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  1. Pahl watched as two mules and a driver with a strange look on his face pulled the cart away from the shack where he and two Illuminators produced the Band's newest weapon. There were three casks of the black powder- he really needed to come up with a good name for the substance- in the back of the wagon, each about the same size as the casks of local apple brandy. It would all eventually end up at Pahl's own laboratory where he would perform a few tests on some new ideas. The horseless engine idea seemed particularly promising. “Thu-thank you,” he stammered at the two Illuminators as he left to make his way back to his own equipment. It is generally helpful, when dealing with a new face, to let them know exactly what is expected of them. All that Rhobbet knew was that a strange little man with a leather cap and odd glasses had loaded three casks onto his cart and wandered off without leaving him any instructions. The two other people from the shed had disappeared back inside when the little man left, also leaving him without any instructions. Rhobbet knocked on the door of the shed, noting the strangely thick walls and the well-built but flimsy-looking roof. A muffled voice called out to leave, adding a few impressively strung-together profanities. Rhobbet found himself in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory of having to make a decision. Rhobbet was new to the Citadel, a cart driver who wanted nothing more than an easy job where somebody would tell him what to do. He did not want to think, he was not paid enough to think, and thinking just caused him trouble. Yet here he was... “All right, Bahb,” he muttered to himself, “we're here now, let's get this done.” A long look at the casks told him that they were, indeed, casks. He had seen casks like them come into the Citadel on his first day, which was barely a week gone. The man at the gate had sent all but one to the officers' mess up near the Red Keep. With a shrug, Rhobbet- Bahb to his friends- swung himself up onto the cart and nudged his mules in the direction of the Red Keep proper. “Let's see: clockwork mechanism deposits small amounts of the black powder- still need a good name for it- into the cylinder. Cylinder compresses, opens door, furnace shakes, sparks ignite powder, cylinder opens, process repeats.” Pahl was walking around his small prototype engine, checking valves, chains, gears. In the back of his mind, there was something bothering him, but it was merely a small hum beneath the roar of his normal thoughts. He pulled one of his thick leather gloves onto his hand, took it off and switched it to the correct hand, then reached into his small forge and pulled three smoldering coals out of the fire and pushed them into the furnace attachment on the engine. A few quick turns of the wheel attached to the bottom of the furnace to test the shaker, and he nodded in satisfaction. “Next, add powder, wind spring, and stand back.” Pulling his goggles down over his eyebrows- two of them, for once- Pahl turned towards the corner of his little shop to break open one of the casks. Even with the noise of his ever-racing mind, it was impossible to not notice that there was an empty space on the ground where there should have been three casks of the black powder. Seemingly without any input from his mind whatsoever, Pahl pulled a thin piece of charcoal out of a pocket and made a note about naming the powder on his sleeve. For once, everything in his mind stopped. “They aren't here. Oh, Light, they aren't here.” That was bad. That was very bad. Pacing back and forth in front of his workshop, Pahl closed his eyes, his hands clutching the side of his head. “Focus, focus!” he muttered. “The casks aren't here. That means that they never made it here. That means that they are on the cart.” A deep breath. “The cart!” Pahl waited only long enough to make sure that his small furnace was closed- the people who made decisions in the Citadel were still angry about that last fire- before running straight back to the Illuminators' shack. Running through the Citadel was always tricky. Horses, foot traffic, and all of those people who also liked running through the streets. They were always going by in groups, and there was always one person at the front shouting things at the rest. The ones at the front also liked to look at Pahl with wide-open mouths whenever he sprinted past them. That never made sense to him. They had obviously seen people running before; all they had to do was look behind them. The Illuminators' shack was not long in appearing. Frantically Pahl pounded on the door. “Open up! W-we have a p-p-problem!” “What are you yelling about?” one of the Illuminators yelled from inside the shed. “The c-c-casks! They're missing!” There was a heavy silence from inside the shed, followed by a quiet, “Oh, Light...” The door flew open, and the Illuminator standing in the doorway was as white as Tar Valon. “What did you do, you little maniac?” Pahl glared. “It w-w-wasn't me! Where d-did you s-s-s-send that c-cart?” “We didn't send him anywhere! Where did you bloody well send him?” Grabbing the sides of his cap, Pahl began pacing again. “They didn't send him. I didn't send him. He left on his own. Three casks. What did we tell him about them? Nothing. Three casks...” Stopping short as an idea crackled through his head like a lightning bolt, Pahl yelled, “You! G-g-go to the t-t-taverns! See if any n-n-new casks have c-c-c-come in!” Not waiting to see if the Illuminators had done as he asked, Pahl turned and sprinted towards the mess halls. “Huh? I don't care. Put them by the ovens,” the head cook in the mess hall said, waving a ladle in the general direction of the rest of the kitchen. Nodding, Rhobbet returned to his cart and hoisted the first cask. The brandy inside shifted, but it did not feel like it was liquid. It rustled against the side of the wood next to his ear. Must be grain, then, Bahb thought as he hauled the cask into the kitchen and dropped it on the floor next to the nearest oven, radiating heat that he could easily feel. It was also radiating the smell of burnt bread, but nobody seemed to be paying attention to that. The second cask followed, the thump of it hitting the stone floor accompanied by a small cracking sound. A quick glance showed Rhobbet that the cask had landed next to some black soot, but there was nothing spilling out of it. To be safe, though, he was careful about stacking the third cask on top of the other two. Job completed, Rhobbet dodged his way out of the kitchens, snagging a roll from a tray on the counter as he went. A free lunch was never something to avoid. Bahb scrambled his way back up onto his cart and nudged the mules back towards the gates, taking a bite of the roll as he did so. The shipping clerk would probably have his next- oh. Bouncing along, Rhobbet- Bahb to his friends- made his back down to the gates. The roll stayed behind on the ground. Dodging his way through the back streets and alleys of the Citadel was much simpler than trying to run straight up the main road. There were fewer people and carts, and getting back to the main thoroughfare through the fortress would have taken more time. Time that Pahl was no longer certain that he had. After what felt like an eternity of panicked sprinting, Pahl finally broke out into the cleared area where the mess hall stood. Many of the cooks were standing outside the doors as a black smoke poured out. Skidding to a halt in front of the cooks, Pahl gasped, “Did anyb-b-b-body deliver anything tod-d-day? Any c-c-c-casks?” One of the cooks pointed into the kitchen. “Over by the ovens. Be careful, one of the loaves of bread caught fire in there. The smoke is pretty bad.” Next to the ovens? Fire?! Pahl tugged his goggles down over his eyes and pulled a strange mask over his nose and mouth. “G-g-get away from the b-b-building! Now!” The cooks made no move to leave. “Now!” he shouted. “Unless you want to die, GO NOW!” That seemed to shift them. Pahl never understood why people sometimes reacted better to shouting. It's not like they could not hear somebody talking- Enough. Casks now, shouting later. Stepping into the kitchen, Pahl took a split-second to examine the scene. “No people left. Good. Smoke dissipating, coming from wash tub next to oven. Other ovens...” Pahl approached and checked each oven. “Other ovens empty. Lots of sparks flying, though. Not good.” Coming around the side of the ovens, Pahl took another split-second to examine what was there. He immediately saw the casks. He immediately saw that one of them had cracked, and the black powder contained within was slowly pouring out onto a pile next to the cask. He saw sparks flying out of the oven and landing closer and closer to the casks. Pahl was back outside before he realized that he had even started running, screaming at everybody to get away from the building. Judging that he was a safe distance from the mess hall, he stopped to look back. Maybe there was a chance to get buckets of water. It wouldn't take much, maybe two or three, to render everything safe. If he cornered somebody to help draw some water, he could go get that padded suit from the training yard a- A hammer the size of a building struck Pahl's entire body, accompanied by a wave of heat that left his skin itching and burning. A wave of thunderous noise followed, though Pahl was not as concerned with that. The sound struck him at the same time that he struck a wall a fair distance from where he had been standing. His back struck first, then his head bounced off the wall. Pahl's vision went black for a moment as he bounced off the wall and landed on his face on the ground. His face burned in two circles around his eyes, and he could feel the warmth of blood trickling down around and under his goggles. Rolling onto his back, Pahl stayed on the ground, looking skyward. His head was swimming, his vision wavy, his thoughts slowed to a crawl. The casks... the casks must have... Pahl shook his head, causing a wave of nausea and pain to roar through his body. The casks had exploded. What had...? Slowly, Pahl turned his head towards the mess hall. Surprisingly, the building itself seemed to be intact, though there was no glass left in the windows. An agonizing glance down at his arms, reddened from flash burn and trickling blood from numerous small cuts, showed Pahl where some of that glass had gone. Pahl could not see anybody else on the ground near him, though he could not see very far from his position. One of the cooks from outside the kitchen was running towards him, his mouth opening and closing like he was saying something. He probably was, but the ringing in Pahl's ears, a familiar sound from his other experiments with the Illuminators' powder, was too loud for him to hear over. It would likely pass. His eyelids felt heavy, and he felt tired, more tired than he should have felt. A thought crawled out of the heavy mud that was his mind, a whispered warning to stay awake. Pahl did his best to comply. In the meantime, the pain was beginning to set in. Pahl knew that there was nothing that he could do to stop it, no point to fighting it. Instead, he settled in and allowed it to consume him. There would be somebody along soon to see what all the noise was about, after all. OOC: Hi! I'm back! I don't know what it's like on the other sides of the building, so feel free to fill in those details as you wish.
  2. 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)
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