“Hail traveler!” The outpost guard waved at me with a hearty smile. I instinctively lowered the straw hat I was using to cover my face.
“Hail!” I said after clearing my throat. “F-fine day is it not?” I do not think it was difficult to see that I was nervous, it was rare for me to harbor such uncertainty. This was a first though, I had never acted like a traveling merchant while actually carrying a group of secros in the back of the wagon I was driving.
“I would say so!” The human guard approached the wagon, I could hear a few daggers being unsheathed from inside the wagon. I stomped my foot on the foot board of the wagon, signaling the secros on the inside to stand down. “So what brings you here?” The question was anticipated, somewhat, and I had rehearsed several answers to generic questions with Daniel.
“Travel…I-I mean I’m a traveling merchant!” I stammered. I may have rehearsed but it did not mean I could maintain my composure in front of people in a tense situation… at least ones that were not combat related.
“…okay,” the guard was showing some signs of suspicion. “So, where are you heading?”
“Oh, just a bit further down towards Overlake Haven,” I said. “Got a shipment of supplies that they requested.” The guard started scratching the back of his head.
“Okay,” he said moving out of the road. “Take care out there, bandits have been sighted.”
“Thank you for the tip,” I said, and then took the reigns of the wagon and with a slight whip the dolyak pulling the wagon began to slowly trek down the road.
Once the wagon was far away enough from the outpost, I released a sigh of relief, then I heard some movement in the back of the wagon, and saw Daniel’s head pop out.
“You are way too tense, big guy,” he said peering out. “People will pick up on that and get suspicious.”
“You know I’m not a social creature,” I said turning to the human in the wagon. “I don’t know why everyone insisted we take the normal routes. Going around the other end would bring less attention.”
“That’s because we’re not trying to avoid attention,” Said Daniel. “We’re trying to pass for a traveling merchant and his wagon.”
“And yet the wagon cargo does not need to act,” I mussed. “Only the charr merchant.”
“Well it’s not so bad,” said Daniel. “If you want I can start acting like a box!”
Daniel then stopped moving and did his best to remain as stoic and “inanimate” as possible.
“Is it working?” Asked Daniel trying to move his mouth as little as possible.
“How is this box talking?” I said in mock astonishment. “This is a sorcery I am unfamiliar with!”Daniel responded by sticking out his tongue at me in a playful manner, I admit his attempts did make a smirk appear on my face. He probably would have heard me laugh had I not returned to looking at the road.
The journey went on for several more hours, not much conversation was had to arouse suspicion should the assassins be already watching us. Once we saw the sun setting however, we found that it was too dark for them to be able to see a few secros poking their heads out of the wagon. I took this moment to talk.
“Daniel,” I uttered under my breath.
“Yeah, big guy?”
“You still have the stones?” I asked holding out my palm behind me.
“Sure do,” after a bit of shuffling around I felt a small object being placed in my palm. “special delivery from Rata Sum.”
“Fantastic,” I said. “Tell the others to get ready, we’re almost there.”
I could see a faint light in the distance as the wagon continued down the road. The trees in the area were slowly closing in, as we were drawing closer to the light; I could see a figure waving at me in the distance. So far everything was going according to plan, despite the eerie feeling that something was watching me. I was uncertain if it was the secros that were hiding in the trees or if it was the assassins that were pursuing us, most likely the latter. As we reached the campfire, the hooded figure approached me with a mug filled with something hot.
“Looks like you’re here on time,” said Serenity as she removed her hood. “I made a broth if you want some.”
“Serenity?” I asked in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t think I would let you have all the fun now would I?” she asked offering me the mug. “Have a seat by the fire, maybe we’ll be able to have something warm before the storm comes.” I parked the wagon by the side of the road and signaled Daniel to be on alert before I joined Serenity. We didn’t talk much, simply exchanged pleasantries and enjoyed a small meal. There was no doubt that we were both on edge, the creeping shadows of the night only grew darker with each passing second. Eyes that were not friendly were on us now, we could feel their murderous intent creeping up our spines.
“…they’re here aren’t they?” asked Serenity, the dim light of the dying fire barely illuminating her face. I could see dark figures creeping behind her.
“Yes,” I whispered back.I inhaled deeply, and reached into my coat, grasping the horn that was tucked into my pocket. I waited.
Then, when I saw that the time was right I acted quickly. I took out the warhorn from my coat and blew. The sound echoed through the trees and our comrades received the signal they needed. Suddenly, we saw torches light up in the trees above us. With light bathing the area, we could now see the group of assassins that had come for me. It was three times as many as last time, but I was not alone.
Suddenly like raining fire, the secros hidden in the trees swooped down and engaged the enemy. Daniel and the rest of his group leaped out of the wagon and joined us in the battle.
“Always a pleasure to see you, Serenity,” said Daniel as he joined my side.
“Likewise, Daniel,” said Serenity as she drew out her longsword. I was the last one to draw out my weapon. Grabbing the stone I was given by Daniel not too long ago, I inserted it into the slot on the pummel of my sword. The forked blade began to shimmer with a faint blue light, the air around it grew cold. I don’t say this much but I do love asuran technology.
“How about we all converse after we apprehend one of the targets?” I asked readying my sword. Without any more words the three of us ran into the fray. The sounds of steel crashing against steel echoed through the area; it was an absolute bloodbath.
Some of the assassins were immediately cut down, and some secros were too. Daniel, Serenity and I stayed together, targeting the enemy in a group. Overall it was a sporadic and uncoordinated battle, but the element of surprise was advantage enough. Slowly, but surely the assassins were becoming outnumbered. As I scanned the battlefield I noticed that our troops were having trouble with one particular group, I assumed that those were the higher ranking assassins.
Running in to assist the group, I gathered my magic in one hand and prepared my sword in the other. One of the assassins saw me as an easy target; I chopped down his assumptions as my blade sliced across his body. It left behind a thin trail of ice that froze the flesh it had just cut. Leading the group I fired orb after orb of necrotic magic, cornering the assassins more and more as their allies were slowly being whittled away.
These assassins were unwavering however. None of them wanted to give up and none of them were willing to be taken alive. As their numbers were diminishing, I feared we would be forced to kill all of them and return with nothing. The battle dragged on, I had hacked away at several enemies while Daniel had abandoned his daggers and was using his pistols. Serenity was finishing off a group in the distance, spitting out blue flames from her hands and watching the assassins burn.
There was one group left. These were starting to behave a bit different. It was simply three of them, three lone assassins starting to twitch and hiss as we approached. Everyone seemed on edge, no one wanted to silence two of them and apprehend the third. There was something eerie about this picture, even I was approaching with caution. Keeping a firm grip on my sword, I began to fade into my deathshroud.
Before I could run in to engage however, one of the assassins had reached me faster than I could register. We were face to face and he had been swiping his daggers at my body only to have them phase through my body as if he were striking at smoke. His attacks were quickly draining my reserves of life force and was forced to retreat and shut off my spell. I needed to keep a certain amount of life force, I could not afford to have it drain completely.
I leaped backwards to avoid the assassin and the other secros swooped in to help, but the assassin was too fast. With a lunge he was in front of me again and preparing to strike, until I saw a fist connect with his face. I saw Daniel in front of me now, diving in and disarming the assassin and using his own blade to end his life.
“Keep moving big guy!” said Daniel running in to engage the remaining two. As they rushed in at the same time Daniel shoved away the secros that were by his side and ran into the two enemies.
These movements were different from Daniel’s usual style, they were more sporadic, more unpredictable, and much more savage. As he spun around and parried the two pairs of daggers after him he abandoned his weapon and managed to move his hands by one of the assasin’s head, and with one violent jerk he snapped their neck. Moving quickly he reached for the two daggers from the now recently deceased enemy dropped and lunged at the last assassin.
Both began to enter a dance of blades the like I have never seen before. Both swiping their blades only to have them be deflected by the other’s swipes. Small sparks flying as they both picked up speed. I could see the assassin stepping back however, Daniel pressuring him to take the defensive. Then Daniel dropped his weapons again and was able to bat away the arms of his enemy, and with a sweeping kick he knocked him off balance. With a dive, Daniel place all of his weight on his opponent and pin him down to the floor.
I heard several snapping noises as Daniel was holding him down. Was the assassin breaking his own bones to try to escape?
“Help me!” shouted Daniel to the surrounding secros that were staring at the battle with their mouths agape.Three more secros jumped in to hold down the assassins limbs, others came in with rope to tie him up. Daniel meanwhile ripped off a piece of cloth from his pants and quickly used it to gag the assassin. After a few more minutes, the assassin had so many restraints on him that all he could do was write on the floor and scream into his gag.
Daniel approached me while wiping the sweat from his brow.
“Crazy fella out there,” said Daniel as he pointed his thumb to the assassin. “He almost bit off his own tongue.”
I was still staring at Danel with the surprise from the last few seconds of the battle.
“That was impressive,” I said. “how come I’ve never seen you fight like that before?” Daniel gave me a nervous laugh as he gave a shrug.
“I kind of lost myself in the battle there, I don’t really like doing it.” I was not a convincing response, I could tell that there was a bit more to it than he was letting on. It was no issue with me though, it was not as if I was not harboring secrets from him.
“Are you alright?” I asked placing my hand on his shoulder. He glanced at me surprised, but his usual smile returned.
“Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” Daniel and I seldom spoke of how exactly things would bother us, it was a mutual agreement between us. Even after knowing each other for years, we knew what boundaries never to cross. I could not help but reconsider those boundaries however. I could tell that something was changing about the way I saw Daniel. It was less as a friend and more into something more personal. I could hide as much as I wanted to from friends, but Daniel… it just did not feel right.
“Well, you saved me back there,” I said pulling Daniel closer. “I owe it to you. What do you think about a small celebration once we get back home?”
Daniel’s expression was one of true puzzlement this time.
“The grumpy and reserved Anavari suggesting a party?” asked Daniel. “Do my ears deceive me?”
“Why not?” I asked sheathing my sword back into its scabbard. “This dysfunctional family has had enough tragedy for a while. I believe a change of pace is required.”
“That’s a first time I’ve heard you say that, big guy,” said Daniel as we both made our way to the campfire. “but I like the idea, lets make plans as soon as we get this mouse to squeak.”
“Sounds good to me.” I said as we both sat down by the fire and recovered next to the newly revived flame. Helping what few secros were injured and watching as the captured assassin was thrown into the wagon. It was a short lived rest, for we had to clean up the mess we just left before any scouts would find it, but it was a well deserved rest none the less.