[Aq] Week 230: Continuing Stories

Apeiron

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Chapter 7.2
WC: 1,320

Ioannes snuck back down from the tree-line and leaned up against the side of the house.

Just above him, light from the house poured out into the darkness and he could faintly hear Nonus speaking. Though his voice was low, his tone was calm and concerned. “You are a very brave young woman,” Ioannes heard Nonus say. There was a heavy thud of the knight-captain shifting, and some muffled speech before, “I do not wish for this to continue, but if you persist the others will be left to their own devices. And I cannot interfere after that.”

Silence, and Ioannes dared to peek up over the edge of the window sill. There he saw Katharina bound and lying on the floor next to her uncle, and Augustus. Nonus was kneeling down next to her. The gunsmith couldn’t see the knight-captain’s face, but by the tone of Nonus’s voice he must have had a soft expression on his face -- or, what would pass for a soft expression from the knight-captain.

The other men were milling about the house, over turning more furniture and rummaging through cupboards. Except for Gnaeus, who stood next to the fireplace and barely visible to Ioannes. The thin laicar was holding the fire poker, and he wore an equally thin smile that turned Ioannes’s stomach.

The gunsmith felt a wave of cowardice wash over him, and he ducked back down beneath the windowsill. His heart began pounding in his ears, and his breathing became short, erratic draws of cool night air.

What exactly was he planning to do? Crius would be at the barn any second, and how many of them would that draw away? Definitely not all of them.

Was he going to fight them? That would be what the heroes in his stories did. A clever distraction, combined with righteous action, all to save those who couldn’t protect themselves.

… But Ioannes wasn’t a hero from a story. Years of being bullied had taught him that. Still, doing nothing was not an option, and he was already trying to do something. Master Romanus would curse him and crack him over the skull for starting something and not finishing it.

“I don’t care if it is a terrible idea,” Ioannes heard his mentor’s voice. “If you’ve resolved to do something. Do it. You can worry later about the details when you’ve failed.”

Those words felt better when applied to designing new firearms. Here they rang a little hollow, especially since Ioannes had no one but himself to rely on. Even so, there was a truth to those words, and the gunsmith drew upon that truth.

He ducked back around the small farm house to the open window. As he reached the window, a sudden, horrid, inhuman scream broke the night’s quiet. The scream was so abrupt that Ioannes flinched and on reflex shouldered his rifle.

A heartbeat later he calmed himself when he realized it had been one of the horses in the stable.

He also heard heavy metal footsteps rush to the front of the house and slammed the door wide open. Another heartbeat and Crius let out an insidiously pleasant cry that reached the farm house.

“Basilisk!” Nonus shouted. “Milo, Lycus, on me. Gnaeus, Tomas, stay here and guard them.”

In a flurry of motion, Nonus led two of his men out into the dark and towards the stable while the other two rallied in the main room of the house. It was in that moment of commotion that Ioannes slipped up and over the windowsill. Back into the darkened room where he had been held hostage not so long ago.

Ioannes crept silently across the room. All the while his mind raced about what to do next. If he could, he’d lure one of the men back into the room. Then, using his rifle, he could deliver a quick bump to their head before the realized what was going on.

No.

There was no guarantee that plan would work, and Ioannes didn’t know how much time Crius had bought him.

Pressing his back up against the wall next to the doorway, Ioannes held his rifle so the barrel was pointed up and closed his eyes. He wasn’t particularly religious (Master Romanus thought there were better things to do than pray at church when they could be traveling) but here Ioannes whispered a prayer to Aquilia for protection, then to Serpens to guide him to the right path, and finally a word for Castus that he might be merciful in his actions.

With one deep breath, the gunsmith swallowed down any hesitation and stepped around the corner into the next room.

Both laicar were standing by windows when Ioannes walked through the doorway. Their attention was completely on the dark beyond the window where they had hoped to catch a glimpse of whatever Nonus and the others were doing.

So it only came to be a small surprise to all involved when the gunsmith rounded the corner. Perhaps the most surprised out of everyone were Katharina and her uncle who were still bound and on the floor by the fireplace.

Gnaeus and Tomas spun on their heels brandishing their weapons -- Gnaeus the fire poker in both hands like some great sword, and Tomas some odd curved knife that bent forward too much to seem practical -- but when Ioannes raised his custom rifle, their faces went white as ash.

“I don’t want trouble,” Ioannes stupidly blabbered, “but I won’t stand to see you hurt these folk. They’ve done nothing wrong.”

Tomas said nothing. He simply kept his odd knife raised back, his arm cocked as if he meant to thrown the thing, his face devoid of anything close to emotion. He was like a statue.

Gnaeus wasn’t nearly so pleasant. He spat off to the side and glared daggers at Ioannes. When he began to speak his tone was all condescending arrogance, saying, “You stupid bumpkin. These two were hiding a deserter. On top of that, the good knight-captain believes they’re hiding something more. Who are you to get in the way of us Hellhounds?”

Something inside of the gunsmith stirred, and he found himself possessed by a feeling he had only ever felt when he was undoubtedly certain. The feeling of conviction, or of simple right-ness.

As he spoke his words seemed to carry an unseeable weight, “I am Ioannes Furvus. Journeyman Gunsmith, and once apprentice to the man known as Paragon. I am a child of Eidolon, and I am here to ensure that the cruelty that happened to my village never happens to another soul.”

Color had drained from both men’s faces, but Gnaeus refused to drop his charade and acted as though Ioannes’s words meant nothing. He forced an awkward chuckle, saying, “So what. You’re a bumpkin that knows how to fix guns. Ten silver crosses says you don’t even know how to use one.”

“One way to find out,” Ioannes shot back coolly. He kept his eyes shifting back between Tomas and Gnaeus. “So, you want to take that bet or will you untie those two--” he motioned to Katharina and her uncle, “-- because a gold prophet says one of you will do something incredibly stupid.”

Tomas shifted his stance and Ioannes readied his rifle, but the other man simply returned his knife to its holster in his jacket. “But the poker down,” Tomas began in a clear Hiemisian accent. “I’ll not risk getting shot for you, Gnaeus. Pissing off Nonus is one thing, but I’d use you as a shield before I take a bullet.”

The thin laicar sneered at Tomas who shrugged off any concern. Gnaeus turned his glare on Ioannes, but it soon withered under the rifle’s long iron gaze. Without much fanfare, Gnaeus dropped the poker and began untying Katharina.

“This isn’t over, boy,” Gnaeus threatened.

“For everyone’s sake,” Ioannes replied, “I really hope it is.”





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