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Arkin huffed, the air exploding from his mouth sending bits of his hair flying and bells tinkling as they went for the ride. It had been a few days since his last bender, but his head still felt like he’d just woken up after drinking the tavern dry. Whether it was staring into the sun all day, or having to make conversation with such impressively dull people as the groundsmen and guards of Lord Finney, he had no idea. That and the fact that he hadn’t been able to sneak even a touch of a drink to help ease him through the experience. He smiled at the guard next to him as he looked over at the tinkling of bells. Arkin couldn’t quite be bothered to talk to him, so instead, he decided he was done here and sent him a lazy nod, ready to leave. The guard vaguely nodded back, his eyes still glazed with boredom. No-one was likely to attack the homestead of Lord Finney. He didn’t really have anything worth stealing. A few nice jewels and a lovely daughter, but that wasn’t enough to pose an issue. There were a few places near enough to the Citadel for them to need to know about. The Band had made a business of checking them once to make sure no-one was going to try and steal from them and start a territory war, and once again to make sure that they weren’t hiding any darkfriends that the Band really ought to know about. Arkin had disguised himself and vanished off to scope them out nearly a week ago, starting far out to the east and working his way back in. He’d sent others in other directions. There weren’t too many of them who were good enough to hide in plain sight long enough to get decent information out of the houses, but there were enough. That didn’t mean checking the houses was fun. Oh no, it was some of the most boring undercover work there was. Most of the time, nothing was out of sorts and you spent a day carting around some lordlings dirty washing. Some of them had taken a frustratingly long time, long enough that Arkin had nearly been making up threats just to keep his days from blurring into one another, but he was done now. This was his final house, and it was squeaky clean. Well, he thought, scanning the guard next to him. Maybe that was the wrong euphemism. The guard barely noticed Arkin leaving. The Citadel was half a day away walking at a decent speed, and Arkin had ditched his horse two days ago at the last house. The scouts kept a few rented horses at the citadel that they wouldn’t mind losing or trading away away. As much as he enjoyed the speed of traveling mounted, Arkin had never particularly enjoyed the actual act of riding, so walking home was no hardship for him. Double checking that he had all his supplies, Arkin faded into obscurity and moved through the homestead to the road that split this man’s land and the forest surrounding the Band’s. It was a big forest; impossible to get through unless you knew the way. And Arkin did. And another seven ways on top of that. As soon as he was a safe distance away, Arkin let out a happy verse of a drinking song and freed a flask from his coat, taking a healthy swallow and pausing, scrunching his face and enjoying the burn as it scorched his throat. Finally. He loved finishing jobs. Making his way down the road, Arkin didn’t bother to transition to his scout stealth and costuming until he decided to enter the forest. Maybe he could check up on the scouts on his way through. It was always a fun game seeing how long it took for them to notice him. Occasionally he stole something from the particularly unwary ones to add to his stash at camp-a tradition started by the scout leader and trainer, who told them it was worse to miss someone stealing your things than it was for someone to steal them. Arkin liked that logic. His mind clicked immediately into silence, his senses straining at the faint hint of boots and metal far to his left. He kept walking normally, his body automatically acting as though he hadn’t noticed anything even as his mind whirred into action, taking every scrap his senses were sending him and bolting them together into a coherent picture. He wasn’t alone on the road. There were armed men yp ahead. He was still too far away for them to be from the Band. Lord Finney was the only noble rich enough to have guards out here and he hadn’t sent any patrols out. He heard another impatient weight shift and the hint of a whisper, the vague impression of bodies up ahead. Bandits. There was no other explanation. Arkin didn’t exactly look like he had much to steal, but he was wearing the usual wear from Lord Finney’s, and he had very lovely boots. Bandits rarely needed much more of a reason. He stopped his body, still short of the ambush. Now that he knew what was up ahead, he had no intention of walking into it. He cursed. Should have taken the back route, he thought, reaching behind his back to loosen the knives resting there. He had been posing as a groundsman, not a guard, so he was in Finney’s colours and basically unarmed. Or so they thought. He had a plethora of throwing knives, his usual knives concealed behind his back, and a blowdart with a few choice poisons. It was going to have to be enough. He crossed everything he had that he had just encountered an advance party, or very disorganised bandits. He was still half a day away from the Citadel. If he ran into trouble, he wasn’t getting any help from home. He had come about level with the source of the shuffling noises. This was as good a place as any to have the fight that was sure to come. He wasn’t yet sure if it was inevitable or avoidable, so he started with words. He’d work up to knives if he had to. Cross that bridge when he came to it. “Any chance of you gents letting me pass? I assure you I have nothing worth taking,” Arkin called. Drawing one of his knives, he spun it around his hand. Just because he was being polite was no reason to be taken for vulnerable. He wanted them to know full well that he just wasn’t worth stealing from. Too few valuables, too much skill. “Honestly, if you’re going to ambush a man, at least don’t whisper about it on the roadside,” he added. There was a moment of conspicuous silence that confirmed his ideas of numbers-losing the noise from certain locations let him pinpoint the location of three men in the surrounding trees and hills. Three. He might be able to handle three if they didn’t all come at him at once. And they weren’t very good. He spun his knife again. “Not bloody likely,” a gruff voice called back. Arkin heard footsteps moving closer. “Now hand over your coat and boots and any money, or we take them off your corpse.” The two men from the left of the road came into view, and Arkin nodded. Right, there was going to be a fight. He slipped a throwing knife from his sleeve and whipped it to the right in one fluid movement, never breaking the spin of his other knife. There was a wet thud and a grunt as his knife slid between the ribs of the man on the right of the road. He wasn’t going to make it far out of those trees if he wanted to keep from bleeding out onto the road. “I can understand why you might want a new outfit,” Arkin told the two thickset men who had crunched onto the road a few feet away from him. He used their moment of surprise at their companion’s fall and the distraction of his words to work another throwing knife to his hand. He doubted it would work the second time, but it was worth a shot. He’d really like his numbers to be cut down to a one on one fight. That, he could probably win. These two looked like they had seen fights and come out on top, losing only often enough to earn themselves scars to match the sort of intimidating aesthetic they appeared to be going for. Arkin was more intimidated by the bloody great axe swinging off the larger one’s belt. The other man, smaller, but still solid, had a sword. Arkin really didn’t want to deal with either of them. “But I’m afraid I’m rather attached to mine.” He sprang forward, releasing another blade towards the swordsman. He hadn’t given them enough time to process his knife throwing skills, and they hadn’t backed away yet, so the man didn’t have enough time to deflect it. He did manage to dodge it a little-where it had been aimed for his throat, it hit his shoulder. Arkin hadn’t expected it to kill him, and any contact was better than none. Arkin heard it impact, but he didn’t have time to spare a glance for where it had landed while he rushed the axeman. He was hoping to get in and under his defence before he could pick up his weapon. It nearly worked. As Arkin ran in under his arm and aimed a slash at the big man’s stomach, he started to draw his axe. He spun just enough to catch the blow in the wood. Arkin spun out of his reach, leaving his knife embedded in the wood, and glancing quickly at the swordsman to see where his knife had landed. Shoulder. Good. Not his sword-arm, but still enough to slow him down. He still had a second to deal with the axeman. He completed his spin with his other knife slashing at his other side. This time it contacted, grazing across the man’s ribs. He hissed, but he’d had enough time to draw his weapon. Arkin danced out of reach his reach again, releasing another throwing knife at the swordsman, determined to keep his whirlwind momentum going. His speed was his biggest advantage. He needed to keep the pair from working together, from getting him into a position where either one of them could use their strength to defeat them. That meant constantly flitting in and out of their reach, hopefully staying too far inside it for them to touch him. The axe wouldn’t be much use in close quarters with his friend so close, and Arkin wanted to keep it that way. The swordsman cursed and batted the knife away with his sword, leaving him open for Arkin to slam a fist into his bad shoulder. That time the man yelled his curse. Arkin needed his other knife back. They were starting to get their feet back under them. The axeman aimed a heavy blow at Arkin’s right flank, and Arkin just spun out of the way, staying close to the swordsman, who leveled a blow at him. Arkin caught some of the momentum on his one dagger, enough for him to duck underneath it. For a few moments, he was ducking and weaving between blows, his body reacting on instinct before his brain had time to make any real decisions. There were a few very near misses resulting in a few shallow cuts, instant bruises from vicious punches and kicks that he sometimes had to field in order to avoid blades and an axe blow that sheared one of his armbands in two as it trailed behind his retreating form. He needed to end this, now. Slipping behind the swordsman, he slipped dangerously close and shadowed his every move for a moment, eyes fixed on the axeman, who was watching them, trying to find an opening into which he could shove his bloody monster of a weapon. Arkin earned an elbow to the stomach dodging a more vicious kick to the kneecap from the swordsman, but he let its momentum spin him away just in time to wrench his knife from the haft of the axe as it swung, using the new weapon that the axeman had forgotten he could use to slash at his throat. The man wrenched his head backwards to avoid the blow, but Arkin’s second knife slammed upwards into his gut, and he brought the first knife back down to slash a viciously deep cut into the man’s wrist as he grunted at the blood starting to stream from his stomach. He dropped his axe instantly, the hand falling limp for a moment. Arkin forgot him as incapacitated, and whipped around to dodge the blow he sensed coming from behind him. The swordsman hadn’t been idle, but Arkin had needed to end the fight. He nearly made it, but the blow destined for his neck still made contact. He’d moved back far enough for it not to be lethal, but the tip of the sword fell in the follow through and slashed through the front of his thigh. Arkin bellowed a curse, but threw himself forward as the swordsman recovered and buried a knife between his ribs, slamming his newly recovered second knife into his back as his momentum carried him by and shoved the man towards the ground. He stayed down. He wasn’t dead, but he was sure bleeding a lot. But so was Arkin. He let out a filthy stream of curses and spun around to face the two men on the ground. The axeman was coughing up blood. “If you flaming pieces of raken-bait live, and I sincerely hope you don’t, get your flaming, holey caracasses off Finney territory.” He stabbed a blood-soaked knife at the edge of the trees, where the first man he’d downed was hanging onto a branch. The man flinched. Arkin hissed at the movement, which pulled several cuts on his arm. He looked down at his arm. His sleeve was splotchy with red. He didn’t want to look at his thigh yet. “You. If you don’t want them to die, then get over here and do something, or run away like the chicken-hearted milksop you are and lick your bloody wounds in a whorehouse.” Stalking over to the two men on the ground, Arkin let his mouth reel off curses on automatic as he took back his throwing knives and retreated into the forest. They wouldn’t be following him. Cursing somewhat more emphatically, he grabbed at his leg and bit out a few choice as he leaned against a tree. He had no clue about anything medical, but he knew enough to take a shredded part of his fake Finney uniform and tie it tightly over the deep cut on his thigh to try and stop the bleeding. It wasn’t bleeding too badly, but it still didn’t look great, and he was losing blood from the myriad of other cuts on his arms. That had been a terribly difficult fight, and while he had won, he hadn’t come out of it well. But at least he had come out alive. Brightening somewhat at the return of his usual optimism, Arkin took a deep breath, calming his heart rate, and drained a flask. The walk home was long, and he didn’t bother hiding from the scouts as he passed through, though he had found his humour again by that point. The cuts hurt, sweat stinging them as he walked, his clothes stained with blood, but there wasn’t a great deal he could do about it, and it certainly wasn’t as bad as Tanchico. There was always that. He passed straight by the scouts, waving off attempts at help with a quip and a grin. The bleeding had all but stopped, and while it wasn’t comfortable, he didn’t think he was in danger of permanent injury. He certainly hoped not. He really needed to get some field training in medicine. Medics. That was definitely where he should be headed. Changing the automatic course his feet had set towards the tavern, Arkin reported his findings and his scuffle, and approached the medic’s tent, brushing away memories of Jehryn as he walked into the tent. “I’m feeling like someone in here probably has a good chance of sewing me back together?” he asked as walked in. His leg was definitely his main concern, but he knew there was a long cut on his arm that needed tending to, and a sword that had nicked his collarbone had dug into his chest a little on the way down. Nothing life-threatening. Hopefully nothing that would keep him from training. He felt exhausted, but only as exhausted as he would expect after having a fight and walking for half a day. It was only just coming on evening. He’d made good time, considering. He folded his hands behind his back and tried to bounce on the balls of his feet as he waited for someone to call for him, but winced as it shot pain through his thigh. Maybe standing still was the best call for a little while. (OoC: Sorry this took so long, and sorry that it's so long haha, I didn't know where I was going when I started it, and then that happened XD)
With a bounce in his step, Arkin trotted towards the Citadel after a day of scouting out the surrounding area and more recently, exercising horses with his mates. He had settled into the Band quite well, his heart and mind still quite unused to settling anywhere. He had friends now that he could actually get attached to without having to explain why he would be leaving the next day Sending a grin over his shoulder to Arinth, who was plodding along behind him, Arkin began to pull out the wraps he kept in his pocket for scouting shifts. He had refined his walking peddler's wagon appearance, stripping it down to the bare essentials for his sentimental collector's mind, but he still had a fair amount more colour and noise than was a good idea to be shifty with. As an experienced thief in his early life, Arkin was quite skilled at ensuring that his stealth was complete, that no-one would hear him when he approached from around the corner, but in the colourful foregates and big cities that he was used to, Arkin had not had to make use of camouflague. And so, he had begun to re-invent his old stealth systems. When he'd first begun to wear bells, Arkin had immediately developed wraps that he could don quickly to dim their bright tinkling, and now he used those wraps, dyed in the colours of the forest. One covered part of his hair as a bandanna, successfully holding his bells silently in place. As for the colour on his arms and legs, Arkin had wraps that wound up his trousers, and his best invention to date, a coat. He had dyed the inside of his coat as camouflague, and sewn the pockets into both sides, so all he need do for perfect camouflague, was to turn his bright coat inside out and quite literally wrap up. Arkin was broken from his ritual preparations by a large mound of fruit that caught his eye, piled carelessly beneath a tree. Looking around for an owner and seeing none, Arkin flitted over and gave a sniff. Yep, the fruit was off, and it smelt quite bad, but only if you breathed through your mouth. Turning and shrugging at his friends, Arkin pulled out a knife and gave a swift cut to a mango that was within arm's reach. A grin taking over his features, Arkin spun to the men with him and felt a glint of mischeivous glee enter his eye. "Ok, we can't just leave this stuff here. We have to do something with it."
Arinth was tired. He was hungry. He was sweaty. His wounds were not yet fully healed and with each step they felt like they were going to rip wide open again. He was miserable and it put him in a bad mood. To make things worse, they had promoted him to Sergeant after the incidents in Tanchico. The last thing he wanted was more work to do. The area they marched through was wooded. They had passed the last town the day before and according to the scouts it would be several more days before they reached the next town. They were following a stream. It was calm, and peaceful and boring. He walked in silence as memories flashed one after another. His most recent skirmish with the Seanchan where he had run his sword through a man and watched the life bleed out of his eyes was his first thought. Time had failed to fade earlier memories. The battle with the Aiel where he had seen friends and soldiers die by the scores against the Aiel and their spears came vividly back next. Hed come close to losing an eye that day. He felt the scar under his left eye. He had turned at the last moment. Songs and training, drinking and barfights all swarmed around him. He saw happy faces and angry faces from his foes and friends alike. Someone spoke at his side. Arinth blinked. For a moment he thought it was Daruun but that man had disappeared years before. In any case they were stopping to make camp. He glanced at the sun and realized it was getting late in the day. He took a drink of his water and forced down a gulp. He grimaced at the reminder that he was out of alcohol and there was no tavern nearby for even one mug of ale. He heard voices and looked around to see what was going on. The trees and the stream all looked the same to him. He had no idea where exactly they were, just that it was some place between Tanchico and the Citadel. He left the maps to likes of Arkin and the scouts. They knew how to do their job. He followed the voices until he found two soldiers arguing. “What is going on here?” He demanded with a scowl. The two men stopped talking and regarded him. Neither looked too pleased to see him. They had known him when he was a private which made it harder to accept his authority but that was their problem not his. “We found tinkers down by the stream.” The first said and spat. “Its too late in the evening to find another place to make camp.” The second responded. “I don't want to camp next to tinkers. They are thieves and liars.” The first cut in. Arinth raised his hand to silence them. “We aren't saints ourselves. The fact remains that we have to make camp, there is no point in fighting over that. If you don't want to sleep next to them, you can stay up all night.” That silenced the two men, who left to see that the march was called to a halt and camp made. Arinth looked around. He would have to find Arkin and see if the man knew anything about these Tinkers or just go and meet them himself.
Arkin briefly considered just leaving Arinth a message and heading straight to the tavern, but friendly courtesy prevailed, so he let himself into Arinth's tent instead. He wasn't there-maybe on the training grounds or doing whatever it was that Infants did with their spare time. Arkin himself had just got off duty training some newer Scouts. They were all a bit rubbish when they started off. He'd spent the last two hours lying in a tree and singing, yelling out the names of prospective Scouts as they attempted to sneak up on him. A few had managed to disguise their identities well enough that he just had to point at them, and call out, "Ooh, very good. Behind the beech tree." The two hours before that, he had been sitting in a different tree wearing his reversed coat and his bandana, occasionally crawling over to another tree or ghosting behind the Scouts who were looking for him. Only one of them had found him. He had high hopes for that kid. Arkin understood that he was very good at vanishing-he was almost a graduation challenge; Scouts were allowed out on real patrols once they had found Arkin really attempting to hide from them-but he had been hoping for a higher success rate.They weren't completely new and he'd been training them. They knew exactly what to look for to find him. But they'd get there. Maybe tomorrow. He really hoped he hadn't been that rubbish when he started. He remembered doing a similar exercise. He'd started ghosting the other scouts-in-training and picking their pockets instead of whatever the actual task had been. They hadn't appreciated it at the time, but his trainer had thought it was brilliant and moved him up to the next training bracket. Master Gabbon would have smacked him for ignoring orders and disarming his allies. But the Scout trainer had loved it. And now Arkin was helping to teach. When had that happened? When had any of this happened? Who had thought it was a good idea to put him in a position of responsibility? Well, whatever they'd been thinking, it had to have been worse for them to have Arinth a Sergeant. Arkin grinned to himself and had a drink from one of his flasks. That was yet another reason it was perfectly ok for him to be here rather than skipping the tent and heading to the tavern-he had plenty of drinks right here. And he was really keen for company more than he was for drinks right now. He'd prefer them both at the same time, but he could settle for one or the other for a while. From the trunk in his customary spot in Arinth's tent, Arkin could see the reports scattering Arinth's desk. Grinning to himself again, he took a longer swallow and swapped hands, getting to his feet and walking over to the desk. He picked up a paper and squinted at it for a moment. Miri and Arinth had done their best to help him learn his letters, and had succeeded, to a large extent, but Arkin was still fairly slow to read. He was working on it. After a bit of brain power, he registered that the report had something to do with infantry numbers in the third company and put it back down, the aim more to read the letters than get any information from them. Finally, there was the sound of footsteps outside. Arkin waited a moment for Arinth to actually near the tent-sometimes having scout ears was more annoying than it was useful.