“You know, when Alsantset said we were going to fight, this wasn’t what I had in mind.” Rain shifted in his seat atop his quin, constantly checking his gear, a pre-battle ritual he seemed to have. “I figured she meant run while fighting, not go charging into the enemy. This is ridiculous.”
Huushal grinned at Rain, patting him on the back. He had a gaunt, almost skeletal look about his face, too much healing and not enough food. He was too odd a character, timid and cautious most of the time, but reckless in the midst of combat. Huushal had only just watched him almost die a dozen times on that plateau, laughing and screaming in his opponents faces, ending their lives in open combat, a true warrior of the People, worthy of praise. Yet here he was, less than a day after, scared and nervous about carrying out a night raid. Baffling. “It will be simple Rain, we follow Alsantset’s lead, and kill as many as we can, free their horses, set fire to whatever we find, and leave.
“Ya, real simple.” Rain’s sarcasm grated at times, often used when under stress, and they had all suffered a constant stream of it the last few days. “Except for the part where they’ll be fighting back.”
Ignoring it with a smile, Huushal continued. “If we destroy the tracking matrix, fine, if not, then no matter. We will put fear in their bellies and bloody them as they sit happily in their camp.” As soon as battle was upon him, Rain would be grinning and killing like the best of them, of this, Huushal had no doubt. Rain complained a lot, but was almost always first to act.
The Society was lax, each group lazily camped in the open field, a bare line of sentries to watch for animals. It had not even entered their mind that they may be attacked, arrogant in their position as the hunters. For them to treat this as a game enraged Huushal, that they would so casually threaten his family without even giving him the proper respect as a warrior. He was a Sentinel, the Disciple of Ghurda, a dangerous adversary they would soon learn. The two of them waited, Alsantset and Adujan in the forest as well, hidden from sight. Just the four of them for this, the others were hidden by Charok, resting and waiting for their triumphant return, while Sumila and Song left behind, baiting the attackers into chasing through the night. It was little wonder their traps had worked so well, their pursuers too intent on their tools to see what was around them. Fools.
Huushal’s eyes watched the Society, serving men and women to entertain them as they played drinking games and ate delicious food. It’d been days since his last hot meal, cold fruit unable to sate him. His first taste of true combat had been invigorating, not against some worthless bandit, but an opponent of true skill, a clansman with a sword even bigger than his own. Huushal lost in skill, but won through simple power, crashing his weapon into his opponent over and over again, until all that was left was a mess of blood and flesh. Huushal had experienced that thrill, that intoxicating delight, better even than what he enjoyed at the bath house, better than anything he had ever experienced before. He had been upset when he wasn’t chosen to fight upon the plateau, but Rain was the better choice, already healed from his gruesome dance with the enemy. A wonderful comrade, Huushal hoped to one day terrify his enemies like Rain could.
“Be ready, we move at the first opening I see.” Alsantset messaged them, and he glanced around, trying to spot her. He thought she would have been on the other side of the camp, but to message him like that meant she was closer. That was a trick he needed to learn to do. Huushal was terrible at chi manipulation, only able to use it to strengthen himself. His skills paled in comparison to Rain’s who could do so much with his chi, making it look so natural. Honing his weapon, Guiding it when thrown, exceptional healing, Rain had even started using it to Lighten his steps, speeding around his enemy, seeming to have learned something during the duel on the plateau. Huushal was being left behind, pure power all that he brought to battle.
“Go.” At the single word sent by Alsantset, Huushal silently bounded forward atop Jaga, his saber crashing through the neck of the first sentry, bashing the skull of the second with his hilt. He destroyed the posts and Jaga sprayed his scent about the area, terrifying the delicious animals, scattering the horses before him as they stampeded away in fear. His muscles surged with renewed strength as his chi infused his body, every blow he made with the force of two thousand kilograms behind it as he cleaved his way about the camp. His sword swung in circles in the chaos, breaking flesh and bone as he vented his anger, he continued his rampage, sowing fear as shouts of alarm rang out in the once peaceful night. He leaned forward, flicking burning logs into tents as he passed, striking anyone that entered his range, his speed and mobility allowing for no retaliation. The thrill of the fight was good, but this was different, a hunt, a gathering of unprepared prey for him to terrorize. It was entertainment, their deaths deserving of his mockery.
Several warriors called for him to stand and fight, but he ignored them after a single pass, his duty not to seek martial challenge, but to wreak destruction upon them. All around him, the camp was alit with glowing embers, burning silk tents giving off the odor of charred meat, the shadows dancing as he charged forward, laughing maniacally as he moved through his enemies. His pack rode about, savaging the prey, crippling and burning, weakening them for the slaughter. These men chose to hunt wolves, and now the wolves had struck back. After today, the Society would know fear, know the true mettle of the People, and regret having awoken the beast within him.
Adujan punched her shield through a sentries head, dragging the body behind her as it slid off the spike. Tossing her shield underhand, it spun end over end, whistling through the air as it cut through two clansmen before sinking deep into a third. She reached the dead man before he fell, tearing her weapon from the corpse as she passed, fighting her way through the confused enemy, Shana trampling them beneath her feet as Adujan carved her way through. She avoided killing the scantily clad servants, debating whether she should take one of the lovely men home with her, as a treat to herself. Rain had a pretty new slave, why couldn’t she have one as well? No, it would be too much work keeping a slave clean and fed, despite how pretty they all were.
Spotting a familiar face, she grinned as she directed Shana towards him. A little young master of the Situ clan, delightfully beaten by Rain in the competition. His clothes were half on as he was in the middle of his frolicking, his injuries fully healed, and that simply would not do. She charged him, laughing as Shana tore off his face as he shrieked in anguish and flailed about as she passed by, a lightning fast strike leaving him alive behind her. As she rode about, clinically setting fires and spreading lamp oil, killing any who resisted, she grabbed what she could, arrows and food her greatest priority. Perhaps she could steal some gold, then go back for one of the slave-men. How much would it cost to keep one for herself?
A thrust of a glaive whistled towards her, barely intercepted by her shield, knocking her off of Shana. Rolling to her feet into a crouch, she held her shield up, blocking and backing away from her opponent’s strikes, each one sending a jolt of pain through her body. “Insolent children! I should have captured you at the grounds and beaten you to a pulp! To dare kill and injure so many Situ Clansmen, you are truly audacious.” Elder Bolin, bald and red-faced as ever. He pressed the attack, his strikes fierce and powerful, knocking her about as she tried to stay alive, escape back to Shana, but he was too skilled, keeping the beast at bay while simultaneously attacking her with his spear.
With a twist of her shield she caught the Elder’s glaive in her hooks, her own spear twisting towards his throat, deflected by a single palm. With a grunt, Elder Bolin twisted his weapon, her arm flaring in agony as her wrist broke from the torque, dropping her weapon. She watched him helplessly, ready for one last thrust, knowing her death had come.
Abandoning the thrust to block an incoming attack, Bolin stopped a powerful slash, a hair away from smashing into his cheek. Big Huu roared as he pushed Bolin back with a flurry of heavy strikes, a discordant clashing of steel upon steel. With a wordless scream of fury, Huushal delivered a fierce attack that should have ended the fight, but Bolin moved impossibly, sliding backwards as if gliding on ice, countering as he evaded, his blade sinking into Huushals shoulder, throwing him from his mount. Adujan intercepted the glaive on its return, her shield in her right hand, defending Huu as he recovered his stance, the two of them charging together in concert, pushing back Bolin who moved as if weightless, a symphony of weapons clanging as they fought among the chaos. They were badly outmatched and within seconds, she sported several grievous wounds, Huu faring even worse as the skilled Elder easily dealt with all their attacks.
“Foolish! To think you can defeat me? Talented children are as common as the clouds! Just a group of toad’s lusting after swan’s flesh, you dare to think yourselves warriors? I will bring you back in chains after forcing you to swear a slave’s oath and teach you true misery.” Bolin swept her feet out from under her, throwing her to the ground.
Rain appeared from the smoke and shadows, blade flashing as his mount pounced past Bolin, gouging an eye out as the Elder slid away, screaming in pain. The pole-arm swung about, Rain blocking the brunt of the attacks, allowing Huu and her time to recover. Sparks flashed as they crossed weapons, rings echoing as Rain slowly lost ground before the Elder.
Adujan charged forward, heedless of the cost. “Flee!” The elders blade knocked her aside, a deep gash in her shoulder throbbing in agony as she crashed to the floor. Her eyes were locked on Rain as he ignored her sacrifice and continued to trade blows with Bolin, each pass of their weapons leaving him more and more injured as Bolin came close to killing him several times, their shadows flickering in the firelight, like dancers leaping about.
A flash of movement caught her attention, an object shooting forward, faster than she could see, embedding itself in Bolin’s shoulder. A second and third followed, Bolin twirling his weapon to deflect each arrow shot at him by Alsantset as she rode past, grabbing Huu as she did. Forget Akanai, Alsantset was Adujan’s new hero. Rain rode to Adujan and grabbed her by the belt, lifting her onto Zabu like a sack of rice before riding off into the forest, Bolin’s yells and the glow of the burning tents fading fast behind them.
Rain had no idea how to properly treat a lady. Adujan felt faint from loss of blood, trying to sit properly on Zabu, her head flinging back. “Careful Adujan, you’re going to poke my eye out with your horns.” Rains arm went around her waist, pressed against her stomach, his chin cradling her shoulder. He smelled like smoke and musk, her cheek nestled against his temple, as they rode together. She settled down into his comfortable embrace, almost snuggling into his lap, pressing up against him as she leaned back. He was scrawny, but comfortable, his arm tight around her waist. So what if he wasn’t interested in her? There were plenty of other men. Like Fung. She would take him into her harem, no problem, the yummy looking magistrate’s son.
“Why’d you keep fighting? You should have left me back there, I was distracted and should have paid the price.” She rambled, enjoying the feel of his touch. It was a foolish move for him to fight Bolin alone, but brave. Huu was heroic too, so burly and strong. She would allow both of them into her harem. And some of those pretty serving boys too. She needed variety in her harem.
“I thought I could win. He wanted me alive to bring back to torture, so I had that going for me. Besides, I wanted his weapon.”
She felt him shrug, picturing the maddening grin on his face. Idiot. He couldn’t even say something sweet, like ‘I couldn’t leave you to die, Yan’. Then they could fall in love, bonds forged in the heat of combat, rivals made lovers, like one of the romance stories she so loved to read. Snorting in laughter, she settled back into him, luxuriating in the cold night air. Closing her tired eyes, she rested as the two of them rode back up the mountain, Shana following closely behind. “Stay awake, Adujan, talk to me.” Asshole, now he wants to talk, when she was so very tired.
I feel the warm, sticky blood, pumping out of Adujan’s wound as I press my hand and forearm against her stomach. Deciding we’re far enough from the battle, I stop Zabu and dismount, carrying her to the ground. Ripping off her armor, I quickly take stock of her injuries, starting with the worst. A gash along her stomach is the source of the blood, her intestines almost falling out. Gagging a little as I push them back into the wound, I quickly grab the remains of my stock of herbs. I need to seal the stomach wound, and stitches won’t do. Thank the Mother I didn’t sell the fox-glove roots. Quickly crushing the roots into a bowl, I begin adding handfuls of common herbs, mixing it into a paste. Applied liberally to flesh, and it will bond like superglue. It’s painful and not the prettiest solution, but better than the alternative, death.
Spreading the mash of herbs over her stomach, I pinch the cut together, waiting for it to bond before I wrap it. She has more wounds, her shoulder and thigh, and those get glued together as well. Quick and dirty, but effective. I had to cut her pants off, and she lays before me, pale and exposed, looking so weak and vulnerable, at odds with how strong and confident she normally is. Despite her foul mouth and terrible attitude, I like having her around. She’s an odd combination of fierce and sweet, someone who I want to call a friend.
Without warning, she begins to convulse, body flailing as she seizes. I shove a strip of leather in her mouth, holding her head steady, allowing her to flail about while keeping her head from smacking around. God dammit, that shit Elder, his attacks were incredibly brutal. My internals are bleeding from some sort of manipulation of his chi, and Adujan probably is the same. She needs to wake up to heal her injuries, but how can she while in the middle of a seizure? With nothing else I can do, I sit and watch as she struggles for life, praying that she can pull through.
Alsantset whispers to me, and I do my best to guide her to our location. She arrives soon, Huushal behind her, while I kneel on the floor, with Adujan’s head in my lap, while she lays mostly naked in front of me. How did I ever think she was a man? Alsantset helps me treat the rest of her injuries before wrapping her in a blanket, as I treat the worst of Huushal’s cuts the same way. While not as badly injured as Adujan, It’ll seal well, but leave a scar as the compound breaks down slowly after the injury heals, and remain painful and tender until it does. After a few weeks, the scar can be healed, but until then, it’ll be an ugly reminder of tonight’s battle. I go to treat Alsantset, but she’s untouched, her hair and clothes barely even out-of-place. It was like she went for a tranquil night ride, rather than a deadly raid. Unbelievable.
We head for the pre-arranged meeting area with Sumila and Song, a small hidden overhang. Huushal and Alsantset are now flush with arrows courtesy of Adujan’s quin. A sweet affectionate animal, she dances back and forth on her paws as we wait, nuzzling her owner every now and then in a heartbreaking display of affection. No time to appreciate the wildlife, need to focus. There’s still more work to be done.
Pulling out my black ring gifted to me by the OuYang clan, I put it on my thumb and fall into the state of Balance, doing what I can with my injuries in the short time we have. The Energy of the Heavens surges into me, a raging tsunami instead of poured water, and I struggle to direct it as it batters me down from within. Don’t go with the flow, direct it. Keep control and everything will be fine.
This is why these rings are shit, who can even handle this crap? Sweat begins to drip down my neck as I concentrate, letting the energy crash into me as I break it into manageable waves, and even further down to small focused streams, trying to control it, while letting it heal and strengthen me, reinvigorating me for the struggle ahead. Sumila and Song will need our help dealing with the newest group of pursuers. I need all the energy I can handle, to make myself as powerful as I can be. The energy cycles through me, the heat and pain continuing to mount, but I still continue to push my limits, my thirst for strength driving me forward. I can do this, with more power, I can stop our enemies on my own, make them kneel before me as I manipulate the Energies of the Heavens, raining fire and lightning down upon them, destroying the Society with a wave of my hand. Those arrogant bastards will pay for this, and then I’ll hunt down that damn merchant and crucify him for starting it all. The energy continues to move through me as I bind it, empowering me, a god amongst men, a vengeful, terrible God.
A different energy invades into me, stopping the flow and interrupting my concentration, my eyes snapping open. Alsantset smacks me atop the head. “Fool. Be more careful when using the ring. You almost died, little Rain, you need to keep control of the energy, not let it control you.” I feel short of breath, gasping for air, my lips and skin dried and cracking. She hands me a water-skin and I drink deep, tasting the metal tang of blood as I gulp down the cool, sweet liquid. Polishing off the entire skin, I accept a second, drinking half of that one as well. That must have been at least two liters, closer to two and a half. My shirt is wet with sweat and blood, my skin hot to the touch.
God dammit, I fucked up, even knowing how difficult it would be. At least my injuries are mostly healed, my body almost good as new. Well, good as it can get in the current circumstances. Still, it was too risky. I knew the dangers going in, but I was still seduced by the power involved. Fuck this ring. If Alsantset hadn’t noticed, I would have cooked myself alive. The thought sends a shudder down my spine as I place the ring back into my pouch.
After quickly checking Huu and Adujan’s injuries, I get comfortable, waiting for Sumila and Song, ready for yet another ambush against our enemies. It just doesn’t seem to end, but to struggle means that I’m still alive.
We just need to survive, and Akanai will handle the rest.
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