“Don’t overdo it, love. You still need to take care of me later,” said Bess as Liam emptied the second pitcher of hard cider he had been working on since entering the Cornerstone tavern.
“I’ve still got plenty left for you, lass. I can hold my spirits,” Liam rebutted with slurred speech and eyes that were beginning to turn bloodshot. He enjoyed the warm and inviting smile that Bess gave him. He knew it was rehearsed but it didn’t matter to him. The illusion of genuine company was just as good as the real thing, considering his present state of intoxication. “In fact why don’t you bring a third pitcher? I’m awfully far in front and you have some catching up to do,” Liam continued with a few hiccups and smile of his own.
Bess batted her thick painted eyelashes and tucked her hair back behind her ears. As she did so Liam noted the heavy strakes of white that accented Bess’ raven black hair. His eyes wandered to the deep lines around her mouth where her make up could only hide so much. As she got up and left the table Liam saw just how matronly her appearance was. In any finer such establishment a woman of Bess’ years would be running the younger girls and not working alongside them. Still Liam marveled at how the woman had managed to keep an undeniable enticing quality about herself even into the deep autumn of her days. Liam had not expected to find her so pleasant upon his first visit the Cornerstone. Her company was all he could afford with the near depleted winnings of his last foray into the Cage. The Rayward man was wholly surprised to find how much of a bargain the past few nights with her had actually been. Liam wondered if perhaps she was legitimately fond of him. He doubted it. It was more than likely that Bess was just an expert in her craft. The former Master of Arms chuckled to himself at how appropriate her company was. He, a once legendary military man and Bess, clearly a master of the lust trade, now both reduced to lurking in the most poverty stricken district of Blackcloud. It was tragically perfect.
As Liam waited for Bess to return with the next round of drink he was hit with a sobering reality. With his present funds he was going to have to fight again if he wanted to stay at the Cornerstone past the night. This pushed an even greater conundrum onto the fighting man. He was well on his way to blacking out, that was his intention after all, however he was no longer able to recover from his nights of revelry like he could in his youth. It would be prudent to stop his antics right now and head for fresh water and a good night’s sleep if he wanted to be at his best for the Cage. Were it not for the fact that Liam knew his mind would only think of Amurai and laden him with the grief of his recently departed hound dog then he would have already retired for the evening. As it had been for some time, there was little chance for the Rayward man to slip into slumber without the help of vast amounts of drink. Liam was in the midst of a mental debate between continuing his pleasure seeking and discretion when he saw Bess making her way thru the cluttered tavern with a foaming pitcher in her grasp. As their eyes met and she gave him a sultry seductive smile any desire for sleep was exiled from Liam’s mind. Bess pored two mountainous tankards of spirits and slid back into her spot at the table next to Liam. The Rayward man felt how good it was to have a full glass in his hands and a soft woman at his side. The pair carried on as they had and all notion of things like regret, restraint or tomorrow vanished from Liam’s thoughts.
“I think I need to step outside for a moment,” Liam grumbled as he halted Bess from refilling his cup again. He held a hand over his weary eyes to help shut out the light which had suddenly become so abrasive. He felt a miserable rumbling in his gut and it felt like his stomach was flipped upside-down.
“What is all this love, I thought you were just getting started,” Bess said as she tenderly stroked the scared flesh of Liam’s solid forearm in a fashion that he was much too drunk to enjoy. Liam tried to laugh but instead managed a foul belch. Bess did a wonderful job of pretending like the revolting rush of alcohol scented air never happened.
“I am just being a gentleman. You are at least three behind me right now and need to make up some ground. I want to see your cup empty by the time I come back,” Liam bumbled as he stood and swaggered from side to side.
“You better not take too long. I don’t like being lonely,” Bess said in her most alluring voice.
“I wouldn’t dream of keeping you waiting a moment longer than necessary,” Liam said as he sloppily avoided stumbling over his great-maul that was lying beside the table. He cast one look back over his shoulder at Bess when she was not looking. He couldn’t tell if it was real or an act but the sad expression on her face seemed to tell the Rayward man that he had been her first serious customer in a long time. The forlorn expression etched on the woman’s face made her age stand out exponentially and it also told Liam that he would likely be one of Bess’ last customers before the wickedness of time claimed the last of her looks.
Liam staggered thru the back hall of the Cornerstone and scrambled to find the exit into the street. His belly was not his friend right now and all he wanted to do was get away from the bright lights and stink of sweat and alcohol. He knew that the air in the streets of Blackcloud was far from pleasant to the nose but at least it was cooler and darker outside. The tavern felt overbearing and Liam’s stomach rumbled with distress. He needed to get outside as quick as he could. Liam burst thru the back door into the alley.
The open atmosphere of the street was of greater comfort to the Rayward man but his constitution was rapidly wearing thin. He made his way thru the alleys and mist filled streets. He wanted to get some place that the building were not so close together. The tiny thruways of the city constricted the bulky frame of the former Master of Arms. Liam wandered aimlessly taking each new turn and corner hoping to find a path that was not so confined. His unfamiliarity with Blackcloud and the level of inebriation that he was brought to made navigating the shadowed streets a disastrous affair. The Rayward man’s body was in outright rebellion and he knew that he would not be able to hold his drink much longer.
Liam stepped around one more twist in the road before he had to stop. The large Rayward man clutched his gut in pain and doubled over. He started forcing his body to come under his command. Soon Liam realized that he was not alone in the alley. He heard the sound of a man’s voice cut thru the darkness.
“I am he who serves,” said the voice.
Liam looked up from where he was bent over and saw the unmistakable red cloak of a Vermillion Councilman. On either side of the man in scarlet were men wearing dark clothes and brandishing weapons. The men in black stopped when they saw the enormous Rayward man stumble into the midst of what was going on. The Councilman quickly glanced at Liam before returning his focus back to the collection of armed men.
The black clocked assailant nearest the Councilman held up a hand and halted the advance of the other similarly dressed figure. After commanding his subordinate to cease the man pointed a gloved finger at Liam and spoke. “You have no business here. Be on your way,” said the man with a voice that was reminiscent of gravel and sand.
Liam could not speak as the pain in his belly was too great and his throat was clamped up from all the heavy drinking. He only waived dismissively at the person who had just ordered him to leave.
“Are you deaf? Get out!” Barked the man in black.
Liam still was not able to gather enough of his wits to speak. He stood up as straight as he could manage and gave the dark cloaked villain an unruly stare that spoke volumes.
The lead man in black said no more. He only gave his underling an instructive thrust of his chin in Liam’s direction. The second man turned his attention from the boxed in Vermillion Councilman and approached Liam. The Rayward man knew that he had just got himself into a fight and more than likely a deadly one. He took no time to think or strategize. Once his enemy was within striking distance Liam threw a crushing overhand punch. The blow would have knocked any man unconscious and even killed some of weaker constitution but the dark clad man skillfully sidestepped the blow and counted with a precision counter punch right into Liam’s solar plexus.
The air was instantly forced out of Liam’s body and his knees buckled. Liam felt like he was drowning. His breath had been stolen and his lungs were in a state of confusion. The sensation put Liam into a blind drunken rage. All pain was pushed aside and the only thing that resonated within the former Rayward Master of Arms was the instinct of a true solider and unequaled warrior. Liam took his attacker by surprise as he launched forward despite the anesthetizing strike he just endured. Before the black clad man could bring steel to bear Liam had transformed his impressively wide body into a human battering ram and slammed the figure into one of the stone walls that lined the alley. The man crumpled to the ground after the impact, his lungs punctured by broken ribs.
After a moment of disbelief that was shared by all, the Councilman called out to Liam. “Behind!”
The Rayward man spun to face two more black cloaked attackers. He was quick on his feet considering his age, size and most of all the volume of sprits he had consumed so far. He was not fast enough to avoid the first blow of his new assailants. A short sword rammed into Liam’s flesh and lodged in the bone of his hip. In a frenzied animalistic rage the Rayward man’s arm shot out and met the first of his new attackers in the face with the heel of his palm. The man dropped to the ground attempting to scream in pain but unable to amid the mouthful broken tooth fragments and fount of blood that sprayed from his shattered nose. Liam stopped the man from writhing on the cobblestone with a stomp of his sizable boot upon the assassins neck.
Liam was able to move out of the way the next foe’s blade that would have opened his throat. The weapon still cut a jagged line as it sliced across the Rayward man’s jaw. Liam grit his teeth and grasped his newest enemy by the head. The alley was filled with horrible moaning and blood curdling screaming for a few seconds as Liam dug his thumbs into the man’s eyes. Blinded and dead the third attacker joined his compatriots in the grime underfoot.
Liam felt a shooting pain erupt in his chest as a blade found its mark between his shoulders. The weapon missed the Rayward man’s heart by the smallest of margins. Liam whipped around and locked eyes with the man who had stabbed him. It was the black cloaked figure who had commanded the others. Liam’s final adversary was drawing a second blade from his waist. Liam paid no heed to his wounds and lifted the black cloaked man off his feet and then threw him to the ground. The man’s head smacked against the street with a disgusting splat and he lay still amid the other corpses.
As quick as it had begun the fight was over. Somehow, drunk and bleeding rampantly Liam was managing to keep his feet. His breath was shaky and erratic and he swayed from side to side. He finally came to lean against the wall of the alley with one hand while he tried to stem the bleeding on his hip with the other.
The Councilman cautiously approached Liam but stayed out of arms reach. With wide eyed wonder and deference the red robed man spoke, “I…I am Father Mazeon. You saved me from…I cannot…who are you?” stammered the Councilman.
Liam looked at the person he had just unwittingly rescued from some dire plight. He battled fatigue, open wounds, drunkenness and a monstrously upset stomach in order to speak. “I am…I…I am…I am sorry,” Liam gurgled as he lost the battle he had been fighting with his gut. From the bottom of his stomach, the Rayward man loosed a spew of alcohol and chunks of partially digested shepherd’s pie all over the Vermillion Councilman. Then, for Liam there was only the sweet black void of nothing.