Atrimalous (an anniversary gift)

Atrimalous, a short story by Melissa Vazquez

I haven’t been active as much because my man underwent some medical treatment. On October 20, he went in for a brain biopsy to diagnose an unknown mass on his brain. The results were benign, but since then, I’ve been helping him through the recovery process and almost a month later, things are starting to get back to normal. I know my man has been somewhat physically affected. He isn’t back up to his normal level of activity partially because of the brain surgery and partially because of the medicine he was given upon discharge from the hospital.

Today being our sixth anniversary, I wanted to do something a little different for him. He is heavily involved with my Second Realm planning and writing, in part because he gave me a character to use. Atrimalous is an old role play character of his that I tweaked to fit within the confines and rules of my Second Realm universe. He and I had quite a few discussions trying to develop him, and ultimately I slimmed Atrimalous down, cutting his powers down, cutting down what he was able to do in order to make him a balanced character. Yet, even with how far watered down Atrimalous has been, he’s still a stand out character to me. It might be because of the fact that he’s a creation of my better half. It might be because I’ve been working on a side story just for Atrimalous named “Dragonsoul.” It might be because this silent, deadly bodyguard has a piece of my heart. Whatever it is, I sat down a few days ago trying to think of what I could do for an anniversary gift.

This is what came out of it. Atrimalous has always seemed strong to me. Strong, maybe a bit of an asshole, but he has a good heart. He’s too much like my man in that respect (meant with love, of course). So I want to show Atrimalous off a little, before he met the Shadow Assassins. Orchid is a woman who comes into play much later into the Second Realm trilogy, but for now…

A small gift to my man, as a reminder of how much I admire his strength, in all things <3


Atrimalous

A short story by Melissa Vazquez
Dedicated to Matthew, Atrimalous’s creator

Atrimalous, a short story by Melissa Vazquez
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Govoya, on the Isle Dark
Three years before the Shadow Assassins’ arrival to the Second Realm

“Are you sure you have to leave? You know that you’ll always have a place on the Lady Tempest.

Atrimalous was never the sentimental type. He wished that Orchid hadn’t opened her mouth. Now he was expected to make some sort of reply. He stood halfway down the gangplank of the great warship before him, knowing that he was blocking the way for the rest of Orchid’s crew. The closest thing the ship’s captain got to any answer was a dark look and a slight wave. She knew he wasn’t into conversation, despite her attempts.

“You know how to find me if you want to travel again!”

He heard her invitation but only made his way down to the docks. With the pathway to the ship unblocked, Orchid’s crew made fast work of depositing his small collection of belongings onto an awaiting horse carriage. His pre-arranged travel were thanks to Orchid and her well-trained falcons that ferried messages to and from the Isle Dark while she was at sea. The same went for the key he had in his pocket, that went to a house he had won off of one of her crew, after proving that he was more than capable of holding his own in the various gambling games the sailors played. This last trip with Orchid had been rich with reward. He was looking forward to some peace and quiet.

Although he had been reserved a horse and carriage from a local stable, the man who had brought the horse down to the docks had no patience nor time enough to be Atrimalous’s driver. He thanked the man and tipped him, which seemed to make the stable hand a little more appreciative of his wasted time. The stable hand mounted his own horse and informed Atrimalous of the stable in Siiati that would take his horse in and return it – and that he would raid every house in Siiati if his horse wasn’t returned in a timely fashion. The stable hand was muscular enough from his time spent working with the creatures he raised, but his threat was stale noise to Atrimalous, who only nodded at him.

The Govoyan docks were always busy with traders. There was only one Seafarer ship docked and he knew Orchid would want to get out quickly, before any suspicious eyes caught sight of the Lady Tempest. He didn’t expect her to stick around and he didn’t expect himself to, either. Wasting no time, Atrimalous checked his belongings and set off, steering his one horse carriage through the bustling traffic. There was a pathway used by horses and carriages that separated foot traffic from animal traffic.

He followed trader caravans out of the city, listening to their rich, foreign language as they spoke of trade in Govoya. He had picked up on a number of languages between Aurialis and the Isle Dark, although he wasn’t fluent in any aside from Majine Elegante, the language of the mages, and Draghanian, the language used in the Aeriad Nation. He picked up bits and pieces of common words here and there, but otherwise ignored the conversations of the caravan in front of him. He was likewise ignored. He parted ways with the traders at the city gate. They followed an established trade path in the opposite direction he was headed in.

Things were relatively calm until he crossed the stretch of wasteland between Govoya and Siiati. Here, he knew there were bandits. He had never crossed any but he had heard stories of how they waited until it was dark to make their move. He had arrived in Govoya with the sun high overhead, but with the speed of his travel, the sun was going to make its descent while he was still on the road. He considered speeding his horse up, but relaxed the reigns once more. This was a long journey. There was no need to run the animal down yet, not if he would need to be hasty at some other point.

A scream shattered the quiet around Atrimalous and he bolted upright. His amethyst gaze was sharp on the horizon, scanning for the trouble. Within his line of sight, he saw a woman on a horse, the horse rearing up in the air as a party of four men gathered around her. Bandits. Anger unfurled in his belly as he watched the men harass both horse and woman, gathering around like a slobbering, sloppy pack of wolves. They weren’t on the same path he was on, but when he saw the horse rear up again, he knew he couldn’t leave them behind. As much as he disliked the company of most people, he couldn’t stroll casually past someone obviously in distress.

Cursing, Atrimalous directed his horse towards the woman in trouble. The cart he was in was slow and bulky – hardly appropriate for ambushing four armed men. It would have to do. He might be able to use the awkward weight to his advantage, hopefully without losing track of his possessions.

The mocking, cruel voices of the four bandits became more and more clear with the closer Atrimalous and his horse approached. Atrimalous reached into a small wooden box that sat at the front of the carriage with him and extracted a small knife. He had four others just like it, each barely the length of his palm and deadly sharp.

“Get away from her!” he yelled, letting one of the throwing knives fly. He would have preferred his bow and the quiver of arrows he owned, but they were in the trunk and there hadn’t been enough time to string the bow properly.

The knife found its mark in one of the bandits, who went down, stupidly at first, as if he was having trouble processing the injury the throwing knife had made.

“What’s this, men? We’ve got a delivery boy here!” another one of the men crowed once he had seen Atrimalous. To Atrimalous he added, “Step out of the wagon, boy, and you might walk out of here alive.”

His horse gave a panicked whine as the carriage was circled by the three remaining men, the horse blocked. Atrimalous stepped out, just like he had been asked, but his hands went to the dual swords at his sides.

“Don’t even think about it, boy,” the same bandit sneered. “You’re outnumbered.”

Old, familiar anger flooded Atrimalous and he drew his blades. The sweet ringing sound of metal greeted him as his twin swords were unsheathed. “Why don’t you leave the lady alone, then?”

“Times is hard on all of us,” said one of the bandits. “Haven’t you ever heard of a road tax? That’s all we’s doing. We’s honest men, y’see. Fair tax for all travelers. That means you and this pretty lady.”

Atrimalous wasn’t sure what grated on him more, how this man butchered the common tongue spoken in the area or this man’s idea of honest work. “Why don’t we cut a deal, men? Let us pass and I won’t have to kill you.”

The only reply he had gotten involved derisive laughter and a lot of cursing and insults. The bandits openly mocked him, letting him know exactly what they thought of the swords he carried, as well as the strength they were sure he lacked. They were armed and they had mismatching sets of armor in varying degrees of quality and function, but they thought that Atrimalous was little threat. It grated on his ego, but he also knew that the ego that Orchid had poked at also had the knowledge and the strength to back up any claim he made. He didn’t speak with the same empty air that the bandits before him did.

To make his point, he made one single, neat attack. The sword in his right hand made contact with the man who had mangled the common tongue. His worn leather armor didn’t protect his neck, as he lacked a proper helm. The man gurgled and went down like a puppet with broken strings. There was a moment of silence, as his comrades took in what had happened. That was the second man Atrimalous had taken down. Two remained.

Instead of understanding the warning Atrimalous had given, the remaining bandits rushed at him, one wielding an axe and the other a long dagger. The assortment of weapons they had were probably filched off of travelers they had taxed. The bandits didn’t seem to be particularly elegant with the weapons they used, as if they had been recently taken from their rightful owners.

Despite the unfamiliarity of their weapons, the rush and clash of steel pushed Atrimalous back by a margin. He blocked the axe with his blades, but that left him open to the man with the dagger. That was when the woman on the horse surged forward. The horse tackled the man and kept going, even when the man plunged the dagger into the animal. The horse screamed and bucked, throwing its rider off. The woman hit the ground with a hard thud, but to her credit, she rolled and stumbled to her horse.

Atrimalous turned his attention back to the man with the axe, even as he heard the horse scream again from a dagger that had been removed. The man with the axe had been the one who had called him a boy. He was burly and strong, although his plate armor was dingy and dented like discarded tin. They came together once more in a clash of steel and iron. The swords Atrimalous carried kept the man at arm’s length, but he felt the impact of the axe’s blow up his arms as metal rang against metal. He kicked the man away but the axe had been caught sideways and had a grip on his sword. As the man fell away, his sword was yanked from his left hand, where it clattered unceremoniously away.

“You’ve killed my horse!” the woman yelled some distance away.

Atrimalous was going to shout at her to keep away from their fight but she made the first move. Hand out, the woman called upon the magic she controlled. The desert air around them lost its heat alarmingly fast and frost began to form on the ground. That was when Atrimalous caught sight of the woman’s blazing, icy gaze. Ice rose up in the middle of a desert, knocking the bandit off of his feet before it encircled him. Ice crystals grew jagged and chaotic, caging the bandit in a small circle. He chopped at the ice with his axe but as quickly as it shattered beneath the blade, more ice formed.

Atrimalous called upon his control over fire and melted a pathway into the ice circle. Ice reformed behind him. His voice was cold when he spoke, dripping in the same mocking fashion the bandits had used on him. “You owe us a road tax now.”

Cornered, the bandit threw his axe at Atrimalous’s feet. That didn’t stop Atrimalous from advancing further, until the bandit was babbling an apology. The apology was silenced by Atrimalous’s sword and he stood over the bandit, watching as the man fell.

He melted his way through the ice barrier and found the woman tending to her horse, who was still alive, but barely. Her eyes were wide on him when he emerged from the ice, his sword dripping.

“Are you going to kill me next?” she asked him.

Her question was absurd. “Why would I kill you when the whole reason why I’ve deviated from my travel is to assist you? I saw you and your horse in danger. You have no reason to fear me.”

Her suspicious gaze swept around them, taking in the men he had killed. “You kill easily and tell me I have no reason to fear you.”

Atrimalous cleaned the blood from his sword, then sheathed it. He retrieved his throwing knife from the first man he had killed and went searching for his dropped sword. That was when he realized that the woman before him had a cautious hold of it. She wasn’t threatening him. The sword was picked up in her own defense.

“If I wanted to kill you, I would have either done so already or passed you on the road without a second glance.” Atrimalous said, calmly. “Can I have my sword back now?”

She stood up, both hands holding onto the hilt of the sword. “My horse is going to die from those damned bandits. Where are you headed, stranger? I don’t suppose you can assist me a little more.”

He told her, and her eyes lit up. She said, “I’m from Siiati as well. Would you mind my company a little longer? We’re both headed the same way.”

It would be cold to save her from bandits and then leave her in the middle of dangerous territory with no way of transportation. Her company wasn’t something he necessarily wanted, but her company would ease his mind more than leaving her behind would.

“Yeah, I suppose I wouldn’t mind bringing you to Siiati with me. Do you have anything you need to bring with you?”

She clearly did not want to bother the dying horse any further, but she retrieved a small purse from the saddlebag the horse was crushing. “I’m sorry, Bright Eyes. I guess this is where we part.”

The horse should have been put out of its misery quickly and as humanely as a gravely wounded animal should be, but he could tell that mentioning that line of thought would only upset the woman before him. She obviously cared about the animal, but she couldn’t bring herself to let the horse rest peacefully. Instead, she followed him to the carriage and sat next to him, her purse in her lap.

“Shall we go?” she asked, her bright blue-green eyes wide from leaving her horse behind.

He nodded. “My name is Atrimalous. Since we’re traveling together, I think I should introduce myself.”

“Leta,” the woman replied. “Leta Gerard. I’m an ice mage, if you couldn’t tell. It looked as though you could use fire. Right?”

She wasn’t quite correct but he nodded anyway. With the introduction out of the way, he got his horse’s attention once more, and steered them back onto the road he had been on.

“Opposites attract,” she said with a small smile. “Thank you for taking the time to rescue me.”

“I’ve only heard of road taxes. I haven’t been to this area in a while, so I didn’t know how bad the bandit population was.” Atrimalous said, brushing her gratitude to the side. “I’m glad I got to you in time, before anything had happened.”

“I don’t have anything of value.” Leta swept dark hair behind an ear, her gaze darkening. “I shudder to think of what sort of road tax they’d demand.”

Atrimalous glanced at her, taking in her dark, tangled hair and bright blue-green eyes. She was probably around his age and the dress she wore had a low, square-cut neckline. The curve of her hips was obvious, even when she was sitting next to him.

“You’re a woman. They’re bandits who probably go for long stretches of time without seeing a decent woman, and you’re more decent looking than most.” He shrugged as he spoke, his voice even. He wasn’t flirting with her or complimenting her, he was stating flat fact. “I know exactly what they would do with you.”

Her gaze narrowed further and he caught sight of how she gripped his sword tighter. “Would you be the sort to demand the same thing?”

“Again, if I were the sort, I would have done it already.”

Her free hand moved before he was aware. He heard the smack before he felt it, mostly because he was surprised that she had slapped him. He stared.

That blue-green stare of hers burned into him. “You might have saved me, but you could do with toning that attitude down. All you had to say was no. The way you phrased it made it sound as though you could have, if you wanted to.”

“But I have no intentions of that sort.”

“Then say so.

He stared at her, completely confused as to why it mattered what way he told her that she was safe. Considering how quickly things had happened, emotions were no doubt running high with Leta.

“Sorry,” he said.

She sighed. “I am, too. I shouldn’t have slapped you. I was only out here to get out of Siiati. Now I’ve lost my horse. Careless mistake. Thank you for taking me home.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “And I don’t mean to frighten you. I mean what I say, usually. If I were to do something, I would have done it already. Since I haven’t, I assume that means my intent is obviously not like the bandits’. I have no interest in you like that.”

“Does that mean you have a lady on your mind already then?” she asked cautiously, almost teasingly.

His gaze turned back to her. Was she serious? The closest woman that could have possibly fit that position was Orchid, and that was after she had pestered him. Their relationship was more business-focused, not romantic. Other than that, what woman did he have in his life?

Realizing she was waiting on an answer, he said hastily, “No, I don’t.”

She either sensed that he didn’t like the topic they were on or she was satisfied with his answer, because she let the conversation fall silent after that, although she did hand him back his sword. They rode in silence towards Siiati, with the only noise from Leta, when she found a landmark she recognized. She confirmed that they were on the right trail home. The road they were on took them through the stretch of desert, then a long stretch of land where dry desert grass grew chest-high. The road was flattened through the plains and their carriage pulled through any grass it had been tangled on.

The sun was setting alongside them when they made it to a long stretch of tunnel that Leta said was the most direct way into the city, through a mountain. The sound of their travel echoed through the tunnel, with the sound of their horse’s hooves bouncing off of the walls. There was no lighting in the tunnel so Atrimalous kept a small ball of fire in one hand. It was dangerous to hold, should the carriage make a sudden, unexpected movement, but the fire was only warm against his skin and provided minimal lighting for them, enough to know that they were the only ones in the tunnel.

Once they had crossed and they were in Siiati, Atrimalous asked Leta about the city, and where he could find his new home.

“You’re kidding me, right?” Leta asked. “Your house is right next to mine. I thought a sailor lived there. The house is empty for most of the year and when he is home, he asks me to check in every once in a while just to make sure the house is still standing. I have a key for that house.”

He took the small key out of his pocket and asked her if it was the same. When she nodded, he said, “Well, a sailor did live there, until he got so drunk that he threw every belonging he had into a betting pool that I eventually won. I have the deed to his house and everything.”

“I guess that means we’re neighbors now,” she said with a small smile.

“Guess so.” His reply was mostly non-committal noise. Leta was decent company for the road, but he wasn’t sure of how he felt about having a neighbor he was already on speaking terms with. He had come to Siiati for peace and quiet. Leta seemed like her company would be the opposite.

She navigated him through the cobblestone streets until they came to two stone houses that sat side by side. Across the street, there were two more houses, brightly lit with the setting sun. “Yours is on the left. I’m on the right. Do you have a place for your horse?”

He explained that the carriage wasn’t his and he had to return the horse to a stable in Siiati. Leta knew where it was and offered to show him, once they had his belongings unpacked. They left the carriage outside his house and while she went to put her bag in her own house, he stepped into his new home for the first time.

His home was dark, although he caught sight of the candles and sconces that were to light the place up. There was a fireplace that dominated one wall, with firewood still sitting around it. The house was furnished, but dusty and in need of care. There was only one bedroom but that was all he needed. The house was a decent size. It had been a good thing that he had kept himself sober on Orchid’s ship. While she let her crew run rampant and drink during the night, he had allowed himself to learn of their games and outwit the players; although outwitting them when they were intoxicated hardly seemed like a fair victory. Still, how was he supposed to back down when a sailor had placed everything he had owned on the line, in the name of his pride?

Thoughts of traveling on the Lady Tempest were with him as he went back to the carriage for his things. It was strange to be back on land, after his sporadic sea travel, but it would be good to have a roof over his head and a bed that stood still when he slept. The few storage trunks full of his possessions were hauled inside quickly, then he went to collect Leta, so she could show him to the stable.

Once the horse and carriage were dropped off, they walked back together in the growing twilight. They were mostly silent, with small conversations cropping up as they passed by certain landmarks. Leta showed him around town as they walked, pointing out various buildings and the houses of the people she knew. She was a good source of information, although he sensed that she wanted to say more to him than just a formal introduction.

He thanked her for her time once they were back in front of his house and said that he wanted to start unpacking and cleaning. The house wasn’t as clean as he wanted it to be. Leta looked as though she was ready to offer her company to help out, but she thought about it and backed off, heading to her home next door.

“Good night, neighbor,” was the last thing she said to him.

He watched her until she was in her house, then headed to the home next door. His home now, he supposed. Siiati was far from where he grew up and out of the way to those who wanted to bring him trouble. It would be a good place to find peace and quiet.

Peace and quiet was something he needed, after the adventures he had been on. It would be good to rest.

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