Tomas stood at the edge of the forest, and looked down. The bandits had not yet noticed that their sentries were missing. That was good.
He felt at the hilt of the dagger on his belt, and then reached up to steady the crossbow.
He had to take out the two before the others could react. Only two because the third crossbow had been damaged when he killed the guard.
Well, these things couldn’t be helped; two should be enough to convince them to come out and play.
He had Completed a few minutes ago, and was just waiting for the signal from Laerian.
And there it was. The red scarf fluttered down into the quarry, passing by one of the guards. He turned to watch it, and Tomas struck.
He stood fully upright and brought the crossbow up. Even as it came into place he was turning it to aim at the guard’s chest.
He heard the first echoes of a shout, too slow, slower than it should be as he squeezed the trigger, dropped the crossbow as he crouched, scooped up the other one and stood up again.
A step to the right took him out of the path of two bolts, and then the crossbow was at his shoulder, sight trained on another guard moving through molasses as he reloaded his own crossbow.
The trigger was squeezed again and the kick from the firing controlled by his Sigil-powered strength.
As the first guard caught the bolt with his ribcage Tomas was already running back into the forest, stooping to pick up the crossbows as he went.
When he reached the treeline he wound the two as fast as possible and set new bolts in place. As the bandits came out he had to shoot as many as he could before leading them deeper in.
The calls became louder, more frustrated, and then there was the whinnying of horses. It sounded like the plan was going well so far.
Hiros stood along with the others at the shouts and poked his head outside.
Ah. It seemed that they were under attack.
Well, darn. He didn’t have any links to within the camp. Only from the area outside of camp. Maybe he would have to fix that if he got out. He’d put the necessary links inside the mine, they just needed somewhere to be activated from. He knew of one, but it’d be hard to get to quickly, requiring three Links and a bit of a ride between each one.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to ride out in the wave”
He ducked back inside, grabbed his sword belt and hauberk, and meandered over to where the others were crazily scurrying, trying to prepare the horses for a charge, remove their hobbles, and get ready to go.
It would have been faster and likely more effective to just swarm up the ramp en-masse with sword waving and crossbows at the ready, but all the bandits also wanted to be able to escape should things go bad.
Hiros could not fault them of course; he was planning the exact same thing.
He supposed he should leave a note for the chief, but, if they survived the fighting he could always find them again later and explain it as having left to make sure that nobody was going to get reinforcements for the enemies.
Yes, that was good plan. And it would both put him out of danger from this battle, and from put him out of danger of the chief’s anger.
A sound plan indeed.
As another man finished saddling a horse Hiros dropped saddlebags over its back and leapt lightly into the saddle. He kicked the thing’s flanks as he landed, making it leap forwards. Spurs bit deep. Some had already gone up before him, so they’d take the brunt of the attacks while he would be free to slip away.
He smiled as the bandit behind him began to curse loudly.
Tomas rolled forwards then came up with a dive to his left.
He needed to get off the path and into the trees so he could get some cover, but then that brought up the chance of losing some of his pursuers, preventing him from doing his job properly.
But if a bolt caught him then he’d be dead. No Sigil that he knew of would prevent that. And so he kept moving, trying not to maintain any one pattern. And as he moved he would listen for the telltale whistles of the bolts through the air and dodge them using that.
But it was getting harder as they spread their shots out more, trying to catch him in a net. Laerian had better make his move soon, or else Tomas would not live to see it.
Hiros slowly fell to the back of the group of bandits.
One man. One man was giving them this much trouble.
Well, it was obvious to him what was going on. That damned Tomas with the Sigil of Strength or whatever the hell it was had decided to try and kill the bandits who had not killed him.
And he could do something about it, could stop search the forest for the Sigil and Sketch the Antisigil, undoing his acrobatics hopefully mid tumble.
The bolts would find him for sure then, and Hiros would himself be even more of a hero than he already was,
But, that would require disobeying his orders and foiling the plot that would make him so very powerful.
He frowned as he mulled over the decision in front of him.
Neither option was pleasant; he could either betray his erstwhile allies the bandits, and remove a very comfy life for himself.
Or he could disobey direct orders and foil the plot, thus making someone very angry at him. But the plot was already risky, full of holes and even if it succeeded there was no guarantee that he would be remembered by the schemer.
So it would be by far safer to stick with the bandits, unless she decided to hunt him down.
Neither option was good, so he took the third one, his original plan.
Time to flee.
He turned his horse as fast as he could and took off down the track the other way, heading for the side trail that would take him to a little grove that he was very familiar with by now.
Tomas was beginning to become really worried that they had finally found the pattern that would kill him when he heard the first screams.
It seemed that Laerian had begun his work.
Which meant that Tomas would have to begin his own real job.
His dagger found its way into his hand as he skidded to a stop and suddenly reversed.
As he charged towards the startled bandits he could see flailing scarves over their shoulders. Tomas leapt onto the front of the leader’s horse and slashed down to the right, then back up to the left, throwing the man from his seat with the force. As he leapt for the next one, arms out wide, legs together to better aim, he saw a loop of scarf tie around the necks of two men; as their horses ran on it yanked tight from the branch above.
As the two hanged Tomas alighted almost gently on the horse’s back, his dagger sweeping around so that the pommel crashed into the temple of the rider with a crunch.
He would die soon from a fractured skull; it may have been kinder to kill the man right out but then his dagger would have gotten stuck in the bone. He had learned that when killing one of the sentries.
Balancing atop the horse, arms back at his sides he saw crossbows finally swinging into line and so leapt back to the front. The two horses with dead riders would get in the way of the others, and he needed to delay them further, give Laerian more time.
Of course, if the bandits stopped chasing him for a moment and turned into the forest where Laerian was then it would mean trouble.
Laerian could take care of himself, but it would mean that the killing would become messier and less efficient. They needed to take out as many as possible, as fast as possible, right now.
Which was why…
Yes, they were coming to the bend in the path. Laerian’s attacks would be trailing off about now, so that he could run back and across. Tomas just hoped that he’d make it in time; he was running very fast to keep ahead of the horses.
And he needed to keep them following him, not turning around, which meant letting them get another few shots in.
He hadn’t gained enough distance back to be able to turn then leap; even with his speed he’d be under the horse’s hooves before he could jump.
Which meant trusting to fate, something that he never did.
Tomas took a deep breath and steeled himself against the moment. Sufficiently ready he planted his one foot solidly, and slammed the other down.
As he curved into the air, flipping around he saw the once more stunned faces of the bandits. Did they not expect him to do things like this now? Well, if they didn’t then that was all the better for him.
His motion spun him on two axes; around one in the air and along his spine so that when he managed to land in a crouch on the horse’s back he was facing the right way.
Grabbing the crossbow from where it dangled by its strap he tore it free of the dying man and, using the body as cover, shot the next bandit between the eyes. He tossed the crossbow at the next man in line.
Surprisingly he managed to duck it so that instead of hitting him in the face it glanced off his helmet. However it still left the man dazed as his helmet rang with the discordant tones of a broken bell.
Hefting the bandit into position Tomas caught the two bolts flying at him the man’s body.
The threat dealt with and the bandits hopefully baited he turned and threw himself over the horse’s head again.
He was almost over when his foot caught in the man’s gear.
Jerking to a halt he swung down on the horse’s left, tensing his leg to keep his head from bumping into the ground as he began to swing like a pendulum.
He heard the other bandits whoops in victory at his predicament moments before the bandit he was stuck to began to slide from the saddle. The ground rushed up at Tomas as the horses continued right around the corner back towards their trap.
Hiros walked his horse into the grove and listened to the twang of crossbows and angry shouts. He would be far better off leaving now, for sure.
Dismounting he pulled the saddlebags off the horse and looked at it critically.
It was a good beast, but he couldn’t really take it with him. His Sigil was not quite good enough to bring along guests for the ride.
“Sorry you poor stupid thing. You get to go try and survive the fight. And you’d best go now, ‘cause you don’t want to be around when I activate the Link”
He turned the horse back the other way before slapping it’s rump. Already terrified of the ex-bandit it burst off down the trail again.
“And thats that. Now, lets see about this Linking business”
Settling the saddlebags over one shoulder Hiros cleared his mind and began to Sketch.
The ground rushed up at Tomas, and he was about to hit when he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye.
A horse dodged out of a side trail right ahead. Both horses reared, trying to cancel their momentum, and his turned to the right. As his horse reared it slowed, but he did not.
Swinging up, and still to the left as the bandit finally came free, Tomas soared through the air, almost making a full circle as the bandit hit the ground and the swing almost carried Tomas all the way over.
Instead he grabbed onto the saddle of the other horse and yanked. Luckily the horse proved heavier than the strap was strong and his foot broke free.
Unfortunately none of the three were able to completely arrest their momentums, and they crashed together. Tomas had the better luck as he managed to go up and over the horse’s back and ended up only crashing into a tree.
The two horses ended in a tangled pile in the trail that the bandits could not stop in time for. The first two managed to jump it, but the others crashed headlong.
The screams of horses filled the air as legs broke, weight crashed down, and all the chasing bandits ended up in the pile.
Tomas sat up weary having lost the State. Almost fainting at the pain of his dislocated arm from where he hit the tree his vision blurred as the two bandits rode for him, crossbows ready.
A bloody stream flew across it as the crossbows jerked towards the sky, firing harmlessly. Resolving itself into Laerian’s scarf, the stream yanked backwards taking the two off their horses, and once more pulling them into a noose.
Without a tree to hang them from it just tightened until the two stopped struggling.
“Ah. So much messier this way”
Laerian stepped out of the woods and picked up one of their swords.
“Help me finish these guys off and put the horses out of their misery”
Tomas nodded as he stood, fighting through the pain.
The first step of their plan had gone quite well. It was time to continue with the rest of it.