Savir stood, his back facing one of the last trees before he and his party would arrive at the lands of the crazed creatures. Before him stood halflings beyond measure. Whether it was the beasts or the men, he simply could not count them all. “Remember, brothers. We are not here to create a blood debt, only to repay one. If we see any of the creatures aside from our targets, we will not attack first.”
Those gathered nodded solemnly at his words. The arrangement had already been made long in advance, as they had made a trek for over a week through the forest to get to this point. Yet, this was something he had said to them every day. Not to remind them of their hatred, but to remind them of their mercy. While they were avenging their people, they were still followers of the Goddess, and would not spill blood needlessly.
“However.” Savir said, a coldness flashing in his eyes that caught some unaware. He had never added anything to the end of the warning before. “If they attack us, we will not withdraw. Some of us may not return from this, but on my blood I promise that before this is over, all debts will be paid.”
“I will need to ask the larger ones to stay here for now.” He said, looking around at some of the bigger animals, the feralics and tigrex. “We are wandering into a den of beasts, and we cannot journey around. I would ask one of my brothers to stay and watch over them, so that we may know that they are safe.”
At his words, one halfling stepped forward. A female, judging by the small lumps on her chest and her long, scraggly hair that had leaves and twigs sticking out of it. Like many here, there was a dried bloody handprint on her chest. “If you would accept a sister, sir.”
Savir simply nodded, smiling slightly. “Hedra, this task shall be yours. We will send word when we can, but our leather is scarce. Hopefully, there will not be the opportunity to make more.”
The female halfling nodded her head, her hand slapping her chest open palmed. Since the gathering, this had become an unofficial show of respect and loyalty between the halfling army. As such, Savir returned the gesture. “Take care, sister. Now, we are off!” He called out to the others. “Let us walk through this lair of beasts and hunt those who would hunt us.”
At his words, there was a chorus of slapping sounds, as well as pained groans from the more eager. However, he simply smirked, before looking down at the furry creature that had been lurking in his shirt for the last few days. “My friend, this is your chance. Help us find those that wronged you.”
The long, furry beast bobbed its head up as it looked at Savir, then quickly climbed out of his shirt. Looking back at the others, it gave a small squeak before running out of the forest. The hunt was on.
Watching the scene unfold on the computer, I shook my head helplessly. I had been keeping watch on both sides as they had progressed to this point, fast forwarding ahead days at a time. Yet, the two races treated the situation entirely different.
For the halflings, this was a blood feud which would not end until the offenders had been slain. And, with the small army they gathered, they could easily take out one small herd of centaurs. That’s not even taking into their various animals that they were taking with them. However, for the centaurs themselves…
They had entirely forgotten about the event from several weeks prior. Not once had they mentioned it to another herd, even in passing. While the halflings were dealt a heavy attack, they simply saw it as an unusual event during a hunt. When I consulted with Tryval, he said that they talked among themselves, and decided that it was best not to tell anyone else.
In the minds of that herd, the halflings were likely just another new type of variant. As such, if they told people what happened, they would be branded as killers. Although, they still considered it right to hunt them because they did not have ‘Tryval’s grace’. When I asked what exactly that meant, he motioned to his horse body.
“All centaurs, whether they are normal, unicorn, pegasus, even the qilin, have the same basic body shape. Yet, not only do the halflings have a drastically smaller lower body, even smaller than some foals, their lower bodies are entirely different. Thus, they consider them to be ‘truly’ cursed, and believe it is their duty to purge them.”
Those were his words, and hearing them made my head ache. Apparently, this was the unifying aspect that the first King used to rally the centaurs together and stop discrimination. If I had known at the time that the halflings were anywhere near ready to explore the centaur continent, I would have made sure to tell my Host not to let him use such an ideal. While effective at helping the centaurs reach a common ground, it was counter productive right now.
I glanced back down at the screen, fast forwarding it again to the next clash between the two races. I intended to watch as much of this as I could, so that I could act as soon as possible should the need arise.
As the halflings traveled through the tall grass, they utilized a walking method that had been ingrained in every child since birth. With their hands and feet on the ground, spread out to keep their bodies as low as possible, they used their innate agility to quickly advance. From above, little could be seen aside from the rustling of grass, and the occasional beast sticking its head up.
Like this, they had moved for three days. With five different birds flying in the skies at different times to scout around them, and Makin leading the way, they went unseen. Whenever a herd was spotted, Makin would slowly get closer to see if it was the right one. When they weren’t, it would flee back to the others so that they could change their course.
There was only one time that they were spotted before they reached their goal. Once when one of the tallest beasts they had allowed to join them poked its head just above the grass.
“Do you smell something?” Alfur Greymane asked, his head tilted back slightly as he sniffed the air. There was a peculiar scent, one which he could swear he had known before. Yet, he could not place it. Even among the greymanes, he was one of the oldest. His own herd had insisted many times that he take up rest in the Holds, yet he refused. To him, the plains were his home, not a town of wood and stone. He was born on the plains, and he would die on them.
His eldest son, Adrian Firehoof, furrowed his brow as he also sniffed. However, his face soon darkened. “Bows.” He called out the word, causing the rest of the herd to still their steps. Of the dozen, all but Alfur pulled their bow off their back, nocking an arrow in preparation.
“What is it?” Alfur asked as he looked to his son. Although he was the greymane of the herd, he had left most matters of leadership to Adrian. It was the only compromise he was willing to give, as he himself knew that his thoughts often left him.
However, his son did not speak. With his bow in hand, he ascended the nearest hill. He could tell that the smell was coming from just beyond, and so he had prepared himself to attack if he saw any signs of an enemy.
What he saw, however, left him speechless. His body shuddered, his hand releasing the arrow that had been pulled less than halfway on the bow, causing it to strike the ground beside him. When the other members of the herd arrived at the top of the hill, they had similar reactions. One among them even turned to the side, bending his body forward as he heaved, unable to accept the sight before him.
This was a savage time, but never this savage. Fifteen spears had their bases stabbed into the ground in a row. Stuck to the top of each was a severed head, gaze stuck in either anger or hunger. Already birds had descended and were plucking at the softer tissues, the cheeks, the ears, the eyes. On the forehead of each was a small, red handprint, looking like that of a newborn child.
The scene around them was no less gruesome, a field of blood and gore. Arms and legs were scattered about, bodies torn apart. It looked like a swarm of beasts had descended upon a herd, yet no beast would display the heads like that.
Due to his shock, he didn’t even notice the mound of soft, upturned dirt beneath his hooves, or the six identical ones next to it. Yet, when he did, he found that each pile had a large stone placed at one end, with the same bloody print as the heads. “What happened here…” Alfur couldn’t help but ask.
It was the tiniest mistake, yet it cost them so dearly. One of their scalers, two legged reptiles that looked like wide halflings, had stood up in surprise when it accidentally kicked a stone. This happened to be while Savir and his party were circling around one of the larger herds that they had seen.
There was a cry of alarm from the herd as they noticed the scaler, and arrows soon arrived at their position. One of the arrows cleanly pierced the creature’s head, while another went wide and landed on the thigh of a young halfling, causing him to cry out in pain. This only made the strange creatures more alert, as they nocked more arrows.
Savir tried to get them to stop. In his haste, he jumped to his feet and raised his hands up facing the creatures, trying to show them that he was not attacking them. After thinking about it, he had come to a few conclusions. One, these creatures were fairly intelligent, enough to craft bows and spears, and use the questing scrolls. Yet, they obviously could not speak, at least, not in a way that could be understood.
However, his action only caused more arrows to be fired at him and his group. Savir, having experienced his share of fights with the wildlife in his life’s travel, deftly rolled to the side to dodge. But, in doing so, the wounded halfling he had been trying to save had taken an arrow to the chest.
Savir felt his blood boil. Again, these creatures attacked without cause, and again it cost him the life of his kin! “There is a blood debt between us now.” He spoke, his words seeming to spread out through the hill.
Angered growls could be heard from the grass, though they were not from the beasts, as even they shrank back at the sudden ferocity of their friends. No, this was the angered growl of the halflings, which shook the very souls of the sixteen creatures before them. When the first one sprang out, his feet moved like lightning, his body a blur. Yet, it was only the beginning.
Among the halfling army, a total of three hundred and seventeen had been gathered. Counting the one left in the forest, and the one that had just been slain, those were the only two losses that they had suffered since they left the Rest. Armed with bows and knives, they fought. The Rogues among them moved mysteriously, their footwork always seeming to bring them closer to their target despite only appearing to move from side to side. The Hunters and Archers shot their small arrows, while the Monster Tamers called upon their friends.
The sixteen creatures had been completely unprepared for the attack. Even the first blurred figure managed to slice open the stomach of the leading enemy with his knife, though he had been promptly kicked back by its hooves. Yet, even those hooves were not safe, as a second Rogue had appeared next to him, swinging his bone knife with all the force his body could muster.
Although its leg had not been directly cut off, it was still cut deeply, causing it to reflexively stomp down. However, that action only served as the final straw that snapped the bottom half of its leg, causing it to fall to the side in a scream of pain and terror. By now, the rest of the herd was beginning to act.
Savir noticed that one among them knew how to use ki, the strange power that a few halflings had managed to grasp. However, that only made him a more dangerous target. “Kill the monk.” Savir called out, and his men obeyed.
Although the monk had reared back and struck out with a kick that shattered the head of one of his assailants, he found himself the target of every knife and every arrow. His ki allowed him to defend for a few breaths of time, in which he grabbed one halfling of his back and tossed her to the ground, smashing her back under his hooves, he was quickly taken down.
Beasts tore into the spear wielding creatures, ripping limb from limb. Some shot out balls of fire or ice that blasted them, while others used their sharp teeth or claws. Even Makin showed his anger, pouncing on the head of the first dead and using its little paws to slap its head repeatedly.
Of the fourteen other creatures, only two managed to take someone out with them before they fell. One had not even tried to fight, instead running away as soon as the ferocity began. Some wanted to give chase after the rest of the herd had been slain, but Savir stopped them. Of the halflings, he had been fairly lucky, only having his cheek scraped by a missed arrow. Some of the others had arrows or spearheads sticking out of their bodies, the red bar of life slowly dwindling.
“He did not fight or harm us, so we have no debt with him. For this herd, our debt has been paid. If there are any alchemists among us, I ask of you to help the wounded. For the rest, let us care for the dead.”