Jackalheads

An Immortals story
Written by: Ádám Györfi

The early autumn rain tapped soothingly on Jarek Dukhaj Hrabarich's armour, the water running down his greenish-brown shoulder pads like little trickles. The steel that covered the warrior's body could have told his Darelonian opponent many a tale, had he not challenged him to a duel blinded by pride. Hrabarich tried to warn him that it would not do for their blades to clash, but the fiery-blooded youth listened.

The warrior waved his narrow bladed sword in his right hand as he tried to size up his opponent. Originally well combed, but like Hrabarich's brown bush, the man now with slicked-back hair wore a long brown leather coat. His weapon of choice was a needle-like rapier, a popular tool in the south of Enerith. The Darelonian swordsman paced nervously as he eyed his opponent. He is skilled, Jarek thought to himself, or at least he knows how to use that skewer.

-                Come on," the champion said to him. - We can't stay here all day in the rain! If you've been so impudent as to insult my friend's honour.

Jarek smiled. All that had happened was that he had gotten lost in thought as he walked, and had stepped on her unnecessarily large barge with his muddy boots. He would have walked on without noticing the incident if the young man hadn't thrown himself in front of him, demanding satisfaction. The warrior said nothing in reply, but accepted the terms. His mother, herself a noblewoman of Darelon descent, was well acquainted with the temper of the people of the southern state. Fortunately, he had taken after his serene father, who served the god-king of Rawadar, Dhalar, son of Dhoarnas, as chamberlain. Though he had come a long way from his father's profession, he had become a mercenary in his youth.

-                Do you want to lose so badly? - Jarek teased his opponent.

The champion leapt forward, and showered his nemesis with a series of jabs. The rawadari parried the attacks with ease, and then responded with a flurry of slashes himself. Around them, despite the rain, a small crowd gathered to witness the spectacle. With half his eyes, Jarek could also see palms clasping, coins exchanging hands. But he had no time to deal with the people, for an opponent was waiting to be defeated.

Jarek spun away from a serious stab that would have killed a bull, then lunged for the hilt of his opponent's sword. The rapier fell out of the swordsman's hand, causing his opponent to back away from him as he raised his own blade at him.

-                Are you giving up, young man? - asked Jarek Dukhaj.

-                No, never! - the Darelonian's face showed deep resentment. - The duel is to the first blood, as were my terms. A Rawadar death-worshipper cannot defeat me.

In the northern neighbour of Darelon, Dhoarnas the Death Guardian settled after the Arrival, and his cult has flourished in Rawadar ever since, and this was not looked upon favourably by the neighbouring states. Hrabarich sighed resignedly, then took another step back to allow the champion to pick up his weapon. Then they clashed again. By this time Jarek was giving it his all. The young man had to keep running from his blows, the mercenary's cuts cutting into the brown leather suit, leaving it fringed.

Jarek chased his opponent down the circular rook. At one point, the champion took a swing and lunged forward to drive his sword into the Rawadar warrior's stomach. But Hrabarich turned his hips to the side at the last moment, so the thrust missed. But the move threw the youth too far off balance, and the mercenary took advantage. With his left grip, he squeezed the champion's palm, and with his right fist, which held the sword, he struck the Darelonian in the nose.

The bone crackled and broke into many pieces as blood gushed out. There was an astonished shout from the crowd as Jarek pushed the roaring champion down and sheathed his sword. The mercenary swept his brown gaze over the crowd, then walked over to his black raincoat-clad cousin standing at the edge of the circle, smoothing the water from his beard and hair.

-                He didn't need to be disfigured for life, a scratch on his arm or face would have been enough. - said Sitke Hajduk Sakalic in a jovial tone.

-                You'd never learn from that." tightened the straps on Jarek, then smoothed the water from his short brown hair and beard.

-                Of course, only because Master Markaj trained you in such a cruel way.

-                It was not so cruel, you could get used to it. - Jarek smiled as he moved through the excited crowd. You must have bet on me.

-                And how well I did, I had just enough for a good lunch! - Sitke tossed the jar of rattling coins into the air, laughing out loud.

Ÿ

Jarek pulled the flask filled with strong sauce. What can a mercenary do when he has been out of work for a long time? Drink, play cards, and fight.

-                And now for the highlight of the day! - came the voice of the drillmaster from the sandy arena. - The legendary clash we've all been waiting for. Our beloved champion Marzio del Venevis...

The fat bellhop's words were interrupted by a deafening cheer. The inhabitants of the Venetian county had gone mad at the mention of their favourite champion. For the fourth time in a row, Marzio del Venevis was competing for the title of the Venzioi Tournament.

-                "Our beloved champion," repeated the speaker. - will clash with a barbarian warrior from our neighbour to the north, one of the Jackalheads, a hitherto unknown warrior," the Darelonian referred to the popular nickname for the Jackalic Company. -The death-worshipping stranger has marched thus far undefeated.

There was booing from several places in the crowd, but Jarek was not really surprised.

-                So welcome the participants of the Tournament!

The mercenary got up with a jerk from the camp chair he had been sitting on and strode briskly out of his allotted tent. Outside, his opponent was already parading in front of the spectators, while he just stood on the field and watched.

He asked himself for the umpteenth time why he was doing this. Two weeks ago, when she duelled with that young man, she hadn't found her goal, but in the days since then she had gotten hooked. The mercenary group, the Sakalic Company, named after his uncle, had been out of work for almost a month. Nowhere near a war, in the north, the Brachta-Dari were no longer much of a challenge, so they came south to see if they could get a commission in the ever-quivering Duchy of Darelon. But the Darelonians were more hostile to the army from their northern neighbours than willing to hire them. And long days of doing nothing had sent Jarek on a downward spiral.

The Darelonian champion finished his celebration and turned to face his challenger. He slung his crimson cloak from his shoulders and wrapped it around his left forearm. He drew his thin-bladed sword with his right leg and took up a fighting stance.

Jarek took a deep breath and pulled himself out to assess his opponent. The Rawadari was almost a head taller, and much more muscular from the constant armour wearing, but the Darelonian had won three times in Venzio for a reason.

The mercenary decided to attack first. The crowd wanted entertainment, blood, and Jarek knew he could give them that. Now he donned his worn armour, which told of many a battle, his shield bearing the crest of the scimitar, feared by his enemies, white against a pitch-black background.

With his sword he launched an attack from above, but the Darelonian danced aside. The mercenary parried the thrust to his body with his shield, the narrow blade sliding across the surface of the wood with a deafening sound. Jarek lunged forward as he used his defensive tool to deliver a blow to Marzio's arm, causing the champion to stagger backwards. But he didn't have much time to recover, for the rawadari was already on his heels, piling on more attacks. The three-time champion stood his ground, and more! After only a few exchanges of blades, Jarek was forced into a defensive position, despite fighting with a much heavier weapon than his opponent. In the tournament, the challenger can choose his weapon, but the Darelonian wanted to defeat the northern fish-loving stranger on his own turf.

The audience went wild, loudly chanting the name of Marzio del Venevis. People were beating the wooden blocks with their hands, either rhythmically or unrhythmically, depending on how much alcohol they had already drunk. The richer classes of the town smiled as they watched the clash from the lodges, where they were served chilled fruit and delicious drinks. Among them sat the wealthy merchants who had bankrolled the entire Viad. In the shops around the arena, they made a lot of money, for they were excellent practitioners of the wisdom of the ancient patriarchs: circuses and bread for the people.

Marzio del Venevis moved his weapon from one position to another with lightning speed. Jarek used the edge of his shield to deflect the cut that threatened his thigh, then lunged forward, but the sword only pierced the cloak hanging on the champion's arm. del Venevis sought to take advantage of this by grabbing the blade with the cloth to wrench it from the mercenary's hand. His movements were watched with bated breath by the crowd.

Jarek sensed from the first jolt that he would not get his weapon back easily, and if he was distracted for long, he would easily get wounded. So he kicked himself off the ground and brought his shield down on the champion's elbow. But the moment he reached his opponent, a sharp pain shot through his right arm.

Marzio del Venevis howled as the iron-edged shield broke his upper arm, and the force of the blow knocked him backwards. He stumbled over his own feet, fell backwards, but with a tumble he was back on his feet. Jarek didn't immediately go after him, but looked down at his injury. The champion had hit him between two plates of armor, the steel ripping open the lower garment and, judging by the blood and pain, the muscle. The mercenary swung his arm a few times, but found he could fight him no longer.

Then he did something that made his opponent's eyes widen. He stabbed his sword into the sand of the plough while he slung his shield over his right hand, then picked up his weapon with his left. For Jarek Dukhaj was a perfect swordsman with both hands. He had to learn this trick because of an old injury.

Marzio also got up, but his injury seemed to be much more serious, his arm hanging limply by his side. But pride pushed him forward again.

Jarek already felt that he had won this fight, and he fought in that spirit. He dragged the fight on a little longer, and after one of the champion's mis-hits, he struck his opponent in the knee with his shield.

Marzio del Venevis, the three-time champion, was now lying on his back, groaning in pain, his hands reaching for the hilt of his weapon, but the mercenary kicked it away with his boots. Jarek stood over the defeated man and raised the weapon to the champion's throat. Some of the onlookers erupted into a roar, while others began to swear. Pitchers, pieces of wood and vegetables flew onto the pitch.

-                Do you admit that you lost? - said Jarek Dukhaj Hrabaric, the reigning champion of the Venzioi Tournament.

-                Yes, just let me have my life. - Marzio said it with resignation, but not fear. - It would not be fair for me to die at the hands of a death-loving barbarian.

-                Dhoarnas said: one can never choose one's death, only the way one faces it. - the mercenary then held out his hand to the Darelonian instead of his sword.

After helping his opponent up, the janitor walked between the two of them and pointed at the mercenary.

-                People! The champion of this year's Venzioi Tournament is none other than the foreigner from the North, Jarek Dukhaj Hrabaric!

The anthem of the Sakalic Company was then played by his fellow mercenaries huddled in the stands: Summer is here, make your crossbow...

Ÿ

The Sakalic Company camp was outside the town, with life going on in the tents, black flags with the skulls of the jackals flying high above. Jarek sat on a chair in the huge tent of the Jackalheads, clutching an alcohol-soaked bandana to his injured upper arm.

-                Fantastic fencing, brother, impressive. The locals say you used some kind of magic to defeat their champion. "Sitke Hajduk was excitedly pacing around the tent.

-                His own pride overcame him when he let me use a shield. - The excitement of the battle had evaporated from Jarek, and he was in the same mood as before.

-                But still, beating the Darelonians in their own country, in their own sport, will be remembered for years! - Sitke Hajduk slapped the palm of his hand.

Then a bald officer entered the tent and saluted the Company leaders. His black uniform reflected the colours of the army, and a feathered mace pinned to his belt drew attention.

-                Leader!" he bowed his head towards Sitke, then towards Jarek. An ambassador arrived from Count del Venzio.

The two warriors looked at each other.

-                Let him in, then, and let's find out what the Count wants!

The officer touched his outstretched fingers to his sweating forehead again, then pushed aside the tent flap and left. A few moments later, a short man dressed in an ornate satin suit entered. He looked as if he had never done a minute's manual labour in his life, but had at most counted the count's money.

-                "Your Highness, Guido del Venzio sends his greetings to the leader of the Jackalic Company." - a rather theatrical bow followed - "The lord of the city and the surrounding countryside, he saw for himself the skills of their champion when he defeated the three-time winner Marzio del Venevis. Therefore, my lord, he believes that hiring you will be the solution to the threat to the city.

-                What kind of danger? - Sitke asked, eyes twinkling.

-                Monsters have appeared out of nowhere on the northern border of the manor and are killing peasants, an unacceptable loss for the Count. Give me a sum!

Jarek Dukhaj glared at his cousin. If someone starts a negotiation without even bargaining for money, there could be a great danger in the assignment.

-                Ordinarily, ten gold for a month's pay for soldiers and twenty for officers is thirty thousand gold for the whole Company. "But this may vary according to the difficulty of our task," Sitke took up his negotiating tone.

The messenger took a sealed parchment from his coat pocket and approached the two mercenaries.

-                Everything you need is written here." he handed Sitke the letter.

-                Oh, I'm not the boss in these matters, I just give you the money, the equipment and the reputation. "He's in charge of these matters," the head of the Jackalics Company pointed to his injured relative.

The Count's envoy looked at Sitke in surprise, turned to the wounded mercenary and handed him the parcel, fearfully. Jarek snapped the seal with his right hand and quickly scanned the writing.

-                Double, delivery date uncertain. - that's all he said.

-                "Then that is our answer to the Count, sixty thousand gold pieces a month, half of which we will ask for in advance," Sitke summed up, and then made a dismissive gesture with his hand.

-                You have brought us all good things today. - Sitke Hajduk opened his hands after the envoy had left. But that wound looks very bad, the doctor will be here soon.

-                Doctor Milos is probably still drunk somewhere, where he drank to my victory. - Jarek smiled.

-                You're right about that, he was seen disappearing in the Nomadic Cripple pub. But while you were parading in the tournament, I got a temporary new runner. You'll find it satisfactory, I'm sure.

-                "It can only be better than Chief Doctor Milos," laughed Jarek Dukhaj.

The leader of the Jackalics Company said goodbye and left the tent, his black cloak flapping behind him. The mercenary who remained inside carefully lifted the cloth from the wound to examine it. It was not a pretty sight.

Then a rustle of canvas caught Jarek's attention, but when he looked up, his eyes widened. He hadn't expected the new paramedic to be him at all: Fanny del Cizo.

The woman's brown hair was tightly tied, her face had not lost a bit of its beauty since Jarek had last seen her. She entered the tent wearing green riding breeches and a simple white blouse, while she wrapped her thick white robe around her. In her hand she clutched an oblong leather bag in which she carried her medic's kit. They had been close years ago, but she had won admission to Vailan's most prestigious medical academy while Jarek had gone off to fight in distant lands with his uncle Dukhaj's army. It was agreed then that they could not have a future together, but the truth was that the mercenary could never accept it deep down.

-                Hello." he finally groaned.

-                Hello.", the doctor replied. - I didn't know you were still at Sakalic. I thought you were fighting in the north under the banner of Athreia.

-                It was, until we ran out of mandates. That's the curse of being much stronger than your opponents.

Fanny del Cizo knelt down next to the mercenary and removed the bandana from the wound, then pressed the area around the wound with her hand. She then opened her bag and produced some ointments, a needle made of fish bone and thread.

-                But we've just been hired, it's going to be a good, fat job. "Jarek was silent for a moment, not knowing what to say. "And where have you been since then?

-                Here, there, over there. - she wasn't really in a conversational mood.

The doctor's hands skilfully stitched up the wound caused by the blade, and when he had finished, he packed up.

-                Perhaps you'd like to come in the evening...", Jarek broke the silence, but Fanny del Cizo immediately cut him off.

-                Please don't start that again. You know why we're separated," the doctor sighed. - I'll dress your wound again tonight, try not to strain it too much until then.

He turned away from her and began to sort through his used tools on the table. Jarek got up sadly from the chair he was sitting in. On his way out, he glanced back once at the still attractive figure of his former lover, then sighed resignedly and exited the tent. He could no longer see that Fanny del Cizo had her hand so tightly gripped the edge of the table that it was buried in it, while tears rolled down her cheeks to fall on the dusty ground, which immediately swallowed them.

Ÿ

The Sakalic Company marched out of their camp the next morning fully armed, after the Count had sent them the advance on their pay. Two thousand five hundred soldiers marched north to line up in orderly ranks on the field in front of the camp for their pre-battle ceremony. All the men on the road stopped to admire the prayers of the Rawadarians.

The mercenaries lined up in companies, while beside each column, Dhoarnas' priests led the sacrificial goats on a rope. The men of the god of death broke into deep chanting, the words, incomprehensible to the Darelonians, carried on the winds that surged up and down the spectators. The Jackalheads joined in the chanting, their weapons thumping their jagged shields, their feet thudding dully on the dusty ground. The mercenaries grew more and more enthralled, and when the priests raised their sacrificial knives in the air, howls erupted from a thousand and one throats, masking the goats' agony.

Jarek was at the head of the second company, standing beside his saddled horse, singing for the umpteenth time the battle prayer that prepared their souls for battle. He joined the others in the cry of the jackal as the priests slaughtered the sacrificial animals. The chaplains of Dhoarnas took up the blood of the goats in pots and brought it to the soldiers. With brushes, they sprinkled the blood towards the soldiers, then moved on and repeated the process in the next batch.

-                Let this blood, the blood of your enemies, be upon you! - The jackal sends his enemies to their death before him. Fear not the darkness, Dhoarnas will gladly welcome his warriors.

Jarek Dukhaj bowed his head to the priests, then put on his pointed, nose-guarded helmet, arranged the sodroni and fastened the straps. He mounted his horse and looked back to see where the holy men were going. The priests slowly made their way down the ranks. Jarek's eyes continued to glide to the camp gate, where he caught a glimpse of Fanny del Ciz, in her white cloak, surveying the mercenaries.

Then a horn sounded in the silence, blowing a simple tune that brought the order to march to the ears of the soldiers. The leather horns of the Western Wraadarians also blared, playing a bouncy march. Jarek turned forward, then spurred his horse with his heel at the head of his company. Behind him, thousands of feet struck the ground and the mercenaries raised their black banners high.

After half a day's march, the scouts reported that they had probably found the monsters they had been tasked to find. Specifically, one group had completely disappeared and another group had found their bodies smashed together. The Company then proceeded at full alert until they emerged from the dense forest that covered the area.

And across the meadow they spotted their enemy. Before a great gate, darker than the starless night, hovered predators in cyclamen colours. Jarek could just make out their dim forms. Amidst the many hideous creatures stood huge grey-robed creatures that, even bent over, seemed taller than a knight on a battle-horse. The mongrels spotted the approaching mercenaries and started towards the Jackalheads with a deafening screech.

Another bugle sounded, and the Sakalic soldiers moved as one to form a battle formation to repel the attack of the vortexes. The iron-plated edges of black-painted shields clattered against each other, and hundreds of jackals now glared at the enemy.

-                Sluggish magicians forward! - Jarek gave the order.

The armoured spearmen made way for the immortal blooded wizards who formed the most powerful unit of the Jackalic Company. Their eyes glowed white, the ether came alive around their hands, brighter than ever as they drew a snow-white translucent ether shield before the army.

-                Khataar a dhaar! - these two words were uttered from the lips of all the mercenaries: glory or death!

The shadows of night hunters, stray zhilar scouts, and other otherworldly mongrels were making lightning-quick time to cover the distance between them and the Jackalic Company. In the rear, crossbowmen drew their weapons to meet the enemy with a volley of murderous arrows. The mercenaries' magico technicians fired pinpoint shots with mana guns. The Aetherformers hurled white energy projectiles at them, which hit several of the monsters, but most galloped on to slam into the mercenaries' battle line with a huge thud.

Jarek's horse was rearing high, so the commander quickly jumped off the horse before it dismounted. From his back he unhooked his black shield with the checkerboard skull on it and drew his sword. All around him the battle line dented as one of the grey-robed horrors tossed aside the thirty-forty pound iron-bearing grown men like a fox. Jarek already knew that if they survived this, it would only be due to their numbers.

The mercenary threw all his strength into the blow he launched at the creature's back. But to his surprise, the creature turned in an instant and grabbed the blade with its withered hand. Its yellowish-white eyes and unnaturally distorted face were frightening. Though the sword dug into the giant, long-fingered hand, the creature was unimpressed. The creature from the Plane of the Middle would have struck with another fist, but his hand bounced off the ether shield that was forming over the mercenary. Jarek retrieved his sword, then took advantage of the pause to take two quick steps around the vortex and leap onto its back. At this point, several mercenaries began slashing at the beast with their spears or swords, one magiko-technician unleashing a whole tank of mana projectiles into the carrion as Jarek's shield edge struck it in the head. The creature of the Plane of the Between could no longer take so many attacks at once, its clothes and body torn by steel, until its head was nothing but a soft pulpy thing from the force of the blows.

When the monstrosity collapsed, Jarek was already looking for his next opponent, and he found it in the form of a translucent monster flying through the air. He grabbed a spear from the hand of one of the fallen soldiers and threw it at the darting monster, straight for its cyclamen-coloured belly. The kenesis nearly flew through the predator as it stabbed through the mana-filled organ. Rays of cyclamen from the Lifestream shot out in all directions, only to disappear into nothingness as a sea of purple points of light. The beast rose up in the air as the life-giving mana exited the tst and fell headfirst onto the mercenary commander.

The bloodbath lasted for hours, and by the time the Sakalits had fought their way to the gap, at least five hundred men lay dead or groaning from their wounds on the battlefield. The monsters were very difficult to kill, and only the heroic resistance of the Aetherformers, archers and mercenaries combined to win the day. With an intricate spell, the plane mages closed the passageway to the Plain Between, and the soldiers began to bury their dead. Jarek sent scouts out to the area to signal if gates were opening elsewhere.

-                Commander, we've picked up one of the zhilar-whipped bastards! - reported the Rawadar officer Jarek had assigned to find one of the spooks.

-                All right, get him on the wagon. - Jarek waved a bloody hand over his shoulder. - We'll take him back to town, and we'll pay you four times the price, not double.

By the end of the day, there was nothing left of the mercenaries but graves and burning bonfires.

Ÿ

The Company did not march back to the camp as victors, they did not feel like it, only survivors. Many of them helped their wounded comrades towards the medical tent, where the priests and the priests were busy tending to the wounded. Jarek, though exhausted, did not rest. He walked around the camp. He brought wine for his soldiers, food and bandages. Those who worked in the fields outside looked on with interest and amazement at those returning after two days. The soldiers who remained alive offered more goats to the Lord of Death for not calling them to him.

It was late in the evening, and by the time he reached the medical tent, he was still wearing his armour, which had been stained unpleasantly by the mud of battle. Most of the wounded had already been treated, those who could not fit into the otherwise huge trough were warming themselves under the stars around fires in the autumn evening.

Jarek pushed the canvas aside and entered. Inside, torches lit the dark corners, and bloody white sheets lay everywhere. On the table, one soldier's leg was still being operated on, but the procedure was slowly coming to an end. The mercenary captain could take no more and collapsed on the first chair that came his way.

He woke to the sound of someone softly slapping his dirty face, his tired eyes blinking up flat. Fanny squatted in front of him with a worried expression. Her cloak, it was more salmon-coloured than white, the blood had caught the fabric.

-                To the Guardians! Fanny del Cizo wanted to speak in an angry voice, but now she only spoke in fear. - What happened to you?

-                I think I've torn my wound open, and I've been hit a few times by those Zhilar-blooded horrors," Jarek groaned as he tried to move.

-                "No, no, no!" she said, "Don't move, I'm trying to peel the hair off your head. "It's really torn.

He stood up to run for his tools, Jarek just watched him hurry away. Fanny del Cizo returned a minute later with a bucket of hot water and began to clean the mercenary's wounds.

-                I don't understand what brings you back to the battlefield again and again. - she said as she picked another piece of blood from Jarek's arm.

-                Recklessness? The pursuit of glory? A desire to prove yourself? Fear of failure? Conforming to my uncle? "Of course, all of these things," Jarek Dukhaj looked into the distance.

-                Me? Don't make fun of yourself! - Fanny looked doubtfully at her former lover, but there was no trace of a joke in his eyes. - But why?

-                Because I tell myself that if I take on another battle, another war, wherever you are, I'll make the world safer for you. I've been fighting all my life, but until we met, it didn't make sense, I was just in it for the money. But no matter how the paths the Guardians laid out for us took us apart, I could no longer live my world the same way. Now these monsters threaten Enerith, and with it you, my family and my people. What a worthless figure I would be if I didn't try to stop them.

Jarek Dukhaj Hrabaric tilted his head to the side to get a better look at the woman he still had tender feelings for. Fanny's hand had stopped working as she listened to him, and now they looked into each other's eyes. Tears sprang to her eyes, and then she smiled slowly. She leaned closer to Jarek and kissed him softly, then continued to stitch the mercenary's wounds.

The next day, the commander of the Sakalic Company appeared in the command pavilion with his hands tied when he was called. Outside the entrance, the slain horror lay on a cot. Opposite them, men dressed in fancy armour and robes waited beside magnificent thoroughbred horses. Jarek's simple black trousers and linen shirt seemed portly by comparison.

Inside there was an even bigger surprise. Sitke Hajduk Sakalic was talking to a tall, polished, red-blooded, wiry figure. As Jarek approached, he noticed the heavy ruby-edged blade that belonged to the commander of the armies of House del Orovis, hanging from the visitor's belt along with a gilded sword guard. But the whole sword did not hang at the knight's side, only a short stump and the hilt.

The two men stopped talking and turned to the mercenary who entered. Jarek scanned the guest's face. Arneo del Orovis seemed to have aged years since they had last met. They had clashed then as adversaries, but afterwards they had formed a lifelong friendship. The young man's face was troubled, with a sinister shadow on it.

-                Arneo, my friend, thank Dhoarnas for seeing you. - Jarek furrowed his brows when he got no reply. - Did something happen?

-                The terrors. - Sitke replied gloomily.

-                They're popping up elsewhere, not just here. - Arneo del Orovis finally spoke up. The chaos is spreading, wild gates are opening in many places, and monsters of the Plain Between are pouring through them. Archduke Del Leoni understands that we must ask for help, for this is a situation that the Darelonian valour alone can no longer resolve. I am here to ask for your help.

Jarek's heart sank as he saw the desperate look on his friend's face. He glanced at his cousin, nodded, then held out his left hand to the Count.

-                And the Jackalics Company will go to war with you, young Red Fox! The Jackalheads will be at your side as you hunt down the horrors!

And the Count of Arneo del Orovis squeezed the hand extended to him.

The mercenary platoon was cutting through the camp when the sky cracked in the distance. Fanny del Csizo looked up at the high range of Enerith, stretching across the horizon towards the darkening blue sky. Black clouds rushed down to the foothills of the mountain range to flood the landscape with devastating wind and rain. She cast her eyes around the horizon, then caught sight of Jarek emerging from the command tent. They looked at each other, the mercenary nodded slowly and then both looked thoughtfully in the direction of the approaching storm as the wind brought the bitter smell of chaos and destruction to Venzio.

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