There was a very good reason why Fedaro was a one-man operation, and he was reminded of that fact when looking at the giant man sitting there sullenly as though he might never get up, and the girl right in front of him, still bundled up, sniffing and crying not two feet away from him.
That the girl had just felled a Stonegald was unimaginable, and she would have more trouble selling that story in the Inn of the Black Beard than Fedaro’s old friend Hansin with one of his fishing stories. Hansin was a crazy son of a bitch that had seen more of the world than most men, Fedaro included. Though it was always worth contemplating what Hansin was up to, Fedaro couldn’t spare the man any thought right now, even though he wouldn’t mind having Hansin around - him being the only person in the world you would accidentally run into whilst being in the Gardens of Scithea. On top of that he would regale you with a tale of how he took a wrong turn, but that it all worked out in the end because he managed to catch a particularly big carp.
‘I don’t want to be an Imperial,’ said Beluka to no one in particular, almost as though in revelation to himself. ‘I want to go home.’
It took a few seconds but Fedaro decided not to take Beluka with him. There was certainly something about the man - he was at the very least the best of a very useless bunch that Mestarés had brought along with him. Taking him was a risk that was going to pay dividends or not, and it was momentarily tempting to see if the huge man could be something noteworthy. Fedaro had the nagging feeling that going forward a little extra brawn would come in handy, but the girl was already terrified of him and that was not going to help.
Fedaro however was not going to execute Beluka. He would simply cut him loose. If the Hippo could survive his way out of the Gardens on his own, then he would have proven himself a worthy acquisition for that squad of mercenaries Fedaro was envisioning for himself one day. He would approach him then with more money than what the poor man would see if he spent ten years with the Imperials.
Beluka aside, the most important thing was to ensure he got the girl moving and not in any way that involved a continued state of fugue. He knew that in her current state of mind she was likely to start running and not stop until she was at the other end of the earth. Or until something killed her, which was a likely scenario. Having your entire nation wiped out could have strange effects on the mind, or that’s how Fedaro reasoned.
Fedaro didn’t have much time to work with, so he approached the girl without further delay. They would need to move soon, and yet he knew he would need to talk to her in a way that seemed patient and calming.
She was, any way you looked at it, disarmingly beautiful. Not pretty in a traditional sense, but like a sharp gleaming blade of well-made steel... that analogy wasn’t going to make sense to just anyone, but to Fedaro it was fitting. He could sit with a blade in his hands in his quiet moments, turning it over again and again, appreciating it endlessly, better yet if he had a campfire at his feet in the dead of night, the light of the flames bouncing from the steel. Inspecting her properly for the first time, The girl was maybe a little bit funnily dressed for Fedaro’s taste, but she had long white-gold hair and a face as delicate as the first snows of a Derowan winter.
Fedaro sat on his haunches in front of the girl, her legs splayed either side of her like she was imitating a frog. Her face was still downcast. He sensed just the tiniest case of self-pity in the pose she had assumed.
‘Tell me your name my lady,’ asked Fedaro.
She looked up. And she simply stared.
’Did my Imperial friends tell me correctly, is it, Stacey?’ said Fedaro, deliberately getting it wrong. Using what little psychology he knew.
‘It’s Gloria,’ she croaked.
‘Gloria,’ said Fedaro, trying the name. ‘That’s a pretty name. Are you royalty?’
She shook her head.
‘If you are going to kill me, can I ask that you use the blade?’ said Gloria, pointing to the bayonet on Fedaro’s Musket, slung across his back.
‘Live by the sword, die by the sword?’ said Fedaro, saying the most famous of expressions in the now extinct kingdom of her origin.
She nodded fervently. ’It is the pact of my people! Their spirits cannot be released from Ellion unless they are killed in that way! They are bound to me! If you kill me, then maybe they can find peace!’ she pleaded. ‘The Imperials came with their hammers and bullets, and not one of my people was killed in an honourable way!’
Fedaro narrowed his eyes, looking at the ground between them, feeling surprisingly touched. Maybe it was because of what this girl could do that he was able to feel anything at all. An idea of what to say brewed in his mind.
’Maybe is a flimsy reason to die. I don’t want you to die, Gloria. I think you are going to become the most well-known of your people, and maybe the most well-known of all mankind. Isn’t that what you want, for your people’s dying cry to echo over the ages, because your vengeance cannot be forgotten by Doma Arak?’
Fedaro was trying his hand at a shameless ploy of manipulation. He didn’t even care if she saw straight through it. Somewhere, he was going to strike a nerve, and he was going to get her to commit to his cause. His angle; the Goddess was on her way to Doma Arak and if he could somehow pass her off as the figurehead of the Imperials, who the girl hates, she might yet lay down a creature that otherwise won’t die. She had certainly done something unprecedented by slaying the Stonegald with such ease.
Fedaro continued. ’You know, I was never fond of protective detail missions, and yet all I’ve ever done for Mestarés was make sure he and his men lived to fight another day. Thinking about it, I’m actually pretty damn good at it. But looking after those Imperials is a joyless job. If I offer to protect you, will you take me to the heart of Doma Arak with you?’ He was failing to mention it would him taking her to Doma Arak. He would ensure that in the end, she followed his orders to the letter.
‘What will I do there?’ she asked.
‘Vengeance my lady. There lies a power within the Imperials, that if killed, will release your people from this world. I know you cannot risk being killed by their bullets lest your spirit is trapped on Ellion as well. But that is where I come in. I will keep you safe.’
Fedaro was just going to keep on talking until he had the girl’s buy-in. ‘Afterwards, anywhere in the world you’d like to go... I’ll take you, provided I can make use of your talents for one very important job,’ said Fedaro.
‘You’ll take me anywhere?’
’I want to go home, before I go anywhere else...’
Fedaro sighed. Strangely, that was the one place he did not expect her to say. Arterra was in the opposite direction of Doma Arak. ‘There is nothing there my Lady,’ he said, ‘let me take you someplace warm, maybe a place with a beach and...’
’I need to return home,’ stressed Gloria
‘Very well,’ said Fedaro. He had no intention to visit Arterra. He was however not hoping to deceive the girl. If he could within reasonability see her to her crumbled kingdom he would do so. He was just not convinced it would be to her benefit even, seeing that there was nothing left but ruins and monstra, not much different than their current predicament. If it was in his power to convince her to take a different road along the way then he would certainly do so.
‘Can you stand?’ asked Fedaro.
The girl looked at her ankle and Fedaro saw it was no good. It was swollen and strained.
‘I’m extremely curious about your abilities. Can you get one of those dead spirits to carry you? I would carry you myself but I need to keep my hands free to shoot down anything in our way.’
She shook her head.
The Hippo had somehow just bought himself a ticket out of here by his own stupidity. He is needed.
‘You injured the girl, you’re going to carry her,’ said Fedaro at Beluka. ‘We need to move soon if we want to get away from the Imperials.’
Beluka looked reluctant.
‘I am not asking,’ stressed Fedaro.
Gloria reached out, grabbing Fedaro by the collar and shaking her head frantically. ’It’s going to be okay. This... giant, has come to his senses, and has graciously agreed to carry you until such a time that you can walk on your own.’Fedaro moved out of the way so that the two of them could look each other in the eye.They seemed incredibly awkward toward one another. The girl frightened, and Beluka embarrassed to no end.
Fedaro couldn’t believe this. He had a chance to kill the Goddess and it came in the form of a girl not yet twenty years of age and a big lumbering man that was as likely to be a help as a hindrance.
Normally he couldn’t be bothered to burden himself with anyone who made the going tougher than it already was. But he could not continue on without either one of them.
‘Come now, play nice,’ urged Fedaro to both of them, gesturing to Beluka get on with it
He watched on as the Hippo gathered the girl in his arms, lifting her with ease. The two of them could not look more awkward with each other. He understood the girl’s perspective; he had just tried to kill her a few minutes ago. Beluka’s unease was less understandable, blaming her for the death of his friend simply spoke of someone who had not yet been in war.
‘There we go. Now keep up, we’ve got some ways to go before leaving the Gardens.’
They got moving and Fedaro grew hopeful that this might actually work out.