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Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Jalapenohitchhiker, Jan 9, 2016.
Refugees on the run! Outlaws coming to the rescue! Evil is everywhere!
"Search them for anything valuable," ordered one of the gruff looking men, the one with the scraggly beard that only seemed to show up in patches over his ashy face. Alnifa supposed he was their leader. Had she been a youth she might have let her blood boil so far as to charge this man right now. Few were known for having a temper as furious as Alnifa's during her prime years. Many attributed it to her odd abilities, though how they made that connection she was not entirely sure.
She stood absolutely still, watching the bandits rip empty bags and shove her refugees about with unnecessary force. Has that vision not appeared earlier she would have been horrified by the appearance of these men. Though the message was not clear, Alnifa was sure it meant no harm would come to her people today. It consisted of them all standing in huddle with the bodies of the bandits lying before them. The images of a longbow arrow and a broken medallion hung over their heads. She still did not quite understand these odd visions, even now in her old age, but she had learned how to interpret them. Stories were told about ancient men and women who carried mystical abilities. Alnifa considered them nothing but myths until her first vision came true. She was barely twelve years of age. She had heard of no other individuals in Halan possessing this power, but of course that did not mean there were no others.
"What you gawkin at, you old bitch?" one of the men accused, brandishing a rapier. Unlike his leader, this one was clean shaven. He had a deep scar running from his left ear down to his chin. "I'll put you in your proper place. Teach you some resp-" His sentence was cut off as an arrow took him in the throat. Alnifa smiled to herself. So that was what the arrow in her vision meant.
Harvel and his band of bastards were exactly where Bulrik expected them to be. The clearing was fairly large, likely part of the northern passage from deep within the mountains. If the idiot didn't have such a thick head he would not have stopped to harass these innocents, whoever they were. Looked like refugees of some sort considering their lack of supplies. Had it been Harvel doing the chasing, Bulrik would not have stopped until he was across the River Valwe to the northeast.
Bulrik held up his second and fifth fingers, signaling Tarchon, Caryssa, and Denyn to take up their positions. They would wait for his signal. As was his habit, he clutched the small medallion around his neck and inhaled deeply. "Wrrrrrrrrrrrppppppp," came the call from his mouth. Arrows flew less than a second later. It had taken him months to perfect the mating call of a brown peachtail. A smarter man than Harvel would have known that such birds did not live in the mountains. The fool probably had no idea what its call even sounded like. Bulrik leaped from his spot in the underbrush and unsheathed Reinmark, charging swiftly towards Harvel.
Adrin did her best to maintain composure while the ruffians manhandled her people. It was all she could do to stand by and pull whatever children she could behind her, all the while keeping her mouth shut. At one point, she was forcibly shoved to the side, and she hissed, "Get your hands off of me." Aside from that outburst, she managed to hold her tongue. Despite the anger that was bubbling under her skin, she figured it would be to her best advantage to behave for the time being. She would save her words for an opportunity to bargain, if they were given one. At the very least she could buy them time, or she would die trying. Ever bold, she was not afraid to step up to a bandit, not even one so fearsome as Harvel or any of his wretched crew.
In the midst of the turmoil, she glanced over at Alnifa. They had always looked to her for guidance and wisdom. At present, the old woman's face was surprisingly at peace. Perhaps she had seen a brighter future for them. She could not know for sure - she dared not ask here. She contented herself with drawing a sliver of hope from the elder's untroubled demeanor.
The daughter of Olinam stood tall throughout the ordeal, dignified and proud as always. Her land and everything she knew had been taken from her, but no events would deprive her of her dignity. Aside from the straightness of her back, the slight upward tilt of her chin, and the determined furrow of her brow, it was difficult to distinguish the lady from the rest of her companions, tattered and worn as they were. Her dress had gone from a rich cranberry red to a reddish brown, marred by days of travel. Her long, dark curls were twisted into a braid and streaked with dirt, and her skin was darkened by sun and road dust. Still, her dark eyes were as sharp as her wit.
One of the bandits, in his path of destruction, reached to grab a small child, mere inches from where Adrin stood. The child was wailing, motherless, and would certainly not have any goods to pilfer. Just as Adrin took a step forward, thrusting her body between the ruffian and the child, a bird call split through the air. Before she had time to think about it, a cascade of arrows was upon them, taking down the ruffians. Adrin grabbed the child and threw her arms around him, unsure of where the arrows where coming from or who they were meant for. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a figure emerge from the bushes, headed toward the apparent leader of the bandits. Meanwhile, she did her best to gather her people together. Though their assailants seemed to be under attack themselves, she was not sure whether she could count the archers and their leader as her allies. Perhaps by the end of this battle, she would know what these people's motivation was.
Harvel's broadsword came up just in time to fend off Bulrik's strike. It was a relief actually, for Bulrik was not of the opinion that this man deserved such a quick death. He would to watch the blade pierce his heart. The thought brought a grin to his face as his adversary spat with disgust. "It's rude to interrupt men in the middle of trading. You couldn't wait until I was done here? Did your whore of a mother never teach you any manners?" He lifted his blade and snarled like a wild hog. Judging by the way he held it, Harvel had not possessed the expensive blade for very long. He must have picked it up while raiding Biynar.
"Personally I don't think your so-called trade was all that important, considering you won't be alive to utilize any of the goods." Bulrik whirled his blade and planted himself firmly in the fire stance. It was his preferred of the four primary stances. It kept him light on his feet but still capable of delivering tough blows, frustrating his opponents to no end. "Come on then. I've been chasing you for weeks now. Don't disappoint me by just standing there." Harvel needed no more persuasion. The brute hefted the stolen blade and dove into earth stance, swinging madly at for his torso. Bulrik ducked back and lunged forward, throwing his shoulder into Harvel's chest. He would enjoy this kill. That was not something he could say very often.
From nearby, Bulrik could hear Big Boar roaring with might as he delivered punishment to whatever bandits dared challenge him. Not surprisingly, only a few ventured anywhere near the big man while the rest broke off to flee. It mattered little of course, as the arrows continued to rain down from the trees. There were only four of them up there, but they were good enough to give off the illusion of more. When they were still living in the Empire, Tarchon was known for being capable of confusing an entire unit of soldiers by himself without even breaking a sweat.
With a deafening cry, Harvel swung for Bulrik's head. Once again, the outlaw simply ducked out of the way. This time he circled around his opponent and swiped at the back of his leg, creating a deep cut in his calf. Harvel fell to one knee, but only momentarily. He leaned heavily on his good leg and stared down Bulrik, murder in his eyes. With a final roar, he swung furiously at Bulrik, who parried the blows almost effortlessly. A small opening showed itself when Harvel stumbled back, and Bulrik took it without hesitation, piercing the man's heart.
The ground was littered with bodies. Bulrik estimated there were almost thirty of them. Not bad considering he had only eight including himself. His eye caught the group of innocents, struggling to reclaim their items. He almost laughed when one of them yelped at the sight of Big Boar.
"This is an odd place for a group of women and children to be traveling," he exclaimed as he strolled over, placing Reinmark back in its sheath. He spoke in Old Halanai. It was not as difficult a language as some made it out to be, though he still only knew bits and pieces of it. "Do any of you speak the common tongue of Makkan? My Halanai is not very good." As he said this the rest of his party stepped out into the clearing.
While some among them scrambled to recollect the only worldly goods they possessed, Adrin was more concerned about the people, especially the children. Many of the little ones were orphans with no one to call them out of harm's way. She gathered them together, tugging them away from the fight and clustering them together lest they try to run away. Some of the elderly helped in drawing the younger ones close to them. The children were distraught and terrified for their lives, but there was comfort in close proximity to their countryfolk. When they were grouped together, they settled down for the most part, freeing Adrin from the fear that they might scatter and hide. She did not know what would befall them next or whether these newcomers meant them harm. She was certain, however, that any child alone in this wilderness would perish.
She kept a close eye on the battle all the while. She caught a few words from the man who appeared to be the leader: I've been chasing you for weeks now. Unlike the bandits, it would appear that these men were led by a specific purpose. If their mission was to take down these ruffians, then perhaps they would have no quarrel with these innocents. Perhaps they would be allowed to go on their way. Or perhaps... Perhaps they might be willing to help. She watched the combat and noted considerable skill compared to the blundering, heavy movements of the bandits. They might be persuaded to lend their assistance and protection.
She stood with her back to the people, facing the strangers, in quiet observation. Her demeanor was cool and collected, but her heart raced within her chest. She had no plan. She had only to keep her wits about her and speak well to these men. She had to know who they were, what they were doing, what they wanted. Perhaps there was hope for her people yet.
The battle ended, and the bandits were defeated. She was not surprised. Though greater in number, they were greatly outmatched in skill and strategy. When the leader addressed them, she stepped forward with confidence. "I do," she stated in Makkan. "We are a product of war. Very likely the only survivors." Her throat tightened as she spoke those last words, and she clenched her jaw lest her face betray her. She would not show her weakness to strangers. She would not dwell on all she had lost.
Bulrik was expecting one of the elders to step forward as they would probably have been the most learned individuals. So it came as a surprise when one of the younger women stepped forward. She could not have been more than twenty years of age, most likely less than that even. He was unfamiliar with how the villages of the mountains elected their leaders. Ever since his exile he spent most of his time in the flatlands of Halan, wandering about offering his band of outlaws as a service for catching criminals. Thus far, Harvel's group had given him the most trouble. Another exiled man from Makkan was he, though for an entirely different reason.
"Wonderful," Bulrik commented almost nonchalantly. So they were indeed refugees as he suspected. "I'm glad you showed up to be honest. Provided the perfect distraction we needed to catch Harvel and his misfits." He glanced about their group with a curious eye. The children still seemed frightened for the most part, and one of them continued to stare at Big Boar with a combination of awe and terror. He thought one of the elderly women was fixedly staring at him, but on a second glance he saw that her eyes were pointed directly below his face, where his medallion hung loosely around his neck. He mindlessly tucked the thing back into his tunic, wondering what her business with it was.
Finally he focused back on the woman in the front of him, putting on a friendly face. "I was unaware that a war had broken out among the mountain villages. Usually something like that would have reached my ears some time ago." Their haggard faces expressed exhaustion, hunger, and hopelessness. He took pity on them, but he also knew that being around him would put them in even more danger than they were already in. Such was the life of a man with an enormous bounty on his head.
"It's almost dusk. I don't suppose you all will be doing much more traveling today given the circumstances. You are welcome to share our camp if you wish."
With that he turned away to see how his crew were managing. Only Larcin was wounded, a large gash on his left arm. The fool winked at Bulrik and nodded towards the blood. "You've seen worse on me. Nothing to fret about." Bulrik said nothing as Caryssa went to work on wrapping the arm while muttering curses under her breath. "Tarchon, Gordin, and Gavrey just went up to the Valwe to haul back some water. Hopefully they bring back some fish too. I'm s-AH!" He yelped as Caryssa smacked him upside the head.
"Stop moving, you stupid oaf! Or you can wrap this bloody arm of your's without my help."
She could hardly expect to receive sympathy from the stranger, who seemed hardened by a difficult life, but she was somewhat put off by his words. If she were not in need of help, she might have spat a testy remark back at him, even though he probably meant no offense. How wonderful that he had benefited from their grave misfortune... In light of recent events, she was more on edge than usual and far more defensive. She had to settle herself down and remember, for one thing, that she needed to ask for his help. In addition, the destruction of the bandits was probably a great service to all, and this stranger had just saved their lives, whether he meant to or not.
"The war came and went abruptly," she replied. "It does not surprise me that news of it has not spread far." Who would be the ones to spread the news? Their attackers? She was nearly certain that every living victim was present in their pitiful little group. She had no desire to speak further on the matter at the moment. She doubted it would benefit her now. She spoke with great care so as not to give away her knowledge too freely. She still had cards to play and had not yet figured out how to play them.
She gave a deep nod in response to his offer. "Thank you. We do not wish to burden you. We will do what we can to help." There were plenty of willing hands to collect water and kindling or search for food in the surrounding area.
Nodding to himself, Bulrik smiled knowingly. He did not expect they would refuse shelter or protection for the night given today's mishap. Fortunately there was still some stew from the previous night's encampment that could be shared. If they found some good fish in the river then there should be no problem feeding the lot. He estimated approximately two dozen extra mouths tonight. That was not so daunting a task for someone who was once responsible for seeing an entire army fed while on a march.
He felt someone touch his arm and immediately turned his head. It was not the young woman who spoke to him, as he expected it to be, but the elderly one who he had caught staring at his medallion. He successfully fought the urge to clutch the thing through his tunic, but her presence certainly made him wary. Perhaps it was the unnatural color of her eyes. They were the deepest shade of purple he had ever seen. When she spoke she sounded much younger than he expected. "What is that medallion of your's? What does it mean?" He blinked with surprise. She sounded genuinely curious, but he was not prepared to hand out important information to strangers. "What business is it of your's?" he replied in Halanai. The grin that appeared on her face was both warm and cold at once. How had she managed that? Her response baffled him even more. "I saw it in a vision. The same one that told me the bandits would not harm us." An icy shiver crawled down Bulrik's back. Visions? These mountain folk were a more curious bunch than he expected. Wanting no more to do with the elderly woman, he simply shook his head and made to collect some wood for the fire.
The same woman he spoke to earlier was helping to usher everyone along. Young though she was, there was definitely an air of command about her. That left Bulrik wondering if she was capable with a weapon, though only two women in their entire group were armed. They were shortbows, but the two had the look of warriors about them. He made a note to talk to them some time before the night was out.
"So a war has broken out," he said as he lifted a large branch, contemplating whether or not it was dry enough to burn. "Can't say I was expecting that. I was under the impression the mountain folk were more peaceful in their ways." It occurred to him that this was probably a terrible way to start a conversation with someone who was running for her life. "The name's Bulrik by the way. What do they call you?"
Adrin witnessed the exchange between Alnifa and the stranger, but she could not hear what was spoken. It was not uncommon for one to appear disturbed after a conversation with Alnifa. The woman was strange in her ways and was an odd variety of wise. She wondered what had been said to make him walk away so abruptly.
It was clear that these people were not going to hurt them, so she began to delegate labors amongst the older children. She sent two to gather wood for a fire and three to help whomever was preparing the food. "But do not pester them," she added in a low voice, wearing a playful smirk. "If they have no need of you, help with the fire." They nodded and went to their tasks with some reservation. No doubt that after being attacked and then witnessing their attackers being brutally killed, the refugees were wary of these strangers. That was understandable, and that was why she did not send anyone to a task alone.
"We try to be," she replied. "Regrettably, our military had not been groomed for such a war in many years." Even if they had been, could they have fended off such a foe? She was not certain. "I'm Adrin." She paused a moment before asking, "Now that you have destroyed your quarry, what will you do? Is hunting bandits your livelihood?"
Adrin. He rolled the name around in his head and nodded. It was not a name he'd heard before, but then the culture of the mountain folk was quite different from that of the flatlands. Sometimes he wondered if they would have been better off living in the mountains. None of the patrols from Makkan ever ventured that far inland, so he would not have to worry about being recognized or attacked. But then there would be far less opportunities to make money in the only way he really knew.
Bulrik could not help bur smile at the question. She must have thought she had him mostly figured out, but she did not even know the half of it. "My livelihood is the same as everyone else's. I do what I can to make sure I continue living. We all just have different ways of going about it." He glanced around at the villagers being put to work. "Judging by our circumstances, I'd say living on the run is a fairly common method these days."
He bent down to examine another branch but discarded it as soon as he noticed the rot growing. "If you want a more specific answer then yes, we make our living by hunting down criminals, specifically the more dangerous type. Tomorrow we will probably head back to Valnos and claim our reward for killing that one." He nodded towards the carcass of Harvel, where Big Boar was preparing to remove the man's head from the body.
"If you don't mind me asking, do you know who it was that attacked you? How big was the army?"
His answer was disappointingly vague, but she could not say she was surprised. If he didn't want to divulge personal information to someone he'd just met, fine. She would respect that, even if it didn't help her case. "Seldom does one choose to live on the run," she replied. "It is often the result of some misfortune or injustice." In the case of the now deceased bandits, the injustice had been their own doing. Which of these had led Bulrik to a life on the run?
Adrin, too, began to collect branches from the ground, keeping only those that were fit to burn. She had never been accused of idleness. Even when her life was considerably easy and devoid of worry, she found ways to make herself useful amidst her education. Though she'd had a brother who was destined to take on the responsibilities of the estate, she had taken it upon herself to learn more than what was required of her. She took an interest in multiple subjects, including languages, and was already adept in multiple tongues. It did not take long for her skills to prove useful, as she was currently engaged in a conversation most of her countrymen would not understand.
"Ah," she answered, giving a nod. She appreciated the more direct response. So they were going for Valnos. It was an excellent opportunity to seek guidance - and they would not even be going out of their way to help the refugees. Her spirits lifted somewhat, but before she could remark, he asked about the attackers.
She paused, suspended in thought. She remembered watching the army approach, like a dense shadow creeping over the land, shrouding all light and hope. The army was stretched wide across the horizon, and she never saw the end of the line as they marched ever nearer. They covered the villages with ease, trampling everything and every person beneath their feet. It could hardly be described as a war... More accurately, it was a brutal extermination. Her people had not stood a chance. She had never seen such a force. She had been hesitant to speak openly about it until she could find a king or leader who could rally armies together and spread the word to all the nations. She wondered if anyone would even believe her or take the necessary precautions before it was too late.
At length she said, "Goblins." She had been gazing off into the distance, in the direction of her former homeland. "They were innumerable. The most massive army I have ever seen."
Her respone gave Bulrik pause and he stopped moving with his back half bent over to examine another fallen branch. He glanced up at her sharply but wasn't quite sure what to say. So all that came out was, "What?" Goblins hadn't massed together to create an army in over two thousand years, during the Age of Darkness. They were always too busy fighting among themselves to even think about forming up. It would have to take some one extremely gifted to bring them all together like that. But why now? What was so significant about this time that they decided to mass such a force? It made too little sense.
This would merit thinking about. It was disturbing to say the least. No wonder Adrin seemed so tense whenever she thought about it. The fact that this many of them managed to get away safely was miraculous. For some reason he now felt the urge to take watch for the entire night. Something was afoot that made his blood tingle, and Bulrik was not normally one to let fear enter his mind. "The ones who carry his emblem will rise to finish what he could not complete," he whispered to himself. Once again, he fought the urge to grab hold of his medallion, wishing now that it was hung around any neck but his.
Bulrik was snapped out of his thoughts by the sound of someone leaping down from one of the trees just ahead. It was Caryssa. Apparently she had gone ahead to scout tomorrow's journey. Her expression was grim, but then that was not unusual for her. "There's an abandoned village about a league north of here. We'll pass by it tomorrow. No signs of life anywhere." Given what Adris had told him this was not as surprising as it should have been. But it also added to the horror. Whatever caused those villagers to flee could not have been the same army that attacked Adrin's home. No army could move that quickly. But that meant it was large enough to have different units. Perhaps Halan was not the safest place for him to be after all.
"We'll get a better look around it tomorrow. Good work," Bulrik commended. Caryssa nodded with satisfaction then eyed Adrin with a slight frown. She sniffed audibly then continued on her way. Again, not unusual for her.
Clearly, Bulrik was alarmed by her answer. Rightly so, she imagined. She knew little about goblins or their history. Her education was diverse, but it scarcely included any teachings of sorcery or such creatures as goblins. They were isolated from all of that (or so they thought, in their blissful ignorance), and they chose not to acknowledge or explore such. She knew of them only vaguely and had enough sense to know that such a massive army would not bode well for mankind. She felt that she had to warn other nations before they, too, fell at the goblins' sword.
He seemed to whisper to himself, but Adrin did not discern his words. It was likely he knew more about what was happening in the world than she. She would pick his brain about it later to see what he knew and what he was willing to tell. He did not appear to be a man willing to divulge all that was on his mind. She could not blame him for that. She knew little of the world outside of Halan, but she knew that most strangers would use information against anyone, for their own advantage. It was best to choose one's words carefully.
Caryssa's report strengthened her urgency to seek protection. Her refugees were no match for any force that could wipe out an entrie village - or at least scare its residents into leaving. As Caryssa walked away, Adrin met her gaze coolly. Seems friendly, she thought to herself. Once she was gone, Adrin turned to Bulrik. "I must speak frankly, Bulrik. There is a force in these lands that my people cannot withstand." She glanced over at her companions, a rough-looking bunch. A few of the children were whacking each other with the sticks they had collected, and many of the elders were sitting on the ground, weary from their journey. "We need protection. Please, let us travel with you - at least as far as Valnos. You are kind to let us stay tonight, but it will be for naught if we die tomorrow." She was loath to ask for help. Ordinarily, she was proud and fiercely independent; she would rather suffer doing something herself than to see assistance from someone else. But here, she had no choice. She had the safety of others to consider.
"I wouldn't take offense," Bulrik explained, watching Caryssa help Denyn and Tarchon with the water they had just brought into the camp. "She's not the easiest of people to get along with." Not anymore, that is. Bulrik could remember a time when she was among the most generous people he knew. Even then she was still beyond skilled with weaponry. But the war had taken much from her, leaving her cold and isolated. The years of living away from the land she once called home had made her even colder. She was still loyal beyond comparison of course.
Adrin's suggestion caught him a little off guard, but the more he thought about it the more it made sense for her to want someone to protect her people. He supposed it would not be too difficult since they were heading in the same direction. The thought of putting more lives into his hands was a little unsettling though. Being responsible for a legion of warriors and soldiers who could defend themselves was one thing. Overseeing a group of mostly defenseless women and children, however, was quite another. "I can't promise that we are capable of protecting everyone, but we will do our best. After all, I could use a little more pleasant company after having to put up with Gordin and his odd bowel habits." He nodded to towards the two women he spotted earlier, the ones who looked to have the warrior physique about them. "I notice that two of your party carry bows. How good are they with those?"
Gavrey sat on a small stump, scraping off small flakes of wood to use as kindling for the fire. It would have to be a much larger one than they normally built, thanks to the extra company. It was odd having this many folks around, though also pleasant in a way. Almost like having guests over for tea, if one could forget that these guests had narrowly escaped a horrific death.
As he sat, Gavrey could not help but notice one of the younger women continuing to eye him. She had been carrying the same bundle of sticks for a while now, pretending to examine new ones that were all within the same area. All the while she was fixing on him a look he was all too familiar with. When he was still in the Empire he was often the target of many young fair maidens looking for a man to sweep them off their feet. Those were simpler times, ones that he remembered fondly. And ones that he would not be reliving any time soon.
He stood up slowly and brushed the kindling into the small pile he had created before wandering over. "Your search for firewood might be a little more successful if you moved over towards the drier eagles." He was not entirely competent in Halanai, and he hoped he had properly conveyed his idea that she move over to where the drier wood could be found.