A Long Journey Ahead
After Schamm finished writing his 37th entry, he looked back and noticed how slowly the others were moving, even though he was essentially carrying everything. As they entered the rocky plain of Viondril, they had to make their way climbing a mountain. Everything had gone as planned until they had to get down on the mountain’s extremely steep side.
‘Careful, now…’ Ratin said, more like a whisper to himself. He went first, then Iruka followed. Schamm spent some time to analyze the distance and ways he could fall. I would prefer to not test my luck here. One fatal slip and everything’s gone. He saw Neveah looking at him.
‘Are you going to go?’ she asked, motioning with her eyebrows.
‘What else can I do?’
Schamm bended his knees and let his weight back, slowly going down on his *** to where the other two were. It was as though there was a natural staircase around the mountain on where they could walk. I guess our only choices are to either go on this tiny path or go tumbling down. That only meant they had no choice. Ratin was moving quietly, cunningly, in a way. It was as though his feet were gravitating towards the good end of the slope, while Iruka was walking dangerously on the far side. Schamm kept his distance, for fear of being knocked down if someone else were to fall, walking with his back to the mountain, slowly moving to the side. Behind him was Neveah, somehow brave enough to walk as though she were in the middle of the city in Pairuej. He noticed Iruka place her foot badly and started falling to one side, screaming.
‘Watch it!’ Schamm said as he caught Iruka’s hand, saving her from the deadly fall. As he pinned his feet on the stones, he stepped badly, injuring his ankle. He clenched his hand so tight around her wrist that her fingers turned white. Small pebbles and dust hit Iruka’s face. The warrior roared and pulled her with all his might, bringing her back up. After a few seconds of heavy breathing, he said:
‘Not even a thank you?’
‘When you’re gonna do a job well enough, I’ll make sure to tell you.’
‘I saved you,’ Schamm frowned.
‘While breaking your ankle. All I’m saying is don’t come at me saying it hurts later.’
But for ****’s sakes it does hurt.
Schamm felt a hand on his shoulder, instinctively reaching for his weapon but realizing that it was Ratin’s.
‘Do you wish for us to stop?’
Schamm looked down at the distance and how easily he could fall. He breathed in the cold air, opened his mouth and felt something pop in his ears. **** but we’re high up. He looked at the others, easily deducing that none of them was eager to risk their lives.
‘No need. We press on.’
After a few minutes, the path began to provide more space for movement, the four eventually making their way to the bottom, next to a forest.
‘Everyone alive and well?’ Ratin asked.
‘Where to now, exactly? I mean, we’re basically in the middle of nowhere, with almost no food or water.’
‘No need to be impatient, Iruka. I know the way. I’ve been through here many a time,’ the old man responded, gesturing with his hand. He stood on the ground, with his back towards the mountain. ‘Uh…’ Schamm started to say but the old man shut him up. He opened his eyes and looked towards Neveah.
‘What’s there?’ Schamm asked.
‘That path leads to Nourthin, my friend. We’re going South.’
‘Why?’ Iruka asked, crossing her arms.
‘Can’t leave a stone unturned.’
‘How much until we’re gonna get there?’ she asked.
‘About four days. To get to the Capital, an additional two.’
‘Do we have enough provisions to last us that long?’ Neveah asked, trembling.
‘Probably. We’ll be walking along a river, so water won’t be a problem. And, as you’ve said yourself, you know different plants, so we’ll have to rely on your expertise to keep us well fed.’
‘I… I don’t know how fulfilling plant soup will be,’ Neveah began fidgeting, looking left and right.
‘We’ll have to live with it, right, crew?’
‘I’ve lived on worse,’ Schamm said.
‘Me too,’ Iruka added.
‘Good, good. It’s settled then. Get ready to move, everyone. We will have to set up at dawn and wake up at sunrise.’ Everyone nodded in agreement and Schamm let out a small wheeze when he lifted the weight back onto his back. **** bloody leg.
Today’s the day… Ratin told himself. Today was the day that they’d finally get to approach Nourthin. He was the last guard, tonight, but he assumed there was one more hour left until sunrise. The moon and the stars were plentiful when he had woken up. A plethora of -white? Or…yellow– Painted dots on the black canvas, a bigger drop of beige in the corner, but at the same time in the middle of the picture. The fire was snuffed out by Schamm, being the second to last one on guard. He said it would be a beneficial strategy in case any bandits came by, considering they were so close to the city, so they wouldn’t be spotted easily. Ratin was too lazy to light the fire again, he didn’t feel cold enough and it would be out by morning anyways. It was getting boring, though, with no one to talk to except for his own thoughts, and he’d made up his mind on what needed to be done long ago. At first, Ratin himself didn’t think so either, but Schamm proved to not be all muscle and no brains. He could entertain a conversation for hours, despite his lack of knowledge in a certain area. If there’s one good thing about Schamm it would be his sense of judgement. Iruka was quite – how to put it… feisty – and Neveah rarely spoke, unless someone asked her for something. She is, indeed, uncomfortably shy. Still, it was nice and quiet, except for the wind, occasional bird tweet, Schamm’s surprisingly loud snoring and the one wild dog that approached him an hour ago. He had to use his bracelet, of course, but the animal proved to be good company until it finally left. The colours of the sunrise were beginning to show, now, creeping up above and between the treetops. Dark green mixed with sparkling yellow and red. The clouds were also starting to be noticeable; figures on the dimly lit blue sky. He wondered how the view would look like from the mountaintop. He almost considered finding out, but even with his magic it would take a considerable amount of time. And we wouldn’t want to have a surprise beating waiting for me in the event of someone waking up early. He heard something shuffling inside the forest. A squirrel, maybe. It sounded as though it was moving slowly, more like prowling. A cat, maybe. The noise came from the bushes closest to Schamm’s tent, where Ratin was now looking, trying to identify the source of the noise. A few more seconds of suspense made him almost get up, but then it was all quiet again. Nothing… maybe. He looked at his bracelet and maintained the black colour. Just in case. He then heard a loud slashing sound behind him, saw a big beast swiftly approaching. He raised his hand, flicked it in the air, and the bracelet started levitating. Bubbles started to form around his palm. Shortly after a black coloured bolt thudded inside of the animal’s skin, like an arrow shot from a crossbow, somewhere around chest level, making the bobbles pop simultaneously. There was no sound, except, of course, those made by the attack and the slight shriek of pain of the foe as it fell to the ground, motionless. Blood was coming out of it, now, in a long streak of black red. Looking at it from a distance, it was so black that the monster could almost be mistaken for a big black blob. He approached carefully, ready to strike again if need be. He kicked it and there was no reaction. He crouched down to get a feel for the skin, or fur, but when he did so the enemy transformed into a cloud of black smoke that dirtied his palm. After the smoke subsided, he went to the river and washed his hand in it. When he looked at his right palm, he had a mark on it. A black triangle. Interesting. He could have sworn that he had seen one such mark somewhere not a long time ago, but Ratin simply couldn’t fix his mind’s eye on exactly where he saw it. He was convinced that he’d be able to spot it again. In the meantime, he’d have to hide it with something. He set his bracelet on the green colour and set to work. Twenty minutes later, he had made himself a pair of gloves that were the colour of his skin. As he put them on, they attached themselves to his skin. Unnoticeable. Such is the art of espionage. He could hear someone waking up, now. After all, an hour seemed to p*** quite swiftly. Looking at the tents, he could see her face clearly. Neveah. He hid himself next to a tree close to the river, to see what she’d do. She started to look around, confused, opened her mouth but said nothing.
She’s panicking alright. He started stepping towards her, but he realized that an air of confidence began surrounding her. He went back behind the tree again. Was she just faking it?
‘Come out, come out,’ Neveah whispered, motioning to the bushes.
Ratin didn’t understand why she was doing that, but it was clear as day. His eyes widened, and he set his bracelet back to black. He would protect his allies no matter what. He realized that, unwillingly, his expression turned into a frown, his left fist closed. Ratin began to move quickly, stealthily towards their camp. Men in ripped armour started to move out of the bushes in a careful manner, looking around to make sure no one was watching. Little do they know…
‘Well, well, what do we have here?’ one of them spoke, behind a mask. They were all wearing black, everything made out of leather, with a red square in the left corner of their armours. There were 6 bandits in total, with Neveah. They seemed to have no weapons with them, which meant that they had plenty of knives hidden.
‘Some dumb freaks that need killin’. They made me climb a mountain!’ Neveah said, raising her hands. She spoke loud enough to make Ratin sure of the fact that the rest of them were now awake, ready to strike. He looked at Schamm’s tent, his head pointed towards Ratin. He’s looking at me. He needs something to work with.
Ratin stepped out of the forest, his hands behind his back. ‘Good morning, gentlemen. Can I be of any use?’
‘You’d be really useful if you’d **** the **** off,’ one of the bandits said.
How crude. ‘My apologies, but, it seems like it is my duty to remind you of your place,’ he said, slowly, as he approached them. The bubbles from his palm spread all across his hand, moving up to his arm, now. ‘I am not a man that takes threats easily.’
‘Yeah, well you can take these easily!’ said one that appeared to be the head of the gang, grabbing his junk.
‘I see it cannot be avoided. Well then, shall we?’ Ratin said as he lifted up his left hand and three black bolts rammed into the chief and two other bandits, going clean through their bodies. One of them was standing right in front of a partner so that makes four dead; or close. In the next second that was needed for everyone to take it what happened and how blood was starting to drip from their wounds and mouths, Schamm got up.
Another morning… Schamm thought to himself. He wanted to get up, the sun shining right into his eyes. The pain was still there, pulsating through his whole arm. He was almost falling back to sleep when he heard voices. His eyes opened wide, realizing there were people behind him. His axe was in his tent a meter to the right. He didn’t want to cut himself up by accident while sleeping, so it had the blade pointed downwards. He heard Neveah’s voice. Death was coming, he could feel it, and yet, he didn’t feel threatened. Somehow he spotted Ratin into the woods, nodded at him. So this is what we’re doing. Schamm motioned back with his eyebrows. The Mage started approaching the bandits, but Schamm couldn’t hear what he was saying. The warrior was focusing only on trying to find a gap in which he could strike. A moment of lapse in judgment from his enemies. He heard three muffled sounds like punches behind him. It was his chance. He grabbed his axe and bellowed as loudly as he could. His right arm was on fire, his shoulder trembling. He noticed he was charging into someone that was already falling, so he changed direction towards the last standing bandit. Schamm tried to turn but his foot hurt, lost balance, almost cut Neveah’s head clean off – not that he would have minded it so much- and separated the bandit’s arm from the rest of his body. He screamed and flailed around, blood splattering onto the ground and Schamm’s clothes. He swung again and cut a good size hole in his enemy’s abdomen, creating a blood fountain before the corpse toppled to the floor. When he looked down, it seemed like all the others bandits were dead too, yet he could see a small movement in a boy’s nostrils. He was under one of the bandits. You little… Schamm grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up, gave him a good shake, then screamed into his ear.
‘Boy you better wake the **** up or I’ll put you to sleep for good.’
The boy opened his teary eyes and Schamm let him down. Wouldn’t want a random knife to find its way into my neck.
‘The rules are simple: You tell me where the rest of your base is and I let you live, or you don’t and I kill both of you and I hunt the others down and burn everything.’ Schamm realized someone else was talking alongside him, someone deep inside of him, with the same voice. He coughed, calmed down. Neveah and the boy started crying, sitting on the ground. Ratin let out a long sigh.
‘There’s just no winning with some people,’ he said.
Schamm ignored him. ‘So… What will it be?’
The boy pointed behind him ‘5 minutes of walking that way,’ he said, sobbing.
‘Please. Please, I beg you, don’t kill them!’ Neveah said, embracing Schamm’s leg.
‘Ye’re coming with,’ he said, almost like a whisper. Iruka was awake now, as upright as a soldier. ‘Good morning.’
‘Seems like you’ve all had a lively start to your day.’
‘You could say that. But you haven’t missed the fun yet,’ Schamm replied with a grin.
As they approached the base, they could see a trace of smoke in the air. The base wasn’t anything special. It could hold fifteen people, at most. They couldn’t be seen through the dense forest they were hiding in, especially low to the ground. Ratin was holding the two bandits by a leash that was tied around their mouths, so they couldn’t be heard nor run if they wanted to alert anyone. He then used his green bracelet to grow a part of the tree around the rope so they were perfectly kept in place, their hands also tied. He had enough action for one day.
‘So, are we going to go all out?’ Schamm asked Iruka.
‘Why the **** not?’
The two slowly approached the camp, Schamm looking carefully for traps. Iruka nudged Schamm and held up five fingers, then two. He noticed that there were two people awake inside of the base, preoccupied with their talk and their food. But ****, my stomach hurts. He looked at their legs, in case hidden knives were visible, but he couldn’t notice anything. They got closer, and one of them turned to look towards Schamm.
‘Hello. Can we help you with anything?’
‘We kind of got lost and we saw you two here, so we figured we’d ask for directions,’ Schamm said. They were real close now, a few steps away from being able to hurt one of them with his axe. Glancing at Iruka, she seemed to think the same thing. She got closer and closer still, and the one closer extended his arm towards her.
These guys weren’t that bad, Iruka thought to herself. You have to make a living somehow. They were approaching the two people in the base, now looking at them. Schamm got their attention, but Iruka wanted to get up close and personal. One of them wanted to say hi, and she had the initial thought of shaking his hand, until she heard:
‘Pleased to meet you, I’m Garew.’
She didn’t budge. Her hand wasn’t moving, but she wanted her to do so, towards her weapon. The other one cut in, surprisingly.
‘Excuse him, he’s been raised in a ****** orphanage, of course he doesn’t know basic manners,’ he said, laughing.
Schamm almost blinked and he missed the whole thing. Iruka pulled out her Glaive in a swift motion and cut off the first bandit’s head. She barely stopped the blade from swinging it so hard that she’d hit her ally. Schamm noticed the other one try to pull out something from his pocket but he got his head cut open by Iruka before the warrior could even pull out his axe. ‘Well… good job.’ She didn’t answer. They spent about twenty minutes taking as many things as they could from around the base and put it all in their pockets. At least we can afford anything in Saudin now. When they started going back, Schamm noticed something in one of the tents. He pulled out his axe and pre-emptively striked the tent, ripping it. There was no one inside, so he ripped what was left of it. Now that they thought about it, they hadn’t checked the tents. They soon realized that if someone had been watching them, their best chance at striking was when they were scavenging through the base with their backs turned.
‘I guess we’ll search through these too,’ Schamm said. Iruka only nodded, still frowning. Nothing of real value was found, merely unsharpened knives and rugs. There was a bigger tent, surrounded by others. It was painted black, unlike all the brown ones, and had a red square on the left and right sides of it. ‘Probably the captain’s,’ the warrior muttered. He opened it and inside there was nothing that caught his eye. He turned to leave but Iruka was blocking the way, looking intensely at something in the right far corner of the tent. Schamm turned around a saw a small envelope, went and opened it. It read:
Only to be read by Sarb Valege, Captain of Band
Captain, my name is Alek. I am in charge of the six man unit in Paiurej and I come with the unfortunate news that Neveah has been captured by a pack of unknown people. She did not seem to oppose it, but we are sure that she was at least blackmailed into joining their ranks. There were only three of them, a relatively well built woman, an old man, and a tall, fierce barbarian of sorts. We have noticed his successful attempt at casting away a group of troublemakers that harboured bad intentions towards the young girl. We shall start packing up here and begin following them daily until we can find an opportunity to engage and save Neveah. I urge you to be confident in our ability and to not act on impulse. Being one of the last three Captains in command after the disastrous siege onto Saudin, you must know best that no troops can be spared. I should also mention that, in case the enemies would venture south, into Nourthin, it would be wise to create a diversion between the main camp and a smaller one, like pack 04’s next to the river.
– Alek, Commander of pack 03