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/ /Author’s Note: This story, Terrible Company, is sprawling sword-and-sorcery fantasy satire with a diverse cast of characters. Over its many chapters, those characters will have interactions (both with each other and others) that cross many of the lines that exist between Lit genres. I have come to believe that breaking the story into those different categories, as best I can, is the best way to expose the most readers to parts of the story they might dig, and that they might then be encouraged to read on.

Each chapter is written as a self-contained episode, and although there are running gags that continue through the series that enrich the experience, they shouldn’t prevent one from starting anywhere in the series (including the final chapter) and enjoying it for what it is.

This chapter features:

Val, the female Orc Warrior/Fighter

Katsa, the female Human Arcanist

Mathilda, the female Dwarf Healer

Ayen, the male Half Elf Thief

Ivy, the female Human Bard

Enjoy!//

“So she says ‘Quick. Back ‘ere’. An’ a’course Ah followed.”

“Did anyone see you?” Ayen asked, steering his horse to ride a little closer to Mathilda’s as the two of them rode alone.

The dark-haired Dwarf shook her head. “Hundreds’f cousins stumblin’ abou’, with no more’n a few boxes fer us to hide b’hind. She put ‘er ‘and down my pants an’ kissed me, and ugh… Ah tell ya. Tha’ woman’s tongue.”

“I bet it didn’t take long for her to make you cum, did it?”

“If Ah lasted two minu’es, Ah’d be shocked.”

Ayen bit his lip and groaned.

“M’vision was all blurry when Ah opened my eyes, an’ all Ah could see was’r fire blonde hair. She pu’ ‘er fingers in m’mouth, all we’ an’ sticky, an’ Ah’ll never forge’ i’. She whispered ‘Swee’er than the swee’est wine’. Ah jus’ abou’ creamed m’self on the spo’. Again.”

“Daaaamn.”

“Ah know.” Mathilda sighed wistfully. “She was special.”

“Now, just so I’m picturing this all correctly, Breta was…” Ayen looked up as he slowed his horse to a stop.

“Breta was wha’?”

He stretched his arm in front of her, and Mathilda swatted at his wrist when his palm cupped her left breast. She stopped next to him all the same, though.

“Ho there,” Ayen shouted, and Mathilda tried to follow the line of his eyes skyward through the light forest around them. When there was no response, he smiled. “Val? Is that you?”

“…Yes,” came Val’s voice, from way up in the trees. Mathilda craned her head this way and that but couldn’t see the big Orc. It was hard to judge distance with so many the echoes.

“What are you doing up there?”

“Just… uh… you know…”

“…No. I don’t know.”

“…Testing you?”

Ayen snorted. “How exactly are you testing us?”

“I didn’t really think you were doing any scouting, so I… uh…”

Their horses, impatient to be moving, stamped their hooves and pawed at the hard-packed dirt.

“What were you going to do from way up there? Drop something on us?”

“Something like that,” Val said.

Mathilda snickered, and Ayen brushed at her shoulder with the back of his hand.

“Are you satisfied that we’re keeping an eye out?”

“Yes.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“Wait ’til you ride on, so I can climb back down with some dignity?”

The Dwarf chortled, doing a significantly poorer job of keeping a straight face than Ayen was, and with a little effort both of them kept their horses in mostly the same place. After a minute, Val sighed and worked her way down through the branches. It took Mathilda another minute after that to spot Val as she descended through a soaring Pale Orthans tree fifteen yards farther down the road. The green-skinned Warrior dropped the last ten feet and refused to make eye contact with them as she brushed most of the leaves out of her hair and off of her shoulders. She grumbled as she stalked back down the trail, toward where Katsa and Ivy were following with the cart.

“So,” Ayen said, smiling as they resumed their slow pace. “Breta.”

“Aye?”

“She’s about the same size you are?”

Mathilda squinted and looked up. “Depends. When she firs’ took me under ‘er wing, she’d been at the forge for seventy years an’ Ah was jus’ startin’. She was a bi’ thicker’n me then. Now, tha’ reunion there was… ten years la’er? We were… yeah. Abou’ the same size.”

“And that’s the same size you are now?”

The little Dwarf made an unhappy sound. “It’s been longer than Ah care to admi’ since Ah worked a forge proper, so Ah’ve lost some…” Mathilda twisted her arms. “Some definition, Ah guess. Not much, bu’ some.”

“She sounds awesome.”

“Bes’ orgasms Ah ever ‘ad.”

“Oh I’m sure,” Ayen said, “but I just mean that you two were close in addition to all that. Like as friends.”

Mathilda licked her lips and nodded, quietly.

“Do you miss her?”

” ‘at’s a poin’less warren to go down,” the Healer said. “Ah don’ escort ataşehir ‘ave a lo’ of choice in terms ‘o wha’ Ah leave b’hind. Ah go where tha’ miserable bastard sends me an’ pray fer the day i’ stops.”

“Do you think it will?”

“Will wha’?”

“End someday?”

“Ah’ve got’a believe i’ will, don’ Ah?”

They rode on in silence for bit after that.

” ‘ave Ah told ye about the time Breta an’ Ah went to Vendemere to sell a car’-load of ore an’ tools?”

“I don’t think so,” Ayen said, smiling. “Vendemere’s a human city, right?”

“Firs’ time we were off together where no one knew us, an’ we didn’ need t’hide.”

“Oh. No, you definitely haven’t told me about that.”

Mathilda bit her lower lip, summoning the memory, and sighed happily.

***

Katsa felt a tickle on the back of her neck as they rode down the main thoroughfare of the small, signless town. Heavy cloud cover muted the sunlight, and she found herself guiding her horse just that much closer to Val’s big stallion.

“I told you,” Ayen murmured, as he looked back at the others. “This place is off.”

Katsa couldn’t put her finger on it, and by the looks of it neither could Val or Mathilda. Even Ivy, at the reins of the cart, looked perplexed. The buildings looked normal, if a bit small. The plant life looked normal. It looked and sounded like a normal town.

“Why do Ah ge’ the feelin’ tha’ one of these nitwits is abou’ to come up and ask if Ah’ve accepted Jesus Chris’ as m’personal savior?” Mathilda muttered.

“Or offer me a Chick tract?” Ayen chuckled. “Did you ever read Dark Dungeons? Oh my Gods.”

“Not the time,” Katsa hissed.

“They seem nice,” Ivy said.

“Keep yer wits abou’ ye, lass.”

“Are you sure this is where we’re supposed to be?” Val asked, leaning forward to whisper toward the Dwarf. “This is where Rhogan wants us?”

“Aye,” Mathilda said. “This’s the place. Dunno why as ye’, but this’s i’.”

“I am really starting to dislike that God of yours,” Katsa muttered.

“Well he’s aces by me,” Ayen said.

“Yeah,” Katsa snarked, “we really dragged you away from the jaws of death, huh?”

“I don’t know what you guys think you saw,” the Thief whispered, half-turning, “but I know my mother better than you. She didn’t want me. She wanted to use me.”

“Spending the rest of your life having sex with a woman who looked like that sounds terrrrible.”

Val jabbed Katsa in the ribs, drawing an offended squeak from the Arcanist.

“She needed me to produce a royal heir with her. Once that happened, I would have ceased to serve any purpose for her.”

“Ewww,” the big Orc whined. Katsa rolled her eyes and sulked.

The tavern was not hard to find. Mathilda and Ayen took the horses around back while the Arcanist followed Val into the common room. As soon as the big Orc was inside she came to an abrupt halt, causing Katsa to run into her and Ivy to bounce into them both.

“Hello,” said the chipper young serving girl as she came out from the kitchen. “Can I get you a table?”

Katsa looked around, as did the others. The room was not just empty of people, but of furniture as well. “Do you mean that you’ll literally get us one?”

“Well yeah,” she laughed, snorting twice. “They’re not invisible.” She retreated into the back giggling to herself, and the three women shared a moment of pause.

“Would invisible furniture be less crazy,” Val asked, “or an equal but different crazy?”

Katsa shrugged. “They seem pretty comparable.”

“Heeere we go,” the serving girl grunted, two minutes later, as she wheeled a round table through the doorway and across the floor. “And is it just the three of you?”

“Five,” Ivy said brightly, and the serving girl’s face fell just a little bit.

“Five. Got it.” She moved the table over near the windows, cheeks flush with exertion, and let it come down onto its central stand. “There,” she huffed. “Isn’t that nice?”

“Uh h—.”

“—seems really gr—”

“—bably better with some chairs.”

Katsa and Val glared at Ivy.

“Coming right up!”

Mathilda and Ayen walked into the common room and stopped, staring at all the empty space with a similar consternation.

“It’s weird,” Val whispered, “right?”

“Where are the chairs?” Ayen said.

“She’s going to get them now.”

“Here’s one,” the girl called, as she carried a high-back seat. She set it down next to Katsa and hustled out of the room.

“Do you want help?” Val called. There was no answer.

“This’s… erm…” Mathilda scratched at the back of her head.

“Minimalist,” Ivy suggested with a lilt, and the Dwarf nodded.

” ‘at’s i’. Minimalis’.”

Ivy cleared her throat with a smile that got even brighter when Katsa turned toward her. “Did you want to knock out the first part of your Fire Safety course while we wait?”

The Arcanist blinked. “You were serious about that?”

“I wrote it down in ink,” kadıköy escort Ivy said, tapping her notebook incredulously.

“I use fire all the time. I think I know how to wield it without burning myself.”

“We’re not talking about you,” Val said, folding her arms. “We’re talking about all the forest fires you started, and who knows how many people you’ve straight up killed with fireballs.”

The Arcanist swallowed hard. “Yeah, but… you know about all of those. The only people I’ve killed were… you know… bad people.”

“Don’t forget about all the innocent bystanders you’ve injured.”

“Name one,” Katsa grumped.

“At least three Ayen,” Ivy said, flipping back through her notes.

Val arched an eyebrow at her. “You turned that tavern in Jonehn into a death trap.”

“They were all trying to kill us!” she squealed. Then she pointed to Ayen, continuing “Plus he started that tavern fire.”

“It’s not so bad,” Ivy said brightly. “It’s just six three-hour sessions, and we’ll be—”

“Eighteen hours?!”

Mathilda blinked, and covertly began counting on her fingers. Katsa looked like she wanted to say more, but stopped at a glare from Val.

“And that’s two,” the serving girl wheezed, setting down a second, mismatched chair.

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” Val asked.

“No!” the girl said tiredly over her shoulder. “I definitely love this.”

The Half-Elf shook his head and spoke low. “What is wrong with these people?”

Suddenly Val straightened, chin angled high, and sniffed. And then sniffed again. “It can’t be,” she grumbled, and quickly set off across the room wearing a terrific scowl. Katsa, in no mood to be lectured, raced after her as the big Orc turned down a hallway, past what looked like some rooms for rent, and stopped to sniff again. She turned, facing the last door in the hallway, and kicked down the door.

“Are we playing Munchkin?” Ivy asked excitedly, startling Katsa with her un-announced presence.

Val took two steps into the room, her eyes alight with fury. A young couple, naked on the bed, scrambled to cover themselves with the dislodged bedsheet while the old man in the corner curled both of his legs up in front of himself.

“You,” Val growled.

The Narrator blinked and stared up at her. “Not again!” he cried.

“What did I tell you!”

“It was an accident!”

“What did she tell him,” Ivy whispered, and Katsa shrugged.

“Can we—” The young couple on the bed froze as the Arcanist extended her rune-embroidered gloved hand toward them, wrist arched, and shook her head.

“Why are you here?” the big Orc snarled.

“It has nothing to do with you! I promise!”

“Why do I not believe you?”

“I promise!”

“What did this guy do to you?” Katsa asked.

“He… described me once,” Val said, and then quickly shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. The point is, I told him I’d break his legs if I ever saw him again.”

“And you haven’t! Un-un-until today!”

“I didn’t see you, but you were there. I know you were.”

The elderly man waved his hands frantically. “No! I heeded your warning!”

“I kept smelling you!”

“That’s really creepy,” Katsa added. “On all counts.”

“Ye’s been following us for years now.”

“My Gods,” the Arcanist said, her eyes unfocusing. “Has it really been years?”

“Doesn’t feel like it, right?”

“It feels like we’ve only been together for a few months!”

“Almost three years,” Val said.

Katsa blew out a long breath. “I’m getting too old for this.”

The young man on the bed cleared his throat. “You all obviously have a lot of catching up to do, so if you don’t mind?”

“Oh let ’em go,” the Warrior said, waving a hand dismissively. Katsa frowned and folded her arms across her slim chest as the young woman wrapped herself up in the sheet and the two of them fled the room.

“Oooh,” Ivy murmured, looking back down the hall. “He has a nice butt.”

The Narrator finally managed to get his fear under control, and casually tucked his exposed penis back into his pants before sliding around into a more normal seated position. Val stood impassively before him, fists planted on her hips, and his initial fear at seeing her dissipated a little more every second.

“Why are you here?”

The Narrator blinked. “The same reason you are, I assume. For the festival.”

Val turned and looked at Katsa, and then turned even further when she didn’t see Ivy. “Where did she go?”

“She went off after that young couple,” the Narrator informed them. “I think she intends to pick up where I left off, or thereabouts.”

Val sighed and shook her head. “Do you know what he’s talking about?”

Katsa shrugged.

“You’re not here for the festival?”

“What festival?” Val asked, facing him again.

***

“Aaaand that’s five,” the serving girl said, dropping the last chair with a huff. Her cheeks were flush, and perspiration maltepe escort bayan dotted her brow. “Are… are the others coming back?”

Mathilda and Ayen looked at each other and shrugged. “Probably?” the Thief said.

“Eventually?” Mathilda added.

“Oh. Good. Ok. Let me…” She put one hand on the back of the nearest chair and pressed the other hand to her chest. “Those are heavy.” After a few more breaths, her smile brightened. “Can I get you two something to drink?”

“Ale?” they both said, more-or-less in unison.

“Great. Ok. I’ll be right back.” The woman disappeared into the back with a smile painted on her face.

“Do you think they’re gonna be back soon?”

“Don’ know,” Mathilda said, “don’ care.”

Ayen looked toward the back of the building, eyes unfocused, and frowned. “Where did we get all those horses from?”

Mathilda stared at him blankly. “Ah… Ah was asleep fer days. Ah have no idea.”

“What about the cart?”

The Healer just shrugged. “Ah woke’p innit. ‘At’s all Ah know.”

“Where are we getting all this money? I mean, we are categorically not good at what we do.”

“Ah can ‘eal anythin’,” she said, dangerously.

“Except hands.”

“Are ye ever gonna le’ tha’ go?”

Ayen held up his right hand, and pointed at his wrist. “I’m telling you. It’s never been the same.”

“I’ was yer left ‘and,” she replied, scowling fiercely.

Ayen looked at his two hands and blinked. “That’s beside the point. I’m not talking about us individually. I just meant that we’re bad as a group.”

The Dwarf kept her brow furrowed, but some of the anger melted away. “Ivy’s been doin’ a fine job ‘o budgetin’. ‘at’s all.”

“Take… take a moment… to consider the words that just came out of your mouth.”

Mathilda did just that. And then frowned.

“I mean, sometimes we just have horses. They’re suddenly there, for us, and then other times they’re gone and we’re walking around on foot. I have no idea when or how that happens. Horses are not cheap.”

“Ah always though’ she was buyin’ an’ sellin’ ’em. Ya’know, low’n’high fer profi’.”

“Something is off about it. Remind me to ask the others later.”

Mathilda nodded. It had been on her mind to ask the same, but reliving her time with Breta had been a more engrossing distraction than she’d expected. No one had been more surprised that she volunteered to help scout earlier that morning than she herself, but doing so had allowed her to get to two really juicy encounters that Ayen had clearly enjoyed.

“Whoa,” Ayen said, craning his neck.

Mathilda scoffed as she sat up straighter, and was surprised when she saw not a woman but a man. He was tall, of a similar height with the Half-Elf, but broader across the chest. He had blonde hair, though the scruff on his jaw was a darker brown. He had a lovely backside, accentuated by his stride, and Mathilda found herself whistling softly.

“What?”

“Wha’?”

“Why did you whistle?” Ayen laughed.

” ‘at’s a fine lookin’ man.”

“And?”

“An’ wha’?”

“There’s got to be more to it than that.”

“Why’s there gotta be more?”

“Aren’t you, like, all the way gay.”

“Ah am no’!”

“Really?” he asked, incredulously.

“What’d make ye think tha’?”

Ayen blinked at her. “I don’t know. Like… all of the evidence?”

“Evidence schmevidence. Ah’m no’.”

“I would have sworn—”

“Ye never asked me!”

“I wasn’t all that invested either way before just now,” he said with a shrug.

“Well now ye know.”

The Half-Elf sat up a little straighter. “No. I don’t buy it.”

“Wha’s not ta buy?”

“You and a dude. I don’t buy it.”

Mathilda glared at the Thief for a several seconds. Under different circumstances, she’d have kept staring at him, but it was hard not to see that fine piece of human male in the corner of her eye as he walked further down the street. “Dwarves’r immune t’reverse psychology, ye know.”

“I have no doubt,” Ayen said, with just the barest hint of a smile. “You won’t though.”

“Won’ wha’?”

“Go after him.”

“A’course Ah won’. Ah’m no’ despera’.”

“Good,” he said with a flourish. “Because I am.”

“Wot?”

Ayen slid out of his chair and strode out into the street. The Dwarf watched him go, barely keeping her fury and jealousy in check. It was the bounce in his step that finally pushed her over the edge.

“The ‘ell with this,” she grunted, as she jumped out of her chair. “Ah’m no’ lettin’ ‘im win again.”

***

Minutes later, the serving girl came back smiling ear-to-ear with a large, frothing ale in each hand. When she rounded the corner and saw that the table was now empty she screamed, threw both mugs to the ground, and wept that this was her life.

***

Uli sat down at his kitchen table and frowned at the goosemelon before him. It mocked him. At a mere two pounds, it was nowhere near worth the eight copper pieces he’d paid for it, but the clerk had seen him flinch and that was the end of that. Every vendor in town had him pegged, and it was getting worse. Whenever he thought about moving, trying to find someplace new where everyone didn’t already know him, he despaired even worse.

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