January 29, 2009
Although Inferno had tried several times to convince Felix to abandon their job early and head back to the base, he was steadfast in refusing his friend’s requests. They worked for several more hours, occasionally pausing to talk amongst themselves. None of them enjoyed the work, Lloyd least of all, but they all knew that it was necessary for the well-being of the company.
When finally the third group came to replace them, the afternoon had nearly reached its end and all three of them were exhausted from their work. The short trek through the woods back to the base seemed to take much longer than it normally would have, but Felix had a single thought that kept him going: soon, he would be able to meet the rest of the rebels. Ever since he had encountered Lloyd he had looked forward to meeting the rest of them, and this feeling had only been compounded when he learned that they were going to be staying at the base. The trek was uneventful, but when they arrived at the base Felix found that the arrival of the rebels was not the only surprise that was in store for him.
“Good to see you, kid,” his father said, clapping him on the shoulder as soon as he stepped into the base. Aelar was standing behind him with his arms cross, staring into the distance. Several men and women that he didn’t recognize were standing behind Aelar, some talking and others playing around cheerfully.
“Why are you back so soon, father? I got the impression that you were going to be gone for some time.”
“I was supposed to be gone for a lot longer, but almost as soon as I departed I received word that Aeolus had begun to mass soldiers around the base, so Aelar and I hurried back. It seems like we’re back just in time too. Now things are starting to get interesting, especially with us giving shelter to these rebels.” He looked away, and Felix tentatively walked past, uncertain whether or not their conversation had come to an end. His father made no move to stop him, and Felix followed Lloyd’s lead and walked into the group of rebels.
Although he had never met any of them in the past, they didn’t look at him strangely and the only sign that they hadn’t encountered each other in the past was because of the introductions that were being made. Lloyd pointed to a tall man who was wearing an interesting, intricately made garment and said, “This is Rwaderne.” Rwaderne nodded with a grim smile, his long hair covering one of his eyes almost entirely and covering his face in shadows.
“Next to him is Hermes,” Lloyd said, pointing to a younger man who looked to be a few years younger than Felix, about fourteen or fifteen. He had long brown hair that was roughly brushed out of his face and was scrawny but looked enthusiastic, grinning broadly as he spoke with a black haired man that Lloyd informed him was Edmund. Both showed different signs of acknowledgement; Edmund nodded once, while Hermes energetically waved before Edmund punched him lightly on the shoulder and he turned back around.
“I’m sure that you already know my brother, Cadoc. The man he’s talking to is Gabriel and the other is Lonele.” Gabriel nodded. He was older than the rest of the men and was rather peaceful looking, thoughtfully stroking his scant beard. He offered a hand and when Felix reached out to shake it he was surprised to find himself in a bone-crunching grip. Lonele was a quiet man who looked like he had joined only recently from a noble family. He still wore the finely made clothes that he had presumably left with, but they were now encrusted with dirt and torn in most places.
“These three ladies are Aurora,” he pointed towards a young dark haired woman with a kind face, “Coral,” a woman who looked a little older than Aurora who was wearing blue robes and had long black hair and piercing but kind blue eyes, “and Iris.” The final woman he pointed to had long red hair and a fair face as well as long black robes that fell to her feet.
“And then finally, we got these last two, Elyan and Dagonet.” Elyan was about Hermes age but was much more serious looking, although he seemed easy-going when Felix briefly spoke with him. Dagonet was the same age and was just as cheerful as Hermes, albeit in a more mature manner. The two were very similar except for appearance.
“Now it looks like you’ve met us all, not nearly as exciting as you might have thought I’d guess,” Lloyd said, walking calmly towards Cadoc, Gabriel and Lonele. Felix tagged along with him, uncertain of where to go amongst all the unfamiliar faces and people. A brief introduction was not enough for him to feel comfortable around a group made up of strangers.
“How did the moving go?” Lloyd asked as he took a spot standing between Gabriel and Cadoc. Lonele briefly looked at him before opening his mouth to answer.
“The move seemed a lot longer than it actually was, but the villagers suspect nothing, they think that we have left the village completely.” Lonele’s voice was quiet and timid.
“And thanks for leaving all your bags behind, brother. You owe me one because next time I’m not lugging your crap around with me,” Cadoc said, half jokingly and half seriously.
“You didn’t even carry all of it, Cadoc, so stop trying to guilt trip your brother,” Gabriel said in a deep and cheerful voice. He continued to stroke his beard with a slightly mischievous smile on his face and a satisfied glint in his eyes.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised about you trying to pull that crap, Cadoc, but better luck next time in fooling me.”
Cadoc opened his mouth, but just then a loud shout drew all their attention to the gates of the base where the noise had come from. A moment later Diran came into view panting heavily, Robin at his side staggering around. Diran leaned his hands on his knees, and the rare sound of the gates creaking shut could be heard coming from where they had exited.
“Stop those gates; we still have men out there!” His father instantly commanded, and Robin turned to relay the command. “Now what’s the problem that you two have?”
“The soldiers, they’re coming. Somehow they know about the rebels,” Diran panted, his sentence filled with random gaps while he gasped for air. “They’re coming here with plans to kill us, all of us.” A silence filled the camp momentarily, and Felix saw Gabriel’s smile disappear from his face out of the corner of his eye. His father seemed to be unsurprised.
“Well what are you all waiting for? Get yourselves armed and ready to fight!” The base erupted in motion as people rushed about to gather their weapons and armor, and Felix’s father caught his shoulder as he tried to run past and gather up his supplies. “Be quick, won’t you? Aelar’s going to lead here, you’re coming with me to find Veruka, Lightning and Raiku.”
“Got it, I’ll take only a second.” Felix sprinted to the men’s barracks and was quick to buckle his sword to his belt, gathering a short sword as well. Getting his leather armor on took some time, but it was better than going defenseless. Within only a few short minutes, he was running back outside, pulling his leather gauntlets on as he did so.
His father was waiting for his just outside the men’s barracks, his broadsword draped over his shoulder as usual, looking prepared for anything. He wore less armor than Felix even, but his greater experience as a warrior allowed this. “Good work, now let’s get going.” He didn’t wait before beginning to walk away quickly. Felix jogged to catch up to him, greatly outpaced by the man’s longer strides, and kept his hand on the hilt of his sword in preparation.
The two gate guards, who Raffin and Raiku had switched off with, stood there looking uncertain of what to do. Felix had never seen Scarlet or Levon with such perplexed looks on their faces, and Raffin was there as well, already in the form of the large dog. When they passed, Raffin abandoned and began to run beside them with the air of a typical cheerful dog. Felix was glad to have his company, but after seeing them a short distance Raffin turned around and left again, darting back to the base to aid in its defense.
For a time their trip to the woods went undisturbed, but as soon as they reached the edge of the trees they found several soldiers waiting for them. One of them, a large brute wielding a spear, laughed at the site of them and pointed his weapon forward. “Normally I’d consider offering you mercy; you don’t stand a chance against us. But under the current circumstance, I can’t, bosses orders.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” his father warned menacingly, lifting his enormous broadsword with a single hand and pointing it forward. Occasionally Felix had known his father to use a colossal axe as well, and the move looked much more impressive with the larger weapon.
“Give it your best, old man,” the brute called out, and several of his men charged, weapons raised. Felix waited until the first man, a thin swordsman who was nearly as scrawny as Hermes, nearly reached him, and then drew his sword, swinging it outwards and cutting into the unprepared swordsman, who had obviously thought him to be unarmed. Next to him, his father parried an axe, knocking the weapon aside with his broadsword and then killed the man. A second man made to take his place, but his head was lopped off his shoulders before he could prepare himself.
Felix blocked a weapon that was swung at him and ducked as the man, wielding a rapier, drew back and struck again. While his blade passed harmlessly through the air, Felix stabbed upwards, his weapon puncturing the man’s chest through his flimsy metal armor. The body of the man fell over, and his father handily disposed of the remaining two men within moments.
The brute had to wipe the fear off his face and said courageously, “Now that you’ve gone and made yourself feel good fighting those witless fools, face me, old man!” He charged without a thought, and Felix stepped back, knowing well that his father wouldn’t want him to interrupt the duel he had been challenged to. The brute reached his father, who merely raised his blade to parry the weapon, leapt behind the man and sliced his broadsword backwards, cutting a deep wound into the man’s back and knocking him to the ground painfully. “Damn, you’re better than I thought, old man,” the brute coughed before dropping his spear and collapsing.
“Come on, that took long enough. The others are in danger,” his father said, and began to jog into the woods, Felix tailing him loyally. They passed through the trees much faster than Felix had either way earlier in the day. Once they encountered a soldier, but his father eliminated the soldier quickly, showing his unstoppable swordsmanship again.
Even though they had hurried through the forest, by the time they arrived at the clearing where the others were working darkness had progressed into falling, making it more difficult to see than it had been when they departed the base. Though it was dark, though, Felix was certain in what he saw: there were only two people there.
“Where’s Raiku?” His father asked, looking around for any sign of the man, looking as though he was expecting them to appear out of nowhere.
“He’s not here,” Lightning said, and then hastened to explain. “We all heard a loud shout from the base and he was the one who went to investigate, he was worried about you all.”
Felix’s father turned away to depart again, and before following him Felix said, “We’re under attack. Aeolus’ soldiers are attacking.” As he began to depart, he saw Veruka tearing an axe out of a round of wood for use as a weapon.
“We’ll check the forest, make sure it’s safe. We aren’t fit for battle,” Veruka said, calling after them as they jogged back through the forest. Felix didn’t bother to reply, and instead they continued to sprint their way back through the forest; Raiku was missing, and unless they were able to finish off their enemies soon then something terrible might happen to him.
They reemerged from the forest enshrouded in darkness; night had fallen, and Felix was able to recognize, even from a distance, the flickering of flames within their base. His heart plummeted as a single thought shot through his head like an arrow: the enemy had lit their base on fire, burning them all from within. A treacherous move in their part, the effectiveness of it couldn’t be denied. His father hurried forward without a break, but he was unable to keep up and instead took long strides, soon falling behind the older man; the terror of what he had seen might have reenergized him, but he didn’t dare risk wasting this newfound energy.
As he neared the base, though, something appeared odd. Soldiers were running from the place, most of them burning like torches in the night. Some had arrows sticking out of them, and the true purpose of the flames struck Felix. Only a slippery man like Robin would be able to think of such a dark response to their enemies attack, but it was nevertheless effective. Some of the soldiers fled from the base as pillars of flame without arrows plunged into some part of their body, and he was certain that it was Sieker’s abilities that brought this about.
Not far away, his father was still busily cleaving his way towards the base, cutting down any soldier unfortunate enough to cross his path. Briefly he allowed his attention to wander to this, but then he tore his eyes away at the sound of hooves. Galloping towards him, hair billowing in the wind, sword drawn and with an expression of pure anger on his face was the messenger from earlier, now with most of his body enclosed in a suit of battle armor.
Felix pointed his sword forward in challenge, but leapt to the side when the horse neared him; if he were to come in contact with the animal, no matter how brief, he knew that it would be his demise. As it was, the man’s swipe was a lucky miss, sparing Felix’s life as it swooped above his head, cutting through the air menacingly. He spun around to see the man turning his horse around, twirling his sword around. “Wishing you hadn’t been so cocky back there now, mercenary scum?”
“Not really. If I’m wondering about anything it’s how you and your professionally trained soldiers are losing to us, even though you outnumber us and are better prepared with the advantage of an ambush. When I see things like this it’s no wonder your countries in the state it’s in.”
“You insolent dog! Disobedient until the very end, hm? Well, we’ll see how well you speak when you’ve got your head stuck on a pike for your little villager friends to see!”
“Certainly doesn’t sound like something I’d want to see, where I come from we respect the dead more than that. Now come on, we’ve talked long enough!” The messenger seemed to be of the same mind, charging forward again and lowering his sword for a deathly stroke. As before, Felix leapt out of the path of the weapon, but stabbed his own blade out just in time to stab deep into the horse and cutting through the horse’s coat of arms and thick side as it continued to gallop past.
The wound he dealt was fatal, but it also wrenched his sword from his grip and he didn’t have the time to retrieve his weapon before the messenger rose from his fallen steed, now looking more infuriated than ever. Felix drew his short sword, perfectly aware of the disadvantage the weapon put him at. Across from him, the messenger’s blade gleamed even in the darkness before slicing through the air with its aim pointed towards Felix’s chest.
Narrowly moving back in time to avoid the weapon, Felix feebly stabbed forward with his short sword and was unsurprised when it hit only empty space. The messenger laughed slightly and struck again, forcing Felix to raise his weak weapon and parry. Without his regular sword, he would be able to hold the messenger at bay but would be unable to emerge victorious from the fight. If the man had deigned to fight with a little dignity, he wouldn’t be in this situation but he had goaded him enough to be considered the cause of the unfortunate circumstance.
Carefully he spun around, keeping the small weapon trained on his enemy. The messenger struck again, the tip of the blade connecting with Felix’s arm and leaving a thin slice that began to bleed a considerable amount. The cut stretched from his wrist to his elbow, and it made him drop the arm to his side. At the slightest sign of his weakness, the man tried to strike again but Felix had learned his lesson and was out of the way, leaping towards the spot where his sword still stuck out of the fallen horse.
Hard as it might have been for him to believe, the messenger was too dense to see where he was making his way and instead continued to strike out angrily missing nearly each time. Those few times where the blade was accurate enough, Felix was able to parry it with his short sword, surprising even himself by how he was able to hold the man at bay.
Felix reached his weapon, still stuck deep into the horse’s chest and hurled his short sword at the messenger. While he was perfectly aware that the weapon would probably miss and do no real damage if it hit, the distraction gave him enough time to wrench his sword out of the dead animal’s body and turn around in preparation for the messenger, who looked surprised by what he had managed to achieve.
“A crafty one, aren’t you? It matters not, you can’t match me with a blade!”
“Don’t get cocky, I learned from the best there is,” Felix replied, parrying a swing and returning it, aware of the cut on his arm. Wielding a two-handed blade worked against him when he was wounded and the cut felt like it was being stretched, making him instinctively draw back his arms as soon as his sword was dully reflected off the man’s breastplate. As irritating as the wound might have been, though, as soon as he tore his arm back it blocked a blow that would have been fatal.
He jumped back and allowed the messenger to charge, following what his father had done against the brute spear-wielder from before. Just as the messenger reached him, he raised his blade to block and darted past, swinging behind his back and feeling satisfaction when he heard and felt the resistance that his blade met. Quicker than he would have thought possible he spun around and swung his blade again, slicing into his foe’s back for a second time. With a grunt of pain the man fell to the ground.
“You might have been able to defeat me, but Elthren’s army is more than enough for you sell-swords. You better be prepared, Aeolus won’t have any mercy after this act of defiance!”
“Aeolus has got his hands full as it is; I doubt he’s going to be willing to waste troops to go after us. Altaril has his hands tied.” Emotionlessly, he walked past the man, cleaning his blade of blood as he did so. The messenger had provided more of a challenge than he had expected, but he had had worse in his past.
He didn’t walk far from the dead man’s body before he encountered two people who made him feel renewed and ready for battle. Inferno and Raffin were fighting a small band of soldiers. Every time Raffin struck, scraping and biting them with his claws and fangs. Inferno’s blade darted through the air, cutting past axes, maces, swords and spears and killing any enemies that Raffin was not able to finish off. They seemed surprised when they saw Felix, but didn’t stop their relentless and foolish attack.
“Felix! Good to see you, when you didn’t come back with the boss we expected the worst!” Inferno said, and Raffin barked once while he sliced at a man with his large paw. Taking advantage of their momentary distraction a soldier drew a spear back, preparing to plunge the blade into Inferno. “No you don’t!” He leapt out of the way and killed the man in a single swing.
“I guess now isn’t the time, let’s get to work!” Felix called in response. He parried a soldier’s sword and kicked the man backwards while simultaneously slicing through his thin leather armor, realizing that the same could happen to him if he were to lose the upper hand in a battle. Soon he would have to get some better armor.
Raffin showed no mercy to their foes and Inferno’s fiery temper worked for him well. Soon the majority of their enemies had fallen. By this time, however, the blade in his hands that he had been able to lift and swing effortlessly not too long before now weighed him down like lead. Whether this was simply weariness from the battle or due to the loss of blood from the wound that he had sustained on his arm earlier, he didn’t know and didn’t particularly care either. If he wasn’t able to survive the battle, it wouldn’t matter.
The group of soldiers they had fought had originally outnumbered them two to one, but by the time that they had begun to fight other soldiers had begun to slowly join in the fight and the corpses of at least twenty soldiers now littered the ground. Luckily, Felix had been able to abstain from any further wounds but the others had not been so lucky. Inferno had an arrow shot into his leg, and Raffin was covered in countless scrapes and cuts from his wild fighting style. If they weren’t so close to the fort, Felix would have doubted their safety but he could see the others fighting not too far away and made his way towards their companions.
Iris met them nearer to the others, holding a rapier in one hand and a staff in the other. Healers generally channeled their powers through a staff because they were the most suited for healing magic, but some of the most talented of healers did not require staves for their healing abilities. Without asking any of them for permission, she began a brief chant and a bright blue light began to emanate from the staff, and then it enveloped all three of them and Felix felt the familiar but uncomfortable feeling of his skin stitching itself together. The feeling always made him want to reach out and scratch the healing flesh but he was able to resist as always. He didn’t know what would happen if he clawed at the healing wound, but he did know it wouldn’t be good.
When the light of Iris’ healing disappeared, Felix was glad to look down on his arm and have the familiar look of it unscathed. Raffin, who had reverted to his human form, stood up, examining himself with interest as his wounds faded away as though they hadn’t existed. The arrow that had been stuck in Inferno’s leg fell out and clattered to the ground. Inferno leaned over and plucked the arrow up, looking at it briefly with a morbid curiosity before he cast it away.
“It looks like you guys are taking on the majority of the work on here, huh?” Felix asked cheerfully, but Iris shook her head as if she feared that she might offend him by confirming this.
“Nothing compared to you… You have my most sincere apologies for wrapping you all up in this mess, I’m sure the rest of my companions agree. We never should have forced you into this.”
“It’s no big deal,” Felix assured her. “We’ve all been in worse conditions in this, and none of us like that stuck up Aeolus anyway so might as well strike back. No time to talk now, though, gotta finish this off.” He turned away from her and watched Raffin quickly shift again and then charge towards the front of the rebel lines with a loud bark that would have sent shivers down Felix’s spine if he was an enemy. He and Inferno followed the Anilam while drawing their weapons. Felix had thought that with the healing his energy would come back to him, but he was not quite so lucky.
When he passed Hermes, dueling with a rival swordsman, he paused briefly before following Inferno into the fray, immediately stabbing one man in the stomach and leaping out of the path of another’s axe. He drew his sword out of the man’s stomach and turned towards the axe fighter. As soon as he blocked the axe he felt a splitting pain in the back of his leg and let out a cry of pain.
Inferno seemed to dance in front of him with his usual grace, slicing the axe fighter open and then parrying a second strike. Felix looked back and saw blood pouring down the back of his leg and bile lifted in his throat. The dying swordsman had stabbed him in his dying breath. Angrily Felix blocked another sword that was flying towards him, surprised by the strength behind the swing. Reflexes slowed by the wound he had received, he was barely able to jump to the side of the man and stab him. Lucky there aren’t many left, he thought grimly, thanking the other fighters for eliminating so many of the group.
“You’re wounded! Here, let me help you.” It was Aurora this time who ran up to him with a worried expression on her face. She raised her staff and directed the blue light at the gash in his leg. For the second time in less than an hour he felt the sensation that healing always brought on, and then he was sprinting off after a quick word of thanks. Whenever fights neared their end he seemed to feel a sudden burst of energy that took hold of him, making him reckless and dangerous.
A mace briefly blocked his path, but he struck it back, ignoring the reverberation that came down his blade. The weapon fell back and Felix stabbed the man carrying it, not sparing the time to make sure that he had died; his sword had punctured the man’s chest, after all. Almost as soon as the man fell a second leapt at him with a furious war cry, axe raised above his head, leaving his front exposed. A nice gamble… If he hits, I die, but at the cost of that he tosses out all his defenses. Idiot.
Felix easily sidestepped the rough weapon and cut through the man’s stomach. Such gambles as the man had taken were overwhelmingly foolish and were one of the many things that he had been instructed to never do in a fight, regardless of how dire a situation might be. By the time he had turned and stabbed the charging man again, the others seemed to have finished off almost all of their enemies. Not far away, he could see Gabriel swinging a mace in a wide arc and sending a soldier to the ground while Cadoc parried a sword with his axe and then struck the soldier a fatal blow.
Inferno was still dancing around through the battlefield, using his majestic style of fighting while he stabbed first one soldier then another. A third tried to leap at him, but was simultaneously struck with an arrow and then cut open by Raffin’s sharpened claws. Diran was standing in front of Robin and Crystal, both of whom had grabbed bows and looked as though they had been taking shots at any soldiers that were exposed. Now, however, Diran was standing in front of them with a spear pointing outwards to defend against any who might try to attack them. Both Robin and Crystal still had their bows ready to fire, but Robin looked certain that the battle was over and plucked his arrow from the bowstring.
“I guess it’s over,” he said, breathing heavily. His arms fell to his side like it was made of lead, and he only sheathed his blade to briefly show some resistance. When he made it to Diran, Robin and Crystal he made no effort to stop himself from collapsing wearily, breathing heavily and laying down in the dirt, ignoring the destruction and death that was piled everywhere around him. The first move against Aeolus had been made, and now they would surely be branded traitors. Death was going to hound them like an incessant knocking, always only moments behind them.
He wasn’t allowed to stay collapsed for long with his worried thoughts filling his head. Only a minute later, or at least it only seemed this long, his father ran past, calling them all back to the base with frantic gestures while bellowing loudly. The meaning was clear enough, though. They had to get back to the base so that they could make plans for what to do next.
Felix roughly pushed himself up from the ground, ignoring the dizziness that erupted in his head, threatening to send him plummeting back to the soft earth. Without waiting to see what Robin and Diran were doing, he gestured to Crystal and began to make his was away towards the base, still breathing heavily.
“Where were you and Father?” Crystal asked as they walked together. “You went off at the start of the battle and nobody saw you for quite a while.”
At his sister’s words the disappearance, and likely kidnapping, of Raiku came back to him instantly. “We went out to grab the group that was still working on chopping wood. Raiku went missing too, but Veruka and Lightning are fine.”
“Are they back at the base?”
“Probably by now, but when we left them they were going to search the forest for any more of Aeolus’ soldiers that might be in the area.”
“I saw them get back, they’re at the base by now,” Diran said, making his and Robin’s presence known behind them. “Hey, Felix, where do you think that we’re going to have to go now? I mean, we can’t really stay here after doing all of this to Aeolus’ soldiers.”
“That’s what I’ve been wondering too, but I have no idea,” Felix admitted.
“We’re going to have to flee the country, obviously. We’ve fought royal soldiers. Even if it isn’t written in law that that’s punishable by death, Aeolus will associate us with the rebels and execute us regardless. We don’t have any future in Elthren, not anymore,” Robin said grimly, looking back as though it was the last time he would ever see the place.`
“Yeah, well even if we do leave we’ll come back eventually. Aeolus can’t keep us out of here forever, and his rule will be overthrown if he keeps up his current oppression,” Felix said optimistically, knowing that he would miss his homeland until that time came. He might not have originally hailed from Elthren, but he had lived there for so long and had never been out of the country and considered it as his homeland due to this.
His weariness made the walk back seem long, but the extended conversation that he held with Crystal, Robin and Diran helped to keep him alert and overcome this weariness from his distraction. Still, when they finally saw the gates of the base Felix was unable to contain his relief and stumbled on ahead of the others. The others who had fought from within had already doused the flames that had so recently stood as a beacon, and Sieker was examining the spot where they had been. There was no visible damage to the surrounding area, not even scorch marks.
“It looks like you had a wonderful idea, Robin,” Sieker said as he straightened up. He had the stereotypical voice of what was to be expected from a scholar, but he was also much more laid-back that other scholars that Felix had encountered during the past, as fleeting and rare as these encounters might be. “The magical fire that you had me conjure up only harmed the enemy soldiers, and it didn’t have any effect the surrounding ground. I’m surprised that I was able to do it, I didn’t know that I was this talented.”
“What can I say? I guess I’m just smarter than any of you give me credit for.” Robin shrugged carelessly.
“Don’t get your hopes up for that one. You made one good decision, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to stay that way,” Diran commented with a harsh laugh, ignoring a punch in the shoulder that Robin threw at him. Felix walked away, towards one of the barracks and then collapsed once again, leaning heavily against the wall and trying to overcome everything that was running through his head. Crystal was quick to follow him over after handing the bow she had been using back to Robin.
“Felix, you really don’t look very good. Are you okay?”
Robin walked over after her and looked briefly at Felix. “Yeah, you look like hell Felix. What have you been through out on the battlefield?”
“I’m just tired,” Felix coughed out as a response. “I need some time to rest. We’re going to flee tonight I bet and I don’t want to be worn down when we do. The battle was a lot more taxing than I would have thought it would be.”
“You sound like you’re holding something back…” Crystal sounded certain of her judgment. “Is it something to do with Raiku going missing or are you worried about the others?”
“If anything I guess I might be in shock because of the fight… Aeolus’ soldiers ambushing us without any warning and then us being able to overcome them… I guess it’s something that I’ve thought about happening but I never thought that it really would, you know?” He looked up at Crystal and saw Robin walking into the men’s barracks, apparently unconcerned or else trying to gather up everything that he thought he might need in their departure from the base.
“Nobody could have really seen any of the events of today coming. It’s almost like a dream. First we kicked Aeolus’ messenger out, then let the rebels stay and now this… It’s all a surprise.”
Felix opened up his mouth and said, “Speaking of today, why did I teach you how to use a sword if you aren’t going to fight with it?” He was being sarcastic, and she knew it; there was no way that she would be able to learn how to use a sword and be able to fight soldiers all in the course of a single day.
“I just wasn’t prepared to fight with it, I’m not like you or father who can kill anything with a couple swings.”
“That’s why you’ve got to keep training,” Felix said, seriously this time. Then he leaned his head back against the barracks wall and stretched out, closing his eyes and trying to sleep or at least rest for some time. How could the fight have taken so much of his strength?
“You better not get comfortable,” his father called, and in spite of his weariness Felix shot up and pushed himself to his feet. The others were still filing in behind his father, mercenaries and rebels alike, and his father was standing in the spot of the flames in the center of the base, where Sieker had been only mere minutes ago. He was looking towards the entrance as well, waiting until all of them were inside. Felix turned around and helped Crystal to her feet. She had collapsed next to him.
When everyone had made their way into the base, his father called all of their attention and Robin came hurrying out of the men’s barracks. His father, as usual, cut to the chase with his speech, beginning roughly with, “As you all know, we fought and killed a good deal of Aeolus’ soldiers tonight. I believe we all know that we had no choice; they marched on our gates with the threat of death on their side. Some of you were severely wounded, but due to the efforts of Aurora, Iris and Coral, all of these wounds were overcome and nobody was killed or permanently damaged. Still, this fight puts us in the uncomfortable position of having to flee from Elthren.”
“See?” Robin asked next to him, “I told you, Felix.”
“As long as we stay here, we will be dogged for the rest of our days by his soldiers. I would like to think that I could take on all of Elthren’s army with our motley group and live to tell the tale and I’m sure some of you do think so, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t have the numbers or the weapons necessary to be able to. Instead, I believe that fleeing to Altaril and through there to Redil is the proper course of action. I have connections with some of the nobles and the royalty of Redil and I believe that I can confidently say that we will be given shelter there. If any of you have ideas for a better course of action, speak your piece now or else go and prepare yourselves to leave. Anything you don’t take we’re burning.”
His father stayed in the center of the base for almost a minute, but nobody else uttered a word, even amongst themselves. Taking this as a sign, his father turned and walked away towards the men’s barracks. As soon as he had entered the building a flurry of movement erupted throughout the camp as people scurried about trying to gather up what they needed and what they didn’t want to lose. Raffin seemed uninterested and was standing a distance from the rapid movement, leaning against the barracks that Felix had so recently used for support.
Felix nodded to him, and then made his way through the small crowd to the barracks. Inside was a welcome quiet and freedom from the chaos that reigned supreme outside. Tiredly, Felix walked to his bunk and collapsed, thinking over his few meager supplies. Other than his sword, the only valuable possession he has was the store of gold that he kept under his bunk. Other than this, he only owned small, trivial trinkets and other things of the like. Most of them he had found interesting at one point or another, but none of them were of any value, nothing worth keeping.
“Felix.” He looked up abruptly, his eyes snapping open at the sound of his father’s voice. His father stood above him, looking down at his nearly-sleeping form. “Come on, boy, we don’t have any time. Aeolus is going to be coming after us. Get up and get packed.” He proceeded past Felix’s bunk and called out to some of the others who had begun to doze off in weariness from what they had been through over the course of the day. Yet again, Felix pushed himself up and then quickly gathered up the bag of gold. He turned to leave but then felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Come on, we’re going to go and gather the bodies of some of the soldiers and put them in the base. We’re going to have to burn the place to the ground, and if there are bodies in here then Aeolus might be willing to believe that we perished along with the last of his soldiers.” Felix wearily shook his head as he tossed the sack of gold into a bag and slung it over his shoulder.
“I can’t go… I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the strength anymore, not today, father,” he half-panted the words because of how tired he was as a familiar dizziness shot through his head. His father looked at him for a moment as if looking into his eyes for any sign of deceit, and then nodded and walked away.
“Okay, then, Felix, you get out of work for today. But tomorrow and for quite some time it’ll be like this, working tirelessly. Be prepared and do your best to get used to it, all right?” His father didn’t wait for an answer and instead abruptly spun on his heel and walked out of the room.
“You might want to try and take a nap with the little bit of time we have,” Inferno said from across the room. Upon seeing Felix’s uncertain expression he said, “Don’t worry; I’ll wake you up before I head out, so you should have a little bit of sleep. Go ahead, man, you need it.”
“Thanks, Inferno,” Felix said, and collapsed onto his bunk again, this time not bothering to even feebly fight off sleep. Like a covering blanket, a dreamless sleep fell over him and he found a brief bit of peace in the uncertain world that his life had suddenly and unexpectedly turned into.
“Okay, nap time is over now, it’s time to go,” Inferno said, roughly shaking him awake. Although it couldn’t have been even remotely close to an hour, Felix felt unbelievably refreshed and invigorated, ready for their march. He was certain that his father would have them ride far into the night so that they could be as far away as possible when the massacre at the base had been discovered.
Everything from that point forward into the night seemed unreal. He knew that after he left the barracks he briefly spoke with Lightning, who seemed concerned about his health. Almost immediately afterwards Coral and Aurora approached him with the same worry while Iris and Crystal talked a small distance off. Inferno was able to help to convince them that he was fine, just a little tired and they departed. Felix could remember thanking him and then preparing his horse while his father, Diran, Robin, Gabriel and Cadoc dragged in several of the soldier’s bodies, stripping them of their armor and anything else that might identify them as members of Elthren’s army. His father even went so far as to salvage a broadsword similar to his own and lay it over the corpse of one of the larger men.
The sight of so many lifeless faces made Felix sick and so he turned and tried to distract himself by talking to Inferno and Raffin while working on his saddlebags and preparing everything else he might need for the horse. His conversation with the other two seemed to needlessly drag on, but it came to a sudden end when the others started preparing their own horses. Raffin even decided to take the extra horse that they had due to Arkis’ death. Usually he traveled on foot, but even he seemed too tired to be able to travel as he usually did. Breeze was still willing to fly, but upon departure she spent more time gliding lazily through the air and in the end she changed back to her usual form and rode along with Felix.
As they left the base, his father told them all to bid the place goodbye, and as they rode away he was a lone figure in the dark, sadly igniting the place that he had toiled endlessly to help build. Their healers and magicians had done their best to cast spells on the surrounding trees so that they might contain the raging blaze to the base, but it didn’t make the fall of the base any easier to endure. Felix was forced to turn away with a tear dripping down his cheek as he watched the place go up in flames. Their base had been his home for his entire life, a place that would always be there like a sturdy foundation. Now, though, it had gone as well as Arkis, leaving them behind and casting them out into the savage world.
He had predicted their riding habits for the night correctly, though. It was nearly morning when his father finally allowed them any rest. Many of them, not just Felix, had fallen asleep in their saddles. However, everyone else wasn’t lucky enough to have a second person there who took up the reigns as Breeze had done. When he woke up, it was because of them stopping and she seemed slightly amused by his sleeping. His instincts and reflexes weakened by his extended map, she had had to help him in getting down from the horse.
His father allowed them all a small amount of bread and water and agreed to take the first watch shift. Felix collapsed as he had done before when Inferno had offered him the chance to sleep back at their now-gone base. Short snippets of dreams interspersed with memories pervaded his dreams, but the sleep was nonetheless peaceful and when he did wake up he felt much more refreshed than he ever had before.
“Certainly took you long enough to wake up, didn’t it?” Raffin asked when Felix rolled over and got up from the comfortable patch of dirt that he had used as a bed the previous night. “I was thinking about waking you up because I don’t want to stay here for much longer. The others left me behind to watch after you. Damn dumb job if you ask me, you could handle Aeolus’ men on your own.”
“What? Where did they go to?” Felix asked, worry filling his mind. Never did he expect refreshment to come at the cost of being left behind by the rest of his companions.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m only joking… Well, kind of at least. Robin and Diran went with your father to scout ahead, he reckons that there’s an abandoned castle in the area for some reason. He says that he’s been here before. Apparently the base is a lot closer to the border with Altaril than any of us realized; we crossed the border in the wee hours of the morning.”
“I never noticed,” Felix said, trying to hide the fact that he wasn’t really interested. To him, the countryside all looked the same or at least seemed to and so he didn’t care where borders were unless he could visibly see the change. Being able to stay in an abandoned castle as Raffin had implied would be a nice resting place, at least for a few days. And in spite of their small numbers, they might be able to hold the castle against any attackers whilst sending messengers to Redil. “So how long ago did my father head out with those three?”
“About… Almost an hour, I’d say. Everyone else has been waking up slowly since then, some people are trying to cook something for a breakfast and the rest of them are like us, just sitting around and talking. Breeze went back a small distance to try and keep an eye out for the soldiers and to try and find Raiku. Nobody’s seen him, but we know he wouldn’t abandon us. Your father tried to find him with the soldiers that we fought before, but they had already had gotten him back to the village and we weren’t going back to save him. There were even more soldiers stationed there and we would have been dead if we had gone.”
“When should Breeze be back?”
“Before your father, she left quite some time before him. Still, she’s considerably larger than a normal raven when she’s transformed, just like I’m bigger than most average dogs, so she has to try and look natural instead of making it obvious what she is.” He caught sight of Felix’s worried expression at the conclusion of his last sentence and was quick to try and fix what he had said, “Don’t worry, I’m sure that she’s fine. Breeze can handle herself well especially in the forest where the soldiers are at a disadvantage. I doubt that they’ve even followed us yet, they probably still think we all perished in the fire.”
“Yeah… I hope you’re right.” Their conversation was brief afterwards and then they sat in pure silence until Breeze arrived, flying slowly over the tops of the trees before slowly gliding to the ground and changing back.
“Did you gather any news?” Felix asked as she walked towards him out of the trees, looking somewhat tired. She looked up at the sound of his voice and nodded tiredly, and when she reached him and Raffin she lay down on the bundle of blankets that Felix had been using for a bed, roughly tossed on top of his patch of dirt.
“The soldiers found the base, burned to the ground. Your father was right,” she stretched out and laid her hands behind her head. “There were a lot more in the village than we had thought before. If we had tried to go and get Raiku none of us would have survived. From what I heard, they bought our trick, though. At first they noticed that a few men were missing from the ranks of their soldiers, but they chalked it up to miscounting. It looks like we’re safe from them, at least for now.”
“That’s something to be grateful for. Now it looks like if father actually finds that castle they thought was in the area we’ll be set for a while. We should be able to hunt and there’s probably a local village that we can barter with for whatever we can’t hunt. After all, we’ve only got to stay here long enough to get in contact with Redil.”
Almost instantly after he finished his sentence, a loud rushing in the bushes echoed through the clearing and the three of them turned towards it. Several of the thicker bushes nearer to them shook rapidly, and then Robin and Diran sprinted out of them, both breathing heavily. “Get… Others… Ready… Safe… Come on!” He panted heavily, and then ran towards the others. Diran signaled for them to pack what they needed and Felix felt his heart jump. They had found the castle!