The old fortress was built into the cliff face. From the outside, a passer-by could see no more than a few cracks in the rock and a narrow slope that led up to what seemed to be a small cave. Anyone with a healthy fear of caves and what dwelled in them would think nothing of it and move on. It was quite a feat of engineering, really, but the mercenary Adelard had picked up in town didn’t seem to appreciate it. He gripped his shield tightly and threw vigilant glances in every direction.
‘Will you calm down,’ Adelard said. ‘You’re getting on my nerves.’
‘Calm will not serve us here, mage,’ the mercenary said. ‘This place is haunted.’
Adelard rolled his eyes, they had discussed this several times already. ‘This place is indeed haunted,’ he said, ‘and since the eternal spirits dwell all around us, technically the entire world is haunted.’ He looked at the mercenary. ‘And when you eventually die to leave the world a less foolish place, your spirit will linger and you, too, will join the haunting.’
The mercenary spat and grumbled a few angry words.
Adelard closed his eyes and muttered a few words under his breath. He focused his mind and willed into existence an orb of light that was no larger than his fist. It hovered a few inches behind his head and hunted away the shadows cast by the sun setting behind the cliff.
The mercenary looked at Adelard with disapproval. ‘More devilry,’ he said.
‘Don’t be such an idiot, man,’ Adelard said. ‘It’s just light, it will aid us when we go in.’
‘You want to go in now?’ The mercenary asked.
Adelard sighed. ‘Do you have a better idea?’
‘It’s almost nightfall. We should wait until first light, that’s safer.’
‘We can go in now or tomorrow morning, it’ll be dark in there either way. I would say, from your perspective, that it’s better to get it over with now than spend another night in this place, which you so adamantly believe to be haunted, and risk. . . well, whatever it is you think ghosts would want to do to you.’
The mercenary took a step towards Adelard. ‘I’m starting to wonder if this trip is worth the pay.’
The mercenary was a big man. His fists were about twice the size of Adelard’s. One of them firmly gripped the haft of his axe; it had a crudely hammered and wickedly sharp blade.
‘Alright,’ Adelard said, ‘an extra tenmark for your troubles. Now come on.’
‘Five. Up front.’
‘Five?’ Adelard said. ‘That’s twice the agreed amount.’
The mercenary lifted the axe an inch from his belt.
Adelard made a dismissive gesture. ‘Alright, fine,’ he said. He took five coins out of his purse and placed them in the mercenary’s open hand. ‘But I expect a refund if there’s any more trouble from you. Now let’s go.’
The mercenary looked at the copper coins with satisfaction. His smile reminded Adelard of the jagged and broken battlements of many a ruin he had visited.
‘As you wish,’ the mercenary said.
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