Derek brought the news of the approaching rangers when he found Reyna. Grim determination filled her heart as she dropped her reins and raised her arm out, so the hawk could land on it. All her worst fears were being turned into reality, leaving her with only one course of action, it was time to fight in the open. No more sneaking around by the dark of night, false names, bribes, and lying. No, now she could be herself and drop the mask she'd hidden behind for the last ten years. It only takes a few minutes to fit the hawk with his battle gear, talon knives and leather helmet with the beak guard. Once prepared, the hawk once again takes to the air, flying above the ranger and her stallion. Next Reyna prepares herself, and reaches a hand back to push back the hood of her cloak. Engel Rangers were not allowed to carry any weapons other then knives and their bows, but Reyna hadn't been content to follow the rules blindly. She'd sewn a slim leather sheath into the lining of her woolen coat, so her slightly curved blade always rested just out of sight, running parallel with her spine. A ranger's coat was thick wool, and that thick fabric had helped her hide more then just her sword over the years. Reyna closes her hand over the hilt of the golden sword, instantly feeling whole as she draws it. A lanyard dangles from it, and she carefully threads her wrist through it, ensuring that if it should get knocked from her hand that it won't go far.
The panicked screams of the villagers cut through the night, making the horses nervous. Ryder picks up the whip on the seat next to him and casts his eyes back to the young man with the dark hair he'd spoken to a moment ago.
"Quickly, throw the woman and the babe in the back, then get your family. If you help me defend the wagon we might just get out of here alive. GO!"
Ryder was always a man to be prepared. Under his wool coat lay metal plate, protecting his torso, front and back. It took only a moment to pull his helmet from under the seat and thus protect his head from anything the Aerthan scum might try.
The screams reached her ears first, with her sword dangling from her wrist Reyna pulls an arrow from the quiver tied to the saddle in front of her knee. She rides into the village like an avenging death, black cloak streaming out behind her, and blood lust turning the silver flecks in her golden eyes red. The first aerthan ranger she sees is her commanding officer, Smith. A gleeful smile briefly flashes across her face as she nocks her arrow and draws back to fire. Smith has his back to her as he tries to drag a screaming woman into an alleyway. The woman screams and tries to pry his fingers from her hand, desperate to be free. Suddenly the man's grip loosens and she looks back over her shoulder in confusion, and then screams again as she sees the blood pouring from his neck as he drops to the ground, an arrow having traveled completely through his neck, fletching visible at the back, and arrowhead visible at the front.
Reyna steers her mount with her knees and fires half her arrows rapidly, taking out every ranger she sees, some die, others are wounded enough that they find it hard to slaughter the innocent. A few of them had once been something close to friends of hers, but now they are only the enemy. Reyna knows that if any of her fellow engel rangers had been at the barracks when news of the boy's attack had arrived that these men killed them.
She rides fast for the other end of the village, knowing that all too soon soldiers will arrive to finish what the rangers had started. A young aerthan ranger, barely more than a recruit, charges at her, sword raised. He gets just within striking distance when the sound of singing metal reaches his ears, he has no time to react, let alone look at the blade that separates his head from his shoulders. Blood drips hot and thick from the sword, as Reyna rides down another ranger, continuing her ride of death through the village.
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The horses stomped the earth, nostrtils flaring white plums of steam as riders pulled back on their reins, causing the horses’ heads to twist, to snort. Ren quickly grabbed the boy from the woman and yelled for her to climb into the wagon, which she barely managed to do. He handed her the child, but upon seeing this other Engels began to clamor over the side of the wagon, scrambling for a place in its bed, a place that seemed an island of safety amongst the sea of men and horses.
Ren turned away from the man saying, “As soon as there is an open path, take it.”
Each hand went to the butt of a goad, one hanging on each hip. His fists closed on the hilts and with the sound of metal sliding against metal he pulled them from the simple iron rings set into his belt to hold them in place.
For more than half his life Ren had fought what he was, taking on the guise of a man of peace, a simple shepherd. Soon that guise became who he was; a young man content to bow and scrape to their Aerthan Lords, to offer a shoulder to cry on when a family was burned out of their home, father or mother missing. He had been ridiculed by his sister since she was old enough to know their life was little better than beasts, but he had borne it all in the name of his family, for their safety. He knew what he was, that he was not born a shepherd, and that knowledge frightened up until a few moments ago.
Now, as the sound of his dying neighbors filled the night, he tore down the wall that had been built so strongly, so high. His blood grew hot, heart rate increasing to several hundred beats per minute. Awareness of his surroundings sharpened along with his sense of sight and hearing, his motor functions attained a higher level, and for once he let himself see the filaments that floated sporadically in the air. To his eyes they seemed nothing more than glowing motes of dust, but as he began to tap into that inner power they began to drift toward him. He was the flame, they the moth.
He turned to face the same direction the man’s horses faced. Three Ranger’s were advancing, having taken notice of the wagon, his drawing of what now had become weapons. They lowered spears that were topped with two feet of steel, saw-toothed on one side, razor edge on another. They were not meant to simply slice, but to rip and destroy.
One of the three hefted his spear, found its point of perfect balance, and threw the long shaft toward the man on the wagon, which in turn spurred Ren into motion. He leapt onto the wheel of the wagon, allowing only one booted foot to touch a wooden spoke, then launched himself from there onto the flank of one of the draft horses, barely touching down before he was airborne yet a third time. One of his rods struck down and swept the spear away with a tight clanging sound as steel met iron. He touched down again for a moment, a foot on the head of each horse. Knees bending he threw his body forward toward the men, aiming for the one that had foolishly tossed away his weapon.
He hit the man feet first as the Ranger attempted to draw a blade on the side of his saddle, but Ren’s feet crashed into his chest, followed by two fist, one against each temple as he swung his arms in, and then outwards toward the other two men. The one to his left was just swinging his spear around when the length of iron slammed against his unprotected neck, bringing instant unconsciousness, and possibly death. In either case Ren barely registered him falling from his saddle for the man to his right had managed to duck away from his attack and roll from his saddle in one swift fluid motion.
Ren followed suit, but landed somewhat awkwardly as he was unused to horses or the height, but still managed to bring one of his goads up in time to block a swinging blade as the Ranger attempted to decapitate him before he could gain his feet completely. Ren followed by spinning into the man.
He saw filaments spinning around them, more so than there had been previously, and he pulled on them, coaxed them silently into his body even as he dropped the goad in his left hand and struck out. His fist crashed into the Ranger’s throat with more force than should have been attained, crushing the unlucky man’s windpipe. He fell to the ground and Ren bent to scoop up his other goad, turning and searching for anywhere else he was needed. He felt an odd exhilaration, and also a shame. He had lived his entire life hidden away, done nothing when home after home was destroyed and his people killed.
“Go!” He shouted to the man in the wagon.
Kahli stepped out into the night to the sound of horses’ hooves pounding against the hard packed earth of the streets. She saw a rider race past, it appeared to be the Engel Ranger she saw about at times, and she seemed to be armed with not only a sword, but a bow, and was firing.
“Oh no…” the young girl said softly. She saw other rangers then, several streets down, lighting houses on fire, dragging men and women out into the streets to butcher them.
“Kahli, what-“ her mother started, coming to the door. A hand flew to her mouth to stifle a gasp.
The girl ignored her mother and ran forward a few steps, just enough room so that she could reach behind her and grip the two foot length of steel strapped to her back. It came free and into her hand, she swung it forward depressing the switch that allowed it to swing open into a four-foot crescent shape.
She saw the Ranger in her mind, calculated the strength required, swung her arm back, and then forward the release the sythe into the night. It made a thrumming sound as it sliced through the darkness, between shops on either side of the road, and then a sickening thunk sound as it slammed into one of the Rangers. He went down without a sound, the side of his face caved in.
Kahli ran to retrieve her weapon just as another of the men came from the house next to the one on fire, holding one of Kahli’s classmates by the hair. The girl was about to grab her sythe and swing it like a club when a thin shaft of metal speared the man from behind her shoulder, sliding between his ribs and through his heart before he had the chance to so much as protest the intrusion. Kahli looked back as her mother jerked the length of steel free.
“Find your brother,” the woman said as she turned to the sound of another scream down the same street. She held in her hands a flexible length of steel, seeming to be many cables wound together. It was something that could have been easily hid, she realized.
And Kahli went.
With over half her arrows gone, Reyna slides her bow back into it's case at the back of her saddle. It would not do to be out of ammunition so quickly. As buildings burn and fall around her, Eomer is forced to slow his pace. She manages to kill three more rangers before reaching the outskirts of the village. She arrives just in time to see three rangers charge her father, but before she can reach for her bow, the shepherd she'd met that morning leaps and deals with them. As soon as the man had dealt with the threat, Ryder had urged his team forward, wagon hurtling behind the animals. Any relief she might have felt at his safe departure is quickly wiped away when she hears hoof beats behind her.
At the urging of her legs, the large chestnut stallion pivots on his hind end, spinning in place to face the new threat. Four rangers approach, two of them Reyna recognizes, Brimley and Goff. They'd always been bastards, openly abusing their power. Years of avoiding being alone in a room with them, listening to their mocking tales, their insults and attempts to get her ejected from the rangers fills her mind. Reyna had hated them, and the lecherous look on Brimley's face stirs it to the surface once again. That hate curls around her heart, strengthening her.
"Oy, I told you we'd find her Goff. Don't kill her outright, I plan on having some fun with her."
The pair laugh, but Brimley's laughter is cut short by the dagger that had flown from the female ranger's hand. The other rangers immediately charge, swords bristling, as Brimley slips from the saddle in a lifeless heap. Reyna grips her sword in her right hand, and pulls a dirk from her boot with her left hand. The filaments around her seem to sing a song of vengeance, a call that only grows stronger with every drop of engel blood that seeps into the ground. Reyna answers that call, the song guiding her every movement. The filaments warn her of incoming attacks, and she blocks them with a speed she would have not thought possible. Her whole body becomes a dancing weapon, her blades merely extensions of herself. If the rangers had been wearing armor they might have stood a chance, but they weren't.
Every ranger she fells is replaced by another, and logic warns her that she should retreat and try to save herself, but her heart reminds her that every moment they fight her, is a moment they're not pursuing the engels fleeing the village. Death no longer scares her, the moment she put that arrow through her commander she'd become free, and at one with her soul. There were worse deaths then dying defending your people taking as many of your enemy with you, if this was the way the gods chose for her to go, then she was content.
The firefly filaments floated around his body as he spun between two rangers, their spears crossing behind him as they turned in response to his dance. His hands snapped backwards, flattened and hard, they struck each man in his unprotected throat. They crumpled to the ground and he stood there, breathing in deeply, blood pounding through his veins in time with his rapid heartbeat. All around him people were fighting, and yet for once it was not the Engels that were dying, but those that sought to destroy them.
A twig snapped behind him and he spun, too late as he saw a two-foot length of spear thrusting forward toward his chest. He began to move, knowing he would only be able to deflect it so that it wouldn’t skewer him, just likely cut his chest open. Before he could meet either scenario however, a black shape crashed out of the night and into the shaft of the spear, snapping it in two. The steel portion fell harmlessly to the ground, but the man came on, caught within a killing frenzy and unheeding the whirring sound that Ren could now distinguish from the myriad of battle sounds around them.
The scythe caught him in the head on its return trip, splintering his spine and showering the night with bits of his skull. A few moments later Kahli was there, picking her blade from the heap of flesh that was her victim.
“You found Mother?” Ren asked, bending to pick up the two halves of the spear, now two separate weapons. One was two feet of wood topped with two feet of steel, while the other was two feet of wood with a butt end capped in beveled iron.
“Of course,” Kahli replied as she whipped the scythe up and snapped it back into one long piece of iron. Rather than its crescent shape it now looked to be a single two-foot long piece of dark grey iron.
“Was she a Fist?” Ren asked, his voice quiet. Kahli looked shocked. “What, you didn’t think I’d figure that out after what I saw you do today? This changes a lot. We-“ He was cut off as a cheer went up among the standing Engels. He turned and saw that no Ranger stood, save one. He would have went to speak to her, but as the cheer died down a new not-so far off sound replaced it.
Several men turned and faced the direction of Dane, and were the first to see the glow of light coming toward them, mobile and moving fast.
“Oh no,” Ren said, hands tightening on his make-shift weapons. “We have to get people out of here, NOW!”
“In what?” Kahli demanded. The only wagon they knew of now was on its way out of town, filled to capacity and beyond.
“The horses,” Ren said, grasping at straws. “Get as many on horses as you can and get the hell out of here.”
He looked toward the oncoming army of men and soldiers, and in them saw his own death.
Her mouth is dry and tastes of blood and ashes. Everything smells like death, and the blood covering her hands shows that's she has been part of the cause. As the ragged cheer rises from the villagers, Reyna glances around her. Amazingly the majority of the dead in her sight are rangers, showing that she hadn't been the only one to fight. A flash of blue eyes catches her attention, and Reyna is somewhat surprised to see the shepherd still alive, talking with a young woman. Both resemble each other, black hair, blue eyes, and they stand with the same bearing.
Knowing that things can only get worse, Reyna dismounts and quickly scavenges the ranger bodies nearby for anything she can use, and for her missing knives. She's rewarded with two full quivers of arrows, a handful of coins, and some extra knives. Smiling coldly to herself, she stashes the coins in her saddle bags, ties the quivers to her saddle and slips the knives where she can get to them easily. As the voices of the engel villagers quiet, a new noise can be heard. Reyna doesn't even need to guess, she knows.
She can hear the shepherd telling his sister to help him get people out now, and to use the horses.
Can you help Eomer? Will any of the other ranger mounts help?
The stallion snorts and then lets out a clarion call to his comrades, calling the now riderless horses to his side. Some ignore him, but a good many answer with whinnies of their own, and come trotting from their various hiding places to stand near the stallion. Reyna pats the neck of her friend in thanks, and quickly climbs back into the saddle.
"Quickly! Anyone who can ride, mount a horse! Put the children on behind you, these animals are hardy, they can hold more than one person!"
The less panicked obey Reyna's order, children put on behind their elders, clinging to them in fear. As soon as a handful are mounted, the ranger raises her voice once again.
"Go! Ride for the mountains, and don't look back! Warn any others you come across, but don't ever stop!"
A chestnut mare, loaded with three children, the oldest not being more then thirteen, jigs in place, nervous. Reyna rides Eomer over and points a finger towards the mountains cloaked in darkness. The child nods in understanding and kicks the mare. As the hoof beats of the retreating horses ring through the night, Reyna turns her own mount back to face the oncoming tide of death. Sword hanging from her wrist, Reyna readies her bow, and takes a deep breath, smiling afterwards.
"Today is a good day to die."
Last edited by .rosilin; 12-13-2011 at 11:34 PM.
He listened as the Ranger spoke, nodding his head slightly at her words and actions. From her companionship with a falcon he had noted earlier in the night to the way the horses acted, he could tell she was a Speaker, one who could commune with the animals in their own strange language of thought and images. He looked down at Kahli, the girl had not a touch of blood on her tan clothing, face exuberant, and sighed.
“You’re not going to leave with the others, are you little sister?”
“Not even a chance of it, big brother,” she said, beaming up at him. Where he saw their death rushing toward the village she only saw another chance to be what she was meant to be; a warrior.
“Children,” A voice said from the shadows between two un-burnt buildings. The darkness swirled, lit to their eyes by those glowing fragments of power, and from that darkness stepped their mother. She had gained a sword somewhere, a normal type that all Rangers were allowed to have, and she as well seemed untouched by scrape or cut. Ren looked down at his own bruised body, noting several rents in his shirt and pants, and more than one patch of dried blood.
Ren started, “Mother, you have a lot of explaining to do. Why did you-“
“Later,” his Mother said, interrupting him. She stepped up beside the two and pointed toward the oncoming light with the tip of her sword. “I never saw this happening… I should have prepared you two better.” She shook her head, then looked at them both with hard gazes. “Know this. The Filaments are yours to use, and as children of a Fist you can use them in ways others cannot. They are weak in this land though, so using them too much does nothing but weaken them. Remember that, tonight and after.”
With the blood rushing through his veins and pounding in his temples, he could feel a gate of sorts opened within the core of his being, and through the core he was able to see the minute flecks of magic as they floated lazily through the air on unseen currents. He could tell, now that she mentioned it, that they seemed less violent, less full than earlier when the battle had begun.
“We understand, Mother. But why not bef-“
“There is no time Ren. If anything should happen to me tonight, I want you and your sister to return home. Not our home here, but in Laene. Talk to your childhood friend, Ardelia, her family holds something for our family that you may need. If you don’t need it, it is at least your birthright. Remember.”
Ren and Kahli both nodded, and would have said more but now the sound of feet pounding on dirt, a multitude of them, and autos filled the air. Dim lights from the filament-based head lamps and the hand-held lanterns of the soldiers and city folk brightened the fields they ran and drove through. The three spread out, among other Engels that had never before been willing to fight, and Ren found himself standing close to the female Ranger.
“Thank you for what you did tonight,” he said, hefting the broken spear in his hands, one portion with a two-foot length of steel on its end, the other with a butt banded in studded iron that he would use as a cudgel.
To his other side, and spread out more so than the others for she would need room to swing, stood Kahli, his fifteen year old sister whom was getting everything she ever wanted; the power to fight back. She gripped part of her scythe and snapped it forward, allowing the two halves to unfold into its crescent form. The air around them was so quiet that he could hear the iron singing as small vibrations sifted along its joints and hinges.
Reyna's eyes note the line of engels ready to resist the oncoming army. It's a pathetic showing, but a showing all the same. Nobody really looks at her, and when they do they quickly avert their eyes if she meets their gaze. Guilt, shame, anger, fear, it all shows in the eyes of the villagers. Once again she turns her eyes towards the oncoming army, waiting for them to come within range of her arrows.
"Thank you for what you did tonight."
The shepherds word's surprise Reyna, as she had not noticed he had come to stand nearby, she snorts softly in response. A little smile curves her lips as she looks down from her seat on Eomer towards the dark haired man.
"I told you that you didn't know me. I've been fighting for years, I want no thanks."
Truth rings behind her cold words. She'd been fighting most of her life, fighting to protect her people, in any way possible. Shedding the blood of her fellow rangers leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, not all of them had been bad. Quite a few had been good men forced into a corrupt system, and beaten into submission. Most had not had the guts to stand up, but they had looked the other way when Reyna asked for a shift change or suddenly disappeared. As much as finally being able to fight out in the open has made her feel free, it also makes her long for peace again. But she'll continue to fight none the less, because she will not leave the innocent defenseless.
The lights of the aerthan's lanterns and automobiles come closer, Reyna draws her bow, ready to fire.
“Fair enough,” Ren muttered in response to the Ranger’s admonition that he didn’t know her. It was the truth, for who among the populace of Stane Village would ever have even tried to get to know a Ranger, even one of their own blood. Years of fear, misdeeds, and rotten men and women among their ranks had seen to that quite thoroughly.
To his left and right the Engel population, what was left alive and had remained behind for the moment, stretched out in a pitiful line. They were only perhaps twenty strong, and from the look of the oncoming horde they had at the barest minimum two hundred angry men and women to contend with.
Even with the warning his mother had given them, Ren couldn’t help but draw in a deep breath, several flickering fragments of light sifting into his body as though they were inhaled. Without knowing exactly how he did it, he directed those bits of power through the various veins of his body and finally into the realm of his eyes. The azure glow became brighter and he could see clearer, farther. From what lay before him now he saw that the front lines of the oncoming mass were plain city-folk, with a larger military force not too far behind. The military had apparently let their vehicles fall back enough so as to keep the citizens before them, to use as sacrifices.
“Sixty or Seventy citizens, more than a hundred soldiers…” he said softly so only those immediately around him could hear. He wracked his brain, trying to figure out if it was best to fall back and attack them within the confines of the village, or to meet them head on in the open fields.
Sadly for most of them, that decision was taken out of his hands.
One of the village’s BlackSmiths, wielding a hammer as large as a small child, bellowed in rage that had been pent up for well over ten years, ever since the night his wife and child had been taken, later found dead along the road to Dane. The large man stumbled forward at first, but then found a graceful gate that began to eat the distance between himself and the men fast approaching. His hammer raised, the man started drawing in the filaments around him, perhaps unknowingly, and was no doubt increasing his strength several times over.
Unable to stand and watch, more began that disastrous run, men and women that had only hours ago been weavers, bakers, smiths, or fathers.
“Lost Gods preserve us,” Ren said softly, then began to run as well. He could feel Kahli beside him, and his mother beside her. Filaments of power and light were drawn to the three as moths to a flame, empowering each as their ancestors had once been empowered. He felt Kahli leap into the air beside him, saw her spinning in his peripheral vision, and felt the wind howl as she released her four-foot long scythe. It split the air, whining as it crashed through the first rank of men some hundred yards away, and continued on, rising as it reached the lifespan of its forward momentum and arcing back, cutting another man down on its return pass. Ren ducked and the young girl reached a hand out to snap it out of the air from where his head had been. Before tonight she would have looked at him sheepishly, but now she only gathered her strength and threw it once more.
He gritted his teeth and wrapped his hands tighter around the spear halves in each hand, and in seconds was among the well-dressed and the ragged, waging war against axes, hammers, pitchforks, and old swords. Every now and then a pop and hiss would sound, signaling a civilian that had managed to buy a gun and keep it hidden, that thought now was a good time to go lawless.
Behind it all, the army came.
Reyna kept the stallion back when the ragged charge began. Filling her lungs, she draws her arm back, she picks a target and then looses her arrow. The wooden shaft hums through the air, unheard over the screams and battle cries. The arrow ceases it's flight when it buries it's head in the chest of an aerthan carrying a large hammer. Reyna continues to fire, picking off every enemy she can with the arrows she'd scavenged from her dead comrades. All too quickly the battle becomes to close together for her to take the risk of continuing to fire. She stows her bow and then grabs the sword that had been hanging from her wrist. At the urging of her heels, the stallion launches forward. Reyna looks for the place she'll be most effective. On her left the shepherd and his family fight together, their weapons leaving only death behind them. To her right a small group of engels fight for all their worth, but unlike the shepherd don't have the inborn skill for it, and thus are fairing badly. Eomer obeys his rider's aides and charges at the group of aerthans surrounding the villagers. Screams echo through the night as horseflesh collides with aerthan bones. The nimble manage to flee, but the clumsy fall under the hard hooves of the stallion. Reyna continues that way, always moving, using her horse as a battering ram while striking at heads, necks, shoulders, and arms with her sword. Back and forth along the ranks she charges, trying to keep as many of her people alive as she can. For every moment they live, they take another aerthan life and give their families a chance to get to safety.
The head of his short-spear stabbed deep into a man’s belly even as Ren moved past the dying Aerthan, the man’s rusty sword falling from shaking hands as he sought to plug the hole created as Ren jerked the blade free of his gut. Another Aerthan, this one wielding a short spiked cudgel, rose up in front of him. Before the man could even think to swing his large club Ren was already striking, sending the beveled iron butt of the other piece of the broken spear to slam against the man’s temple. The man crumpled, and for a moment space opened up around the Engel.
As had happened with the Rangers, the citizens of Dane stood little chance against the equally untrained, yet more powerful, Engels. Soon the anger and rage that had consumed the people began to subside, then reverse all together as men began throwing down their make-shift weapons, and either sitting on the ground or running back the way they came, directly toward the army.
The army itself had stopped several hundred yards from the scene of the battle, seeming content to wait on the outcome. As the conclusion of the skirmish became apparent however, they fell into motion. Large war machines, wood on iron frames set on larger than normal wheels, rolled forward ponderously; soldiers crouched behind the armor that rose four feet from the wheel base, armor made of one solid piece of wood, over a foot thick. Sticking up from those mobile barricades were the large round muzzles of rifles.
Alongside the war machines marched ranks of infantry, each also holding a rifle to their shoulders, clad in the black armor of the Dane Lord, with his single tower emblazoned on their chests. The leather would be strong enough to stop an arrow, and as none of the Engels possessed guns, they were in no danger of the steel spikes the weapons shot.
Ren looked around, maybe fifteen Engels stood unharmed beyond a simple cut or bruise, and they faced over a hundred trained soldiers with superior weapons. His gaze traveled behind them to the empty streets, save for the dead, and the slowly burning homes spread out. Embers cracked, popped, and sailed into the night to join with the slowly swirling particles of power. He could still feel that energy, that radiant warmth coursing through his veins, but at the same time he knew too little. Perhaps if he and his sister had trained, if his mother had been trained in the old ways of fighting, and they could act more out of practice than a sort of racial memory, then they may have a chance. As it was…
“We’re going to die here,” he said softly, to no one in particular.
“No you’re not son,” his mother said, stepping up to his side. Though he towered above her, she seemed taller, stronger, now holding two swords, one in each hand. “You and Kahli have to get out of here. Return to our first home, find Ardelia, her family has something for you.”
Ren looked down at her, astonished.
“You think we would leave you, leave our friends that are staying here to fight?” He asked, voice incredulous.
“You will. They are not Fists, they do not have duties. For all I know, you two may be the last of us. In any case, you have to find the descendants of our-“
The last words were blown from her body as she rocked backwards, feet leaving the ground as a rush of blood was thrown from the center of her back. Ren never saw the inch-long spike enter her chest, or slice through her heart, but a split-second later he heard the retort crack across the field. It came not from the lines of soldiers, but from a Seer farther back. He had probably watched the battle, and would now pick off those that would pose the most threat to the soldiers. He looked to Kahli, but she must have had the same thought for her eyes watched intently, and all of a sudden she lifted her scythe and a metallic ping sounded as it deflected a spike. Tears were streaming from her eyes and she looked on the verge of running toward the soldiers, but instead she stood over her fallen mother and Ren as he knelt on the bloody ground beside her, watching.
Blood. Everything is blood. Her hands are sticky with it, her coat is splattered. Thick and hot, it drips from her blade between kills. A small part of herself is horrified at what she's wrote, but it's kept quiet by her logical brain. If it's to be her or them, she will do her best to make sure she's the one who survives. As the aerthan civilians thin, Reyna notes the army waiting. Cold grips her gut, she knows what they're planning. Years of serving with the aerthan rangers, sometimes working with the lord's soldiers, had taught her more about their tactics then she likes to think about. They're going to mow all the engels down, once enough of their civilians have died. Gods, it will be a slaughter.
Eomer, are there any other horses nearby? Maybe some of us can escape?
She felt the stallion's consciousness shift as he scents for any others of his kind.
Three are nearby, Derek, fetch them.
The hawk raises up into the sky, disappearing into the blackness, and leaving the aerthan he'd been harrying to flee, blood streaming from his head. If Reyna had been a full blooded Speaker she could have commanded the horses to come, but it isn't so, and so she hopes that Derek will be successful.
She'd ended up near the shepherd and his family again, their pull on the nearby filaments having kept her alert to their location. With no one to teach her, Reyna had learned to feel for the slender threads of power herself. She'd spent hours every day as a child, learning to feel the world around her through the threads.That habit had turned to an obsession, and she'd practiced until she could feel the smallest living creature approaching her. It requires a great deal on concentration, but her study of the filaments had helped her smuggle engels to safety for years. Now though she wishes she had practiced using the filaments to strengthen her, and help her fight.
The sound of whistling metal reaches her ears just before a burning pain flairs in her left arm, just below her shoulder. A glance shows her green sleeve wool flowering into a red blossom around the bit of metal sticking from her arm. A hiss of pain escapes her lips, and the fingers of her left hand loses their grip on the reins. She's tempted to try to pull the thing from her arm, but reason wins out. If she removes it her blood loss will be too heavy, it's better to let it hold the flow of her life at bay for the moment. The thud of a body hitting the ground pulls her back to the present, and she sees the mother of the shepherd on the ground. Blood welling from her chest. Another whistle of flying metal comes, and this time Reyna manages to deflect it with her blade. All hope of surviving this battle begins to fade, leaving nothing but a cold hole in it's place. With the cold comes a clarity, with a great deal of effort she picks up the reins again but her grasp is loose, asking her mount to move over next to the shepherd and his mother. If she's going to die, then she rather die next to someone who isn't a complete stranger.
A hawk's scream rips across the night sky, followed by the pounding of hooves. The realization that Derek had been successful fills the ranger's heart with a bittersweet glee, and a laugh swells from her chest. The nearest aerthan soldiers look startled, and even, possibly, a little fearful of the crazy woman who laughs amid all the wreckage. Another metal spike flies through the air, catching Reyna in the thigh. This time it's just a graze, slicing the thick wool homespun and leaving a bloody track. She ignores the wound however, as the horses have come in sight. They're Eomer's pasture mates, two bays and a grey. The horses slide to a stop within feet of her stallion, breath coming from their nostrils in white plumes.
He held her head cradled against his legs, heard metal pinging off Kahli’s scythe, others around him screaming as they were hit. He had not been the only one to hear his mother’s words though, for another Engel, his mother’s age, knelt beside him and gripped his bloodied hands.
“You have to go young master, you and your sister.” She said softly, urgently.
“I won’t leave everyone,”
“I will hold them off and allow everyone to escape, you just go, now!”
Ren looked from the ashen face of his mother to the tan skin of the woman, her large green eyes glowing softly. For the first time he could see Filaments all around them slowly drifting toward the woman, as though she were inhaling them as she would air.
Another metallic spike pinged off Kahli’s weapon and she looked back to him, to her mother, tears shining iridescently on her cheeks, reflecting the brilliant blue glow radiating from her eyes. If he stayed, she would stay this he knew. His head whipped around at the sound of galloping horses, then back to the ranger, who was also bleeding. Finally he looked to the woman and nodded, just as a metallic spike struck her in the shoulder and spun her around, flinging her backwards and onto the ground.
The grass around them seemed to moan as her cry split the air and she hit the cold earth. She lay there for a moment, dazed, but pushed to her feet before Ren could go to her, waving him off with her other hand. Again he looked and saw the Filaments moving toward her, but faster this time, as though she was ingesting every ounce of power in their immediate area, which it seemed she very likely was doing.
“Go!” the woman shouted, and suited her words by taking several steps forward and throwing up her good arm, palm facing the oncoming soldiers. Another spike split the air and would have captured one of her eyes, but at that moment a length of weed, or grass, snatched it from the air and swallowed it. All along the perimeter of the Engels thick plants shot from the earth, some up and some forward, crashing through warmachines and men alike.
“It won’t keep for long, go!” she shouted this at them, bloody saliva spitting from between her stained lips. The soldiers must have stopped their advance and set up beyond the plants, for the sound of popping filled the air and at places the grass was split by sharp spikes, for the most part hurtling harmlessly across the field.
Ren bellowed as he turned to the horses and climbed onto one, weaponless. He reached down and pulled Kahli up behind him. Four other Engels managed to clamor up onto the remaining two horses, but as they galloped away more shots rang out, and in the light of the fire Ren could see one horse followed them, empty of riders, and other horse’s side was painted with the blood of the injured that rode his back.
Two miles past the village, into the foothills of the mountains, two of the horses rode riderless.
Eomer's hooves pounds the dirt, heading for the mountains and the thick woods at their base. He does his best to stay in a straight line, as every time he has to turn or swerve he feels Reyna slip. The scent of her blood is thick in his nostrils, encouraging him further to get them to safety. Derek flies ahead, scouting the way, golden eyes on the watch for anyone or anything that might cause them trouble. Reyna clings to her horse, right hand entwined into the mane, while her left arm dangles uselessly at her side, blood dripping from her fingertips.
As the miles slip by, darkness that isn't the night starts to pull at the edges of her vision. Keeping her eyes open becomes harder and harder, her pounding in her ears. It's only stubbornness and muscle memory keeping her in the saddle at this point. Her stallion slows to a trot when the footing becomes rough close to the forest, and the downward transition throws her upper body forward. Low on strength she rests her head on the warm neck for a minute before pushing herself upright again. She can hear the other horses following, and a tired glance over her shoulder reveals that only one of the horses carries passengers. Her fading vision doesn't reveal who is on the horse, and she doesn't particularly care at this point in time.
Eomer finds a deer path and enters the thick woods, the underbrush is thick, hiding most of the ground from them. Only the slightest bit of starlight filters through the canopy, and the deep darkness makes Reyna feel blind. She doesn't bother to fight, closing her eyes and just paying attention to staying in the saddle. Eomer is forced to slow to a walk, and Reyna is thankful for the change. A flutter of wings nearby her head, makes Reyna open her eyes, only to see blackness. It's the soft grasp of talons on her right shoulder that confirms her thought that Derek has returned.
There's a cave, half mile ahead with a small stream inside. It's been empty for awhile, it's a good place to stop.
Eomer doesn't answer in words, but Reyna can feel his thoughts, revealing that he'd scented the water and had already started heading that way. Dead pine needles and leaves make the soft fall of hooves almost silent. The ground begins to slope upwards, and Reyna is forced to dedicate all her strength to keeping herself in the saddle for a bit longer. Some said the woods were cursed, others said that spirits still walked among the trees, but what Reyna knew was that almost no one, aerthan included, has ever had the guts to enter the quiet place. Few had ever been willing to go further then the tree line during the day, and almost none ever entered at night. She had never been scared of the wood, and had learned that it is an excellent place to hide long ago.
It's hard to see in the dark, but it looks like a large boulder is ahead. The stallion steps carefully around it, and through some shrubs. He emerges on the other side in the cave. Eomer walks about ten feet in and then stops. Reyna barely hears the other horses follow, as the floor is covered in moss and old leaves, if her nose is correct. Reyna opens her eyes and swallows heavily. The thought of dismounting is proving to be daunting. She wiggles her toes experimentally, letting the irons slip from her feet. A debate wages in her brain, as to the best way to continue. Finally she swings forward, her left leg going behind her, and dismounts. As soon as her feet hit the ground she begins to waver, and it's only her right hand still grasping Eomer's mane tight, and the hawk's flapping wings on her right shoulder, that keep her from falling outright. It takes a few deep breaths to stop her world from spinning, and then she quickly walks away from her mount and towards a larger rock just within her dim sight. She does her best not to make a sound, but a small groan of pain escapes her lips as she sinks to the ground. Her contact with the ground reveals that she must have been injured as they fled, as there is a stabbing pain behind her left shoulder that wasn't there before.
"Heh, I'm full of more holes then one of Luke's old shirts, Eomer."
The stallion steps closer, and gently nuzzles his mistress' hair.
As they rode, Ren could feel hot tears leaking through the back of his shirt, where Kahli clung and shed the emotion that she’d kept in reign in the field, even as he was almost falling apart. He squeezed his own eyes shut, trying to block out the image of that red rose blossoming in the center of his mother’s chest, the jerk of her body when it expelled the metal spike from her spine. Turning his head he could see the dying light in the far distance, brighter than it should be, and knew the soldiers were torching the village, scouring everything away with fire.
“We’ll kill them all,” his younger sister whispered behind him, voice thick with emotion. He could only nod and turn back to face the direction in which they were headed, noting soon their entry into the forest. He saw the Ranger slumping in her saddle, and called out to her, but she either could not hear him, or chose to ignore him; he assumed the former. Soon a hawk, one that he had heard earlier in the night likely, alighted on her shoulder and their pace increased, moving now with a purposeful plodding. Slowly the path crept upwards, shedding the dry soil that had been the ground to give way to rocks and loose stone, which was good as horses left no tracks on granite.
Sometime later they came to a boulder, moved around it, and Ren found himself in a cave, the gurgle of a stream nearby. He watched as the Ranger dismounted, then felt Kahli shift and slide from the horse, her soft boots making no sound as she touched the stone floor. Immediately she rushed to the woman, calling back at Ren over her shoulder for him to find the stream, and bring water.
He did so, sliding off the horse with more grace than would have been possible twelve hours ago. He followed the sound of the slowly churning water, and found it running deep within the blackness of the cavern further back from the entrance as it make it invisible from the mouth, even with torchlight most likely. From his waist he took the empty water skin that he always used when in the fields, a brown leather construction of his own make, and filled it in the ice-cold water. He looked up while waiting for it to fill, noting segmented parts of the roof, cracks that led to more darkness, and had an idea.
He walked back to find Kahli rid of her school coat, and if not gleefully, happily cutting it to shreds, for bandages and wraps. She looked up as he squatted beside her and handed her the skin, which she at once put to the Ranger’s lips, spilling some of the cool liquid onto dry lips.
“She going to be ok?” Ren asked, noting the various dark patches marking the places where the woman had been hit.
Kahli nodded, though hesitantly. “The bleeding stopped on its own, so no arteries were hit, but she did lose a lot of blood before it clotted. I don’t have any herbs though, so I’m afraid of infection…” her voice trailed off, for they both knew what having no medicine and being faced with infection could do, from years of experience.
“I’m going to gather some wood, if she comes around ask her about medicine, perhaps she has some poultices in her saddlebags or something. If not I’ll find what I can.” He put a hand on his sister’s shoulder, squeezed, and left her to her ministrations. He was glad she had something to do.
As for his current task, he set about scouting around outside the cave, collecting what dead and dry would he could find that would burn, realizing after a time just how well he could see in the darkness.
Consciousness came back to Reyna with a rush. It took her a moment to remember how she ended up on the floor of a cave. Movement next to her put her on alert, but then she recognized the dark shape of the Shepherd's sister. The woman is trying to tend to her wounds, and Reyna's mind instantly tries to catalog what she has in her pack.
"There's a med-kit in the saddlebags, big pouch, left hand side. Thank you for helping."
She tries to sit more upright, but the movement further irritates her wounds, she can feel a fresh trickle of blood start down her arm. The muffled noise of the woman rustling in the saddlebag, looking for the med-kit, softly echos against the walls. Reyna does her best to stay still until the woman returns with the large med-kit in hand.
"Okay. I've got a spike stuck in my left arm, it needs to be removed, and I don't think I'll be able to do it myself. But first I'll need your help to get my coat off. I've got a wound on my back, near my left shoulder blade by the feel of it, so that'll be the tricky part after my arm."
Reyna finds that she wishes they had some source of light, as it's too dark to see how the young woman is reacting to the ranger's matter of fact tone in the face of her injuries. She tries to recall what the girl looked like, but all she can really remember is that she has blue eyes and is shorter then her brother.
"Oh, I suppose things would be easier if we knew eachother's names. I'm Captain Reyna Lanakila, or should I say former Captain? Heh, I don't really care."
Bitter amusement tints her words, as she realizes that she'll never serve with the other rangers again.
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