Flashback IV. Nevermore

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A lawless town of anarchists, built on the ruins of an ancient mining city. [Lore]

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IV. Nevermore

Postby Konrad Venger on September 17th, 2016, 4:52 am

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78th Day of Fall, 501AV|| Baroque Bay

Continued from here


Sometimes even he pushed himself too far. It was a rare thing, to be sure, but the big man simply didn't understand how strong he was... and that could come back to bite him in other ways, too.

Like when he'd got the three hundred pound sack up on his shoulders, but started walking before it was properly balanced. Add a rotted gangplank into the mix and a seagull squawking seagull swooping by his ear-

KRSSSSHHHH

"Sugar!"


Suffice to say, that was not a cry heard often on Darkest Waters. The crashing sack split an an ocean of finest sweet crystals exploded across the weathered boards, like someone had conjured a minor snowbank from Taldera and dumped it in Sunberth. The hulking man wearing a childish expression of shock immediately bent down to drag his sausage fingers through the spread mound, and of course that only set off-

"Oi, quit holdin' up the-"

"Jus' step roun' an' keep goin'-"

"Fuck'sake, boy, can't youse even carry a-"

"The fuck is all this bollocks?!"


Hansel gulped a little when he saw Mister Warton's shiny shoes stomping towards him like the judgement of the gods. Mister Warton shouted an awful lot and he seemed to like shouting at Hansel. He didn't know why. But he did what he always did: he straightened up and bowed his head and played with his fingers as a man half his size jerked to a stop in front of him.

"This your fault, boy?!"

"Yes, Mister War-"

"The fuck did you do?!"

"I just dropped it, sir, I couldn't hold-"

"Tha's comin' right outta your wages, your useless sodding shit!"

"m'sorry, Mister Warton, it won't-"

"Oh, enough!" A skinny little finger was waggled in his face, attached to a squirrelly little face with faded ganger ink around the chin. "Don' think yer irreplaceable, boy! You fucking do this again and I swear-"

Hansel swallowed again. He didn't know what that long word meant. He didn't want to make people angry, because they got so loud and Hansel didn't like loud things. They were so angry.

Angry things never liked Hansel. They always made him feel small.

So the big lad just stood there and nodded like a fool and that just fed Warton's fury. Gods, why did they keep hiring this... well, yes, it was obvious why. The man could carry in two arms what three men could carry in six, but for almost the same price they could get three men who weren't halfway-to-idiocy. Besides, Warton liked the little thrill that came from seeing men whisper and titter at a little bloke like him bossing around a minor mountain like Hansel. Oh, he was going to enjoy every tick of-

"He made a mistake, an' said he's sorry."

"And who are you to-"


Warton spoke as he turned, but when he had, part of him wished he'd never started. He didn't shyke himself, like many of these other cretins did. Fucking street daemons nowadays, all thought they had the same sound and fury as the real monsters back in the old days. Pah! Warton shit 'em. He'd survived worse than them, and didn't immediately lose his balls when some scar-faced cunt got in his.

Well. Maybe not both of them.

"We'll clear it up. Save most of the sack."

"Oh, aye?"
Warton injected as much attitude into the words as he dared, complete with a sneer and his thumbs linked into his belt. "An' yer happy sharin' the cost I mentioned takin' from him, are yeh?"

"Aye. Just give us the shovels and a new sack."


Far from mollified, Warton's expression just soured even more. He wasn't expecting that calm, emotionless response. Where was the annoyance? The twitch and twinge of a man chastened? This wasn't what he wanted, nor wanted the others to see. A little crowd was gathered now, the backed-up line of workers behind Hansel chief among them.

"We don't have time t'be fucking around with this shyke!"

The scarred man didn't shout. He didn't snarl. He didn't even take a step forward. He just exhaled, a little louder than usual. He rubbed his jaw, a little harder than he should. He did these things and nary once did his hands wander towards the knife on his hip, a straight, plain thing he used only to cut rope and open crates.

But he knew what he was doing. What he was saying. What everyone was hearing.

Warton swallowed, and realized Konrad was giving him one more chance.

"Fine," he hissed, venomous as a rattled Dhani. "Spades n' sacks are at the enda' the pier. Get 'em yer petchin' self."

He gave Konrad the stiff shoulder as he went past, just like Konrad knew he would. Outweighed and nearly a foot shorter, Warton still shoved by him and Konrad let himself be jostled-

rather than go with the motion, spin and slam him right fist into the back of his neck, follow it up with a low leg to his shins, knock him down, fill his eyes with stars, then stomp his skull into the boards and pull that knife-


"Konrad? Thanks, mate."

He breathed in and the red, raw vision vanished into sea spray and docking ships and Hansel looming over him still fidgeting. He was a dozy sod, but Konrad had been looking and looking for days and days and found not an ounce of badness in that titanic frame. He was mild and wanted to do right by his family, or what family he had left.

"S'alright, mate," Konrad said with a squeeze of his shoulder, gently leading him off to once side so the procession of stevedores could do about their business. "Just an accident, aye? Shyke happens."

"You'll help me, right?"

"Course I will. But youse gotta be careful, aye? Next time I might not be here. Don' lift up what yeh don' know y'can carry."

"I won't, cousin."


Konrad clapped him on the shoulder again and held on until Hansel could meet his gaze and that shaky smile returned. Then he gave one back, even though it made his mouth ache with its unfamiliarity. The stevedores didn't intrude by staring, though he saw a few of them shake their heads. That made Konrad smile a little broader, if for a different reason.

Aye. Can hardly believe it myself.
Last edited by Konrad Venger on September 21st, 2016, 1:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Nevermore

Postby Konrad Venger on September 19th, 2016, 7:35 am

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"... and give hope to those causes that have been forgotten, those souls that need only the opportunity to change. This I beseech of ye, and by my offering I hope to make it so."

He still didn't pray with her, and knew that perturbed her somewhat. Bessy was a shrewd enough woman to know that it was not the gods who stirred Konrad's heart that night, but her own determination. Yet as much as her head was level, her heart still believed that the Twins Kelwyn had a hand in his decision. Was it so much to ask that he gave thanks along with her for that minor miracle?

Not until he believes it, and I'll not push the boy down a path he should take himself.

She chuckled softly to herself as she rose from before her shrine, reaching up for the beefy hand that she knew would be there to assist her. Had she not already pushed him, down this path of peace, away from the sword and dagger he'd previously held? Clearly. But this was... different. That was the only explanation she had.

Besides, when she turned and found him waiting at her table, his plate untouched until she and Hansel came to join him, Bessy couldn't help but smile.

It's worth it. Just for this.

"Ready, now?"

"Aye. Pass the veggies, Kon."


The old girl had outdone herself, as usual. With three incomes streaming into the household, the odd little family could afford to eat a little better than usual, but Bessy still didn't waste a copper on frivolous produce, and still managed to make a nigh-feast every night.

Konrad guessed that Hansel was a big reason for that. The man ate alone what the two of them could put away in a whole day. Already he was happily loading his plate with mashed potatoes and choice cuts of lamb until Bessy's hand swatted him lightly on the wrist.

"Easy now, boy. Don't go in for it all at once. Leave some for the rest of us."

"Sorry, Aunt Bessy."

"I've a feelin' he'll be finishin' off the spread anyway,"
Konrad said with a lopsided smile. "Seems to be the way, eh?"

Hansel smiled sheepishly and shrugged, patting a belly that could see service as a beer barrel, sat in a tabe specially-bought for his outsized frame.

"Aunt Bessy always said to eat until me stomach stops rumblin'."

"Fair points, boys,"
Bessy said, and even Konrad could see how behind her chiding and concern was the warmth of one living a second life. Her family around her table again. Not dependent on her, but just there. Present. Safe. "But lets at least have Konrad and me get our fill first, hmm? Or it'll be our stomach's rumbling."

Konrad nodded his appreciation, talking around a mouthful of boiled lamb even thought it would earn his grandmother's disapproving glare.

"Ain't gonna argue with yeh there, Gran."

"Konrad! Not with yer mouth full!"

"Fine, fine..."


Standing outside of himself, as he'd done before, chewing his food and listening to the chatter, Konrad could scarce believe this had come to pass. What was more unbelievable was that his scorn and sarcasm did not stir in those moments. In the early days he'd been restless, itching inside his skin to hit the streets again, the endless cycle of scaring up work, carrying out his bloody business and then enjoying the spoils.

Those early days were the worst. Bessy had almost lost him a time or two. But he'd stayed true to his word. He'd not taken his weapons to hand, though to do so almost felt like lopping off a limb.

You changed. Gods know how, but you did.

So it was with a sort of exhausted satisfaction that Konrad lit his pipe in Bessy's tiny back garden later that night, the stars above peeking through gaps in the smog and smoke forever rising from Sunberth. He filled his lungs with one of his two remaining vices and let a lazy stream buffet upward until a whisper of breeze snatched it and scattered the grey among the black.

"Well, he's down fer the evening, I think."

"Should bloody think so,"
he said with a chuckle, Bessy shuffling through the backdoor to take her seat next to him. "Three platefuls. I'd ask where it all went but gods, I've seen the lad work."

"Aye... and speakin' of which, he told me how yeh stood up for him today. That was good of yeh, Kon."


Konrad just nodded and sucked at his pipe, bemused yet again at accepting someone's thanks for something so... well, was it trivial? For him, as he was, to help someone for the sake of helping, kin or not? It was another change he was adjusting to, and he found that he enjoyed it.

"That Warton's a right little shit, though."

"Ach, I know, Kon, but he's always been thus. When I was your age and he was running wild, he was a bad 'un."

"Like me, eh?"


A pause. A soft pat on his free hand.

"Like yeh were, maybe. No longer?"

Her words lifted into a question and Konrad felt his lips twitch a little. She was still unsure, and he knew why. The Fall was nearly over. Their deal had nearly run its course, and she was still afraid he would disappear. Vanish back into the slime of Sunberth and all these happy days would have been for nothing.

Konrad held the pipe between his teeth and patted her back, squeezing her old fingers with his young, callused ones.

"Aye. Think yer right on that'n, Gran."

A pleasant silence followed, the two of them enjoying the brisk air after the muggy hell of Summer, before Winter arrived in all it's gnawing fury. Pleasant, but mayhap not peaceful, as wheels that had been turning in Konrad's mind started so again, and he found the words for them.

"Be even easier if we were away from the city, though, don'tcha think?"

Silence. He turned and found it was of disbelief as Bessy gawped at him, blinking her confusion as she studied his face. Well, he'd been expecting that. It seemed to be a common thread of all born-and-bloodied Sunberthians: they'd winge and rage and complain and hate their town, swear every day they'd leave and never return... but they didn't. They couldn't. It was a part of them sure as heart and brain.

"Y'mean... yer intendin' to leave?"

"With you and Hansel,"
Konrad slid his words into the air like a knife between ribs. He didn't need her filling in the blanks with her worry; better for her to hear the hope, not the fear. "Zeltiva. Heard of it, aye? Just a few days down the coast, it is. Clean air. Clean water. They've got their laws and such-" he could stop the scorn in that word, such as he was and where he'd been raised "-but it's safe. A good place."

"This can be a good place, Kon."

"Aye, it can, but will it ever be, Gran?"
He shook his head and gripped her hand a little tighter. "I just... I know the Fall's near over, an' I'm still here, an' I'm not lookin' to leave you and Hansel. But all... I mean, every day, I feel this... pull. Back to the past."

Konrad knew that the best kinds of lies were the ones that were all-but-truth, with just a few useful changes. It was no lie that he felt that restless urge to recapture that rush-and-roar of the street daemons again. Be another city barbarian like he'd been, feared and known for his art in death. So many years that had been his home, and it called to him, like a jilted lover he could not forget.

But something had been growing in opposition to that feral, bloody desire. Something Bessy had planted in him and strange and queer as it was, Konrad liked how it felt. How it made him feel. How he slept the whole night through without needing smoke or drink to dull his nightmares. How he was still a wary man walking down the street, but not one who saw an enemy in every face he passed.

Konrad liked that he was at peace, and he wanted it to last. But it couldn't last without her, and it wouldn't last in Sunberth.

"I've never left the city, Kon," Bessy said with her eyes downcast. "I don't... I'm just an old women who patches lads up now and again, does some knitting and such. They'd have better healers and seamstresses in Zeltiva, I'm sure. What would I do to-"

"You'd have me and Hansel."
He'd been expecting that one, of course. "Zeltiva's built on ships and docks and stuff comin' off them. He'd find work easy enough. I could, too, like I've been doing. And there, no-one'd know me. No-one would whisper about what I was, what I'd done."

They'd still see your scars. Those are never leaving you.

Konrad pushed the bitter voice of the past away. Yes, his face would always be a nightmare, but he no longer believed that was all of him. He'd looked into the faces of his cousin and grandmother and found love there, something he never thought he'd see again. If it could be so for them... why not elsewhere, in other, kinder parts of the world?

"Oh, I don't know, Kon, it's a big decision and-"

"I know, Gran, but-"

"How much would it cost, lad?"


Bugger. That came up faster than he'd intended. He sucked deep on his pipe for a moment and Bessy smiled warmly at the sight. Ah, her Konrad. He did that when he was thinking fast and on the spot. Streams of tobacco smoke blew from his mouth as he found... the right answer.

"Aye, it's... not cheap, I grant yeh. But if I could get the money-"

"How?"

"I'm just sayin', if I could-"


He paused when he saw the shadow pass over her face; embers of fear blown large and choked with worry. He'd been expecting that, too, and was already shaking his head when she started to speak, voice hushed and anxious.

"Kon, you swore, you promised you wouldn't do that anymore-"

"And I won't, Gran. I'll not put steel in my hands. I won't kill anyone, or steal, or any of that."


His eyes flickered to the stretch of dirt at the end of the garden. Most of it was weeds and a some green beans that Bessy tended when the weather allowed, but there was that patch, near the back wall. The soil had been disturbed not long ago, and Konrad knew why. He knew what rested under it.

Sleeping. Waiting. Patiently.

Konrad ground his teeth and choked it off and beat that voice back where it belonged. No. That was the past. A past he was rid of. A past that would kill him, and would have had Bessy not found him. If... When they left, he'd leave that grave without a corpse and never think on it again.

Be an interesting find for the next buggers living here, at least.

"Then how would you make it?"

"Gran, if I could, and it wasn't through anything bad."
Both hands held hers now. Head tilted down so the full weight of his stare could burn into her eyes. "Would you come? You and Hansel? I mean... what else is there here for us? Everyone else is... gone. It's just us three. I know you'd be happier somewhere."

And now for the big one-

"We made a deal once, you and me. Turned out pretty good, didn't it? So lets make a new one. We go. We give Zeltiva a chance, just like you gave one t'me. And if you can't stand it and don't feel happy... we can come back. How's that sound?"

Nicely done, you scheming bastard.

Konrad ignored that pang of guilt. It was in the service of something good and greater, a way to get the only two people that meant anything to him out of this shitheap of a city. Bessy dragged it out, thumb stroking the back of his scar-lined hand, and looked up into the sky for answers. She sighed and closed her eyes... and she smiled.

"Aye. If yeh found the money, I'd give it a chance, lad."

Konrad grinned and his face shone and all the years after the moment, that hope blossoming in his chest, would bring him to his knees if he held too long onto it. Because it was real, and it was shorn of any darkness of pretense.

He was happy, and he had his dream.

"S'all I wanted to hear."

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Note: As of Fall 517AV, Konrad is known only as "Hansel" in Endrykas
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Nevermore

Postby Konrad Venger on September 20th, 2016, 5:53 am

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80th Day of Fall, 501AV || Tall Johnny's Casino


"Okay, lets go over it one more time, aye?"

Hansel nodded obediently and Konrad scoured his open, honest face for any confusion. Fortunately, it was fairly easy to spot.

"When I go home to Auntie Bessy, I'm to tell her that you're pulling an extra shift-"

"Where?"

"-on the Docks, to make some extra money."

"Good man. Now, here's the important bit: what do you do if she asks if you're sure that's where I am?"


Hansel nodded enthusiastically, looking like a Jamoura trying to crack a melon open with his jaw. Konrad's eyes slid around him (not an easy thing) and noted the steady traffic of revelers and punters streaming past the Akalaks glowering their night away outside the Casino.

Busy night, but the fights haven't started yet. They're packing the seats first.

"I shrug, like this-" He demonstrated, and it was a few ticks before every muscle on that titanic form finally settled again "-and say that's all you told me-"

"But she's not to worry because-"

"-because you looked tired and you'll probably be home before dawn."

"That's very good, Hansel. Sure you can remember all that?"

"Yeah, I think so, but... this isn't... bad, is it, Konrad?"


Konrad sighed softly and made a face best described as "what am I going to do with you?". He was amazed that Hansel had lasted this long in Sunberth and not ended up dead. He was ever-trusting and about as deep as a puddle in Summer. Even a simple untruth was painful and alien to him, some strange aberration of reality that had to be pounded into his thick skull.

For all that, he pitied the boy. But he was family, and he was no bad man... and him still lumbering about was a living testament to how what Auntie Bess did could work.

Doesn't mean I need to feel too bad about this, though.

"Hansel, you trust me, right?"

"Yes, Konrad."

"You know I'd never hurt you or Gran, right?"


The man shook his head instantly and Konrad marveled anew. He couldn't remember when anyone had taken that statement like that from his lips with anything less than a choking disbelief.

"No, you wouldn't."

"Okay then. Now, I'm going to do something that Gran might not agree with, but it's not bad. I promise you that. No-one's getting hurt. Nothing is getting stolen. I'm just going to make some extra money and then-"


He reached out and squeezed a shoulder that gods, he couldn't even get his hand all the way around. He leveled his gaze but it was not vengeance or threat burning in them now, but... reassurance. Gods, and when was the last time he'd filled his face with that and meant it, either?

"-things will be much better for all three of us. You'll see. You both will."

"Okay, Konrad. I believe you."

"Good man. Now, you remember everything?"

"I d... well, maybe just one more time?"

"... of course, Hansel."


One more time turned into three, in point of fact, but when Konrad stared at Hansel's receding bulk a quarter-bell later, he was convinced the boy would play his part. Lying came naturally to Konrad, but this night he felt a twinge of regret that it was necessary. Not that it would stop him, though. He didn't need Bessy scouring the streets, rank with worry, a tottering little target for every rat in Sunberth to chew on without him or Hansel there to protect her. He needed her home and safe and with that big, blessed, empty-headed lunk there.

Needed them safe, so he could take the risks.

Because it's going to be worth it.

Oh, it surely will be...


That voice again... it never really left him alone. He'd scraped off as much of his old life as he could but that mocking, chuckling thing was still lingering. Every black impulse he'd given into and lived by, that voice spoke for them all. It had kept him alive and in mizas for years, but now Konrad hated it. Tried to still it as he walked towards the Casino, but with every step he took, he could feel it grow.

Because it knew what was inside, just like he did.

The Akalaks looked him over but didn't stop him. That wasn't what they were for. Trouble wasn't trouble for them unless it happened inside; their very presence was warning of what you should expect if you started it in Tall Johnny's domain. So he opened the door and went wit the flow and-

-and rank and roar of the Casino nearly deafened him.

A thousand voices all laughing and screaming and shouting and arguing and boasting and threatening and celebrating and begging, all mingling together into a torrent of tongues from ever corner of the world. A sea of flesh dressed in everything from rags to the finest threads, gambling and drinking and dancing in every corner. Konrad made his way through the crowd and noted it did not part for him anymore. He walked like everyone else. He didn't swagger nor stalk; he made his way, peaceable and without profile.

But he wasn't looking at the tables tonight.

"Looks like they's about ready, boss!"

Tall Johnny looked down from his dais above the fighting pit and blinked at the toady speaking to him. The flow of mizas he was counting stopped briefly and he ran an experienced eye over the seating around it. Almost full. Barely a dozen spaces left. He nodded and a moustache so polished and stiff you could ski off it bobbed briefly.

"Looks like. Fights are ready to go?"

"Aye, mostly but-"

"Make sure all bets are taken before... wait, what do you mean 'mostly'?"


Toady flinched a little, Bearer of Bad News now stamped to his broad forehead. It never sat well to tell Johnny of any mishaps; you never knew if he'd decide you were part of the problem, too. He scratched and fidgeted and shifted from one foot to the other before he thumbed down to the sand.

"Well, er, y'know that scrapper from the Tent City? Magnus?" No reply. Just a cold stare. Best to continue. "Well, um, he didn't show tonight. Had the lads out looking but-"

"Who've we got to replace him?"


Another twitch, and a pause that told Johnny all he needed to know.

"Oh, for fuck's sake, man! You didn't have anyone else lined up? How fucking simple is it to make sure the billing is solid for the night?"

"Boss, we only just found out-"

"I'll take that fight."


Both men turned and beheld one tall, lean and wearing a broad-brimmed hat. Toady gulped, some animal instinct telling him trouble lurked under that hat. Johnny just frowned and peered closer, some memory stirring. Finally the man looked up and the scars were there, plain as day under the torchlight... and Johnny's eyebrows shot up to the top of his brow.

"Konrad Fucking Venger. Well-well-well. You do surprise."

"Heard yer a fighter short. I'll take his place."

"Oh? And what makes you think I'll go for that?"


Konrad's lips slid into a smirk that pulled up into one cheek and made the other look like even more of a ruin. He took off the hat and rows of dirty brown hair cascaded down his shoulders.

"Same as always, Johnny. I'll put on a show."

"Don't recall that being your strong suit, Venger. Blades in the dark and swords over the cobbles was more your thing."
Johnny leaned forward with a smile, hands resting at the edge of his booth. Konrad fought back his irritation. He knew it'd be this way: gloating, toying, maybe some unnecessary questions. As long as the result was the same, so be it. "So what makes you think you'll be fit for the pit, eh?"

"Cuz I mean what I say, Johnny. I'll give yeh a show. Know why? Because people know my name, an' I'd wager they'd like some bastard knocking seven shades outta me for 'em. Oh, and-"


He tossed up a purse with a jerk of his wrist and Johnny caught it without looking. Hands that had spent a lifetime judging without seeing tossed it back and forth and he knew there was quite a bit in there.

"-cuz yer gonna make me money, an' I'll do the same. Folks always bet more when it's a name they know, aye?"

Johnny pursed his lips and considered the proposal. Konrad stuck his hands into his duster and tried to still the tremble in them. The noise, the sheer animal fury of the place, the bloody anticipation of what was to come... it was like a drunk walking into a brewery after seasons without a drop. He ached to be on the sand now. Any other night and he might have not even bothered with the purse, just asked to be thrown down there just for the buzz, the rush, the thrill-

No. That's not why you're here.

Isn't it?


"I'll give yeh four-to-one, Venger," Johnny said with a smile that was not pleasant. "And that's not a favor. I know who you'll be fighting."

"I'll take me chances, you take yer cut, and what happens happens, aye?"

"Somethin' like that. Go down into the back and get ready. Gonna wait half-a-bell, let word get around."
That smile grew broader, eyes glazed with the prospect of his bookies suddenly rushed with punters willing to place a cheeky wager on Konrad Venger getting his arse kicked up between his ears. "I'll let you know when we're ready."

"Sounds good t'me..."

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Note: As of Fall 517AV, Konrad is known only as "Hansel" in Endrykas
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Konrad Venger
Long is The Way and Hard
 
Posts: 923
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Nevermore

Postby Konrad Venger on September 20th, 2016, 8:48 am

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Beneath the Casino, in the cellars and catacombs that were the slave quarters, they sounded like a beast yearning for prey. Just a voiceless roar bereft of all intelligence, all personality. An endless, roiling hum of noise, like invisible claws scraping at his ears.

Konrad knew it well. Just not in this place.

He was not stranger to fighting pits. Not this one, perhaps, but Johnny's was far from the only place a man could see two others batter each other half to death for entertainment. Back gardens. Abandoned piers. Basement. Sometimes just vacant plots of land that the crowd had gravitated to in that unerring, hive-like manner crowds always did... and brought violence with them.

When he'd needed coin and there was no buyers for his talents, Konrad had stepped into those rude arenas. Often won. Sometimes lost. A time or two, lost on purpose and made his coin back.

He never liked doing that. Bad for his image. But tonight felt strangest of all.

One night. One fight. Four-to-one? That's nearly two hundred mizas. Passage to Zeltiva and then some.

The last time.

Really?


The voice grated worse than the muted roar, and the one fed the other in his mind. He sat on a vacant cot, stripped down to just his breeches. His scarred back bent, his hands wrapped with hessian strips and nothing else. They'd not dull the pain, he knew that much. Just make it so his knuckles wouldn't crack quite as quickly. Wouldn't do to have your fighters with useless hands barely one round into the fight, after all.

He lifted his head. The roar... had a meter now. A rhythm. A thousand feet stomping, hands pounding together. Roaring as one. Words he couldn't make out, chanted over and over. The crowd was ready. Primed. That meant-

"Hey?" He looked over and saw one of Johnny's stooges nod at him from the tunnel. "Yer up."

Konrad made no offerings. Cast no prayers. The gods hadn't favored him in the past, why would they now? Instead he got up and rolled his shoulders, snapped his head from side to side and felt his collarbone crackle with the gesture. Flexed his arms and shook them out. Cracked his knuckles against one palm... then the other... and then he was ready.

Get it over with, lad.

He walked from the cot and the dismal quarters, out of the tunnel... and into the light.

It blinded him for a moment, just as the baying crowd deafened him. A chandelier looted from some great and fallen mansion cast harsh light down into the pit, sparing not a single patch of his scars. All could see them now, with his hair bundled up in a tight ponytail behind him. And he could see all of them... and the man he would be fighting.

Well. This comes as no sodding surprise.

"Ladieeeees and gents! As rumored, as whispered, as promised, I present to you... Konrad Vengeeeeeeer!"

Johnny was laying it on thick that night, and the crowd loved it. Some cheered, some dared to boo, but all of it was a noise that buffeted him like a storm. But the thing at the other end of the pit, he did not make a noise. He just glowered, and paced, aching to be unleashed.

Konrad felt that yank inside his soul. A kinship born in death. A handful of times he'd killed men who had the same black hunger in their eyes as him. They were the same, in that respect, and those fights were the hardest. There was even something that could have been respect, if it was paid in a good death.

As if there is such a thing.

"And facing him! Our current champion! Fresh from last night's victories... give voice and favor to... Urgol!"

Fists like bound hammers shot into the sky, wielded by arms nearly as beefy as Hansel's, and hardened by far crueler labors. A thick red beard like fresh blood sprouted from a face like the side of a cliff, all thick, hard slabs of muscle and a nose broken more times than could be counted. His head was shaved and tattoos covered it; things that snarled and snapped from that peak, nearly seven feet from the ground.

He was human, as far as could be told. To Konrad's eyes, he looked like an Akalak's younger, angrier brother.

"All bets have been laid all respect has been paid and now the time is upon us!" Johnny rattled it all off in one breathless line, showmanship cracking like a whip over his frenzied audience. Konrad glanced up and saw his drop his arm like a hammer. "BEGIN!"

Malice made flesh advanced on him across the sand. Konrad spared a single thought, cast out into the world behind eyelids that closed for a fraction of a tick.

He remembered why he was there. He saw their faces. As they were, as he saw them slowly rotting in a place that killed goods things... as they could be in a clean city that they deserved. He could make that happen.

Just one good thing. Just one.

Konrad's hands bunched into fists and he raised his guard.

If this is what it takes... so be it.

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Nevermore

Postby Konrad Venger on September 20th, 2016, 9:43 am

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There was a good reason why he didn't take much to the pits. He remembered that reason as he spat out a tooth and an unhealthy dollop of blood.

This ain't really your thing, is it?

Konrad leaned back against the metal fence ringing the pit as much as he dared too. He didn't want to get too comfy; there was no guarantee he wouldn't just slump over right there and be done with it. Every breath stripped skin from his throat. Every gasp ground as ribs he was sure were broken, or at least bruised. His face was two sizes too large and one eyes was already closing shut and blackening.

He'd lasted the first round, though. That was the point.

Gods... brawls a plenty fucking easier.

Urgol, now, there was a man who knew the business of a pit fighter. He was strolling back and forth on his side of the pit, flailing arms drawing in every drop of rabid adoration he could. He was breathing hard but not painfully. Konrad had got a few good punches in but none that had wiped the smirk from his beard. He looked over at the smaller, lighter man and spread his arms nice and wide.

Aye, enjoy it, yeh cunt, Konrad thought as he took a swallow of water from the cup shoved through the fence. He swilled it, swallowed some, spat the rest. Ain't gonna last much longer.

Yes, because you're doing marvelous so far, aren't you?

The bell tolled and shook the walls. Konrad's aching fists banged together and the snarl he spat was not for Umfuck or whatever his name was. It was all directed inward, his anger and his frustration and his hate. He'd buried it all for a season, lived a cleaner life, until the time came for him to get dirty again because that, that was what would win the day.

Win the future. So do it right and break this cunt.

Konrad hadn't been idle throughout the first round. He'd had to play the punching bag but it had been worth it. Let the big bastard get his confidence. Let him knock him around and unleash straights, jabs, hooks, crosses, the whole gamut of his abilities to impress the crowd. Konrad had been taking beatings all his life; this one was no different.

He'd been watching. Studying. Waiting.

They came together again, guards up, and Urgol swung out with a big right-

-Konrad swaying away as the blow hit air, but knew there'd be-

-a left jab following it right away, forcing him back, off-balance-

-making an opening for another right, lower-

Konrad grunted as a fist like an anvil pounded into his kidneys. Wonderful. Blood for piss tomorrow, then. He let the force of the blow send him staggering to the side, getting distance from the man, until he slammed into the fence and Urgol was on him-

-bam-bam, left and right to the body, smashing into his stomach, trying to get him to drop his guard-

-for the swinging elbow coming in from the right-

Right. He favors his right.

-that crashed into his forearms and elbows in front of his head. Without them, Konrad knew he'd be picking up teeth for the rest of the night, along with his jaw. Instead it knocked him silly again, impact nearly bending him over as he shied away from the bigger man, retreating, running-

Gods, how he wanted to cease the charade. How his pride raged at him for cowering away from this nothing, this pit-meat. But this was the act, this was the show that he'd promised, and Konrad knew from experience how Johnny would withhold payment if his fights were not the spectacular showpieces he promised.

So he suffered. He endured. He waited. But no longer.

Urgol may have seen it, in those ticks as he closed again on this little man who was proving poor sport. Maybe even had a heartbeat of unease as he saw dark, glittering eyes set into scars and hatred. He hadn't properly see them before. Now he did, but his blood was up and his gods were watching and he lunged-

-swinging a big right hook at Konrad's head that-

-sailed into nothing as Venger slid to his right, torso twisting as he-

-snapped his leg out into Urgol's knee from the side-

The big man grunted in shock as that limb suddenly went numb. Not enough to send him down, but enough to wobble, ruin his guard-

-as Konrad followed up with a low punch to his left side, hammering his fist into under his ribcage and jostling something there, making it scream-

Urgol's voice joined it, pivoting to his left and swinging a straight right at Konrad's head-

-only for Konrad to crouch and take most of the blow on his upraised forearms, before-

-exploding back up from his crouch, knee first-

-two hundred pounds of him launching upward, knee-first-

-straight into Urgol's chest.

The crowd sounded like a dying animal as their champion staggered back, face contorted in pain. A great mass murmur of doubt and shock rippled through the air and had Konrad cared, he might have seen faced struck dumb and others light up in joy, that their long shot was finally paying off!

He paid them no mind. There was no casino, no city, no world beyond the sand. There was him and there was Urgol and one man had to be put down.

And no he knows you're not just meat.

There was a fresh wariness on the bigger man's face as he righted himself, set back into a boxer's crouch, arms raised. Konrad knew that it would happen. His confidence shaken, Urgol would be even more dangerous now. No stupid risks, no showboating. It was about to be a real bout.

Konrad spat to the side again, grinning with bloody teeth... and winked. Urgol snarled and closed in one him.

Here we go...

Punches came in flurries. Not angry, but heavy and fast enough to trap him behind his guard. All he could see beyond his arms and elbows was flashes of flying flesh and bloody hessian, seeking a weak spot, an advantage-

-drawing his eyes-

-so the knee that Urgol flung into his belly came as a shock, doubling him over-

-a shadow fell, an anvil about to join it-

-Konrad threw his hands back up as the blow that would have broken his jaw nearly broke his arm instead and lunged-

-forcing the man back in a tackle, wrapping his arms around his waist but only for an instant-

-long enough for Urgol's elbow to come hurtling down onto his back, forcing him down to his knees-

-Konrad dropping his hands to the back of Urgol's knees and throwing himself back-

-taking the big man's legs out from under him, back slamming into the sand-

Don't waste this.

The crowd cheered as their underdog threw himself across the sand and straddled the stunned champion. Urgol barely got his guard up before-

-right hook to his ear, pulping it, exploding blood over his face and the sand-

-straight left, straight down, grinding cloth and skin against teeth as it went-

Konrad losing himself in that moment, leaden arms forgotten and ignored as he seized the moment with every inch he had left. Every punch and blow landed with a gasp, spitting blood and foam, chipping away at Urgol's beefy arms even as they tried to punch back-

-left to the chin, nearly dislocating it-

-sloppy right to his temple, stars exploding and dancing but he could still see enough to-

-sweep away Urgol's arms with his left hand, making way for-

-his right, raised up and cocked, elbow raining down straight at-

-nothing but sand as Urgol frantically jerked to the side, wriggling under him and the blow missed him entirely-

-own elbow swinging out in a short arc from the side-

-nailed Konrad across the head and sending him sprawling off.

The world was smoke and screams. He could feel things, but only by proxy. His body was jelly and he couldn't make it work. He was just aware that he was rolling, flung off his opponent and on his belly, wheezing into the sand, feeling it suck into his lungs and making him cough-

Up! Up, damn you!

He was so tired. So... spent. His arms begged him, his lungs pleaded, his flesh promised pain for a score of days to come but Konrad... he found his eyes. He saw the sand. Saw the hulking, panting bastard a few yards away start to wobble upright, faster than him-

Can't lose this. Can't fuck it up.

First one arm, and that took a year. Then another, and that took two. His feet followed and by the time he was up on one knee and straightened up he saw Urgol come screaming towards him, blood mingling with his beard and pouring from mashed lips and broken teeth-

-threw up both his arms with a muscles he had left in his back and-

-caught the brawny leg that Urgol swung up to knock his chin up through his brain-

-impact nearly knocking him over again, but he held grimly on, Urgol a broken tick away from punching down, he knew it-

Fuck this honored combat shite.

Konrad yanked the big man towards him by his caught leg, his arms suddenly flailing as he only had one shaky leg to balance on-

-shoving the big man's foot onto his shoulder to steady it and then-

-slammed his body around so hard he felt his lower back crack with the effort, banking on his body weight lending that crucial speed and power to his right fist-

-crashing into Urgol's raised and helpless knee from the side and-

Something broke. Someone screamed. Konrad grinned blood and evil intent and the second round was over.

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Nevermore

Postby Konrad Venger on September 21st, 2016, 3:37 am

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"Dirty bastard."

"It's Venger,"
Johnny said as he sipped his wine and shrugged, not even looking at his toady as he answered. "What were you expecting?"

He was running low, and he knew it. Whatever his arms weighed, they'd tripled in the last ten chimes. Even raising them up into a guard was a task worthy of a saga. Gods alone knew what throwing a punch would feel like. He was blind in one eye, now. The flesh around it had swollen and a good solid hit would burst blood all over his face and rob him of the other other. His ribs were squeezing around his lungs like bone fingers and everything else, every breath, every moment.

So tired. Just so... I could lie down. Close my eyes for a moment.

Shut the fuck up and finish this shit.


Konrad stretched out his arms and let the pain and aches shock him back into reality. Pain was a reliable bastard for that, he well knew. The sight of Urgol gave him the confidence he needed. Sweat dripping from his face, favoring one leg and barely putting any pressure on the one that Konrad knew was busted from the last round. Kneecap broken, by the feel of it.

Something had cracked under his fist and now Urgol's smug swagger had been just as broken. Now the big man looked at him with something very close to fear... and Konrad grinned back at him.

Aye. You know it, don't you? You can feel it. Closing in. Running away from you. Abandoning you. And now there's just me.

The bell boomed and Konrad growled like an animal, pounding his fists together, trying to get the blood pumping around his carcass harder, faster. One more round. One more burst, that's all he wanted.

Give me this, his mine whispered into the dark beyond the crashing crowd around him. Just this.

Urgol staggered towards him, stomping on his battered leg and apparently letting the pain drive him to a frothing fury that would blot it out. By the time the two men met he was almost foaming, launching a big right that-

-Konrad slid away from and prepared to-

"FUCKER!"

Urgol was big and mean but not stupid. He wasn't going to be fooled again, and lunged at Konrad like he had before, only with another fifty pounds more to help him out-

-knocking the smaller man down to the ground and straddling-

Don't fucking let him-

Konrad squirmed and struggled and wriggled like a wild animal, all frantic motion and flailing flesh. That fear, oh, yes... he felt it. Konrad felt fear. Not for himself, for pain and even death, he'd accepted these things long ago. They were a natural part of life. But there was two figures, invisible and distant, who needed him to do more than just survive.

They needed him to win, because of what winning would guarantee them.

So Konrad jerked his torso forward and wrapped his arms around Urgol's head, not giving him a chance to straddle him, straighten up, start raining down punches. He hugged his head close to his chest and then twisted, his shoulder, his torso, his legs-

Crowd roaring as the two of them went rolling across the sand like fighting kids, until Urgol let go his grip and-

-Konrad spat blood as a gut punch winded him-

-paid it back by gripping Urgol's head in both hands and slamming it down onto the sand-

Hardly enough to stop him. But it shook him, rattled his brain around, and that was enough to let Konrad roll away from him, get up to his feet-

First, thanks to the face he wasn't down a knee. Urgol was still getting upright when Konrad came in fast, leg swinging up to-

He remembered. That was how his knee got bust. Because this cunt with a face like chewed steak blocked him, punched his leg damn-near in half and now he could pay it back, throwing his arms up to-

Too slow.

Konrad's kick didn't connect. Was never going to. Halfway up his foot slammed back down and he slid to the side, Urgol's own arms jerking up to catch a boot that wasn't there, turning to see-

-Konrad's right hook slam into the side of his head-

-left joining it the tick his right arm pulled back, breaking his nose-

Konrad was panting. Blood was frothing from his lips. His lungs were burning, starting to fail. He needed to end this, and Urgol was reaching for his legs, trying to get a hand around-

-he jerked up his foot and stomped down, right on the elbow-

The crowd bellowed in sadistic ecstasy as their beloved champion lost another limb. Konrad didn't even need to think about the move: the thoughts, the mindset came back so easily. No hesitation, no remorse. Just put the fucker down fast and hard and if he died, so be it. Urgol was screaming now, clutching his left arm as it was bent at a completely wrong angle, but he was still a threat-

-felt Konrad brace both hands behind his head and his world became the flashing eclipse of a knee heading towards his face-

-snapping his head back and Konrad nearly went down with him, dead on his feet, bloody and bruised and wheezing every painful breath. Urgol went onto his back, spitting and choking. One hand weakly tried to turn himself over and-

He barely felt the last blow. The simple, brutal stomp that Konrad broke his jaw with, but he heard the crowd. Those traitors. Those fickle fucks who worshiped his and tossed his flowers and coppers and bought him beer, now cheering his destruction.

For his part, Konrad merely turned and squinted hard to make out Johnny through what little red vision he had left. The man nodded, wry smile lurking until his improbable mustache, and rose.

"Our winner... Konrad Veng-eeeeeeerrrr!"

The fighter threw his hands up, his head back, and the crowd clapped and cheered or booed and cursed but none of it was for them. He praised in the temple of his own mind, his muscle that had carried him three rounds against Urgol; his cunning and all the years that had led to this ring; his own fists that bore not a single unbroken knuckle.

He'd done it. He'd won.

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Nevermore

Postby Konrad Venger on September 21st, 2016, 8:50 am

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Gods, but you never got the hang of lying, did you, lad?

Although, if she was honest, it wasn't the lie itself that Bessy was worried about. The lie was just a mask; what really got her insides squirming was what the lie was hiding. That was always worth that the fiction you were being spouted. Especially when it was coming from so artless a mouth as Hansel's.

"I, um... well, he just said... he told me-"

"Hansel,"
Bessy said as she rested a hand over her eyes and prayed to whatever passing god might do to grant her patience. "Did yer cousin tell you to tell me this?"

"Yes, Auntie Bess."

"Because that's really what he's doing, or because he's doing something else?"


Even that basic, rudimentary framework of deception made Hansel's eyes glaze over and his mouth work like a fish at the bottom of the boat. His turgid eyes danced around the room, to the table, the fire, the walls, the window, anywhere but her, as his small mind tried to formulate an answer that would not get him scolded.

"No, I mean, well... he said that he was working late and-"

"-and I shouldn't worry, yes, you said that before. In those exact words."
Bessy's brow lowered over her eyes, and Hansel gulped. Oh, dear. There was The Look. "Twice."

"Er... Auntie Bess-"

"Yes, Hansel?"


Oh gods, there was The Tone to go with it.

"He's... He said, I mean all I know is... is what he said, and he said that he's work-"

"Hansel! You tell me right now where your cousin is!"


That did the trick well enough. Konrad hadn't properly figured all of Bessy's pacifistic weapons into his plan, especially not The Tone. Never a blow needed to be struck and yet souls like Hansel and the neighborhood brats reacted as if the compelling voice of the gods themselves were shrieking at them. Hansel himself straightened up like a rod was shoved down the back of his shirt and-

"Idon'tknowAuntieBesshejusttoldmehewasworkingIdon'tknowI'msorry-"

"All right, all right, enough, enough..."


Hansel stared like a man at the gallows as Auntie Bess glowered out the window. She was thinking, he could tell that. Probably a punishment for lying, which was bad. But Hansel hadn't... he must have been confused. Lying was never right, and Konrad had made him lie. No, no, that wasn't good enough. Auntie Bess told him that everyone chose to do bad things. So he'd chosen to be bad, and that made Hansel feel... not good.

"Um... Auntie Bess?"

"Hmm?"

"I... I didn't meant anything bad. Konrad said-"

"Oh, enough about what he said, Hansel,"
Bessy snapped with a wave of her hand, a third the boy's size and yet he bristled like a chastened puppy. "I care about what he didn't say, you..."

She caught herself as she saw Hansel's anguished expression. Konrad was his cousin and he loved him and he'd made him lie. Hansel was the one soul she knew that the whole "he made me do it" defense applied to. He didn't have it in him to do harm, not really. But being misled... aye, that could happen.

But why? Why would Konrad do this?

She gulped and answered her own question. That chat they'd had a couple of nights ago. His talk of getting money together, somehow, for this silly idea about living in Zeltiva. Zeltiva, of all things! Whom did she know there? Not a sausage, that was who, and yet he was so determined, and so-

He'd do something to get the money. Maybe even...

"Hansel, just... set the table, okay? I'll be with you in a tick."

"Are you mad at me, Auntie Bess?"

"No, lad,"
she sighed, with a pat on his shoulder and truth in her words. "Not at you. Konrad shouldn't have got you to lie for him. But I'll settle that with him later. Set the table, now."

He waddled off and Bessy snagged one of the candles on the mantelpiece, making her way to the backdoor. She unlocked it and braced herself for the night's chill, coming fast and deep and bitter every night now that Winter was advancing on them. She gathered her shawl tight under her chin and walked stiffly to the end of the garden. Past the green beans and the yellow dead grass she bent down, casting inconstant light down...

The mound was undisturbed. She could see no sign of any digging, or anything dug back up, more accurately.

She couldn't know unless she dug it back up, though, and Bessy knew her frail body couldn't handle that exertion. Hansel could do it easily enough, but... but did she want to know? What would she did if an empty box confronted her, laughing at her hopes for her grandson? As she stood there and froze, wind whipping around her white hair, her imagination taunted her.

Konrad, back in the gutters and the shadows, painting the black with red and grinning with feral glee. Konrad, who had eaten with Hansel and her, gave his word to her, laughing at her and her naivete, swearing loyalty only to damnation and-

"No."

It was a little voice in the wind, but it was there, and it was here, and she meant it.

"No, he... he wouldn't. He's been... He's been trying so hard." She shook her head and turned from the corpseless grave. "I don't believe it, but... gods, when he gets home, I'll-"

Something shifting out in the alley. A foot, by the sound of it. She turned and the wind muffled another noise. One that had a voice. But as she stared at the wall, and waited... no... silly old woman. Hearing things? Well, that's how it starts...

Auntie Bessy was muttering to herself when she walked back in. Hansel knew that was never a good sign. Auntie Bessy said that when you muttered and mumbled, you had too many bad thoughts to be kept in your head, so they spilled out your mouth. He sat in his special chair and wrung his hands under the table and he was sorry, oh gods he was sorry, because he was part of those worries.

"Auntie Bessy, I'm sorry-"

"We'll say not more about it, Hansel,"
she said with a pat of his hand and that purse of her lips that lightened his heart, because it meant the matter was already forgotten. "Now, when your cousin gets home, I'll be having words with him."

"Is Konrad in trouble, Auntie Bess?"


Bessy paused before she answered, hands gripping the towel-wrapped skillet with the lamb stew bubbling inside. Gods, what would she give to be able to say for certainty, for good or for ill. But Hansel didn't need more worry in his head... and truthfully, neither will she.

"I don't know, lad, but I don't believe he is." She placed the steaming skillet at the end and Hansel was already drooling in anticipation. "Yer cousin, he's... he's been having a bad time of things, for a while now. He has bad thoughts in his head, hmm? He's trying to get rid of them, and sometimes we do silly things when we try to do that. But I believe he's still a good lad."

"Aye... I think you're right, Auntie Bessy."

"Good lad. Now, let's get you-"


The hammering from the door was not from a fellow seamstress, that was for sure. Bessy may have been old and bent, but she Sunberthian to her very soles, and knew by the time the echo had faded that it was someone seeking her talents with healing. Damn, tonight of all nights!

"Wait there, Hansel, won't be long." She walked over to the front door and fixed a hard mask over her face, muttering under her breath. "By the gods, if you're not bleeding out like a stuck pig right this bloody tick, you better not be darkening my-"

She unlocked and opened the door and found a couple there. A man and a woman. The woman was clutching her stomach, blood seeping between her hands and breathing like a her lungs were a sieve. The man was shining with sweat, eyes wide and desperate, almost holding her up by himself.

"Gods above what-"

"Please! Please, they told us you could help! She's ben stabbed, we need-"

"Yes, yes, come in, quickly now."


She stepped aside and let them in, closing the door-

But it didn't. A foot was shoved inside and a body younger and ruder than hers pushed it open and sent her sprawling away-

"Auntie Bess!"

A third man. Cruel, iron-wrapped bludgeon in his hand. Stepping into the door and standing next to the couple. The woman was standing on her own now, taking her hand away from a bloody stomach that was... not pierced. Not maimed. Just covered in pig's blood... and now she held a knife.

"What... What are you-"

A door creaked behind her, and Bessy remembered in those last, awful seconds that she'd forgot to lock the back door. It swung open and more bright, eager faces clutching tools of death walked in.

"Hansel, run!"

"Shaddap, ya old cunt-"


The blade and her became one in a single, sickening tick. Bessy gasped and pain, gods, pain that even her birthing days she'd never known. She gasped and gaped and looked with sheer, utter confusion at those hard faces. Those empty eyes. She tried to shake her head, tried to ask with bloody lips why they would do this, what was to be gained?

Then she heard Hansel roar like a charging bull and the table went flying over as he charged. Charged straight straight towards men with knives and swords and clubs and she knew he would not win. Not her handsome, gentle nephew.

The blade twisted and she sunk down as the living room was torn apart. She slumped low and wanted, wanted so bad to see her Konrad. Wanted to know. Wanted to be sure he was-

But she never would.

Continued here

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IV. Nevermore

Postby Rufio on February 3rd, 2017, 6:43 pm

  
g r a d e


xp

Intimidation +1
Rhetoric +1
Socialization +1
Persuasion +2
Observation +3
Leadership +1
Gambling +1
Tactics +2
Endurance +3
Unarmed Combat +3
Wrestling +1



lores

Hansel: Mild & wants to do right by his family
Bessy: Shrewd, resourceful, faithful & determined
Suberth: An inseparable part of Sunberthians
Gambling: Folks bet more on a name they know
Tactics: Wait & watch for an opponent’s habits
Unarmed Combat: Targeting knees to weaken foe’s stance
Unarmed Combat: Taking damaging hits with defending arms
Wrestling: Head-lock
Unarmed Combat: Performing a suplex move
Unarmed Combat: Putting weight in to gain speed & power in a punch
Endurance: Fighting for someone else


  
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Rufio
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Joined roleplay: June 21st, 2015, 10:40 pm
Location: Endrykas
Race: Human, Mixed
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Medals: 2
Mizahar Grader (1) Overlored (1)


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