Note: this is Part Two of the story. Part One can be found here.
The arrival of Sheaf was a breath of fresh air. He brought with him a worldliness, the likes of which I had never seen before in my young age. The knowledge he possessed was astounding, but he never expected me to take his word on anything, instead urging me to research what interested me and to find my own truths in the world.
He stayed in the inn for nearly a week. Each day, at around lunchtime, he would come downstairs for a glass of wine and a bit of food, and pay a platinum Imperium. Each night, as business dwindled, he would find the time to converse with me, on all manner of ranging subjects, from the histories of various gods to the politics of countries and provinces near and far.
I was a young man, then, and perhaps easy to impress, but impress me he did. And, daily, he continued to impress me with his knowledge and wisdom, until the day came that I was no longer a young man. Time, you see, is a fickle lord, and does not always see the need to age us according to our years.
"Oh, the current Emperor's line stretches back a few thousand years," Sheaf said, taking a sip of his wine as Joseff polished the various bottles of spirits behind. "But no, he is not of the original family. That line died out long ago."
"I...didn't know that," Joseff admitted. "So what happens if the Emperor dies without an heir?"
"A series of elections. The Senate and Council of Governors each appoint a candidate from within their ranks, who must meet a stringent set of criteria. Then, both parties vote, and the winner of the election is appointed Emperor."
Joseff nodded, thoughtful, and opened his mouth to ask another question when the front door burst open. "Raiders!" Patrick, the blond-headed farmer from the West end of town shouted, his chest heaving. "They attacked the Millbrooke's farm first, and they're--" he abruptly stopped and toppled forward, showcasing the handle, as well as half of the head, of the throwing axe that had found itself planted in his head.
Joseff stared for a moment, certain that it was a joke. Certain that Patrick and his friends had gotten together, and decided, hey, let's play a trick on Joseff. He's always got his head in a book, why not give him a dose of reality? We'll make him think someone died right in front of him. Hells, maybe his father was in on it, too, and that's why he was being so quiet, not saying anything, not doing anything, maybe it was all just a fantasy, some stupid joke and he needed to laugh, to show that haha, he got it, and wasn't it just so funny, because they had really pulled the wool over his eyes!
He bent over, suddenly, the mutton and bread he had eaten for lunch ejecting itself from his stomach with the speed of a ballista bolt. Then came the subtle clinking of chains, and Joseff looked up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, before freezing.
The creature that walked through the door stood maybe four and a half feet tall, with mottled green skin. His face was unusually flat, his eyes wider and shorter than those of a human. His ears were pointed, and the teeth that Joseff could see were yellowed and sharp.
The goblin wore a simple chain shirt over his outfit, and a metal cap protected his head. In his left hand he held a short sword, and his right hand grasped the handle of the throwing axe in Patrick's head, his foot bracing against the farmer's neck as he wrenched free the weapon.
"Gonna diiiiiiiie," the goblin said, singing the word in his guttural voice. He slowly began to approach the three men, a cruel smile alighting on his face.
Sheaf was the first to react, quickly striding towards the goblin. There was a soft noise, almost the sound of a page within a book turning, as the traveler drew his sword, and Joseff saw for the first time how impossibly thin the blade of the weapon was. The goblin slashed at Sheaf, who parried the blow easily, and continued to twist his body, making a 360 degree turn with his sword, bringing the business edge of the weapon back around to sever the goblin's head at the neck, neatly and effortlessly, as if he had practiced the act since he was three.
"You are armed, Adem?" Sheaf asked, not turning.
"Aye," the barkeep said. He drew the simple cudgel he kept behind the bar and, after a moments thought, opened a drawer. "Joseff," he said, and his son turned to him to see the revolver in his hand. "Take this, son. You're not as strong as I, you'll do less damage with the stick."
Joseff nodded, swallowing heavily, and took the firearm. His father passed him a pouch filled with rounds, which he buckled around his waist, before checking to see that the gun was loaded. Six rounds were in their respective chambers. Six rounds of death.
"I'm going out there," Sheaf said. "The two of you would probably do best to protect your establishment. I daresay, when the day is done, this will be quite the popular building."
"Wait!" Joseff said, careful to avoid the puddle of vomit as he walked around the bar. "I'll go with you."
Sheaf opened his mouth, and for a moment, Joseff was sure he would refuse, but then a shadow of understanding, and...sorrow?...appeared on the mans face. "Yes," he said, finally. "You may join."
The events that occurred after they walked out the door of the tavern passed in a haze for Joseff, a well-intentioned man who had never seen evil, had never known violence other than the occasional drunken brawl. It seemed that blood was everywhere, painting the walls of the buildings, staining the glass of the windows, forming miniature rivers in the worn ruts of the roads.
There were hundreds of them, and for a town that boasted maybe 400 people on a good day, it was a challenge the likes of which no one was prepared for.
Still, the townsmen fought on, and fought well. They weren't warriors, true, but many of them had held a hoe since they could walk, and strong muscles count for a lot, even if they are untrained. And the raiders were fighting for profit. The townsmen were fighting for home. Never underestimate a man who fights for his home and family, for they are prone to perform feats greater than you can imagine.
Joseff wasn't sure if he actually hit anything. He fired his weapon automatically, whenever he saw a clear shot. Now that he was outside, he could see that there were more than just goblins--humans, orcs, and even a few elves were counted amongst the attackers.
He pulled the trigger again, and didn't feel the comforting shock as the weapon fired, didn't hear the accompanying miniature crack of thunder. Again, he thumbed back the hammer and pulled the trigger, and heard only a faint click, barely audible over the sounds of battle. Again, he tried to fire, and with the same result, before remembering that he must need to reload.
He fumbled the cylinder open, spilling the useless casings on the ground. Awkwardly, as if each finger on his hand was new and untested, he began to push new rounds into the weapon, before raising it, thumbing back the hammer, and pulling the trigger, the face of an orc raider rushing towards him disintegrating in a cloud of light red mist.
He turned to see Sheaf engaged against three combatants at once. Blood so dark it almost appeared black dripped from numerous wounds he had already endured, but he fought on with a ferocity and skill that was incredible to watch, singlehandedly turning the tide of the battle against the attacking forces.
In a daze, Joseff followed his lead, absently firing at raiders, reloading whenever he realized his weapon was empty, his brain unable or unwilling to fully comprehend the chaos of the situation it found itself in.
After a period of time that seemed simultaneously an eternity and an instant, the attackers knew that they had lost. They began to flee, in greater and greater numbers, until only the stragglers that were unable to escape from combat were left. Sheaf himself had three of them, trapped at the end of a shallow alleyway. Joseff tried to fire, but his gun had run dry once more. He clumsily opened and emptied it, his free hand diving into the pouch for more bullets.
The pouch was empty.
But that was impossible! His father had at least fifty rounds in that pouch, they couldn't all be gone! His hand searched the pouch, frantically, until it finally alighted on the smooth metallic surface of a single bullet. He pushed it into place, closing the cylinder back into position, and looked up just to see the sheen of wet metal push through Sheaf's back.
It seemed impossible, but there it was. The other two combatants lay dead on the ground, but one, a goblin, had somehow gotten the upper hand, and his long sword had been forced through Sheaf's midsection.
Joseff pulled the trigger. The goblin's head vanished, as if there were a wizard showcasing his abilities. Slowly, Joseff walked to Sheaf, who turned to see him. "Thank...you," the man said in a strained voice, pain evident on his face.
It was at this point that Joseff noticed that the blood oozing from Sheaf's copious wounds didn't merely appear black, but was black, as dark as ink.
"Please," Sheaf said, struggling with the effort of speaking. His breath came out in ragged bursts, a cruel mockery of true breathing. Not without struggle, he held his sword up, red blood flowing off of it, and Joseff saw the oddness of the blade up close. It almost appeared to be...paper. Dark words were scribbled on the blade, here and there, and Joseff saw that they were names. "Take it," Sheaf said, holding the sword by it's paper-thin blade. Joseff's hand moved, and then stopped. "Take it!" Sheaf said once more, pain and desperation in his voice. And then, "Let me die in peace!"
Joseff grabbed the handle of the sword, and pain erupted through his body. He saw the names on the blade begin to disappear, as if they were evaporating, and out of the corner of his vision, he saw the blood from one of the cuts he had sustained begin to darken. My blood is turning to ink, he thought, like his.
The man he had begun to consider a friend fell to the ground in death, and the boy began to feel his head flood with information and memories. The last thing he could remember before darkness stole his world from him was one word, burning in importance above all others: SHEAF.