After much editing i have finally finished part 2 of my short story, so sit back and read on.
The Warning Part 2
Elder Jeb was right, Caldaria did respond to the
threat. Being the largest, most technologically advanced and
prosperous settlement on the plains people in Caldaria had a lot of time
to do things that weren't farming or just surviving. Built in the crater
of a extinct volcano the soil provided a bountiful crop every year and
the rim of the carter made for a excellent natural wall. This had
allowed Caldaria to grow and its people to do more with their time, of
course they weren’t Dwarves, a single Dwarf settlement had more people
than Caldaria and was more technologically advanced but all the same
Caldaria was impressive by human standards. So it was no surprise when, a
week after Thomas left Tall Hay, a column of twenty five Caldarian soldiers came
marching towards Tall Hay. Elder Jeb greeted them in the hall and had
asked for both Theo and Rachel to be by his side when they arrived. This
allowed Theo to see the soldiers up close and he was impressed. Of the
twenty five ten of them wore Chainmail Hauberks while another ten wore studded
leather armour, of the five remaining one was dressed in a red cotton shirt
with a brown leather jerkin over top that also had emblazoned over its
right breast the icon of staff topped with a blue orb, he also wore
riding breaches made of cotton with leather on in side of the legs and
thighs and wore leather boots. Another three wore leather armour with
green cloaks and the last one wore a steel breast plate and shoulder guards with a chain shirt
and leather leggings. All the soldiers aside from the green cloaks and
red shirt had medium sized curricular wooden shields with the icon of a
sickle and sword crossed over a green field and were armed with a
combination of spears and hand weapons while the green cloaks had bows
and daggers, the red shirt had a quaterstaff and the last one had a similar
shield to the others and a sword. As he observed them the steel
plate armoured one stepped forward.
“Greetings Elder Jeb Quail. I am Captain Wolfe, leader of the first Caldarian expeditionary force”
As Jeb came and shook the captain's hand Theo was able to
see that the captain was a she and that her face was gaunt but not
skinny. She had brown hair done up in war braid and had light blue eyes.
Until he saw her up close he had assumed she was a man seeing as her
build matched that of the rest of her command. As he took this in Jeb
“Greetings Captain, we are honoured that Caldaria has
sent you as fast as it did. We haven’t returned to camp since the raid
and people were getting fearful”. She nodded at his greetings and
turned to Theo and Rachel.
“These are the survivors?”
“Yes they are indeed Ma’ma”
“Excellent, do you have somewhere private to talk?”
“Good”. She turned back to her troops and addressed them.
“Soldiers you are to set up camp where Elder Jeb’s men direct you to and wait further orders. Earl, Todd you are to follow me”
As the Caldarian soldiers followed her orders and Theo,
Rachel, The Captain, and Jeb went out back to Jeb’s private meeting room
the man in the red shirt and one of the green cloaks followed. As they
entered the private meeting room out back of the hall and Jeb closed
the door the Captain spoke.
“May I introduce Tracker Todd Murphy” she nodded towards
the man in the green cloak “and Earl Greer”, at the sound of his man
the red shirt man gave a small bow and the Captain went on.
“Todd is one of the finest trackers in Caldaria, Mayor
Crawford takes your situation seriously and to sent only the best. Earl
is a member of the newly founded mage’s guild, it was felt that the
situation required the support of a mage”
Jeb nodded at that, word had reached Tall Hay of people who had strange abilities and skills and that settlement of Caldaria had founded a place where these people could come to learn of their abilities in peace although no such people had yet appeared among the population of Tall Hay. He turned to Theo and Rachel.
“Go on now, tell the captain what happened”
Theo and Rachel recounted the events at the logging camp start with Rachel’s discovery of the red rose and their shared “Prickly” feeling then going onto describe the attack the following day. Captain Wolfe got them to repeat how the attack started and shared a knowing look with Greer and Murphy, as they finished she spoke up.
“This sounds like a attempt to scare off loggers from the wood. Maybe they are claiming it as their own little kingdom but bugger what they want. Caldaria had a deal with you to log that wood which you did for us and now we are going to ensure its safe for you to continue to do so”
Jeb smiled and nodded at that, he then turned to Theo and Rachel
“You can go now, thank you”
As they turned to leave Greer spoke up.
“Brave kids” he said in thoughtful voice “Notice how they didn’t even shake when telling their story. After what they saw you would think that remembering it let alone repeating it aloud would scare them”. Captain Wolfe nodded in agreement and Jeb look pleased “They are good kids, some of the best Tall Hay has to offer. Now if you don’t mind me asking how and when will you deal with these bandits?”
The Captain looked at tracker “Murphy?”
“Well Ma’ma, sir.” He began “it sounds like these bandits rely on speed and surprise. They can't surprise us again because we know they are there and will be expecting it so thats one advantage gone, we just need to draw them out as our lads will win in a stand up fight”.
Wolfe and Greer both nodded in assent, but Jeb just raised a eyebrow
“Are you that confident in your soldiers?”
This time it was Greer who spoke up “Have you ever seen a mage in action?”
“Ah well then it will be a surprise for you too” he said with a wink. Capitan Wolfe suppressed a grin as she addressed the now slightly offended Jeb.
“If you don’t mind sir we should be getting underway as soon as we can”
“Yes, yes of course” replied Jeb “You have access to our supplies and whatever else you need for the duration of your stay”
As Murphy and Greer filed out of the room Wolfe replied “Thank you for the offer but we won’t be here all that long”.
The midday sun shone down on the logging camp and the small slope that lead to it. The logging camp itself was empty of anything other than sawdust and chopped wood, the bodies having been scavenged during the week it remained empty. As the small formation of troops advanced up the slope Captain Wolfe stopped to take a sip from her canteen and quickly check on her men. They were deployed eleven wide two deep with the ten chainmail equipped soldiers and herself in the front rank and the other studded leather troops plus Greer behind them with their shields up and over lapping one another. Murphy and his trackers were ranging around the formation in an effort to try and deter any ambushes or flank attacks. She felt a tap on her left shoulder and turned to see Greer grinning at her.
“Regretting that ironmongery yet captain” he asked with a impish grin.
“Sure because I much more prefer having arrows sprout from my chest” she replied with a smile
“You doubt my ability to keep you safe, you wound me Captain”
“Not as much as I am going to wound you shortly”
Greer snorted “You couldn’t catch me while wearing all that, I am too fast for you”
“At least it gives me immunity to sprouting arrows from my chest”
Greer gave a short bark of laughter and they carried on. Normally Wolfe would reprimand someone under her command for breaking noise discipline like that but in this situation there weren’t trying for stealth and would have failed if they were and besides she liked the mage. As they reached the top of the slope she gave the signal to halt and looked around the camp, oddly enough there were no signs that there was ever a battle here. As she took a step towards the camp a voice sounded from the treeline, deep and old with a menacing echo.
“We warned you”
“Magic” Greer growled the mirth and good humour gone “I can feel it”
Wolfe nodded and replied “This forest belongs to the village of Tall Hay, leave and allow the villagers to return to work or we will be forced to fight you”
Laughter echoed out of the woods at that, the tree tops rustled slightly as the sound reverberated around the camp. “You humans think you own this forest yet you don’t even have the slightest idea what resides in it, I shall show you”
As soon as the last syllable was spoken a hail of arrows sped from the tree line towards the Captain but Greer was faster. With a gesture and a word he drew inwardly and conjured a fiery dome around the Captain that he dispelled a few second later to reveal Captain Wolfe, unharmed and smiling savagely. She called out:
“You aren't the only one with magic on your side. Soldiers! Steady Advance!”
The formation came up behind her and began to move towards the trees, Wolfe slipped neatly back into position and from behind her she heard Greer say “See, you were in no danger”.
As they neared the trees the rain of arrows continued but few found their mark, most bouncing off the shield wall or a chain mail armoured arm or leg. Two did find their mark one in the eye of one trooper in the front line who died instantly and an other in the knee of a trooper in the second line who simply collapse howling in pain. At the point where they could see the figures shooting at them from the trees she ordered the charge and at once her line dissolved in a rush of armoured forms, shields up, towards the trees. They were met just shy of the tree line by twenty lion cloth clad figures, short and slender with pointed ears and wielding all the weapons Theo and Rachel had said used, hiltless swords, quarterstaves topped with blades and throwing weapons. Wolfe let out a wordless cry as she rushed one carrying a hiltless sword in each hand, keeping her shield up she thrust out with her sword but her opponent saw the attack and dodged to her left where he attacked her with both of his weapons at once. She used both blade and shield to desperately parry or block the rain of blows coming at her until she saw her opening, as soon as she parried one blade she lashed out with the flat of he shield and caught her attacker full in his face throwing him back trailing blood and spittle. He landed flat on his back blood leaking from mouth and broken nose too stunned to move, she lept forward and plunged her blade down with all her weight into his stomach and he howled. She then finished him off with one of his own blades with a quick thrust to the heart.
Greer laughed with delight as the battle raged around him. This was the first time a mage of the guild had been involved in anything more than a minor fight and he loved it. He saw a Caldarian soldier about to get run through by a attacker wielding one of their bladed quaterstaffs, he pointed his staff at the foe and with a word drew the power out from within himself and a second later a ball of fire hurtled from the tip of the staff and smashed into the attackers head throwing him to the ground where he was killed a moment later by his former victim. Inwardly he knew he couldn’t keep up this rate of spells, already he was starting to tire but he couldn’t stop, they hadn't won yet. It was then he felt that faint buzz that all magic gave off, he was certain it came from whomever had spoke to them at the start of the battle and Greer felt it was his professional responsibility to find out who it was but he would need more power than he currently had left in him, he would need to draw from external sources. Retreating back to the entrance to the camp he planted his staff on the ground and drew instantly feeling energy stored in the grass and earth rush into him and fill him with power , he felt like he could burn all these bandits, heal all his comrades wounds, and even bring bask the falle, No! He stopped himself with a effort and focused on the task at hand, that was one of the dangers of drawing upon external power for spells, it could be a difficult and dangerous sensation and one that would lead to calamity if not properly controlled. With enough power amassed he reached out with his mind and was suddenly above the battle and could see the village of Tall Hay, the green expanse of the plains, the dark green of the forest and waay off in the distance he could see the crater wall of Caldaria. He looked at the forest and searched for source of the magical signature. That was odd he thought, he had found the source near the battle but he could also feel the exact same signature coming from deeper in the forest, but that couldn't been as no two mages had the exact same….
Pain, white hot and blinding flooded Greer’s body and he screamed and came slamming back into his body and screamed again. Something had taken the power he had gathered and had turned it against him while it was in his body causing every inch of his himself to feel as if it were on fire. It was then, curled up in a ball in the center of dead grass that the unknown force struck again once more flooding his body with pain, he tried to scream but found he couldn’t, nor could see for some reason. Then he heard the smell of sizzling, smelt the smell of cooked flesh and felt a great burning pain over the his head and upper torso, he tried to scream again but instead passed out from the pain.
Captain Wolfe paused and surveyed the battle. Her troops were winning, their superior training and gear overcoming the attackers speed and numbers, what worried her was Greer as she had heard horrible screams coming from where he had fallen back too a moment ago. She was about to order someone to go check up on him when she saw something moving back in the woods, it was a humanoid figure about her height but she couldn’t make out much more than that. She did order someone to check on Greer and then turned to face the new threat but as it emerged into the sunlight she wished she hadn't. It was the same rough body shape as the attackers, medium height with lean muscles and pointed ears but thats where the similarities ended. Its skin had been replaced with, as far as she could tell, some sort of flexible tree bark. Its hands ended with hooked thorns and the back of its hands and arms where lined with ridges of hooked thorns but it was the eyes that were the worst, or rather where the eyes should be. Its head was utterly bald and shared many of the same traits as the attackers but where the eyes should be there were only empty sockets with vines growing from the centre of each socket. The vines spread over the figure’s entire face and ended in tips that curved up and away from the skin and seemed to follow her.
“You were warned” said the figure in the same deep, old voice with its menacing echo that had addressed them at the start of the battle. “Now you will have to die”
Wolfe responded by charging the figure, she have never been one to trade words with an opponent when you could just be killing them. She came in low, shield across her chest and slashed diagonally upwards with her blade as she reached him. The figure ducked under the slash and lashed out with one hand, catching the shield on its edge and ripped it out of her hand causing her to stumble to the right but she quickly regained her balance and wheeled around to face him blade ready, her opponent had been faster than she thought. He didn’t give her time to think anything else as he lept arms out stretched and talons extended, she divided aside taken aback by how quickly he recovered from his initial attack but she hadn't moved fast enough. He caught her left shoulder with his right hand and, with a strength that no one his build should have, threw her several meters across the battle field. She landed in a heap with her left arm feeling as if it were on fire and her sword nowhere to be seen. All around her the battle raged on but somehow it parted for him as if all the combatants, both his troops and hers, knew better than to get in his way. She saw him walking calmly towards her and knew to remain still was to die, she regained her feet and picked up a discarded sword in her right hand and upon seeing this her opponent smiled a predatory grin and started to run at her but suddenly stopped and rocked back from the impact of two arrows embedded in his bark skin. Wolfe risked a glance behind her to see Murphy a few meters away already pulling back another arrow, seeing this she turned back, smiled her own predatory grin and charged. Her opponent answered with a deep bestial roar but it was for nothing as before he could recover from the first two arrows another hit him followed seconds later by a steel clad shoulder as Wolfe's charge hit home. Stunned by the impact he toppled over with Wolfe rolling over top of him not expecting him to fall, with a simple duck and roll she got back to her feet and turned around but didn't see what she thought she would as she expected to see him flat on his back dazed and stunned with three arrows sticking out of him but instead he was not only up right but was now being borne aloft by a whirlwind of grass, dirt, leaves and sticks. Both of his hands were fully extended above his head both holding balls of emerald flame and he brought them together with a sudden boom of sound and violent gust of air that pushed Wolfe and several others nearby over and when she looked up he was gone.
His departure marked the end of the battle but in truth it had almost from the very start been a fighting defeat for the bandits. Wolfe had hurried over to Greer as soon as she could and almost lost her breakfast at what she saw, lying in a perfect small circle of dead grass lay the mage with his face burned horribly as well as his neck and shoulder. Murphy and his trackers were tending to him and she only just saw what remained of his face as they wrapped it in bandages, adding it to the list of things she dearly wished she hadn't seen today.
“He is in bad way Ma’am” Murphy said as he fished tending to Greer “very bad burns on some very vital places, he is asleep now but” he trailed off and gestured towards the mage.
“Understood” she replied in a strained, neatural tone “We didn’t lose many, six wounded and three dead.”
“The Bandits are all dead?”
She suppressed a shudder at the memory of what she hoped was their leader’s face. “Yes but something tells me” she began “that they weren’t bandits. Regardless we need to get back to Tall Hay. If we get there soon enough we can leave for Caldaria today. Greer will have the best chance there and I need to deliver my report as soon as I can.”
With a nod Murphy began to get Greer ready for transport back to Tall Hay and Wolfe gave the order to return, they had dealt with the attackers and soon the camp would be full with workers, but a small voice in that back of her mind told her that this wouldn’t be the last time blood was spilled at this camp.
As the soldiers returned, bloodied but victorious, the villagers turned out to congratulate and thank them. Fear had ruled here since the attack but the sight of victorious troops put that fear to rest. When Wolfe finally got to talk to Jeb again, after pushing through jubilant villagers, she told him that they would be leaving that day using the excuse of Greer’s wounds to brush aside the village Elder’s talk of celebrations and feasts. It was when Jeb asked if she wanted anything in return for their service that Wolfe gave him a knowing grin.
“Now Theo, Rachel” Elder Jeb began “We have checked with your parents and they give their permission, you are to accompany Captain Wolfe to Caldaria and give Mayor Crawford a full report you understand”
Theo and Rachel shared a look, they had grown closer since the attack and the chance to visit Caldaria was too good to pass up, especially together. Regardless they both gave hesitant nods and made it look as if they were going reluctantly.
Captain Wolfe looked back over her shoulder at the village of Tall Hay some way off in the distance. She couldn’t help but be happy given that the task was as success and had been done with minimal loses and to make things better she had easily got Theo and Rachel to come along under the guise of reporting what they had seen to mayor Crawford, in truth she was hoping to recruit them both given their amazing resilience to battle shock. As they traveled her mind wandered to the battle, to thew strange features of all the attackers, the features that made it unlikely that they were bandits and their leader, who made it almost impossible that they were just bandits.
He walked through gloom of the forest, head bowed relying on his senses to steer him clear of obstacles. It had been a week since the battle at the logging camp and it had taken him all of that week to reach here, to reach Her court. He approached a perfectly circular break in the woods where there was a clearing in whose centre sat a mighty and ancient Oak, perhaps the oldest living thing on the planet. He paused before entering the clearing, feeling something utterly foreign to him seize up his legs and stop him from entering, with a effort he shook off the feeling and continued on towards the Oak. As he drew nearer to it he could see the others watching from the tree line, vague shapes in the gloom some humanoid others less so. As he got closer to the Oak he could see the throne that resided within it, and the figure that sat on it. A few feet in front of it he went to one knee and bowed his head.
“My Queen, I have failed you” he spoke, the echo the accompanied his words had none of its usual depth or malice and instead was tinged with fear.
The figure stood and walked up to him so that he could see he vine wrapped bare feet and he felt a long cold talon touch the base of his chin and raise his head.
“You have failed no one” the figure said in a deep feminine voice that echoed with age and deep malice. “Look at me Warden”
He did. His eyes had been replaced with vines that grew from his eye sockets the day he had been chosen as Warden, on most days this was a great boon allowing him to see more than even the most sharp eyes of his kin but in that moment he dearly to be able to see less detail. The figure before him was tall, very tall at least two head higher than him. She was slender and graceful with long arms whose hands were tipped not with fingers but with talons of black wood, her hips were gently curved and lead down to long powerful legs and the aforementioned vine wrapped feet and her whole form was covered in a weave of vines that covered her neck to feet in alluring and beautiful patterns, but it was her face that sent the unfamiliar ice cold sensation of fear shooting down his spine. Her face was sharp and angular, from her scalp grew brambles that reached down to just below her breasts, her ears were small and ended at a fine slanted point and her mouth and nose with both small and perfect but it was the eyes that terrified him. The entire eyeball was pitch black save for the pupil which was a deep, deep green. Looking into them he felt himself falling into something old and terrible, he was a Warden of a Heartwood Tree, its proxy, its mouth piece and he had undergone transformations that had spit his skin and bones until his new form had been more fitting to that Tree’s whims.He shared a symbiotic relationship with that Tree, every thought it felt he felt, when it spoke it did so though him but even after all that he was still terrified of what he saw in those eyes. Something of what he was thinking must have pass over his face and she smiled, he almost shat himself in fear.
“You failed no one” she repeated “The humans have grown since we first encountered them, they learn to harness energy, magic they call it. They took us by surprise and it was just your misfortune that it was you who they surprised first”. She turned away from him and he almost sobbed In relief, as she walked back to the Oak she continued.
“I understand the mage among them tried to reach and out touch you, to uncover the secret of our people?”
“Ye-e-e-s” he stammered, his voice containing none of the malice that the humans had heard in it.
“Good, he will serve as our warning to them. It may not have been what we planned but it will make do” She reached out her hand towards the Oak and in response a branch moved out towards her, a branch with a translucent blood red Acorn hanging off its tip. She reached out and gently plucked it from the branch.
“In the mean time we will change our tactics, the Humans assume your raiding party were simple bandits . We will take advantage of that mistake, you will take advantage of that mistake”. She turned back and strode towards him and offered him the Acorn, something inside it uncoiled and moved. “Make an example of them, don’t underestimate them. This will be our opening move, go”. He took the Acorn, stood up, bowed and left quickly. As he do so she addressed the forms waiting around the treeline.
“And for you my Wardens learn from this, know that Humans can be dangerous if underestimated. Show them no mercy and treat fear as your most potent weapon, we will strike them in force in time but first they their spirit must be weakened, now go”.
As the figures departed she returned to the Throne in the core of the Oak and sat. As the roots and branches of the tree closed around her she murmured.
“Now to give them their fair warning”
Earl Greer woke and started screaming almost instantly. The healers came running mere second later and tried to restrain but he had also started to writhe and twist violently so they were unable to calm him with sleep inducing herbs. After five minutes one of the healers asked a nurse to run and get aid from the Caldaria Mage’s Guild which the nurse did with great haste. Not long after two mages entered Greer’s room and with restrain him with magic, even then it took both mages, three healers and two nurses to finally get him to take the sleeping herbs and not long after he fell into a deep, troubled sleep. While all this had been going on Greer had continued screaming and at first it was thought that they were just the cries of a man in great pain but the mages knew better, for some reason they didn’t hear the howling of suffering man, they heard a single word repeated over and over again , Run.
The end of Part 2
So there you have it, the final part of my short story. If you liked it please feel free to spread it around the internet and if you have any feedback please let me know. Until next time.
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