The village of Brackshore had constantly dealt with invasions by chondricthian raiders from its inception, but that had only intensified when the villagers had begun to fish on chondricthian waters. Of all the races in Telemera, the chondricthians were by far the most possessive of anything that they believed to be theirs, and they believed that anything that was within their territory was theirs, even if it was brought in by an outside guest.
Due to their long-standing tension, Kyron had wanted to immediately dismiss the plea for help and leave the chondricthians to fend for themselves, but he couldn’t risk wasting an opportunity to aid his people. So he trusted in the pleas for help and volunteered himself to visit the palace with the chondricthian in tow. The palace was a three days ride from his hometown of Brackshore, with safehouses and outposts few and far between.
The first checkpoint that Kyron was aiming for was Caildor Castle. It was a grand palace that had fallen into ruin before even Kyron’s earliest ancestor had moved into the region. The western regions in Relania had always struggled to find prosperity on the harsh plains, where dry summers and long winters left few months usable for farming. Fortunately, even in the harshest winter, the ocean still remained a fertile food source for the coastal villages. However, when fishing became too dangerous, or impractical in the case of larger cities, the villages and cities were forced to rely on imports and trade from the rest of the country.
The kingdom was willing to tolerate these handouts as a sort of safety precaution. The villages served as a barrier and an early defense warning against the chondricthian raids letting the military know early on if an earnest invasion was starting. The western region was home to a small population of humans in comparison to some of the other races more suited to the harsh environments.
As the sun began to rise over the horizon Kyron could see the outline of Caildor Castle. He gave a sigh of relief knowing that refuge was just ahead and calmed his horse to a walk until the carriage carrying his captive was level with him. “Speaker. We’ll be stopping for a rest. The scouts will go hunting so we can save our rations. Do you have a preference for a meal?”
“Just make sure it’s a large enough meal to satisfy Speaker Srough’s hunger.” She chuckled with mirth, “Your hunters will need at least two deer to feed all of us.”
Kyron scoffed and urged his horse back to the front looking around at his allies. It was then that he noticed something was amiss. The soldier at the front of the caravan was slumped lightly off to the side and his horse was beginning to waver on its path. Kyron rode closer to the man ready to investigate the cause for his slumped posture, but before he could close the distance the rogue horse reared and dropped the lifeless body of the soldier to the floor.
Kyron gave an urgent shout and charged towards the man lying in the dirt and leapt from his horse to check on the fallen soldier. “We’re under attack! Find a defensible position!” Kyron began to shout. He drew his bow and nocked an arrow looking around for the potential attackers. When he couldn’t see any of the assailants he turned the soldier over finding a trio of arrows embedded in the man’s chest.
Kyron’s expression turned to sorrow and then anger, the fallen man, Varack had been the first to volunteer to help Kyron on this mission. Varack had shared a similar view to Kyron on the negotiations, and he knew that even with the danger it was the village’s best shot at survival. Kyron wanted to take time to mourn the man, but he had other lives he had to protect first.
“Get the carriage up ahead! Once it’s secured get back here and we can fight back!” His orders were interrupted by the sound of more arrows sailing through the morning light. One struck Kyron’s foot pinning him to the dirt and causing him to cry out in anguish. When he searched for his traveling companions he saw the carriage tip over and his fellow soldiers in similar situations as he was.
Counting the original soldier Kyron had seen fall, three of his escort guard had already perished and he hadn’t even laid eyes on their attackers. Kyron grimaced to himself, “Half of us are already dead.” He used his free foot to snap off the arrow trapping him in place, and charged towards the carriage hoping to use it for cover. He heard another volley of arrows sailing towards the bottleneck he was trapped in. Even with his wounded foot Kyron was able to limp behind the carriage just before the barrage landed.
Noting the direction and angle the arrows had come from Kyron guessed that the attackers were coming from the west. Were they chondricthians out to free their captured ally? Not likely. The arrows were flying with far more precision than most chondricthians were capable of. Nonetheless, Kyron called out to the carriage, “Speaker! Are you behind this?”
“Speaker Srough has no desire of being shot with arrows. This plan would not align with my best interests” The sharklike woman said with a bit of contempt in her voice, “If chondricthians were ambushing you they would not do it from afar with arrows.”
Kyron simply groaned in frustration at the situation before drawing back his own arrow and firing it towards the direction he suspected the attackers were coming from. He watched his arrow’s trajectory keeping his aim in mind so he could adjust for a second shot, except he never saw the arrow land. Instead, a small portal tore through reality swallowing his attack whole, and then without giving him a second to react another portal spat the arrow into his back slamming him headfirst into the carriage.
Kyron groaned and tried to hold fast to the last remnants of his fading consciousness, but the pain was overwhelming and forced him into an unnatural rest. The last thing he saw before his union with the dirt beneath him was a figure in black armor cresting the hill. And with that last image, Kyron knew that his death was imminent and that he wouldn’t even be awake to see his killer’s face.
For a time there was nothing for him, except the black void of his overwhelmed mind dragging him further away from the waking world, but then, what felt like an eternity later, a noise roused him from his stupor. He heard a feral scream and the clamor of combat, which brought a surge of breath flooding into his lungs. His eyes snapped open revealing Srough standing with her back to him, surrounded by five figures wearing the same armor Kryon had seen before blacking out.
It looked as though Srough had disarmed and dispatched a few other assassins before getting surrounded, and she was now turning their own weapons upon her attackers. The five figures moved at once to assault her, and Kyron was graced with the impeccable defense that followed as Srough used a single arm to engage with each assailant while using her spare arm to weave attacks back towards her foes or enhance her defenses against a particularly aggressive attack. Even with her flawless protection, she was forced to maneuver back towards Kyron as they simply outnumbered the beastly woman.
Shaking off the haze of his trauma Kyron tried to stand but the arrow in his shoulder made that impossible for the time being. He was determined to find some way to help but in his handicapped state that was practically an impossibility. His struggles went wildly unnoticed as the battle raged around him, the attackers trying to wear down the chondricthian who was protecting him.
Kyron began to lose hope with each step his defender took back conceding ground. This continued until Srough was only a step away from Kyron, and the combatants hesitated, hearing the heavy hooves of a charging horse. Kyron managed to prop himself up just in time to see Val come soaring into view as she leapt from the back of her horse, tackling one of the assassins.
Using the surprise of Val’s arrival to her advantage, Srough impaled another foe through their stomach before throwing him into another assassin. With the tides turned in their favor, the duo quickly dispatched the remaining enemies with ruthless efficiency.
“Sorry.” Val panted catching her breath, “I’m late” She braced herself on her knees and looked around at the carnage of the battle. “That was a smart move letting the chondricthian out.”
Srough began to bellow with laughter at Val’s remark, “Speaker Srough was not set free. I burst from the tiny cage with ease to come to Defender Kyron’s aid. I was only staying in the box as a courtesy.”
“Well, thanks for your kind manners,” Kyron said rolling his eyes. “One of you mind pulling this thing out of my shoulder?” he gestured to the arrow inhibiting him. “Titan’s Blood, that was a massacre.” he grimaced. “It’s like they were waiting for us.”
“They were.” Val said frowning as she grasped onto the arrow, “The entire negotiation was being spied on. For whatever reason, they’re trying to stop her from reaching the capital.” She gently pulled the arrow from Kyron’s back and pointed it at the chondricthian woman.
“But how did they know we were going to negotiate with the chondricthians in the first place?” Kyron interjected. “They don’t typically work with other races, so it probably wasn’t them double crossing us. So was someone spying on them first?”
“Not possible. Other species are like slugs in water. They have no hope of being stealthy in our territory.” Srough smirked with arrogance heavy in her voice. “Even the foolish head-tails aren’t able to avoid the power of our noses.”
“Look I hate to break up a good debate, but we really need to move to safety. If we can make it to the ruins, we can set up camp, so we don’t get ambushed again.” Kyron returned, to the mission at hand. “I vote after we wait the day out, we head back to Brackshore. We’re gonna need to rethink this route if we don’t want to get ambushed again.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Val chimed in, “If they recorded our route before they might do it again. I think we need to do something they won’t expect.” She turned in thought, “We could try to make for the scarred land to the north, but I’d rather face another band of assassins.” She said shivering at the thought.
“Yeah, that’s a bad plan too,” Kyron said nodding in agreement. “I think we need to misdirect them somehow. If they think we’re heading one way, and we are actually going another it might give us a shot.”
“So assuming that there actually are more assassins going to be chasing after us,” Val started, “We could send a bunch of horses in different directions. If we send the horses in sets of three the remaining assassins would have to divide their forces to follow all of the tracks. Then once we’re close enough we could probably take the last leg on foot so they won’t know what to look for.”
“It’s decided then.” Srough answered, “We’ll rest here until night, and I will attend to Kyron’s wounds. Then once we can make our departure in secret we can finish this journey to the safety of the kingdom.”
The group then gathered the horses that had stayed through the battle and led them into the ruined castle. When they tied off all the horses and patched up Kyron’s injuries they settled into a pattern of rest, while making sure that one person was always keeping watch.