After the battle, the halflings were left to mourn their fallen brothers. First was Havir, Savir’s companion. He was a swift-wind sparrow, able to manipulate the winds to fly at extreme speeds. Havir had been with him through most of his life, and had chosen to block that fatal arrow for him. Then, while Savir was mourning the loss, he too was shot down.
When Savir fell, the halflings couldn’t help but turn their heads in shock. Savir was the eldest among the halflings, and as such he had chosen his target to be the eldest of the enemy creatures. Thankfully, they shared similar physical signs of age. However, one of the younger members of the party had not managed to cleanly kill their target, allowing them to wake up and scream for help.
Perhaps luckily, the one that had made that mistake had also fallen in the battle, crushed under hooves as he was distracted with Savir’s death. Otherwise, there is no telling if the ones remaining would truly blame him for the deaths of their kin. Yet, the majority of the deaths did not come from their momentary distraction. Rather, it came from the rage that followed.
In their anger, the entire halfling group had charged the herd. More than a dozen of them were killed by either bows, spears, or hooves. Still a dozen more of their animal and monster companions were slain in that same reckless charge. This time, there was no mercy, no escape for those that sought to flee. The halflings washed over them like a wave of death.
Savir had held them together, had held them back from their desires to simply attack. And now, he was gone. After the battle, one of the younger halflings stepped forward. He had been the first to join Savir at the Rest during the gathering. “We need to head back to the forest. Whether we want to continue fighting or not, we have to go back.”
Several of the halflings turned to look at him as he spoke. “They roam this field in greater numbers. Right now, we don’t have enough people with us to fight back if more herds joined.”
“Why would we continue fighting?” Another halfling asked curiously. “We have settled the blood debt. We can leave the plains forever, let them wander alone, without Her blessing.”
The first halfling shook his head with a bitter smile. “Why would they stay in the plains? This herd was small when they first attack near the forest, and then they met with a larger group. We may be known by many of them by now. If they wanted to seek us out, could they not simply enter the forest?”
This caused the confused halfling to fall silent. He had seen many creatures with similar lower bodies as these wandering the forests in his lifetime. Yet, before he could offer up another reason, the man continued to speak. “We have already chosen exile from the Rests when we followed Savir. If that is to be so, then let it not go to waste.”
Now, another halfling stepped forward, a younger girl. On her shoulder rested a white bird, similar to the one that had saved Savir. On her dirty face was a trail of tears, her eyes red. This was Savir’s own daughter, who had chosen to accompany her father in his exile. “You mean…?” She asked in a quiet voice, unsure of what this man truly wanted.
“We will create our own Rest, at the border of the forest. Since we can no longer take shelter with the rest of our kin, then let us do this for them. Shara, I am sorry about your father, but he would not want to leave our people open for their attacks. You knew him better than us, what would he have done now?”
At his words, the halfling girl lowered her head, thinking back on all the times she shared with her father. She was one of the reasons that he had chosen to remain in the Rest, and ended his journey. Her mother had been killed by a wild beast, and Savir did not want to travel again until she had grown up. “He… He would want to keep everyone safe. My dad wouldn’t want to see anyone else hurt.”
The halfling man nodded his head. “Then it is decided. We will form a permanent home, one where we can defend our kin.” He turned to look at the fallen bodies, slapping his chest with his open palm. “No more blood debts.” He spoke, barely a whisper.
That battle was… intense. Short, but intense. I thought I had seen how vicious the halflings could get when they met the first herd, yet they still surprised me again. However, I couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief when I heard the words of the halfling that stepped forward. If it was just at the level of creating a city to serve as a first line of defense, that would not be bad for them at all. In fact, it may even give rise to the first halfling territory recognized by the system as a kingdom.
I resumed my plan of fast forwarding a bit at a time to watch their encounters, and quickly began to notice a pattern. Something had changed with the halfling party since they killed that herd. They seemed to be moving less stealthily, yet none of them seemed to notice. It was not about their movements or their tactics. Rather, they did not avoid crossing paths with a herd anymore.
Their first encounter was only the day after the battle. After Danar, the new ‘leader’ of the group, received word from one of the scouting animals about an approaching herd, he actually had the group adjust slightly so that they would encounter each other. Naturally, this led to the centaurs starting another ‘blood debt’ by attacking the halflings, though thankfully this time they only injured them. However, that was enough to make Danar call for the attack, causing another herd to be slain.
This pattern repeated itself again and again, with them encountering herds only to have to fight. When I focused on the group, I noticed that some seemed to question to themselves if Danar was doing this on purpose. However, most were more angry with the centaurs for always starting the fights. Even if Danar himself was leading them into the conflicts, never once had they attacked first. At least, not at first.
As I watched the battles progress more and more, the number of halflings slowly dropping after each fight, I saw that the halflings started to take the initiative. Near the end of their journey back to the woods, when they found a herd, it was the halflings that struck first.
Danar smiled inwardly as he watched the herd approaching. His plan so far had been going better than he had hoped. With Savir dead, the halflings wanted vengeance, but he was a bit different. Even before Savir had died, he was among the people that believed the world would be a better place without these creatures. So, he came up with a plan.
First, after taking control of the group, he started to lead them into confrontations with the various herds that they passed. While they hid nearby as the herd passed, he would simply wait. He wanted to show his kin how bloodthirsty these creatures were. Sure enough, any time they were noticed, a fight began.
Unlike most halflings, Danar had led a harsher journey. He did not travel with his family, having always been alone. And because he was by himself, beasts and monsters were more willing to attack him. Aside from the smaller creatures, which now served as useful scouts, none had wanted to befriend him. This caused him to see a darker side of nature that most halflings didn’t see.
But now, things were changing. This group he was leading was starting to see those darker sides. They were being made to understand that not every creature could be reasoned with. And after every confrontation, they became stronger. Danar was saddened by the losses that were suffered in this lesson, but he knew that it was for the best. If they didn’t understand the brutality of these creatures, they would only be endangering their entire race.
Now, they were less than a day’s walk from the forest, but the change in the demeanor of the group was obvious. The moment that Danar announced he had seen another herd, he could practically feel the anger and bloodthirst. Over the last two weeks of slow movement, they had lost almost a third of their number, yet the ones remaining were all far stronger than they had been before. It was to the degree that not a single halfling had died in their last exchange.
Still, Danar had to be cautious. “What is it everyone wants to do? If we avoid them, we can surely make it to the forest without seeing another herd.” This was their choice. He had shown them the darker side of nature, and now wanted to let them decide whether they wanted to hide or to fight. With this, he would be able to fully support their decision.
Surprisingly, it was Shara who spoke up first. She had perhaps shown the greatest growth over these travels, as she had been fairly weak before leaving the Rest. It was only due to her own luck and Savir’s protection that she had survived this long. When she spoke, her eyes were practically red as she gripped her bone dagger, the same one she had taken off of her father’s body. “If they saw us, they would fight without hesitation. Towards these creatures, a blood debt has already been formed. Not just one herd, this is the fault of their entire people. So, I say fight!”
When she finished, there was a chorus behind her as others shouted to fight as well. Danar nodded his head heavily, having expected this kind of response. “Okay, then we will take the fight to them. After this, we can build a home to defend our people.”
Shara nodded to his words, bringing her fingers up to her lips and letting out a quiet whistle. One of the scouting birds from above, Shara’s sparrow, flew down to her and landed on her shoulder. “Lara, head back to Hedra. Let her know what’s happened.” The bird bobbed its head a few times rapidly, as if to nod in understanding. Afterwards, it flew up into the air, and moved to the north with a sudden burst of speed.
With that taken care of, the halflings moved low to the ground, approaching the last herd. Since they were the ones attacking first, they had time to properly prepare their attacks. The archers of the group took their time to ready their shot, while the rogues and warriors stood with their weapons at the ready. A good portion of them had even managed to unlock the Assassin class, granting them more powerful abilities to quickly kill a target.
Danar waited until he saw that everyone was ready. This was a fairly small herd compared to what they had seen so far, numbering only nine creatures. He had no doubt that this would be an easy victory, yet it was important to their group. This was the first time that they had ever begun the fight themselves.
“Attack.” He spoke to the group, and arrows were released by the dozen. The herd barely had time to cry out in alarm before they were pelted with arrows. Though, only four fell from these shots, as the arrows that halflings used were still quite a bit smaller than what the enemy creatures wielded.
Nonetheless, even the five who survived the attack were shaken for a moment. By the time that they had been able to pull out their own weapons to fight back, the assassins had already made their move. With how thick skinned the creatures were and their surprise from the sudden attack, they didn’t even notice that each of them had an unfamiliar weight on their lower backs. With a quick, clean strike, the last five fell to the ground, bloody holes in the side of their necks.
Danar nodded his head in satisfaction at the effectiveness of the ambush. With a herd that small, there was not much need to have anyone but the archers attack. Only when their arrows did not prove entirely effective would the assassins make their move. And, if there were too many in the herd for that, the normal rogues, warriors, and monster tamers could join the fight.
Walking up to the herd, Danar greeted one of the assassins as she jumped off the back of her kill. “Good work, Shara. Your father would be proud.”