Hiros stepped into the forest grove.
Yes. It was pretty nice here.
He smiled as he considered how much nicer it could be if he managed to do succeed in what he was planning.
It was certainly ambitious, he gave himself that. It would be a big achievement, and something very very fun to do.
He got his bearings and set off down the trail. He had just finished the second Link; it was one more ride if he could get a horse, a link, another ride, and then creating the Link. Hopefully he would be able to get it all done before Tomas got into the mine.
He poked his head out of the forest and set off down the road. Sooner or later someone would ride by…
And there they were.
He thought briefly about how to do it. He could try and bargain or he could-Nope.
It was one man, soldier type. He had his sword sheathed and was looking around, aware of the area.
Hiros waved to him, smiled, and fired his crossbow from the hip.
The shot caught the man in the shoulder and knocked him sideways in the saddle. He tried to get the horse to run but Hiros had already reloaded. He’d always been great with a crossbow.
His second shot took the man through the side of the head.
And voila, one horse.
He took a moment to take a nice long puff of his pipe, then hurried over to mount up. He had some riding to do.
Tomas tried to straighten his legs, propel himself out from under the blade, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to get far enough back to dodge it entirely. It would likely catch him in the stomach or the chest, and then he would die.
At that moment he wasn’t actually afraid. Of losing his family, of never seeing them again, of the war destroying the islands, of failure, even of the pain, but not of dying. He was oddly at peace. He had tried his best, and yes, he had failed. That was bad, but he wouldn’t need to worry anymore. He would not need to feel the pain, worry about how others saw him, worry about the scars that made him so hideous, worry about failing others.
There would be one last grand failure, and that would be it. No more, not ever.
And he would, maybe, if those who believed in the afterlife were correct, get to see Aline again.
All these thoughts went through his head as his legs extended too slowly to save him from the falling blade.
He would never be sure of what the bandits was thinking in his final moments, but knew of at least one thing that went through his head.
There was a flash of red as a scarf curved the path of a bolt. The bandit’s eyes widened in the second he had before the bolt punched through one of them.
Tomas finished his backwards roll as the man fell backwards away from him, the momentum of the bolt carrying him over.
“Tomas, get back to shooting the others! We’ve been up here too long. If the others in the mine have another exit they’ve gotten away already. And remember, try and take one of these guys alive in case the ones in the mine do get away”
Tomas dodged back out to get the crossbow and began to pick the shooters off again. It had been a close call, but there was no time to delay and worry about it now. He was going to have to try harder to get used to battle and what seemed to be the new course of his life.
Because in his mind, if he stayed afraid then he would die.
Laerian sagged against the tent-post. It had been a long exhausting descent, and when they finally got to the bottom there had still been a few bandits left alive.
It had been slow and hard work chasing them through the unfamiliar campsite disabling them one at a time in case they were the last bandit they found. They couldn’t risk killing their only source of information.
Tomas, used to just punching people with all his strength, had had to resort to breaking limbs, while Laerian had had to time his stranglings more carefully. He couldn’t just keep them strangled as long as he felt like; he had to wait until the exact moment they stopped struggling, then release them lest he go too far and they die.
It had not been easy, but by the end of it they had three live and tied bandits, and free run of the camp.
Tomas had again been tempted to grab horses and ride for the Castle but Laerian had pointed out that the sun had already begun to set. It was now halfway to the horizon and so the entire pit was in shadow.
He would need to light lamps soon if they were going to stay out here much longer.
“Tomas, how’s your arm?”
“It could be better. Now that you’ve put it back into place I should be fine”
Tomas had fought the entire second half of the battle with a dislocated arm from when he was thrown into the tree.
Laerian’s respect for the man had skyrocketed after he found out that fact.
“And your hands? How’s the stitching keeping?”
“I have to say it was very helpful. Just Sketching it shut would have left a scar, but with the stitches to hold the wound closed it sealed right over perfectly. My thanks, since I would not want to add another scar to my repetoire”
Now that there was a lull, a pause, Tomas was much less angry and monotone, but he was much more formal. And he had become almost gloomy, acting very withdrawn and only speaking when spoken to.
It made the entire atmosphere gloomy, and Laerian was too tired to try and cheer them both up or to do much of anything at all.
“Hey, Tomas, how’s that Sketching work on healing others? Can it make me less tired?”
“Not if you want it to strengthen and speed me for the upcoming fight. I can only leave one Sigil in place at a time, like all Sketchers, and something like staving off fatigue requires an ongoing Sigil”
“Ok, ok, sure. Just hoping”
Laerian tilted his head back and looked at the sky.
This pit was silly. It was entirely undefensible, would be really muddy when it rained, and was conspicuous besides. If he had been the one to choose a location for bandits around here he would have chosen closer to the river…maybe a forwards outpost under that bridge? Because the gorge wouldn’t do for the full hideout; it suffered the same problems as here but didn’t even have a bolt hole. So, maybe spread out? Or find a clearing maybe.
Yah, a clearing. Then you could set sentries in the woods, maybe better than they had done here, and then with the trees all cleared you could use those to build barricades. Those’d let you shoot from behind them, take cover, and also act as a charge breaker, especially if you put the occasional sharpened stake. He really could not see why they hadn’t done this in a smarter way, unless there was some secret that he didn’t know.
He shook his head and sighed.
He needed to stop thinking about these things! He’d left that part of his life behind, become a travelling showman and general layabout. He wanted to be the kind of hero the bards sang about, someone who was dashing, heroic, romantic, an everyman, but also someone who never had to work too hard, who had things presented to them, who could drink and wine their time away without a care.
Not that that would ever really happen. And here he was, rushing back into a war, if only a personal one this time.
He may as well get to it.
“Tomas, you ready to go in? Daylight is, as they say, burning”
“Let me Sketch first”
“ ‘Course! Was going to do the same myself. I meant, are you ready? Not tired, not hurting and all that?”
“I won’t be when I Complete. Are you?”
“Don’t worry about me partner. I’ll be fine”
Tomas looked at him quizzically, maybe sensing the underlying irony to the words, maybe just not sure if he could take anything the magician said at face value.
“Yah, yah, go!”
Laerian smiled until Tomas began to Sketch then settled down to Sketch on his own. He would not be able to use any Basics if he Completed, meaning he wouldn’t be able to harden his coat.
But if he didn’t Complete then he’d be hard pressed to deal with multiple foes, or even attack. He was no good with a crossbow, and eschewed a sword, hating the very idea of it. In fact, these bandits today were the first people he had killed since leaving the army.
But, if they really were involved in a plot to set the world aflame with war then they did not deserve his mercy. They didn’t deserve anything, least of all the relatively quick deaths they had been given.
His thoughts dark Laerian began to Sketch in a way he had not in some time. When he Completed this time it would be with a very different goal in mind than animating his scarves.
A very different goal indeed.