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Disjecta Membra

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41 A Little More Kick Ass

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  1. Disjecta Membra

    The Cave

    We will find out soon!
  2. Disjecta Membra

    The Ranking

    Thank you very much! That means a lot, and I really appreciate the compliment! I’m glad you’re enjoying it!
  3. Disjecta Membra

    The Dragonslayer

    Appreciate the insight! I’m hoping the rest feels a little bit more natural.
  4. Disjecta Membra

    The Cave

    A new mystery indeed! 😇
  5. Disjecta Membra

    The Cave

    Mayhap! Or mayhap not! 😇
  6. Disjecta Membra

    The Cave

    Broadswords Chapter Seven The Cave In the early hours of the morning, well before the sun was set to rise, Kep and his brother departed the tiny living space that occupied the attic of Street Inn. They were off to gather hollowshrooms, a mushroom that retained the majority of its flavor if picked just before dawn. Leaving as early as they were gave them plenty of time to reach their destination. The prime picking time for the hollowshrooms was doubly beneficial, as it also granted them enough time to travel back home with time to spare before needing to open the inn. The brothers had long ago found a cave deep in the woods to the north of the kingdom that was plentiful with the fungus. As children, they had no desire to assist their father at the inn. Even if they had, he'd almost always shoo them out of the kitchen so that he could attend to his customers without distraction. Though they rarely played together growing up, it was on one of those infrequent occasions that they had discovered the cave. They had located a few sporadic mushrooms at the mouth of the cave, and upon further investigation had located a plethora of them deeper within. While disinterested in their father's business, they knew he had a passion for cooking with mushrooms and thus stuffed their pockets as full as they were able. Upon returning to Street Inn, their father had explained that they were called hollowshrooms and taught his sons of the most advantageous time to harvest them. Although they had found these ones at midday, he said they'd make for a decent sauce for his braised turnip recipe. He'd commended the boys on their find and acknowledged that the locale could provide lucrative for the restaurant if undiscovered by other eateries in the area. He was always on the lookout for unique dishes for his menu, and hadn't been aware there were wild ones anywhere in the nearby vicinity. Since then, he'd sent his two boys out semi-regularly to gather the shrooms, utilizing the knowledge he'd imparted on them. He'd send them on their way when the sky was still dark, even as young children. It would make men out of them, he'd claimed. And several times throughout the year, they'd make that same trek. Even after his death, things hadn't changed. They still went several times per year. Now, it was no longer out of being ordered to do it by their father but out of necessity to keep the business afloat. Many of the plates on the menu consisting of the hollowshrooms were their best sellers. If they discontinued the tradition, they could almost guarantee closing their doors for good. In current times, they kept the practice of making the journey on foot. It would be quicker on horse, which they utilized on their hunting trips to the plains that lay further north than the woods. However, since they were able to reach the cave and return before opening time, they couldn't financially justify renting horses from the stables. As per usual, there was little conversation between the two. This time around, Sal took the lead while Kep trailed behind. There were approximately twenty-five or thirty paces separating the brothers, which was fine with Kep. He had a lot running through his mind and the distance was welcomed. The previous afternoon was an interesting one. The squire, whom he'd met on just two occasions but could also verifiably be referred to as his newfangled fascination, had swiftly gotten drunk and darted out of the inn before Kep had a chance to stop him. He'd downed three ales in less than fifteen minutes, and finished another three over the next hour. Between the rapid succession of drinks, Birten's smaller frame, and the emotional state he was in, it wasn't surprising that the alcohol had hit him so hard. Although Birten had assured Kep that there was no romantic involvement with his slayer, Kep wasn't sure he believed him. He knew he shouldn't feel the way he was feeling, but he couldn't seem to shake it. He'd gotten lost in his own head for a while as Birten rambled on, and by the time he finally came back to the present, the squire had vanished. His seat, though immediately before Kep, was somehow empty without the barkeep having realized that it had been vacated. Stepping outside, Kep asked a few people on the street if a man had just exited the inn. Eventually, a woman sweeping the stoop at the bookshop across the way told him that a young man matching the description had wandered out of the inn and down the street almost ten minutes ago. How he had managed to tune out for so long without realizing his surroundings had changed was beyond him. But it was certainly too late to go off in search of him. Even if he knew which way Birten had turned after reaching the intersection, he would have no way of knowing which way he would go after that. He didn't know where Birten lived, nor where his slayer lived. He could only hope that he made it home safely. "We're here." Kep was suddenly shaken from his thoughts, which seemed to be a common occurrence lately, when his brother spoke. Sure enough, they had approached the edge of the wood. He knew they had work to do, and had to focus on getting to the cave, and so he forced himself to stop thinking about the squire. At least for now. While the brothers had gotten this far with nothing more than the moonlight to guide them, they couldn't rely on its dim glow as they made their way through the trees. Everything up to this point was flat ground, not even a stray rock existed that would have impeded their path. But conversely, the woods were hilly. There were unexpected changes in the level of the ground in various areas, as well as the obvious obstruction of trees in every direction. Given the number of times they had done this, they had a devoted spot in which to start a fire. A divot in the earth which had been devoid of grass for some time now, they always covered it with a series of stones to ensure their pit wasn't discovered by passersby. While many people travelled north of Jhirdyr, there were dedicated paths connecting the kingdom to other cities and villages. The area in which the cave was located was less travelled, and they hoped to keep it that way. If someone were to notice that remnants of a fire were just outside the wood, it might trigger them to search the area. While Kep wasn't dense enough to believe that nobody else had ever encountered the cave, he knew it was deep enough into the trees that there were far more that weren't aware of its existence. The fewer people that knew there was a nest of hollowshrooms so close to the kingdom, especially rival chefs, the better. Most other restaurants in Jhirdyr that had hollowshroom dishes had to have the fungus shipped in from other regions, which added a loftier price to the menu. As a result, few places chose to include it in their repertoires. And having an exotic array at affordable prices was one of the few things Kep and Sal had going for themselves. While Sal shifted the rocks around and began starting a fire, Kep fished the torches out of his bag. He wrapped the top of each in three feet of linen gauze and tied it off tightly. He dipped both in a small can of pine resin, careful not to use too much. He scraped the excess back into the can and closed the lid securely. Sal was a quick fire starter, and had already gotten a small flame going by the time Kep had finished the torches. And a small flame was all they needed. They dipped the wrapped end of the torches into the heat until they caught fire. Immediately afterward, Sal stomped out the embers and kicked on some loose dirt for good measure. He pressed his boot into the pit and pushed down to ensure the fire was completely out and that the dirt remained packed. Kep moved the rocks back into place. The silence between the brothers continued as they entered the cover of the trees, with the only sounds coming from the snapping of twigs beneath their feet and the crackling of the flames as they bit at the air. Years of this routine allowed them to find the cave with minimal effort. It was barely visible from the surface, just a small gap peeking out from the bottom of a ravine. But as they made their descent into the slight valley that housed the gorge, the sky was ever-so-slightly beginning to lighten, and they knew they had to get picking soon. About five hundred feet into the cave, the floor sloped down to create a sharp fall into a large crevasse. When they were in their early teens, Sal had slipped on a loose rock and come too close to the edge for comfort. Since then, they avoided going that far into the cave. They didn't know where it led, nor did they plan to find out. The furthest Kep was willing to go was about a hundred feet from the edge. It may have been overly cautious, but there were more than enough hollowshrooms between the entrance and where he was that it didn't matter. As he bent down to gather a particularly large cluster, he thought he heard something in the depths. He hesitated, unmoving as he sat on his haunches and looked toward the darkness. He stared for quite a few moments until he was convinced that his ears were playing tricks on him. He stood, stretching out his thighs and calves which had grown tense from squatting. Just as he was getting the last of the stiffness out of his calves and thighs, another echo sounded from somewhere deeper within the cave. This time he was certain he heard it. "Sal, did you hear that?" Sal, closer to the mouth of the cave, grunted something of a reply. He didn't seem to fully be paying attention to Kep, but it could never really be told with him. Kep heard the sound again, this time slightly fainter but audible nonetheless. "There it was again." "It's probably bats. Now come on, we've got plenty of the shrooms. We need to head back," Sal said, hoisting the strap of his bag over his shoulder. As they left the cave, Kep shot one final glance into the dark chasm as they stepped into the dawn.
  7. Disjecta Membra

    The Ranking

    Broadswords Chapter Six The Ranking Though it hadn't changed in quite some time, Elan always kept a copy of the most recent ranking list tacked to the wall in his weapon room. It was near the door, so every time he exited the room he'd be reminded of where he stood. Number one. It had been that way for a long time. As he studied the list now, he paid more attention to the fourth ranked. Daegon. When Daegon had first entered the world of dragonslaying, there were only five other slayers in Jhirdyr. He was automatically ranked sixth as a result. Being fresh to the sport, he hadn't exactly had applicants knocking down his door to become his squire. Most hopefuls preferred to seek out a position as a knight's squire, of which there were more slots available. As there was not as high of a demand for dragonslayers across the kingdoms, many boys didn't even consider it. While each kingdom had room for hundreds or even thousands of knights, it was because there were far more battles to enter than there were dragons to slay. Even with Jhirdyr only having six slayers at the time, it was still higher than the regional average. The king, however, felt that their location on the map gave exception to have more slayers than normal. That led to the hiring of Daegon, when he was a fresh 20 years old. He'd squired from the age of 14 in a kingdom far to the east, along the coastline. After six years in the role, his slayer had recommended him to the king of Jhirdyr. For the first two years, he was squireless. It wasn't unusual; brand new slayers hadn't had enough time to build up a reputation. Aside from not having many vacancies, a dragonslayer's squire position was also a dangerous one. In war, knights could often predict the opponent's next move. The same couldn't be said for dragonslayers. The beasts were erratic. One misstep or hesitation could cost a life. That's where Saldric came in. After the two years of going solo, one day Daegon had received an untidily scrawled letter in the mail. It was from a 15-year-old boy wishing to meet with him to discuss the possibility of being considered as his squire. Daegon had accepted, writing the boy back immediately and sending the response letter the very next day. He could have simply walked to the kid's house, surely, but it was evident that the potential squire found an excitement in the formality of it all. Back then, Daegon was more upbeat and wanted to add to the boy's enthusiasm. When it finally came time for their meeting, Daegon was greeted by a short, chubby teen with a bad sweating problem and a case of the shakes. What was the result of nerves and what came natural to the kid wasn't clear. Uncertain about what stood at his doorstep, but without any other prospects, Daegon opened the door to him. His name was Saldric, and he had been following Daegon's career since he had arrived in Jhirdyr. He knew his kill count, where each kill occurred, and the length of each journey. He even knew details about Daegon's time as a squire. While the kid didn't look fit to be a squire, Daegon was impressed by his dedication. The stamina, skill, and knowledge could be taught over time. But the passion? That was something that couldn't be found in everyone. So Daegon had taken him on, and over the next five years had developed him into a decent squire. While in those five years they only moved up one spot in the ranking, to fifth, it was worth noting that three other slayers had also joined the rank and were all still below Daegon. Then one day, a few weeks after Saldric's 20th birthday, tragedy struck. They were on a routine mission, tasked to kill a Great Grey, one of the most common and easily defeated dragons. Daegon had slayed countless Greys over the years. At least two dozen. He could battle one with his eyes closed. And that was his big mistake. Great Greys were rather tame as far as dragons go, not moving much and focusing most of their energy on microbursts of fire. This particular one was different, though. It forwent the paltry breathing of flames and took a sharp swipe at its attackers. While it missed Daegon, the claws dug deep into Saldric's gut. He was on the grass instantly. The slayer let forth an unearthly yell as he jumped over the body of his fallen companion and stuck his sword deep into the dragon's chest. With what seemed like no effort at all, he pulled the blade down into its stomach until it broke through the thick skin on its underside. The dragon and the sword hit the ground at the same time, both drenched with blood and intestines. He fell to his knees before his squire. Saldric was still, silent. A rose-tinted foam played at the corners of his mouth. One of the three gashes across his torso was so deep that bone was visible. He was unequivocally dead. Daegon didn't weep. He didn't emit another scream. He sat there, angry. Not at the dragon. Not at Saldric. At himself. He had let himself get too comfortable during an encounter with a dragon. That was the first rule learned during squireship, to never rest on one's laurels. He had vowed that day to never allow himself to be that careless again. It took a few months before he had felt ready to select a new squire. When he did choose, it was Birten. After only a year and a half, Daegon was able to accomplish with Birten what had taken him five with Saldric: moving up a rank. It could have something to do with Birten's abilities, or that he was definitively more logical than his predecessor. But Daegon didn't attribute it to either of those reasons. He saw his rising success as his the result of his newfound unfaltering focus. While Elan had known the majority of the story, as anybody privy to the happenings in the dragonslaying realm did, Daegon had filled in the rest for him the morning after the royal feast. They had slept in the same bed after their night together, but there were no emotional ties the next morning. The remaining details weren't recounted as pillow talk, but rather as Daegon dressed himself. Elan wasn't sure why Daegon was revealing this information. It wasn't solicited, and it was far from post-sex talk. Yet he didn't stop the story from being shared. Daegon was a pretty damn good lay, but he was still competition. Any information on the inner workings of the other Jhirdyrian slayers could only help him keep his position at the top. He himself never provided any details of his personal life or anything that had transpired on any of his journeys. Even his own squire knew next to nothing about him. The only thing he was willing to give up, when asked, was how he had gotten his scars. The night before, as Daegon had run his hands up and down his arms and chest, he had asked that very question. "Sword mishaps. Dragon scales. A few bar fights," Elan had disclosed between grunts. Revealing the basics of how he had received the injuries wasn't going to do him any harm. In fact, it made him seem more intimidating and impressive. But revealing what had led to them – that would provide the listener way too many details about the mistakes he'd made and potential weaknesses. It could all be used against him. He hadn't stayed atop the leaderboard for this long by making stupid mistakes. Patting the ranking list for good luck, he stepped over to the opposite wall. The two perpendicular walls held his basic weapons: daggers, short swords, longswords, and the like. But the wall furthest from the door, that was where he kept his best weaponry. Expensive swords, such as the pure gold one he received upon reaching the number one rank – it was worthless in battle, but flashy. Rare and unusual finds, including the axe made from the unrustable sea-steel and the five-bladed dirk he'd scored from a peddler just outside of the badlands. The one that held the deepest meaning, however, and the one at the center of the display, is the one he lifted from its pegs. It was heavy, expertly crafted from a mixture of sturdy metals. Some felt that mixing metals didn't allow for a durable weapon, but it depended on the blacksmith. If the person making it was skilled in alchemy, it could be stronger than the solidest of steel. This particular sword was proof of such. The sword Elan had used to slay his first dragon lay at its core. The original wasn't the best sword out there, but it had been the only thing he could afford when he had first been starting out. It had done the job, continuing a slaying streak after that first kill for at least a year. Once Elan had begun climbing in the ranks and the money started rolling in, he chose to have the sword smithed into a stronger version of itself versus investing in a whole new sword. After all, it was central to who he was. He had found the blacksmith with the best reputation, which was two kingdoms over. It had taken longer than expected, especially considering the commute, and he had to use alternate swords in the meantime. Eventually, however, when it was completed, he knew it was well worth the wait. His slays were effortless, simple. They were quick. He rose up the rankings faster than anyone in Jhirdyr history. And after all these years, the sword in his grasp seemed almost like an extension of his limbs. Though heavy, it never seemed so when he held it. It flowed seamlessly with every thrust, sliced neatly with every swing. He moved it with ease, digging it through the air that filled the room. With each spin of the blade, a soft but sharp noise sounded. It was relaxing to him. He spent quite a while in the weapon room, practicing his swordsmanship. He didn't even realize how much time had passed until he noticed the shadows had shifted significantly throughout the room. He decided it was probably best to get something to eat as it had been since the prior night's dinner that he had done so. As he left the room, he shot another glance at the list. This time as he saw the narrow gap between his name and Daegon's, he couldn't help but feel that it would soon continue to shrink.
  8. Disjecta Membra

    The Prince

    Broadswords Chapter Five The Prince It was far beyond mid-day by the time Daegon found himself heading home. He didn't know how he was going to try to explain this one to Birten. He had done some horrible things before, and treated his squire like filth, but he hadn't shared a bed with anyone else since they spent their first night together. Elan's lavish home was on the first street on the ring of residences nearest the castle, so it wasn't a great distance from his own home on the next street over. He didn't have a whole lot of time to try to come up with a story to explain his whereabouts for the past several hours. Daegon could spew a lie like it was a second language, tell tales as if they were an utter fact. But this time was different. And before he knew it, he was at the entrance to his home. He hadn't come up with a reasonable excuse. At this point, he'd just have to wing it. Maybe he'd tell the truth. He tended to be a temperamental, boisterous man, so feelings of guilt didn't feel natural to him. He always said what was on his mind, uncaring of how it impacted the receiver. But Birten was no ordinary receiver, and this was no ordinary situation. Hesitantly, he pushed open the door. It was silent aside from the loud, melodic ticking of the bulky tabletop clock that sat on his desk in the den. He made his way inside, into the main room, and closed the door behind him. "Birten?" he called, shedding his coat and draping it over a nearby chair. He scanned the room. Everything was just as he'd left it. Peeking his head into his bedroom, the same was true. The bed was made, the thick woolen blanket pulled taut over the surface. The pillows were fluffed, no indentations reflecting that they had been used recently. He wasn't sure if Birten had slept here and had straightened up when he'd woken or if the bed was still put together from the night before. Everything else was largely in order in the kitchen and bathroom as well. He ignored the second bedroom, as neither of them ever entered it. Finally he made his way into the den, which is where they spent most of their time. Books lined the shelves, a few other trinkets littered amongst them. His swords stood gallantly in their rack. A stack of old newspapers sat in the corner. Nothing seemed out of place. He wasn't sure what to make of the status of the house. Considering he'd never spent a night at another man's home in the time the two of them had been sleeping together, he didn't know what Birten's mindset might be. He could be worried, searching the streets for him. He might be angry, back at his own house, unwilling to face him. There were a handful of possibilities, but none of them were pleasant. Sighing heavily, he sank into the desk chair. The clock continued to tick, clucking a tsk tsk tsk at him. He stared at it. It was large, taking up at least a third of the desktop. Wooden, birch maybe, and carved into the shape of a dragon, it was one of his most prized material possessions. Clocks were somewhat of a hot commodity in Jhirdyr. Clockmaking was an expensive practice, and thus it was primarily the wealthy that owned them. It was rare for a standard household to include any kind of mechanical timepiece, and the same would have been true for Daegon had it not been for Birten. The squire had been saving up money in secret for months. A squire's wage was definitely not compatible with justifying the purchase of such an object, but Birten was very savvy when it came to money. He cut corners where he could, haggling with vendors and finding cheaper alternatives for everyday purchases. He was also a smooth talker; he had been able to get the clockmaker to shave off about a quarter of the asking price. He had finally given it to Daegon on the day that marked one year of their companionship as slayer and squire. Daegon had grunted a thanks, given Birten a rough kiss, and pulled him into bed immediately after being given the gift. It was partially due to keeping up appearances, partially due to his horniness, and partially due to him being a raging dick in general. He certainly hadn't appreciated the gesture as much upon initially receiving it as he learned to over time. Especially now. Not that he would ever admit such a thing to the kid. He studied it, taking time to appreciate the craftsmanship in the carving. The outline of the dragon was etched deep into the wood, making the figure stand out. Each scale had been painstakingly scooped and textured, creating a decently realistic depiction. The dragon itself was looped in a circle, which was conversely an extremely unrealistic pose. The tough exterior of the beast would never allow one to bend that way in actuality. The clock face itself filled the interior of the ring created by the carving. It was far from impressive in comparison, but it did its job as a clock. The scrap metal hands shifted clunkily as the minutes ticked by. It was loud, every click audible in each room of the house. He sat there for what seemed like hours, but in reality per the clock was only a few minutes. He thought of Birten's thoughtfulness, kindness, dedication, and all the other good qualities he brought to the table. He was a good man. Elan, on the other hand, was far from a saint. He made Daegon seem like a kinder individual in comparison. He was notorious for being brusque and straightforward to a fault. Along with his success came the apparent justification to act the way he did. That, in part, was what drew Daegon to him. Elan was far more similar to him in personality than Birten. In many facets, Birten was a pushover. Where he catered to what Daegon wanted, Elan was more of a chase. Maybe that's what Daegon needed. Someone to knock him down a few pegs. To keep him on his toes. It wasn't their natures alone in which they differed, though. Where Birten was thin and lithe, Elan was strong and muscular. Where Birten was several inches shorter, Elan was tall and sturdy. Elan's brown skin contrasted severely against Birten's pale complexion. Birten was cute, handsome even. But Elan was a sexual brute. They were night and day. The more he thought about it, the less guilty he felt. Sure, the way he went about it and the events that transpired the night before weren't classy by any means. At the same time, wasn't everything running through his head just proof that he was settling? He was a slayer, after all. He could get whoever he wanted. Wasn't another slayer a pretty damn good fit? As he continued justifying his actions in his head, a floorboard creaked. He turned his head toward the entrance of the room. It was Birten. "Daegon," he said curtly, nodding once. It was an oddly brisk greeting from the squire. He walked across the room slowly and sat in a chair that sat against the adjacent wall. The familiar scent of alcohol wafted by as he did so. "Have you been to a pub?" Daegon was surprised by the smell. Birten drank, but certainly not as much or often as Daegon. It was uncommon to see him drunk. "I stopped off and had a few ales," Birten confirmed offhandedly, tugging off his footware. He pulled his socks off as well, tossing them aside carelessly. He fell let his head fall backward against the back of the chair, emitting a gentle sigh. "I felt like a few beverages." Daegon nodded, though Birten wasn't looking at him. He cleared his throat and rubbed his neck absentmindedly. "Did you sleep at your house last night?" He said it lamely, unsure how else to find out how much Birten might surmise about the previous night's occurrences without immediately giving himself away. "I did. I figured what with the feast and all, you'd be getting home late. Between that and your leg, I thought you could use some alone time. This is the first I've been back to your place since you left for the dinner." His response was stiff, almost rehearsed. There was the possibility he was lying, but Daegon would have no way of knowing for certain unless he admitted his actions. He cleared his throat again, almost involuntarily. "Ah, I see. It's appreciated. I'm feeling better since our visit to the medicine woman. But still, it's appreciated." Now he was the one to sound stiff. Watching Birten sit there limply in his chair, he was torn. He still was confident that he shouldn't beat himself up over what he had done. However, it did start bringing back memories from Elan's house. Clothes flying off. Brawny, tight abdomen muscles sliding against each other. Sweating, moaning, hardening; all involuntarily. The feel of Elan's scarred chest under his fingers was invigorating. A man that had been through it. The taste of his experienced lips, the feel of his expert fingers as they patrolled his ass. His nails, digging into his back. In the current moment, he swallowed hard. Once again he found himself perspiring through no control of his own. They sat there silently for a while, Birten unmoving in his chair and Daegon trying not to bring attention to himself as the lustful thoughts ran through his head. As when he arrived, the only sound was the ticking of the clock. Until a knock came from the front door. At that, Birten's head lifted and the two men made eye contact. They shared a quizzical expression. Rarely did they get any unexpected company, and especially in late afternoon. They sat frozen in curiosity until the knock sounded again. Birten steadied himself as he used the arms of the chair to push himself into a standing position. "Who in the…?" He exited the den and made his way back into the front room. Daegon heard the door creak open and the muffled sounds of Birten and another male speaking. Anxiety began flooding his insides as the stifled voices continued conversing. He was praying internally that it wasn't Elan. Elan had gall, sure, but he hoped he wouldn't be so brazen as to show up to his house unannounced when he knew of the current situation Daegon was in. The sweat that had been peppering his brow, the sweat from the dirty thoughts he had been having about the more tenured slayer, was quickly replaced by the sweat of nervousness. This could be revelation of the truth that he had briefly considered sharing with Birten himself, the veracity coming straight from the horse's mouth. After a handful of painstaking ticks from the dragon clock, Birten had padded back into the den and was looking far more confused than when they had initially heard the knock. His brow was furrowed and his mouth agape. He looked like he had just seen a ghost. "Who is it?" Daegon asked, warily. He was outed. Told on. Revealed. He knew it. Birten just stared. "The prince."
  9. Disjecta Membra

    The Squire

    Broadswords Chapter Four The Squire It was almost three hours into opening the doors before Kep saw any business in Street Inn. Thus, it was much like any other day. The majority of the afternoon patrons were regulars, drunks from the neighboring residences that had settled on this as their local dive. He did obtain a few more affirmative responses than normal upon offering lunch menus, however. Business had never been spectacular, especially given the location and the size of the establishment. Though his father had managed to garner somewhat of a following over the years, that clientele had dwindled after his passing. These days, any traffic that came through the doors was good news. His brother Sal was a phenomenal chef. He kept their father's dishes true to their original designs, following the recipes to the pinch. There were even a handful of selections on the menu that he had developed himself and were enjoyed by their guests. But his talent in the kitchen was just about the only value he brought to the table. He rarely came out from the back, he had no knowledge on tending bar, and it was absolutely certain that he would be beyond useless in any other of the various front of house functions. This left most of the work to Kep. He didn't mind though. It helped keep his mind busy. He hadn't had many friends growing up, and that had carried into adulthood. When he found himself orphaned, that friend base had shrunk further. Between becoming a more morose individual due to personal loss as well as finding himself the sudden heir of the family business, he had become estranged from the few comrades he had left. It wasn't that he didn't want friends. He enjoyed the company. He wasn't a shy person by any means. He always had the ability to be very jovial and conversational. Warm. Friendly. No, it certainly wasn't his personality that prevented him from making new friendships. It was his own tendency to pull away from those he began getting close to, and allow his positive attributes to fade away as he did so. He had been relatively chummy with a girl in his early years, when they shared neighboring desks in the schoolhouse. Her name was Alanna, and she lived in the same vicinity as Kep and his family. They would occasionally play together after school had let out, and often spent time together during the school days. However, when his mother disappeared when he was 10, Kep started withdrawing from Alanna. She had tried, at first, to keep their friendship afloat. But after days of avoiding her became weeks, Alanna's attempts began to decrease. And as the weeks became months, the attempts became almost nonexistent. And finally, one day, she stopped trying. In the years after his mother's disappearance, he slowly began trying to get close to people again. He met a group of other teenagers that he kept at a comfortable enough distance that he felt he wouldn't have another Alanna situation on his hands. He was able to keep this going for a handful of years. Then his father died. He turned all of his focus to the inn. While it was a necessary concentration, he intentionally pulled away from these friends as well. He could have made time for them, allowed them to comfort him in his time of need. But he didn't know how to handle that kind of attention. He hadn't gotten a real chance to form a connection with his mother, nor had he felt particularly close with his brother. And while he felt a deep care for his father, their relationship was never deep. Whether or not the lack of familial bond was the root of why he kept people at arm's length, he wasn't sure. It was Jeno, the last of his friends to drift away, who said something to him to make him begin to change his outlook on how he handled relationships. "Kep," he'd said, "you can't hope to open a treasure chest unless you search for the key." At first, Kep didn't think anything of it. Jeno was known for saying cryptic things. But the more he dwelled on it, the more it started to resonate. He wouldn't be able to find happiness if he didn't try to find a way to be happy. If he kept bottling himself, he would become as worthless as his brother. He didn't want that. He thought of Jeno, the other guys. He thought of Alanna. While his own family had never made efforts to make Kep happy, these other people had. They voluntarily spoke to him, tried to form bonds. They weren't forced. They were in control of their own happiness, and they searched for their own keys until it no longer made sense. Over the course of the next few months, Kep had worked on his positivity. He'd drawn upon the pleasant qualities he already had, like his ability to be inviting and hospitable. He had to dig deep to regain these capacities, but he managed. And the more he focused on these things, the more he noticed a change in his overall demeanor. He was truly finding happiness. He noticed a difference in his customers, too. Business itself didn't vary, much, but the ones that passed through were friendlier with him in return. With each passing week, he was finding who he really was, and who he wanted to be. After a year of developing this lifestyle change, Kep knew he was ready to try forming friendships again. And to keep them. And as if it were a sign, soon thereafter is when the squire had entered the inn. Birten. As he got to know him over the time he spent at the bar, he learned a lot about him. He was a well-rounded individual, full of stories, and was genuinely intriguing to listen to. Kep even found himself opening up more than he ever had before. While he didn't bring up the topic of his mother, he did briefly discuss his father. Although he stretched the truth about his relationship with his father, he wasn't lying when he said he had a part in who he'd become. And exaggeration or not, it was more of an insight to his personal life than he had shared with anyone. It was clear that the two men had rapidly begun to develop a bond even in such a short span. As much information as Birten shared about being the squire of a dragonslayer, he invoked just as much out of Kep's experiences in the food and beverage industry. While to Kep it was second nature and dull, Birten seemed to be enthralled. They talked for hours, which was far longer than Kep had held an honest conversation with another person. By the time Birten decided it was time for him to depart, it was well past the normal closing time of Street Inn. But Kep deliberately kept that information to himself. "It was fantastic to meet you, Kep," Birten had said with a smile as he pulled the door open and vanished into the night. That farewell had played over and over in Kep's mind as he had lain in bed and tried to force himself to sleep. Now, the next day, it continued to replay. Thankfully his standard routine didn't require a drastic amount of attention, as he had performed these daily tasks so many times before. Granted, he had to centralize his focus a smidgen more when it came to taking food or drink orders, but he managed. He couldn't get Birten out of his mind. And as if fate was lightning striking twice, the squire once again entered the inn. Kep lit up immediately, but his smile dropped as he saw the look on his visitor's face. He looked forlorn, concerned, and sad all at the same time. Not that they were difficult moods to decipher, but Kep also knew how it felt to feel them in unison. "Birten, is everything alright?" The squire stepped up to the bar and slumped into the same seat that he had occupied the prior evening. "Can I get an ale, please?" he mumbled dryly. "I still have the gooseberry mead, if you'd prefer—" "I'm an ale fellow. I lied yesterday. I don't know why, exactly. I guess I don't like being figured out right away." Birten's response was monotonous, and Kep didn't push the issue. If nothing else, it proved that other people had their quirks as well. He filled a flagon and slid it across the bartop. It was emptied in mere seconds and slid back to him, and he repeated the action without hesitation. After downing the refill, Birten finally made eye contact with the barkeep. "Sorry for the dramatics. I'm just a little worked up. I felt like seeing a friend would help." Although it was clear that Birten was having a difficult time with something, Kep couldn't help but feel a pang of delight at his phrasing. He hadn't heard someone refer to him as a friend in over a year. "Did you… want to talk about it?" Kep asked, filling up the flagon for a third time. Birten bowed his head as a thanks for the drink, and took another long swallow. Foam clung to the hairs above his lip, but he made no effort to wipe it away. "He didn't come home last night." The pang of delight that Kep had felt just a moment ago was replaced by a fluttering feeling in his gut. It wasn't a feeling he was expecting. He tried to ignore it. "Who didn't?" The squire averted his eyes, studying the flagon as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. He ran his fingers along the lip, moistening his fingers on the droplets that clung there. "My… uh… my dragonslayer. He was invited to the royal feast last night in honor of his most recent slay. He didn't come back, and still hasn't been back as of this morning." Kep began to reach out his hand to comfort the other man, but changed his mind halfway there and let his hand rest flat on the bar's surface. "Maybe he'd just gone a little heavy on the dragon tongue and had to sleep it off at the castle." His suggestion was met with a shake of Birten's head. "That would never be allowed. The king would have his men deliver him back home in that kind of situation. I'm just… I'm concerned for his wellbeing, is all." "There's surely a reasonable explanation. I'm sure if you go back to his place now, he'll be there," Kep assured. "Or your place, if you live together." He knew very well that a typical slayer-squire relationship did not involve the two sharing living quarters, as in most scenarios it was strictly a professional relationship. He tried to pretend that he was still just trying to learn more information about his new friend, and that he wasn't jealous. He didn't believe himself. He found himself tuning out as Birten explained that no, they didn't cohabitate, and that it was normal routine to check up on one's slayer after an important event. He wanted to listen and be supportive, but he was perplexed as to why he was feeling jealousy. He'd met Birten but once. Additionally, he was a relative stranger to romantic feelings. He had experienced the occasional passing fancy over the years, but nothing that lasted. What he was sensing now was completely new. He studied Birten's face as he spoke, witnessing his mouth move but deaf to what was being said. His own thoughts drowned out what was being said. Instead, he inspected his features. His sky-colored eyes, subtle cheekbones, defined Adam's apple. He was a standard of attractiveness, without a doubt. Physically, of course it made sense to sense a desire there. But that should feel more like lust. This jealousy didn't feel lustful, though. It felt deeper than that. It felt a lot deeper than that. Kep had kept to himself for so long that he was developing feelings for the first person he felt a connection to.
  10. Disjecta Membra

    The Rival

    Thanks so much! The deeper I get into developing the characters, the more I’m loving it too! Next chapter will be up soon. 🤗
  11. Disjecta Membra

    The Rival

    Broadswords Chapter Three The Rival The feast was well underway, and Daegon had already had his fill of soups, salads, and various preparations of game foul native to the area surrounding the kingdom. It was a treat to consume dishes prepared by the royal chef and his team. He himself was terrible in the kitchen, and Birten wasn't much better. He would need to live a street closer to the castle to be afforded any kind of wait staff; it was only the top dragonslayer that was granted the ability to live on the same streets as the lords and ladies of the kingdom. When the feast was held due to the slaying of a dragon, the attendees were slightly different than a normal royal feast. The standard invitees were the wealthiest citizens, the lords and ladies, the top slayer, and depending on the occasion, royalty or the like from other kingdoms. For slays deemed epic enough, the guest list was majorly the same. For a less notable slay such as this one, only a handful of the wealthy showed up, along with the best slayer. The lords and ladies typically didn't attend, and definitely nobody from outside of the kingdom. There were nine dragonslayers within Jhirdyr, and Daegon was currently fourth. There were several factors in the ranking, such as kill count, swiftness, and the overall impact that the slay caused. Since bringing Birten on as his squire, he had managed to move up a position, from fifth to fourth. He often wondered if he would be making better strides with another at his side. When he had those feelings, he was always reminded that he struggled to even get to fifth position with his previous squire Saldric. He didn't like to think about Saldric. As luck would have it, he didn't have much of a chance to dwell on the Saldric tragedy in the current moment. The king had stood, and the noise in the room collectively dulled to a hush. "Guests, your presence is appreciated. One of our own has again vanquished a dragon that had been causing distress to a nearby village. Tonight we pay honor to Slayer Daegon for his valiant efforts in making our kingdom a noble one." Many a "hear, hear!" was uttered throughout the room. Daegon knew that many of the responses were out of custom. The true guest of honor was the dragon tongue and the effects it would have. As the king reseated himself, the dragonslayer surveyed the royal table. The king and queen sat at its center, in the most elaborate chairs. They had five children; the eldest two to their left and the youngest three to their right. Caebe, the oldest, looked as bored as many of the guests. He sipped idly on his goblet and it was clear he had no desire to be there. The three to the right were all in various states. Sira, the older of the two girls, was pushing food around on her plate. She didn't seem bored as her brother did, but just uninvolved. The other two, Lessa and Loy, were reminiscent of any other children in their early teens and appeared to be intentionally harassing one another. It was the second son, though, that caught Daegon's attention. His name was Harmon, and Daegon knew him to be about four years his junior. He was undoubtedly handsome. The rest of the family was attractive without a doubt, but Harmon's looks stood out. He had blond hair that was several shades lighter than the rest of his kin. Further, while the entirety of the royal family had blue eyes, his were the most pronounced. Still, it wasn't necessarily his attractiveness that caught Daegon's eye. It was his demeanor. While the others at the table were either uninterested or distracted, Harmon seemed to appreciate the cause for celebration. He was smiling, which didn't match the expression on the faces of his family. For a split second, Daegon almost thought that he and Harmon made eye contact and that the latter's smile widened. "Daegon, well done." Elan, the top ranked slayer, was suddenly standing next to him. He was gorgeous by anyone's standards. Although his arms and chest were riddled with scars from years of dragonslaying, his face was untouched. "Thanks," Daegon responded. He took a long drink from his flagon. Elan mimicked his action and after emptying his drink, emitted a long sigh. "I hear you're nearing a top three spot." Daegon bit his tongue before responding. He knew there was a bit of a ribbing in Elan's statement. Elan had been top slayer for several years, and there hadn't been much change in the rankings for quite a while. Daegon did his best to keep his voice steady. "It's a journey, as you know. We're working hard." There was a noticeable twinkle in Elan's oaken eyes. "Ah, that's right. Your new squire. Braden, is it? I hear he's been a tad bit more influential on you than Saldric." Daegon felt blood pooling around his teeth as he bit deeper into his tongue. Elan knew it was a sensitive subject and was intentionally trying to get a rise out of him. He lessened the pressure on his bite. "Birten." "No matter," Elan said, waving his hand in indifference. "In any event, I was pleased to hear that you encountered an infant dragon. They're certainly temperamental. Every slayer worth his salt definitely has to have one of those under his belt." There was a lull in the conversation as Elan surveyed the room, letting his words soak in. Daegon hated him. This slayer, this caramel-skinned god with his perfect face and superb slayer record, he knew how to make another man jealous. When Daegon was around other men – Birten, strangers, fellow slayers – he was cool, confident. Elan was perhaps the one exception to the rule. Finally, Elan returned his attention to Daegon. "In any event, the tongue wasn't half bad. The infants, they're a tougher slay, but their tongues don't have quite the same kick as the grown ones. This one was decent, considering." Daegon knew he was being baited again, but the tenured slayer wasn't wrong. This was the first time he had indulged in young dragon tongue, and indeed the high wore off far earlier than it would have with an adult's. "Under the belt, right?" Daegon responded. He was using Elan's own words regarding the experience he now had, but also intended the statement to indicate where the insults were hitting. Whether his insinuation was picked up on was uncertain. He was simply met with a smile, nod, and he thought another twinkle of the eyes. Once the guests started to trickle out, the royal guard began the process of edging out the rest of the crowd. Daegon had gone in not expecting much, and was leaving not feeling any different. Elan had once again made him feel less than adequate. He was in no hurry to get home, knowing that Birten was likely already asleep. He would do as he always did, crawl into bed and face the opposite direction until he awoke the next morning. His pace matched his thought process as he shuffled along slowly down the empty street. He could make it home in a relatively short time, but he had cut his pace by at least half. There didn't seem to be a reason to get home quickly, after all. Just as he was about to pass the first row of houses surrounding the castle, he heard someone calling his name from behind him. Slowly, he turned. It was dark, so he didn't see anyone right away. He heard, however, footfalls of someone trudging toward him. He stood still, curious as to who it might be. Gradually, the silhouette of his encroacher came more and more into focus. It was Elan. Once he was within a few feet, Elan stopped. "You sure shoved out of there in a hurry." Daegon wasn't quite sure how to respond. "It was over…." Elan laughed. "Sure, sure. I thought we were having a nice conversation, though. I was looking for you to see if you wanted to join me at my place for a nightcap. I thought I'd missed you until I saw you ducking out the door." It was then that Elan reached out and touched Daegon's arm. He looked down at the touch, taking in the gentle way Elan's fingers were in contact with his sleeve. Hesitantly, he moved his gaze up, following the length of Elan's arm until they were making eye contact. Elan was still smiling. It was a genuine smile, now. "It's… it's pretty late." He was completely perplexed by what was happening. Was Elan really propositioning him? It was his completion, after all. Perhaps it was a power move. A trick. Elan stopped playing coy. "Time is time, Daegon. It's arbitrary. I saw the way you were looking at me. I'm not going to act like I'm not interested in the same. We're both virile, able-bodied men. We're both attractive. My house is right there." Feeling more subdued than he had in a long time, Daegon swallowed slowly, trying to rid the lump from his throat. "I'm with someone." "Who, the kid? Your squire?" Elan laughed. "He's charming, I'm sure. But he's just a kid. I've got a lot of experience I could share with you. And not just when it comes to dragonslaying." Even through the darkness, Daegon saw Elan's eyebrow raise. He wasn't backing down. He wasn't quite sure how to react to this whole situation. He was typically in control in these scenarios. It was new to him to feel this submissive. The silence at this point was almost unbearable. It was just Daegon and Elan and the nighttime. If anybody else was in the vicinity, it would have gone unnoticed. That's when everything took a turn. Elan's fingers slid down from Daegon's bicep, where they had been stationed this whole time, and grasped his hand. He pulled it toward him, pressing it firmly against the front of his trousers. And upon contact, Daegon was made very, very aware that there was no trickery at play. Elan was clearly the virile, able-bodied man he claimed to be.
  12. Disjecta Membra

    The Barkeep

    I'm glad you're enjoying it! There's definitely a lot more character development to come, so I hope you continue to like Birten and Kep as they grow!
  13. Disjecta Membra

    The Dragonslayer

    Thanks for the feedback! Your critique is helpful; any insights on things to avoid from other authors in their experiences is more than appreciated as something to look out for. Thanks again!
  14. Disjecta Membra

    The Barkeep

    Broadswords Chapter Two The Barkeep The following evening, Daegon joined the royal family and other esteemed guests for dinner. That left Birten to find other ways to occupy his time. Daegon was particular about letting Birten remain in his home unaccompanied. Thus, the 20-year-old found himself trudging along the less opulent streets as he made his way toward his own dwelling. The royal dinner typically went on for hours, usually long after the guests would have normally gone to bed. However, the celebration of another slain dragon and the exhilarating influence of the fermented meat left most unconcerned with the time. As Birten walked, he thought about the previous night. Despite the dramatics that had occurred, he still ended up going to bed with Daegon. There was something about him that he still couldn't resist. A part of him wanted to withhold, stand his ground. But there was familiarity there. Attraction. Irresistibility. They had been intimate, but only until Daegon's needs were fulfilled. Then, he rolled over and fell asleep almost instantaneously. Birten was left feeling unsatisfied and used. Arrogant as he was, this was the first time Daegon had been selfish to this extent in the bedroom. Between the happenings earlier that day and the sexual greed thereafter, Birten had never felt so completely taken advantage of. While one man whistled a tune of uncaring snores, the other found himself unable to drift off for quite some time. Still, the next morning, Birten had accompanied Daegon to the nearest healer as soon as they had woken and dressed. After having chastised him for not coming to her as soon as they had arrived back in Jhirdyr, she gave him an ointment and assured the burn would heal within a fortnight as long as he applied it daily. For the pain, she recommended an herb he could pick up at any apothecary. Unsurprisingly, Birten had been tasked with the shopping. Upon his return, Daegon had his squire apply the ointment and brew the herbs into a tea. He did thank him for his help, but soon fell asleep again. He was in and out of consciousness for the remainder of the day until it was time for him to begin readying himself for the dinner. Currently, Birten realized he himself hadn't eaten all day and shook himself back into the present. Having been lost in his thoughts, he had missed the turn onto his street and didn't notice it until he was seven or eight roads further than needed. He had been through this part of town before, of course, but usually to get from point A to point B. He didn't generally stop in this vicinity, but his sudden awareness of hunger justified an exception. He looked up and down the street on either side of him, looking for a place that might offer food. There wasn't much down the left side of the street, and the right side seemed to be primarily residential. He opted to go left. It was at least half a dozen buildings down before he finally reached one that resembled an eatery. There was a wooden sign hanging above the door that read Street Inn. It wasn't a creative name by a longshot, and it was a horrible area for any sort of guest lodgings. However, a knife and fork were carved on either side of the title of the place, and Birten's stomach had started making noise. He decided to chance it. The door appeared to have been constructed from the same wood as the sign, and the hinges creaked as he twisted the knob and pushed forward. The interior was better lit than he had assumed it would be. Four chandeliers, each holding what appeared to be a random number of candles, hung from the ceiling. They were haphazard in their positioning, not seeming to have been fastened to the beams in a preplanned way. Although the illumination was inviting, the décor was not. The walls were drab and the floor grungy, and there were a total of two tables in the room. There was a bartop that ran along the entire width of the establishment, which led Birten to assume that it was more of a tavern than a restaurant, or even an inn as the signage had claimed. As he assessed his surroundings, just about to turn around and find any other place, a man not much older than himself appeared from a doorway behind the bar. It was clear that Birten's presence startled him, as his eyebrows shot up quickly. "Oh! I didn't hear anyone come in. I hope you haven't been waiting long." Birten was torn on answering the man or just darting out the door. He didn't frequent the area, so his chances of running into him again and being put in an awkward position were slim. If the state of the place was any indication of what the food might look like, it might be the best option. However, he wasn't that kind of person. He couldn't do that to somebody. He cleared his throat. "No, no. Not at all. I just came in." The man's eyebrows lowered in relief. He smiled, running a hand across the manicured black hair of his beard. "First time?" "Yes, sir." The other man laughed. "Sir?! Please, please, I'm just 23! And a barkeep at that. No age or title to justify calling me sir!" He wiped his hands up and down his apron a few times, and extended the right one. "Kep. Call me Kep." Birten grasped his hand, firmly, and shook. "Sorry, Kep. Habit, in my occupation." "Have a seat," Kep said, nodding toward the bar to indicate that Birten should grab a stool instead of selecting one of the tables. He drummed his knuckles on the surface and pointed at Birten. "Wine? Ale? Mead? You strike me as an ale fellow." The barkeep's eyes were as dark as his hair, but they sparkled with an unlikely depth. Birten couldn't quite put his finger on what that look in his eyes was. "Mead, actually. Gooseberry, if you've got it." Kep snapped his fingers. "Damn, I'm usually right." He smirked again; Birten mustered a weak grin in return, unsure what to say. Grabbing a glass, the barkeep didn't let the unexpected answer slow him down. "Gooseberry mead it is!" After being served his drink, Kep had provided Birten with a limited but intriguing menu. The small selection that it did offer was broad, consisting of dishes originating from different areas across the continent. It wasn't what he expected from a tavern, or from any establishment from this area of town. And after being served the stuffed vulture stew, he knew the menu wasn't just providing lip service. The food was good. "Where do you even come up with a dish like this? Jhirdyr doesn't even have vultures!" Birten hadn't literally licked his bowl clean, but the thought had crossed his mind. Kep laughed, and rubbed his hands together in amusement. The muscles in his arms tightened beneath his mocha skin. "No, we don't have them here, but they're regularly spotted in the plains to the north. They're pretty big birds, so my brother and I can go on a hunt and as long as we catch two or three, we're set for a while. They freeze pretty well. And," he said, lowering his voice to a whisper, "since vulture is a pretty uncommon bird in this area, it's considered more of a delicacy or an acquired taste. It's not ordered too often." Birten started to join in on the laughter, but realized what had just been said and cut it off quickly. He paled a bit at the notion. This caused Kep to laugh harder. His smile was ear to ear. "Relax! You clearly enjoyed it, it's just not a popular request because the customers we get in this area typically aren't well-traveled or known for their palates. The recipes are my father's." Something in Kep's voice and carefree demeanor made Birten feel comfortable. He eased his shoulders and allowed himself to match the smile his host displayed. "Well in that case, I'd like to meet him, and pay compliments to the chef!" "He actually died a little over a year ago," Kep informed. It wasn't awkward or uncomfortable, but it was clear that it was still a little fresh of a subject. "Oh, I didn't mean to…" Birten began, but trailed off. He didn't quite know what to say. Though not as broad across his face, Kep's smile was still there. "Nothing to worry yourself over. I like talking about my father. He made me who I am today. My brother and I, we actually took over this place after he died. I can't cook for anything, so my brother handles that part. But I run the front. We make it work." "You seem to be doing alright for yourselves, then." Kep's smile drooped a little, but just barely, to a point where Birten wasn't sure if it had actually happened. When he spoke again, it was as peppy as before. "Business could be better. But we're not hurting. We're getting by." Birten could count some of the biggest issues on his fingers, from location to upkeep to the name itself. But it certainly wasn't his place to voice his opinion, and it wasn't in his nature to be rude to someone he had just met. Especially when that person was as hospitable as Kep. "In any event, I've just realized how rude I've been! Here we are talking about me, when I haven't asked what you do for a living. You mentioned earlier that calling everybody you encounter 'sir' is part of your job." Kep paused long enough for Birten to pick up on the fact that he was teasing. "So what is it that you do?" Birten flushed. "I, uh… I'm a squire." He suddenly felt a bit foolish, a bit pretentious. Here he was in this eatery off the beaten path telling a hardworking soul who had to work his ass off to scrape by about his pompous position. To his relief, that is not at all how it was received by Kep. "No shit! Knight's squire?" It was clear that Kep was awestruck and excited versus perturbed by the revelation. "Dragonslayer's, actually." "Serious? That's the most exciting kind! You must love it! And the stories! You must have so many! I want to hear all about it. Unless you need to go?" Birten looked across the bartop at his new acquaintance. No. His new friend. In his few years as a squire, he had either felt like everyone was rolling their eyes that he was an arrogant kid with a self-righteous position or else rolling their eyes because he was nothing more than a squire. This wasn't the feeling he got from Kep. Kindness, Birten realized. That almost unfamiliar sparkle and depth in Kep's eyes that he couldn't place earlier. It was genuine, honest, human kindness.
  15. Disjecta Membra

    The Dragonslayer

    Broadswords Chapter One The Dragonslayer Wine dripped from his face, each coarse whisker of his beard creating its own rivulet of purple to his tunic. It soaked into the off-white fabric immediately upon contact, creating a makeshift plum dye. He didn't seem to notice or care, as he continued to swallow the drink with a ferocity mirroring that of the dragon he'd just slain. That being said, his erratic thirst was partially an attempt to numb himself from feeling the burnt flesh of his right leg. While he was successful in killing the beast, his victory didn't come so easily. He'd defeated countless dragons in his years as a slayer, but this one was the first adolescent he'd encountered. Judging by its size, it was probably around six years old; however, most dragons weren't fully grown until around 10. Until then, their firepouches were much less stable and a hell of a lot hotter. "Careful!" he erupted, spewing wine onto the face of his squire. The boy ran his sleeve across his cheek quickly, grunting as he tugged at the slayer's boot. "I'm trying, sir. It's as if the leather has melted into the skin." He had emptied the entire bottle by the time the squire was able to remove the cooked footwear. "Fetch me another, boy!" he muttered, letting the hollowed glass drop to the dirt. "We've only got one bottle left, sir. It'll be another three days before we get back to Jhirdyr. Are you certain you—" Still wincing, he snatched the bottle from the ground and threw it at the kid. "Don't question me, Birten! Get me the damn wine! When you've been tenderized by a flame-throwing monster you can control the inventory!" Birten knew better than to argue or show any sort of insubordination. He rolled his eyes once he was out of range, but he certainly didn't verbalize his opinion beyond that. As he handed him the lone remaining bottle, Birten eyed the dragonslayer. Daegon. A fitting name for a dragonslayer. It rolled off the tongue effortlessly, as if it was preordained by the gods. The slayer was stereotypically handsome; a stony, angular face with a rectangular chin. Hair that had once been a deep chestnut color but over the years had been tawnied by the sun. His eyes, conversely, retained the dark brown tinge. His nose was a bit roundish compared to the rest of his face, but it was quite possibly the only thing that prevented him from being perfect. Even his scar – a seven-inch mark that ran relatively straight from his forehead through his left eyebrow to just under his ear – was oxymoronically flawless. His chest and arms were undoubtedly his best features, however. One grip of his sword and the muscles popped from his skin like a mountain ripping into existence from the earth. There was hardly a woman in Jhirdyr that hadn't at least fantasized about a night with Daegon, and similarly quite a few men. Birten himself had fancied the slayer long before becoming his squire. And on one particularly drab winter evening, amidst one of the city's worst snowstorms, Daegon had taken Birten to his bed. Not but a month later, he had chosen him as his new squire. That had been two years prior, and Birten had come to know Daegon's bed well. Along with it, he came to know Daegon's personality, too. And his current display was nothing out of the ordinary. He was selfish, plain and simple. It was always about him. Granted, yes, he had almost had his leg amputated by a creature that had been wreaking havoc on a nearby village. Of course his acclaim was well-deserved. Still, Birten was an integral member of the team. Daegon couldn't manage alone. A simple thanks from time to time would be appreciated. Alternatively, and maybe it was a combination of the pain and booze talking, Daegon was harsh. "I should have known better than to take you on as a squire at the age of 18! Proper squires are selected at 13, 14, when they are still malleable and can be disciplined into proper assistance. You lack the gentle hand that training would have garnered." He was already halfway done with the new bottle of wine. "Instead, I let my dick decide who to choose!" This time, Birten couldn't hide his reaction. It was far blunter of an outburst than usual, and the first time he had directly attacked the squire's capabilities and justification to hold the position. Immediately as the proclamation left Daegon's lips, the younger man's usual stoic expression had fallen. The corners of his mouth, normally stony and fixed, had drooped. His chin even quivered for a split second. However, he quickly regained his composure so that Daegon wouldn't see that he had gotten to him. As the dragonslayer continued to swear and shout, Birten leaned up against a large boulder a few paces away. Ensuring he was angled to where Daegon couldn't see exactly what he was doing, he pulled a pocket mirror from his knapsack and studied his reflection in the dingy glass. Although two years older, his appearance hadn't changed much from when Daegon had selected him as his squire. He may have a few more whiskers at his chin, sure, but the rest of his face was rather untouched. His skin was clear, a smooth frame for the blue of his eyes and the fullness of his lips. Birten wasn't vain by nature, but he knew his looks had a hand in why he was chosen over the other potentials. Regardless, as he shoved the mirror back into the bag, he knew he had more to offer than sex appeal. And hearing basically the opposite from his lover and the man he had looked up to for years even before their partnership, it was a painful feeling. He knew he had to muster up his strength to appear unfazed. Taking a final deep breath, he moved away from the rock and back toward the slayer. The second wine bottle clinked against the first as Daegon dropped it, also now empty. "Another!" he called, barely making eye contact. "I told you," Birten said firmly, "that was it. You'll have to wait until we're back to the kingdom." Whether or not Daegon could sense the tenseness was unclear. He was in pain and drunk; to assume he was currently capable of any real perception was doubtful. It was probably for the best, in any event. If Daegon felt his squire was driven by emotions even in the slightest, he would cast him aside quicker than an empty wine bottle. Over the next three days, Daegon was mostly silent. Occasionally he would swear loudly, if his horse trotted in such a way that would upset his injured leg. Birten knew it had more to do with the pain than with the outburst about his ability as a squire. It was doubtful he even remembered saying anything. The bottles were large, and the wine itself was strong. Though he could down a few of them, Daegon's memory was often lost after the first. He liked the drink, but it certainly didn't do him any favors. They finally approached the north gate of Jhirdyr after night had already fallen. The gate was guarded by six of the king's men, and the most eagle-eyed of the group, a 40-something fellow named Erle, noticed them first. "The dragonslayer has returned! Alert the king!" The doors of the gate slowly began to open in response. Birten noticed one of the younger men immediately sprint through the narrow opening, presumably darting toward the castle. Moments later, when they had reached the wall, the gate was fully open. "We are proud and pleased of your safe return, slayer. Were you successful?" Erle's greeting seemed mostly genuine, but there was a rehearsed quality to its delivery. Considering his tenure with the king's guard, it wouldn't be unbelievable that Erle's sincerity had begun to fade over time. Daegon, suddenly glowing at his praise, smirked a cocky smile and pulled a large package of waxed paper out of the bag he kept firmly attached to his waist. The guards were clearly appreciative and impressed. The paper, they knew, contained the dragon's tongue. It had taken Birten a few slaying trips before he understood why the delivery of a dragon's tongue was so notable. As he soon learned, the body temperature of dragons paired with their regular fiery exhalations seemed to cook the still-live tongue enough so that it was relatively safe for human consumption if eaten within a few hours. After a few days of detachment, however, the muscle would garner enough spoilage to cause an intoxicating effect in those who ingested it. As such, it was a hot commodity across the continent and the ultimate reward of slaying a dragon. Birten had still never tasted dragon's tongue, nor did he want to. Regardless of the loot gained from the slaying, the two adventurers were granted passage into the kingdom. Due to the hour, and thankfully so, the streets weren't as populated as they would be if they had returned midday. When the general population was about, the trek into the city was much more complicated. Everyone wanted a chance to touch the hero, to see him, to bask in his presence. Even in a situation such as this, where the monster wasn't a direct impact to the kingdom itself, the citizens worshiped the slayer as if he were a god. Instead, only a few people peppered the streets. Most of them were in a hurry to finish their final personal tasks so that they could return home for the evening. The rest were street dwellers, rarely paying heed to the happenings around them. Either way, it made for a quick passage to the castle. When they arrived at the king's domicile, the largest edifice in the kingdom, Daegon's demeanor had completely changed from what it had been the past few days. He walked as if uninjured, no limp or discomfort to be seen. They silently stepped through the many hallways until reaching the throne room, as they had done on many occasions prior. And, as always, Birten remained in the shadows near the entrance just inside the room as Daegon continued onto the red carpet before the dual jewel-laden seats of the king and queen. They didn't have to wait long. Given the hour, the king was the only to arrive. He looked tired, likely having been awaken from sleep. He was donned in full royal attire, however, and lowered himself into his throne before Daegon, Birten, and the smattering of guards that occupied the room. "Result?" the king asked simply, not bothering to hide his yawn. Similar to his display to the guards, but perhaps more smoothly, Daegon kneeled and presented the king with the paper-laden tongue. The king nodded, once, and a guard came forward to collect the spoils. "And the rest?" Daegon stood. "Left for the village. It was indeed an adolescent, your majesty. A complicated slay, but scales and teeth unworthy of collection. A pleasant abundance for a village such as Baronne, but not a reasonable haul for our men to collect. The tongue, naturally, was harvested, but naught else." The king yawned again, this time fake and intentional. "Very well. Your efforts are appreciated, slayer. You are invited to the royal dinner tomorrow evening." Daegon smiled out of necessity. The slayer was always invited to the royal dinner the evening following the presentment of the tongue. Though arrogant, he wasn't naïve. He knew the king was growing bored of his slays. "Your majesty," he said, giving a quick half-kneel. The dragonslayer and his squire exited quickly, being led by the guards to the exit of the castle. Being a successful slayer, Daegon had a decent home two streets to the north, while the lords, ladies, and wealthiest citizens of the kingdom lived in the lavish homes on the closest street each direction of the castle. Lavish or not, Daegon's house was far more extravagant than Birten's. The main room, kitchen, bathroom, and den were all separated with walls. And the bedrooms! There were two. On the other hand, Birten's house, if it could be called that, was a total of two rooms. It came as no surprise that Birten spent most nights at Daegon's. Surprisingly, Daegon did not complain about the week's worth of dust that had settled upon every surface in their absence. He did not complain about the king's lackadaisical response to their victory. He did not complain about the pain in his leg. He instead shed all of his clothes, fell into his bed, and gently placed his hand on the empty area beside him. "Let's get some rest, my love."

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