It took a few moments for the villagers to accept the fact that they were still alive, but it was easy to discern when that realization crossed their mind. Grown men fell to their knees and weep while others let out primal shouts of jubilation. A few of the braver or more foolish of their ranks began to desecrate the monster’s corpse. None of the villagers had expected to come out of the confrontation with the strange monster alive.
This debacle provided a good measurement of their strength, the general threat that type of monster possessed, and our relative standing in these strange lands. While important, those were things to be addressed at another time.
The dull throbbing sensation in my left ankle kept me tethered to present and reminded me of my rashness. Geisai only threw me into the air like that so I could pull myself up on a branch, but without anything grab onto I fell back to the hard, unfeeling ground after I slit the monster’s throat. If I’d taken the time to think things through, I probably would’ve come up with a better plan of attack, or at the very least, decided against walking on an injured ankle.
Again, that was something to deal with later aside for later.
“Are you alright?”, Hearing the normally comforting voice only managed to rekindle the flames of anger I barely managed to keep in check. After taking a deep breath, I turned around and faced Geisai.
Despite the tumbles he took during the fight, the helmet and visor remained in place. His left bracer had become misshapen, and I could see the old blood dripping from its seams. The sword had been snapped in two, and his right-hand gauntlet was in tatters. Other than those minor things, he was no worse for wear than when things had started, and that did nothing to improve my mood.
We deserved more than a couple scrapes and a bruised ankle for what we did. It was only by sheer luck that the worst that happened was a few houses were destroyed. Why did I allow things to go so far? I could’ve stopped this before things got out of hand, yet helped facilitate this entire mess. If could, I’d go back and slap some sense into my former self for agreeing to Geisai’s plan.
“Ahem…” Geisai raised his broken sword, and I grabbed the hilt of a throwing knife when we heard someone clear their throat. I guess recent events and living in isolation for so long made us a little weary of strangers.
The villagers had finished celebrations and now trembled before their, apparently violent, saviors.
“Haa… Gesai.” I slowly released my hold on my knife and Geisai reluctantly followed suit, but he didn’t even try to hide the self-satisfied smile on his face.
The tension was still palpable between the villagers and us, but we were waist deep in this mess and might as well see things through to the end. I took another deep breath and tied to speak in as non-threatening a manner as possible.
“Hello, we were on our way to Grerton when we saw your village being attacked. My name Aiyana and this is my associate Geisai.” Every world felt like it was adding another stone to the pit of my stomach, but I managed to say them nevertheless.
Strangely enough, there was no response from the villagers. Their eyes just shifted back and forth between Geisai and me.
“Nice to meet you. By the way, would any of you happen to know how to get to Grerton? We seem to have gotten a bit turned around.” Geisai stepped forward with a smirk and spoke with an amused tone of voice.
Not even that managed to get a rise out of the villagers. Were they still trying to comprehend this entire affair? Maybe we should try again in a little−
“Madam Elf, True Warrior, we are forever indebted to you for saving our small insignificant village!”
“Please accept our eternal gratitude!!” “Thank you for saving our lives!” “Thank you!”…
After the first man spoke up, the others followed suit, voiced their thanks in the same strange manner emphasizing the wrong part of their words and unnecessarily elongating certain letters. While their mouths spoke words of praise, the unmistakable glint of fear was reflected in their eyes.
“Well… this is unexpected.” As I watched the very people we’d endangered do there best to appease us, I couldn’t help but agree.
A short while later, Geisai and I found ourselves waiting inside the village chief’s house while a group of villagers went about retrieving the woman and children before nightfall. The two-story house was built upon a stone foundation, and its frames were made from a stronger wood than the rest of the buildings in the village. The furnishings were old but well-taken care of by their owner. Everything from a polished dining table to the padded lounge chair had a lived-in feel to them. However, the eye-catching piece was the rusted single-edge sword that had a jagged semi-circle missing from its blade and the battered wooden shield that hung above the small fireplace on the opposite side of the room.
After he retrieved the supplies we left behind to fight the monster, Geisai took up a spot against the wall opposite to the entrance. Though he looked calm on the surface, the entirety of his focus was placed on the door, his body ready to leap into action should the need arise. I guess not being able to see what the villages were during had put him on edge.
I was seating off to the side by the dining table. As a show of good faith, I removed most of my weapons except for my father’s dagger and the set of knives hidden within my boots. Also, I’d removed my hood and allowed my face to be on full display, as there was no point trying to keep a secret that was already out.
“They should’ve come by now.” Ignoring Geisai’s comment, I tried to figure out how they discovered I was an elf. The clips I’d sown into my hood held it in place even when I hung upside down, so there was no way it came off during that fight. Perhaps⎯
“Aiyana…” Geisai lightly shaved me before quickly returning to his spot against the wall.
The next moment, the door opened, and an old man entered the house. He was a head taller than Geisai and twice his width. However, his bulk came from the thick layer of muscle that covered the man’s frame. The tan shirt and pants that looked baggy on the other men clung to him like a second skin. Speaking of which, his skin was a couple shades darker than Geisai’s and seemed to be as tough as old leather. There was more grey in his short hair than its original brown. One of his eyes was covered by a large scar, and his nose was a bit crooked as if it had been broken and allowed to heal incorrectly.
The sharp glint in his eyes said more about the trials he’d endured than any words ever could. He was a step above any of the sale-swords we’ve faced. If it weren’t for the wooden peg he had instead of a left leg, I imagine that he would’ve fought the monster himself. Honestly, I couldn’t tell which of them would win that fight, but it would’ve been quite the spectacle to behold.
His gaze wandered over us before he opened his mouth, “Sorry of the delay, Lady Aiyana, Sir Geisai. My name is Biran Munan, the chief of Asgle. As you might imagine, moving a group of frightened people back to the very place they fled from isn’t the easiest of tasks, especially when they’re told wild stories about two people killing a minotaur as easily as one would reap the crop.”
The man’s, Biran’s, voice was deep and booming. Unfortunately, he still spoke in the same strange manner as the others. Grasping what he and the others said was like filtering water out of mud, it was doable, but it required a bit of effort.
“So were you one of those that found the story unbelievable?” Geisai’s previous anxiety had vanished, and his playful attitude had returned, he’d also began to mimic the villagers’ speaking pattern a small degree.
“Frankly speaking, yes. If you were a band of six run-of-the-mill mercenaries, I still wouldn’t have believed it, but hearing that the two saviors were an elven ranger and a true warrior did a great deal to convince me.” I’m pretty his smile was meant to be friendly instead of invoking the image of a predator stalking its prey.
“Forgive me, but you and your ilk use the term ‘true warrior’ to describe my associate, why do you do so?” I did my best to extract information without letting on just how much we didn’t know about the world. Being unfamiliar with strange terms was better than coming off as completely clueless.
“I suppose those of the Eternal Forest would have no use for such titles. Among our kind, the title ‘True Warrior’ is used to distinguish between those that have learned techniques from the lost era and those that managed to pick up a weapon without hurting themselves. Hehe.”
“Oh, such a strange distinction to make. According to that logic, wouldn’t career soldiers and seasoned veterans also fall into the latter category?” What in the tormented plains was the lost era? It seemed too risky to ask about that topic, besides information about the social order were more useful to us at the moment.
“Normally, those types are the ones that find or pay for the techniques.”
“How can your men be so sure that I possess one of those techniques?”
Biran’s eyes narrowed at Geisai’s comment. “Boy, I don’t know who taught you, but nearly every man in this village has first-hand experience confronting a true warrior.” For a brief moment, a flash of anger ran across Biran’s eyes as they wander to the broken sword and shield above the fireplace. I see they were personal reminders, not trophies.
“You may be a novice, but a golden man capable of matching a minotaur in strength can’t be mistaken for anything but a true warrior.”
Geisai’s smile remained, but his hand was already on the hilt of his broken sword. We’ve already put these people in enough danger.
“It seems things have gotten a bit off topic. Biran, surely you didn’t come here to pick a fight with my companion, did you?”
“Sorry, Lady Aiyana. The habits of a former soldier die hard. I came here to officially thank you for saving my people and our village. For many of us, this village is the only thing we have, the thought of losing it is more traumatizing than facing a horde of minotaurs. Hehe.”
“I assume, then, that fighting off minotaur isn’t a common occurrence then?” A fair question to ask, but the smirk wasn’t necessary Geisai.
“No, it isn’t. We weren’t dumb enough to build our home in their territory, but four days ago something chased them out of their grazing field in the east. The one you killed fell behind the rest of the herd and decided to stick around.”
“Do you know where the herd was headed? How many of them there were?”
“A couple dozen or so, and if I had to guess, I’d say they were making their way toward the Shabal Mountain Range. With any luck, the wyverns and minotaurs will kill each other.”
Although he didn’t say it, Biran was more worried about whatever scared a dozen monsters out of their homes. We’d best avoid whatever made the eastern plains its home now.
“Biran, we informed your people of this before, but we are on our way to Grerton. Would you happen to know the way there?”
“Come on, three more days wandering the plains, and we’ll be in Grerton in no time.” I had no idea what Geisai was on about, but not playing along could be detrimental.
“You said the exact same thing five days ago. I’d rather like to find the city before the dawn of the next era.”
“The next era…? I’m touched you still have that much faith in me.” He went as far as placing his hands over his heart to complete the act.
“Yes, Biran?” The village chief crossed his arms and stood just a tiny bit taller than before.
“You are our savior, and so long as it is within reason, I’ll do my best to help you. However, before this conversation processed there is something that I must know. Are you visiting Grerton as a traveler or as an elven ranger?” Geisai remained silent, but a bit of that tension managed to seep through his joking facade.
My answer would determine which path this interaction would go down, but I still had no idea what the second option was.
“I assure you, that if I were on official business, I wouldn’t be wasting my time dealing with a small village’s problems, or cavorting with the like of him.”
Biran’s stare seemed like it would bore a hole through me, but he eventually relented and let out a sign.
“I suppose you have a point. Please forgive me, Lady Aiyana. You must understand, this village is currently under Grerton’s protection, and the looming war with Lancaster already has everyone on edge. The city is five days due north of here on foot. So long as you stick to the main road, you should arrive there in no time.”
“See, I told you we were heading in the right direction.” If Geisai wanted to try my patience, he was succeeding.
“Thank you, I don’t suppose your village can put us up for the night? We’ve been traveling for quite some time, and I’d like to spend one night not having to sleeping with one eye open.”
“You are more than welcome to stay the night. Tomorrow we begin the arduous task of rebuilding what the minotaur destroyed, but tonight we celebrate, both of you are, of course, more than welcome to join in the festivities. Till then, please make yourselves at home.”
Biran turned around began to leave before he suddenly stopped.
“Lady Aiyana, I know the uniform is a source of pride for soldiers, but it’s for the best that you wear something else when you arrive in Grerton.”
“Why is that?”
Biran simply smiled and said, “People are a lot more welcoming when the shadow of death that follows elven rangers isn’t a concern.”
With that, he left Geisai and me to our own devices.