After the founding of Savir, the first halfling kingdom, the situation was fairly casual for a while. The halflings did not see any signs of the strange creatures approaching their borders, aside from a few random herds that their scouts spotted passing by. None of them even seemed remotely interested in invading the forest.
Shara, still filled with confidence after having spoken with her goddess, personally joined the scouting forces every day. She had received Her blessing, and would see this through to the end. Because that was her decision, that she loved her people enough to live and die for them. She was just curious when it seemed like none of the strange creatures would arrive even after a month of waiting.
At least, that’s how it looked to them. Some distance away, beyond the horizon, the centaurs were marching. Unlike the wild herds, or the patrolling forces, these had to move at a slow trot due to their numbers. This was the largest force that the centaurs had ever fielded at one point, a full five thousand man cavalry.
It had taken nearly a month to gather the soldiers and equip them, but now each one carried a bow and a spear. Their chests were covered with thick leather armor. And leading the charge were the Knights of Valor, Justice, and Leadership.
Due to their slowed pace, and the fact that it took them a month to fully equip everyone, it was expected that it would take them an extra two months before they reached the tall woods. Of course, this took into consideration the tens of centaurs that were constantly running back and forth from Tryval’s Hold and King’s Hope to make supply runs. Otherwise, they would surely starve long before they arrived at the tall woods.
Well, this is going to end poorly. I thought as I looked at the map. Before, the halflings had managed to dominate the herds by outnumbering them twenty to one. Now, the centaurs were coming in towards the forest outnumbering them ten to one. The result of this battle… well, it wasn’t like I really had to think too hard about it.
Shaking my head, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. The world was too early for the halflings to have the proper fortifications to fight off an invasion of greater numbers without using magic to build their city like the centaurs seemed to do for King’s Hope. On the other hand, halflings also seemed to be quite a bit weaker in defensive battles than they were attacking. Most of their abilities tended towards either stealth or controlling other creatures.
I was rather curious how the battle would actually play out, though, since the centaurs have no experience fighting in a forest. On the other hand, the halflings are always adjusting to new terrain. I furrowed my brows as I thought about that, but still determined that the numbers advantage wouldn’t be overcome that easily.
Guess we better just see how this goes. I thought, before deciding to fast forward again to the next battle. There was no use in simply sitting there thinking about the fight, and nothing I could do to change the outcome without direct intervention.
Shara stood alone atop the highest tree on the border for her kingdom. It had been a full season since Savir had been established. The leaves were already changing, the air growing colder. Since they had been waiting for so long, with no signs of an attack coming, their scouts had relaxed. Some started to believe that they were not needed, that the creatures would never leave their plains.
As such, even though more people had come to join the kingdom named to honor her father, very little had actually happened. At most, the original members of the Bloodied Hand would train the newcomers in various techniques that they learned through their classes. Only Shara continued to keep watch every day, feeling that things had not quite ended yet for her.
And sure enough, as the clouds gathered overhead, the sky darkening with an impending storm, Shara saw something in the distance. At first, she wasn’t sure what it was because it was too far away, but once she activated her Scout abilities, that changed.
So many… Shara could see a line of creatures looming just over the horizon. Most of them looked like those that they were waiting for, while some showed subtle differences. Some had wings on either side of their animalistic bodies, while others had a single horn atop their heads.
She had simply never seen so many living beings in one place, and trying to count them was impossible. With their slow, even pace, it reminded her about how they had moved when invading the plains. They were not trying to hide, though, and instead just making sure that they moved at a pace where none would fall behind.
“Oh no…” She muttered under her breath, knowing that there were far, far more of them than they could handle. Closing her eyes, she leaned backwards off the branch, allowing herself to enter free-fall towards the ground. Her body twisted, hands and feet gently striking branches to maneuver her through the air until she was only ten meters up.
Then, reaching her hand out, she grabbed onto a loose vine, dislodging one end of it from its tree. With that, she borrowed the vine to safely swing onto the ground, landing heavily in front of the Rest. “Emergency!” She shouted, gathering the attention of those who had been relaxing or training within the wooden structures.
One by one, halflings began to emerge, startled by Shara’s sudden cry. When they saw her worried expression, they couldn’t help but become affected by her anxiety. And it only grew worse when she spoke. “They’re coming. Numbers beyond measure. If the weather does not stop them, they will arrive within one day.”
There were gasps from among the crowd, some believing her while others sent off their own flying companions to confirm the situations for themselves. Seeing that, Shara calmly nodded her head. “This is what we’ve been waiting for. I would ask that someone sends a message for us.” Her hands balled up into fists as she lowered her head, trying to find the words to motivate them.
When she spoke, a strange presence rose up from her. As she repeated the words that her goddess had told her, some felt as if Aurivy herself had descended. “Do you love your people enough to live for them? Do you love them enough to die for them? Aurivy asked me this question when we formed this kingdom, and I will ask you now.”
“My answer, I love my people, more than I can ever express.” As she spoke, Shara brought her hands up above her chest, holding them together. “If my death serves to defend them for even a day, to let them know what is coming, then I will happily fight. I will not blame anyone for leaving, but I will stay. I will fight, I will earn them time. And… I will die.”
Her eyes grey red, tearing up as she spoke. She was not sad over knowing what was going to happen. Rather, she was thankful. Her father was the most important person in the world to her, and he had been taken away. Seeking her own death would have been an insult to his memory, yet she had so much wanted to see him again. Now, her goddess was offering her the chance to do just that, to help protect her people and see her father again.
“I will not lie to anyone here. If you stay, you will probably die in this battle. There are just too many of them. But for every one we take with us, for every moment we delay them, we can save more of our people. So, I ask of you now. Who will join me? Who will be my brother in this battle?” Her voice grew to nearly a shout as she finished talking, the birds that were sent off before already coming back and transmitting the information to their partners.
The small gasps that could be heard from those who had a more clear view of the situation only seemed to confirm Shara’s words. There was no hope of winning this battle. Fear began to swell up inside many of the halflings, as most were unwilling to throw their lives away so easily in a fight they knew that they couldn’t win.
Some began backing away, showing that they could not participate here, that they wanted to return to their families. Yet, every member of the original Bloodied Hand instead stepped forward. Their hands heavily slapped against their chests one after another. Shara was saddened to see those who wished to leave, but overjoyed when she saw her companions stepping forward.
“For our families.” One of the Bloodied Hand members shouted out, before more joined in. Each one shouted a different reason to fight.
“For our friends.”
“For our people.”
“For our hopes.”
“For those who came before.”
“For those who will come after.”
And then, all at once, as if they had rehearsed it beforehand, they shouted in unison. “We will fight!” Seeing that, Shara’s couldn’t stop her tears from falling. She too slapped her own chest as she looked out at them. The chorus of the Bloodied Hand served to call several of the retreating halflings to stop in their steps.
Some returned to the group, gently placing their palm against their chest. To them, this salute meant something different. It was not a reminder of the blood that had been spilled, or the mark which had started this all. No, it was a reminder of what they were protecting, those that they held dear.
Seeing that, Shara nodded, and then addressed those that were still walking away. “Tell the Rest… let them know what happened. Let them know how we died.” That was the last thing she said to them as they left the Rest, taking a deep breath to calm herself.
“Okay, we need to get ready for this. Does anyone have any ideas?” She asked nervously, looking at the crowd. They did not have much time, and now that the situation had truly dawned on them all, many of them did not know what to do.
“Hold!” Lordrin called out at the top of his voice as he looked just beyond the horizon. He could already see the tops of the trees, and knew that it wouldn’t take too much longer for them to arrive. Yet, the dark clouds overhead worried him. The storms this time of year could get very dangerous. That’s why they made King’s Hope out of stone, so that it would be able to survive such storms, whereas Tryval’s Hold would often have to rebuild their walls and homes.
Turning to his people, Lordrin briefly analyzed the crowd. Behind him were thirty captains, each in charge of a hundred soldiers. The other two knights he brought with him each had ten captains under their command.
“We will rest here for today, and wait for the weather to calm.” He spoke, his voice amplified by his ki. Trying to fight in an unfamiliar terrain was bad enough, but having to fight against the weather as well would only make things worse. Nothing hurt a traveling centaur worse than muddy plains.
“Remember, men, we fight for our people. Cowardice will not be tolerated! In the coming battle, we will purge these creatures from the tall woods, punish them for slaughtering our herds. Let this serve as an example, we are not to be trifled with!” He shouted, raising his spear above his head.
“Let us soak the tall woods with their blood. Only then will those who have fallen find peace.” As he spoke, he reared up on his hind legs, kicking at the air. “For now, all of you prepare your shelters. We camp here until the time to battle.”