The Price of Freedom ("Story")

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The Price of Freedom ("Story")

Post  Mercutio on Thu Jan 31, 2013 11:43 pm



Jaqul sat at the head of the cart on their way out of Guo’Ghal, silently thanking the Ghalian gods for the cover of this thick mist. He typically always set out into these forests when there was mist to conceal his caravan’s movement, but weather like this was not always reliable. He had on occasion delayed or even canceled a few of his runs due to inconveniently clear skies and forests. This deluge of mist was both well timed and mercifully thick.

Still, Jaqul had this much in common with most of his passengers. He was on edge. Smuggling out these refugees, the work force of the Ghalian Cartel, was not a light matter. If he was caught, he’d most likely be killed by an enraged enforcer, along with most of the group. It was a risky business for sure, but people are surprisingly willing to pay the high cost of a chance at a better life elsewhere. Some of these Oto’Ghal have given up their life possessions. Not a considerable amount given their lot in life, but it got Jaqul by.

Still, one way or another, this was going to be his last run. This job paid well enough of course, but it was dangerous work. A comfortable smuggler was a careless one. If one did not expect the worst, they’d screw things harder than a Guachi frenzied drake. As such, Jaqul planned to quit while he was ahead, not assuming himself implacable and invisible to the Cartel. He managed to rake enough money in from his last job that he’d be able to contentedly retire to the Ten Hands, thanks to a very special customer.

“When will we get to the docks?” a particularly manic Ghalian snapped.

“Just another hour. Then you’ll be on a boat off to a new start!”

It was a weak attempt at lightening the mood and raising spirits, but Jaqul found not giving an answer would be more trouble. His patron, not wholly content but mildly sated, sat back down and kept looking around. Jaqul actually admired that sort of paranoia.

It was at this time that Que’Lolo had come back, waving his arms frantically with a loud whisper. “Boss! Boss!”

“Keep it down, idiot!” Jaqul hissed. “What is it?”

“The usual pass is crawling with enforcers! There’s no way through!”

The smuggler couldn’t even curse before a murmur of panic was instilled in the cart. The same refugee who had prodded him before cried out. “They have found us out! We’re doomed!”

Jaqul whipped around and thrust his knuckles at the snout of the coward, bending his claws so as not to scratch him. “Shut up! Your screams will only confirm their suspicions.”

The ghalian, now holding his hands up to his bruised nose, continued in a panic. “To hell with you! I have no interest in being gutted ‘cause of an idiot smuggler! I’m getting out of here before it’s too late!”

He had already leapt out of the cart and started sprinting on all four limbs when he finished that sentence. The other refugees were on the verge of doing the same when Jaqul spoke up. “Listen up! I’ll get you through to the docks if you stick with me, or you can run all the way back to the capital on foot! Either way, you already paid me. Just calm the hell down!”

“Boss, why are they this far out?” asked Kol, another of his helping hands.

Jaqul swallowed hard before he spoke. “On our last trip… our chief customer was an alchemist of the cartel.”

“What!?” Lolo was stunned. The feeling was obviously mutual for the rest of Jaq’s mates. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It was supposed to be need-to-know! I couldn’t have you lot talking about an alchemist I smuggled out! Doesn’t matter one way or the other, though, they found out and are tearing apart our route for clues.”

“Well, there is a way we can go to avoid them,” Lolo spoke up. “A small detour, perhaps, but should work.”

Jaqul turned to Lolo, and impatiently gestured him to continue. With a grin, Lolo complied. “There’s a small vale that way, where the mists have converged. If we’re quiet and quick, we can sneak right on by the patrols and be back on track.”

The smuggler let out a laugh of satisfaction. “Excellent! You’ll have earned yourself two drinks when we reach port.”

Lolo beamed proudly at this commendation, and then led the way. Jaqul directed the Ghalians pulling the cart to follow him, and they were off. Eventually, they came to the location Lolo spoke of, veiled heavily in mist.

“Quickly, let’s move before they’re any wiser!” Lolo wasted no time running into it.

“Hold on, you idiot!” Jaqul tried calling out, but Lolo evidently didn’t hear.

Without much choice, Jaqul prodded the ghalians forth. The mist here was thicker than he would’ve thought, though. He couldn’t see where Lolo went, the idiot. It was clear that the drivers didn’t know where they were heading either, just blindly going off in the direction.
A gut-wrenching feeling seized the smuggler. “Stop!” Jaqul ordered.

His instinctual command came too late. The ghalians pulling the caravan along suddenly tripped over a long log laying on the ground. With the cart moving with strong momentum, it ran over and crushed the puller on the left. Kol, on the other hand, was quick enough to roll his body out of the way, but the wheels caught and crushed his hind leg. Jaq’s accomplice let out a pained howl.

First, Kol’s cries echoed loudly through the forest. Then Jaqul heard the scratching, followed by the enforcers sliding down the trees by their claws. They leapt from them and pounced on the Jaqul’s remaining companions, quickly stabbing them in the throats. The refugees panicked and desperately started leaping out of the cart to escape, only to be easily apprehended by the enforcers.

For Jaqul’s own part, he had long abandoned his cart and crawled back the way they came. If he was lucky, he could just slip out of the enforcers’ grips and into the mists. Fortunately, the vapor worked for his advantage here, but he was still able to make out the viciousness of the ambush. All around, he saw the enforcers brutalizing the escaped slaves with glee.

He froze when he felt a heavy hand grip his leg. “Jaq…”

Jaqul turned to Kol who had dragged his body from the cart, his chest gushing out blood from a claw wound. “You have… to escape.”

Yes, he thought to himself, that’s exactly what I’m doing, you crippled fool!

He didn’t say anything to Kol as he passed out though, he just shook free and focused on getting out of here. Soon as he was a moderate distance away from the center of the skirmish, he stood and sprinted his way out of the vale, not wasting a minute to even look behind and see whether he was being followed or not.

Jaqul began to think through his new plan. He’d continue to the boats on foot and just get as far away from Oto’Ghal as he could. He regretted leaving behind his cart, holding not only his passengers or supplies for the road, but also his earnings for the trip, but honestly he was happy with the revenue from his last job, and had it stashed elsewhere. Retirement was not out yet…

No sooner did the thought leave his mind did Jaqul made out two more shapes in the mist ahead of him. Here, it was startlingly light, making it painfully easy to recognize the hooded ghalian before him, standing at eight feet, towering over a petrified Jaqul. Beneath the cloak he wore a black kilt with a belt of golden links. Besides this, the Oto’Ghal’s charred and featherless flesh was bare, a tan skin blemished and patched by dark red. Jaqul only had to look at the face to all but confirm the identity of this brute.

General Bano’Coatl looked down at Jaqul, his face painted black and white in the shape of a ghalian skull, his yellow eyes betraying the contentedness and delight of a predator that his frown disguised. In his hand, he held the refugee that had wizened up and fled before they fell into the trap. Jaqul gulped as Coatl easily held the poor wretch by the throat with one hand, choking him out.

“Smuggler…” he started, studying Jaqul’s form. “Why do you not run now?”

“I…” Jaqul found the words hard to find. “…do not think I could escape you.”

Once the refugee had gone limp from unconsciousness, Coatl let go and allowed him to fall to the ground. “That is very wise of you. It’s not hard to see how you managed to evade our efforts for so long.”

In approaching Jaqul, Coatl stomped his hind leg onto the refugee’s neck. The smuggler flinched away from the sickening snap, but returned his focus to the general as the body fell behind.

“Sadly, you seem to have underestimated our resolve when it comes to the cartel’s life and blood,” the general continued, brandishing his black claws like knives. “You also underestimate your cohorts as well.”

As Coatl spoke, Lolo walked up from behind and gave a smug grin to his former employer. Jaqul could hardly contain his shock and outrage. “You… conniving son of a bitch!”

“It’s just good business, boss,” Lolo shrugged. “I wasn’t about to be on the wrong end of an enforcer’s claws.”

“Indeed,” Coatl concluded. “You were almost wise.”

Contrasting his words, Coatl’s claws sliced Lolo through his abdomen. Surprise utterly destroying his calm demeanor and grin, Lolo could only choke and gurgle as his body fell to the ground with spasms, blood draining from his mouth and wound. Jaqul took comfort in this moment. At least he wouldn’t die without some recompense.

“It is not a wise thing to trust treacherous cohorts,” Coatl proclaimed. “You on the other hand I need.”

Jaqul spoke lightly. “What for?”

“You know the answer.”

“…The alchemist then.” Jaqul nodded.

“Yes. You alone out of your crew know where she went, where her boat was destined.”

Jaqul didn’t need to be told he was going to help. He also knew he had no choice.

“We will be commandeering your cart,” Coatl stated, having begun trekking back to the ambush, the sounds of chaos having died down. Jaqul meekly followed with haste.

“What about the refugees?” The smuggler asked.

“I am surprised you worry for them,” Coatl said with a chuckle. “Don’t worry, they die as free Oto’Ghal. Slaves are only reliable if they choose to remain as such.”
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Re: The Price of Freedom ("Story")

Post  Izdazi on Fri Feb 01, 2013 2:17 pm

((Nicely written. Smile ))
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