Hunt - Chapter Fifteen
~ 15 ~
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Kenabres
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Kenabres
Shayliss jolted up and down in the saddle as Shadowshine raced through the debris filled streets of Kenabres. Thankfully the horse directed itself around the obstacles and toward the scream they heard because Shayliss did not think she would be able to with how fast the beast was moving. It took all of her concentration just to keep on the saddle.
About five minutes later, Shadowshine shot through an alleyway and entered a large Square. Kenabres had at least one Square in each of its four districts and they all bore similar characteristics. About six hundred thousand square feet, the modest sized Squares were typically bustling with people either moving from market stall to stall, conversing by the center statue, or walking pets. Yet, with the attack of the demons, it was barren save for around the statue. Each statue depicted one of the good-aligned gods or goddesses. This one was a statue of Iomedae, the goddess of Justice and Honor.
Standing in a semicircle about fifteen feet from the statue was a line of ten Crusaders. Their silver and gold armor was dented, dirty and in various forms of dishevelment. They stood with their hands at their chests, palms together in prayer, and if Shayliss concentrated she could hear the barely audible mutterings. A couple swayed slightly back and forth, which allowed Shayliss to see beyond them.
Curled up at the base of the statue was a human form. Blonde hair sprawled all over the feminine head and shoulders while dirt covered her simple white cloth shirt and brown pants. Next to her, about to topple over, was a brown bag that had semi-rotting food poking out of it. Shayliss could not see her face and she too far away to see if the body was moving. But, at that point, it did not matter.
With a short shout, she kicked Shadowshine forward. The horse obeyed and the clomping hooves echoed among the buildings. As if she was not making enough noise to alert a horde, she yelled out, "Stand aside, Crusaders!"
The Crusaders all turned to her, halting in their prayers, and made a hole for her to ride through. Turning around took Shadowshine a second longer than normal as he barely had enough space without clomping all over the prone woman, but as he did, Shayliss drew her weapon and barked, "What do you think you are doing, Crusaders?"
The men and women now surrounding her turned to stare at each other in surprise and confusion. Small whispers waved back and forth along the line and Shayliss could only pick up lines such as 'What do we do?' and 'She must be one of them.'
Her patience was about to disintegrate when one of the Crusaders, a man about her size with a tower shield on his back and axe at his waist, stepped forward. With eyes set in grim determination, he placed his left hand on the head of the axe, whose butt was angled toward the ground, and looked up at the mounted fighter.
"My name is Tarron," the long ears poking out of his black hair twitched with his introduction, "proud Crusader of Sarenrae."
It took a second for Shayliss to realize that the man was politely asking for an introduction from her. Even though the fire of anger was roiling in her chest, she gave him a small bow, her eyes not leaving his face, "I am Shayliss, visitor of Kenabres."
Tarron's unnatural blue eyes narrowed slightly in annoyance but he recovered surprisingly quickly, "If you are a visitor of our city, then you must have been a part of the initial attack. Is this true?"
Shayliss blinked at that question. Out of all of the responses she planned on, this one was not one that she had expected. Her answer stuttered at the beginning, "Uh. Yes, I was."
What the hell was he getting at?
"Then I was right. You were the one that led the group of injured." He gave her a small bow, "I must thank you for that." When he straightened again his eyes bore into her, "But you should know the danger that the demons present. As we stand here, dozens of citizens are attacked and killed by those monsters." With each word, his voice grew and grew until they threatened to throw Shayliss off of Shadowshine.
Petting the horse's neck, Shayliss said, "Sure. Of course, that's why I am still here. But why does that mandate this girl's death?"
Shayliss could not be sure, but she thought that she heard a slight shudder from the prone girl. The man did not seem to notice it, though, "As a visitor, I doubt you have heard of this. But, there is a tale passed down from mother to child about a blade that can be given the ability to kill demons with ease."
The mounted fighter's eyebrow twitched at that and she could not help but pull the corner of her mouth into a smirk, "And let me guess: A virgin's blood is a key part of the process."
Her voice oozed sarcasm. There had been many stories about how virgin blood could cure any illness, bring back the dead, power the most powerful spells, and kill any manner of beast including the undead, outsiders and, of course, demons. But they were all just stories. Either meant to entertain or were just pure misinformation. Everything in her heart told her that they were all lies. Or, at least harmless.
The Crusaders, one and all, gave her looks that would have killed her if allowed. Tarron was more controlled about it, but she could certainly feel the fire burning from his body.
"You dare mock the only thing that can save us from this evil?" Swift as the wind, the axe at his side was pointing at her body, ready to swing. A second later, the other Crusaders followed their leader.
Shayliss froze. They were serious about it? Were they really going to kill this girl just because of a damn fairytale? Did they lose all sense? Maybe they did. This attack was something that defied everything they believed and they were desperate to fight against it. So desperate that they would find their first hope and cling to it in a death grip.
You mean just like yourself? Something within her practically sneered, Clinging to the hope of her survival and rushing to the frontlines of a centuries old war just to see her again. Admit it, part of you just wanted to see her one more time before you cut ties with her forever.
Trying to ignore the burn, she growled, "Do you really believe this wife's tale? Do you really believe that one girl's death would end all of this?"
"It is no tale!" One of the other Crusaders, a woman under a full-head helm, yelled, "It is what will save this city!"
"She is one of them after all!" Another growled, "That is the only reason she would stop us! She even said she was a visitor, not a citizen. We must kill her before she destroys our home!"
Shayliss could feel her teeth grinding together. She did not want to kill them. She did not want to kill anyone. There was enough of people turning against each other during this crisis. They should have been binding together instead of pursuing obvious lies. Her grip on the longsword loosened. Its tip fell and pointed at Tarron. Taking it as a threat, the elven man snarled and prepared to attack.
As he took a step forward, a light flashed at the corner of Shayliss's eye. Half a second later, something thunked into the stone in front of the elf and he flinched. It was an arrow with a familiar fletching. That was enough to bring Shayliss back to the present and she yelled out, "Don't!"
Everyone froze. Tarron's expression went from one of anger to one of surprise quickly and he took a step back from the arrow at his feet. The other Crusaders also became hesitant to move forward.
"Please stand down." Shayliss begged, "None of us want any innocent blood on our hands. Instead of fighting each other, we should be working together against the demons!"
Tarron shook his head, "That is what we are trying to do. Her sacrifice," he pointed forcefully at the girl still prone, "will save countless lives."
"No it won't! All it will do is stain your blade with an innocent woman's blood and bring you one step closer to the demons."
The man's face reddened again, "You dare-"
He was interrupted by an arrow sinking through his head. Shayliss flinched away from the blood and watched as the limp form fell to stone. There was a second of shocked silence. Then, nine Crusaders all bared their weapons as they charged forward.
The fight was done within minutes. As soon as the second arrow found its mark, the others of Shayliss's group charged in on the backs of the injured horses. Seeing that they were flanked, the Crusaders tried to retreat, but could not with the advantage being mounted gave Strune and the others. Not a Crusader left the square. Even Anevia joined the fight. Yet, as the Crusaders fought for their lives, Shayliss stood aside.
She had tried. All she wanted was the Crusaders to stand down so no-one would die. After seeing Chaleb fall to Strune's blade, she wanted to make sure that Kenabres did not lose any other capable fighter as well as any good natured souls. So, she fought tooth and nail to save not only the girl but the Crusaders as well. And now, that hope dwindled as the blood soaked into stone.
Surprisingly, Shadowshine had stayed back as well. He pranced around, antsy to get into the fight, but instead of throwing himself in as usual, he just stayed in place. Shayliss did not even need to hold him back. Maybe they were finally getting along?
Her chain of thoughts were broken when Anevia rode over to her, the horse she was on barely keeping up.
Shayliss blinked, "What?"
Anevia gave her a sad smile, "Thank you for trying to help them. Even though they were driven by falsehood, they had good souls. I even knew a couple of them by name. It is horrible to see them go and even worse to see them pushed to the brink." Anevia looked down at the pool of blood, "I know Iomedae will give them the peace they deserve."
Shayliss glanced down as well before forcing her gaze back up. Her voice was unsteady and weak, "I am sure of it." There was no conviction, though.
The scout stared at her for a second. She then seemed to shove away the doubt with a shake of her head and dismounted. By then, Strune had cut the bonds on the prone girl and was helping her stand.
"Are you alright, miss?" Anevia asked the girl.
Now that Shayliss had room to focus, she could see that the girl was more masculine than feminine. With thick limbs, wide face and no hourglass figure the only way she could tell that the girl was a girl was, of course, her chest and long blonde hair.
The girl nodded her head, "I am fine. Only thing hurt is my pride."
"Good. Do you need help getting somewhere safe?"
"No." She shook her head softly, her face scrunching up as if in pain, "My family is hiding a couple of blocks away. I was heading back from getting food when I was attacked. But I did hear some things while I was out."
Strune's eyes widened, "Oh?"
"I am sure a lot of the things I heard are wrong. But, one thing that brings me hope is that the Eagle Watch still stands. I heard that they have taken refuge in Defender's Heart."
At that, Anevia stepped forward, "Did you hear anything else? Do you know if Irabeth, a half-orc Eagle Watch captain?"
The girl shook her head, "I am sorry. But I do not know anything else."
The scout sighed, "I understand. Thank you."
"Please keep safe." Strune added, "As soon as we can, we will send men and women to escort you to a safer place."
The girl nodded as she bent to pick up the bag of food, "Thank you. I will let my parents know. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure that I get back to them. They must be worried."
With a small bow, the girl retreated toward the eastern exit of the square. As soon as she was out of earshot, Anevia let out a small sigh and turned toward the rest of the group. Shayliss saw the effort to push down her worry in the scout's eyes.
"I say we should keep moving. No doubt the blood here will attract the demons. We do not want to be here when they arrive."
The others nodded, especially Horgus who had an expression of impatience, and turned to head out of the square. Shayliss stared at Anevia and Strune, both mounted on their horses again, for a second before letting out a sigh of her own and kicking Shadowshine into motion. The black horse responded and seemed to be ready to leave.
Overhead they could hear the high-pitched excited cries of demons.