“The Elder Dragon came down upon us, and the kodan fighting squads didn’t stand a chance. We fought well, and bravely, but the battle turned against us. Drakkar lead their horde, and Jormag washed his icy corruption across the battlefield from above. He was as a blizzard, and the Keepers of Words had nought to describe the chaos and fear and horror. He whispered in our minds, promises of power, and seductive victory. Give up, and join, he said, and the fight would be over. No more bloodshed, tears or lost loved ones.
“It was in that moment Koda came to us. From the sky we heard His voice, His power, and bestowed upon us the three Great Meditations. Ferocity, single-minded purpose rooted in our base natures, brought with it a depth of rage that allowed us to push back the hordes. Stillness, as a mountain that defies the wind, brings with it a peaceful protestation of everything the dragon hurls at us. And Tranquility, the most powerful of the Meditations, puts the kodan at the very centre of the balance of the world around us. It is said that those who master Tranquility may bend a blade of grass, and the seas will boil. He may whistle a tune, and cause tornadoes to devastate the land. He can clap his hands, and the earth will break apart. These are our most closely guarded secrets. None of you can access the meditations, but I will show you how you can mimic their effects. You, young one, come here.” Koda’s Breath motioned toward the smallest one, and she stood. The young human looked nervous, and took his position facing Serene Wrath.
“Ferocity will allow you to bear deeper pain than you ever thought possible. Uncontrolled, Ferocity will make you lose every fight. Who here has seen a ferocious warrior bested by his calmer, more skilled opponent?” The humans raised their hands. “Exactly. We shall control the rage. What is your name, girl?”
“Ela,” the girl nearly whispered.
“Say your name with pride, girl!” Ulfridda called from the edge of the ring. “You would strike fear into your enemy with it!”
“Ela!” the girl stood taller, and raised her staff. Koda’s Breath smiled.
“Good. Now, focus on hatred. Serene Wrath is the threat. He will kill you and everyone you love. You shall be ripped from your home. Your brethren sold as slaves. Can you feel your blood boiling?” The girl’s face had turned red, and she nodded.
“Now, take that rage, and release it from here.” Koda’s Breath rubbed his stomach. “Let it flow around you, up through your hands, and out of your eyes.”
The girl attuned to Flame, and unleashed a burst of fire. The ball soared towards Serene Wrath, who blocked, and the fireball bounced, catching the grass on fire all around him. The air exploded with heat, and many of the recruits shielded their eyes from the sudden blast.
“Well done!” Koda’s Breath clapped. “You have understood the principle. Ferocity is not to be avoided. Control it, though, lest it control you and lead you to ruin. I want everyone to team up, and practice until the horn sounds the midday meal.” Koda’s Breath walked over to Ulfridda, who had taken her small group of recruits over to a space underneath the fig tree. She watched as they sparred, her face seemingly relaxed but her eyes keen and watchful. Korr was in her group, but his size was betrayed by his inexperience, and he fumbled with his bow more often than the other recruits.
The recruits did well, and by midday they were exhausted. They broke for lunch, and the team regrouped at the inn.
“How goes the sparring?” Alepe asked.
“Very good. We have almost paid off our debt to the town,” Serene Wrath answered. “What have you been doing?”
“I have been getting directions. There is a cartographer here who had a few old maps he didn’t mind selling me. I had to fix his printer though.” Alepe sat down heavily, wiping his ink-stained fingers on his trousers. “What’s the plan for this afternoon?” He looked at Ulfirdda, who pointed at Koda’s Breath.
“He is teaching the youngsters, not I.” She smiled.
“I have one more lesson for them. Stillness,” Koda’s Breath explained. “We will be released after that and we can begin our journey again tonight.”
“I do not like travelling at night, but we must get a move on. We have lost too many days here, and our appointment draws nearer.” Ulfridda stood, her cane creaking slightly. The others stood as well, and made their way to the bar, ordered their food, and sat down again.
“Is everyone packed?” Ulfridda asked.
“Packed what?” Alepe asked. “We have almost nothing left.”
“I know,” Ulfridda snapped. “But we need to leave quickly. I have a funny feeling about this place. Like we are being watched.”
“You’re being over-worrisome, Ulfridda. This place is simple, there is nothing to fear here, except a centaur raid,” Serene Wrath said.
Korr shivered at the possibility of a centaur raid. There had been one a few days ago, and he had fired a massive arrow at the centaur leadership, killing a lieutenant. The townsfolk had praised him greatly, but Korr was deeply upset by the violence and spent the night crying quietly to himself. Ulfridda sat with him every night now, since Ounce was still missing, and comforted him before he slept.
The food arrived, and the group ate ravenously. They cleaned their plates and headed into the town square. They arrived near the fighting pits when bells sounded.
“CENTAUR RAID! BATTLE STATIONS!” A militia lieutenant ran past them, barking orders.
“Young man! How can we help?” Ulfridda jogged to keep up with him, her cane forgotten in the fighting pit.
“They are attempting to breach us from the south. Most of our forces are committed to the west, and we can spare few over there. Go south and help.”
“Understood.” Ulfridda whistled, and the team fell in behind her. They ran to the south gate where the Seraph were desperately battling the centaur onslaught. Most of the warriors were down, and a lone elementalist was keeping the centaurs behind the barricade with onslaughts of fire.
“Ela!” Koda’s Breath reached her, and put his paw on her shoulder. He released his Virtues, passing strength to her. “You have learnt well from our lessons.”
“Thanks master Kodan. There are at least a dozen of them. There is a shaman at the back. I can’t penetrate his defences. We are at a stalemate.”
“We are here now Ela,” Ulfridda reassured her, “Let us handle this. Team!” She turned to them. “We focus fire on the shaman. He is channelling an elemental skill, I can feel the energy from here. I think he intends to level the town, but we won’t let him. Alepe and Korr, you control the centaurs, keep them within my firing zone, stop them from spreading out. Koda’s Breath, you are to the front. I want them to focus on you while Serene Wrath and I pick them off one by one. Serene Wrath, give as many boons to Koda’s Breath, and I’ll provide healing support when I can. Do we understand? Korr and Alepe, if our plan fails, it’s up to you two to save the rest of us. Form up!”
The team packed into a tight ball. Ulfridda raised her sceptre and slashed down, bringing a tooth of flame down upon a group of centaurs. They focussed on her, but Koda’s Breath ran forward, swinging his hammer in large arcs. Icebreaker connected with the nearest centaur and he felt the long femur bone shatter as it flew away. The centaurs scattered briefly, but Korr’s arrows and Alepe’s pistol shots forced them back into a tight group. The leader blew a warhorn and they formed ranks. Koda’s Breath focussed on Ferocity, and swung his hammer on the ground before the group, allowing a symbol of protection to cascade out from the hammer on the ground before him. The symbol strengthened his armour, and he stood within the symbol as the centaurs jabbed with their spears and arrows flew around him. He focussed, and released his Virtues, feeling the boons coruscate around his fur. He felt more pour onto him, realising that Serene Wrath had begun providing support. In that moment of chaos, he meditated.
The world moved as if in slow motion. He meditated on Stillness, feeling the familiar dulling of the hum of the world. He felt the vibrations of the energy around him slow. Spears jabbed towards him, but passed through him. Arrows with cruel looking heads spun through his body. Hooves beat through his flesh. He was unmovable. He was untouchable. He was Stillness.
Ulfridda had not witnessed the power of the meditation of Stillness before, and she was slightly taken aback. Koda’s Breath seemed to blur, as if seen through sleepless eyes, and nothing seemed to be able to touch him. She recovered, and attuned to flame. The centaurs, frustrated by their inability to touch Koda’s Breath, were completely focussed on him and not on protecting their shaman. Her body turned to lightning, and she flashed across the battlefield. She landed next to the shaman, blinding him and sending his body flying with a blast of air. His channelling interrupted, the elemental he had been summoning fell to pieces, lifeless.
Serene Wrath popped into existence near each centaur and exploded moments later, poisoning, crippling, bleeding and burning each in turn. Alepe downed an elixir and unloaded his pistols, the powder-coated bullets exploding on contact. Korr avoided using his arrows to kill, but a few well-aimed shots from his massive bow trapped several centaurs in a ring of arrows as large as spears. Ulfridda attuned to earth and summoned daggers of earth, sending them flying at the shaman who blocked too slowly. The daggers tore through its body and it fell, dead on the grassy plain.
A cheer rang out from Ascalon Settlement. They returned, heroes, and were gifted enough gold to allow them to buy provisions, new packs, and new clothes. They set out at twilight, and headed west, toward Nebo Terrace.