The Guild Enforcer, Part One: The Hunt

NSFW Warning: Scenes of graphic, fantasy violence and disturbing images.

Disclaimer: I do not own the cover image.

So follows part one of the Guild Enforcer tale. If you have not yet read the prologue, please do so first or else miss out on the full unraveling of the saga. It can be found under “The Guild Enforcer” tab on the right sidebar of the blog’s main page, or else at the bottom of the screen if you are using a mobile device. Furthermore, if you wish to read more stories like this, please consider donating to my “Buy Me A Coffee” found here. Thank you again! Without further ado, please enjoy!

Though his step was light, Stentis quickly found that that which had served him so well on streets of cobbles or hard-packed earth made little difference in the spongey marshland terrain. No matter how sparsely he set his feet, the soft soles of his boots would quickly sink into the noxious soil. This annoyed him greatly.

Adding to his annoyance, and growing frustration, was the fact that Utika did not seem to suffer the same hindrance. His guide moved with perfect ease through the countryside, seemingly always knowing exactly where to step to avoid soft ground or sucking mud. More infuriating for the Rogue was the fact that, no matter how quickly he moved, she ever remained several steps ahead of him.

‘This is why the guild hires these guides,’ he tried to remind himself. ‘They know the ins and outs of these lands better than any Enforcer sent from the city.’

Knowing this did little to assuage his acrimony, however. Deep down he knew that his resentment towards his guide stemmed from the fact that he had been unable to establish his dominance over her at their first meeting. Despite his station, and the threat his presence represented for the denizens of this marsh, Utika seemed to view him as naught but some city-slicking tourist out for a romp in the countryside. She’d worked with his guild before, perhaps the last Enforcer she guided had proven more of a burden than any sort of threatening force, leading her to lose respect for their ilk. If this were so, it was a lesson she would assuredly have to un-learn before Stentis’ time in the marsh ended. It would not due to have the guild’s enforcers treated so blithely by the reprobates they employed throughout the wider world.

‘Or perhaps it is merely her personality,’ an errant thought offered. 

‘Then it will need to be a part of her personality that I surgically remove before my time here is through,’ he vehemently shot back, quelling said thought with the harshness of a slave-driver’s whip.

“We draw close,” Utika said, shaking him from his reverie and lifting his gaze from where it had been plastered to the uneven landscape. 

The woman stood slightly above him, beside yet another jutting stone. Beyond her, perhaps a mile hence, stood a small cluster of reed and thatch huts built upon silts and huddled against the base of one of the chalky, white cliffs that framed the marshland. Carved into the cliffside rising above the village were a multitude of caves, their openings covered by strips of ragged cloth that fluttered like banners in a breeze that existed not on the valley floor. 

“Home sweet home,” she smirked as he trudged to her side, though he detected no warmth in her observation. He could not begrudge her her disdain, he found, for the “village” could only truly be described as a backwater shithole. 

“Best hurry,” she bade him, stepping lightly from her perch. “It isn’t a good idea to be out on the marsh when the sun sets.”

That is now the second time she has mentioned that, he noted as he made to follow her. Glancing at the nearest pool, he grimaced, imagining what horrors might lurk beneath until the waning of the sun’s glow.

Makes sense my quarry would pick such a place. Given her area of expertise, she would no doubt feel right at home among the decay of the marsh.

If Utika’s village had a name, she didn’t offer it and Stentis did not inquire. The less he became accustomed to the place the better. As their squelching footfalls met the hollow knock of wood planks and they began their ascent up a crudely built ramp towards what he could only assume was the village center, he took note of the lack of meandering villagers, as well as the numerous distrustful glares he received from darkened doorways. 

“Folk don’t like outsiders here,” Utika said, marking his scanning gaze. “Perhaps if you told me more of whom you seek, I might be of aid in avoiding any uncomfortable situations.”

When Stentis did not reply, she shrugged and indicated a larger structure ahead.

“Taverns there,” she said. “Mayhaps you find some helpful information that may hasten your departure.”

He did not immediately reply but, as they drew leveling with the makeshift door, he placed a foot before her and barred her passage with an arm. Drawing close, he murmured, “the information I seek will not be garnered from willing tongues. I must warn you before we begin that if you make any move to hinder me in my search, I will cut you down with the rest.”

“Whomever you seek is an outsider like you,” she hissed back. “Trust me, the people here do not like outsiders and they will gladly give them up if you give them a taste of copper rather than steel.”

“My quarry does not suffer loose tongues, if any within know her whereabouts they will be firmly under her thumb.”

“Ah ha! So it is a she you look for!”

“Just have my back, or you will quickly find a dagger in yours.”

She rolled her eyes.

“If you’re done with the dramatics, Enforcer, shall we proceed?” She said, brushing his arm aside. “I know these people and they will talk to me, just grab a drink and wait at the bar. Order muck, it’s the only thing drinkable. I shall have the location of your quarry within the hour.”

As she pushed her way into the bar, an ominous rumble of thunder reverberated overhead and Stentis glanced skyward to spy dark clouds rolling in over the chalky cliffs above, just as the sun began to dip below the horizon.

Setting his jaw, the Enforcer followed his contact into the gloom of the tavern interior.

Within, the lighting was dim. Small candles sputtered in pools of their own lifeblood at the center of each crudely assembled table, about which huddles village denizens, their bodies wrapped in light, threadbare robes. What exposed flesh they had was, in turn, swaddled in cloth strips to ward off what stinging insects called the marshlands home. Pipe smoke hung heavy in the air, as did the smells of vomit and fermented liquor. In short, it was the very embodiment of the worst cesspool diner in the city of Mentrethis. Every eye was unkind, every gesture unwelcoming, from the drunkest lout, to they who passed for sober in such places. Utika immediately motioned Stentis towards the rough-hewn bar, whilst she moved to the nearest table, cracking obscene jokes and aspersions with they who sat there. His senses alert, the Guild Enforcer allowed her her illusions and made his way towards the bar, where a surly looking bartender, who looked more weasel than man, glowered at him, scratching an irritating patch of eczema as he did.

Undeterred, Stentis approached. Leaning nonchalantly upon the bar top’s uneven surface he said, “muck,” without sparring the barkeep a glance.

“Muck ain’t here,” the barkeep sneered to the derisive chuckles of those others who sat nearby.

Turning an icy glare upon the man, Stentis leaned in, saying, “pour the fucking drink or I shall settle for a glass of your arterial spray, small man.”

Narrowing his rat-like eyes, the barkeep nonetheless did as the Enforcer bid, though a collective grumbling ran through the ranks of those others who leaned upon the bar, many of whom moved away, keen no doubt to find more favorable company. 

“Folk don’t like outsiders here,” the barkeep explained, setting a dirty glass filled with a putrid brown liquid before the Enforcer as forcibly as he dared. “Best ye move on, and quick!”

As he spoke, he leaned in and Stentis locked gazes with him, ready to offer a renewed threat when he spied a small ripple in one of the man’s rheumy eyes, almost as if something squirmed just below the surface. 

Without hesitation, the Enforcer reached out, a dagger materializing in his palm as a tremendous clap of thunder shook the entire structure around them. The barkeep barely had time to widen his eyes before the tip of the offending blade pierced the back of his hand, driving through to pin the appendage to the bar top.

The man let out a strangled cry and the sound of multiple chairs moving as their occupants jumped to their feet in the room at large followed closely after. Stentis paid neither sound any heed, however, but released his dagger to grab the barkeep’s arm, keeping him from any attempt to pull away, as a second dagger seemingly materialized in his other palm, and he leveled the weapon with the rat-like man’s face.

“Look at me!” He hissed as the man squeezed his eyes shut tight against the pain.

“What the fuck, Enforcer?” Utika demanded, coming up behind him, her wary gaze on the other patrons who were pulling cudgels and daggers of their own from the depths of their grimy attire.

“Keep them back,” he snapped to her, before turning his attention once more fully upon the barkeep. 

“Open your eyes and look at me,” he insisted once again. When the man did not immediately reply, he nicked his forehead with the tip of his blade, drawing a rivulet of blood. “Look at me or I shall cut your eyes from your skull!”

At his threat, the man seemingly relented, becoming limp in the Enforcer’s grip, his eyes opening and an almost serene expression coming to his features. Within the white of his eyes something squirmed anew, tightening around his iris as if focusing a lens.

“Didn’t take long for the Guild to send someone after me, did it?” The man said, and though the voice was his own, the words it formed clearly were not. “Sad that it has to be you, Stentis, I always did like you you know.”

“How many have you ensnared, Larvaemancer?” He demanded.

In response, he heard a shuffling of feet behind him and, glancing back, saw that nearly the entire taproom now stood erect, their weapons at their sides, their gazes vacant. Those who hadn’t reacted were now backing away from their former comrades, their gazes fearful.

“What the fuck is going on?” Utika questioned from his back, her stance remaining at the ready, her daggers raised.

“They’ve been enslaved,” he replied, returning his gaze to the barkeep.

“A necessary evil to keep me safe,” the man said in a sing-song voice. “Sorry it has to end like this, Enforcer, but a message must be sent.”

As the barkeep spoke the final syllable, he lurched his face forward, driving the tip of Stentis’ dagger through his eye as he did. Cursing, the Enforcer spun, his hand falling to the hilt of his katana as those others who were similarly ensorcelled lifted their weapons.

Lightning flared without, throwing the room into shock relief, and for the briefest of moments they saw the flesh of those they faced writhe before darkness descended once more and a reverberating crack of thunder sounded. As it did, the room exploded into action as those possessed charged all who were not, their movements eerily silent, save the rising and fall of their blows.

Stepping to meet them, Utika and Stentis leapt into action, fighting side by side, then back-to-back, their blades transformed into maelstroms of death as those others unenthralled fought their own isolated, desperate melees, falling one by one against the superior numbers. One or two managed to flee, or else stave off their foe’s attacks long enough to be saved by the vicious bite of either Utika’s daggers, or Stentis’ katana. It all seemed to occur in slow motion and last an eternity, but in reality, the entire scuffle spanned mere seconds and, at the end of it, Stentis and Utika stood at the room’s center, their breathing heavy but measured, their clothing splattered with blood. As lightning shone once more, they looked upon one another with newfound respect before the dim lighting returned and they sobered once more to their current predicament.

“What the fuck just happened?” Utika was first to break the silence.

“We must first get somewhere the Larvaemancer has not touched,” Stentis said, flicking viscera from his blade before sheathing it once more. “As she is unchecked, she might have enthralled the entire village by now. Is there somewhere we might lay low? Recover our wits and think of our next move?”

Utika nodded.

“My sister, the village healer,” she said. “She lives in the caves above. She is far more wise than I and would know where this…Larvaemancer might be hiding.”

“Then let us go,” he nodded, sparring the room not a backward glance as he made for the exit. Utika was not so quick and tarried by the door. Looking over all those they had slain. As she did, she noticed long, wormlike creatures beginning to crawl forth from the fallen village-folk’s orifices. Revolted, she hastened upon Stentis’ heels.

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