Jorgrith walked down the pathway to the open road, which still contained traces of the previous nights storm. Puddles flooded parts of the road, and other parts were slewed with mud where dirt should have been. As he walked he found some of the men had waited on him. Two stood waiting in the road; Darreth, a built man in his mid twenties, and Terri, a boy at his early twenties that had the frame of a fencepost.
Darreth stood with his arms crossed, and Terri just looked happily at Jorgrith. They had all grown close in their previous company. Jorgrith had been cursed much longer than these two, as Terri had only become a rat within the previous year. He envied how little he had to experience, though, as Terri smiled and ran up to Jorgrith with enthusiasm, he was happy it had not spoiled his innocent nature.
“We were waiting on you, Commander!” Terri spoke, falling back into a military salute, which judging by his bandit looking clothes made him look out of place. Jorgrith frowned at the nickname Terri had given him, knowing he served in the military. Darreth just laughed. He didn’t speak much, but he did laugh, groan, and sigh. Jorgrith liked Darreth, though, he couldn’t say he didn’t like Terri. They were the only friends he found himself with in many years. The other rats numbered among them, but they viewed him as Terri had said. A Commander.
“For the last time, don’t call me that.” Jorgrith growled at Terri.
“Yes, Commander!” Terri said, resuming his salute. Jorgrith rolled his eyes, and Darreth just laughed more.
“Where are the others?” Jorgrith continued, moving on from their childish poking.
“They’re up ahead.” Terri pointed back down the road behind him. “They were going to see if they could catch a merchant wagon to catch a ride on.”
“Not likely there will be many merchants out this far on the road after that rain.” Jorgrith spoke, moving past the two and motioning for them to follow. “Do they really think any right-thinking merchant would pick up six bandits to ride with him?” Terri had to agree with him, and Darreth just grunted to show his agreement as well. They weren’t far from where the path led out to the main road, but far enough that they could talk while they did.
“Where did we plan to head, Commander?” Terri asked, trying to match his small steps to that of the two larger men.
Jorgrith twitched at the sound of the nickname, but let it go as that was just how Terri knew him. He reached into the sack he carried on his hip, containing the map and few other baubles he carried. As he reached in, he felt something that didn’t belong. Pulling out the map and handing it to Terri, he reached back in to find the object.
“We are very near the capitol, Midway.” Terri pointed out, as well as at the map. “We could look for jobs there if we wanted.” Terri looked up at Jorgrith but found him intrigued by a small statue he held in his hands. “Hey, isn’t that the thing we found in the woods?” Jorgrith realized it was, and now that there was light he could better see the details into it. It was a small wooden rabbit, carved from the wood of an ash tree. The detail was magnificent, and Jorgrith almost felt as if the eyes were actually staring at him behind the statue. He was snapped back to reality when Darreth nudged him with his elbow. Looking at the gruff man, he heard Terri ask again. “Is that the wizard’s?”
Jorgrith realized he had forgotten he had picked it up. “Yeah.” He started, and found that they were coming up on the exit of the path. What they saw made Jorgrith stop, and he stopped the others, using his hand to his mouth to tell them not to make a sound. They nodded in agreement. With that, they crept into and through the forest, as silent as rats. Despite not being lycans, they found a lot of their instinctual nature and movements still stuck with them. Jorgrith liked that. As they closed on the road, they saw a wagon with the a symbol upon the canvas covering the cart. Jorgrith recognized the symbol, a Large X planted in a circle with an arrow at the edge of each end of the X. This was the symbol of a sect of the church that killed anything that didn’t follow their book, to allow their god to deal with them after they leave this world. That was how most people viewed it anyway. They believed they were sending evil to his land beyond, as he is the only one who can ultimately defeat evil.
Jorgrith hated the religion as a whole, and this was making him hate it more. Before the cart sat the other three of his troop, on their knees with their hands behind tied behind their backs. Jorgrith had seen this before, and knew they expected to kill these men for trespassing into the ruins. That was in their book. A man in cloth robes stood in front of the men, and walked between each one, spouting words from a book he held in his hand. The book, if Jorgrith knew right. Two paladins stood behind him in their shining armor, swords at their hips. Jorgrith didn’t know exactly what he was saying to the men, but he knew what he was doing. He was reading them their last rights before an expulsion to their lord. In other words, executing them for their crimes against the church.
“Sir, what do we do?” Terri whispered, crouching to Jorgrith’s right. Darreth was nowhere to be seen, but they knew he was somewhere around and listening.
Jorgrith looked at the figurine and remembered the promise he told the wizard. He and his men would become better people, and live their life. He wasn’t going to let them murder his men when they just regained their lives. He put the figurine away and looked at Terri. “We are going to save our men.” With that Jorgrith stood up and walked out of the woods towards the fanatics.
As he approached the Paladins saw him and pulled their swords, readying in an attack. Jorgrith had a dirk across the small of his back, and an army sword on his hip, yet, he did not draw his weapon. Before the Paladin could strike a command came from the clergyman who had stopped reading from his book to approach him. The Paladin stopped, but did not put away his weapon in case the situation turned, which he expected.
Jorgrith did too, and he was glad Terri and Darreth did not come out with him. This gave him a more peaceful look to these few, and would give him a surprise when it turned dirty.
“Are you with these blasphemers?” Said the clergy man, a big nose sat on his face and his frame looked to be that of a well fed priest underneath a robe that was extravagant for one of his station. Jorgrith hated that, as it meant their church was well funded by the community. They were extortionists, scaring the community of people into paying them for ‘protection’ in the now and afterlife.
“I don’t know these men. I was chasing them from the ruins I live in beyond.” Jorgrith looked at his men as he spoke, they understood what he was doing, and no matter what happened. He knew they trusted him with their lives. “They had stumbled upon my land.”
“These ruins are in not ‘your land’.” The man sneered, as if disgusted by the declaration of someone owning this place. “In fact, this land is a testament and holy place of our almighty one.” Jorgrith almost laughed at that last statement.
“Well, if that’s true. Then I’m the trespasser, am I not?” Jorgrith wanted to see how far these men would go before starting a fight. “Let these boys go and read me the punishment for my crime.”
The priest looked back at both of the men he had in custody. He looked back at the man in front of him before taking a double take to see that he was missing one of the three men. Staring in disbelief at the man in front of him he looked to his paladins. “Kill this man, he is among the demons here!” The priest pointed at Jorgrith as he yelled at the paladin. The paladin did not move, but just stood staring at the priest, his back to the cart. “Did you hear me you buffoon?” He continued and took a step to slap the man’s armor. As the pang reverberated off his chest piece, the man fell onto his knees and into the mud. A sword stuck out of his back and into the air. A gruff man stood where he was, Jorgrith recognized it as Darreth. As the priest stood in shock, he looked to find the other paladin laying dead as well. The two men were being let up by the third, whom had apparently slit the paladins throat with a dagger.
“So, preacher.” Said Jorgrith as he walked towards the man who cowered backwards only finding himself blocked in by the other men. “You’ve caught me on a good day. We were just on the eve of turning our lives around.”
“Just kill me, you vermin!” The priest spat at Jorgrith, who only wished the man knew how ironic those words were. “I’ll be going to see the almighty in the beyond while you will burn before him!”
“We aren’t rats, preacher.” Jorgrith stated, and pulled out his dirk. “We’re men now, and I feel as my first good deed,” Jorgrith grabbed the preacher by the scruff of his neck, shoving his blade into his stomach. “I’ll send you to your god, and off of this plane.” With that Jorgrith snapped him off the blade, and pushed him onto the ground. The man grasped the wound in his stomach, pain wracked his body and he lay shaking into his slow death. Jorgrith knew how slow it would be, and thought it was the least he deserved before being sent to the ‘paradise’ his religion promised.
Jorgrith stepped over the bodies of the paladins and over to the cart. The men followed up to him as he hopped up into the seat, taking the handle attached to two horses who didn’t seem very spooked by the incident. Terri was the first to speak. “What now, commander?”
Jorgrith looked down at them all, men who were ready to follow him into death if need be. Darreth wasn’t there but at the sound of ripping canvas he knew what he was doing, and he approved completely. Could always count on Darreth to not waste time.
“I guess we head to Midway, and look for work.” Honestly, that was the only thing he could think of. As he thought about it, the men he had could easily make work as a mercenary group. They all knew each other well, and this proved it. “What do you boys say about forming our own little mercenary band?”
The men looked at each other in agreement, and they raised their fists in approval. Jorgrith was happy thinking about this new start, and his thoughts were once again interrupted by Terri who tugged on the leg of his pants. Jorgrith gave him his attention.
“We need a name, commander.” Terri stated, and Jorgrith stroked his face, furry from a thick growing beard he hadn’t shaved, as he thought. “What should we call ourselves?”
“What we are.” Spoke a voice almost never heard, and Jorgrith and the rest of them men turned to look upon the speaker. Darreth stood on the other side of the Wagon, holding two pieces of canvas, the two pieces bearing the churches symbol. He pulled himself up to the seat beside Jorgrith, and leaned back. “Vermin”