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Chapter 36 - Anders

All this for me?

Anders was important, valuable. He knew that. But had he really afforded The Hawk’s Roost enough to warrant sending the Silver Hammers, the lodge’s most celebrated hunters, after him and his new companions? Was he really that important? Or was this purely retribution for their actions back in the lodge? Perhaps it was some combination of the two. Whatever it may be it all seemed a bit much.

Anders had spent his first days in Rotwater—or perhaps it had been weeks, he wasn’t sure—under a self-induced haze of drugs, sex and apathy. The news of Everspring’s destruction had spread like wildfire, making it to town even before he had. He had given up, succumbed to the impotent feeling of not being able to do a damn thing about any of it. He let indifference get the better of him, a fact of which he was not the least bit proud. The Hawk’s Roost, and Gavin in particular, had given him purpose once again, pulled him out of the fog. Not entirely, of course, which he’d come to realize was a strategic choice. But enough to make a difference. And it hadn’t been easy.

Perhaps that was why the great Lord Chancellor of Rotwater had sent the Silver Hammers to retrieve him: he needed to resecure his investment.

The Hawk’s Roost was struggling, that much was clear. As much as Gavin hid it, the pressure to not let his family’s legacy crumble beneath him had him grasping at straws. The sudden desertion of his sole advisor would likely be considered a major loss, even if Anders didn’t think he’d done much at all.

“When you see Gavin again, tell him I’ll come back,” Anders said. His voice was calm as he leaned over Samwell. “I will help any way I can. That’s a promise. But for now, we have more pressing matters at hand.”

Matters in which I might actually be able to make a real difference.

Samwell wouldn’t look him in the eyes, his ego as broken as leg. Kyrill was finishing up tying him to a tree along with the rest of his hunting crew. Some seemed more ill-tempered than others, as if they were somehow slighted by Anders and his new companions defending against their attempted ambush. They all shared a sense of embarrassment.

“You’re really just gonna leave us here like this?” Samwell finally spoke up.

“Is this inconvenient for you?” Isha jokingly asked. “You should be able to get free of your binds in time, but we need assurances you’re not gonna just keep following us.”

“That’s a death sentence. We’re defenseless like this!”

“Would you afford us the same courtesy?” Isha said, parroting the man’s words back at him. “Push did come to shove, after all...”

“What if another beast comes by?”

His words were shallow, his concern a feigned pretense. He wasn’t actually worried about being left there. He was trying to argue his way into a more advantageous position.

“All the beasts have headed south, haven’t they? And you’ve already gathered that’s where we’re headed as well. So leave us alone, head back to Rotwater and you won’t have to worry about any of this.”

“So what, you’ve decided to start hunting them now and don’t want any competition? Is that it? Worried we might steal your glory?”

“Shut up, Sam,” Ronan said having heard enough of his petulant leader’s whining. “There is no honor in begging.”

“You shut up, Ronan Lucerne. Maybe if you didn’t get so cocky and talk about yourself all the time, you wouldn’t have gotten your ass kicked and we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”

“She was a worthy opponent. I feel no shame in my defeat.”

“And you’re the one with the broken leg, shithead,” Isha chided him. “We don’t care about glory. We’re not even hunting the beasts, really. What I am worried about is the possibility you might try to kill us again if we let you go, though.”

“Not hunting them?” he asked. “Then why bother tracking them?”

“Because,” Anders said bluntly. “It’s not the beasts we’re worried about. It’s the people controlling them.”

No point in keeping their goals a secret. The threat had remained unknown for all too long. The more that knew what was really going on, the better. And if Samwell and the rest of his little gang didn’t believe him, so what?


Anders told them everything. He kept it concise, but spared no details. The Drae, the secret barren in the Mazewilds, the wellsprings, Raaz and the Empire, everything.

“Again, I call bullshit. You’re talking fairytales. You don’t expect us to believe any of that horseshit, do you?”

“Whether we believe or not is of no consequence,” Ronan said. “They believe. No other opinion matters. They believe their pursuit is true, and an honorable pursuit it is.” He looks Isha in the eyes. “You already earned the respect of Ronan Lucerne. You now have his admiration.”

“The fuck, Ronan? Respect and admiration? For these cunts?”

“No greater respect can be found than that which is earned on the battlefield.”

“They humiliated you! Humiliated us!”

“There is no place for humiliation in the mind of a warrior. Only a chance to learn from experience.” Ronan looks to Isha once again. “Thank you for the opportunity. Hopefully you learned something from Ronan today as well. And may that knowledge benefit you in your journey to come.”

“For fuck’s sake, Ronan, just suck her dick why don’t you? It’s starting to sound like you’re jealous. Are you, Ronan? You jealous? Wanna join up with their little made-up crusade?”

“Shit, I’d almost consider it,” Isha said. “A tried and true group of hunters like yourselves? I might’ve invited you all along for the ride if it weren’t for, you know, the whole attempted murder thing.”

“Yeah, about that...” the woman tied up next to Samwell said. She had been staring at the ground in shame, her face draped in shadow. As she raised her head, not quite meeting Anders’ gaze, he was taken aback by her eyes. No pupils, no white, just beautiful ripples of brown and green and a hint of yellow.

“Oww!” Neera shrieked behind him.

“Nobody touches my snake or the little girl is as good as dead!”

“What the fuck?!” Aoife screamed.

Isha rushed to Neera’s side, fallen to the ground in shock and gripping her leg in pain.

“What did you do to her?!” Aoife rushed towards the woman, pulled out a dagger, dropped to her knees and held the blade tight against the woman’s throat. “Was that a poisonous fucking snake?!”

“Actually, it’s venom, not poison. Common mistake,” she replied, careful not to move, but ensuring her words carried a hefty amount of snark. Her eyes returned to normal and a sadistic little smile curled up from the sides of her lips as she made eye contact with Aoife. “Think of this as a learning experience.”

“Isha, can you suck the venom out?” Anders asked, worried.

“Will that work?”

“I don’t know!”

“It won’t,” said the woman. “Do you know why young snakes are considered so dangerous? They have no concept of holding back. When they bite, they inject every ounce of venom they have into their prey. They simply don’t know any better. Carl’s an adult, so he wouldn’t do that. Normally. I, however, have full control.” She smiled again, her lips curling into a devious, devilish grin.

“I’d be careful with that blade if I were you,” Samwell said, calm and collected. “If you want the antivenom, you’re gonna have to do as we say.”

“Moz, grab her bag,” Aoife yelled, not taking her eyes off the woman. “Look for a small glass vial.”

“If she tries that shit again, Aoife,” Isha yelled from Neera’s side, “feel free to slit her damn throat.”

“With pleasure.”

“Again, I’d be careful with that blade,” Samwell said. “Might wanna hold off from cutting any throats...”

“Uh, guys?” Moswen said, his words uncertain. This couldn’t be good.

“And there’s the revelation,” the woman said.

From inside the woman’s bag, Moswen fished out a number of vials, all unique. Different shapes, different colors of glass and liquid inside, but not a single one labeled. Of course it wasn’t going to be that easy.

“Which one is it?” Aoife demanded.

“One of those is the antivenom, one’s a laxative, there’s a pretty powerful hallucinogen in there, one’s just straight up poison. There’s also something for disinfecting wounds. Really helpful in the field, but real bad if you drink it. And deadly if injected.”

“Which. One.” Aoife pressed the edge of her dagger against the woman’s throat, drawing a trickle of blood.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Samwell said. “Not until we get what we want.”

“And what is that, exactly?”

“Same as my previous suggestion. Untie us, let us go. You give us Anders here, we give you the antivenom, and we’ll call things even. We all just walk away. Clean slate, remember?”

Ronan let out a sigh and shook his head.

“You would really hold the girl’s life hostage, Samwell?” he said, disgusted. “They have bested us in battle and spared our lives. The honorable thing would be to accept defeat. Not... this. This is not who we are.”

“Would you shut the fuck up about honor already?” Samwell barked back.

“He’s right, though, Sam. This ain’t right,” one of the other men said. He had been wielding the other set of chained hammers, working in tandem with the woman now holding Neera’s life in her hands. He turned his attention to her. “Sis. What’re you doing? You’re threatening to kill a little girl. And for what? Pettiness? They’re already letting us go. Stop this. This ain’t us. This ain’t you. At least ain’t who I thought you were.”

Apparently they were brother and sister. They gave off a much different vibe. Kind of weird. They should probably work on that. But were her brother’s words getting through to her? Would the bond they share as siblings be enough? She may have been beginning to crack, but Anders had no idea how much time they had. He guessed it wasn’t very much.

“This is exactly who we are!” Samwell demanded. “The Silver Hammers do not fail. We do what is necessary, by any means.”

“It isn’t necessary,” Ronan said. “The end doesn't justify the means. If you believe this is truly who the Silver Hammers are, no longer count Ronan Lucerne amongst you.”

“I’m with Ronan. I want no part in this,” the brother added. He raised his head and looked towards Neera. “How you feeling darlin’?”

“Tired,” Neera softly replied. “And hungry.”

“C’mon, sis. She needs your help. Do the right thing.”

Samwell said nothing, but instead glared at the woman, awaiting her answer. It never came. She sat in silence, the two influencing stances likely warring inside her head.

Her brother sighed.

“It’s the milky-looking one,” he called out to Moswen, now kneeling next to Isha and Neera. “Short, clear vial.”

The woman’s eyes went wide, her expression a contradicting combination of betrayal, surprise and relief. It was all the confirmation they needed. Aoife pulled the blade from the woman’s throat and stood. “You heard him, Moz.”

“Thank you,” Anders said to the man with a nod.

“It was the right thing to do,” he replied. “I just wish someone else had done it first.”

Samwell sat in seething silence, impotent and defeated.

The woman seemed on the verge of breaking her own silence, a dozen different thoughts likely clashing in her head. When she finally spoke, it wasn’t sadness or spite, but a simple question. She didn’t move, didn’t dare look him in the eyes, but it was clear her words were intended solely for her brother.

“How did you know?”

Again, the strange combination of betrayal and relief tinged her request.

“I didn’t. I knew what a few of ‘em were, but mostly just took a guess. 50/50 chance. Your reaction kinda confirmed it.”

She lightly nodded her head.

“Good,” she said. Her voice was soft, reluctant but relieved. “Good.”

Being forced to make camp next to a group of people that just attempted to murder you—at least half of which likely still wanted to—didn’t exactly make for pleasant sleeping arrangements. The shackles found in one of the Silver Hammers' bags proved helpful, but not enough for Anders to catch any amount of sound sleep. They had no choice, though. Neera was in a bad place. With the amount of venom she had coursing through her veins, she shook and shivered all through the night. The antivenom kept her alive, but it was not a pleasant experience.

Isha never once left the girl’s side.

The others took turns keeping watch, with Anders inadvertently joining each of them during their turns, ensuring that the Silver Hammers didn’t try anything funny. Breaking free of their bonds was the last thing they needed to worry about, but from the looks of things they didn’t need to worry about the Silver Hammers conspiring amongst one another for a concerted breakout attempt. If anything, it didn’t seem like there would be a Silver Hammers come the morning.

Ronan had made his intentions clear, Samwell’s response even more so. The brother-sister duo seemed unsure and the other two remained quiet, but the tension between them all was palpable enough to taste in the air. The animosity between them was only beaten by the rage Samwell felt towards Anders and the rest of his companions. The burning hatred behind the man’s eyes as he shot daggers from under his furrowed brow was enough to make that abundantly clear.

“So do you really believe all that?” the brother asked Anders. “Everything you said about the Drae and the Empire and the Mazewilds. You really think it’s all true?”

Anders knew it was the impossibility of their story that was their biggest obstacle. As dangerous as the Drae might be, an Empire they were not. Of the once great force that had ruled over the land centuries ago, all that remained was a small barren of people hidden away in the forest. If The Howl could be warned, prepared, given time to rally the troops, the Drae wouldn’t stand a chance. The question then was whether or not they could be convinced that the threat was real.

“If you’d seen the things we have, you would, too. I haven’t even personally witnessed everything myself, but together we have. And together we’ll be the ones to put it all down.”

“It’s an awful lot to believe, but you’re a brave man to be doing what you’re doing. If what you say turns out to be true, we’re lucky to have you looking out for us.”

That was a terrifying thought. Truth be told, Anders had no idea what he was really doing. All he knew was that something needed to happen, someone needed to step up. But why them? What were they really getting themselves into? They were trying to tackle an obstacle bigger than they could likely even comprehend. Isha had put it best:

“It’s almost like we’re the victims of some terrible accident, like we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, doomed to carry the burden of what we’ve uncovered. Our paths just so happened to cross in the middle of the street as a runaway cart came rushing by. A really big, life-changing cart. And since then we’ve just been falling forward. But we press on. Because it’s the right thing to do. And the drive to do good, to protect people, you can’t just turn that off.”

The Empire wasn’t toppled in a day. It took generations. Even after the Fifth Pinnacle was destroyed, the war raged on for years and years. Those that put their lives on the line were fighting for a better future not for themselves, but for their children. And their children’s children. Planting trees whose shade they’d never see.

The path that led them to this point exists from others walking it over and over. And that path will vanish once it stops being used. Anders had no idea what they might actually achieve by reaching The Howl, but whatever they did, they couldn’t let the path fade away.


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the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet