Mists of Avon: Chapter 8
“--oine… Get up! Antoine!”
Sometimes, Antoine wished he had set business hours. That way, he could avoid unpleasant interactions like this so early in the morning. The only thing better would be if he could avoid the unpleasant person intruding on his precious sleep. As he opened his eyes, his vision was blurry, but he could still make out the smirk written on Sonia’s face in the candlelight.
“Naptime’s over. We need to get moving while it’s still early,” said Sonia.
“And just how early is it?” asked Antoine, as he rose up and rubbed his eyes.
“The sun just rose a short while ago,” said Sonia. “I always rise with the sun for early-morning training.”
“How can you rise with the sun in a cave?” asked Antoine through a yawn.
“I’ve done it every day for years. You get used to it,” said Sonia with a shrug. “Do you want to wake Ruby up?”
“You seriously think I’m still sleepin’?” asked Ruby, as she finally raised her head off of the cold, hard floor. “I’m a thief. I always gotta be ready to move the second someone comes sniffin’ ‘round. And you think I didn’t hear you makin’ all kinds of noise in that clunky armor of yours?”
“So, you’re ready to move then?” asked Sonia.
In answer, Ruby popped up from the floor with a smirk and scampered up the ladder, prompting a groaning noise from the ladder, as if it was just waking up as well. Sonia quickly followed. Antoine knew he was going to have to catch up on his sleep later, so he followed her up the ladder.
Lily was waiting for them at the top, and Antoine noticed the circles under her eyes. She must have stayed up late, waiting for Liam to finish the order, and gotten up early to see him off, as he left to deliver it.
“Good morning,” said Lily. “Are you leaving so early? You could stay for lunch, if you want. It’s no trouble at all for us.”
“Thanks, but we really should get moving,” said Sonia, as her eyes darted around the shop. “We have one last thing to do before our mission is complete.”
“And, more importantly, before we get paid,” said Antoine with a smile. “Thank you for your hospitality, and thank Liam for me, as well.”
“Ok, good luck with your mission!” said Lily.
Once the door had shut behind them, Ruby said with a shake of her head, “I can’t believe Liam picked her over us, ‘Toine. I guess she’s pretty or somethin’, but she ain’t got our great personalities.”
“I think I’m starting to sympathize with Liam then,” said Sonia as she started down the street. Antoine had to quicken his usual trot to keep up with her, as it became clear to him that she didn’t want to spend any more time in Ralingrad than was absolutely necessary. She must have still been worried about Liam, especially when she didn’t spot him in the shop.
Sonia had been right about the sun. The sky had an orange tint to it, and the sun only appeared as a semicircle poking out above the edge of the cliff in the east to illuminate the nearly barren streets. They were in that brief window of time between the rise of the sun and the flooding of the streets with people, as even many of the early risers were only just awakening. Knight patrols would be light now, but their presence would also be more conspicuous. A few enterprising merchants scrambled to beat the competition to the starting gates for the day, wheeling carts or carrying crates overflowing with goods they hoped to sell, but Antoine’s group would not be mistaken for merchants.
“How’re we gonna get some horses this early in the mornin’, anyways?” asked Ruby. “I assume we’re gonna have to get ‘em the legitimate way?”
“Of course,” Sonia huffed. “We are not stealing from an innocent horseman.”
“I happen to know of a horseman who keeps his stable open all hours of the day,” said Antoine as he adjusted the cuffs of his sleeves. “He caters to our… particular crowd.”
“Your particular crowd…” said Sonia as she glared at Antoine.
“Of course, of course. You are much too honorable to associate with mercenaries and thieves,” said Antoine. “Unless you require their assistance.”
“Ya know, I think I’ll just stay outta this lovers’ quarrel,” said Ruby as she threw her hands behind her head.
Antoine and Sonia both shot Ruby their most scathing glares, and they completed the rest of the trip to Antoine’s horseman in silence. Of course, the rest of the trip lasted only a couple of minutes, or else Antoine could never have accomplished such a feat. He was a man of many talents, but silence was not one of them.
The horseman’s stable was little more than a wooden shack with some hay to feed the horses. A wooden sign hung crookedly from the roof of the shack that read “Horses,” though Antoine had to tilt his head slightly to read it. However, the owner did have some very valuable horses. He simply didn’t wish to advertise that fact, or knights would come by his shack more often. Knights were bad for business. He supposedly kept a couple pegasi in the back of the shack, behind a black curtain, though only the most high-paying customers ever saw them. The horseman was nowhere to be seen, however.
Sonia grumbled, “Great… We come all this way and no one’s even here.”
“Guess we’ll just have to steal a couple horses then,” said Ruby with a shrug. “That’s just too bad…”
“No, I’m still not going to allow you to steal horses.”
“No one ‘allows’ me to do anythin’,” said Ruby. “I just do it.”
“Looks like you’d end up killing each other without us jumping in, but we need the exercise, so I guess we’ll just have to poke our noses in anyway.”
The voice came from behind the shack, but Antoine recognized it before the man stepped out from behind it. It was Enzo. He was a former mercenary who was now working as one of Dmitri’s top warriors, along with his partner, Julian. They were still more mercenary than knight. Rather than fighting on the front lines, they spent most of their time on special missions, from acquiring valuable artifacts to eliminating specific targets. The only difference from their mercenary days was that all their jobs came from Dmitri. With his current power play, however, he had more than enough work for them to do.
As both Julian and Enzo stepped out from behind the shack, Antoine noticed that their appearances had not changed from their mercenary days, either. They did not even wear red, as anyone working for Dmitri normally would. They each wore full-length black jumpsuits instead. Enzo’s lanky frame and long, messy brown hair disguised the speed with which he handled his pair of sai, which hung from his belt. Julian, on the other hand, did not disguise the strength his short, but stout, frame possessed. He carried an enormous sword, which he leaned back on his shoulder, next to his bald head.
“Ah, so Dmitri sent his best hounds after us,” said Antoine. “To what do we owe the honor?”
Julian spat a wad of saliva and said, “Your friend. He talked.”
Sonia let out a sigh and quietly remarked, “Once a mercenary, always a mercenary.”
Antoine was used to Sonia’s comments by now, though he had to admit, for once, that she had a point. Liam was not the first person Antoine had worked with to betray him. Antoine had been sloppy, going to the same horseman that he and Liam had often gone to. Looking over your shoulder simply came with the territory, and Antoine had let his guard down this time. Your friends or allies are normally only allies by circumstance, and circumstances change. He had even worried about Ruby when they had first begun to work together.
Enzo pulled out his sai and began to turn them over in his hands as he said, “You know, it’s too bad we gotta kill you, Antoine. You’d make a good addition to our little group here. But we won’t be crying about it too much when we collect our payment, I guess. Money has a funny effect like that.”
“Mercenary scum like you doesn’t stand a chance against a true knight of Avon!” shouted Sonia as she drew her lance.
“Oh no! Not a knight of Avon!” screamed Enzo as he feigned fainting onto Julian. “We’ve never fought one of them before… Oh wait…” Enzo straightened back up. “Yeah, we have. Many times. I really can’t even remember how many times we’ve done that before.”
“I can’t believe I’m the one sayin’ this,” said Ruby. “But does this guy ever shut up?”
Julian actually smiled slightly. Or, at least, Antoine thought it was a smile that he spotted on his face. Antoine knew that meant it was about time for the fight to actually begin, so he drew his staff.
“I’ve never seen anyone in such a rush to die, but I guess we’ll just have to grant her wish then,” said Enzo.
In an instant, Enzo was engaged in battle with Ruby, sai flying at an inhuman speed. Ruby was somehow able to match him with her lone dagger, though Antoine didn’t want to wait and see how long she could keep that up. He flung a fireball towards Enzo, which he easily evaded with a backflip. It forced Enzo’s assault to relent for a moment, however.
“I got the big one, don’t I?” asked Sonia.
“Of course,” said Antoine as he split his staff into two small batons. “That’s what you’re here for, remember?”
Sonia began to head slowly towards Julian, shaking her head. Ruby was running the other way, away from the battle, which stunned Antoine, to say the least. He saw a smile on her face, and she gave him a slight nod, so he figured she must have something up her sleeve that was important enough to keep her away from a fight.
But he didn’t have time to ponder Ruby’s plan, as Enzo was on top of him in a flash. Antoine was able to fend off his attacks with his twin batons, but he was not excited about the prospect of a battle fought in such close quarters with Enzo.
Antoine did a backflip of his own and used the time it bought him to summon a chunk of earth up from the ground, but Enzo sidestepped it just in time. He tried another fireball, but Enzo leapt over it and back into range of Antoine. He was able to fend off Enzo’s attacks at first, but he was having more difficulties now. One sai completely breached his defenses and came within inches of his head. Only a last-second duck of his head had saved it.
So, Antoine knew it was time to make a dangerous move. He leapt up, over Enzo’s head. A stinging pain went through his right leg, as a sai stabbed into it. But he was able to make it over Enzo and quickly sent a lightning bolt flying from his hand towards Enzo. The attack connected, forcing Enzo to a knee.
At that very moment, a couple of winged white horses ran in front of Antoine, pulling what Antoine could only describe as a small wooden board with Ruby sitting on it. He wasn’t in any condition to complain, however, so he climbed aboard.
“I told ya no one tells me what to do!” shouted Ruby, as the pegasi took off into the air, several feet off the ground.
“We’ll see what happens when Sonia tries to force you to return them,” said Antoine.
Antoine spotted Sonia engaged in battle with Julian. He was too far away to precisely determine their injuries, but the condition of their attire told him all he needed to know about the battle. Julian’s jumpsuit was in tatters, covered in blood and dirt. Sonia’s armor had lost all its former shine and even looked to be dented in multiple places, unless Antoine’s eyes were deceiving him. She was blocking his massive sword’s blow with the metal shaft of her lance when she spotted them coming towards her. She followed up her block by quickly slamming the shaft of the lance into Julian’s head, buying her time to run towards them. Antoine and Ruby each reached out a hand and lifted her up onto the board, as the pegasi began to climb to new heights.
Antoine was now able to see more clearly the extent of the injuries Sonia had sustained during the battle. Luckily, none of them were too serious. She had mostly sustained minor scratches and cuts. Her forehead had a slightly deeper gash, however, and the blood had begun to trickle down her face to her nose, where it mixed with dirt.
“Still think they can’t possibly compete with a knight of Avon?” asked Antoine.
Sonia let out a small chuckle, until she noticed the blood seeping through the leg of Antoine’s pants. “Are you okay?”
“Of course. Now just hold still, so I can heal your wounds,” said Antoine as he reached his hand out towards her face, wincing from the pain in his leg at the same time.
Sonia pulled back from him, “Are you sure? I’m fine, you know. You can heal yourself first.”
“I am most definitely sure. How about we skip the argument for once? I’m too tired to put up a proper fight right now.” said Antoine.
“I can agree with that,” said Sonia, prompting Antoine to touch her forehead, summoning blue sparks from his fingertips to heal her.
“I totally almost rolled my ankle running to get these pegasi, you know?” said Ruby. “But is anyone worried about me? No, of course not…”
Julian and Enzo may have been a complication that Antoine would have been happy to avoid, but they had made it out of Ralingrad with the Lion’s Seal anyway, and they were now on their way back to Avon. The considerable reward money would be his, even if he had been forced to work a bit harder for it than he had originally planned. And it seemed fitting to him, in a mission where nothing had gone according to plan.
Finished reading your new chapter, Rogue, and it was a lot of fun! I think this was the longest fight you've done for Mists, yeah? I should have a review for ya some time this weekend.
Thanks, Hawk! It probably is the longest one so far, even though it's not exactly a huge, long, epic battle. The one in chapter 2 might be close to it in length, though.
Which fight was in chapter two? It wasn't where they busted Ruby outta jail, was it?
No, it was when Antoine and Sonia fought the big rhino-monster-thing before Ruby even showed up. So, it was a long time ago.
Oh, right, when they were traveling through the mists for the first time. That was a long time ago, haha.
Yeah, I looked back on the first page, and it says I wrote it last March, so it's almost a year ago now.
So, I said this would be up by the weekend, but I never said which weekend, haha. Anyway, let’s dig in to the new issue!
You picked up a few hours after the end of the last issue and continued on Sonia’s unease about the situation with Liam. I liked the little bit of mystery you brought into it by having Liam absent when they awoke with a legit excuse of delivering his wares as well as Lily’s pleasant farewell coupled with her worn out appearance. It was a little suspicious while having reasonable excuses to throw the reader off, aided by being from Antoine’s perspective, who was more inclined to trust Liam than Sonia. I liked the way you handled that and also that it wouldn’t be until later in the chapter when they had left Liam’s shop did we learn the truth. I thought it was interesting how rather than blame Liam for giving them up, Antoine blamed himself for being careless and putting so much trust in Liam. It feels like you’ve brought a big focus on the required loneliness of a mercenary since Liam’s introduction and it’ll be fun to see how Antoine reacts in the next chapter without the urgency of the fight to focus on.
The introduction of rival mercenaries Enzo and Julian was fun with Antoine and Ruby quickly getting annoyed with Enzo’s chattiness that mirrored their own. I would’ve tried to work Julian a little more into the pre-fight smack talk though, because with you largely focusing on Enzo dueling Ruby then Antoine, Julian doesn’t get too much attention. But they seemed fun and I hope to see them again, continuing to be a pain in the ass to the gang, haha. From what we saw they come off as a very credible threat for even Antoine’s considerable fight skill.
For the fight scene itself, I thought it could’ve been a little longer. It’s a pretty big focus of the chapter, but it goes by fast. I think it could’ve benefitted from having Ruby more involved in the fight before she races off to fetch the Pegasi. Enzo and Julian are very competent fighters, but Antoine’s gang has the number advantage so I think it would’ve been more fun to see that play out just a little more before Ruby disappears. That said, I do think it’s the right choice not to do a big draw out fight since you just had a big action sequence in the last chapter with the gang escaping the castle and you don’t wanna overload on action. I liked the way you ended the fight with Ruby coming by on the sled to pick up Antoine and Sonia, haha. It was a lot of fun and creative and it made both sides come off well. Enzo and Julian are made out to be strong fighters and villains without the heroes looking like idiots.
So, despite a few nitpicks, another good chapter of Mists! I can't wait to see what ya have in store next for the gang.
Thanks for the review, Hawk! I was going for an extreme "strong, silent type" thing with Julian, so I don't think I would have him cracking jokes or anything, but I do think I should've done something more to give Julian a bigger role. Like you said, he didn't get much of a spotlight in the dialogue or the fight. I'm definitely planning on making sure he gets a bit more time in the spotlight next time the group runs into them. So, yes, I definitely do plan on Julian and Enzo coming back a couple more times. Glad you thought they seemed fun, since you'll be seeing more of them, whether you like it or not!
Yeah, I thought that was a good way to resolve the Liam situation. The solitary life of a mercenary, where he's always gotta be looking over his shoulder for betrayals, will definitely come into play more, since you eventually see why Antoine even became one in the first place. I mean, he'd be totally awesome as a stage magician...
I agree that the fight scene could've been a bit longer and included Ruby a bit more, though I'm hoping that will be made up for a bit more in the future scenes involving Julian and Enzo. I wanted to make sure Ruby used her thieving skills rather than just standing and fighting like everyone else would. But it was kinda short for being the big focus of the chapter.
Yeah, I figure that's what ya were aiming for with Julian, but with the fight focusing on Enzo, he didn't have much of a chance to shine like Enzo did. But its cool they're gonna be important in the coming chapters and look forward to Julian getting to shine as much as Enzo did!
You mean the story isn't going to end with Antoine going to Las Vegas and starring in his own magic show? Well, now I'm disappointed.
Yeah, I know it's been pointed out by Antoine that Ruby has never killed before, so I figured part of Ruby's quick exit was to show that she doesn't fight when there's an alternative, like stealing flying horses. I just would've liked just like a paragraph more of Ruby being involved in the fight before she sneaks off when Antoine throws the fireball. It'd give the fight a little more meat to it without being overly long.