Day 11: What’s Veronica After Anyway?

The ban­dit passed out a few times, but whenever he did they were able to get him awake again and go on extract­ing inform­a­tion. They learnt his name, who was lead­ing the small out­fit, when the oth­ers would be back and some other tid­bits that Veron­ica thought would be use­ful. Once they’d quizzed him enough, she bounced the flat of the blade off the nerve end­ings again, leav­ing the man to scream and pass out.

Ed ran his hand over his shaved head. He hadn’t done any­thing like this before. “Do they teach you that when you’re becom­ing a pan­e­man­cer?” he asked.

No,” she replied, stand­ing up and look­ing around the cav­ern a final time, “you tend to just pick it up as you go along. What should we do with him?”

Kill him. The oth­ers will know we mean busi­ness when they come back and see him like this.”

Veron­ica nod­ded and bent down again, shov­ing the bread knife into the man’s throat, with­draw­ing it and then wip­ing it clean as he gurgled. “Onward?”

Onward,” agreed Ed.

They’d learnt it wasn’t far to the boss’ cav­ern, and that he’d most likely be asleep by now. The other men weren’t due back until dawn at the earli­est and, as Ed had sus­pec­ted, they really weren’t that inter­ested in being ban­dits any­way, they just didn’t have any­thing else going for them. The tor­tured man had called them des­per­ate. Without hope.

Easy to con­vince them to do some­thing else then, reasoned Ed.

They’d walked for another few minutes when Ed stopped. “Why would they even spread their little cave com­plex so far apart?” he asked, “it seems like a really bad idea. You have to spend a sig­ni­fic­ant amount of time walk­ing any­where, can’t react quickly to things going on in other parts of the cave and can’t hear any­thing that’s going on elsewhere.”

Maybe that’s exactly why it is spread out. If I was a ban­dit king, I wouldn’t want to have to listen to the grunts and snores of my under­lings all night.”

I sup­pose, but it still seems remark­ably convenient.”

How so?”

I mean for us, not them.”

Oh. Yeah. Look, are you going to just stand there and talk or are we actu­ally going to fin­ish this tonight?”

We’ll fin­isht it. I just thought of another thing though.”

Bril­liant. It can’t wait until we’re actu­ally on the move again, can it?”

I’d rather deal with it now.”

Hurry up then.”

What is it that you’re after down here? I’m here because of a genu­ine com­pul­sion to help the people of nearby vil­lages; as a case­usman­cer, it’s my sworn duty, but pan­e­man­cers don’t take any oath like that. You’re allowed to be greedy and selfish. What’s brought you down here?”

Just because the creed says I don’t have to help people, doesn’t mean I don’t want to hela­hahahaha. Yeah, OK. I’m here because the ban­dit man­aged to steal a pan­e­mancy scroll from one of the churches they raided. Any­thing the church locks up relat­ing to pan­e­mancy tends to stay locked up, so it could be some­thing interesting.”

Per­haps if you demon­strated a little more respons­ib­il­ity with your craft, pan­e­man­cers would gain the same access to church records as caseusmancers.”

Yeah. I can’t wait to spend three years in a back­wa­ter vil­lage con­sist­ing of noth­ing but cheap hov­els because I have to help with the plague that’s wiped out their wheat and caused a fam­ine. It sounds thrill­ing and like a great use of my skills and training.”

We should move on.”

Wait, a case­usman­cer sug­gest­ing action instead of simply wait­ing to see what hap­pens? I’m shocked.”

That’s unfair.”

It is, though I was sur­prised to find one of you down here.”

They con­tin­ued walk­ing, both silent for a while until Ed spoke up again. “If you’re so uncon­cerned with other people, why did you make sure I wasn’t simply going to slaughter them before we set off?”

I’m not a mon­ster. Just because I don’t want to sac­ri­fice years of my life to stop some peas­ants going hungry, doesn’t mean I enjoy see­ing people suf­fer and die. I’ve been sent out with real psy­cho­paths before, people who rejoiced in killing. It was never a shared interest and it always caused ten­sion. I’m not squeam­ish about doing what needs to be done when the situ­ation demands it, but I’m not going to do more than I think is neces­sary.” She held the torch up and looked Ed in the eye.

Well, from what I’ve seen, you’ve been doing fine.”

It’s nice that you feel the need to approve my actions.”

Sorry, I just thought -”

I don’t care, OK? Let’s find the bas­tard and we can both get out of here.”

They dropped into silence once more, not even their foot­falls echo­ing off the cham­ber walls. When they saw light reflect­ing off a damp patch of rock up ahead, they stopped.
“Want to creep up and take a look?” Veron­ica asked. Ed nod­ded, and they both began mak­ing their way forwards.

Around the corner, they could see the ban­dit leader asleep in a cot. His clothes lay tumbled in a pile on a nearby chair and his armour and weapons hung on a crudely con­struc­ted dummy at the foot of his bed. The room was lit by a candle burn­ing on top of a chest of draw­ers. It was fur­nished with some rugs, rot­ting in the damp, but didn’t look too dif­fer­ent to the rest of the caves.

Easier than I thought,” said Veron­ica, “think you can pull your rock to cheese to rock trick on a bit of cave above him?”

Ed nod­ded. “Now?” he asked.

No time like the present.”

Ed mumbled a few words and a slab of hal­loumi the size of a grave­stone slowly slid out of the cave ceil­ing, then rap­idly dropped towards the ban­dit leader’s head. Half way through the air it changed back into rock and impacted with a crunch. The cot fell apart, the body lying on top of the wreck­age spasming.

A brief search of the room revealed the scroll Veron­ica had heard about. She smiled upon read­ing it and stuffed it in her satchel. “I was right,” she said, “it’s useful.”

Ed had helped her search but couldn’t shake the idea that he was now rather use­less. His job was done; he felt like a tag-along. And now he was being ditched.

You’ll want to wait around for the oth­ers to return?” Veron­ica said, already head­ing back out of the cavern.

Of course. It’s why I came.”

Good luck. I don’t sup­pose you’ll need it when they see the bod­ies though.”

I think I should be fine.”

They kept walk­ing and reached the open­ing that the group of ban­dits had left through. Veron­ica took a step down it. Ed stayed behind, pulling a chair out from under the desk and park­ing him­self on it.

Take care, yeah?” she said to him, stand­ing just on the cusp of the candlelight.

You too,” he answered.

She walked off, and he saw the spark of a torch being lit, but the tun­nel quickly turned a corner, and all he could see of her after that was the light glint­ing off the cave wall.

Ed sat back in the chair, looked at the body he was shar­ing the room with, and waited.

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