He angled away from the troops that had been on the crest with him and moved towards the right side of the wall, his daggers spinning in his hands. The intense pain in his arm was gone, replaced by a dull throb, but it was nothing to him. He had suffered worse at the hands of the Master.
His training and instincts lead his feet speed, dancing over the bodies of the dead, but didn't want to give him a reason why he was doing this in the first place. There was no reason for him to be doing this, no orders and no reward for his actions. Larit had been born a slave and it seemed to him that he was a slave once more, but to what he didn't know. Something was drawing him forward. Something was making sure his daggers were ready. And he hated it.
Feet touched the base of the wall and he jumped up the wall a few feet and slid his daggers into the cracks of the mortar. He crawled up the side of the wall like a spider, using the blades to draw himself forward when footholds were nowhere to be found. The wall was in worse condition then any of the towers he had scaled, but that was to be expected. It wasn't magical and it had just been breached.
The daggers were slid into their sheaths with a soft hiss of metal against leather and his bow was in his hands, arrow already knocked. A quick glance to his left hand made him frown. The skin was nearly all gone and muscle was tearing apart with every movement of his fingers. The strength still held out in them, though, and that's what was important now.
A quick glance told him what he already knew, the city was lost. The woman was gone, having moved deeper into the city itself, and dwindling pockets of defense were slowly being whittled away by her army. Nearby, one such pocket had already been cut down to three people and a small smirk touched his lips when he recognized one person fighting for his life.
That blasted mercenary.
He fired an arrow into the midst of the combat striking an orc, followed by another, and then he was on the move again. He raced along the wall when suddenly his feet came out from underneath him as he slipped in a pool of blood. Crashing to the ground, he winced as he heard a snap. Pushing himself to his feet, Larit ran his hands over himself. Nothing felt broken, but what had been that snap? Lifting up his bow, he made to move again, this time more cautiously, but with a curse he dropped it on the wall.
On the move again, he raced down the wall, moving with a purpose he couldn't place but being compelled to all the same, leaving behind a broken bow on the wall.
The young officer watched his backtrail warily, as did the dozen or so men that were all who lived of his command. They had not sold their lives cheap, though. Hundreds of enemy dead lay scattered around the walls of this city, and dozens within as well. But they were not invincible - just desperate to save their home, and he at least knew that there was little to no chance of that. Taiene had fallen, and her walls crumbled and buildings burned. The char on the air, thick with hot smoke, did little to dispel the rank odor of death.
Suddenly he stopped, hearing the sound of crunching stone underfoot, though not a breath of sound else. Except for the screaming in the distance, and the muted sounds of defenders or attackers rallying over a trivial point in the city.
The crunch was rythmic, and before long a tall shape emerged in the swirling, snowy gloom. A woman, barely clad enough for public, let alone the weather, strode along the street as if she owned the place. He realized with a start that she couldn't possibly be human, though, as she drew near. An aura of threat hung about her like a cloak, and so he pressed himself back against a wall in the snowy shadows, motioning behind him for those following to stay stock still. She passed by without even glancing their way, as if she was searching for something and nothing else really mattered. She vanished into the snow slowly, heading deeper into the city. He shuddered, and had the strangest feeling that death had walked by, and that he had somehow dodged the bullet this time.
He gestured with his head, and men began to move again, the creak of leather and clink of mail muffled to silence not feet from them. They continued to the last possible destination in the city, and surely the one the enemy commander sought next, now that the walls were fallen.
With a grim look, eyes hard, he set off with his little band of men, headed for the manor of the Lord of Taiene. Maybe they could still save something.
He had two of his wonderful, ingenious weapons with him. Alas, he didn't think they would save his hide if he slowed even a step, He had not witnessed the butchery at the gate, except that of his own making - but goblins had continued to pour in, if with a slight...hesitation...and he had been running since, with nary a thought for where he was going. And two of the things, his precious eggs, in seperate leather sacks at either shoulder.
It didn't even occur to him to worry about tripping and landing on one. really, there was no need cuz he wouldn't feel it anyway.
Onward he ran, with a slow speed possible only among the scholarly.
The defenders knew it was a hopeless cause, but then there was a thin sliver of hope. Hope that they could buy time for their families and loved ones to escape. With a deafening roar, the thirty men, lined three deep across the street, gave a mighty shove on the interlocked shields in front of them, and the enemy line fell back a step. The men in front stepped back as the second line, wielding swords, stepped forward, stabbing and slashing into an enemy suddenly falling forward.
Jaesin thrust a blood darkened sword through one snarling kobolds throat, hardly pausing from withdrawing it from the clinging flesh to backhandedly slash another across its ugly face. The jabbered in a language he did not understand, and died on his countryman's shields, and died. The enemy backed off, and he was sure they would try again. Instead, they broke and scattered, seemingly uninterested in this small party that had showed its teeth. Men quickly formed into two columns, and they resumed their march. Too few to turn a war, or even a battle, but enough to win some time.
She walked casually along streets thzat were now three or four inches buried beneath blowing snow. The cold did not touch her, she was unaware of such trifling details as heat and cold. She was very much aware of that itching sensation. It declared a great artifact constructed of the Art or by it, and it was just such an object she sought. She had three others like it, in a pouch at her waist. They clinked occasionally, but until all the pieces were restored, it could not be truly broken. A particularly ingeneous move, that, creating the binding seals and anchoring it an object absolutely soaked in magic, until it became a thing almost alive. And then break it, while maintaining the whole, and scatter it across the world. Rei did not honestly understand how the last had happened - the woman had hardly lived long after that great binding, not after the taintint touch of the Lord had stricken down thousands. Millions.
The streets opened onto a wide plaza, stone smoothly covered in falling white. In the center stood a fountain, cunningly powered by an artesian well that laucnhed water fifteen feet into the air in a wide circle around a figure of gray stone. This statue and fountain did not belong in some flyspek town a week's ride to anything even remotely interesting. It had, she knew, always stood there, since the conflageration thathad consumed Kantorin and with that death, taken the whole of the empire into ruins, a bittersweet victory that have been. Instead, interminable years spent trying to gather the sxhattered remnants of the Army of the Nights' own holdings..
Not all of the Mah'riel had her memory - there were blessedly few matriarchs, even if that meant there were far, far too few of her people to ever control the world. But she remembered those walls stained black, erupting in...
She made her way across the snow covered stone, and stood on the edge of the fountain, gazing at the statue. A tall man, in wicked looking armor, an even more wicked sword in his hand and a scowl twisting his face. Quite unlovely, but then it had no need of beauty. Something seemed wrong, though.
She stepped into icy water that reached her knees, and waded out to the statues. The face, that was what was wrong. it looked to be made of something the rest of the statue was not, and after a careful blow with a staff conjured out of nothing amid black flames, it revealed a hollow skull,. And with its shattering, the sense of what she was looking for lurched and vanished. She could still feel it, but it was no longer anywhere so close as this fountain. her face darkened. Trickery.
She cast a glance around, trying to pinpoint the fragment. It ebbed and flowed in an irritating way, bhut she was sure she could follow it.
Staff clicking on snow deep beneath the snow, she trudged onwards, a hunting lioness with the scent of its prey firmly in the nostrils.
"We must strike hard and save what can be saved, then flee. The mountains behind us will provide far more protection than this city, if we can make it with whoever can escape.
Simple words, but fighting in cities was never a simple proposition. She only had twenty men, if that, behind her. The rest had gone, seeking family among the streets. Among the dead, most likely, for the streets were littered with them in such numbers it should have staggered her and these men to their bones. Instead, they stepped around faces with sightless eyes, blood spilled in congealing pools and severed limbs without a backwards glance. It would not do to dwell on the terrible truth of war. They might join these silent hosts soon enough; entering the walls had been madness.
She had danced with any foolish enough to try her or her little band. Once, they had encountered some twenty or thirty of the globlins working a street, smashing doors in and looting, raping where they found anyone who had not already fled. Smoke was bitter in the air, for if place could not be broken into, it was set ablaze, and the shrieks of the dying from within withered the soul.
She had killed a third of them herself before they had realized that they were set upon, and by the time they mounted any serious defense, the rest of her men had butchered them. There was no mercy for them, not here..
And now they stalked along a wide street, which put her teeth on edge because they would be hard pressed to defend themselves in so open a space. Snow fell ever heavier, and the cold in the air grew sharp enough to freeze her bones.
"You are rather morose company," she commented as they crossed another main street, without another soul in sight. "Your cool composure speaks of experience, but your manner suggests....apathy." her eyes crawled over stone and wood, looking for an enemy, daring one to come near. Nothing obliged, all remained quiet. One of the scouts made a dark shape in the snow, that slowly resolved. He came to her, wna whispered in her ear, and she nodded curtly before the man left again. So. Survivors and refugees, under the roof of the Lord behind his laughable walls in his mnor. The army out in these streets would make it over his wall in a trice, and as far as she was concerned, she had never disliked killing goblins.
"We continue to the Lord's manor. I expect we'll be putting our foot into a snare, but...." She shrugged. Better to pay for those innocents lives in blood, than have their blood staining your own hands. Sometimes you just did what you had to.
She turned, and watched as a small boy clambered over the burned out wreckage of a merchants house, and shook her head. innocents. War was no place for them, at all.
He had sat silently as the woman below called to him, but he did not move. he stared sullenly out at her, ignoring the bloody filth threwn about the street, one and all images of death that would have driven him mad, if he had cared a whit about it.
Far from doing as she bid, the bow slinked away quietly. He did not leave them, however - there was some...affinity....between her and him. The one with the bow, and it was nothing he could a finger to Also, his satchel at waist throbbed in a strange resonance that he had not yet managed to puzzle out. It had begun as soon as that....creature...had began flaying all the soldiers down on the street alive. He paid it little heed now, though, as he crept along a street away, findign vantage points to watch as the small party the woman traveled with mowed down any opposition. he hid behind piles of burned timbers, from windows, and from alleys, never losing them but staying clear enough to avoid detection. And one eye on the stranger with a bow on her back, or in hand, all somehow a single entity to his eyes.
Watched, in silence, with a piercing gaze that belonged to a grownup.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
The words from Aeyliea was rewarded with a single piercing gaze before the gaze swept around them for stragglers or foolish enemy separated from a detachment and drunk on blood lust giving them a foolhardy belief they could slay twenty experienced sword arms alone. There had been a few. Mostly it had been bands of twenty or more who forgot they had no army at their backs and were easily dispatched. If only the whole of the forces currently consumed with pillage and debauchery could be so easily defeated. “A sharp blade cuts so quickly and finely one does not feel it until the blood has already been flowing. This is no different, commander. This blade of conflict has drawn the first of many such cuts.” A pause as she drew bow and sent three arrows in rapid succession after the green hides of orcs down an alleyway as they hacked an already motionless woman with wicked blades.
Three forms skidded in the snow and were still, adding their foul fluids to that already staining the stones. “Time enough when those who can be helped are helped to dwell and shed what tears can be shed.” A second glance at Aeyliea which betrayed no emotion.
The bow was gripped in one slender hand, the other touched the amulet about her throat but a moment. “Apathy can give one the freedom to walk through hell and come out sane.” A toss of head as a dagger was plucked from her waist and sent through the face of a small green form as it darted from a burning home. The dagger quivered as a finger made a come hither motion and returned to her hand.
A bare tilt of head to catch a glimpse of the trailing boy.
“I imagine those commanders for the other side will be making all haste to the same location, commander. Perhaps it would be prudent to take the high ground closer in and thin their ranks with arrows?” A motion with the bow in the direction of a street trampled with recent passage of feet. The snow was an annoyance and bitter blew the wind, yet it had not yet wiped out the tracks. They were catching up, though she paused to kneel down to one knee and touch a few tracks lightly. “It appears we are not the first group heading for the Manor.” Rising lithely and glancing to the houses and walls curiously.
At last her voice lifted to carry back to the boy. “Danger ahead, my talented youth. Look sharp.” The fingers plucked an ornamental blade from a sheath at the small of her back and sent it into the snow blade first. “I shall expect to get that back, it has sentimental value.” Her eery stride brought her up to the commanders side, waiting orders. She did not look back. A blade imbued with virulent poison for the less fortuitous in its path, a loan to the boy.
Alas, the grip was still too strong to overcome, the darkness too deep. The Dreamer dreamed on, surrounded in darkness, dreams tainted by darkness.
Knots of men fought desperately, long curved swords flashing in the pyrelight of the city, gleaming wetyly with blood. The dead piled up beyond that singular entrance, but men in the silver and gold armor of the Imperial Elite klay dead, too. The Imperials had the advantage in their choice of battlefield and in pure skill, training, and experience.
But the Armies of Night had the stronger, in sheer numbers. The Warrior Priests of the Lord-Emperor himself drove the masses on, through gaping rents in once beautiful walls, through streets flooded with the blood of the innocent, that of the defenders. All was one in their eyes, opposition to the truth of the Lord, and the message he preached as he subjugated one people after another, shatteringh kingdoms and empires until all were dust.
She would aid them, even in her condition, if she wasn't hard pressed herself. The creature she faced reeked of such sorcery as she had only encountered since their appearance upon this world, reeked of such affronted, offensive power that her insides curled.
Mah'riel, self-proclaimed adherents of the Other One since the time of the Fall, before all the bickering of the world boiled over and buried their cult in silence. Hundreds, nay, thousands of years the beast had lain asleep, but they did not die. Nor did they make themselves widely known.
They stood facing one another, holding the flank of the Imperials againsty attack from behind. Not that she was doing anything to prevent it, anymore than the other was doing anything to aid it. None would come between their kind of struggle, could they avoid it. Occasionally they would make a pass with their staves, trying to crack a skull or break bones, but anytime it looked as if raw strength would win over their own innate, the duel began anew.
Both faces dripped sweat.
With a cry of triumph, she shattered her enemies defenses, stripping the layered defenses against sorcery in a rush, like slicin through an onion. Her foe staggered as if struck, and Seska wove the Art, threads of glistening power striking, and scorching flesh. In Too-human shriek of agony that ripped from her fanged mouth dwindled quickly as she sprouted flames, heat flashing to white hot. A moment, only, an eternity, and searing heat vanished. Leaving only ashes drifting on the wind.
She reeled on her feet, dropping almost all of her weight onto the onately carved staff. Her stomach heaved, and she burst out all over in sweat, fighting vomiting. And she knew pain, but did not cave into it as she swept the corridor ahead of her of anything moved, crushing bone and snacthing the breath from lungs, stilling hearts. The pain thrummed at her until she thought she would die, but she did not cease until nothing remained to threaten the flanks of those brave men, all of them doomed despite her reprieve. She vomited, then, and hardly seemed to notice when the hand wiped across her mouth came away with more than a trace of blood on the back of her hand.
She walked on trembling legs, and ventured further within, seeking.....she did not know what she sought. She wandered aimlessly, feeling sicker with each step, until she stumbled into a wide corridor, one that led to the throne room, the seat of Empire.
A man stood there, thew blade in his hand just now resting on the floor, rills of blood pooling about its tip. The man he held in his mailed fist quivered, but dark fury and outrage painted his dying features. Eyes stared, and the man in black armor tossed the corpse to the floor stones like a sack of garbage. He turned, and looked back the way he had come.
Seska stopped, and stared. Darkly handsome, with a face that seemed too youthful, he stood and locked down the long corridor, at the woman snared in his power. The woman he towered over, a head taller and then some, stood with her blade bared, silvery hair bound behind her neck in a long braid thatr hung to the backside. Eyes the color of blue-gray stone stared at him, but they lacked any emotion. They lacked life, eye unfocused and dull. The dark mans' lips quirked in the faintest of smiles.
"Ah. We meet at last." The words were melodious, and with that young mans face, were enough to send shivers down her spine. He was looking at her now. "You retched interference has caused me some mild displeasure, before now. As you can see, however, the strength of the Mother far supercedes that of the old Father."
"You are he," she breathed. The Lord, the destroyer of cities, slayer of the innocent. "You speak in riddles, and I know not why."
"Riddles?" He tossed his head back and laughed. It was as cold as the heart of winter. "I speak as plainly and clearly as good glass, woman." He gestured at her, at Aeyliea, still forzen but not, she noted, rigid. "The Father has fai8led his people too many times. By giving birth to the trinity, he cast the world into chaos and war, and more blood has been spilled in his name, if only the people could see it. The three have been cast down, and always other powers take their place. But one power has not diminished nor vanished with the passage of years. And she waits, outside of timer and reality, waits for the day to come when she can return, and reclaim the Throne of Heaven, and restore a kind of order to this land that has known none."
"Riddles." She spat on the floor, to clear the taste of acid from her mouth. She felt a little better - it was not much that she had done really, and the effect would pass. "You speak of one before Olander? There was no such, for my people would remember it. We have been among this world far longer than any of the younger races, and we live long; our memories longer.
"Your memories are dust, as are your people. How do you like what your pride has wrought? Your precious Art is powerless before the might of the Goddess. I am her hand, in this world and others. You were fools to stretch your neck out on the block, and now you will reap your reward. Your people will, in all likelihood, not survive the return."
She was quiet. She could feel the oily stain of his touch in her flesh, in her soul. It writhed like an angry insect, fueled by the power pumping through her blood. It sought death and madness, and was angered that it could not move, could not destroy her. His gift, and the legacy he had given her, and the few of her people that managed to live, yet. A contagion, a plague, but comprised and composed of sorcery, transmited by sorcery to others in ways that did not always make sense. The few days following the failed assasination of the Lord had been full of sickness and death, and madness. A handful infectedf hundreds, who infected thousands, until the magickal virus had killed millions, too fast to be buried. Men and women, mostly Sidhe, of her people, left to rot in their homes or on the streets, forgotten.
"Yo0u cannot win, you realize this." She was surprised at how smooth those words came. This man's casual words incited her to a blinding rage she had seldom known. "Evil never wins, and your cause is doomed by it."
He sighed. "We are not evil, woman. A new order, one you are unaccustomed to, does not make us evil. There is peace where we reign, and no suffering."
"You lead an empire of slaves!"
"I lead an empire of strength. Why hang on to the weak? In the attempt to impose this harsh new reality that all of you turn your nose up at - because yo9u cannot abide the idea of peace, of an end to constant war!" He snorted, grinding the point of his sword into the floor tiles. "You wail at my rule, and yet those who live under me live better than you. They do not fear that they will be killed in the night, by invaders or cut throats or worse."
"Because they know they will die anyway, in the fields, in your ranks. Peace exists because you kill all the dissenters, so that only the meek remain."
He opened his mouth to reply - clearly enjoying this verbal sparring - when a man walked into the room from the far end. He was tall, and handsome in his own way. His hard face reflected his hard body, solidly muscled and criss-crossed with scars, and his dark eyes took in the scene before him without blinking. "You," he growled, and brought his sword up from where it had been dangling in his grip at his side. The silver and gold of his armor was stained with red and darker colors, and blood still seeped from a gash over his right eye.
"While I have enjoyed our little chat," the Lord said, smiling coldly he made a motion like brushing a fly off. She felt that enormous surge of power, but saw nothing as she was brutally knocked aside to lay smashed against the wall behind her. She lay pressed against the wall with her feet of the ground, that power crushing the life from her by inches.
"You are a dead man." Jaerom spat blood from his mouth, and advanced slowly, his sword raised.
"I think not." The Lord turned on one heel, and then glanced back. "Kill him, but make it slow, my precious pet. Maybe if you plkease me well enough..." He let it trail off, and then strode from the room, boots echoing on the floors.
Aeyoliea turned, eyes blank, and regarded her husband with dead eyes, raising her weapon into a ready position. Jaerom's footsteps faltered, and stopped, as he stood facing her.
She moved before he could open his mouth, a graceful motion not unlike dancing, and her blade sung as it moved. That half moment of surprise was all Jaerom gave before he fell b ack, and his blade met hers as they danced within the halls, metal ringing on metal with viperishly quick movements.
"Why are you doing this?" He asked between puffing breaths as they disengaged and circled one another warily. "Aeyliea! Wake up!"
She did not hear him, for they came together violently, blades singing, flashing, and darting.
She hung their on the wall, black and silver flecks dancing in her sight as she watched, helpless to do aught else.
When they parted again, fresh blood decorated his face, leaked down his cheek from a narrow slash that just missed his eye. His face was such a mangle of emotion that it tore her heart out to watch, and just as blackness started to descend, they came together once more.
The sound of steel piercing mail and sliding home into flesh, and the startled, almost resigned grunt echoed in the chamber.
"I would...cut my own throat....." He began, as something finally showed in Aeylieas eyes. Horror. Suddenly, that immense force that gripped her like a child, and she fell to the floor gasping for breath and retching.
"Wha....what...." She stammered, horror turning to something deeper, more piercing. A single tear leaked from the corner of her eye. "What have...I done...?"
There was no reply. There would never be, as his dead weight carried her to the floor, her hands still on the long hilt, slick with his heart blood that trickled sluggishly to the floor.. She fell atop his unmoving chest, wrenching at the blade bound is his flesh frantically. "What have I done? Oh, god, no...." Her voice tr4ailed off to a whisper.
"Why?" He full throated howls of pain and loss, her shrieks of despair, echoed in the empty hall, and echoed in her mind. Echoed, and attached to the searing image of a woman laying atop her own husband, fists pounding cooling flesh and crying out to the heavens for an answer, for absolution.
There was, of course, no answer.
Honeybadger don't care.....Honeybadger don't give a shit!
Wiping the blood off the dagger with his sleeve, he looked down the alley. It was clear. For now. The goblin had simply been unlucky, lagging behind its group, and Larit had been forced to kill it should it alarm others. An easy kill, simple enough, but he knew he had to keep on the move. Staying in one place with the city in this state was suicide.
A clash of steel rang from the end of the alley. Hugging the wall, he moved slowly towards the source of the sound. If it was goblins, orcs, or humans that had allied themselves with that foul woman, then he would be forced to either engage them or to choose a more sizable target. His fingers itched. Oh, how he wanted to draw his daggers.
Larit peaked around the corner and frowned. Men, roughly twenty in number, marching his way. Their shields had seen heavy use and so had the men. Whether or not they were members of the defending army or attackers, he was unsure. Taking it a minute, he tried to sort it out. The humans he had seen with the enemy had been wearing dark clothing and seemed untrained compared to these. It turned out he didn't need to try to figure it out at all when a single orc, loaded down with loot, stumbled into the street ahead of the troops.
It was so oblivious to them, biting down on a gold candlestick holder, that it was too easy for them to dispatch it.
His training told him to avoid them, to move deeper in the city on his own, and his instincts told him that they might kill him out of hand. Chaos seemed to be gripping the city and it was impossible to see how they would react. But again, something drew him forward. He wouldn't be free again till whatever held him in thrall released him and that's what he needed again.
Resting his palms on his daggers, he drew in a deep breath and took a step into the street in front of the approaching soldiers.
"Hail, swords and shields of Taine," he called out to them, moving his palms away from the top of the daggers and pointing them upwards. "What news from the front?" Instinct cried for him to move back to the alley, but it seemed fate was taking him on a different path.
He peered out a window of the second floor, across a garden and courtyard filled with hollow-eyed refugees. Children bawled in that press, hundreds of unwashed bodies crammed into the little space he had, all in hopes of rescue. His eyes drifted to the walls, held by the bare handful of defenders he had managed to pull to his defense once the walls ahd been breached. A hundred and fifty, maybe, and only a quarter of them archers. The srchers lined the narrow wall, and they loosed as fast as they could pull an arrow from the quivers at their feet and draw. Even as he watched, a thrown spear from the other side of the wall took one of those bowmen clean off his feet, impaling him as he fell backwards into the refugees. For their part, they moved away hastily, but none of them so much as murmurred.
The only path of escape lay through the hordes surrounding his island of fragile calm. Either cut a way through them, or buy time with their yielding of the city.
Jherrad gritted his teeth. He did not want to lose what was his, but better he live than die. He could always come back and retake the city, maybe - any chance was better than none - and the peasants who died today would have died in the service of their Lord. He turned and walked to his desk, and picked up a rolled parchment scroll, handing it to the silent boy standing outside his door. "Take it to the enemy, boy." No matter that the mission was likelyu certain doom for the boy.
His life or theirs, though. The choice was rather simple.
An orc twitched on the ground, bleeding rom dozens of frenzied slashes. It had been too overloaded with its prizes to even offer any sort of fight, and his men were content with easy blood. So long as that easy blood didn't have claws and walk around like a whore, the musk of heat barely masked by the oppressive aura of death that hung that womans' shoulders like a cape.
His head shot up at another human voice. Men beside him readied their blades and halted, but they did not spread out in a line, and did not rush forward to attack.
"Front?" The young officer burst out with a cold, hard laugh. There was no merriment in it. "This dogs' dinner has nothing of fronts in it. The walls are breached and parties of invaders of varying sizes roam the streets. I am sure you would already know thyat, of course. Small chance making it this deep within Taeine without encountering something unfriendlyu."
Up ahead, the roar of a battle fully engaged drifted down streets and alleys, the clash of steal and blood curdling screams of the dying sang in the air, their words as bittersweet as the fetit vapors of the dying that drifted with it.
"I imagine the front is about to get a lot smaller, and we're probably all going to die." He spat, and ghrimaced sourly. "At least it won't be cheap/" He snapped his fingers twice, loudly, and his men continued on, eyeing the shadows of doors and windows warily.
Aeyliea did not stop moving as she listened to the words of the strange woman. She even nodded at them, and then shook her head ruefully. "Alas, we are pressed, and we would need be there first, or be able to draw them away into a trap." A goblin died thrashing on the ground, her blade in hand and singing before even a thought could be formed. She stopped then, for a moment, shook her head and wiped the blood from her blade on the still-thrashing goblin. "I mean to cut a path to the gates, and hold a path to safety, or relative safety. We can escort any survivors into the the mountains and hol;e up in some pass."
The meast of the plan hadn't been considered, yuet. She did not have scout reports on the Manor and surrounding area yet, and she was unlikely to recieve any. She would have to slap a plan into motion at the drop of a hat, and they would likely already be in contact with the enemy when she did. There was no rational vsense in dwelling on that now, or what they would do when the cities walls were behind them, and they had to make those refugees run, or die.
She continued on, eyes hunting in the shadows for something to kill, while the sounds of wild battle raged ahead.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
It would also serve to narrow the fighting arena on both sides to the width of the street instead of giving wide space and the advantage of numbers to the greater force. This would give them a better chance at succeeding at all. “Then we best be about it before those off playing with their food get wise and return to the ranks.” The eery stride carried her forth through slush that was no longer the pristine white but a muted slurry of pink and gray. The noise some stink of the dead was quickly becoming a miasma that was more oppressive to the spirit than the nostrils.
The icy wind played at the end of the ebony braid as she went forward, daggers slashing and piercing where was needed. There was no glance back at the men ill used already and not an end in sight as day slipped towards a bloated and foul twilight. There was no glimpse of starlight for the smoke that hazed the city despite the cold wind. Those foolish enemy that blundered into their wall of intent were felled, and foot by foot, inch by inch they advanced to the backs of the force bent on breaching the Lords Manor.
It was obvious that was where the survivors had fled once the walls had been brought down. They would be packed shoulder to shoulder in there. At last the clash of swords could be heard and the cries of the battlefield, such as it was. The cries of those eager to gain entrance to the feast before them. A flick of daggers cleared the blood from blades as she drew to a halt and drew in a gentle breath. A light turn of head to glance back at the trail of death they had left behind. It was but a taste of what lay ahead.
“Now comes the fun part.” She muttered. What lay beyond these troops were no longer homes or shops, but the final reprieve of the innocent and helpless. A glance to see how the men were faring and the commander as well.
Fire had begun to spread in the city, and man and orc alike coughed in the smoke that rolled intermittantly across the streets as they fought, stepping over the corpses of the fallen from both sides as they went.
Fingering the hilts of the daggers, he sniffed the air. The snow was bound to continue for a time yet but the problem he sensed wasn't in the weather. The city was burning. If there was a chance to hold the city, it was now an illusion.
Instinct once again told him to go back to the refugees, grab some supplies, and make his way far from here. It would be easy enough to setup himself in another place. Maybe even use his skills to make himself some decent coin before the curse took him. Alas, that pull was still there. Something was out there that was pulling him further into the city and he knew he wouldn't be free again until he silenced it.
Larit had tasted freedom once and he was going to do whatever it took to die free. The Master had kept him prisoner for most of his life and he was intent on dieing free.
He drew in a deep breath and moved to follow the troops, towards the source of the pull. The streets were alive with the sound of battle in other parts of the city but obviously the troops that had passed this way had cleared a relatively safe path forward. Bodies littered doorways; orcs, goblins, and humans, and lots of civilians. Keeping himself taught for danger, he made his way down the middle of the road when a cry brought him to a dead stop.
Turning on his heel, he had a dagger in his hand and ready to throw but stopped himself at the last moment. Curled in the mouth of an alley lay a woman, mid-twenties and fairly good-looking in a country way with a bundle in her arms. Scowling, he slid the dagger back into its sheath and moved forward again.
"Please don't leave! My baby! Please save my baby!" Her voice sent nails down his back and Larit growled. Pleading was the way of the weak, those that weren't able to stand up for themselves, and he hated it. Stopping, he drew in a deep breath.
"Why?" he asked coldly.
The woman drew in a startled cry. "Why? What do you mean? Please! Please take my baby away from here!"
Larit shrugged. "Save your own baby," he growled and continued to walk away, following the clear path of the soldiers.
Your children divide against themselves, even now, though the greater part have long forgotten the concept of balance, and have since parted ways with reason. There is little reason among your children, now. In a world full of humans, where the elder races flag, and eventually fail, we should stand united, to preserve the old ways, the old knowledge....and yet we dop not. Even the lo0ngest lived among us fail to see the bitter truth of what they have wrought. So few remain to oppose the tide that leads inevitably to oblivion, and the end of all things.
And they are blind. But I am not.
So please, Lord, forgive me for what I am about to do. We are few, and we will be fewer yet, still.
It was the worst kind of chaos.
They had broken through the holding lines of the enemy, breaching the square surrounding the Lord's manor. In truth, the laughable defenses here would never4 have held, not for a heartbeat, were it not for the stalweart men and women who manned the games, and who launched flights of stinging arrows into the ranks of the enemy. Tusked faces, tall and short, one and all they snapped at shafts that slashed into them, falling to smear their own blood upon the cobbles as they thrashed in death. But there were more. Many more, many more than there should be.
Men drove forward, cutting into the enemy who had, until moments ago, only had eyes for the prize right in front of them. But they knew, now, that they were being slashed at from the rear, and they turned to face the assault eagerly. Those within the walls of the manor wouldn't be going anywhere, and those defenses couldn't hold forever. The lust for blood and death had long since overwhelmed reason - goblins were not simple creatures, but they were weak as well as strong.
Her men - so few~ - held them back behind shields, slashing and stabbing whenever the opportunity presented itself. There were at least three hundred of the enemy here in this square, all pressing hard to get close enough to partake in the killing. But they reeled back at the steel in these mens' hands, shocked at such fervent defense. A wave crashed into shields, and steel rang on steel, and the humans brutally slaughtered the enemy, holding a street into the square from side to side, men standing two deep.
Aeyliea did not partake herself, this time. The weight of weariness ignored for so long hung heavy on her shoulders, and so she directed as best she could, keeping an eye on their flank as if it would do any good whatsoever. Outflanked, here, they would die like dogs, caught between and anvil in the square and a hammer from behind. For now, they held. For nowk, every soldier who flew the wrong banner that died, was one less to contend with when they sought to flee the city.
The strange woman, met on the road what seemed an eterniyty ago, seemed to be having her fun. She slashed at whatever came close enough, shot that enchanted bow, killing quickly and efficiently.
"watch your left flank, you stone-blinded idiots!" She swore at them as they had begun to drift away from the front of buildings, opening a narrow gap that the rushing hoard sought immediately. The gap closed under her prompting, and the blood letting continued.
She looked over the heads of the men at her command, over the attacking mob of goblins, at the gates of the estate. Men stood behind the wrought iron portcullis, spears and swords at the ready. Another man had joined them, not long ago. A man wearing a silk coat of black, heavily emroidered and with lace spilling from the neck. He had gathered a few men together with him, but above the din of battle, she could obviously hear nothing.
Is that the Lord Jherrad? she wondered to herself. I hope this doesn't mean we'll soon see some silly noble foolery...
Alas, that was exactly what it was.
Anastor watched from a vantage point, pointedly ignoring the blood on his hands. Not his, clearly, else he would have retreated to a place to lick his wounds, or else flee. The lessons of the street were harsh; if yo9u were weak, you hid. If you were strong, you struck out, and took from the weak.
The corpse sitting on the floor of the small bedroom behind him had ceased its thrashing, and the rich red blood it had smeared on the floor as it died had already begun to thicken, and darken. The dagger in the childs hand was smirched from the blood of that very creature. It had been stupid, and that was a weakness that none could afford.
He watched the woman down in the square, fighting against hordes of others like the one behind him. Not human, and though they frightened him a little, he had discovered that they were, in many ways, easier to deal with than people.
People like her. He could feel a kinship with that beautiful stranger out there, a kinship he had never felt with anyone before. He coul;dn't put his finger upon it, of course. But in some obscure way, he knew that he needed that woman down there. Not a hint of why or what. Merely a cold certainty that she would be his only way of of this. This city. Perhaps even this life.
In his short life, he had never felt anything like he did now. Not love - that concept was strange and foreign to him.
He blinked, and looked to the street below him, and shook his dark head. The time for watching was coming to a close. He watched as the invaders surged forward, united in an attempt to defeat and scatter the small pocket of resistance that had happened upon them.
Anastor slipped out the window, climbing down guttering until he was in the street again, snow reaching his knees. Then he began to lope along, towards the lines of battle, though he did take care to keep to the shadows. He would reveal himself, but not before time.
In his mind, something else tickled at him. A rhythmic pulse, a sound of a chime, unheard and deafening at the same time. Something powerful, yet incomplete, and though he knew it not, he had it in his posession
It sang out across the city, like a sirens' call. Unheard, because those who could hear it were not here, or they were dead.
Most of them.
The young officer grunted in disgust as he watched the distant figure stalk off without so much as a word. Unless he missed his guess, it was that young man from out in the countryside, the one with the arrogance fit for a king. Small riddance to that kind of trouble; he had enough of his own right in front of him.
"All right, men. This is our last shot at turning the tide. That woman is out there, holding their attention for us quite splendidly, and though we are few, we can butcher them like animals, while they are unaware." He didn't mention that they would in turn be slaughtered if they didn't martial enough force right out of the gate, but then they all knew this was a hopeless cause. They were all resigned to the fact that they could do little but save whyat could be saved, and abandon the rest to their fate.
He didn't say anything at all, merely hefted his weapon, stabbing it into the sky. Wordless, he charged forward, and his nineteen surviving soldiers charged with him.
She moved through the streets, cloakpulled tight against her flesh with the hood thrown up so that all that could be seen were red lips and the gleam of teeth poking from beneath her upper lip. She walked through snow that was shin deep, and the sky still poured white as if to make up for some shortcoming from before. Her breath misted in the frosty air, and it was all she could do to keep from shivering, teeth chattering uncontrollably. Her knuckles whitened as she gripped her staff tight, forcing herself forward, past the carnage at the city gates. Her eyes shied away from corpses that had already frozen solid, their lifeless eyes staring in accusation at her as she passed. All around her was death and madness, but at the same time, it seemed serene, and ancient. Those lifeless bodies were already slowly being buried by snow, and the blood and gore on the streets already lay beneath a heavy blanket of undisturbed white. Only the heavy smell of smoke on the freezing air spoke of violence still being perrpetrated within the city itself, the distant screams of people dying, haunting the wintry day.
She could feel the pulse of that artifact, of course. It beat counterpoint to her heart, thumping in time. She looked all about her, and shook her head slowly.
This would not be easy, and she would very likely die for what she was about to do. But it needed doing, and one life was a small price to pay. A small price indeed.
Snow crunching beneath cloth-wrapped feet, she made her way toward the heart of the town, following that insistent beat.
She scowled at the gibbering creature, but only for a moment. It was a glorious convenience, when all had fallen to madness this day, to have this opportunity presented to her.
The square had become another place of madness, uncontrolled hordes of goblins throwing themselves with abandon at the hapless humans. Their assaults were often bloodily turned aside, but the beasts had long since given reason a pass, and for that she was happy. Really, the town meant nothing, and its inhabitants even less. The goblins themselves did not matter, nor the posturing, self-important fools who had been called upon to fulfill their oaths of obedience.
And the man she was going to meet mattered the least of all.
Blood red eyes half lidded, she crossed the chaos-gripped square, and headed for the all but forgotten gate in the wall of the local rulers' estate. Even as she approached, that gate opened, and a well dressed man came out, five others with him, one bearing a white flag. Beyond, the huddled masses of surviving townsfolk watched with shadowed eyes, clutching their children closer as they watched their puffed up poppinjay strut towards her, and she had such a delicious feeling coursing through her now.
It was time to be done with this town. There was a piece here, and the last...
Well. The last lay within the tomb of an empire, and that was not very far off itself. Not at all.
She smiled mirthlessly as she approached the Lord Jherrad, fixing a smile of goodwill on her faceas they came close enough to see it. In the back of her head, she laughed coldly.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
To take the life of the Master.
Now that thread had been severed but it was as if another power had grasped the end of it and was pulling him forward.
Planting his hand on the wall, only a few feet from where had left the wailing woman behind him, and closed his eyes. When the thread had been severed, Larit had felt something stir in him. It was as if with the death of the Master, the magic that had forged him into who he was was beginning to fade. He had felt.. guilt. Guilt for the deaths of the collectors, magic-users, and just curious to acquire what the Master had felt rightfully belonged to him.
That guilt gnawed at him now, a bile taste in his throat that he couldn't spit out. He wasn't in control of himself, in control of his own emotions, and he hated himself for that. He was once a fine tuned weapon of death, now he was falling apart. Literally.
With a curse, he turned around and faced the woman. "Get on your feet," he growled as he pulled off his cloak and tossed it towards her. "I won't take your baby out of here. You will." Larit looked around the deserted street but knew it wouldn't stay that way long. Battle was clearly raging all around him and they were merely a calm in the storm that wouldn't hold. Maybe by helping this woman to the other refugees that biting feeling in his gut would leave him.
The woman looked at him with clear panic in his eyes but finally nodded. "Keep the child quiet," he said softly as he drew his daggers and turned back towards where he knew the breach to exist. He paused only a moment, to make sure he heard the shuffling footsteps of the woman behind him, before he moved on.
Would saving these two lives make up for two of those that followed him in his thievery that had died at the hands of these invaders? Larit hoped it would. He hated owing.
They hadn't moved two blocks when a couple came surging out of a building, a handful of black-clad humans at their heels, their swords drenched in blood. Training took over and he spun on his heel and his daggers sliced threw the air and into the throats of two of them. Before the other three could react to the deaths of their companions he was upon them. His hands clasped around the neck of the closest and with a quick twist, he broke the man's neck. Larit cursed himself for throwing his weapons away when the other two raised their weapons and ran towards him.
He was at that moment ready for death when the family that had just moments ago that had been the targets of these men turned on their attackers. An older man, gray in his hair and a nasty scar running down his arm, jumped on the back of the nearest one and sank a rusty sword through the man's shoulder and into his heart. The other was taken down, surprisingly, but a well-swung frying pan. The crack of the man's skull was clearly audible.
"Thanks, lad," the older man said as he climbed off his attacker's back and gave it a kick in the ribs. He motioned towards the woman who was still holding the frying pan in shaking hands and when she didn't move, the older man moved forward. Prying her fingers open, he took the pan from her hands and whispered something into her ear. Larit watched all this with faint curiousity, shrugged, and then went to retrieve his daggers.
"Come on," he said with a wave of his arm towards the woman with the baby.
"Wait! Where ye be off to?" the older man called out and Larit suppressed an urge to bury his dagger in the man's throat. This was all taking too long.
Drawing in a deep breath, he stopped. "I'm taking this woman and her brat to safety," he said in a tone he would have used to address a child who had asked a stupid question. For a moment he was going to tell them about the survivors in the hill, but thought better of it. If they were caught, they might give the location away and all those lives would be on his already blood-drenched hands. "Follow if you will, but if you fall behind, you'll be left behind."
If there was any fight more important than the rescue of the helpless and innocent Valaetia did not know what was. Wars fought over land, over gold, over title and insult. Avarice and religion were the most oft reasons men took up sword and hewed sinew and life from one another with all the righteous indignation of the terminally stupid. It could be argued; she considered, that this was the only true reason to take up a weapon at all. The dagger turned aside a gore plated blade and found the soft opening of armpit reeking of fear with another dagger, grunting hotly as the artery was severed and the creature fell back thrashing into the horde of others behind. Likely it was trampled and left to die without ever knowing a moment of succor from its fellow fighters. To this type succor was as alien as compassion and camaraderie.
For the moment they had turned the attention of the ravening pack from the cowering feast of the refugees taking rest and seeking sanctuary in the Lords manor. Daggers had been seated home in sheaths as the bow was taken up. There were human faces mixed amid this pack of mindless murderers. Like pepper mixed in with the white of salt they stood out. They shouted orders and used both voice and whip to turn the mass upon the danger which had come upon their vulnerable backside. The string sang as arrows flew, the firm stance, yet the hot militant joy in moving smoothly, gracefully in such action. This was her purpose and one she did not bitterly hold against Him. A human face suddenly sprouted the haft of an arrow and then she side stepped and brought the heavy good thickness of the bow against the head of a closer target. It flipped backward in a spray of blood and teeth to crash into two of its fellows before fingers plucked another arrow from the quiver and set it singing forth towards another face in this crowd of interlopers.
It was good work here, as all such jobs felt the same when they were being done to ones standards. The streets behind had become funerary in their own rights and yet inch by inch they harrowed and hacked forward, whittling the numbers of the enemy in the advantage of the narrowness of the cobbled path of of raggedy battlefield.
Those men who fought and crowded around and before her were good men, a stirring of fellowship with them trickled through her yet was ignored. One did not get attached in such a setting. It only invited one to later grieve when death took up its blade and slashed the life from one or two or possibly all of them. She was well aware of the boy behind her, for the dagger had tasted blood. It whispered to her of its approach. This child who had been forced to grow up mentally by the cold and harsh reality of a life spent as a cast off. He was not the first and would not be the last. So many children would be orphaned by this campaign and left to fend for themselves once the shock of this horror had been dulled with time and those who pulled together went back to the drudgery of their lives.
It was a fact that war had a way of drawing people together into a single minded force. People pulled together in a way that was impossible in times of peace. It was also a fact that the horror would dull with time, that the bloody strands of lives would be taken up again in the way of all sentient beings. The City would be rebuilt or they would find others and those same people would forget that once shining time when it was all for one. Those children would be left to wander; sink or swim, when it was discovered it was easier without some strangers get pulling at their aprons or tugging at their breeches.
It was simply the way it was and always had been. No person here now had ever had a perfect and easy life. No person would ever have such a mundane and dreamed of thing. It was as much a fantasy as the belief a ladybug in the house meant the house would burn down. Silly.
A quick indrawn breath that was released as arrow was and another face vanished from the group ahead. They would reach the refugees, of this she had no doubt. Already the horde was beginning to thin, already they were slashing at one another in panic and anger as they jostled for space to defend themselves. With fewer drivers to focus their energy they were beginning to waver. The moment would come soon when the objective would be reached. Bow was slung to back again. The blood and bits of clotted flesh rubbed off against the leather as daggers were drawn again and used to block a blade meant for the neck of a man in front of her. A moment later the dagger found the throat of the blades owner.
The commander snarled from behind as they wavered a moment and nearly allowed the enemy through. Each man here redoubled their effort to pull victory from the jaws of a sound defeat and then as if by magic the path opened ahead of them. She could see the men ahead and the faces of the terrified refugees behind them. The enemy was routed; for the moment. This would not hold long. A glance at the laced and powdered form of the lord as he vanished around a corner sent as shiver up her spine. Then from behind she heard more men coming, a glance back showed them to be another force like the one Aeyliea commanded.
A flick of wrists cleared the blood from blades as she stepped back gracefully towards the woman who exuded such military presence as she had not known in some time. The wariness of her eyes did not detract from that aura of command. “Reinforcements, Commander.” A thrust of jaw towards them as they charged with swords drawn into the fray. “We have reached the Manor.” Though the last statement was hardly necessary as the forces which had been trapped between the men at the Manors wall and their own forces were now down to a few and would soon be down to none. Only a blind man would have missed the obvious blood splattered walls of the Manor now before them.
Yet even as she paused to listen she could hear the unmistakable sound of other battles being fought in the streets around them. She took a moment to catch her breath and rub her fingers against the leather to get some warmth back into numb tips. “A hard place to be sure.” She muttered, eyes searching the streets behind for signs of an encroaching garrison of enemy. This widow would be open for only a short span and she was smart enough to know it. A glance to the shadows; seeming to stare right at the boy as he hid, before she exhaled white breath and turned back towards the Manor.
The Physician was a woman of middling height and build, there was no chance to run to fat with her profession. Being too skinny would be no use at all, when her patients needed her Therese needed to be ready, no fainting away on the floor. Her pale brown hair was cut severely back, no longer than a child's finger's length and even that was tied back by a band of cloth around her brow. Dark brown eyes critically regarded the soldier who currently found himself in her care, there was a hint of compassion in her face but tempered by a no-nonsense attitude that announced clearly that she would put up with no trouble or complaining.
In the hallway of the lord's manor she worked as best she could. The soldier gritted his teeth and tried not to whimper as she manipulated his dislocated shoulder. She'd seen far worse injuries since the seige had begun, but at times like these tough decisions had to be made; patch up those you could and hope that the more seriously injuried were unconscious. Some of the wounds she'd seen didn't bear thinking about, she'd left the University of Lissileum to further her knowledge but the injuries inflicted on some of the soldiers in the city's seige...well they had stretched her knowledge far further than she had ever wanted it to go.
"Physician?" The young shaven-headed boy who worked as her second tapped her gently on the elbow as she gestured to the soldier to leave. "Physician?"
Therese rubbed her eyes, pushing her spectacles up onto her forehead momentarily, "Yes Boy, what now?" One day she was really going to have to learn his name. It was the tradition of the University that every Physician took at least one child as an novice. Mostly they just did the fetching and carrying, keeping things clean and tidy and themselves out from underfoot. If they showed any promise they might, in time, make the rank of apprentice and then begin formal training to attain the rank of Physician. Therese had been novice to an old and cantankerous man named Physician Ghomli and he had insisted on just calling her 'Girl' for the period of her noviciate. She'd hated that and now she found herself doing the same to a new generation.
She really had to remember to learn his name.
The novice gestured towards the next patient, an older man who had no business being caught up in fighting, though from the looks of the wounds on his body that was exactly what had happened. His left leg had been practically severed below the knee and deep sword strikes had left muscle exposed on his thighs. His tunic was soaked in his own blood from numerous wounds on his abdomen. Therese pulled a rough sheet up to his chest to hide what he had suffered, pulling a box from within her robes. "Mix a small pinch of this with a thimbful of water and see if you can't get him to take it". It wouldn't heal the old man, but it would at least make his passing easier.
Therese looked up at the rest of the crowded hallway, there were far too many who needed her help and she had far too few resources to give it to them. Working by candlelight was no way to carry out medical care, she needed magelight, clean rooms, sterile equipment, more medicine and frankly a whole cadre of apprentices. She had never intended to stay in the city, the boy and herself had just been stopping by to pick up supplies when the weight of the seige had fallen. And what supplies they now had were too few for the task before her.
She had heard refugees from the city weeping and crying that the walls had fallen, that the very hordes of hell were coming for them all, even that the world itself was ending. Well all that might or might not be true, but it could damn well do it outside her makeshift hospital.
Therese sighed, she really was going to have to learn his name.
But I am certain — one hundred percent certain — that we can work this out. Trust me. I'm the Doctor.
The creature that strode across the smirched aquare around his residence was....well, she was beautiful, he supposed, in her own way. The bronze skin, so much of it left bare in the terrible cold that had clamped down so violently, and yet she did not shiver. Skin as smooth and curved as to entice a youngter mans appetites, perhaps. But Jherrad had no illusions about the sumptuous, sinuous woman who approached. Not human, not with those eyes the color of fresh blood, cast with a predatory gleam. He had dealt with merchyants and ambassadors, with military commanders and nobles, and even royalty. On a couple occasions, he had dealt directly with cut throats and brigands. But none of them had the self possession that this creature did, the aura of command, or the casual air of a cold, ruthless killer.
He stopped on the clearest patch of ground he could find, flanked by retainers, weapons sheathed, white flag flying in the fitful wind, almnost blending into the snow still falling heavily from the sky. "My Lady," he began, but cut off abruptly as she stopped in front of him, raising a single, betaloned finger.
"I am no fool who sits being pandered to, who cannot see the truth." A faint smile touched her lips. "You seek amnesty? Escape? Perhaps these things I could give you. For a price."
The Lord shook his head. "What could I possibly give that you do not already have? We are soundly beaten; the city is yours by conquest."
"What I seek is not where it should be. Your city and your citizens can rot, for all I care." She paused, and tapped a talon against her lush lips. "Many of them already do, as I recall."
"And what is it you seek?"
"An object of the Art, crafted in times past and hidden. In the statue set upon a fountain, I might add." Her eyes blazed with intensity. "It was not there. But I will find it, if I have to kill every living thing within these walls. Do we have an understanding?"
He stared, silent. What would a statue be of interest to her like? But she had said an object of the Art. Jherrad was familiar with the magics of the land, though they had begun to flag and fail of recent, vastly weaker than the scholars claimed they had once been. Wizards and sorcerors were uncommon, these days, compared to what even his own family records hinted at. None of them, however, had dealt with any object of the Art, any tool or device left from ages past.
"I am not even certain what it is you seek."
She stared at him, face devoid of any expression. And then her mood seemed to shift, suddenly, and she shook her head. "So you know nothing of it. You are of no use to me." She stepped forward, and his retainers dropped the banner of peace, drawing steel.
They didn't have a scrap of a chance. She backhanded one of them casually, and the snap of his neck was hardly muffled at all by the falling snow. The other had his sword free, but she caught it midswing, blood splattering from her torn hand. The blade stopped as if it had struck stone, and with her other hand she ripped the mans' throat out, adding his blood to her own as she dropped the weapon, indifferent to the hurt she had suffered.
Jherrad turned to run, dignity abandoned, but she swept his feet from under him before he had even fully turned. "I will harrow this place, will kill as indifferently as I must, until it is found. Only then will I leave, and those who yet live, live in peace. For a time."
"You....you are a monster! What is it you want? What? I cna help you find it!" He rolled onto his backside, legs spread before him and hands holding him upright. The killer stood above him, pitiless eyes regarding him coldly.
"Why do I need you to help? You do not know what I seek. But I will find it, for it has been prophesied to come into my hands. For you, death is your fate. I have plenty of others to do my bidding for me." He opened his mouth to plead for his life, but an unshod, clawed foot caught him in his chin, and the world went dark.
He bled from a dozen different wounds, now, but the enemy was in retreat. Oh, there was still plenty of fighting all through the city, scattered pockets of resistance and roaming looters, but here, at the heart of the defense, they stood victorious.
The young officer killed another of the beasts that had penetrated to this square, and it died shrieking as he continued to make his way across the square to the opened gate to the manor. The refugees did not leave, and for the most part the traffic was all entering, not leaving.
His men were so few now. Of his original command, only seven remained. All else lay dead, scattered in a trail leading all the way to the low plains outside the city, at the beginning of an unorthodox and foolish campaign. He lived, yet, and that was enough for today. With the remnants of his broken army, he crossed into the welcoming walls of the manor, never even seeing the death of its Lord in the snow, shrouded by snow, hidden by it.
Perhaps there would be a healer of some sort, on staff, to deal with his wounds.
Aeyliea strode wearily through the gates, spattered with blood and ichor thast was all someone elses. She had released the men under her command as soon as the worst of the fighting was done, letting them return to their loved ones while she set about seeking a way out. None of her scouts had returned from the surroundign city, and she hardly counted the victory here as absolute. The city was lost, of that she was certain, however many battles they won.
The people around her made her extremely uncomfortable, as she walked through milling masses of humanity. The light in their eyes had dimmed, as hope had been stolen away from them. Women weeped softly, clutching their children, casting glances at the gates for husbands that would never return....or for the face of their murderers, cold and uncaring as they clove their way through the helpless mass within.
Such doubt and fear cast a suffocating pall within these walls, and she was eager to put it behind her. It stirred up memories of another time. She could remember early in the war, after the first5 shocking defeats. Hollow eyed people, streaming along the Imperial Highroads, heading towards the supposed safety and stability of the inner Empire, the seat of a power that dominated the continent. Families forced to flee, with nothing but what they wore left to them.
She shuddered. Six years of war, counting the initial raids out of the deep southern deserts, three years of intense fighting after the Lord made his presence known. One step backward, every inch of ground soaked in blood before it was ceded to the enemy, until they had stood on the very doorstep of the Empires opwn heart.
Her mind shied away from a day, in a corridor of the palace, with the still warm body of the emperor laying on the ground, and a unreasonably handsome man in black armor casting off one of the mightiest of the Sidhe left alive, turning on her...
She shook her head, mounting the steps that led to the front doors of the manor.
"Sorry, miss. You are not allowed inside without orders, or unless you are sick or injured." She hadnt even noticed the men guarding the large, polished doors of the manor until he spoke. She glanced at him disapprovingly, then looked behind her once to see if Vasltia was still with her. Infuriatingly mysterious woman that she was. She was not, surprisingly, there.
"I must speak with your Lord." She replied. "Perhaps he can shine some light on a problem I have been considering, but mostly I must advise him on the evacuation of his people."
The guards looked at one another. "His Lordship is treating with the enemy as we speak. The evacuation should be in good order, once he returns. Go back to your family, woman. The Lord has things well in hand."
Her eyes had widened at the fact that that idiot Lord had decided to try treating with this enemy, of all of them. "Your Lord is a dead man, then."
Both men shifted, becoming alert and quite comically ready. "You threaten his life?" It wasn't politely asked at all.
"If he goes to speak with that creature, he will die by her hand, not mine. She has no need of him dead or alive, and so she will kill him because it pleases her to do so."
"But...." The man on the right trailed off into silence. Then he brightened, some. "It would be a terrible trajedy, miss, but even so the enemy has been sufficiently reduced that we could escape them."
"And how many more innocent lives would you lose, in the name of arrogance?"
He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could get a word out, another man rode into the walls, studded with the shafts of arrows. "They......are com...ing..." he croaked as she slid from the saddle, dropping to the sound of snapping wood. He rolled to a boneless heap in the middle of the courtyard, and the refugees pulled back from his corpse as if from a venemous snake.
All she did was look from the fallen man to the guards, then laid a hand on the latch. Neither protested, and followed her inside as she stepped through, leaving the door open. She would scavenge what she could from the storerooms within the manor, and then...
But, no. She could not. Those faces stared at her through the ages, reproving and judging. She could not leave the innocent to suffer. She reached out, and caught one of the guards sleeves before he could slip away.
"Gather some men, as many as you can, and quickly. And prepare the refugees to move. We don't have much time."
The sound of battle seemed to pick up again, from outside those walls. This was far from over.
As quickly as the streets had emptied, they filled back up again, and the youth danced among the invaders, cautious and at the same time, full of righteous anger. He wove between the legs of men who had trained to fight against people their own size, and thus had little chance of dealing with a carpet mouse of a child, stabbing and hamstringing, and then vanishing like a puff of wind.
How dare they! How dare they come into his home, and upset his life? Hadn't he already suffered enough humiliation without being cast beneath yet anothers' whip? Through the whole day, he had been numb, unable to comprehend the why of it, the reasoning. Someone so young shouldn't even be capable of that comprehension, and maybe the logic he had reasoned out was flawed with his youth, tainted by his - if much more rough - childhood.
They dared because they could. The strong preyed upon the weak; it was a fact of life. All people were greedy, it just differed from one to the next what they were greedy about. Power. Money. Fame. Food. Longevity. And if you were strong enough, you could take anothers from them, whether they liked it or not.
Well, he had lost quite enough. And so he flayed them, cut them and stabbed, killing as casually as they did. And his talent, well, that only made it easier for him, as he cut a path through the ranks of human invaders, men and women who had just arrived to shore up the torn and shattered remnants of the goblins that had forced the way forward.
He coldly sidestepped a swung sword, an alien strength flowing in his veins as he did so. He felt as light as a feather, as agile as the wind, and that flood of power that beat along his veins filled him with life and strength that bordered on bliss. He was invincible! They could not hope to catch him while this manifest divinity coursed through his venis. Dodge. Stab.
He burst through ranks soldiers who were clearly surprised to find a rugrat carving a hole right through their middle, and they did not give chase as he darted away inthe blizzard-like conditions. They were farm more organized and disciplined than those who had come before. But they would feel the sting of his knives, oh yes they would.
Suddenly he skidded to a halt, nearly falling in the knee deep snow. That strange power left him as he fell, and with it went the strength and exhilleration, leaving him hollow and bereft. And before him, stood that strange woman, who was bathed in the aura of another. He sat there, in the snow, and stared at her, mindless of the dead that lay around them, the enemy closing distance behind him a distant thought.
"I....." he began, but words failed him. All he could do was sit there, stupid and suddenly numb, and watch that heroic figure, that sliver of infinity stare at him.
She walked, snow crunching beneath her cloth wrapped feet as she moved. The snow was getting deeper, and if the clouds had not disgorged any more now than any other time of the day, it would still not be long before it would be impossible to get around. For the humans in this city, at least - something as trivial as snow would never stop her.
And so she pondered her reasons for being here in the first place. She had set out from the homelands, ignoring the edicts of the Elders and Matrons. They could not understand, nor would they even try. Not any more. The daywhen there had been hope for her people had past millenia ago; there was no hope for them now. They had doomed themselves to death and obscurity. They were certainly neither, yet, but their mad scheme, fueled by an alien entity that defied any kind of understanding had only one possible outcome.
Her staff thumped softly in snow as she made her way down city streets that were mostly deser6ted. Others had arrived here when she had, of course. They served the Matriarch, who walked the walls like a disturbingly beautiful Angel of Death. They would not hinder her, at least not yet. For all they were aware of, she was of their kith and kin, and she had little notion to disabuse them of that for the moment. It was very hard to kill one of her kind, but she could still die.
Suddenly, she stopped, and stared threough the obscuring blanket of falling snow. Her ears were far sharper than a humans, and she could hear the sounds of muffled footfalls, and little else. refugees, then, for the invaders would surely never have attempted stealth. So.
She waited where she was, the snowy day light gradually revealing a woman with a child in her arms, poorly dressed for the cold, and an older man trailing behind her. At the lead, a man with...
She paused, and considered. Such flesh as was visible of the mans' arm was corrupted and twisted, and she could feel a faint thread of what passed for magic these days wafting from it. The aura of that work was like a bruised, diseased blotch that seemed to flare and fade, flare and fade. Not something the man had wanted, then, as it beat counterpoint against the essence of his soul. Curious, and interesting as well.
"Ho, strangers." Her voice was a silken purr - there was little she could do to take that from her voice. She was, after all, what she was.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
Behind her she could hear orders being barked to the refugees and the worried bits of conversation yet they were not dallying in getting ready to leave this sepulcher. Yes, time to fight plenty later. On a grander scale. The object of getting here was to save these people it had been the point of so much sacrifice and death. “Run alert the guard we have troops coming from behind.” This issued to the boy as she drew the first arrow and whispered an arcane word. The arrow tip flared black as midnight and was loosed.
What came from the resulting strike to the first of the group coming was impressive, if she did say so herself. The world went pitch in a thirty pace circle, a rolling roiling blackness that seemed to weigh down the people caught within it as if they were stuck in quick mud causing blindness and disorientation as well. It would last the count of three hundred. She could buy them that much time. “Time to go!” She chirped as if this were some trek on a sunny day to a picnic.
Turning on heel and moving with eery grace towards the Manor as if on a stroll. A grin offered to the boy before she swept up a small child from a mother who was trying to herd three by herself. “Put some energy into it if you please.” She seated the child on one hip as the mother quickly followed her and by example the others were on their feet and following as fast as they could. “Try and keep quiet.” Spoken back over her shoulder as she stepped over the dead and made for a wall tumbled down by the onslaught.
A nod towards Aeyliea as she made for the break in the wall with the gaggle of refugees behind. A few of the guards took up position to defend at the rear and three went to the front to watch for any coming the direction they meant to go. The child on her hip contentedly sucking on the end of her braid making it soggy and nappy. Not that she gave a good damn at this point. If it kept the whelp silent the child could latch to her breast and she would not have uttered a complaint. The blizzard was a blessing as far as she was concerned. It would cover their retreat and the snow would obscure the footprints quickly enough.
“You have talent.” This said towards the boy who she knew would be trailing her. “I cannot call you boy though, one who fights with such heart in the face of this abortion is a man. Tell me your name little man. I am called Valaetia.” The name uttered seemed to cause the shadows to curl about her feet though it was likely lost in the blowing icy storm. There was no looking back for the Commander. She had business to tend to and would do what needed to be done. This would be one stress off her already overburdened shoulders. There was a rind of hope they would succeed in getting the bulk of these people out without loss if they were lucky.
She noted the battered few men that had gone into the Manor and hoped those inside would be smart enough to follow this walking smorgasbord before they were overrun by the reinforcements momentarily detained but still driven to their purpose. She caught glimpse of the mercenary back at the camp and pushed a child towards him. The litte fngers quickly caught hold of his shirt and huge terrified eyes stared around.
His belt now held one of the wickedly hooked and saw-like swords the human invaders had carried but it felt alien to him. A sword was the weapon of what he always considered honourable warriors, when you faced your enemy face to face. His training had taken him down a different path all together. He would stab that honourable warrior in the back from the shadows or simply kill him in his sleep. His knives were stained with such deaths and for a moment, he wondered what it would be like to be such a man.
Shaking his head, he sent such thoughts away. A path like that was not for him, not since he and his brothers had been taken their valley village. It was a ritual that happened every twenty years, the parents of the children taken being well endorsed for their 'loss'. Indeed, they were so well paid for their children that it had become the valley's only real income and for generations they had been breeding with each other as horse breeders would, trying to guarantee their children would be selected by the Master.
He would return to that valley before he died and he would make it swim in blood.
The voice triggered his instincts and he was down on one knee, one dagger held defensively before him while the other was held back ready to be thrown. The man held his sword in the ready behind him and he heard the women begin a startled yell that was quickly shushed. A soft whimper escaped the bundle that held the baby and Larit gritted his teeth at the complete loss of stealth. As if they had any stealth to begin with tramping through a dying city.
"Hail, stranger," he called out to the woman as she appeared in the swirling snow. Another survivor from the attack? he thought to himself and quickly dismissed it. She seemed to be too well dressed for that and too in control. It was possible that she was a noblewoman, though. He had come across some cities that the women were trained as well as the men and this woman could possibly be from one.
Standing up slowly, Larit lowered the daggers to the ready. They were in a city under siege and it would be foolish to put them away completely. He felt an itch come over his arm and he did his best to shake his sleeve down over it. "My Lady, the city is lost. Just going in deeper will just get you into the thick of it. The Lord's Manor, if not already fallen, will fall soon enough." Indeed, he figured that the patrols that had been as thick as fleas outside of the city would be making their way to the city if they weren't there already. If the defenders somehow fought off the army that had made it to the manor, it would only be a reprieve until the next wave hit. "If you want to come with us, you're free to."
He rounded the corner of a building, and saw his destination ahead. Behind him, he heard the sounds of the orcs growing closer, and, grunting in pain, broke into as much of a run as he could stand, feeling the blood flowing down his leg as the scab broke open. He reached the gate and saw a familiar face.
"Right. Behind me." He gasped at Aeyliea
Couriers flitted about the halls of the manor like ants pouring out and around a kicked hill. There was no sense of purpose or direction in their dashing about - there was no command here. Their Lord was dead, whether they knew it or not, and the whole of this small island of tranquility shivered to its bones for the loss.
She stalked along the hall leading from the grand entrance, servants and clerks stepping out of her way at a word, or a glance. None knew her, here, but that made little difference. She carried authority like a mantle, visibly expecting obedience and more often than not, getting it.
"How many men are there here?" She asked of the soldier that had once stood guard at the door to the house itself. He simply shrugged. "Maybe a hundred, plus a few refugees who know enough to swing a sword." His tone stated clearly that he was just a soldier, and that kind of information was neither his business, nor was he inclined to make it so. She snorted.
"Gather them in the courtyard now. We will have to push through whatever is out there, then retreat in an organized fashion until we escape the walls. The worst part will be getting across the plaza; after that we can use the streets narrowness to reduce the advantage they have in numbers."
It was a good plan, but she doubted it would work anything like she thought. The man with her took heart though, and saluted as he left to do as requested. She shook her head. Let them have their illusions, she supposed.
She caught the arm of a courier as he tried to bustle by, demanding to be shown the planning room ,if they had one. She also demanded that travel rations be gathered as quickly as possible, as much as could be had. After leading her to the 'war room', as the aide had called it, he hurried off to do as ordered.
The War Room turned out to be a spacious office that might have been a library, once. The walls were lined with bookshelves, but barely half of them were full. In the middle of the room was a heavy wooden table, draped with maps of the area and surrounding areas. Those, she was very much interested in.
She bent over the table, and examined the maps. The words were unfamiliar to her, written in a script she did not recognize. That was unimportant, in the long run, for the maps still bore similar markings denoting terrain and other details that would prove useful to someone planning a campaign. She sifted through the papers, until one caught her eyes. The map showed the region to the north of the city, a place of mountains and ancient ruins. A dashed line was scrawled hastily over the border between the mountains and ruins, and the cities furthest holdings, with some notation she could not read penciled in beside it.
"And who might you be?" The voice had a slow drawl to it, making the words slightly difficult to make out. She stood slowly, and turned to face the voice, hands at her sides but ready to draw if need be.
The voice belonged to a stately woman in a deep green dress, skirts brushing the polished woodne floor. She was tall - taller than Aeyliea - with a soft, vaguely oval face. The neckline of her dress came all the way up to her chin, and the eyes set into that face were cold, and flat. "I do not recall your face among the garrison, so you are either an outsider or a mercenary. You should not be here."
Aeyliea raised an eyebrow, then shrugged and went back to looking at the map. An aide - the one she had sent to secure stores of food and supplies - slid into the room around the woman, bowing low as he did so. "We have a wagon in the stables, and it is being loaded with what provisions we could find. There isn't much, though."
"Have the wagon hitched and bring it to the courtyard. Make sure that everyone who can swing a sword or carry a shield is ready to go in ten minutes."
"Yes, my Lady." The aide darted a look at the other woman in the room, whose face was a thunderhead, and left quickly.
"What game do you play at here, woman?" She snapped once the man had left the room. "My husband will be displeased to find someone invading his home and commanding his soldiers about as if they were her own."
"Have you looked outside recently?" Aeyliea shifted the map, so she could better see the markings closer in to the city. "Your city streets run red with the blood of friend and foe alike, and your Lord is dead. Unless you mean to take the reins and lead, someone has to and it may as well be me."
"My husband is hale, thank you. But what you are doing could upset what he is trying to accomplish. Speaking to the enemy, to gain safe passage for ourselves and our people is far better than trying to carve a way out."
"Your husband is as dead as last weeks mutton by now, I'll wager. You don't treat with killers. Not more than once, anyway." She stood and looked into the womans eyes, eyes full of cold anger and outrage at being addressed so. "I know the noble way is to see the world as you wish it to be, but that will change nothing. For you, or for those you are supposed to serve."
She sputtered, unable to speak for anger, but Aeyliea ignored her. She turned from the table and strode past the angry woman, expecting to be slapped or otherwise struck. She just glared murder at her as she stalked by, heading out into the labrynthian halls of the large building. Aeyliea did not really care if the noblewoman was angry or not. Likely, she cared little for the people she was supposed to rule. That had often been the case outside the boundries of the Empire, in the days of old.
She turned a corner and walked straight into a make-shift hospital, the corridor lined with beds, and rooms adjoining it closed, the sounds of the wounded moaning through those doors. She had never liked dealing with the sawmen or Healers, herself. They were a valuable asset to the Army, and had spelled the difference between victory and defeat many times, just as the mage cadres had. Still, unless blessed by the presence of a trained Healer, one who could touch a higher power than simple herbs or ointments, they were often humane butchers, cutting and cauterizing to save lives as best they could. But here, there was no stink of seared flesh. In fact, the place seemed tidy and orderly, if overfull of victims of this conflict.
She opened her mouth to demand the presence of whoever was running this haven, when a door down the hall burst open, from outside.
"Right. Behind me." She recognized the man, but barely. He was chopped to flinders, flesh leaking his vitae from numerous wounds, including a horrid one in his thigh. "By the Light..." she whispered, and turned to give aid. They didn't have much time, but perhaps this healer, or whatever they were, could work some quick miracle.
Davian was a pragmatic man, not given to the failings of so many others in the Old Guard. Surely, there were many men who held various parts of this world, once so full of life and fighting, blood and death. He was not an evil man, not by any means. But he did believe that strength mattered more than just about anything else, and that only the strong had the right to survive. That sentiment had been carried by his Family for generation after generation, dating back to the time when the truely great empires rules this world. Ever since that world had been shattered, his kith and kin had sought to retain what they could, remaining ever ready for the reemergance of one great empire in particular.
And it had happened in his lifetime, against all odds. There was great glory to be had, fulfilling the wishes of the Empire, spreading its strength. He had ridden hard for two months, traveling with his seemingly meager army. Two thousand men, marching the breadth of a land that had not seen a unifying authority in centuries, besides the purported Great Leaders. It was whispered that the three had once held divinity in their hands, but had lost it to others, who had in turn lost it as well. It did not matter to him, not in the least. He served a greater cause than the mortal kings, and in fact disdained them entirely. This land, all of it, yearned for a leader of true strength and wisdom. It would not be him, of course. The desire for such power was present, but mercilessly pushed aside. There was only one worthy of the mantle of power, and though Davian had never met him, he knew this to right, and just.
For now, he was among two hundred men, holding the shattered gates while companies of a hundred split out and spread across the city. The orders were quite simple - prevent anyone from escaping, by lethal force if necessary, but no senseless killing. The goblins had had their fun, but it was high time to institute some order within these walls. The Matriarch would be pleased, if he could grab at the fluttering loose ends, and tie it all together. What was lost must be found.
Men shied back in terror at the unatural darkness that filtered through their ranks, but they did not break formation. Their discipline was too strong for such foolishness, and while they did not advance, awaiting orders, they did not retreat either.
Eventually the miasma faded, and the men took heart. With a barked command, they marched forward, a hundred men in columns of ten, entering the square before the manor. Within, shouts of alarm began to drift out, and a hundred men readied their spears and swords for the fight to come.
She took in all of them with a measuring look. "I fear you'll fi8nd your way....troubled....if you try to leave now. I do not know how good you are with those daggers, but it will not be good enough. Not enough to take these three with you, at least."
Her voice was thick with that foreign accent, but she knew her words conveyed well enough. She did not disabuse the man of her bloodrights, though. There were no nobles among the clans; she was no Matron or Matriarch, and had no desire to be.
"I don't suppose you've seen the Matriarch running about, have you?" She paused, and put a finger to her lips. "No, I suppose you haven't. You are still alive."
She stepped up beside him, and gave him an even more appraising look. "You do not look the part of a hero, man. Pray, tell, what are you doing here?"
Snow fell silently, as the sun began to sink lower towards the horizon.
The display was awesome enough, for one so young. He had much experience in survival, but terribly little of the world. The sight of raw sorcery was exceedingly rare, here in the north. This province hardly counted for anything in the great scheme of things, and so far from the centers of power, such as they were, there was rarely any need for such important individuals as high mages, or really for mages of any classification.
But he said nothing. It was often his way, with those not of his underworld existence. Instead, he followed, regretting the loss of that incomprehensible power that was his gift at times. He longed for it, as always, once it had left. And eventually it would return.
They strode into the midst of refugees faint shapes resolving into men and women, huddled in the cold and the snow, fear shining in their eyes. A great commotion rose within the confines of the pitiful walls, as armed and armored men began to appear, shouting brisk orders to the gathered mass of humanity, chivying them to their feet, herding them away from the walls. At first there were only a couple dozen men with steel at their waists, but the number grew, as men filed out of the guardhouse, out of the manor, and out of the stables. Some wandered amongst the listless refugees, handing weapons out to those who looked like they could use them.
He looked up at the strange woman when she spoke to him again, and flushed faintly at the attention. "I am called Anastor," he replied softly, then said no more. Instead he watched as a wagon piled high with something, covered with a tarp and drawn by a four-horse team lumbered into the courtyard, surrounded by ten men armed with pikes and swords, and four more up on the wagon bed with bows. The activity that swirled around him meant little. The refugees cowering made the noise of bleating sheep. Likely none in this lot would long survive without the aid of others who were stronger. For this, the child nearly felt contempt.
To rely on others for your safety was weakness in the highest. "They should stop hiding, and fight. Or flee." Sometimes it was better to run. Sometimes to fight. IOt came down to what was worth fighting for.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
Biting his lower lip, he glanced over his shoulder towards the three civilians. He could easily loose them and if they did try to follow him or try to give away his position, it wouldn't be hard to kill all of them. But could he do that? The Lady's words bit into him.
He wasn't a hero, far from it, so what was he trying to do? This had gone past trying to make up his debt to his lost bandits. Death answered for death. That was how he was. Who he was. All he would have to do to get that weight off his shoulders was to go back and feed his daggers. Why would he be trying to save lives? It had started with those refugees in his valley, leaving them goods and weapons, and now this. This was not who he was. Not who he wanted to be.
Larit was a weapon with no one wielding it. That was how he had felt since the Master had died.
With a shrug of his shoulders, he regained some of his lost composure and faced the woman again. "Matriarch? Like a woman leading a mage cadre? You speaking of that half-naked woman that came walking through here like she owned the place? Nope, haven't seen her." He flashed a grin at her, his teeth shining in the dimming light. "And no, I'm no hero. Just a knife that is in the wrong drawer at the wrong time."
Casting a glance over his shoulder again, he frowned. He was going to have to go back, drop these people off at the Manor if it still held, and then get out of there. Let them be the Lord's problem. But the problem was that there would be an army either surrounding the place or encamped within enjoying their spoils. It wouldn't be wise to go anywhere need them.
"The Lord's Manor is still out of the question. Is there another way out of here?" he asked the man.
The older man looked startled to be addressed by Larit. They had walked in silence for so long with this stranger and he had been lost in his own thoughts. He needed to get his wife to safety. That had been his only priority since the fighting had started.
"W-what? Oh, yes, yes. There's a northern gate, mostly used by farmers. Yes, they bring their goods in there. Such goods, used to sell them for a decent profit." He kept nodding to himself and then started crying, his composure gone. His wife wrapped an arm around him and glared at Larit as if blaming him for her husband's breakdown.
Shrugging, he turned back towards the Lady. "Seems we're heading for the northern gate." He raised his voice so those behind him could hear him but not loud enough to draw too much attention. "We'll have to move quick. You can rest when you're dead. Fall behind and you'll be left behind." Larit turned his cold blue eyes towards the woman again. "You have a choice, my Lady, as to where you go now. I'll leave you to make it."
Turning on his heel, he rubbed at his arm, trying to get feeling back into it. It was getting worse, he feared. Already he couldn't feel anything below his elbow and Larit had been kicking snow over the flesh that did fall from it. He didn't even want to pull up his sleeve anymore to see it.
He began to move again, this time down a side road that would make it so that they didn't backtrack but could circle around the thickest of the fighting. It would take them a few blocks out of their way but he felt it would save time. As before, he didn't look back to see if anyone followed him.
I'm not a hero, he growled to himself though part of him, a small part of him that had been beaten and starved during his training, wished for it to be true.
What would her colleagues at the Unversity say if they could see her now? A Physician of their number reduced to drugging men with barely fermented alchocol just to try and get them on their feet again. Such treatment was pathetic but what else could she do? If Therese had been back at the University she might have had access to all she needed and more but here she had to work with what she had. She could hardly leave the injuried to their fates and certainly no one else within the Manor's walls had seemed capable of looking after those who had been hurt.
She gestured to the novice to move, cutting the thread as soon as the lens was withdrawn. Taking a length of makeshift bandage (salvaged material from the lord's curtains had been the best she had been capable of getting) she wrapped it tight about her patient's head. "Don't even try to get him to talk or he'll open the wound. Food must be liquid only, good strong broth would be best", she ordered to the man's companion. Whether her advice would be taken or not the Physician could not tell, chances were her patient would soon find himself pointed towards the enemy again, a sword thrust in his hand.
The Physician stood up, rubbing her face to try and stave off the tiredness that threatened to consume her. What a sight she would appear to her colleagues. They would be just starting to make their evening rounds at this times, clad in white linen robes, gemmed belts proclaiming their expertise to those who knew how to interpret such things. Instead Therese found herself dressed in rough peasant trousers and tunic covered by a loose grey robe. At her waist the robe was tied back with a ordinary belt and the volumous sleeves were bound back to her elbows by strips of cloth, leaving her lower arms uncovered and unhindered. A Physician out and about in the world, it was all a far cry from the University.
Her novice appeared at her side having put away the lens. Before he said a word Therese raised one hand, "Yes, yes, I know, there's another, there's always another". By all the spheres she hoped that there was someone somewhere doing something to stem the flow of injured into her care. At the moment though she feared that the only ones doing anything to stem the flow were the enemy and they were only 'helping' by killing her patients before they arrived.
Where was that damned lord...what was his name? Surely he should have been doing something to sort out this mess? What good were nobles if they weren't even able to stop invaders from harming their people? The Physician had little care for those who considered themselves better than other by birthright. She knew all too well that people came into the world in the same way, there was no difference between a lordling's birth and a thrall's, well except perhaps the cleanliness of the rooms they were birthed in and even that was never a given in her experience. Her training had taught her to respect young and old, rich and poor, and to give medical aid to those who needed it regardless of whether they were the Grand High Lord Marshall Poobah or the man who mucked out his kennels.
She patted her novice's shaven head absently, "Lead on Boy and then see if you can't find me another one of the Lord's curtains to turn into bandages. His people need bandages far more than he needs his privacy right now".
There was no chance for the boy to respond as a man burst through a door, his injuries clear to see. Therese had not noticed the earlier arrival of the woman who hurried to help him, the Physician had been too caught up in her own thoughts. Even as she hurried over with her novice though she could see others defering to the woman, moving themselves out of her way. Was the woman Lord whatisname's wife? No, no, certainly not, she was fairly sure of that, this one was no pampered high lady. But there was no time for further consideration, now that she could get a better look at the man.
"Boy, clear that bed now", she gestured at the closest pallet, its occupant nursing a broken arm that she had already set. Her novice hurried the old patient away, pointing him towards an unoccupied chair further down. Therese pointed at the wounded newcomer, "Get him laying down now, I need to look at that thigh first. Boy, bring me more light and water to clean the wound for examination".
But I am certain — one hundred percent certain — that we can work this out. Trust me. I'm the Doctor.
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