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            "Well," he cleared his throat. As ye get older...your body begins to show that well, its getting old. Sort of like the mayor. B-but anyways, that's enough of that."

            He turned around to face her, holding his wounded arm slightly. It was throbbing. He scratched the mess of brown hair on his head, thinking of a way to explain the things.

            "Money is something you need out here. Without it, you can't buy anything, or have someone do something--like back home. I can't really tell ye why it's so valuable, but it just is." Dudley pulled out a few of the old jewelry pieces from a small sack and showed them to her. "Every year we have to trade these to people in here, for whatever we can get. Along the way I need to buy food and find a place to sleep, since I can't carry two weeks worth of food on my back, and as such those crystals are heavy. But yea, don't worry about it to much, just leave it to me. And c'mon, eat some more, yer going to die out here."

            He turned back around to his papers that showed bits of land and smaller details that were all horribly outdated. Every few years he would have to update his books on the happenings around the land, villages, and monsters. Irma had told him this year the northern road to the old ruins were treacherous. Bandits had moved in recently; they'd have to take another way, making the trip even longer and dangerous.
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The mayor sort of looked liked he was old, but not like Irma. Maybe in another couple of years, he'd get more old.

"Money sounds stupid," she said with a frown, but she stood up and walked over to Dudley, where he had some food laid out and maps. She didn't understand how to read them; they just looked like abstract designs.

She tore off a piece of bread, smaller than she wanted to eat, but because Dudley insisted that she eat something. She ate slowly, small bites, to make it seem like she was eating more. "I'll be fine with the clothes I have," she said, though she felt otherwise. The clothes were dirty, disgusting, but Dudley was so preoccupied with many other things.

"...Is there anything I can do?" she asked, swallowing her last bite of bread.
            Money was indeed stupid. Especially in a world like this; dead and decaying with nothing of civilization but a few scattered villages around the world, with of course about a kingdom or two. The world was like this even before Dudley had been born, though it seemed brighter in his memory.

            Dudley puffed his cheeks and blew out air. "Well, for now just sit back and watch. After all, ye'll be on yer own one day--" Dudley caught his words. He looked back at her with a sheepish smile. "Anyways, I'll be back in a while. I guess...you can walk around if ye'd like...but don't do anything to draw attention to ye. But most of all," Dudley instructed her as he stood up with the small satchel, and he walked over to speak softer next to her ear, "Don't tell anyone why we're traveling. Alright? It's dangerous."

            He awaited for her confirmation and ruffled the top of her hair playfully to mess it up and ran out of the room before she could hit him. He walked past Irma and informed her he was going out, and to make sure Amma didn't get into much trouble.

            It was a few minutes to the center of the village, where all sorts of people gathered and sold their wares. He chose an elvish peddler first who tried to cheat Dudley with an unfair price; the haggling ended with Dudley cursing the elf and walking away, hoping another vendor would be reasonable to buy the jewelry.
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Amma frowned at Dudley's words; why would she ever be on her own? The very thought scared her, enough to not even ask what on earth he was talking about. Too many unnerving thoughts ran through her head, being forced out of the town being the worst.

At first, the thought of just staying in the room seemed best, before Amma reasoned that there certainly weren't going to be any monsters here, just people. She did her best to seem presentable, and hoped the dried blood on her shirt could be mistaken for dirt.

The town, even just by appearances, was nothing like her home. The houses were not well cared for, many falling apart, and there was a strange sort of open market that she decided to wander through. One stand held food, strange fruits, and even though they were unrecognizable, Amma's mouth watered at the sight of them. But, Dudley had warned her that without that thing called money, they could not find food. Sighing, she turned to another stand.

This one was manned by a very strange sort of man; tall, taller than most back at home, with an elegance to him, just in the very way he stood and looked around and moved his hands, and his ears were strangely pointed. How peculiar. But even more fascinating were the objects in his stand. There were weapons of all sorts; knives and swords, and strange many-spiked objects, and armor. But what caught Amma's eyes were the jewelry. She'd seen some before- the ones Dudley had just shown her, and the few pieces worn by the women in the town at home, but these were much more extravagant. Red rubies the size of her thumb set in gold and silver, purple stones and blue ones and green, all brighter and more beautiful than the next. Some were set in rings or necklaces, and there were some finely carved silver jewelry that Amma couldn't help but to reach out to touch, to feel their delicate decor.

Before her finger even grazed the ring, the man's hand snapped out and snatched hers at the wrist.

"If you mean to try them on, I must see some coin first," he said, his gray eyes steely as she stared at him in shock.

"I haven't any," Amma stammered, wondering what 'coin' was; certainly another word for money. Regardless, she knew she didn't have it.

The man shoved her hand back at her. "Then keep your filthy hands off my product," he snarled back. "And get away from my stand; you'll keep any worthwhile customers away-"

Amma hadn't realized there was another man lingering nearby until he spoke, and he was right beside her, a hand on her shoulder. "Come now, Delmar, can't you see the girl just has a fine eye for jewelry?" the man who had come out of nowhere said. Amma looked to him in surprise. He was an attractive sort of man, with dark hair and eyes, and tanned skin from being out in the sun often, and there was a long, angry sort of scar running across his cheek. He looked to her and smiled, and the man with pointed ears sighed, as if his time was being wasted.

That was, until this new man tossed Delmar a gold coin. "That should be enough for her to try on whatever she wants, don't you think?" he asked, then looked to Amma again. "Go on, I saw your eyes light up at the jewelry; it was this right, wasn't it?" And before Amma could even speak, the man had picked up the intricately carved silver right, slipping it onto one of her fingers.

"It fits perfectly!" he declared. "Would you like it? It compliments you finely."

Amma stared at the ring on her finger, before wordlessly nodding; it was all happening so fast. The man tossed a few more coins to Delmar before, with his hand still on her shoulder, steering Amma away from the stand. And it was then that Amma finally found her voice.

"Th-thank you," she said earnestly, looking up to the man. "That was very kind of you, sir."

"It was nothing," the man said, smiling down at her. "What's your name, little lady?"

"Amma."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Amma. My name is Broderick. Now, wouldn't you agree that, since I spared several coins for that rather pricey ring for you, it is only fair that I receive something in return?" He raised an eyebrow at her, as if daring her to disagree.

Amma frowned. Yes, yes that did seem fair. "Yes, but...I haven't anything at all to give. I- I came with a friend, he might be able to-"

Broderick tsked, shaking his head. "Oh, no, your friend wouldn't be able to offer me anything. You see...it has been a long, long time since I'd been graced with the presence of any woman, let alone one as beautiful as you- oh no, don't blush, don't turn your head away- and I feel, for the price of that ring, a night in your company would certainly suffice as payment, don't you think?"
            Dudley counted the gold coins he had been given. fifty, fifty-one...and fifty-two. Fifty-two trenni gold coins. It wasn't a bad deal, compared to the deal last year. This was enough to live on modestly for a few months, with even a few extra drinks at a tavern. He smiled to himself and decided on buying a few things for Amma first.

            Looking around some stalls he saw a few decent tunics that could replace the soiled and already tattered clothes she had. He bought two for her, one in pastel red and the other in some sort of lilac; there was a few shirts included for him. Another stall sold him cheap cloaks for possible rain and to protect against the northern sun. He moved onto another stall ran by a Piscine peddler. From an assortment of old swords he chose the cheapest for Amma, a short-sword no longer than human limb.

            Along the way he grabbed an extra sack and canteen for food and water. He bought smoked and cured meats, a bit of flour, bread, wrapped cheeses, nuts, dried dates, and an assortment of teas. In all honesty Dudley hated not eating a hot meal, but at least the cured meat would suffice if left out on his sword and heated in the sun. Quite practical and genius of himself.

            He folded the clothes nicely and packed them on top of the food in the new sack. Whistling he returned to the tavern, forgetting about the burning that took place in his arm. He walked into the room expecting Amma to be sitting or sleeping inside, and already was joyous in imagining the splendid look on her face--

            But she wasn't there. He called out her name twice before waltzing in and leaving the new supplies upon the bed. "Hey Irma, did Amma go out?" he asked her, shifting his weight onto the counter she was on.

            "Aye, she did. She told me quietly she was just goin' to walk 'round 'ere. Are ye goin to drink anything?" she responded, knowing already what Dudley would choose.

            "Give me the usual, Irma--thank ye." He took a large and satisfying gulp before continuing on. "Hm...well alright. If she isn't back in about fifteen minutes I'll go out for her.

            "It's best if ye did, lad. Can't believe you'd let such a pretty lass like 'er just walk r'ound 'ere, ye know what kind of people are 'ere, Dudley. Ye don't care 'bout yer wife?"

            "Erm...well it's not that I don't care, it's just well, this is her first time really anywhere. So I guess I should let her look 'round without me a bit"

            "Well, if ye think so, Dudley. Though she's quite strange, never seen anyone as quiet as 'er. Tell me, where'd ya find the lass?" Irma gave a sly smile.

            Dudley blushed. It was strange pretending that his friend was his wife. "I uh, well, I passed by her village every year, fer a while now. We just...ye know, grew close...aye, close, Dudley said sheepishly and immediately tried to drown himself with beer to keep from answering any more questions. Ugh, these women. Irma gave him an approving wink and minded her own business as Dudley asked for another round.

            Fifteen minutes had passed without any sign of Amma. He felt a little worried. "Irma, I'm going now. If she comes back here when I'm gone, tell her to wait." Dudley stepped outside onto the dirt and setting sun. A loud sigh was released from his mouth. Maybe he should have told her to stay put.
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Amma stared at Broderick, biting her lip. Something...sounded off about what he was asking about her. Perhaps it was because she'd only spent the night with other women of the town, sleeping in her own bed. She knew what happened when men and women slept together somethings, but surely this man couldn't mean he wanted that.

"I should talk to Dudley first," she said with a small frown. "I can't-"

"No, no, there's no reason for that," Broderick said. He still had that easy smile, even as he brushed stray hairs from her eyes. "He isn't your keeper, is he?"

"Well, no," Amma agreed. Technically, Dudley wasn't. She was an adult, an official adult now, and was free to make her own decisions. But Dudley was so smart, and knew so many things, and she did not.

"Then there's no reason to bring him in on this." He still had his arm around her, steering her through the town, and thankfully back to the tavern. "It's only fair, remember? I can't take the ring back; it wouldn't fit on one of my fingers, you see, and cranky old Delmar wouldn't allow me to sell it back. All I'm asking of you is one night, free from loneliness. Couldn't do you do that for me, considering the great expense I paid for that ring, just for you?"

Amma frowned, quiet, then nodded. "It would be terrible for you to be lonely," she finally said, and he broke out into a grin.

"You are a dear, sweet girl, Miss Amma," Broderick said. "A true treasure. I have a room here; we can go right now."

Now?. Amma bit her lip, shaking her head slightly. "I have to find Dudley first, to let him know," she said, and the words were scarcely out of her mouth when Dudley stepped out of the tavern. A little relieved to see him- for she didn't quite know what to make of this man- she waved, and called out, "Dudley!"

She would tell him of what happened with Broderick, how she'd have to spend the night with him, perhaps exchanging stories and such.
            oh hell naw dis boi aint all ovr mai gurl like dat

            Dudley heard Amma's familiar voice off to the distance, and he swiveled his head towards it. His face instantly turned into a shocked frowned as his brows slanted in befuddlement. Amma was being guided by some...tall, burned, dirty, swindler without any sense of moral justice or care for the common man. What had Amma gotten herself into. He just hoped she hadn't told him anything of value.

            He stepped forward cautiously, being wary of this man with his arms around her. "Amma, I was...about to go out looking for you."

            He stepped up close to both of them, slouched a bit forward placing a curled hand under his chin, and inspected this man from head to toe. His boots were dirty, his pants were stained, his shirt tattered, and his face smirking with a sly grin as his hands were around Amma. Dudley stared at this man's face with disinterest and skepticism underlined with a raised brow. There was something about this man Dudley didn't like...perhaps a few. First was the incident of his arms somehow being around Amma.

            "Yeeaahhh..." Dudley began as he stepped closer, grabbing this man's hands firmly (which resulted in a dangerous and questioning frown from him) and removed them off of Amma. He took her hastily from this man and placed his own arms around her.
            "Say hun, this man wasn't bothering ye, was he?" he asked her while keeping his unfriendly glare at him.

            He held her firmly against his right side. For sure this journey would be different.



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That Dudley would be so forward as to force another man to do anything was shocking in itself, and then he pulled her to his side! Dudley wasn't happy, that was for certain, and Amma couldn't understand why.

And then she remembered: he'd asked her not to speak a word while here. But how was she to get around without talking! He'd wanted her to do the impossible.

"Oh, no, Broderick wasn't bothering me at all," she said honestly, looking to Broderick. He seemed uncertain of the current situation, looking up and down at Dudley. "He bought me this ring." She raised her hand so Dudley could see the fine elven ring she now wore. "And he just asked that I spend some time with him, as a thank you."

"Yes," Broderick said smoothly. "That expensive ring was given to her by me, and as such, I've bought her for the night, my friend." He reached out, taking Amma's hand that she'd held up for Dudley to look up, to pull her back to him. "I'm sure you know the ways of the land; I've every right to her now."
            Dudley couldn't believe it when Amma showed him her ring. His jaw dropped and his eyes went back and forth between her, the ring, and this...man. This man was nothing but trouble, and so was Amma.

            "Yes," Broderick said smoothly. "That expensive ring was given to her by me, and as such, I've bought her for the night, my friend." He reached out, taking Amma's hand that she'd held up for Dudley to look up, to pull her back to him. "I'm sure you know the ways of the land; I've every right to her now."

            Dudley felt something flare up inside when this man took her away from him once more. His skeptical face turned sour and showed signs of irritation at this suave and immoral man. Dudley knew what he was after, and he'd have to lie to get around this kind of person.

            Dudley kept quiet for a second, and then his face changed into that of a calm and sly person."Ah, but my friend, she was already mine from the start," he cooed and grabbed Amma once more. "If ye didn't know, we're married--yesirree, happily maried. Isn't that right, Amma-dearest?"

            Amma showed signs of a bit of confusion, and nodded slightly.

            "So sorry to disappoint ye, but she cannot be bound to ye, since she's bound to me...by love and not some, lavished desire," Dudley said with disdain towards him, trying to hint at this mans vile immorality. Gently he took Amma's ring off and threw it onto the ground in front of this man. Broderick's expression turned sour as Dudley gave him the news and threw the ring to his feet.

            "C'mon Amma, ye gotta sleep tonight," his tone was annoyingly sweeter than usual. He turned them both around and forced her to march on back towards the tavern, kissing the top of her head to add to the act. Broderick was disappointed at first, but something wasn't right about this sudden man who came as if from nowhere, and took his fun for the night right under his nose. He suddenly hated the cap Dudley wore, his bandaged arm, red-stained clothes, and that smell of alcohol.

            There was something off...
            That was it, he was a lying scamp!

            "S-stop you two!" Broderick yelled after them and walked up furiously towards Dudley, and harshly took Amma from him. "Ohoho, you lying cheat! You're not cheating me out of my money!"

            "W-what do you mean?"

            "Don't play stupid. By law this girl is mine, since I did buy something for her. In return, she has to repay me with goods or services--and well, I really wouldn't mind the service right now. Amma is not married to you. When I met her she had no ring--and she addressed you as a friend."

            Dudley winced, he was in trouble now.

            "You have no proof you're married to this girl, so if you'll excuse me--" Broderick landed a quick hit onto Dudley's face, making him fall backwards and Amma yelp. "I better not catch you trying to take what I bought, you thief!


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Amma was starting to get mighty irritated at how the men seemed to be passing her back and forth, yanking and pulling her this way and that. True, she didn't understand the whole extent of what they were talking about ('buying' her? What was that about!)- and suddenly Broderick was mad, holding her close to him, snapping at Dudley for lying to him.

She didn't think he'd actually hit Dudley.

"Stop!" Amma cried, fighting to get out of his arms, to reach Dudley. "Don't hurt him!"

"Pain is the only way lying cheats learn," Broderick said coldly in return, not relinquishing his hold on her. "Now. The matter has been settled. You aren't married, are you?"

Amma could only shake her head, her eyes on Dudley.

"Exactly as I thought." Broderick grabbed one of her hands, slipping the ring he'd bought for her back on her finger. "Now come." He started to walk, but Amma dug her heals into the ground, managing to wriggle out of his arms.

"No," she cried, dashing over to Dudley, only he'd caught her arm, pulled her back to him.

"There is no no now, Miss Amma," Broderick said seriously. He tilted his head to the side, squinting as if to see her better. "You have no idea what is going on, do you? Oh, you are such a naive little thing. Let me explain it to you. You see this ring, this very expensive ring that you now wear? When I bought it for you, and you accepted it, you also agreed to be mine for an evening, to have you however I please."

Amma's eyes widened in horror as understanding sunk in. "But- I can't! No, I refuse, you can take the ring back, I've never-" She couldn't. The women back home had explained all to her, all about sex and love, and that the two should go together, she should never sleep with a man she did not love. She didn't know Broderick well, and he seemed so devious now, not nice at all anymore.

"A virgin?" Broderick's eyes widened in surprise. "A pretty thing like you, out here in the wild badlands? I scarcely believe that."

"It's true!" Amma cried. "I swear it! I'm not from here, we come from a village no far from here; this isn't our home. I don't know these customs, I wouldn't have taken the ring. Please- is there something else I could do? I-" She tried hard to remember what she truly excelled at, but there wasn't much of anything. No one back home had given her a true job; she'd help Dudley cook from time to time, or Mr. Gunsbrook and his wife farm, and sometimes she'd help Eleanor to mend torn clothing for others in the village. "I can do anything else, please!"
            "Ughh..." Dudley moaned, as the world around him seemed to spin. Broderick had hit him surprisingly hard, right on his nose. He had fallen backwards and hit the back of his head against the wooden wall of the tavern. A strong punch to the face, the lack of sleep, nothing but a small piece of bread, and a wounded arm sudden swirled together and made Dudley feel very sick. His head began to pound and felt as if a knife had been driven through his sinus and all the way through the back of his skull. His vision was cloudy and the world still seemed to spin.

            He wanted to stand up but he couldn't, as every time he made an attempt to lift himself his head pounded harder and forced him back down. Broderick's startling revelation was made clear to Amma and she struggled to find her way back to Dudley. Dudley felt nausea revolting in his stomach from drinking nothing but the beer earlier. Like some kind of animal it made an attempt to force itself out, but was repressed by him.

            "It's true!" Amma cried. "I swear it! I'm not from here, we come from a village no far from here; this isn't our home. I don't know these customs, I wouldn't have taken the ring. Please- is there something else I could do? I-I can do anything else, please!" Amma pleaded in desperation. Dudley felt his body becoming lighter, this seemed so unreal like the previous day.

            "Ahaha, I know you can do anything, and trust me--you will do anything. Ignorance is certainly no bliss with me," Broderick made a horrible prediction. Giving out a sadistic laugh he dragged Amma as she struggled to stay behind, pulling her arm to get away but was overpowered by this man. She yelped and pleaded for mercy, and he showed her nothing.

            "Unhand her, ye pig-hearted flea!" Dudley cried out as he was finally able to stand up, with the help of Irma who had ran out to see what was going on. A few people had gathered around to see the entertainment between two men for a woman. A few made bets on who would win and if there would be any blood spill--the favorite and most triumphant thing to happen during a fight for some pretty lass. Dudley stumbled forward towards them, caught his balance, adjusted his hat, readied his stance, and lifted his hands. He'd have to use his right for everything, since his left was still fresh and caused him still great pain.

            Broderick rolled his eyes, yelled out some insults, and pushing Amma behind him walked briskly towards Dudley. Dudley snapped out his right arm, which was dodged by the brute. Broderick pushed Dudley's back froward, ducking as Dudley's arm came around. After he spun around Broderick landed a punch right to Dudley's adam's apple, causing Dudley to choke and grab his neck, stumbling backwards. Broderick took the opportunity to kick him down below and gave another kick as Dudley bent over in pain.

            "D-Dudley!" Amma cried out.

            Dudley's vision faded as the villagers cheered, and Broderick spat on him.
            "Dudley!"

            *****

            Dudley winced from pain and found himself back in the tavern bed, with Irma by him, checking to make sure his ribs weren't cracked. Thankfully he was only bruised, but the pain was still there. He moaned as Irma laughed a bit.

            "Oh Dudley, ye got a beatin' this time, fer sure," she said, cleaning his face with a wet rag. Dudley moaned for s second, with his head still pounding, then shot up with wide eyes and winced again from pain.

            "W-where's Amma? Amma!"he cried out and tried to get out of the bed. Irma forced him to stay and told him to calm down. She had been taken away by that Broderick guy, screaming and pleading with tears away from the tavern. During her struggle the ring was dropped somehow and Irma picked it up before anyone had noticed it. She gave it to Dudley, hoping it would help in someway.

            "She's that important to ye, isn't she? And dun't tell me she's yer wife, Dudley. I over'eard--from the sound of it she's not."

            Dudley looked down sadly and shook his head. "No, she's not. She's just a friend...but I think of her as my sister. I've...done so much to keep her safe all these years so she could grow up--the entire village has, we've done so much to keep her safe. And now I allowed some uncommon flea-bitten b*****d to just take her and do her harm? Irma it's just...."

            Dudley placed his hands on his face and repeated phrases to himself. "Nonononononononononono, how could this happen? That sonofabitch--nonononononononono, t-this isn't real!" He wept for a bit, as Irma tried to massage his shoulders and calm him down. He had to get Amma back, but how? They could be anywhere, and by the time he would find her she would be dead or completely broken. She was so innocent...

            Dudley had to find a way to track her down somehow, without wandering aimlessly among the streets and asking for her. He felt delirious and wanted to fall over. He had no strength to continue on physically, he was exhausted. Turning Amma's ring over and over in his hands he thought. He thought about what kind of man Broderick was and ways to track him down. The people of this town were evil-hearted and had no compassion but for money.

            There...had to be a way to use this to some sort of advantage. Dudley focused more on the ring as Irma brought him food to eat. This ring was corrupted as the people that had sold and bought it--that was it!

            "T-the vendor!" Dudley exclaimed. "I-Irma, that's it! Quick, give me more food--I need my strength." The adrenaline rushed through Dudley as he had little time to save Amma from being abused and having her world shatter.

            *****

            Most of the vendors had already packed up and left the center. Dudley desperately asked around if they had sold the ring he was holding. All of them said no, until there he asked an elven peddler who was about to leave.

            "Leave me alone!" he bitterly told Dudley trying to leave.

            "S-sir, just hear me out! Look, did you sell this ring?"

            Delmar sighed and looked around with disdain. "Yes--and no I'm not buying it back--now get away!"

            Dudley wasn't going to let this man away. These peddlers were all the same, only money was of interest. "I'm not selling it back--I want to give it back to you, free of charge...basically." Delmar stopped in his tracks, and looked back. "Listen, friend/i], I want to give this ring back to you--free of charge! All I want in return is some information. Just think, you sold this ring to the previous customer, and as such it was his responsibility the moment he paid for it. Now it's 'lost' and you have found an 'identical' ring. By taking this, you can sell it again, and you will have made double the profit, since you didn't buy it back. Does that sound good?"

            Delmar thought about it, with a serious and unhappy face. He looked at Dudley, and back at the ring. A beaming smile broke through and he shook Dudley's hand. "Ah, my friend, you speak like a true merchant. I'll be happy to tell you whatever you need," Delmar said warmly, with an entirely changed complexion as he took the ring back.

            "I'm looking for the previous buyer of that ring--where can I find him? Did he pass through here?"

            "Ah, yes yes yes, he did indeed. He was with this pretty little lass--pitiful wretched thing. She was tricked, they headed over to Irma's tavern right away, but a few minutes later he passed by here with her again. She was pleading and begging, crying even! He mentioned me to meet him tomorrow early in the morning, do do some business. He was going to spend the night with her--at the Spirel tavern. If you're looking for them, you can still catch him. That Broderick--he's quite the womanizer. He's always tricking women like that, and takes them to the tavern to have them cleaned and dressed up for whatever he wants, meanwhile he gets drunk and when they're ready he gets them drunk."

            Dudley thanked him for the information, and hoped they would become business partners in the future. As Delmar walked away Dudley plotted on a way to get her back. He had a window of opportunity, he just needed to expose a drunkard. But how, was the question. A few minutes of pondering led him to enlightenment, and he smiled sinfully.

            Irma. He needed to see Irma quickly.


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Amma had fought against Broderick, but to Jo avail. She had spirit, and the incredible need and will to be free from this man, to not lose her womanhood to him, to be with Dudley and be safe, but she was but a small girl, and nothing she did was enough to break free from Broderick. He carried her, screaming and crying and fighting, across the town to another tavern, one much more rundown, the men at the bar dirtier, serried, more heavily scarred. Not a one tried to help her.

He took her to a room and locked her inside. There was nowhere for her to go; the jump from the window would surely cause her to break something, and there was no getting out through the door. Defeated, Amma retreated to a corner, and sobbed. She was still there when Broderick returned, several bottles of spirits in his arms.

"Oh, stop crying," he'd said, placing a bottle by her feet. "Drink that, bathe; you'll feel better when you do."

Amma didn't. Though her tears had slowed, she'd remained where she was, hugging her knees to her chest and flinching whenever Broderick came near. He bathed, and drank, shaved, and every now and the encouraged her to drink from the bottle he had given her.

"What's with you?" he finally asked, sitting on the bed. "I've never met a girl with such defiance before."

Amma looked up to him, her eyes red and tired from crying. "I was told to wait for a man who loved me," she said quietly. "You don't. You...you are unlike any man I've ever met. I thought- I thought only monsters could be wicked."

Broderick laughed and stared at her with a strange sort of curiosity. "Where on earth did you grow up? The whole world is wicked!"

"Not where I'm from," Amma said, sticking her bottom lip out a bit. "Everyone is kind at home. I've never- such cruelty in the world is...is unthinkable, and so new."

"You really are something." Broderick stared at her a moment, tilting his head. "I'd never thought I would come across such innocence. I'll tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. I spent a pretty penny on you, a great deal, you see, which I can never get back. If you help me to acquire something worth the ring and yourself, I will personally see to it that you are reunited with your friend. Is that fair?"

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

Broderick had already chosen said item. In the setting sun, he'd taken her to the edge of town, beyond the ruins of old homes, to a partially standing tower.

"You see up there, Amma, near the top? There is a small room there, with a door too small dor me to fit through. Inside, there is a crystal. I need you to go fetch it for me."

It seemed easy enough. There was an old ladder within the tower, and she could see the door from the ground. Never having been afraid of heights, Amma climbed the ladder with ease, but also with caution. It was old, the wood damn near rotting, and Amma had to be careful of how she held her weight so that it would not break.

The doorway was a tight squeeze, even with her petite build. It seemed part of it had crumbled, the stones falling atop one another, and she was afraid to shift them, for fear of sending the tower tumbling to the ground. Once inside, Amma could only stare in awe of what lay before her. It was a crystal, as large as both her hands, glowing a faint pink and purple and reminded her so much of the one kept at home, to ward off evil. It clearly had fallen off a stand, and was forgotten, in the decay of this town. Would the same happen to her home, if they failed to bring back a crystal?

For a brief moment, Amma considered taking the crystal for herself, to find Dudley and go home. But, she had made a deal with Broderick, and would not break her word.

The climb down the ladder was quicker than the journey up it, and Broderick accepted the crystal with ease, stuffing it into a bag that he slung over his shoulder.

"Very good, deaf Amma; now, let's return to that tavern of yours. Perhaps your friend is there."

Ankd he was. She had only to just step inside to see Dudley, at the bar talking erratically to Irma.

"Dudley!" Amma cried and ran to him, flinging her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. Behind her, Broderick stood in the doorway.
            Sophie was one of those strange, and somewhat pretty women. She had short brown hair, emerald green eyes, strong muscular legs, a slight belly she hid behind a corset, and a nasty scar on her left arm she hid under a fur. Lightly she strutted in, swaying her hips provocatively in that fine svelte dress.

            She was a Gallian woman, which are said to be some of the finest in the world. Gallia itself was on a secluded and green continent, unscathed from the judgement that had taken place years ago. This tavern was her target, and she stalked someone important. Unfortunately he wasn't there--not yet anyways. Drunken men all over the tavern turned their heads towards Sophie, who swayed in silently with curled lips. She sat in the corner by herself, and nosily gulped down ale after ale, becoming impatient with waiting. All that accompanied her were the delusions of grandeur of walking slowly to a certain drunk man, wooing him, and going into his room in which she would spring and bind him and save the day.

            But he never arrived nor was it the proper tavern.

            "'ey, pretty lady. Why dun't ye say we 'ead up stairs, mm?"

            "M-mon dieu!" Sophie exclaimed, slapping him across the cheek. "Non. I'm waiting for zomeone. Please, go away."

            "Mmhhmm, I like 'em frisky. Say, just comeon, I just wanna look at ye,' this man continued on, almost falling over on Sophie and grabbed onto her. She yelped and began to punch him on the nose.

            "Ye don't touch me like that, ye pervert! Now get run away before I tear that bloody chest hair off ye. That's right, run! I--" Sophie stopped when everyone had burst into laughter. All of a sudden she was no longer a strange and mysterious woman, with the ripped dress from the bumbling drunkard grabbing onto and stretching it until it ripped.

            *****

            Dudley wept loudly as Irma counseled him with another mug of ale. He had been tricked by a merchant, dressed as a woman to seduce his enemy and save his friend, and had gotten laughed by an entire tavern in which the man wasn't even in. Dudley ran out embarrassed as he was laughed at and roamed the village until late searching aimlessly for Amma.

            "My plan failed, Irma!" Dudley cried and sniffled with a muffled and highly-pitched voice. "E-everyone...it was embarrassing!

            "Oh suck it up olready, Dudley. The important thing was that you tried--and ye did it fer that girl," Irma said in an annoyed voice. Honestly, this was a grown man.

            "B-but I'll never see her again!" he wailed harder, and drowned his own voice with alcohol before wailing again. "W-what will I tell my village?"

            "Well, listen up, ye braggart," Irma rolled her eyes and leaned on the counter. "I'm sure she hasn't left this village yet--and it's yer own damned fault fer trying to trick someone like that. Not to mention yer a 'orrible fighter. If ye really want to find her, go out lookin' 'arder, without askin' me fer my old clothes."

            Dudley rose up weakly. He sniffled, "Y-yer right. I'll be back, Irma." He stumbled to his side, to exhausted and tired from the lack of food, sleep, and straight drinking.

            "That'll be another thirty zenni silver coins. Yer drinkin' my best ale."

            "G-go...ta 'ell, Irma."

            Dudley turned away from her, and Amma stood there at the doorway. "Dudley!"
            He found himself embracing the girl back, wailing like a child.

            "Amma!" he sniffled. "W-where ye? Yer not hurt, are ye? I...I looked everywhere for ye. I thought ye were gone!" He cried out annoyingly some more until Irma told him to grow up already. He stood back to allow Amma to breathe, if he had somehow choked her during his constant crying. Wiping his nose and red eyes, he noticed that wretched swindler.

            "Y-ye! W-what do ye want now?!" he demanded and stumbled forward, ready to brawl once more.

Tsaritsa of Salt's avatar

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Amma nearly cried as well, as she hugged and was hugged by Dudley.She had never been happier to see him- and it seemed he felt the same way. "I'm fine, I'm fine," she promised, still clinging to him. "Nothing happened, I swear-"

She was cut off, for it appeared that Dudley had finally noticed Broderick, and snapped at him. Though Amma loosened her hold on Dudley, she didn't let go, wasn't able to yet. Twice in two days she had nearly lost him. She wouldn't let it happen again.

Broderick shrugged from his place by the door, and stepped foreword. "Just keeping my end of the deal," he said, looking to Amma. "Bringing her back to you, unharmed." He took another few steps closer to Dudley. "Do you realize what she is? Innocent. And innocence like that doesn't just exist in this world anymore. Men, like myself, prey upon it, and most men wouldn't be so kind as to see her remain so pure. If you truly value her, don't let her out of your sight for a damned second."

He stepped back, as if moving to leave, and Amma frowned, not truly understanding what he'd spoken of. "Innocence such as hers needs to be protected, preserved. I'm mighty curious about this town you spoke of, Amma, that nurtured you into what you are. But, I do need to be going. Until we meet again." He tipped an invisible hat to her, turned, and was out the door.
            Dudley flinched back when Broderick had stepped in. Much to his surprise he talked to him instead. Broderick told Dudley of how Amma was an innocent soul and such. "If you truly value her, don't let her out of your sight for a damned second." Dudley gave him a glare. Who was he to be telling him what to do? Besides yesterday had been a fluke, without sleeping or eating properly no man could function well.

            He walked out, saying some last words to Amma. Dudley didn't pay attention, as his glare intensified. Was he taunting them, knowing he had the power to do almost anything over them? Dudley did not like him--not a single bit.

            However his last words stuck to him. "If you truly value her, don't let her out of your sight for a damned second."

            "Trust me," Dudley said quietly to himself. "If there was a way, I would--but I can't. There's...a time for everything." Dudley stood there, as if reflecting on the encounter. Broderick was wrong. One day, he would have to let her out of his sight, whether either of them liked it or not.

            Dudley's demeanor changed and he turned back to Amma, embracing and kissing the top of her head with sibling affection. He continually asked her if she had been alright or if that wretched scum had did anything to her. She of course pushed him away after enough time since Dudley smelled. Days without bathing made him an intolerable man. He took her up to the room to show her the clothes, cloak, and weapon he had bought for her before taking a bath. When he returned he laid out as much food as he thought she needed to eat and fell asleep on the chair and left the bed to her. They had spent enough time in such a place, and needed to move by at least mid-day tomorrow.

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