They had been traveling through the thick forest for several hours. The horses had been pulling along the wagon the whole time without pause but showed no signs of fatigue. This prompted a raising of the eyebrows from Lane, but considering that this was a testing area created by the gods themselves, expecting things to work like normal might be irrational.
He'd stopped playing with the status window a while ago after figuring out how to summon it without speaking. Except for now learning how to share his status window, he couldn't think of other things to try with it. There was only so much you could do with a few windows of text before you eventually grew bored with it. Instead he passed the time by eavesdropping on the others in the wagon while observing the trees.
The middle-aged man who sat in the corner of the wagon had his eyes closed. The twins stopped bickering long ago and had since then spent their time talking with the others in the wagon. Rachel tried starting up a conversation with Lane a few times but he always responded curtly and without interest. He had already acted too suspiciously earlier. The more time he spent talking with them, the higher the chance that he would slip up because of his lack of knowledge. She eventually gave up on getting him to speak and started playing something called "twenty questions" with her brother.
Hearing them interacting was actually rather entertaining. He figured out the rules of the game quickly. It was childish, but he made a note to remember it. Listening to Rachel fail to guess the word 'coachman' almost had him breaking his facade and smiling. Almost.
But the actions of these twins put several questions into his head. He almost doubted whether they were real Summoned, or if they were fakes like him. They clashed with the image he had of the Summoned. Essentially every Summoned he'd met had been similar to Clyde. Crude bastards who didn't put any value to human life even if the only reason they were here was to help people. Were these twins the same, just wolfs in sheep's clothing? Or were they different? Experience told him the first was more likely. But if they were different, and there were other Summoned like them, then why had he never run into one of them? Were they that rare?
Movement amongst the trees caught his attention. Sitting up straight, he focused and peered into the thick forest. There was no sign of movement now. But he'd definitely seen something.
When the wagon started slowing down, both he and the other passengers shifted their attention to the front.
"Why are we slowing down?" The only other woman in the wagon asked. She had long black hair and, like most of the newly Summoned, wore odd clothing made out of some material that Lane didn't recognize. Next to her lay a crossbow and a small quiver with bolts in it.
The young man that sat in the coachman's position turned his head back to them. "The carriage at the front stopped for some reason." He pointed ahead. Their wagon was close to the front, and there were only three wagons ahead of them, all of which had stopped.
Lane leaned over the wagon's edge to get a better view of the first wagon. The passengers of the first wagon stood up and approached their coachman as they called out to him. He looked on as one of them grabbed the man's shoulder and let out a scream. The moment after, something came flying from the forest. That person immediately went quiet and fell over the edge of their wagon.
Panic ensued amongst the remainder of the people on the first wagon. Then Lane heard screams ring out from even further back in the train if wagons too.
He instantly ducked down and grabbed his shield, holding it above him as more and more screams spread out through the forest road. The others in his wagon also lay down to hide from attacks. The young coachman let out a cry as he threw himself to the back of the wagon. Right after, a short arrow came flying right past the spot he had been sitting on, lodging itself into a tree on the other side of the road. The coachman held his arms above his head as he turned his head around him with a panicked expression. "What's happening!?"
"I-Is this part of the test?!" The woman stammered with the crossbow held tightly to her chest.
The sound of arrows hitting the sides of the wagon startled the passengers, followed by their horse's shrieking as it reared onto its hind legs with two arrows sticking out of its side. The horse started fleeing away from the road and towards the forest, pulling them along with it. The sudden change in a direction nearly toppled the wagon, tossing its passengers onto each other. Lane landed on Chris, their heads crashing together and leaving him dizzy. When the horse closed in on and was close to running into the dense body of trees, it changed course again, this time causing the wagon to be thrown into the forest. As the wagon crashed into a thick tree its railing cracked and the whole vehicle nearly split in two, forcing all of them into the air.
Lane landed with a heavy thud next to a tall tree, his entire world spinning. In the corner of his eyes, he faintly saw how the horse succeded in breaking itself loose from the ruined wagon and galloped away further down the road.
Trying his best to get his bearings, he stumbled onto his legs and leaned on the tree. The others had landed close to him and were also attempting to stand up. All except for the man who spoke a lot with the dark-haired woman. He was lying with his face down next to another tree, showing no signs of consciousness.
As Lane looked around them, he spotted something that wasn't part of their group. A short, nimble creature with a bent back and tatters for clothes was staring at them with a small bow in its arms. It looked like a naked rat had mixed with a person, and it was aiming right at him.
His mind suddenly felt much clearer and he urgently threw himself on the ground to grab the shield that had landed close to him. He held it between him and the kobold, trying to make himself as small as possible in order to not get hit. Something slammed into the wooden shield and he heard a small thud. Glancing over the shield, he saw the kobold move to fire another arrow. However, the kobold never got the chance to fire that arrow as a projectile came flying from behind Lane, tearing into the kobold's thin throat. Gurgling as blood spilled out of its trachea, it fell down dead after only a few seconds.
Lane turned to see the woman with the crossbow aiming at the kobold, a shocked expression on her face.
"Good job!" Rachel shouted as she picked up a short falchion and moved over to help her brother up. Lane looked around but saw no other kobolds that were focusing on them right now. He tried looking for his sword, but couldn't find where it had settled after the fall. There was a lot of foliage around them and it could have landed anywhere.
After a moment the crossbow woman finally wiped the shocked expression off her face. "Alyosha!" She cried out as she hurried over to the man who lay on the ground and rolled him over. Blood covered his forehead. She put her ear above his mouth and gave out a sigh of relief. It seems like he was still alive, at least. While she focused on treating him, the rest looked around for more enemies.
The middle-aged man who hadn't spoken a word yet threw a broken bow on the ground. He moved over to the dead kobold with a serious expression and picked up its bow, examining it closely. The kobold didn't have a quiver, but there was a small pile of arrows lying next to it. The man grabbed them and put them into a quiver he had on his back. Then, he turned around and left them behind as he walked deeper into the forest.
Lane didn't bother following him. Instead, he focused on the road where the first couple of wagons used to be. The horse belonging to the first wagon lay dead on the ground, while the other horses seemed to have toppled over their wagons and runoff. Out of the six people that had been in the first wagon, four were already dead with arrows sticking out of them, while the last two were surrounded by several kobolds with small spears and swords. The people from the second and third wagon were also fighting with several kobolds, as well as a large creature with red-tinted skin, huge muscles, and a large war axe that it swung around like a toy. Each swing that connected with a person sent a limb or a sprout of blood flying. He'd heard tales describing this monster. It was a hobgoblin.
Some of the kobolds noticed Lane and the others and began running towards them with their weapons raised.
"They're coming for us!" Chris yelled, taking a step forward to cover his sister behind a large metal shield that Lane would have had trouble even holding. In his other hand, Chris held an arming sword much like the one Lane had.
The dark-haired woman stopped tending to the unconscious man and grabbed her crossbow again, clumsily reloading it with another bolt. The young man who had acted as the coachman was standing next to the twins, his face white as a sheet as he held a longsword with both hands in front of him.
When the first kobold approached, the woman fired her crossbow. The bolt missed its mark, hurtling into a tree next to it. The kobold was startled, however, and Chris took the opportunity to run forward and slam his shield into the kobold, followed up by a slash to its chest with his sword. Another kobold came running to attack him from the side, but Rachel emerged from behind her brother with two short falchions that she used to deflect the kobold's attack. She and her brother then worked together to make quick work of the kobold.
Lane was impressed by their teamwork but didn't have much time to admire it as a kobold with a spear rushed towards him. It was making it glaringly obvious where its aim was, so Lane thrust forward with his shield at the same time. The speartip penetrated through part of the wood and stopped there. He stood at almost twice the kobold's height, so when he twisted the shield to force it into dropping its weapon, there was nothing it could do. He slammed the edge of the shield in the kobold's face and heard the sound of bone cracking as it fell over.
The twins and the coachman were fighting the other kobolds, so Lane took the opportunity to drop the shield on the ground. Putting one foot on it, he grabbed hold of the spear's shaft and pulled as hard as he could. The spear was stuck in it harder than he thought, but after a few tries he managed to lodge it out of the wooden shield.
The spear was shorter than ordinary spears, being a little bit shorter than Lane, but he grabbed hold of it with both of his hands and turned towards the kobold that was fighting the coachman. The coachman had received a large gash on his thigh and was now wildly flaying around with his sword.
Lane ran towards the kobold with speed and didn't hesitate for a second in jamming his spear into its side with as much force as he could. Letting out a loud cry, the kobold lost its balance and the coachman took the chance to cut at its head. Half of the blade dug into the kobold's skull, silencing it for good.
The coachman looked at him with shaking hands. "Th-Thank you."
"No problem." Lane said and nodded his head at him. Turning around, he hurried over to grab his shield again just as the twins finished off the last of the kobolds that had attacked them.
Unfortunately, the large hobgoblin with the axe and the six kobolds who were alive had finished off their opponents. The battered bodies of the Summoned lay strewn about on the ground with bashed in heads and missing limbs. The hobgoblin eyed Lane and the others with a grin.