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Chapter 18

The sun was no longer in the sky as Derrl tread his way down the damp side streets back towards the warehouse. The cobblestones of the street were old and worn, missing in some places, cracked in others. The lane was almost as much puddle as it was stone paved. He spent a great deal of attention on threading his way between the sodden stretches of street. He was not paying entirely too much attention to where he was going, and though he had heard the sounds of booted feet, he had not altered his direction, save to avoid puddles. His boots had been taking a beating lately. He was definitely going to have to get a new pair, these two were beyond redemption. He didn't look up as the sound drew nearer and he bumped into the owner of the feet.

"Sorry…" He mumbled, continuing on his way. He had a lot on his mind and wasn't about to stop in his tracks; after all, the other man hadn't fallen. What he hadn't counted on was the fact that the man was a drunken mercenary who had just been strongly rejected by a young barmaid. He was in bad spirits. The mercenary grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around to face him. His speech was slightly slurred by too much hard ale, although not by much.

"Where'd youu think youu were going? I'm not thru… with… youu yet! HEY! Listen to me when I yell at you!" His old and ill-maintained sword rang as it slid out of a scabbard in a state of equal disrepair. Though he was drunk, he was still good enough with his sword to do some damage. He waved it about threateningly in front of Derrl's face. The young mage almost subconsciously drew up the strengthening rune on the background of his mind. He knew what to expect from this type.

"Please don't do that. You'll probably get yourself hurt, there is easier prey out right now. You don't have to pick me." He tried to step past the drunk but didn't take more than a step before the mercenary swung his sword. The sword tip shrieked as it whistled through the air to land on Derrl's bare skull. The solitary sound of the sword practically rang out off the close walls. The blow landed and struck Derrl near the base of the skull. The shock nearly buckled his knees but he remained standing with a little effort.

"Hell!… Hell and more!" The drunk exclaimed as his sword fell to the street with a resounding sound, almost like that of a small bell, slightly off-key. The mercenary was shaking his sword hand. The vibrations had gone through the sword to his arm, something akin to trying to chop through a boulder with a sword. It's very hard on the arm; the jolt is more than enough pain to make most people give up in pain. The mercenary swore. He had rather colorful language, most of it not from anywhere near here. It was almost as if he had a talent for swearing, at least after the initial shock wore off. Derrl had a slight ringing in his ears from that blow. Rune or no rune, he might have a concussion now. No use worrying about that now.

"Next time you swing that sword at me things will be a lot worse," he rasped dryly. His head now ached and his throat was raw for some reason. He began to trace another pattern. It was the abortive variation on the storm rune, but with the final line left out, the one that had sheathed him in raw energy but done him no apparent damage. The mercenary gave an obscene laugh, followed by a few choice oaths that he had probably picked up somewhere afar. He was recovering from his bout of drunkenness. Apparently he was always belligerent. He jumped for his sword where it lay on the wet cobblestones. He grasped it with one hand as he used the other to help himself roll and come up in what was obviously a fighting stance. Low, feet apart, sword low and weaving in front of him. He had a glint in his eye that Derrl was positive was his intent to kill. The mercenary was in worse spirits than before and was ready to prove it. He began to advance on the young wizardling. Derrl frowned; he had wished things would not come to this. At least he would not feel bad about using his abilities, modest as they were, on the soldier for hire. It was self-defense after all.

"I'm telling you this is really not a good idea." He quickly traced the last line in his head. He was ready for the attack. He did not have to wait very long for it. It came almost at once. He concentrated more on the second rune, and the sheath of energy surrounding him seemed to stretch out further. There was another screeching whistle as the blade swung down to lodge itself where Derrl's neck met his shoulders. There was a blinding flash of light that reflected of the dirty walls of the nearby houses and lit the sky briefly. The sword hit his shoulder and bounced off to fall harmlessly to the cobbles. It had lost the driving force behind it. The mercenary who had been bent on killing the young mage earlier had disappeared, replaced by a pile of sodden ashes in the middle of a puddle. He had been wrong. He did feel bad about this. Although the man had been trying to kill him, he had had an unfair advantage, to put it mildly. What chance did a man with a blade have against a wizard, even an inexperienced one? The sword lay on the ground, steaming in the light mist that had settled over the street. The puddle that the metal hilt lay in seethed and bubbled where it came in contact with the metal. It was evidently still hot, and Derrl was about to leave it there instead of waiting for it to cool. Before he forgot about it, he erased the energy sheath rune, but he left the strengthening rune in place. He wasn't able to feel things very well, through the spell, and he wouldn't be harmed, even by excessive heat. He picked up the steaming sword. Though he was able to tell that the sword was hot, he didn't feel any pain. He found a nearby rain barrel, (They were almost always full this time of year.) and plunged the sword into the barrel to quench it, soaking his arm up to the elbow in the process. Steam and bubbles rose in the barrel briefly then stopped. He released the remaining rune and felt the hilt. It was still warm but not painfully hot to the touch. He pulled it out of the barrel and examined it briefly. From what he knew of swords, he could tell that this one was of good quality. He was considering selling it at the weekend market where it might fetch a decent price, and he could stand to have a little more money. On second thought, I have work now, and I need some visible means of defense, if only to keep others at bay that might attack me. Otherwise I would have to kill more of them. He slid the sword into his belt and trudged the rest of the way to the warehouse in the rain that had sprung from the mist. So many things that I have to do now, and I barely know where to start.

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