Verida - Avinas

56th day of Banem, year 146, Era of Ke'larri


We've been on since yesterday evening. Barely a rest. He stumbles slightly ahead with his shitty expression and those pompous golden flowers on the hilt of his sword. Some kind of expensive steel. Perfectly sharpened because he’s never used the damn thing. What a great surprise to Althaes when their beloved princes return. And Aelathari with the gall to marry Aeliana off to him like that’ll stop him breaking the treaty as soon as he takes the throne.

We work our way through the woods at Ariele’s lead, his darksight the strongest, but I stay fixed on Varydris’ movements. He tramples everything, each step cracking out loudly around us. Even Sy, as uncoordinated and night-blind as he is, makes less of a stir. I think to put an arrow in Varydris' back when he trips over a branch, crashing to the floor, crunching leaves and snapping twigs ringing out abruptly. Tara’s eyes are on me. Ariele puts his hand on Varydris, keeps him down. Waiting for what we might hear in the dark.

Nothing.

We move forward once again and Tara falls back to meet me. Let it fucking go, she barely whispers. Do you want to die out here, she asks. No? Then focus on right now and keep your fucking wits about you. Then she’s back up towards the front, scanning the trees.

She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what I’m going to do to the first Hnegeeran I see. Everyone else can sit back and watch because I’ll take them all. I’ll watch the life leave them and take the heads to Farwood and put them on the border on stakes and then I’ll wait forever just to kill any others who dare to cross.

We’ve walked for hours in speckled moonlight, still nowhere near Farwood, but even here I think I can smell the burning bodies. Nobody seems troubled, but they wouldn’t be, spoiled the way they are. Nothing but softness in their lives.

Trees grow dense, trunks becoming ever more massive. Wild oaks and snake trees, their ancient roots twisting and weaving through each other, creaking and rustling. Blotting out the moon. And no other sound. No birds or flies, no ina that dance and glow. The air is thick, the ground littered with broken branches, fallen saplings, faint tracks in the dirt. Ariele stops us.

He goes far ahead. Crouches low behind a fallen tree, eyes fixed through the deep woods ahead. We stay behind, silent and still. Eventually, he returns.

“A single small fire in the distance,” he says under his breath, “I need Varydris and Sy to stay here. Only darksight ahead.”

With that, we start again and I’m no good with ranged sight, but I strain my eyes to make out the glimmer. Sure enough, it flickers far off like a ghost. I stare into it. Imagine the Hnegeerans huddled around it, my arrows sinking into their skulls one by one. We tread slowly and the light grows brighter. Eventually, I don't have strain to see it. The others have their weapons drawn and I think to do the same before the sound starts like an animal barreling through the trees.

Tara waits too long before she yells at us to move and it slams into me. I feel the sickening crack in my shoulder and scream out, catch a glimpse of the burly Hnegeeran before his fist comes down over my face. Warm blood floods my nose and I dig for the knife at my waist when he shouts out in pain. He turns and is on Ariele, long arrow pointing out of his back.

Ariele is a flash of color, a blade through the neck, and the man crumples to the ground, choking for air. Tara's hands are on me and a soft golden glow emanates from under them. Shoulder clicks back into place and she quickly hoists me up. Pushes me forward.

"It's not fully healed, okay? Be easy."

She looks to speak to the others, now on alert. She begins as Sy and Varydris crash through the trees towards us, panting.

"They'll be on us any moment, we need to move," she says.

"We need to see the camp and gauge the numbers, " Ariele asserts, "one Hnegeeran patrol and one campfire. If they have a full force, it's not here."

"Could be a trick," Varydris whispers.

Ariele nods.

"Stay back if you like. We can likely outrun them if the force is too large to handle," he says.

Tara speaks up again, "we move now."

They nod to each other and wave us forward. Then we are running towards the camp at full speed, treading as lightly as possible. I see the men scattering out into the woods from the campsite and they must hear us because one calls out to the others and they gather themselves at the treeline, each with great axes and maces at the ready. I count them out.

Six of them. Six of us.

And a hastily built cage with a dark-haired woman on the other side of the fire. She screams and tugs at the bars.

As we rush in, weapons drawn, Aeliana swings herself up into a tree and begins loosing arrows. I draw my sword as one of the men spits at me, swinging his ax. Ugly bitch, he says and I duck under the blade. I bring my sword up. Drag it through the armpit and he loses his grip on his sword. He dives and I swing at the back of his skull. When he drops, I hack away again and again.

There’s an ease to it - Aeliana hits her mark through the right eye, Tara takes one out at the knees and Varydris pierces him through the chest. Ariele gracefully cuts through two even as they flank. Then Aeliana is down from the tree and meets Sy and Varydris where they struggle with the last one standing.

Tara grabs me. Give the camp a look, will you? Then she’s back in the fight. The last is all but feral and I hear Sy go down with a yelp.

I quickly break off. Circle around the bedrolls, scanning everything. Looking around, there’s nothing to suggest a plan. No documents, no maps, not even letters. Very little food. Supplies for maybe a day. As I round the fire, the woman’s screams become clear.

“Please! PLEASE! You have to help me! I’m not with them!” She cries out.

I draw my bow and her screams  become unintelligible. Aeliana, sweat beaded on her forehead, joins me and the woman jumps back as she begins to hack at the bars. I keep my arrow pointed, but something stirs in me. When I meet her pale eyes under a crop of dark curls, she reminds me of Cynea.

“Please hurry! There are more of them coming! I overheard them talking about it!” she yells, and the sight of her fangs brings me back.

The last Hnegeeran soldier has broken off and makes a line for us. Ariele and Varydris rush him at the same time. Ariele going for the back of the knee. Varydris for the throat. Varydris meets him first and makes contact, blood spilling out over the ground. He swings again and takes the head clean off.

Ariele freezes.

“We needed him,” he says through gritted teeth, “we needed someone to question.”

“We’ll make do without one more filthy Hnegeeran,” Varydris retorts.

“Will we?” Ariele starts. He’s shaking with anger I’ve never seen.

Aelianna has the door down and throws the Hnegeeran woman to the ground, tying her hands as Ariele continues.

“HOW ARE WE GOING TO MAKE DO WITHOUT AN INTERROGATION?” he roars and Tara steps between them.

Varydris gestures broadly towards the dark-haired woman. She finally sits quietly, in ropes at Aeliana’s feet. Her pales eyes are glued to Ariele.

“Someone who was clearly their prisoner?” he growls, fists balled tightly. Knuckles white.

“I overheard their plans! I heard everything,” the woman calls out, jerking forward. Aeliana kicks her ferociously.

“She’ll suffice. We’re taking her,” Tara says, “We need to get back to Avinas.”

She gives Ariele a long look and he finally backs down.

“They captured me and took my things,” the woman cries as Aeliana begins to drag her by her bonds, “Please! The cloak and bag.”

She points towards Sy’s feet and I laugh.

“I promise you won’t need them,” I say.

Her eyes widen in fear before her expression drops completely.

“Then kill me now. Go home without your precious information.”

She stares at Ariele once again and he sighs before hoisting her bag over his shoulder. He moves without a word and Tara ushers us along. 

I lag behind. Scan the trees, gathering the courage to bolt. To run all the way to Farwood. What good would it do to stop me? They already have what they need.

Tara’s hand tugs gently at my elbow.

“Another day,” she says. 

”If he’s alive, he doesn’t have another day.”

She looks like she understands for just a moment. 

“Another day,” she repeats, pulling me forward, “I’m not letting you go alone.”





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