly, fighting the choke-hold regardless of the dagger’s proximity.

Colin lets out a shout as the boy thrashes directly into the blade of the knife. Cursing, he yanks the dagger away – too late.

Lanisen cries out, his entire body jerking. Hot, sticky blood is already running down his throat and soaking into Colin’s sleeve.

Colin pales, his eyes widening with horror. He starts repeatedly cursing and he jerks the boy around to look at the cut, squeezing his hand over it in a vain attempt to stem the flow.

Lanisen tries to shove the hand away, his lips pale with shock and fear. “D-don’t, please! I’m sorry!” He touches the wound, bloodying his fingers.

Colin shouts almost simultaneously with him, “I’m sorry! Hold still, let me see.”

Lanisen, frightened further by the change in Colin, covers the shallow slice and turns again to run.

Colin blinks and grabs him again.

Lanisen’s blood is pouring between his fingers. Though heavy, it is clearly not flowing quickly enough to have a major artery as its source, and there is no gurgle in his voice to indicate a breached windpipe. He raises his other arm to defend himself, almost sobbing, “Please! Don’t! I’m sorry!”

Colin hollers – whether out of anger or fear is undiscernable – “Then quit trying to run away and let me SEE!”

Lanisen, cringing, drops the hand from his throat. His fingers drip blood.

Colin curses under his breath. He places a hand on Cal’s chest and shoves him towards a tree, his back up against it. He keeps the dagger pointed at him and one handedly unslings his satchel. He mutters things like, “Serves you right for trying to get away” as he digs around awkwardly, pulling a kerchief of sorts out of the pack. “Press this on it.”

Lanisen stumbles back and stares, uncomprehending. His eyes flick to the dagger.

Colin shoves the kerchief at the boy. “Take it!” He barks, holding the bloody dagger tightly in his other hand.

Lanisen jumps and takes the cloth, holding it in utter bafflement.

Colin snaps impatiently. “Press it on the cut to stop the blood.”

Lanisen swallows and wads the cloth against the cut. He’s managed to get blood everywhere – even, somehow, the tip of his nose.

Colin keeps one eye on him and one-handedly pulls a rope out of his satchel. He allows the pack to fall to their feet. “Do I have to use this or will you cooperate?”

Lanisen stiffens immediately on sight of the rope. “I’ll, I’ll cooperate.”

Colin looks him in the eye with a borderline Death Glare. “You’d better.”

Lanisen shifts the cloth into a better position over his throat and edges back against the tree.

Colin looks sharply at the lad, all trace of his earlier reaction to slicing his neck completely gone. “Where is your leader now?”

Lanisen shakes his head and ducks it, avoiding eye contact. “He- he left, I don’t know where he is.”

Colin snorts. “How convenient. Where are the others?”

Lanisen says again, “I don’t know.”

Colin clenches his jaw. “Do you know /any/thing?”

Lanisen swallows hard, not answering.

Colin draws the rope taut, his upper arm muscles bunching with the effort. “Way I see it, we have three options.”

Lanisen draws back, his eyes flicking from the rope to Colin’s face.

Colin keeps talking. “One – tie you up and drag you into the authorities and let them deal with you THEIR way before you hang.”

Lanisen waits, rigid.

Colin continues. “Two – tie you up and leave you for your friends to find you. If you’re lucky.” He says ominously.

Lanisen swallows again. His eyes are wide and dark with apprehension, and he lurches almost-involuntarily to the side, again ready to run.

Colin takes a rapid step forward to partially block him. “OR.”

Lanisen jerks away from him, gaining an extra couple of inches of space. “‘M listenin’,” he says, his voice low and unsteady.

Colin says, “You help me and I’ll help you.”

Lanisen waits for clarification.

Colin continues. “You are in a very bad place right now. In just a small amount of time, you and whoever else is in your group could be in a dark dungeon cell and me back in good graces.” He rubs his chin, looking at Cal meaningfully. “But I’m not sure that is what I want just yet,” he says evenly.

Lanisen stares at him, a spark of wary comprehension very far back in his eyes. He doesn’t move. “What do you want.”

Colin’s eyes narrow, scrutinizing the boy. “I want revenge.” He says simply.

Lanisen’s eyes, expression, and tone are flat. “What makes you think I can help you get it.”

Colin snorts. “I know who you are, and your friends. I want revenge, and you’re the perfect ones to help me get it.”

Lanisen looks Colin in the eye, sizing him up distrustfully.

Colin doesn’t look the least bit surprised. “I’m the best fighter you’ll ever see. We join forces, I get my revenge, you get a good fighter and when I’m sick of you lot we’ll part ways and you’ll never hear from me again.”

Lanisen says nothing.

Colin’s eyebrow arches at him. “No?” He taunts.

Lanisen flinches, but his eyes are icy. Very definitely no.

Colin nods curtly. “Very well then. This should be relatively painless.” He doesn’t appear to hesitate as he spaces his hands apart on the rope and shoves the length against Cal’s throat, choking off his air.

Lanisen barely has time to react. His eyes widen and he grabs at the rope obstructing his airway, pulling desperately for enough space to take a breath. The handkerchief drops to the ground and fresh blood flows from the cut. His mouth opens as he struggles, trying by turns to duck out from underneath the rope, to kick out at Colin, to breathe.

Colin doesn’t quite look him in the eye. When he’s cut Cal’s air off enough to disorient him he jerks the rope backwards and grabs the boy by the collar again, jerking him forward. With a quick movement he’s behind him, shoving him to his knees.

Lanisen falls, weakened. For the moment, he’s incapable of resisting.

Colin pulls Cal’s arms behind his back and starts to tie him up.

Lanisen stays still and wheezes every breath. When he’s recovered enough to realize what’s happening, he throws himself forward, away from Colin and the rope, trying to jerk his hands away.

Colin shouts angrily at him, using a few choice words. He grabs the boy’s arm, dropping the rope in the process.

Lanisen rolls over, putting his arm at an angle less vulnerable to dislocation, and kicks upward at Colin.

Colin uffs as the kick connects, tightening his grip like mad.

Lanisen kicks again, aiming for the arm holding him.

Colin returns the kick with one of his own, aiming for Cal’s lower back.

Lanisen cries out on impact, his face screwing up with intense pain. His feet drop back to the ground automatically, but he swings his free fist at Colin’s face.

Colin catches the brunt of Cal’s fist with his nose. His head snaps back and he yells with pain, pulling Cal into another chokehold with his right arm as blood begins to stream down his face.

Lanisen grips Colin’s arm and arches backward, again trying to squeeze his head down out of the choke-hold. He’s bleeding quite heavily as well.

Colin’s sputtering, gasping for breath and choking on the blood that’s flowing down the back of his throat. “Ugh..gah…buh…#$%!”

Lanisen manages to get his head free and whirls, shoving Colin away from him before taking off in a sprint.

Colin staggers a step, letting loose another garbled oath. He breaks into a run, chasing after the boy. He slows only to snatch the rope from the ground.

Lanisen has lost a lot of blood and is still wheezing through his hurt windpipe. He doesn’t make it very far before he begins to stumble.

Colin doesn’t help matters by half-tackling, half-falling on the boy, aided by the root his foot caught on. Barely able to breath, he bends the boy’s arms behind his back and lashes them tightly together. When this is done he coughs, spitting out a bloody wad of gunk.

Lanisen fights it, but he’s too exhausted to keep it up for long. He lies still, finally.

Colin makes sure he is secure before he clamps a hand over his nose, blood streaming through his fingers. He yells garbledly at Cal.

Lanisen hunches up his shoulders and draws up his knees at the shouting.

Colin is unable to stem the flow. Spitting out another wad of blood, he fairly collapses on the ground beside Cal, tilting his head back. “I dink dyo bro’ by dose!”

Lanisen’s whole body jerks slightly, drawing in on itself.

Colin starts to choke on his own blood again and hauls himself into a sitting position.

Lanisen watches, his own blood a glotted mess covering his throat.

Colin sputters and gags, holding his nostrils shut in an attempt to stem the flow.

Lanisen swallows. He begins to surreptitiously test the rope on his wrists for weakness, a faulty knot, whatever.

Colin kicks at him. “Stobbit!” He snarls.

Lanisen grunts, automatically twisting into a more defensive position. He subsides and lies still again.

Colin groans, sounding like he’s dying over there. He gingerly touches his nose and winces. “D’im donna lub deeing Dord Barron dake dare of du.”

Lanisen says after a moment, “I’ll tell him what you said.”

Colin spits out another wad and gingerly takes his hand away from his nose. “‘Bout whad?”

Lanisen only looks at him.

Colin looks genuinely confused. “WHAT?” He barks impatiently.

Lanisen says flatly, “Think about it.”

Colin responds with equal flatness. “How about I break YOUR nose?”

Lanisen flinches, but he only raises his eyebrows as if daring Colin to do it.

Colin makes a sharp move, heading straight for him.

Lanisen’s shoulders hunch up and he turns his head the other direction, so his face is turned away from Colin.

Colin just cuffs him on the back of the head. “I’m in no mood for anymore games.”

Lanisen yelps through a closed mouth. “You tried to make a deal with me,” he says quickly. “Pretty sure Lord Barron’d think that’s interestin’.”

Colin looks at him and suddenly laughs.

Lanisen stares back at him, thrown off-balance.

Colin pinches his nose shut again as he laughs.

Lanisen stays uneasily silent.

Colin has a good laugh, causing a fresh nose-bleed. This one isn’t as bad as the original and he stems the flow, his shoulders still shaking with mirth.

Lanisen swallows, watching him.

Colin calms down after a bit, still snickering once or twice.

Lanisen, thoroughly unnerved, begins again to fidget with the rope.

Colin shoots him a glare. “Won’t do you any good.”

Lanisen, instead of letting go of the rope, strains against it with everything he’s got, grunting with the effort. When it doesn’t work, he sags against the ground, pale and panting.

Colin looks condescendingly smug. “That was productive.”

Lanisen breathes heavily for a moment, then kicks out with his feet, thrashing to get onto his side and from there to his knees. He makes it to his feet, and reels, nearly losing his balance.

Colin shoves himself off the ground, headbutting Cal in the stomach to bring him down again.

Lanisen topples unceremoniously. By the unfocused look of his eyes, standing up suddenly was more than he really could handle. He crashes backward on his rear.

Colin breathes heavily. “Give it up, there’s NO way I’m letting you get away.”

Lanisen straightens, wheezing for breath, and pulls up his knees. He hunches forward automatically to ease the strain on his shoulders.

Colin takes the time to grab another kerchief from his satchel, one that looks very nearly clean. He applies this to his battered nose.

Lanisen watches and swallows.

Colin doesn’t give indication if he’s noticed or not. “Buh.” he grunts.

Lanisen stays still and wary, silent and watchful for the moment, but he looks for a split second like he’d like to roll his eyes.

Colin looks at the kerchief. Deeming the blood flow practically done, he tosses it aside. “Right.” He clears his throat, sounding garbled. “So. We were in the middle of trying to pay Lord Barron a visit.” He grabs his satchel.

Lanisen straightens slightly, again tensing and getting ready to fight.

Colin gives him a dark look that would melt snow.

Lanisen quails, but he doesn’t look away. He’s still rigid and is beginning to breathe heavily again. He shakes his head slightly, involuntarily pleading.

Colin says evenly, “You don’t /want/ to go meet Lord Barron?”

Lanisen raises his chin a degree, clenching his teeth and swallowing hard. His eyes are flat with tired fury, and he lowers his head after a moment. “Really hate you,” he says in a colorless voice.

Colin’s tone doesn’t change. “What do you suggest we do then?”

Lanisen rests his forehead on the top of his knees for a few seconds, then raises his head. “I’ll talk,” he says, not looking up from the ground.

Colin leans back against a tree. “Excellent.”

Lanisen reasons tonelessly, “But you’re still gonna turn me in.”

Colin merely says, “Let’s see how our talk goes.”

Lanisen exhales, shivering. He twists his hands in the rope for a moment, then begs, “Untie me?”

Colin’s eyebrow almost goes into his hairline. “Do I look stupid to you?”

Lanisen takes a breath. “Please.”

Colin says, “No.”

Lanisen doesn’t respond.

Colin looks quite comfortable leaning against his tree. “Start talking.”

Lanisen doesn’t look particularly comfortable. His shoulders have to be killing him, and a little ticklish dribble of blood that he can’t wipe away has leaked from the corner of his cut and is trickling maddeningly down the side of his neck. He waits for Colin to actually ask something specific.

Colin repeats his former questions. “What are the names of your friends? Where is your leader? If you don’t know where when was the last time you saw him? Where are your friends?”

Lanisen says, with the distant air of a rote recitation, “Dorian, Shenzi, Zan, T– Tor. Don’t know. Couple days ago. Don’t know.” He pauses. “Prob’ly back at the… the hide-out.”

Colin starts to clean the bloody dagger. “And what are their real names?” he asks as casually as the first questions.

Lanisen pales, but repeats, “Dorian, Shenzi, Zan, Tor.”

Colin says, “What are their real names?”

Lanisen repeats them.

Colin repeats his question again.

Lanisen, nervous and frustrated, bursts out, “I already told you!”

Colin coolly repeats his question.

Lanisen just doesn’t answer.

Colin finishes cleaning the dagger and holds it up to his eye, peering down the blade and gauging it, testing it with his fingers. “What is your real name?”

Lanisen says, “Cal.”

Colin sighs, flicking his wrist with the dagger in it as if testing it. “What is your real name?”

Lanisen, again, doesn’t repeat his answer. He watches the dagger.

Colin’s arm suddenly jerks and the dagger is no longer in his hand. It is behind Cal, sticking in the bark of a tree somewhat behind him. The dagger quivers there a minute before falling out. “WHAT IS YOUR REAL NAME?” He bellows.

Lanisen jumps, flinching away from the dagger’s arc and target. Again, he’s shaking with adrenaline, but he does nothing more than visibly draw into himself. No answer.

Colin folds his arms across his chest and relaxes back against the tree. It’s rather chilling the way he slips from fury to calm. “What is your real name?”

Lanisen keeps his head ducked. He doesn’t answer for some time, but finally he responds unsteadily, “Cal.”

Colin’s face flickers. “We’ll see if you’re telling the truth, won’t we? Do you know ANY of your leaders’ plans? Who or what is the next target? Are you moving on to a different area? What? Are there people outside of your group who know of you and are helping you?”

Lanisen shakes his head again in the same slight pleading motion. “I-I don’t know, I– we move sometimes, go to Carmichael or Andale– I don’t know.”

Colin asks, “Why did you lure Sir Tyren away from Carmichael?”

Lanisen takes a breath and releases it. “So he– so he wouldn’t… get in the way.”

Colin presses, “Of?”

Lanisen answers with difficulty, “Of– of anything we wanted to do.”

Colin says, “Be more specific.”

Lanisen says, “If he… wanted to take somethin’, or… go after someplace…”

Colin says, “What /did/ you /do/ in Carmichael?”

Lanisen, breathing unevenly again, says, “He… got a fancy pickaxe in the– in the mines, an’ I put it–”

Colin’s eyebrow raises. “Yes?”

Lanisen pauses a moment, trying to work up the nerve to say it. He’s painfully close to panic, as he has been all afternoon. “I put it in the innkeeper’s house.”

Colin looks confused. “Why?”

Lanisen shakes his head helplessly. “I don’t– I got no idea, it’s… sometimes what he does, it don’t make sense right away.”

Colin changes position, rising to his feet to pace back and forth. “Why attack Brynn?” He switches gears.

Lanisen swallows. “The– the squire… he… we didn’t– he got in the way, is all.” He still has not raised his head.

Colin asks coolly, “Why Berke?”

Lanisen’s shoulders jerk slightly. “I don’t know.”

Colin asks, “Who killed him? Who is responsible for the death of Brynn?”

Lanisen takes a couple of deep breaths. “We didn’t… we didn’t kill him, he was… I don’t know what happened, but he was still alive when we… I /looked/.”

Colin is suddenly kneeling beside Cal and he shoves his arm into the boy’s throat, cutting off his air. “Didn’t kill him? HE DIED BECAUSE OF YOU!” He pauses, then says, ” Who says that /YOU/ get to play sovereign and choose to end a life?” he says with deadly quiet force, more effective than screaming it at Lanisen, which he probably would rather do.

Lanisen presses backward against the tree as far as he can, his feet kicking and bracing against the ground. Beyond this, he does not fight. Forced to raise his head, it’s apparent for the first time that his eyes are swollen with tears; whether this is from fear or guilt or a combination of the two is unclear.

Colin’s accusing speech spews forth from his mouth like a dam releasing a pent-up river. “What were you thinking when you attacked him? Did you think the lives of ‘inferior’ beings are less important? There is no concept of superior and inferior beings. Each of us are separate, with the right to live, to work, to think as individuals. By what right did you dare say that there’s a superior few to which you belong? By what right did you decide that that boy was inferior that therefore his life was worthless enough to not even be considered as you attacked him and subsequently killed him? Did you think you were sovereign? Is that what you thought when you’d fairly beaten the life out of him? I don’t know what you thought, but I know what you’ve done. You’ve murdered! You’ve beaten the life out of a fellow human being who could live and love as you never could. And never will again.”

Lanisen tries several times to pull a breath, his shoulders heaving with the effort. He raises his chin as far as he can, mouth open to take in air, but Colin’s grip prevents him and he falls back, exhausted to the point of resignation. Tears spill in response to Colin’s diatribe, and simultaneously something in his chest convulses in a voiceless, airless sob.

Colin abruptly yanks his arm away, clenching his jaw.

Lanisen sucks in air in a single huge, wheezing gasp, a sound that is echoed in a series of racking, barely-audible sobs. His head drops forward.

A muscle in Colin’s jaw jumps when he clenches it again, falling silent as the boy sobs.

Lanisen can’t seem to stop, now he’s started, but he keeps it quiet and unvoiced and does not raise his head. He breathes slowly and deliberately, but each breath is punctuated by a hiccupping gasp, and his shoulders shake with the force of his guilt.

Colin looks away from him, his jaw so tense a sledgehammer would break on it.

Lanisen does not move from his position, and the tears show no signs of stopping. He continues to keep as silent and still as possible.

Colin swallows, jumping up to shove the dagger in his satchel, which he then kicks to the base of the tree.

Lanisen shudders uneasily and raises his head enough to watch.

Colin catches the boy looking at him. He stares back darkly at him for a minute before grabbing the messy kerchief and walking towards him.

Lanisen flinches, cowering from the man’s approach.

Colin crouches down and roughly wipes the wet and mucus and whatever else there is from Lanisen’s face. The kerchief smears dirt around instead of removing it.

Lanisen pulls back until he’s pressed flat against the tree, obviously expecting more pain. He holds his breath and follows the filthy cloth with frightened eyes, and doesn’t make a sound. His sobs have ceased with the shock, but when the lungful of air he’s holding is spent, the quick exhalation and inhalation that follows is almost a whimper.

Colin stonily finishes his task and drops the kerchief again, sitting back.

Lanisen doesn’t move from his position for some time. He stays still, his breathing shuddery and uneven, and just shakes, taking the respite from the interrogation without question.

Colin remains silent for a long time before he finally breaks the silence. “Which one of you attacked Sir Tyren?” He asks wearily.

Lanisen takes a deep breath and straightens slightly. “It was… it was Zan,” he says, with surprisingly little difficulty.

Colin asks, “Why was he ordered to do so?”

Lanisen’s eyes flit to Colin’s, registering surprise at what the man has discerned about the authority structure of the group. “It was… to cover our tracks.”

Colin snorts, wincing as his poor nose gets a mild workout. “How nice for you.”
Colin adds, “You’re very lucky he was’t killed too or we would not be discussing anything. You’d be heading straight for the noose.”

Lanisen swallows, but doesn’t comment.

Colin gingerly touches his nose. “Tell me about the woman.” He orders.

Lanisen stills briefly, then he rallies himself and says, “You met her.”

Colin says stiffly, “Elaborate.”

Lanisen says simply, “Sharlene.”

Colin’s eyebrow skyrockets. “You said Shenzi.” He says.

Lanisen says, unflinching, “Yeah.”

Colin says, “Which is her real name?”

Lanisen shrugs, watching a beetle on the ground rather than look at Colin.

Colin rolls his eyes. “Fine, don’t tell me.” He says darkly.

Lanisen says nothing.

Colin slowly gets to his feet once more, bending down to grasp the boy’s arm and haul him upwards. “We can’t stay here. Tomorrow, you are going to tell me every weakness, pet peeve, habit, goal, everything about your friends, right down to the color of their undergarments.”

Lanisen struggles to get his feet beneath him, still wobbly from the constant adrenaline highs and crashes, blood loss, and the thorough working-over. He doesn’t argue.

Colin grabs his satchel and guides him through the forest. They walk for at least an hour, stumbling over branches and hidden rocks. Panting from the exertion, Colin allows Lanisen to sit down and rest, leaning wearily against a tree himself.

Lanisen drops without ceremony, obviously exhausted. He startles at some sound, a twig snapping under the hoof of a deer or some creature, but then a moment later pitches forward onto the ground and looks more than ready to sleep there, tied hands or no.

Colin runs a hand through his hair. “I just need information from you.” He says suddenly. “That’s all I’ll ask.”

Lanisen opens his eyes and regards Colin warily for a moment, then musters his energy and raises himself to his knees.

Colin scratches the back of his neck. “Think you can handle that?” He asks somewhat impatiently.

Lanisen stays silent. He does, however, keep his attention visibly on Colin, waiting to see whatever information might be required of him.

Colin looks annoyed. “Will you tell me all about your hideout and everything else I need to know, or am I just wasting my time?”

Lanisen nods wearily.

Colin relaxes slightly. “Things will go easier for you in the end.”

Lanisen squeezes his eyes closed. “What are you going to do?” he asks dully.

Colin hehs. “Don’t think I’m going to tell you my game plan just yet.”

Lanisen exhales. He leans his head back against the tree, inadvertently showing what a mess the dagger wound has made of his neck.

Colin makes a face at that, and sighs. He looks around the forest with a frown. “We can’t stay here…” He eyes Lanisen/Cal. “You going to cooperate if I untie you for a bit or do I have to take you through town in ropes?”

Lanisen nods wearily. “I won’t try anything.” He doesn’t look like he could at this point anyway.

Colin nods. “All right.” He picks up the dagger again (just in case) and unties him.

Lanisen, true to his word, doesn’t try anything. He stays where he is, waiting for Colin’s permission or direction or whatever.

Colin takes him by the arm and hauls him up, keeping a hand on his arm.

Lanisen doesn’t argue. He stands and prepares to follow Colin, looking thoroughly drained and miserable. Several new bruises and scrapes are evident on his face and around his neck, and he moves stiffly, as if everything hurts.

Colin quietly hands him the kerchief and starts guiding him along. “Let’s go.”

Jana stays hidden and silent, so close that she could reach out and touch the men as they pass her by.

Lanisen accepts the kerchief without comment and wipes gingerly at the blood still oozing from his neck. He follows silently.


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