Laerian finished strangling the last of the bandits who had been about to finish off Tomas.
Glancing over at his new partner he couldn’t help but wince.
The man was evidently a novice at this. This being fighting, many versus one, in a non-formal setting. He wasn’t bad at it, but that was more due to his speed and strength than anything else.
Tomas had made a lot of moves that would have gotten any other man killed, or at least riddled with crossbow bolts. The safest way to keep their attention would have been to run and throw things back at them. With Tomas being as strong as he was even just throwing a rock over his head might have been fatal had it hit the bandits right. Either way, it would have prevented them from firing back.
And now the man was trying to recover from jumping over a horse, into a tree. Was there no end to his stupidity? Laerian didn’t even know why he had needed to jump the horse in the first place, but he could guarantee that there would have been a better way to do things that didn’t lead to that.
He just hoped that Tomas wouldn’t die on him before they could prove his innocence. As much as Tomas wanted to have his revenge, Laerian wanted even more to avoid a war. There was no winning in war. He knew it from his father’s stories and from the history books. And of course, from his own experience. So he knew he needed to stop this one.
And for that he needed Tomas alive, and for that he needed Tomas to let him stick around. Because Laerian seriously doubted that Tomas would be able to survive for long if he wasn’t nearby.
Time to put on a show then.
“Ah. So much messier this way”
He stepped out of the cover of the trees and picked up a sword. He also needed to see if Tomas was willing to do what it would take to get to the end.
“Help me finish these guys off and put the horses out of their misery”
He extended the sword hilt first. Tomas grimaced as he stood, massaging his shoulder. Had he hurt it in the fall? Likely. But as long as he could still fight then Laerian could still use him, still complete the plan.
Wrapping his right scarf around the handle of another sword he let it slowly fade back into its natural form of a normal scarf tied around his wrist, its last act delivering the hilt into his palm.
“Lets kill them then, and go about the next bit”
He peeked over the edge of the pit.
Yep. They were down there all right.
Some twenty or so bandits stood gathered in the center of the camp. The camp itself had had all its tents lowered and packed away by a few workers and maybe some captives. He saw the last of those, a few women, being hurried back into the entrance to the mine.
Once they were inside those inside began to pile crates in front of it.
So…did they have another exit, or were they really willing to trust in those outfront and die if they couldn’t be saved?
Likely all the gold in the camp was now in that mine; if the bandits wanted their spoils they’d have to guard that entrancer and guard it well.
But, still. trusting on twenty guards to stop a force that had taken out that many riders?
Maybe they were trusting to the fact that all twenty had crossbows and would be able to pepper with arrows anyone who was coming down the ramp.
Laerian smiled as his scarves stretched again, curling out of his sleeves to coil on the ground beneath him like springs.
If they were counting on that then were in for a nasty surprise indeed.
“Tomas. You ready?”
The man’s voice sounded like death. When he was focused like this he was unflappable.
But before, while they had been finishing off the wounded he had almost broken down, crying about how he didn’t want to die and didn’t want to get hurt.
Maybe whatever had scarred the Rin had also scared him good. Laerian took a moment to smirk at his own word pun, then stood.
The guards took a moment to react, waiting to make sure that it was only the two of them.
So, by the time they raised their crossbows the two had already made it a few steps down the ramp.
“Laerian. You are sure that this is a good idea? I still believe that we should have stayed up there and let me shoot them one by one with the crossbows we have”
“And if we’d done that then the rest of them would have either gotten tired of sitting there like ducks and come and killed us, or they would have caught on and shot you next time you popped up. This way’s much better Tomas, trust me”
The two fell silent as the crossbowmen fired.
“Don’t move Tomas! And stay behind me!”
Laerian grinned as the scarves, now coiled around his forearms, unwound into long whirling streamers. He hadn’t told Tomas how he was going to get them down, stating that the two ‘needed to be able to trust one another’ as his reasoning.
In reality it was just his showmanship showing through; never tell them when you can show them, and never ruin a trick for anyone. Two basic rules that made combat as thrilling as a show or a courtship. Always a good time.
The bolts punctured the first layers of scarf that he kept out there for just that purpose. Some just brushed against the whirling ribbons, some caught, and some were actually deflected, although that was pure luck.
The next layer was to catch or deflect them. His scarves were an extension of himself; when something touched them he knew where it was as surely as if it had touched his arm. And so he could, in the split second he had, position the next layer of cloth in the way of the bolts. Some were pushed off course by unyielding fabric, others were allowed to puncture the scarves. When the latter happened the scarves would instantly knot around the bolts, tying them in place.
Even so, some slipped past this next layer of defense.
Which was what the third, fourth, and fifth layers of scarf were for.
The sixth layer was a last resort and failsafe; if all else went wrong he could quickly bunch the scarf up in front of his body, try and slow the bolt enough with coiled cloth that he would not be fatally injured.
He grinned as he caught all twenty arrows by the third layer. He had practiced to the point where he could catch almost any number, short of five score, so long as they were all coming from the same direction.
Other directions were much harder, and the larger an area he had to protect the fewer and fewer he could catch as his attention was spread further.
Which was why he had not wanted the bandits climbing out of the pit. If they did then they would have been able to fire at him from multiple directions and maybe kill him.
Laerian’s grin grew wider as he caught a glimpse of the bandits below through the whirling scarves.
Deciding to put on a bit of a show for those who had slowed in their reloading to stare at the still spinning scarves in confusion he made the cloth become rigid and hang still.
A lot of eyes widened as they saw the bolts caught in the fabric and the unharmed men standing behind. Laerian also heard an impressive amount of swearing as they fell to reloading with renewed fervour.
“We’ve got a few moments now before they finish reloading. I suggest we make use of them”
With that Laerian began to run down the ramp, skidding to a halt as the bandits raised their crossbows again.
“Behind me Tomas!”
As his partner dove behind him the bolts flew through the air towards them again. Once again Laerian’s scarves picked them off until no more were coming.
“Only eighteen this time. Two of them are waiting until I lower my guard. Not going to happen. We walk down the rest of the way like this, defense still up, slowly. Don’t move out from behind me because if I have to protect a larger area I’m less likely to catch them all”
He was actually pretty happy that he hadn’t needed to use the fourth layer yet. He wasn’t used to protecting someone else, and having to deflect them entirely away from himself, not just over or past, was a harder feat.
So, yah, pretty happy it was coming together as well as it was.
And unless they began to fire from a different angle it seemed that it would be a pretty easy descent.
The two had gotten about halfway down when Tomas spoke.
“They’re spreading out. Left and right. Going to try firing from different angles. And I think two are coming up the ramp towards us”
“Damn. Well, I’m going to have to work harder then. When the two get close I want you to see if you can’t kill them for me, ok? You’ve still got those crossbows, so go to town”
“I’m not sure if I can fire through your ribbons”
“They’ll be much more spaced out by that point, so you should be able to fire through them if you work hard. And, uhh, until then can you see if you can’t-oops!” He narrowly snagged the first two crossbow bolts from the right just before they hit Tomas “Sorry. Not used to defending multiple people, and definitely not from multiple directions. So, yah, if you can try and take out some of the ones at the sides before I make a mistake that’d be great!”
“I thought you told me to trust you since you had this covered?”
“Yah, well. You know what they say when you’re in show business! First rule-”
“Shut up and make sure I don’t get shot”
Laerian focused on the scarves now, to the exclusion of all else. He couldn’t afford to make jokes or let his guard down for even a moment. Sweat began to bead on his forehead with the effort.
The bandits were not making it easy on him. The remaining eighteen who were not climbing had spread out and kept moving between shots meaning that he couldn’t focus defenses in one area without risking letting a bolt through.
And since there were about six in each direction they could keep up a near constant fire, three from each direction, then as they reloaded, the next three. It was beginning to wear on gis concentration and stamina to the point where he was seriously doubting being able to keep it up.
The shout from Tomas was a godsend, enough encouragement to keep him going, boost his confidence again.
One less arrow to catch at a time. As soon as he found out where they were missing from it’d be a weight off his shoulders.
“Another one. And the two are almost here now”
He inched another few steps down the ramp and nodded. Tomas was keeping pace, not rushing ahead or lagging behind in the least, for which he was glad. It was hard enough to do this as it was. Anything out place would make it that much more likely to fail.
Then his scarf brushed against something that wasn’t a bolt.
The two had arrived.
Looping it back he sacrificed a moment of defense to ensnare whatever it was he had brushed against. He felt leather and then bare skin, a hand. So it was an arm.
And he yanked it back into the weaving webwork of cloth.
If the man could catch a bolt or two for him that’d be best, but otherwise he was just going to limit the other bandit’s firing options.
Of course, he was going to do that anyways, but now he would do so in a way that Laerian could control.
And he kept twisting the arm so that the man wouldn’t be able to stay still long enough to get a good shot in.
Which was good, because otherwise, with the man inside the web, he might not have been able to block it in time.
Tomas grunted and leapt forwards to catch the other bandit before he could attack Laerian.
Laerian couldn’t see the battle, but it sounded fierce.
Tomas lunged at the bandit Laerian had not caught. While the other spun helplessly, his crossbow arm caught in the scarf, the other man had been sighting on Laerian.
Tomas’ lunge caught the man by surprise, faster than should have been possible.
His arm was still giving him trouble, but Completing again had allowed him to ignore the worst of the pain and let him to get done what he needed to.
The crossbow went flying as his knee came up into the man’s stomach.
And crashed into a solid metal plate, jarring Tomas and breaking his attack’s rhythm.
The brief opening was enough to let the bandit draw his sword and bring it down. Unable to draw his own dagger and block in time Tomas instead dropped his crossbow and caught the flat of the blade between his palms. Already at an awkward angle, trying to stop it from coming down onto his skull, the bad grip made it even harder.
He could feel the blade slipping, inch by inch. Without his strength he would not even have been able to delay as long as he had; the blade would have plunged through his skull and killed him in the first moment.
The bandit looked surprised that his attack had failed, but kept pushing, realizing that Tomas could not hold it forever. The blade sunk, and sunk, and slipped a bit, the trailing edge twisting and slicing into his left hand. His first instinct was to pull it away, pull away from the cut before it got too serious, but he resisted it. Pulling his hand away now would result in a much more serious injury.
But, as the blood trickled down between his palms he began to lose his grip, the friction decreasing second by second.
He needed to do something quickly before he lost more than his grip.
Laerian kept up the defense, trying to spread it as much as possible so that he could protect Tomas from the sides. He did not like defending someone so exposed, but at least he didn’t have to worry about the captive bandit.
He had felt the man jerk a few times, then fall still. That was all he needed to know that he was dead.
Still, he’d keep him as a shield, since it was more efficient than using his scarves there. But he was settling into the groove again. Without the stress of worrying about the impending arrival of the climbers he could focus on the others much more easily. It was going to be ok.
He caught a glimpse of Tomas through the scarves and almost changed his mind.
He was barely holding the bandit’s blade up. It was, of all things, caught between his partner’s palms, just inches from his forehead.
And it seemed to be slipping.
He needed to do something, but he couldn’t attack the man; taking the time to strangle him with a scarf would let bolts through, and he couldn’t pull the sword away since it would just cut the cloth. Making the cloth that hard would take more concentration than he could afford.
But he needed to do something!
Tomas began to bend his legs, trying to put more distance between himself and the sword. He knew that bending his legs would only make his stance less strong, make him able to hold it for less time, but it was the only thing he could think of to save himself.
Maybe crouching down would let him roll out? He would think of something he was sure, he would-
The blade slipped down and fell towards his head. He folded his legs and tried to roll, but he knew wasn’t going to make it as the blade came swinging down.