• Published 14th Sep 2018
  • 1,923 Views, 215 Comments

The Last Charger - Chengar Qordath

When Belladon Striker, a down-on-his-luck mercenary captain, crosses paths with Torch Charger, the last survivor of his clan, it sets in motion a chain of events that will redefine the very face of Freeport itself.

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The Last Charger 1

It has been four hundred and fifty years since the clans of Old Pegasopolis went into exile. The island-nation of Freeport languishes under the rule of the Necrocrats; what began as an idealistic experiment has become a new form of corruption, the ideals of the past lost amid the greed and vain ambition of lesser men. Clan Charger has been all but destroyed, while the Strikers and Doos teeter upon the brink of collapse. There is no hope for the future.

I woke up in a dingy tavern room with a nag of a hangover. It probably says a lot about my life that I was used to that kind of thing.

It took a couple minutes for me to realize that the pounding sound echoing through my skull wasn’t just a headache, but someone hammering on the door. I groaned and forced myself out of bed, eventually figuring out how to walk once more. I really needed to tone down the drinking. Soon as life stopped sucking so feathering much.

I groaned and pulled the door open, glaring blearily at whoever I could blame for my current problems. Under any other circumstances, I probably would’ve been happy to see an attractive pegasus mare waiting on the other side. She had a nice blue coat and a short-cut teal mane with just a few red accents. She didn’t look like a hardened merc who’d been with the company since she was old enough to hold a crossbow; she had the sort of lithe build that seemed like it belonged on a dancer, not a warrior. Though anyone who thought that made her a damsel wouldn’t live long enough to regret saying that.

Of course, the usual reasons for me being happy about having an attractive mare showing up at my room went right out the window when the mare in question was family, not to mention my second-in-command: Lieutenant Talon met me with a level gaze, not even flinching when I muttered several less-than-flattering things about her personally and her lineage (the latter of which was particularly ineffective, given we shared ancestors). Probably because she was used to dealing with me when I was drunk and/or hungover. “What is it, Talon?”

“You asked me to wake you up an hour before the meeting with our prospective clients, Captain Belladon,” my second answered dutifully. She always seemed to get a bit more formal with me after I’d tied one on. Probably just to remind me of what state I was in, and how I should be acting. “Will I need to make arrangements for one of your ... ladies of the evening?”

“Didn’t get one,” I groaned, trying to rub some unidentifiable gunk out of my eyes. “Couldn’t find a free one.”

“They do generally expect to be paid,” Talon commented dryly.

“Do I look like I’m in the mood for sarcasm?” I growled. I trotted over to the sink and dunked my head into the water, trying to kickstart my brain into something resembling working order. “This rathole of an island only has slave whores. At least when they’re free I can almost trick myself into thinking they might actually like it.”

Talon cleared her throat. “Nice to know you have some standards with your whoring, at least.” She picked up an empty bottle of wine and sniffed disdainfully. “I suppose you have to make up for your terrible taste in liquor somehow. Are you trying to drink yourself to death?”

“There’s worse ways to go,” I grunted. I’d seen plenty of them.

Talon sighed and ran a hoof through her short-cut mane. “Captain, I know you probably don’t want to hear it, but—”

“You’re right,” I shot back, “I don’t want to hear it.”

“—Tenth Company can’t afford to lose you,” she continued on heedlessly.

I whirled around, glaring blearily at her. “We are not the Tenth Company of Clan Striker. We haven’t been that for more than a decade. We’re Belladon’s Brawlers.”

Talon weathered my displeasure, then nodded sharply. “As you say, Captain.” A second later her disapproving frown was back in place. “In any case, I wanted to discuss the prospective clients you planned on meeting with.”

“What about them?” I grunted, rubbing at my chin to see check just how scraggly my beard felt. Apparently I would need to shave before I met with the client. Well, unless they liked their mercs ragged and desperate-looking.

“They’re slavers,” Talon answered.

“They’re clients,” I shot right back. “Considering how the job we came out here to do fell apart and left us with nothing to show for it but a month of lost wages and traveling expenses, we can’t afford to be picky.”

“I’m aware of our financial situation,” Talon countered tersely. “Managing the company’s books has been one of my duties while Gold’s recovering from that infection. It’s just ... escorting a slave ship isn’t exactly honorable.”

“Honor,” I scoffed. “Tell me something Talon, what does honor taste like? Will it fill our bellies when we’re hungry? Will it keep us warm at night, or give us shelter from the rain? Will it help the soldiers take care of their families?” She started to open her mouth, but I didn’t give her the chance to answer. “No, we need money for that. In case you forgot, we’re mercenaries. We don’t have to like our clients or what they do. We just have to like getting paid once the job’s done.”

Talon stared at me for several seconds, her face unreadably blank. When she finally broke her silence, her tone was a lot sharper than I was used to. “Money means more than honor. That’s not the Belladon Striker I remember.”

I grimaced and shook my head. “You said you were looking over our books earlier, you know how close to gone we are. Do you know what happens to a mercenary company that doesn’t have enough money to pay their troops?”

Talon took a deep breath and very slowly let it out, closing her eyes. “I’m aware. We’ll barely make next month’s payroll, and the month after that...”

“Exactly,” I concluded. “If we don’t take this job, I might as well tell the men to put up their swords and take up farming on the out-islands.” Not that they were likely to make much of a living doing that. The big plantation owners had slaves they could work to death, then pay a necro to bring back and quite literally work to the bone. The only reason they hadn’t completely squeezed out the small out-islander farms was that the plantations only cared about the big cash crops like sugar.

“Right.” Talon fixed me with a piercing stare. “So getting enough money to make the next payday is the only thing that matters right now.”

“Exactly,” I poked at the empty bottles littering the room, eventually finding one that still had a bit left in it. No sense letting it go to waste, and maybe some hair of the dog was exactly what I needed to—

She leveled her eyes on mine. “So does that mean that if you had it to do over, you’d take the Charger Contract?”

The bottle slipped out of my grasp, hitting the floor and shattering into a dozen pieces. The wine leaked out and started soaking into the floorboards, but I didn’t give a damn. “Get out.”

Talon took half a step back, swallowing nervously. “Sir, I didn’t—”

“Get. Out,” I snarled. For a moment I was tempted to grab one of the intact bottles and chuck it at her, but she backed off and shut the door behind her before the idea became anything more than a passing fancy.

So there I was, alone in a seedy tavern room that smelled of booze, shame, and failure. A pretty good summary of my life to date.

I groaned and dunked my head into the washbasin again, briefly pondering whether I should just stay under forever. No point; drowning took too long, and was a nasty way to go. I’d chicken out. Says something when I didn’t even have the guts to take the coward’s way out.

I pulled my head out and rubbed at my eyes, trying to smooth out the bags hanging underneath them and generally clean up enough that it wasn’t obvious I was dealing with the after-effects of an all-night bender. There was nothing I could do about the my blue eyes being so bloodshot they were closer to purple, but hopefully they wouldn’t be looking all that closely. Or they’d just draw the wrong conclusion. Everyone expected mercs to party hard, but the captain of the company was supposed to be in better shape. Not to mention there was a huge difference between having a couple drinks after a hard fight and a good paycheck and retiring to a seedy room all by myself to empty out several of the tavern’s cheapest wine bottles.

Sure, I was well within my rights to be depressed after we’d spent a month sailing out to a place that was so far from anywhere worth being they called it Port Nowhere, only to find out that the job was a dud because our client got himself killed in the meantime. Anyone’d want to crawl into a wine bottle for a couple days after that. But it wasn’t exactly the look you wanted when it came to making a good first impression on a prospective client. Sure, in this case our client was a slaving scumbag, but we needed his bits bad enough that I’d treat him like a saint if that was what it took to land the job. Once we were back in Freeport proper we could find respectable work. Or at least a job that didn’t make me want to throw up every time I thought about it.

Okay, maybe the nausea was just coming from the hangover. Probably.

I groaned and grabbed my dagger off the pile of equipment I’d shoved into one corner of the room, then took a look at myself in the dirty, smudged mirror. I didn’t like what I saw, which meant my client probably wouldn’t either. A stallion with a nose that had been broken too many times to stay straight and old enough to be past his prime, but not so old he had any of the dignity that came with old age. At least I hadn’t hit the age where muscle had started turning into fat, and I still had plenty of muscle to spare. Not that I was likely to ever be one of those dignified old men in the first place. Assuming I didn’t get killed in battle or drink myself to death like Talon kept nagging me about, I’d probably spend all day wandering around and yammering at strangers about things that happened fifty years ago.

I did my best to start shaving the scraggliest parts of my gray beard, and cut out a couple clumps of my mane that had grown a bit too long and looked beyond saving. There was nothing wrong with a merc captain looking a little rough around the edges, but right now I looked like the captain of a down-on-their-luck company that was one bad job away from collapsing. Which is exactly what I was, but looking like that was a bad idea. Slavers are used to the smell of desperation, and they wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.

Once I had my beard and mane looking at least halfway groomed I moved on to my wings and coat. It was hard to make a dark reddish-brown color that looked a bit too much like dried blood look good, but I could at least get all the grime out and take a quick bath to get rid of the lingering smell of stale wine.

By that time I was done with that, I’d almost started feeling like a reasonable healthy, normal stallion. More importantly, I was cautiously optimistic about my ability to pass for that when meeting with prospective clients. I pulled my knife belt on, and for the first time since I’d gotten to Port Nowhere I was grateful for the stifling tropical heat and humidity; the weather meant I’d left my gambeson back on the ship. Past experience told me that getting the smell of stale wine and vomit out of a gambeson was the next best thing to impossible.

I opened up the door to my room and stepped outside. The fresh air hit me like a slap in the face after I’d been cooped in that miserable room all morning. I was a bit surprised to see Talon dutifully waiting for me outside. If I’d been her, I would’ve left me out to dry. Guess that means she’s a better pony than me. “Sir, about what I said—“

“Forget about it,” I cut her off. “Talking about it’ll just make things worse.”

She grimaced and nodded. “Very good, sir.” She reached into her pack and pulled out my gambeson along with a few medals, ribbons, and other decorations I’d earned what felt like a lifetime ago. Much like their owner, they had seen better days. “I took the liberty of having your uniform prepared.”

“Good mare.” I pulled my armor on, almost instantly regretting it in the tropical heat. I might have avoided making my armor smell like wine, but in this heat it would start picking up plenty of body odor in short order. And considering how much I’d had to drink last night, my sweat would probably smell like alcohol too.

Once I’d dressed, the two of us started trotting along the streets. Port Nowhere was one of the stranger parts of the already strange land that was Freeport. Mostly because it wasn’t part of Freeport at all, at least not properly.

Around the tail end of when Ushabti finished tossing the out the Zebrican occupation they’d collapsed into another one of their perennial succession wars. Ushabti had decided not to stop at Freeport’s old borders and had gone after Zebrica’s coastal and island possessions. For the most part, it had just been a raid to wreck harbors and burn shipyards so Zebrica couldn’t try another invasion.

Ushabti hadn’t been stupid enough to try and hold onto any of the mainland, but he did decide to keep some of the islands. With Zebrica’s navy in ruins and their army busy killing each other, there wasn’t anything they could really do to stop him. By the time the civil war was over Freeport had already dug in, and the Zebras were too damned war-weary to want to start up another fight. The Zebrican Empire talked about taking the islands back someday, but nothing had come of it yet. Ushabti only bothered taking the islands because they were low-hanging fruit while Zebrica was weak and distracted. They weren’t worth fighting a war over on their own.

Walking through the streets while I tried to settle my gambeson gave ample evidence of the island’s history of changing hands. Half the buildings were still done in the Zebrican style of dome-shaped buildings with pointed roofs while the rest were done in the usual eclectic mix of styles that typified Freeport. That wasn’t even mentioning the ancient buildings built by some race of lizards that had owned the islands who knows how long ago. A couple of the old buildings had been repurposed, but supposedly there were still death traps in most of them. That was more than enough to make people wary of using them.

I caught my reflection in one of the windows. Huh. Evidently I’d managed to clean up into something that almost looked respectable. Not bad for a guy still nursing a hangover. It’d probably take a barber to get me all the way to looking decent, but there was no harm in looking a little rough around the edges. Never trust a merc who looks completely clean-cut; it probably meant he was trying to put you off your guard so you wouldn’t see the knife coming for your back.

That, or it was someone like Talon. Still don’t know how I wound up with a second like her, though it was probably by sticking to the old saying about how your second should be someone who’s as different from you as possible. A straight-laced, stiff-necked mare who insisted on doing things properly and insisted on keeping herself immaculately groomed qualified. She belonged in a proper army somewhere, climbing her way up to a general’s hat. Not slumming it as second-in-command of a failing merc company. Maybe it was just my good luck to have her ... or her bad luck to be stuck with me. More likely the latter, considering what she had to put up with. “Thanks for the help, Talon. Couldn’t manage without you.”

Talon nodded, only the barest hint of a grateful smile maring her normally stoic features. “It's my duty, sir.”

I snorted and shook my head. “I don’t pay you enough for you to owe me any duties.”

“Without duty, what do we have?” she countered.

“Our wealth and the joy we take in life,” I answered bitterly. “And we can’t forget our charming personalities.”

Talon shot a dry look my way. “I believe we’re short on all of those, sir.”

“Speak for yourself,” I grumbled good-naturedly. “I happen to be quite charming.” Talon stared at me levelly for several long seconds, saying nothing. “What?”

“Without making any untoward comments about a superior officer,” Talon began, which made me pretty sure she was about to do exactly that, “I feel compelled to point out that one of the side effects of alcohol is an inflated opinion of one’s own social skills.”

Considering that it’d been over a decade since I’d gotten any action without paying for it first, she probably had a point. “So not so charming then. In that case, I guess I’d best learn to love duty if it’s all I have.” I sighed and rubbed at my face, trying to get rid of the last remnants of sleep and hangover. “Alright, fine. Let’s go hammer out the latest contract and hopefully get a bit more money, at least. We’ve got all the basics down, but the Nightmare’s in the details.”

Talon nodded. “That’s been my experience. Though before we get to that, I did have a few things I wanted to ask about. Best we’re on the same page when we meet the client.” She waited until I waved my permission for her to go ahead and ask. “Do you know how many slaves are going to be on the ship?”

“Last I heard, a bit over four hundred,” I answered. “Mix of zebras stolen from coastal villages and sailors snagged by the local pirates.”

“Mmm.” Despite her best efforts to keep her face stoically neutral, I caught the frown that briefly slipped onto her lips. “I suppose we should be glad that at least they don’t want us to help them when it comes to acquiring their cargo.”

“We’re poor and desperate, but we’re not that hard up,” I grunted.

“Truth.” Talon grimaced. “Still, between the ship’s crew, the cargo, and our company it’s going to be a whole lot of bodies in a small area.”

“Probably why they have us on a seperate ship,” I answered. “The ... cargo will be staying in a big lumbering freighter, while we’re in an escort sloop.”

“So we’re not even on the same ship?” That unhappy frown of hers grew a couple sizes. “And they’re not just hiring extra guards, they’ve got a whole escort ship with a company of hardened mercs on board. Obviously they don’t need us keeping the cargo in line if we’re not even on the same ship. So that begs the question...”

“Why they feel like they need that much protection,” I concluded. “Not that hard to guess, really. It’s a long trip, and there are plenty of people who have an interest in a ship full of slaves.”

“Like all those Equestrian naval patrols,” Talon pointed out.

“Right, we get to worry about those.” I felt a new headache rising that had nothing to do with my hangover. “The Equestrians assuming any Freeport-flagged ship is a pirate or slaver was enough of a pain when we didn’t have anything to hide. Guess even after ten years they still haven’t gotten over Magnus’s Folly.”

“Or Celestia really does think piracy and slavery are a bane upon civilization and wants to stop them,” Talon countered. “It’s hard to fault them for being suspicious of every Freeport ship they come across when a lot of them are guilty. The only reason the pirates and slavers haven’t been hitting Equestria’s shores is because of all the naval patrols and how bulked up their coast guard is. I’ve heard rumors the Equestrians might have even started lurking around in the out-islands.”

“Wouldn’t be shocked.” It certainly looked like Celestia was gearing up for a full-scale war with Freeport. Whether it was a moral crusade against slavery, piracy, and necromancy, or just her punishing us for Magnus’s Folly wouldn’t matter once things started in earnest. It wasn’t my problem, at least for now. There were plenty of things that might kill us before things heated up enough for a full-on war.

Things like this job. “Assuming the Equestrians don’t get us, there’s the pirates themselves. Half of them will want to steal our cargo and the other half’ll want to recruit it. Plus any enemies of our client who want to take them out for pure spite.”

“Do they have those?” Talon sighed and shook her head a second later. “Why am I asking? Of course they do. So our job is to crack the head of anyone that tries to steal the cargo? Simple enough, and since we won’t even be on the same ship we can almost pretend it’s like any other cargo protection run. At least, as long as the Equestrians don’t show up. You know what they do to anyone they catch slaving.”

“Right.” The admiralty courts the Equestrians had set up for any slavers and pirates they captured weren’t shy about leaving the accused with a short rope and a long drop if they had the evidence to back up the charges. Odds were decent they’d consider us running escort duty for a slave ship enough to make us accessories.

Which put things in pretty clear perspective. “If we run up against the Equestrians, it really depends on how strong they show up. I'm not averse to taking out an Equestrian patrol boat, but if we run across one of their full-fledged pirate hunter squadrons...” I grimaced and shook my head. “You know I don’t like to to drop a contract and leave the client high and dry, but I like getting strung up from the closest yardarm a lot less.”

Talon frowned at me. “So we’re turning our coats if things look bad enough?”

I shook my head. “Backstabbing’s not on the table. The most we’ll do is bail.”

Talon pointed out toward the ocean. “It might be hard to bail when we’re out in the open sea hundreds of miles from land. We might be able to hop from cloud to cloud until we get back to Freeport, but if we hit a storm or there aren’t any clouds for us to land on to rest...”

I shrugged. “Not a perfect plan, but better the risks of running than the certainty of death. Besides, nobody hangs around in the open water just hoping a ship will pass by. If we get hit, odds are there’ll be some sort of land close by.”

“Unless our captain heads out into open seas to try and lose a pirate chasing us,” Talon pointed out. She sighed and shook her head. “I can’t say I’m wild about it, either way. If we bail and news gets back to Freeport that we’re not likely to stick around for a tough fight, it’ll just make it harder for us to get jobs. The last thing we need is another reason for clients to pass us by.”

She wasn’t wrong, but... “If we bail, it’s because sticking around would give us much bigger problems than our reputation. Better a living coward than a dead hero, especially since nobody’d think we’re heroes for dying while protecting feathering slavers.”

“Right, that.” Talon sighed. “Talking about betraying our client is a bit easier when they’re so contemptible. At least tell me they’re paying us well.”

“Our books will look a lot healthier, and we’ll have the breathing room we need to find better jobs,” I assured her. “Not to mention we’ll be back in Freeport instead of stuck out in Port Feathering Nowhere. I don’t like it either, but if we just hold our nose and get through it...”

“Right.” Talon’s eyes flicked back and forth over the messy streets. “Can't say I’ll miss this place. It’s got everything I hate about Freeport and none of the good bits.”

“Wouldn’t go that far,” I countered. “None of the Necrocrats are out here, so at least we don’t have to worry about undead all over the place.”

“Point.” She took one last look around the town, then shook her head. “I do have a little bit of good news: I managed to find a pretty solid new recruit for the company. Been a long time since we had any fresh blood.”

“That so?” I was a little curious, mostly because nobody with actual potential would ever be interested in joining up with us. “What’s he like?”

Talon took a long time to answer. “I’ll let you find out for yourself. Pretty sure you wouldn’t believe half of it until you met him. I have a meeting set up for after we wrap things up with the client. He’s got his own gear and knows how to use it, so that won’t be an issue.”

“That’s something.” I scratched my chin. “He got a name?”

A faint grin tugged at her lips. “That’s where it gets interesting...”

The contract negotiations with the slavers were pretty mundane. The usual stuff about hammering out an exact price and getting everything we were responsible for in writing. They only ever called their slaves ‘the cargo’, which was vague enough that I could almost forget about what they were actually hauling. Almost.

At least the money was good enough that I wouldn’t need to worry about keeping any of my soldiers fed and sheltered for the next few months. A bit of financial security would give me time to find better jobs, and hopefully we’d never have to do something like this again.

Once we were done I headed back to the tavern. Not for a drink, though I could sure feathering use one after the negotiations. No, I had a new recruit to meet, and I needed to do it without slurring all my speech.

He was already waiting for me when I got there. I was instantly wary of the guy, mostly because he looked far too good for someone desperate enough to think joining my company was a good idea. His slightly off-white coat and wings were immaculately groomed, there was just a tiny dash of stubble of his chin to give him a roguish air, his long black mane looked freshly washed, and those baby blue eyes probably made mares swoon over him. He looked more like a big-city dandy than a mercenary.

At least his gear matched. His armor was in decent shape, but he’d clearly assembled the suit out of scraps and cast-offs. Somehow, he managed to make it actually look like it all belonged together. The only weapon I saw on him was a sheathed sword, but past experience told me there could be half a dozen more hidden on him elsewhere. That fancy blue cloak that matched his eyes was a great place to hide a few backup daggers.

I sank down into the chair across from him. “So, you’re Torch Charger, are you?”

He turned to face me with a disarming grin. “Last time I checked.”

I scoffed and glowered at him. “You forget how to greet an officer?”

Torch blinked and shot to his hooves, saluting smartly. “Forgive me, Captain. I didn’t know we were on full military discipline already. I didn’t even know you’d hired me yet.”

“If Talon likes you, that’s good enough for me.” Though considering she still thought sticking with me was a good idea, maybe she wasn’t the best judge of character. “Can’t blame you for being lax; I know most of the other clan companies don’t bother with the details.” To be honest I usually didn’t either, but it was always nice to give the new recruits a kick in the rump early on.

“Quite,” Torch agreed dryly. “Not that I’ve been working with them lately.”

“Right.” With any other clan company he wouldn’t want to join, and they wouldn’t have him. “So what have you been doing for the last ten years?”

“Surviving,” Torch answered simply. “That’s not easy for a stallion without a clan.”

“Right.” I decided to go ahead and ask the question that had been burning in the back of my mind ever since Talon told me his name. “And how’re you still alive when all the Chargers are supposed to be dead?”

Torch grimaced. “Not everyone was in the compound when the hammer came down. There used to be more of us left, but the last decade hasn’t been any kinder. As I said, it’s not easy to survive in Freeport with no clan.”

“That’s true enough.” Not like me and mine were doing all that well surviving even with the supposed protection of the ancient and noble Striker clan. Not that I’d ever ask those sacks of horseapples for help. “So where have you been all these years? I would’ve thought a Charger running around would cause more of a stir.”

“I try to keep a low profile,” he answered simply. “I’ve been doing what any proper wandering vagabond should. Odd jobs from whoever will have me and help me buy my next meal.” He grinned at me. “And today, it seems that will be you. That lovely Talon of yours tells me you’re escorting a ship heading back to Freeport.”

“Right.” I flagged down one of the barmaids and ordered a beer. “You got any problems escorting some slaves back to Freeport?”

Torch shook his head. “It’s not an ideal job, but if it puts money in my pocket and gives me a free boat trip back to civilization, I’ll take it.”

“Exactly.” Nice to know he was on the same page as me. Last thing I needed was to put up with him complaining about the job for the whole trip. Or him being too eager about it. “So you know how to take care of yourself?”

He reached back and rapped a hoof on the hilt of his sword. “I know how to use this in a fight, and a few other things. After all, I’ve survived the last decade against everyone who’d rather make a clean sweep of the Chargers.”

That sounded just a bit ominous. “They gonna be a problem for us?”

He shrugged. “Not that I know of. Nothing serious or organized, just one or two clanners who didn’t like knowing they’d missed a Charger. I would be quite shocked if we crossed paths with any of them.” His eyes narrowed in on me, and his voice got just a bit tense. “I trust nobody in your unit will start anything?”

I scowled and shook my head. “The Brawlers didn’t take the Charger Contract, and as far as I know none of the strays we picked up since then did either.” If I ever found out one of them did, they’d be gone. I’m not gonna say I’m some sort of moral paragon, but there are basic standards of common feathering decency.

Torch nodded slowly, his eyes focusing intensely on me for a second. “I know you weren’t involved. If you were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” A second later he relaxed and that disarming grin was back in place. “Well, it seems like a simple enough job. Anything else I should know about it? Or do you have any questions for me?”

“It’s all pretty straightforward.” There was one other thing I needed to know about. “So which branch of the Chargers are you from?”

Torch waved my concerns away. “Don’t worry, just a footsoldier from one of the low branches. I’m not going to conjure up a dozen zombies or unleash the howling spirits of the damned.”

I glowered at him. “So you don’t have any magical training?”

“Do you see a horn on my head?” he shot back.

“Your clan produced plenty of necromancers who had smooth heads and wings,” I countered.

“True, unicorn magic is far from the only tradition in the world.” He shrugged helplessly. “I suppose I know a bit more about necromancy than the average soldier, but that’s far from unusual. Anyone who serves as a house soldier for one of the necrocrats or mercs for them directly will probably pick up a couple things.”

“And the Chargers were neck-deep in necromancy,” I pointed out. “Before the purge they were one of the big player necrocrat families.”

“Mors Charger was one of Ushabti the Great’s closest friends,” Torch answered, sounding just a bit defensive. “It’s only natural we would carry on his legacy.”

“Right.” I dropped the subject. Last thing I needed to do was insult the memory of his dead family. “Anyway, no conjuring up undead.”

Torch nodded patiently. “If you see any, they’re not mine.”

“Good then.” My beer finally arrived, and I took a long pull off it. “Well, good news for you is that we can always use an extra set of hooves. Don’t make me regret hiring you.”

“I won’t,” he answered simply. “When do we ship out?

“With the tide, in two days time.” I looked down at my half-empty glass, pondering whether to order another one before my current glass ran out. “Be there; we won’t wait if you’re late. Talon will show you around and introduce you to everyone else.”

“Thank you, captain.” He smiled and shook my hoof. “I’m looking forward to working with you in the future.”

Author's Note:

As always, thanks to my pre-reading and editing team for all their hard work. Also, I would like to thank all my dedicated Patreon supporters. You guys are awesome.

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