(Collab'd with @Darkspleen.)
Something something Darkside
“What do you see?” Cedric asked for the second time.
“Mountains.” Soraya answered. That answer had applied for much of the two days since the party had left Mycae. “And trees.”
“I could have told you that much.” Cedric grumbled. “And I didn’t need to stand on my horse’s back to do so.”
“I suppose so.” Soraya commented from where she did indeed stand upright on her horses back. “But do I not strike a heroic pose while doing so?”
“I’d rather you act the part then look it.” Cedric grumbled again. He’d become increasingly grouchy since leaving Joannah’s fortress. Soraya, on the other hand, seemed to be rather thrilled with the prospect of ‘exploring the unknown’ as she had put it.
“On the subject of acting…” Soraya’s eyes narrowed as she caught movement in the tree line before them. She had her bow in hand already, her free hand slowly started moving towards her quiver. Catching sight of her movement Cedric followed her gaze towards the trees. It took him a moment, but he caught sight of several man shaped somethings moving about.
“Three?” Cedric quietly asked.
“Five” Soraya answered after a moment, by this point her hand had grazed the end of an arrow. Her fingers twitched a moment before one of the unknown creatures burst forth from the woods. A second later it fell to the ground, clutching at the arrow protruding from its throat.
“What is that?” Cedric asked as he stretched his hand out towards a second creature, roasting it alive with the flames that shot from his fingers. “A child?” The creatures did in fact almost look like human child. Or more specifically they looked like human men that were the size of children, except with abnormally large feet.
“Ugliest children I’ve ever seen.” Soraya commented as she let loose a third arrow, still standing atop her horse.
The little children were falling left and right, all thanks to a mounted archer. Erex, the red knight, found himself just short of being bored as the enemies never seemed to get close. Luckily for him, there were more coming and they were just as vicious as before. Erex had this opportunity to get in the fight as the critters closed in fast.
“Behind you.” Erex said calmly to Cedric before slicing one of them in half across the chest with a mighty swing. He quickly turned to face another, one that had ran up onto a rock before leaping towards him. The red knight simply thrust his fist forward, nearly sending the creature where it had came from. Erex sighed as he planted his foot into another creatures groin, kicking it nearly ten feet away.
Soraya’s arrow ended the creature Erex had punched as Cedric’s flames ended the one he had kicked. Noticing they had killed all of their foes Soraya half heartedly said “Oops.”
“You miscounted.” Cedric stated.
“What?” Soraya asked as she, at last, dropped back into a sitting position.
“You said there were five.” Cedric pointed at each of the bodies as if counting before adding “There’s six bodies.” Soraya simply rolled her eyes, apparently having decided to not dignify Cedric’s statement with a response.
She lightly tapped her horse on the side and maneuvered it towards one of the bodies. “Now this is interesting.”
“What?” Cedric asked as he walked over to the body.
“Check out this wound.” Soraya said as he approached. “See the missing eye. This is old. Like… years old. And the scarring…. This doesn’t look like it was caused by a battle wound.”
“So are you thinking torture or some kind of ritualistic sacrifice?” Cedric asked.
“Could have just lost the eye to an infection.” Soraya said with a shrug.
“But….?” Cedric pressed.
“But if you’ll notice his little guy is missing a finger on each hand.” She continued. “And look at this odd scar.” She prodded the creature’s hand with her foot. Cedric’s eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the scarring she had mentioned.
“Is… that a slave brand on his palm?” Soraya’s only response was another shrug.
A familiar feminine voice sounded from nearby brush, “They are slaves.” she said, before tossing a human head out to them. The figure cautiously stepped out from the brush, making sure to keep an eye on the ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ archer. “See the markings on its face? Those were tattooed on… willingly.” She paused and looked around at the small bodies that lay about, “Not like the brandings that these unlucky
“So there were actually seven of them” Cedric commented.
“Shut up Cedric” Soraya said with little venom. “Numi” She turned to the newcomer, “We didn’t think you would be joining us.”
Numi cocked her head slightly and smiled, “You thought I’d miss a foray into these lands?” She said, almost as if there was an expectation for them to know her.
“Seeing as how no sane person should enjoy this sort of thing,” Cedric turned towards Numi, “I assumed you would.”
“I’ve been enjoying myself.” Soraya commented. “Well, besides the tiny men trying to murder us.”
“You were standing on the back of your horse the entire fight. That is not something a sane woman would do.” Cedric countered. Soraya simply shrugged, a small smile forming on her face. “So how long have you been following us?”
Numi smirked, “About two days now. Well, whenever we left Joannah’s fortress.” She paused, “You guys talk a lot, except for the big red guy.” Her expression turned more serious as she approached Erex, “So, I know that you’re usually the life of the party.” She watched him as he stood silently, “Well, as they say, actions speak louder than words!!”
“Anyways.” Numi said, “Those little shits have been following you for a short while now. Any idea what or why they were so aggressive?”
“My guess is they are scouts.” Soraya commented. “Notice the lack of any real gear? They aren’t carrying everything they would need to survive out here. That means they either have someone else doing that or they left it at their camp. Either way its very concerning we didn’t notice them up till now.”
“You guys didn’t notice them.” Numi said with a snarky tone. “They’ve been following you for some time. I wasn’t sure if they were hostile at first. Guess that matter is settled.” she said before nudging one with her foot.
“She should complete our objective and get out of her.” Soraya shifted in her saddle. “I don’t want to be nearby once their main force notices they haven’t reported in.”
“Shall we go up there and see what's around?” Cedric pointed towards a nearby mountain. “Looks like we might be able to reach that ridge halfway up.”
Numi looked to the mountain, then back to Cedric, “Well, that’s not too far.” The sarcasm was obvious but she was first to turn towards the mountain, “Guess we should start then?”
“Guess we should” Soraya agreed, lightly kicking her horse into action. “Kohnians lead the way.” Cedric rolled his eyes, following without comment.
In the end the way up to Cedric’s ridge ended up being a meandering animal trail that went around huge boulders, across rivers, and almost felt to go down as often as up. All through it Soraya seemed confident in the route she was leading the party through and after two hours they found themselves on the ridge, overlooking a valley that opened up towards the east.
“By the gods” Was all Soraya could get out as she caught sight of the valley below. A valley filled with men and beasts.
After a moment of shocked silence Cedric commented “Even combined the armies of Cormyral and Riawin are dwarfed by… that.”
“That’s a lot of soldiers, what do you think they’re up to?” Numi said before pointing towards the beasts, “Are those things supposed to be cavalry? They’d tear a horse to shreds in a heartbeat.”
“Let’s just hope they aren’t as fast as horses are.” Soraya grimaced at the thought. “Well, we came, we saw, now shall we flee?”
Numi nodded at Soraya, “We need to be careful leaving though, imagine if that army got wind of us.” She was the first to turn, followed by the red knight. After only one pace, Numi turned to Erex, “What is this tough guy, I figured’ you want to stay and fight.”
“Well, well, well” A deep voice said from nearby. “Now aren’t we just a collection of mangy rats.” Soraya nearly jumped out of her saddle, so startled by the alarmingly close voice. She looked around the nearby woods, but saw nothing. Still, even if the individual had not spoken, she would have known something was amiss by now. She felt a chill that seemed to seep right into her bones, despite the temperature being somewhat warm that day. The wildlife had been silenced; the only things she could hear was the breathing of herself and her companions.
“Notice that accent?” Cedric whispered.
“What accent?” Soraya answered.
“Exactly.” Cedric’s answer came a moment before the owner of the voice revealed itself. He appeared to be a human, or something with a human shape, outfitted in full plate armor. A rarity in of itself, but even stranger was the fact that the armor was obsidian in color, except for a few details made in silver. He did not seem to be particularly large for a human, yet somehow he possessed the presence of a man much larger than he.
Numi took a defensive stance but refused to comment as she examined the new arrival for any weaknesses in the armor. The red knight grasped the handle of his sword but did not draw it, instead choosing to interact with the black armored warrior, “Who are you?” he said calmly.
“I am the vanguard of Ragnarok, Lord Goscelin.” The black knight answered. “I shall give you four one chance and one chance only to bend the knee to me and our goddess. Or you shall know me as Death.” He drew his arming sword and pointed it at the red knight, his left arm preparing to raise the kite shield it held into position.
Erex, the red knight stood tall. “I will not bow before you.” he said calmly. “Nor will anyone from my homeland.” After speaking he took an offensive stance, drawing his sword and pointing it towards Lord Goscelin, “You will fail.”
Goscelin let out a scream, a bloodcurdling battle cry that had all present shying away. Soraya in particular had trouble keeping her horse from bolting from the inhuman scream. Before any could fully recover Goscelin was already charging towards them. Finally bringing her steed under control, Soraya let loose an arrow moments before Goscelin reached the red knight.
“Mithril?!” Soraya cried as the arrow simply bounced off.
“Not quite.” Goscelin answered as he swung at the red knight.
Erex quickly dodged the swipe as he had anticipated such a move from a charging foe. Once he recovered his footing, Erex then thrust his sword straight at Lord Goscelin’s chest. Goscelin laughed as he stepped to the side, avoiding Erex’s sword. He then brought his shield up just as Cedric, who had circled around to the side, let loose a series of magic missiles. He laughed again as the missiles simply bounced off of his shield.
“Is that the best you have?!” Goscelin demanded as he swung his sword at Erex before taking a few steps back. Clearing some distance between he and Erex, he pointed his sword at Cedric and traced a circle in the air. The moment he finished the circle a bolt of lightning shot out of his sword’s tip, striking Cedric dead center in the chest. The mage crumpled to the ground without a sound.
Soraya let loose a second arrow much to the same effect as the first one. “Any ideas?” She asked as she fired yet a third arrow, this one bouncing off of Goscelin’s helmet. The black knight didn’t even seem to notice. “Cause things are going south fast!”
Erex jumped in to attack again, putting his full force into a wide swipe, to try and catch Goscelin off guard while Numi, seemingly out of nowhere, threw three daggers straight for the joints under the black knights arm. Goscelin managed to block Erex’s attack, but in doing so allowed Numi’s daggers to slip through his defense. Even so two of them simply bounced off. The third dagger seemed to sink in, but Goscelin, if he even noticed the wound, simply didn’t care. Instead he bashed Erex with his shield before putting his strength into a savage slash aimed for the red knight’s neck.
Numi yelled in anger as her daggers had no effect, “That poison should’ve dropped him in sec-” her frustrations were ended as blood splattered upon her face. Her gaze shifted towards the red knight, right as Goscelin’s sword finished separating Erex head from its body. Numi’s eyes widened in terror as the knights body fell heavy upon the ground, nearly crushing her if not for a swift roll out of the way.
“Go!” Cedric yelled as he struggled to rise to his feet. He was wounded, but not dead. Yet. “Go now! Warn Mycae and Cormyral!” He reached towards Goscelin, flames shooting forth from his fingers.
“We have to go!” Soraya cried as she rode up besides Numi, offering the woman a hand up as she glanced towards Cedric.
“Hurry!” The mage cried as Goscelin, safely behind his shield, began to close with the wounded mage.
Numi didn’t hesitate when offered a ride and quickly pulled herself up. She turned her attention towards Goscelin, throwing her last dagger towards his helmet, which had the same effect as Soraya’s arrow, “Damn.” she said as the dagger sparked across the helmet and into a nearby bush.
Soraya kicked her horse into a run the moment Numi was in position. She glanced back once, just in time to see Goscelin close with Cedric, but flinched away before the black knight struck a killing below. Even so she heard the mage’s scream of pain. And Goscelin’s parting words as they charged into the woods.
“Run swine! It will make no difference whether I end you today or a decade from now!”