Sherene Goldrose bends over with her hands on her knees and takes a breather, pushing her falling hair back over her pointy ears. She stood up and watches the snaking line of people, slowly climbing the steep slopes of Sawtooth Mountain. Young and old, carrying what little possessions they have, struggles against the rocky terrain, trying to escape the pursuing Empire soldiers.
"My Lady," A middle-aged male, with sharp eyes and hair turning grey at the roots, hands a skin of water to Sherene. "We must hurry, the Empire soldiers will be upon us soon. We have no time to rest!" He wears a half plate with a long sword belted to his waist and in addition a backpack of supplies.
"But the people are tired! We can't just push them too much!" Sherene pleads with the veteran. "We can't let them be taken by the Empire!"
He sighs. Joseph Tokin had served the Goldrose family for over 30 years, he knew the young princess since she was a baby and her temperament very well. But as she is the only last surviving member of the Goldrose royal family, her parents, brothers and ultimately the kingdom losing their lives to the Mad Emperor Varacen in the, he has to protect her at all cost!
"My Lady, I will dispatch men as a rearguard to buy us as much time as possible." He sighs inwardly, thinking of the men and women he will be condemned to death. "But we must hurry, please get on the wagon!" He dictates a wagon, pulled by a large lumbering land dragon.
Sherene looks into her loyal retrainer's eyes, seeing the sadness and pain inside. "I-I understand. But no, let the old, wounded and young on it." She stubbornly lowers her head and starts walking again, ignoring her painful sore feet.
Joseph shakes his head and waves at his flag bearer to come over and give some orders. The flag bearer nods and starts waving his flag in a signal. Shortly after a small detachment of escorting soldiers broke off and headed to the rear of the column. "My Lady, we will soon reach the pass between Sawtooth Mountain and be able to see the sea. My men will remain to defend the pass, they will not be able to follow us as long as we hold the pass!"
"But you can't hold it forever!" Sherene looks worriedly at Joesph since she could remember, he was always there for her, as her mentor in sword and archery, her protector, and friend. She doesn't know what she will do if she lost him too!
"Don't worry, my princess!" He smiles, "When winter comes in 2 months time, the pass will be blocked, giving us a whole season to prepare! You need to lead the people to rebuild their homes. Leave the fighting to me!" He pats his breastplate.
"Look princess!" A soldier in the front yells excited and points to the front. A narrow gap slowly comes into view, large enough for 4 land dragon wagons to drive pass side by side. "It's the Sawtooth Pass!"
The disposed citizens of the Goldrose Kingdom cheer up visibly as they point to the pass, knowing that once they cross it, they are saved!
Sherene hurries along with the rest of the soldiers and civilians, appearing out of the pass and seeing the glittering sea in the far distance. It was the 1st time most of the people have seen the sea, as their kingdom is landlocked. The sparkingly clear blue waters could be seen clearly from their height.
Suddenly someone shouted and points to the distance, Joesph and Sherene worried that the pursuit from the Empire has come, looks in surprise at the objects moving in the plains.
2 dragon-less wagons were moving rapidly in the plains following a herd of Pico Picos, a large-sized flightless bird, seemingly capturing them with ropes.
"What powerful sorcery is that?" Joesph stares wide-eyed at the fast-moving wagons. "They must be very powerful mages to do that!"
The people from the Goldrose Kingdom stood watching the scenery and the dragon-less wagons rounding up the herd of Pico Picos in awe when suddenly a horn blast bellowed from the rear.
"The Empire is here!"
Loaded up on the moving Jeep that was newly manufactured, Pvt Drake sat on the rear cheering the crew who was strapped standing in the middle of the jeep. The redesign of the prototype jeep has added a standing space in the middle of the vehicle, which holds a mount for mounting the PK-299 machinegun and new roll bars on the vehicle sides.
The crewmate threw a lasso and expertly caught another of the large ostrich-like bird. "Hee-haw!" SA Puller drawls as he tightened the noose. "Damn I'm good!" All that time spent with grandpa in the horse farms sure paid off!
At one side of the plains, the second jeep sat the rest of the survey team, husbanding the caught birds. "Lucky, they are quite docile or I think they ate you by now!" Sgt Collins jokes with the team. The large birds stand almost as tall as a human, with an eagle-like head and body covered with grey-white feathers, while their tails feathers are black and crane-like legs. It's surrounding eye sockets are color in a bright red-orange, with distinct black feathers protruding from behind its head.
Suddenly a long bellowing sound of a horn echoes down the mountains and onto the plains, everyone snaps their heads up towards the sound. "What is that?"
"Look! People!" Someone yells at the 2nd vehicle. Sgt Collins unstrap his binoculars and peers into the distance. The powerful 12x zoom instantly brings details of the group of people standing on the mountain slopes.
"Oh my, we got natives!" Collins yells as he focuses his sight on the group. "Call Car 1 back!" Another blast of long mournful sounding horn echoes again. "Damn!"
Car 2 pulled up beside them with the caught Pico Pico in tow. "What the hell is that sarge?" Pvt Drake hops off the rear with his weapon at the ready. He carried an M7 DMR instead of an M7A1 for this mission.
"There you see the gap between the mountain ridges?" Collins directed Drake, who deployed the built-in bipod of the M7 DMR onto the hood of the jeep, and peers into the 8x scope of the rifle. "You see them?"
Drake adjusted his sights and activates the built-in rangefinder. "Yup, a large group of people, some wearing armor and carrying swords and spears. Distance... 426 meters away"
"What's happening?" The rest of the team asking those who had field glasses.
"Some group of people turned up... wait... they appear to be fighting," Someone gave a commentary on the situation. "Oh no, there seems to be women and children in that group!"