Joxer stood in front of the mirror, combing his hair. He
made sure that every hair was in its proper place. After he was done, Joxer
splashed some cologne on his face. Joxer fixed his white shirt, and adjusted
his black pants. He looked himself over, nodding in satisfaction.
"Oooookay! That's done."
Joxer then walked over to the window, and looked outside. But at that moment, a brief, sharp wave of tension shot through him. He closed his eyes, and growled angrily.
"That's...enough!!" he hissed to himself.
Joxer shook his head in disgust, and looked outside at the crowd milling about. He had been feeling somewhat nervous this morning, although the tension Joxer was feeling was nothing compared to what he had felt when he first came to Meg's brothel. But even though the attacks were much less, and not as severe, they still felt rather uncomfortable. Joxer did not like even the mildest form of anxiety attack. It was such an unpleasant experience that he wanted to forget every cursed sensation.
There was a knock at the door. Joxer turned towards it.
The door opened. It was Maria. She entered the room, and took a look at Joxer. Maria smiled warmly.
"Joxer, you're dressed to kill."
Joxer smiled sheepishly.
Maria raised an eyebrow.
Joxer turned towards the window. Suddenly, he spotted Meg and Francisca walking towards the brothel, pulling along carts of food.
"Looks like Meg just got back."
Joxer turned to Maria. He walked up to her, and placed a hand on her arm.
"Maria...I-I just wanted to say, thank you."
Maria stared at him, bewildered.
Joxer lowered his head.
"For...for getting me through this dark time. You guys have been so nice to me. Especially you and Meg. I wish I could repay you somehow."
Maria smiled warmly. She placed her huge hands on Joxer's shoulders. He looked up into tender hazel eyes.
"You already repaid me, Joxer. By becoming my friend. And as for Meg...I don't think I've ever seen her happier. You bring out something special in her."
Joxer blushed a deep red, and smiled shyly.
Maria patted Joxer on the back.
"C'mon. Let's go downstairs and help Meg and Francisca."
The pair left the room, and went downstairs. Maria walked into the tavern portion of the brothel, and looked around.
"It's all clear. C'mon, Jox."
Joxer followed Maria into the kitchen. As they entered, two large doors at the kitchen's rear opened. Maria rushed over, and helped Meg pull the wooden cart into the kitchen. Joxer ran over to Francisca's side, and did the same for her.
Meg walked over to a table and leaned on it, wiping her brow.
"You said it! A bit warm out there today."
Joxer walked over to Meg. He placed a hand on her shoulder.
"You okay? You wanna rest, or something?"
Meg immediately waved her hand in front of her.
"No-no-no-no. I'm okay Joxer. Let's go. You ready?"
"Yeah, sure! I'm ready."
Meg walked over to another table, and picked up a large basket. She walked over to Joxer, grasping his hand.
"C'mon. Let's go."
"Have fun, you two." said Maria with a smile.
Meg raised an eyebrow, and grinned mischievously.
"Oh, we will."
Joxer and Meg then left, hand in hand. Francisca looked at them, and smiled.
"They seem perfect together."
Maria turned towards Francisca, eyebrow raised.
"You too, huh?"
Both women smiled. They knew a good thing when they saw it.
Joxer snuggled up to Meg. He held in front of her face a piece of cheese with some bread.
Meg turned towards him, her eyebrows knitted. The she smiled warmly and bit into the food. Meg took it all into her mouth, and Joxer delicately wiped her lips with his fingers. Joxer then reached over and picked up a wineskin and a goblet. He looked at Meg.
Joxer poured the red wine into the goblet. He handed it over to Meg. She took it, and drank some of the wine, washing down the bread and cheese. She turned to Joxer.
Meg looked up into the blue sky. Large puffy clouds floated through the air.
"Joxer, what does that cloud remind you of?"
She pointed, and Joxer followed her finger. His eyes squinted.
"That one? Oh! A duck."
Meg stared at him quizzically.
"A duck?! How in Tartarus did you get a duck?!"
Joxer wrapped his arm around Meg and pointed to the cloud in question.
"Look. There. You see Meg? That's the bill, and...and there's the neck. Follow that into the body."
Meg's pale blue eyes went from the cloud to Joxer. They narrowed.
"Joxer, I don't see a bill, or a head, even."
Joxer turned towards Meg, amazed she didn't see what he saw.
"Oh sure there is!! Look again, there's the..."
Joxer looked again, and frowned.
"Oh damn...stupid wind...the duck's gone now."
Meg raised an eyebrow, and smirked disapprovingly.
"Joxer, there was...no...duck."
Joxer rolled his eyes.
They glared at each other for a moment, then smiled. Meg shook her head.
"Boy...we're a pair, aren't we Jox?"
Joxer raised an eyebrow.
"Speak for yourself."
Meg's brows knitted. Her jaw dropped. She punched Joxer lightly in the arm.
Joxer laughed. Meg smiled again. She was happy to see Joxer in a good mood. Joxer looked at the grass in font of him.
"Um...Meg, there's been something I've wanted to tell you."
Joxer turned towards Meg, grasping her hand.
"I want to thank you for helping me out. You don't know how grateful I am to you, Meg."
Meg blushed, and smiled shyly.
"Joxer, you don't have to thank me."
Joxer turned fully towards Meg, his face serious.
"Yes, I do."
Meg smile slowly disappeared. She looked into Joxer's eyes, and saw the love and gratitude in them. Joxer continued on.
"Meg, I don't know how I could've gotten through this without your help. You've been so good to me. I-I almost feel I don't deserve the kind of kindness you've shown me."
Meg turned fully towards Joxer. She grasped both his hands, her pale blue eyes looking deep into his brown ones.
"Nonsense! Joxer, if there's anyone who deserves it, it's you. I-I mean, you're the only guy I've been involved with who's treated me with respect. You've always been there for me when I needed it. You've helped me get through some tough times of my own."
Joxer blushed. He looked down at the grass between his legs.
"Well...I-I just care for ya, that's all."
Meg lifted Joxer's chin. She moved in closer to him.
"I know." she said softly.
Meg then tenderly kissed Joxer on the lips. She pulled back, and Joxer was blushing an even deeper red. Meg smiled.
"You look so cute when you blush."
Joxer lowered his head, finding the grass extremely fascinating. But Meg would have none of it. She lifted his chin again, and moved up to Joxer until they were nose to nose.
"I'm not done yet, sweetie." she whispered softly.
Meg claimed his lips again. She pushed Joxer back into the grassy earth.
"What's the price on the drink?"
The burly man slapped down the money onto the counter. He lifted a finger.
The bartender nodded, and set to work. The man turned to his companion.
"Pickings are kinda slim, Jorgas."
The thin man shook his head, looking into his mug. He smirked.
"A blind hag can see that."
The burly man sighed. He stuck his finger in his nose, and began to pick it. His companion grimaced.
"Hestor, that's disgusting."
The man turned towards him. He flung a piece of mucus at his companion. It bounced off his forehead. The thin man violently whacked away at his face, desperately trying to wipe off the offending snot. He glared at the massive bulk sitting next to him.
"Hey!! That ain't funny!!"
The big man shrugged.
"I'm laughing inside."
They sat for a moment in silence. The bartender brought Hestor his drink. He set it down in front of him. The big man nodded.
The bartender left. Hestor turned to Jorgas.
"We gotta start looking for bounties soon. Money's running out."
Jorgas shook his head. He looked around, leaning close to Hestor.
"Don't I know it. My cousin Stamrus is getting antsy. If we're gonna put together that raiding force, we gotta get some more money."
"Yeah. It's been a while since we got anybody worth anything."
The huge man got to his feet. He took a drink from his goblet, and looked around him.
"Jorgas. Go and see if the horses have been shoed. We gotta get going."
His companion nodded.
"Might as well."
Jorgas got up, and left the tavern. He walked down the road, weaving his way through the crowds of people. Jorgas then stopped in front of a fruit stand. He looked up at the vendor.
"How much for them apples?"
"Two dinars each."
Jorgas handed him the two dinars. He picked up an apple. Then he turned to the left...
And something caught his eye.
A man and a woman were walking hand in hand. The woman was attractive enough, but the man...something was familiar about him. He had a white brimmed hat, and it was somewhat difficult to see his face. Yet, what he could see of it reminded him of someone. Something inside Jorgas told him to follow the man. And he did.
Jorgas kept his distance, being careful to stay unnoticed. The couple stopped at a stand that sold flowers. The man bought a rose. He handed it to the woman, who smiled warmly and kissed him.
Suddenly, there was a brief, strong gust of wind. The man's hat almost blew off his head. Jorgas took a good look at the face it uncovered. The man quickly pulled the hat down, obscuring part of his face. Jorgas's eyes widened in shock.
He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper. Jorgas opened it. It was a bounty, and had Joxer's picture on it. Above the picture it read: FIVE THOUSAND DINAR REWARD. Jorgas's eyes widened in glee and maliciousness.
"Yesssss!!" he hissed.
The couple then left the stand. Jorgas followed them, and soon he spotted them entering a large wooden building. Above the doorway, there was a sign that said MEG'S. A sinister smile crossed Jorgas's face.
He turned, running back towards the tavern, nearly knocking over people as he did so. Finally, the tavern was in sight. Hestor stood in front of it. He turned to his right and saw Jorgas running top speed towards him. The large man raised a hairy eyebrow. Jorgas stopped in front of him, breathless. Hestor's eyes narrowed.
"What in Tartarus you running fer?!"
Jorgas instantly looked up, flashing a cold, brilliant smile.
He yanked out Joxer's bounty, showing it to Hestor.
"I saw 'im!!"
Hestor's eyes widened in shock. He grabbed Jorgas by the arm.
Hestor's eyes narrowed. He looked in the direction of Meg's brothel and licked his lips eagerly.
"Five thousand dinars....Ooooooohhhh yeeeeeaaaaahhh..."
Hestor's eyes shot down toward Jorgas.
"Let's get Stamrus. We're gonna make ourselves some money."
It was a quiet evening at the brothel. Meg sat at the bar, and poured herself some port. Francisca sat in front of her. She spoke.
"Business seems slow."
"A little. But it's still early. Things should pick up pretty soon."
Meg looked around her place. A few of her girls sat at different tables, putting on lipstick or checking their faces in their hand-held mirrors.
"Where's Joxer?" asked Francisca.
"Taking a bath."
"How's he feeling?"
Meg sighed happily.
"Lots better, thank the gods. He still gets a little of that tension, but it's not as bad as before, ya know? He's figuring out how to keep it under control."
"That's good to hear. He's a nice guy. He doesn't deserve to go through that."
Meg frowned slightly.
"No he doesn't."
"Out back. She's loading some wood into the shack. She'll be back soon."
Francisca twirled her finger around the edge of her goblet. She looked up at Meg.
"Ya know, once we get enough money together, we can start adding another extension here."
"Yeah. And add some more tables...Gods Francisca, I'm really psyched about this restaurant idea."
Her smile slowly disappeared. Darkness clouded her face.
"I really want to give the girls a choice to do something else with their lives. I really want to put our prostitution days behind us."
Francisca placed her hand on Meg's.
"And you will. We will. All of us."
Meg looked up. Suddenly, anxiety filled her face. Francisca's brows knitted.
Francisca turned around. Twelve men had entered the brothel. All were heavily armed. Among them were Hestor and Jorgas. Jorgas turned to a tall, muscular man at his left. The man looked at him. Jorgas pointed to Meg.
"That's her, Stamrus. That's the woman I saw with that idiot Joxer."
Meg's color drained from her face. She fought hard to keep her composure. The other six women quickly got to their feet. Stamrus's eyes narrowed. He began to walk to the bar. Meg quickly walked around the bar, onto the floor. She instantly raised her hand.
"Hold it!!" Meg snapped harshly.
Stamrus stopped. He sneered icily.
"Alright bitch. Where is he?!"
Meg fell silent. She hesitated a moment.
Stamrus snapped his fingers. One of his men rushed forward and grabbed one of the women. She cried out in fright. The man drew a large knife, and held it against her throat. Meg's eyes widened in horror.
Stamrus chuckled merrily. He turned to the woman's captor.
"Not yet, Bernas."
The man nodded. Stamrus turned back to Meg. She stared at him in anger and fear. He spoke again.
"Ya know, I'm not above cutting all of your throats and burning this place to the ground. Who in Tartarus is gonna miss a stupid whorehouse?! You bitches ain't worth shit."
He chuckled some more, gazing back at the hapless woman with glee. Her captor pressed the blade into her neck. The woman's eyes were wide with terror. Meg glared at Stamrus heatedly. Her fists were clenched tight, turning white around the knuckles. Stamrus turned back to Meg. He smiled sweetly, and continued.
"Hooooooowever, your boyfriend Joxer is worth about five...thousand...dinars. And I happen to need that money. I'm building a little army. And your boyfriend's head will get me that money."
Stamrus walked up to Meg, standing inches away from her face.
"So, sweetheart, what's it gonna be? Your boy-toy...?"
Stamrus turned towards his captive, his man Bernus gleefully giggling at his victim's predicament. He looked back at Meg.
"Or your hussy friend?"
Stamrus's eyes grew cold as ice.
"Two...seconds." he growled.
Meg trembled slightly. She opened her mouth-
And suddenly there was a piercing scream from behind Stamrus. He abruptly turned around-
To see a large knife sticking out of Bernus's forehead. His eyes crossed, and he fell back onto the floor, dead. Stamrus's eyes widened in shock.
Suddenly Stamrus's face exploded in pain as something hard collided with it. He flew through the air and crashed into several tables. Meg lowered her fist, glaring at Stamrus with hatred.
"Bastard..." she hissed.
All of the women immediately rushed in front of Meg. They went into fighting stances. All the men drew their weapons. Hestor glared the women with fury.
"We're gonna hack you whores into little pieces." he growled venomously.
Suddenly, a huge form burst through the side door. It rolled in front of the women, and stood erect. The men's eyes widened in fear. Hestor gasped in total shock.
It was Maria. She stood her full seven feet in height, and drew her massive sword. Maria glanced at the other women.
"Remember everything I taught ya, guys."
She took a step forward. The monstrous woman grinned maliciously. Her eyes boiled with a savageness that made all the men take a step back.
"I just took out your little friend." she hissed with glee. "And my friends and I are gonna wipe the floor with yer sorry little asses."
Hestor swallowed hard. Jorgas elbowed him.
"What?!" Hestor hissed, not taking his eyes off of Maria.
"What're we waiting for?!" Jorgas spat back.
Hestor stared at Maria in anger and fear. She slowly continued to approach them, her cold smile growing wider every moment. Jorgas had enough. He leaned towards Hestor's left ear.
"Or dontcha want dem five...thousand..dinars?!" he jeered venomously.
That was it. Hestor's eyes widened in rage.
"Kill them all!!" he yelled.
The men rushed forward. Three of them leapt at Maria, swords drawn. She jumped into the air, whipping her gigantic leg around. The booted foot smashed across the face of each man, smashing their skulls. Their bodies were hurled back into the wall with resounding thuds. Maria swung her sword at two more men that attempted to get past her. Her sword ripped through their torsos. Blood and intestines exploded from the gaping wounds. The men flew back into the wall, collapsing onto the ground, dead.
The men who were able to get past Maria attacked Meg's women. But they weren't prepared for what they would encounter. The women fought back with a savageness that surprised them.
One man swung his sword at a woman. She ducked and leapt into the air. The woman swung her foot into the side of the man's head. He went flying through the air, crashing into a table. Moments later, he saw the woman rush up to him. She thrust his own sword into his gut, and he was dead in seconds.
Three more of Stamrus's men rushed towards three other women. The women quickly snatched up goblets of port that stood before them, taking long, quick sips from each. Then, grabbing lit candles in front of them, they blew the port into the flame. The resulting cloud of fire enveloped the three men, who screamed in agony. They dropped their weapons, engulfed in flame. The women grabbed chairs, and smashed them into the heads of the men. They collapsed, unconscious.
One man ran at Meg, knife drawn. She side-stepped him and rammed a knee into his stomach. He howled in pain, doubling over. Meg then threw a vicious right into the man's jaw. The man's head snapped back, and he dropped to the ground. Meg turned around-
And a fist smashed into her face. Meg's head whipped back, blood erupting from her mouth. She flew into the wall, and collapsed onto the floor. Meg shook her head, stunned, and looked up. It was Stamrus. He approached her. Meg's eyes widened in fury. Tears erupted from her eyes.
"SON-OF A BACCHAI!!!" she screamed.
Meg hurled herself at Stamrus. She threw a punch. Stamrus grabbed her arm and snapped it like a twig. Meg screamed in agony. Stamrus threw a savage right into Meg's face. Meg flew back into the wall, falling to the ground. Stamrus drew his knife. His green eyes widened in rage.
"Time to die, bitch."
He advanced towards Meg's fallen form. Then he heard a loud, angry cry from his right.
He turned. Joxer smashed into him like a battering ram. The two men flew through the air and crashed into a table, splintering it. The wind was knocked out of Stamrus's lungs. Joxer rammed his fist with all his might into Stamrus's face, again and again and again.
"AAAARRRRRGH!!!!!! I'M GONNA KILL YA!!!!" Joxer screamed at the top of his lungs.
Stamrus's face quickly grew bruised and bloody. Joxer drew his fist back again-
And a chair smashed into his head. Joxer fell onto Stamrus, unconscious. Stamrus pushed him off, and rolled away. He looked up through his one good eye, and saw Jorgas perched over Joxer. Jorgas fumbled frantically inside his jacket, and then drew a knife. Glee and anticipation was on Jorgas's face. He licked his lips.
"So-that's who I hit!! Bye-bye, Joxer the Mighty."
He raised the knife-
And a huge hand clutched his wrist. Jorgas felt it snap. He screamed in agony. Maria wrapped her huge left arm around Jorgas's head and savagely yanked it to the left. There was a loud crack. Jorgas dropped to the ground, dead.
Maria's eyes quickly went to where Stamrus was-
And he was gone. Maria hissed in anger.
She looked put the window, and saw Stamrus fleeing on horseback. It was too late to catch him now. Maria turned around, and she saw Hestor, bloody and bruised, on one knee. He aimed a crossbow at her. She raised an eyebrow. Hestor glared at her, seething with rage. Maria smiled coldly.
"Do it." she sneered.
Hestor's eyes widened in fury.
He fired the arrow. It screamed through the air. Maria's hand snapped forward, snatching the arrow out of the air. Hestor's jaw dropped down in total shock.
Maria's eyes widened in rage. She let out a piercing scream and threw the arrow at Hestor with all her might. It buried itself in Hestor's left eye. The impact sent him flying back into the wall. He slumped to the ground, dead.
Maria's eyes quickly scanned the room. Most of the men were either unconscious or dead. Two women lay injured and were being tended to by some of the other women. The few men that were conscious staggered out of the brothel. Maria quickly knelt down by Joxer's side, taking him into her arms.
"Joxer!!" she exclaimed. "Talk to me!!"
Joxer's eyes fluttered open. He groaned in pain.
"M-Meg..." he said weakly. "M-Meg's hurt..."
Maria instantly looked up. Three of the woman were kneeling by Meg. Francisca held Meg in her arms. Meg was crying hysterically. Francisca stared at Maria, her eyes full of alarm.
"Stamrus beat Meg and broke her arm!!"
Maria gritted her teeth in rage. Suddenly, she felt Joxer break free of her grasp. Joxer, in a daze, crawled rapidly to Meg's side. He was still stunned from the blow to his head. But Joxer was conscious enough to see what Stamrus did to Meg. His heart ripped open in searing pain at the sight. Tears erupted from his eyes.
Joxer lowered his face towards Meg's. Her face was filled with agony. Meg's blue eyes were glazed and bloodshot. The moment Joxer entered Meg's field of vision, her eyes grew as wide as saucers.
With her good arm, Meg pulled Joxer's face down against hers and cried hysterically. Joxer kissed every inch of Meg's face, whispering soothing words into her ears. Maria stood over them. Darkness covered her face.
"You're dead, Stamrus." she growled.