Medievia Mudslinger

June 24th, 2002

The Eyes Have It - By Portilius

They are different. I can see it.

I move amongst the ordinary folk and watch carefully from the shadows. I used to be good and retirement has not dulled my skills. If I had wanted them to see me then they would have done so. What are they?

I mingle with the crowds of ordinary people, but my eyes take in those who interest me. The crowd I move through in this tavern are ordinary people - they talk and laugh and enjoy themselves. Those two I see across the room, however - they appear to be the standard sort of people of this realm. Their equipment is outlandish but the guards of the City of Medievia hail from all climes as do the mercenaries who infest the place.

There is a difference, though. That pair have a certain vitality that those around me lack. Somehow, they are more alive. I cannot explain it, but there is more to them than any other here. They sit at a table and talk and I am fascinated.

The eyes. I realize after watching them surreptitiously that their eyes show their vigor. I donít know why I didn't see it before but I could recognize their kind anywhere now. Are there more or just these two? Within an hour of patient observation that question is answered. A third comes and sits with them.

My ale remains untouched as I watch them from the shadows near the fire. I dismissed the others in the tavern as being without that extra life a long time ago. What are these people doing here? A thrill of suspicion trills through my brain. What are they? Two men and the new arrival is a woman, she in the robes of a mage and the men in heavy armor. They all appear competent and comfortable in each otherís presence. Avoiding suspicion is paramount and I decide to leave the tavern for some air and a chance to think.

Their table is close to the door and I avert my gaze as I pass, but my ears catch some of their words - they are planning a trading expedition. I donít catch all of the words, but enough to know that it is a long trip.

The air is cleaner outside and I pause to clear my lungs of smoke. People mill around, the normal people that inhabit this City. Merchants mingle with guards and beggars with mercenaries. Yet amongst them I can see the others moving - nothing too distinguishing to the untrained observer but I look at their eyes. In groups or singly they pass by, hardly noticing me as they go about their business. How many are there? My pulse begins to sound loud in my ears as I watch with mounting panic.

I try to head back into the tavern - there are but three of them there and that would be safer. A man in a dark cape accosts me and tries to sell me a mirror of all things. I am about to push him away but I see something. I push coins at the gaunt man and take the mirror to one side and examine the surface closely. What am I? I must know.

With another tankard in my hand, I leave the mirror by the bar and sit in a corner, brooding. Am I truly one of them? Can they see me as I see them? The shadows are suddenly not deep enough nor dark enough to match my mood. I must know more.

Once more I am the hunter, a life I had thought to leave behind. I head home quickly and collect my equipment from the top of the wardrobe where it had once been left for good. My beloved asks me what troubles me but her eyes are not as mine or theirs. I only say that Iíll return when my business is complete.

They are leaving the tavern as I return and I watch from a distance. The stables are nearby and I follow their creaking wagons from the trade post. Wagon drovers rarely look behind - only their destination is important and I use this, all the while trying to think.

Are these my peers? Am I to live up to their values? What should I be doing? Should I greet or challenge them? All I can do is to watch and wait, working out how they act and being ready to copy them. If I am one of them then I have to know what to do.

The journey is long, but my horse is fit, and I keep them in sight. We passed Riverton some time ago and I have to wonder as to their destination. When they camp, I take my rest and they are cold, lonely nights without a fire. Should I have approached them by now? I do not know, but I know that I need to find out more about them whether I catch them up or not. Safety lies in information.

There are forests in the world and the one they are about to pass is just one of many to the normal eye, but there is something... malign about it. My quarry can sense it too - a feeling on the edge of hearing that betrays danger within the barky mass. They start to look around and I am forced to follow through the brush at the side of the road to avoid them seeing me. My horse complains, but I have the reins and the need to go onward.

They wait at the start of a trail that leads into the forest and I watch with interest as they prepare themselves. The forest is unappealing, but I have to see them closer where no others could interfere. My horse refuses and nothing I can do will force it to go closer. I can move with more stealth myself, though, and I allow it its freedom.

I creep in on a side trail through the forest and hope that I am not too far behind. What have they come here for? There are better tracks to follow than this dank place and I have to wonder as to their sanity. My own briefly crosses my mind, but my need outweighs my self respect.

I ghost through the trees and watch the trail from the side as carefully as I look behind me. Too many hiding places abound here to trap the unwary and I have never been called stupid. Not by anyone who now lives.

They come along the trail and I pause as still as the trunks I hide amongst. There are others here - I can sense them now. My heart - surely they can hear such a loud beat. Should I warn or stay silent and undetected? Too late - those I sought are under attack and I am struck with indecision.

My quarry appeared competent and their skills proved this as they accounted for themselves honorably. Their foes swarm around, flashing in with sudden attacks and darting away quickly. They bleed as they run and I am heartened to see it. There are too many and they are wearing the traders down. A myriad cuts are visible on the leading warrior and the mage looks exhausted. She is pulled from her horse with a scream.

Her companions turn at this and it is a fatal distraction. The enemy, silent in their victory, swarm forward and I act. There is no reason behind my actions, just instinct. Am I one of a social race, given to assisting my own kind? I do not know, but my knife plunges deep into the back of an unwary foe. The hunter becomes the prey, and he falls silently. His death gives me time to creep up behind another and he joins his friend.

The ambushers become aware of me. Two of their number lie on the blood-soaked ground by my hand and there are three others courtesy of the now-still merchants. Three remain - it is poor odds for me but they have lost too many. Like shadows they melt into the trees and I watch as they leave.

The merchants are dead. The ambushers had been trying to remove their armor as I struck and that had given me the advantage. I examine the corpses and their eyes are normal now in death. What were you? The thought passes through my head even as I hear a noise and turn swiftly.

An ambusher, dressed in black, gasps his last on the leafy floor. I pull him upright to ask questions, but halt my tongue as I see his face. He is alive in the same way that the merchants were - that I am. I fumble for the words I need, but I take too long and that life in his eyes fades and dies.

I take one of the remaining horses, risking time to take all available coin pouches, and gallop out. Nobody tries to stop me and I am soon on the road headed for home. I see others of my kind passing in the other direction, all with that look to their eyes, but I avoid them and think.

My beloved is overjoyed to see me return safely. My first thoughts are to check her eyes again just in case, but there is no danger there. Life like that can only mean danger. She heats the kettles for a bath - I must stink after a few days in the saddle.

The hot water soothes my muscles and I can relax at last. I am beyond caring about those who are more alive. I will keep to myself and trust that they will do likewise. My beloved brings fresh towels and I take a decision. I know where my best interests, and hers, lie and I shall not leave her again.

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