Lucian suspected what the dead man had just said was important, but he hadn’t been paying attention.
He had been daydreaming, and the dead man had been talking about a hidden… something, somewhere, someone – in Lucian’s defence, the man had been coughing a lot and didn’t seem to have a tongue.
He shouldn’t have been talking with this dead sentry; partly because he was getting his clothes covered in blood, and who knew what trouble that might cause – but mainly because the Company wouldn’t like Lucian being seen somewhere their Hero had just left.
Lucian laid the man’s head down on the ground, and put this all from his mind. If he pretended it never happened, and no one saw it happen…
Lucian had just arrived on the scene. Arriving so late in an assignment was peculiar, no doubt, but he felt it would be a good chance to meet everyone before the break.
He didn’t know what had happened to his predecessor, and he had to admit he was curious. Who wouldn’t be in this line of work? He hoped to find out without having any questions asked about his own previous group. He had only just stopped drinking himself to sleep. Apparently that was just the right time to be sent back into the field – the Company certainly had an odd definition of psychologically sound.
It was for the best; Lucian hadn’t much enjoyed drowning his sorrows – it was the taste – but any other options that allowed him to not dream of his mistakes were either far more expensive, or far more dangerous. Usually both.
Lucian was now close to the necromancer’s castle. A standard affair, skeletons hanging, heads on pikes, and spiky bits everywhere for good measure. He’d seen the architect’s work before of course, all villains used the same company; classic stuff, and he could really appreciate the broad strokes of it.
There was a figure waiting at the entrance archway along with a supply wagon. As he closed in he could tell it was an Elf – male or female was always hard to distinguish – wearing a flowing red robe embroidered with silver threads, and holding a golden staff. Probably not real gold, of course, that would just be a terrible idea – however the Elves were nothing if not flamboyant with a casual disregard for subtlety.
‘Well met!’ Lucian shouted with a big smile as soon as he was within shouting range. He’d been travelling on his own for the past two weeks, so any interaction was a welcome change to him.
He was met with silence, and an unchanged posture until he was within speaking distance. He wouldn’t say the Elf had a rod shoved up somewhere, but it certainly seemed like it.
‘I’m Lucian Huxley,’ he tried again. ‘Your new commander.’
‘Hmm. And here I thought someone else had, on the spur of the moment, decided to journey to the middle of nowhere and approach an evil castle,’ the female Elf replied. Unnecessarily haughtily, he felt.
Lucian cleared his throat. ‘Yes, well, you never know.’ Perhaps her role in the group was to make people feel awkward. A rather specialist skill, admittedly. ‘And you are?’
‘Jezithel Tharadian. Magus.’
‘Oh. Very nice.’ Lucian was pleased he had a magus with him, her spells would prove invaluable. ‘The Company didn’t tell me who I would be commanding or their specialities. I’m sure it will be a pleasure to see you in action.’
Jezithel stared at him with narrowed eyes, perhaps considering if that was a double entendre that deserved retribution. She finally decided on, ‘let us find the others.’
They walked across the drawbridge, which had no doubt been lowered a few hours ago by the Hero. You could tell a lot about a villain by his choice of moat. Necromancers tended to prefer a lake of tortured souls, but this one had gone with a bottomless chasm surrounding his entire castle. Unexpected, but it got the point across.
They continued under the portcullis and through the winding corridors of the necromancer’s castle. ‘Who else have I got under my command?’
‘You should see them for yourself. “Rabble” is how I would describe them.’
Lucian chuckled. ‘And I suppose they sent you for your winning personality?’
‘I was the only one that could remember the way.’ She kept her eyes straight forward.
‘This old place?’ He was surprised the others didn’t know the layout. It showed that they probably didn’t study strategy and tactics quite like him. That was the difference between him and everyone else. He was there with a purpose – at least, a purpose other than getting paid. He knew, that with enough hard work, he could become the one that had followers cleaning up after him. He could be the Hero.
‘It’s just a standard presum castle number six with a skeleton aesthetic.’ As he said this he walked into a large cobweb and had a moment of extreme arm flailing to remove it. ‘Maybe too heavy on the aesthetic.’
As she seemed rather unimpressed and continued to walk along the path he knew would take him to the throne room – or in the skeleton aesthetic, the bone room – he looked her over; her robe was clean despite the dust hanging around the place and the weeks she would have spent travelling. She had the classic Elf look of long blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin, and was thin as a waif. Not to mention she had about a foot on Lucian in height despite him being average.
No, not a foot, Lucian chided himself, thirty centimetres. The effects of the Imperial war were still slow in taking hold after Lord Metriousc changed everything.
The castle had dark purple torches mounted along the walls, partly to illuminate the flagstone corridors, partly to let everyone know it was evil. Anyone that used magical fires clearly had more money and power than sense. Hence, evil.
His brain went into work mode, surveying the current state of the castle.
They’d leave all of these torches burning for as long as possible. They’d leave the cobwebs – those were an excellent touch. Some of the bone dust would need to be swept up, and any random bones from defeated skeletons would need to be stacked in a corner – can’t have a trip hazard lying around for when the tours begin.
He always liked the smell of bone dust. To some it was musty, cloying. To him it was the glorious smell of vanquished villains and heroism. He wished he could bottle the fragrance, and the effect. It might hurt his chances with the ladies, but it might also propel him to a heroic stature. The sacrifices he had to make. Yet, he suspected Lilly wouldn’t mind as much as other ladies. He pushed her from his mind. He’d had enough time to daydream during his journey here.
Apart from that, this would be a pretty simple clean up. Much easier to deal with than a dragon’s hoard or a volcano lair. And he could see most of it had already been done.
They rounded the last corner and the bone room was in front of them. The always peculiar feeling of magic emanated heavily from this room. The final fight had definitely occurred here recently. The room itself was filled with more of the flagstones from the corridors, large purple torches, and several pillars. Nothing out of the ordinary for this pre-summoned castle. Two men worked industriously, one stacking bones artistically around the sides of the room, and the other sweeping bone dust and chips into a pile. A third man helped with the sweeping.
Sorry, “helped” with the sweeping.
As this third man wasn’t doing anything constructive, he was the one who saw the couple enter.
‘Ahh, you found ‘im?’, he shouted slightly louder than necessary.
‘No. It’s someone else that came to explore an evil castle,’ Jezithel said.
‘Bah, piss off, Elf.’ He dropped his broom and walked up to Lucian.
Lucian stuck his hand out to greet the man, who was unperturbed and stopped walking only once all notion of personal space was gone. He wouldn’t be surprised if the man’s name was halitosis.
The man simply stood and examined Lucian from several angles. ‘You the new strat guy?’
‘I prefer Commander, but Leader will do.’
‘Yeah, yeah, sure. Why are you covered in blood?’ He made a wet sniffing sound and then launched a projectile from his nose across the room. Lucian felt he had been lucky that the man turned his head to do it.
‘Oh, umm, there was a henchman still alive.’ Lucian had put that so successfully out of his mind that he’d forgotten the man’s blood was still all over him.
‘That’s fair. I’m Khleb, boss.’
‘Hello, Khleb. Lucian Huxley, your new commander. What do you do around here?’ he asked the man. In fact, he reminded Lucian more of a Goblin than a man if you ignored his height. Pale skin from living underground, and so ugly it was a miracle the Gods hadn’t gotten involved in mortal affairs just to end his life. Still, looks could be deceiving.
‘Little as possible, boss.’ Khleb finally took a step back and Lucian could start breathing again. Khleb also stopped staring suspiciously at Lucian and slapped him on the back.
‘You’ll do!’ He laughed and went back to almost sweeping.
‘He is our thief, Khleb,’ said Jezithel. ‘I am sure he has a second name, but I do not care what it is.’
‘I prefer, “rogue”,’ Khleb said as he spat on the floor. ‘Entices the ladies more.’
‘Jess, how about an introduction for the group’s leading man?’ the one that had been stacking bones said.
Jess sighed, presumably hoping that this human desire to shorten her name wouldn’t spread. Too late. Lucian had already mentally changed her name. ‘This is Darrius.’
Darrius waited a beat before miming she should continue. ‘Darrius Anderson. Incubus,’ she said, clearly hating that she had somehow become the official introducer.
Darrius chuckled. ‘Not a literal Incubus, of course, sir. That’s just Jess here feigning disinterest. She’s resisted my charms for a while, but I can tell she’s softening.’ As he said this he magicked a rose from some hidden pocket and offered it to her.
She slapped it out of his hand and went to stand in a corner.
‘Or not. Hard to tell with Elves. Anyway, I’m the man to go to when you can’t fight or steal your way out of a sticky situation. I’m a professional seducer. A ladies man, if you will. Maybe even, a bard.’ At this he gave a small bow, and would have tipped his cap had he been crude enough to wear one indoors. Half a head taller than Lucian, well tanned, and clearly he kept himself in shape. His brown hair was typical for someone raised in the centre of the Empire, and Lucian had to admit that the way it artfully dangled in front of his face was rather striking – impractical for action as it would require constant brushing to one side, but striking.
‘A pleasure to meet you.’ Lucian said, and shook hands with Darrius. They both smiled at the chance of new, polite, social interaction.
‘I confess, I’ve never worked with a bard before. Have you seen any notable actions?’
‘Oh yes, of course, sir! Why, just on this assignment, we found ourselves needing to relocate a particularly surly farmer’s daughter who just wouldn’t leave the cows unattended.’
‘I could have tended to her needs, if you know what I mean.’ Khleb winked.
Jess threw one of the many bones at him and said, ‘No one would touch you with a barge pole. Go back to being bone idle.’
‘That a pun? Lowest form of wit, you know, Elf.’ Khleb said with venom.
‘That is sarcasm, idiot,’ Jess said.
‘No, I was being serious,’ Khleb replied, oblivious.
Lucian and Darrius ignored their little spat. ‘Needless to say, I relocated her allowing the rest of the group to do their work. Quick, and no one harmed, sir.’
‘As I recall, you were harmed,’ Jess said, clearly determined to make sure nothing but the truth came out.
‘A bit more skilled with a rolling pin than expected, sir,’ Darrius said defensively.
Lucian was slightly taken aback. ‘You needed a rolling pin to… relocate her?’
‘He was chased out of the farmer’s kitchen,’ Jess said, ‘and she caught him outside. She gave him a stern talking to and a few whacks.’
‘Yes, well… these things are really a numbers game. You can’t expect every woman to fall for you. I have a very admirable record of fifty / fifty with the ladies, thank you, Jess.’
‘Quantity, not quality. That’s what I say too.’ Khleb felt he was aiding Darrius’ argument.
‘Not quite sure why, but I do often find myself tangled up with barmaids, farm daughters, and rolling pins.’ For a second Darrius seemed in deep contemplation over this, but it quickly vanished. ‘Life of a bard, I suppose!’
With a roll of her eyes, Jess pushed on, eager to be able to go back to looking imperious whilst doing no work. ‘Finally, we have Garadan Thalkom Thalmek, the brute.’
The last man stopped sweeping, and Lucian had a chance to look the mountain of a man over; a large, well muscled man with skin the colour of obsidian. Lucian wasn’t sure why he had taken such an interest in geology at school – it’s only practical purpose was identifying cave walls and making great similes. Garadan was swathed in a large fur coat that looked too warm. Leather straps and metal plates in the style of a gladiator covered his right side, and a small buckler was slung on his back along with a gigantic, battered sword.
‘I don’t think calling him a brute is quite fair,’ Lucian said.
‘She right,’ Garadan said.
‘Oh. Okay then. I take it you are the noble fighter of the group?’
‘Not noble.’ He had trouble getting his accent around the word noble. ‘So, brute.’
‘Well, a good thing you’re on our side!’ Lucian said awkwardly, unable to read the man. ‘What do you prefer to be called? I don’t know if I can say Garadan Thalk…’
Garadan drew his sword and held it by his side. A gnarled old thing that looked like it had doubled as a club more than once, and could be used one handed only because of the man’s strength.
‘In Karakgar, say name wrong? Insult.’ Once happy that Lucian would be quiet and wasn’t going to insult his honour, the brute sheathed his sword. ‘Gar. Fine.’
Lucian had never encountered one of the men from Karakgar before. Known for their hardiness and strength, they were highly sought after as warriors in the Empire. They were also known for their complete inability to master the Empire’s language.
‘Well, Gar. I’m glad to have you by my side, and you don’t seem at all like a brute,’ Lucian tried his hardest to say this whilst not staring at the sword.
Gar grunted and then went back to sweeping.
‘All right. Well, now that I’ve met the whole team, let’s finish the cleanup and get out of here.’ Lucian clapped his hands and then realised there was no broom to join in the sweeping. He glanced quickly around, not wanting to seem unsure, then saw the necromancer’s throne standing proud at the end of the room, and started towards it to arrange the scene.
‘I should let you all know that I’m a master tactician. Very little gets past me, so don’t worry, you’re in good hands. I won’t let you down.’ Lucian moved with purpose as he tried not to let his uncertainty show.
Half way across the room he spotted a corpse, robed in black and purple with an elaborate, skeleton helmet, pinned to the wall by a black iron-shod staff. ‘I assume this is it?’
Khleb stopped doing nothing to answer. ‘Yup. The necromancer.’
‘Nice position. Really tells a tale. The Company will like this.’
‘Not as good as Moxar’s last quest, of course,’ Khleb said.
‘Oh? I’ve been… holed up, and haven’t heard.’
‘It was rather impressive, indeed,’ Jess joined in. ‘Beheaded on the dark lord’s throne. He managed to make his head land between his legs. Very elegant.’
‘Keeping everything else intact.’ Darrius said. ‘A single slice from the executioner’s swing gouging the throne was the only thing that marked his passing.’
‘He know his work,’ Gar agreed.
Lucian knew that admiring their Hero could pull a team together. He’d heard of Moxar Lightshield before of course, he was one of the trio of the most popular Heroes the Company followed. Lucian had only been following a middle tier Hero, so such a big jump to a Hero like Moxar had come as a pleasant surprise. Finally his work was getting noticed.
‘Until this idiot tried to clean the scene,’ Jess said.
‘Oi.’ Khleb shrunk at the accusation, knowing it was his fault, but also not being able to resist arguing with Jess. ‘I weren’t trying to clean nothing. He had a very shiny ring and clearly wasn’t using it anymore.’
‘Nothing good if mess with scene,’ Gar agreed.
‘Pfft, don’t join in with the Elf.’
‘Well, what happened?’ Lucian asked, curious to find how the previous commander fell. Something he hoped he could avoid with his superior skills. Well, maybe he’d need to keep training. He wasn’t sure how to specifically train to “not die”.
‘I had already sensed the power coming from the corpse, but did not feel the need to mention it,’ Jess said, angry not just at Khleb, but at herself. ‘What idiot disturbs the final scene?’
‘I have impulse issues…’ Khleb said, knowing he’d done wrong. Disturbing a final scene was a sackable offence.
‘Impulse issues that got our commander killed, I’m afraid,’ Darrius said without his previous smile. ‘Third one in as many journeys.’
‘Let’s work.’ Gar said.
After some awkward silence and everyone shuffling back to their tasks, Lucian, putting out of his mind the fact that this group had gone through three commanders in as many assignments, went back to talking shop. ‘So, we’ll get everything cleared for… what’s Moxar’s schedule?’
‘Week,’ Gar said.
‘Plenty of time then. The Company should arrive in a few days and set everything up.’ He was mainly talking to himself now. ‘Right. Well I’ll get to the throne. Let’s keep the slip-ups to a minimum.’
Lucian carried on towards the other end of the room. The throne was another standard issue bone-themed addition to the castle. What wasn’t a standard addition was the floor plate that just before the throne, the one that depressed as he stepped on it. Generally not used, as inevitably the one sitting on said throne was the most likely to forget, and stand on it.
Not the best way to make a good impression on his team.
Everyone froze as they heard the distinctive click of the trap. For a second nothing happened and they all had the chance to stare daggers at Lucian.
‘Master tactician, my arse,’ Khleb said into the silence.
But it was okay. Necromancers were big on ritual and made sure these sorts of traps usually required blood to activate so the group was safe. It was at that moment that Lucian remembered what had happened just before he arrived at the Necromancer’s castle. He had taken it as a warning, but now that he thought about it, it may have been more of a spiteful promise. And a bloody corpse. A bead of nervous sweat trailed down his nose, pulling with it the tiniest remnant of blood that had smeared on his face. The blood landed at his feet.
A low pitched wail began, emanating from, rather specifically, nowhere. It grew louder and the party drew their weapons as one. The piles of bone which Darrius had spent hours stacking, rattled and began to form shapes.
‘Time to run!’ Lucian shouted, and turned to follow his own advice.
‘My kind of strategy!’ Khleb said as he sprinted for the exit.
Before any of them reached that lone exit, a portcullis slammed down, trapping them all inside. They screeched to a halt and looked longingly at the now blocked path to safety. They heard rattling and scraping behind them.
‘Shall we look?’ Darrius asked.
‘Don’t want,’ replied Gar.
Jess stood up straight. ‘We must.’
‘No, no,’ said Khleb. ‘I like my ignorance.’
‘Don’t worry, men. We can handle whatever it is. We have to do it.’ Lucian turned, shortly followed by the others.
‘Piss off!’ Khleb said.
‘That is quite a bugger, yes,’ said Darrius.
‘I do not like getting our commander killed,’ Jess said. ‘I like our commander getting us killed even less, Human.’
‘Gartumfug!’ No one knew what Gar meant but they all agreed with the sentiment.
‘It could be worse. Stand fast, I’ve got a plan–‘ Lucian began.
A dozen armoured skeletons stood in two rows before them, battle axes held menacingly.
As he tried to formulate the plan he claimed to already have, the skeletons began marching forward. The group took an instinctive step back.
However, with the first step, all of the skeletons crumbled into piles of bone once again. All except one.
‘Uhh, Jess?’ Lucian asked, but not taking his eye off the skeleton.
‘The trap must have held a small amount of the necromancer’s power but be designed to draw more from him. With him dead, it only has enough for a single minion.’
‘Right. Five of us, one of him. Just hit it!’ Lucian shouted.
They knew the dangers, but as the perceived threat had just dropped eleven fold, they felt emboldened. They surged forwards, Gar leading the charge with his battered sword held high in one hand, and Darrius close behind brandishing his rapier. Khleb skirted to the outside drawing twin daggers, waiting for his moment. Jess took a ready stance at the back of the room, staff in hand, and Lucian would have liked to have drawn his bow, but knew that was pointless – an arrow couldn’t harm a skeleton – so pulled out his hatchet.
Being the first time he’d see his new group fight, Lucian decided to hang back and see how they handled, just close enough to dash in if they needed help.
Gar arrived first and delivered a massive overhead swing, but the skeleton blocked it with the haft of it’s battle axe. Gar let his momentum carry him around the skeleton and turned to face it’s rear. Lucian was impressed. Clearly Gar was no stranger to battle positioning. Gar then dropped his sword and took hold of his buckler. Lucian presumed he had his reasons, or was going to die very quickly.
Darrius was a close second into the fight and stopped within striking distance of the skeleton, shouted a wordless battle cry, and lunged. The rapier went straight through the skeleton. Skeletons don’t show emotion, but Lucian interpreted its blank face as a smirk. The skeleton turned to face Gar, its ribs ripping Darrius’ rapier from his hands.
Darrius scrambled to get his weapon back, leaving the skeleton’s rear open for a devastating fireball. It didn’t come.
Maybe Jess’ timing was off? Lucian tore his eyes from the skeleton for a momentary glance at her. Sure enough, the fireball was being readied. It seemed smaller than he expected, but fire’s fire.
Actually, it wasn’t so much a fireball as it was a spark. A large spark that went nowhere, with a frustrated looking Jess cursing at her staff. Maybe the necromantic magics were messing with Jess’ finely tuned Elven senses, Lucian thought.
Khleb wasted no time. Seeing the exposed back, he darted in and landed a flurry of blows. Lucian heard and saw the first damage done as several ribs clattered to the floor. Khleb’s follow up was to jog slowly away from the skeleton and lean against a wall, panting.
The skeleton didn’t seem to care about minor annoyances, such as not having ribs, and swung his axe down against Gar’s shield. Gar absorbed the impact with his buckler, the blow shaking his whole body. With a curse he braced himself for another hit.
Lucian could see Gar’s buckler wouldn’t survive many more heavy blows. It was time to show the team he was a useful addition to their fighting force. He leapt forward for his own attack. Just as Gar took another hit, Lucian swung his hatchet against the skeleton’s helmet. It made an impressive gonging sound, and the skeleton casually swung one hand backwards to swat Lucian away.
Lucian ducked but didn’t need to, as Darrius had just returned to the fray and managed to block the skeleton’s hand for Lucian.
With his face.
Darrius sprawled out on the floor and groaned.
‘Weapon.’ Gar said between attacks.
‘I’m using mine.’ Lucian said defensively as he swung at the skeleton again, loosening another rib.
Lucian hadn’t considered it before, but if he could manage one good swing at the skeleton with Gar’s monster of a sword, then this fight might be over.
‘He’s standing on it!’
Gar grunted a foreign curse, and after the next swing from the skeleton, smashed his buckler into the skeleton’s face. The skeleton staggered back, and the buckler fell to pieces.
Lucian dashed for the sword and struggled to hefit it up whilst Gar grappled with the skeleton.
Usually, mortal might didn’t stand much of a chance against a foe that never tired.
Lucian braced himself for the effort, and lifted the sword to rest on his shoulder. With a quick gasp of breath he shouted, ‘Break!’
Gar shoved the skeleton allowing himself to jump backwards, giving Lucian all the room he needed. With a precision that would have been heroic if it hadn’t been a complete accident, the battered old weapon cleaved the skeleton in two, the impetus of it’s own weight doing all the work. Lucian grinned in triumph. He rather forgot the whole battle had been his fault. The others clearly had not.
There was a long, silent, pause. Lucian felt there was a definite air of tension as he received several glares. Four glares, if he counted.
He went into triage mode – got to keep the team together – and made sure that Darrius was breathing. Luckily not only was he able to breathe, but he was also able to wheeze out a, ‘happens to the best of us.’
Lucian gave a bashful smile and tried to preempt the barrage by taking control of the situation.
‘Great job everyone, I noticed a few issues that I think we can–‘
‘–Oh, noticed something did you? Maybe next time, notice the trap!’ Khleb shouted, more annoyed that he was still winded from having to exert himself, than upset by the whole trap triggering ordeal.
‘Even the thief noticed it,’ Jess said.
‘Yeah!’ Khleb agreed. ‘Wait, why ‘even’?’
‘Because you are an insufferable fool, and anything that is not female with a pulse is normally beneath your attention.’
‘Pulse isn’t a deal breaker,’ Khleb shrugged. ‘But piss off! I actually did something!’
‘I would have done something if there had been an opening, but the commander was clearly about to block my shot!’
‘Oh, getting heated now? Could have done that during the fight! But nah, there’s always an excuse.’
‘He’s not blocking my shot now.’ Jess started to bind magic to her staff.
‘Jezithel! You will not kill Khleb!’ Lucian projected his voice and hoped the echo caught her attention. Sure enough, the glow from her staff ceased. ‘Do you understand?’
She tapped her staff on the floor several times in annoyance, deciding whether to push the issue or not. ‘Fine.’
‘Whatever, she’s thrown her little sparks at me before. Don’t care.’ Khleb added pointedly, ‘ “Master Tactician”? “Very little gets past you”? “Won’t let us down”?’
‘Come off it now, Khleb,’ Darrius said, trying to rise to Lucian’s defence, but his nose started bleeding profusely half way up. He lay down again. ‘Could have happened to anyone. Bit of help here?’
Lucian hadn’t noticed Gar, but looked his way now. He was massaging his wrist, his face scrunched up in pain. ‘Are you okay?’ Lucian asked, before realising how stupid a question it was given the evidence.
‘Know layout of castle. Don’t know where trap?’ Gar said.
‘Well, I’ve never actually been inside this variant before,’ Lucian asked, removing some bandages from his satchel. ‘Just books, you know? Did the battering from the axe break your wrist?’
‘No. Skeleton weak.’ Lucian looked at the splintered buckler but let Gar continue, ‘Kakthar wrists. Weak. I hit things, they hurt. Not things, my wrists.’
‘Weak wrists, our old chap here has, hence not really liking using swords,’ Darrius helped.
‘A warrior with weak wrists?’ Lucian took Gar’s hand to bandage it, but Gar swiped the bandages from Lucian and shouldered past him. He knelt and started bandaging Darrius’ face.
‘Pfft. Warrior. Give anyone sword and shield, call them warrior, they are warrior.’
‘And who cares about their past training and their present joints. Right?’ Darrius said.
‘Ha. Right.’ Gar said.
‘Any spare bandages? I swear, my sides are splitting,’ Khleb said.
‘No,’ they all said in unison. Jess may have added “Idiot” after it. It was hard to tell with the echo.
All things considered, this hadn’t been his worst introduction to a new group. Not by far. But Lucian still resigned himself to an awkward few weeks of travelling as he led his group back to the capital and their commerce break.