Dirt scattered in the air. Blades of grass torn asunder. Hooves trailed a battered ground. In place, shafts were locked while spearheads raised. And with a loud cry, the cavalrymen renounced their fervor. Forward they leaned and rode like heralds of death.
Against the cavalry of twenty are thirty robed horsemen. Some with arrow-shafts stuck on their body. Some on the ground, dead. And some wheezed in pain and stretched breaths. Nevertheless, they drew their daggers with blood-shot eyes. They shouted. They retaliated. They clashed without care for their life. It was their only way out; it was their last. And yet, they were delighted. Delighted of the thought that they achieved enough merits to enter the realm of the so-called Heaven.
In glee, the horsemen traced their daggers into the air. But before their daggers tore through flesh, spearheads found their bodies. It drove deep into them. Stabbed like meat roasted over a fire. Raised in the air like leaves from a twig. Pierced like mush. They bled with broken ribs. And Lifeless they fell in a pool of blood.
They tried drawing shards from their pockets, but it was fruitless. A round object closed in on their faces. With a loud smash, a shield bashed them off their horses. When their bodies fell with a dull thud, a spearhead or hooves followed.
In a desperate attempt, they reared their horses around and started chanting. While their horses trotted to a gallop, one by one, earthen spikes emerged underneath their horses. Abruptly stopping, they fell forward and unintentionally halted their chant. Then from behind them, the cavalrymen stampeded over the fallen bodies.
It was a massacre.
After the last horseman was taken down with a swing of a spear, the cavalrymen rejoiced their flawless victory. They raised their blood-coated spears. Spearheads met spearheads. Then gauntlets bumped into gauntlets. However, Immediately dampening their joy, Maize shouted an order.
“It has only just begun! Move back to the hill!”
“Captain,” called a man, “what are we to do?”
“We wait,” Unsmiling, Maize replied. “They’re the reinforcements meant to meet with the horsemen we took down. And possibly to stop our advance to claim the Hero.”
Moments after observing the figures, Maize threw his arm beside him and shouted an order.
“Spread out and form two wings! Then prepare your bows and take out your shards!”
Just as ordered, the cavalrymen stretched out, taking out their bows from their back and a shard from their pouch.
While waiting for additional orders, the figures in the distance gradually increased in size and numbers.
“Captain,” worried, a man called, “can we defeat them all? Unlike the previous horsemen, they're similar to us. A cavalry.”
Snickering a grin, Maize glanced at the man and said, “We can’t,” then he laughed heartily in contrast with his paling men. “We might not be able to take them on by ourselves, but if we reduce their numbers, then it's possible.”
“But, why aren’t we moving?” worried he asked.
“Like I said. We are waiting, waiting for the opportunity to move.”
In response, Maize glared and said, “We. Wait.”
Unable to respond, the man remained silent. Although they knew their Captain’s antics, a sense of discomfort dwelt inside them. They felt uneasy.
A few minutes later, the figures grew closer and closer. The numbers, surpassing them by more than twice, planted doubt in the men’s mind. However, Maize remained composed while he watched their enemy's approach.
“This is unexpected,” Maize chuckled in a mutter. “It seems the church mustered more troops than we thought they would. But then again, it’s for their precious little Hero.”
Her Highness needs to expand her reach, Maize thought.
With a grin, Maize said, “But this fine. I like the thrill of the unexpected.”
“Captain...” the men smiled wryly.
“Men! Listen up! They may be fifty-six in numbers, but this place will not be our graves!” shouted Maize when he raised his spear.
““Yes!”” replied Maize’s men.
“Take heed! Raise your heads high! We are not alone!”
“It’s coming,” along with his men, Maize gazed at the sky with a beaming smile.
From the gradient sky, two black teardrops fell. Piercing through misty clouds as it drew closer to the ground. However, these two teardrops were unusual. Its tip was white.
The sight of the teardrops banished the haze around the men’s heart. Then a boiling excitement pulsed through their veins.
“Prepare your shards! It doesn't matter if it doesn't hit! Make a barricade of earthen spikes in front!” Maize commanded.
Above the charging cavalry, the teardrops revealed its retracted black wings. As it descended, the whistling sound it produced alarmed the unknowing enemy. Unbothered by the attention it garnered, the teardrops expanded its wings further and lashed a gale of wind.
A number of the enemy cavalry, assaulted by the gale, was blown forth. At the same moment, earthen spikes ripped through the ground. Forming a wall of stakes that impaled the unfortunate enemy cavalrymen. It was unforgiving.
Successful on their attempt, Maize shouted an order. “Split to the sides then shoot your arrows! But don’t get too close to those White-tails! They’re our allies!”
While Maize and his men circled the barricade, an ear-splitting roar was unleashed by a White-tail. Forced to cuff their ears, the enemy cavalrymen were stunned. Driven into madness, their horses neighed and struggled in fear. Without a mind for their riders, the horses randomly kicked until they were free.
On the other hand, the other White-tail turned to its feet and curved its tail in the opposite direction. And with a sudden turn, it whipped its razor tail. Unimpeded, the tail sliced through both horse and men.
And so cries of agony ensued.
Onto the position they desired, Maize’s men knocked their arrows. Aimed towards the center of the fray, they released their taut bowstrings.
First: Arrows flew into the air, digging on the enemy cavalrymen that took shards into their hands.
Second: The arrows weaved through the fray and struck those with muttering lips.
Third: The arrows swam towards the horses' hind legs.
Within the entrapment of White-tails, an earthen barricade of stakes, and Maize’s men, a full-helmed man rose to his feet with a shaft stuck to his left shoulder padded with leather. His clothes stained by his and his men's blood.
Raising his right arm, “W-we surrender!” the man shouted. “Spare our lives! We are no more!”
Maize expressed a frown at the call for surrender before raising his fist with a shout.
What’s this? Maize doubted. This isn’t what I expected of Libet’s soldiers.
Recognizing his order, the Enarfs riding at the back of the White-tails reared their reins. With stomps, the White-tail flapped its wings a few times before retracting it.
With a reared neck, the White-tail backed away while roaming its yellow irises. Sighting its prey, it opened its maw and dragged a dead horse. After taking distance, it started feasting. Crunching the meat and bones like branches.
At the time the White-tails moved away, Maize and his men relieved their bowstrings while maintaining their aim.
Within the corpse-filled entrapment, the man grabbed the comb of his helm and lifted it.
Throwing the helm to the ground, he lifted his right arm and said, “Thank you!”
Along with the man are but some nine injured men. The rest are on the ground moaning in pain.
“Throw your weapons, armors, and shards away! Afterward, move out of the entrapment!” in a booming voice, Maize stated his demands. “Try any tricks and those wyverns, our arrows, or our spears will take your life!”
As ordered, they removed their armor piece by piece. However, an arrow stuck itself into the head of a man. “We warned you,” said Maize with a glare.
Quaking on their feet, the men broke a sweat in a hurry. A few minutes later, a naked man raised his arm.
With a flick of his chin, Maize pointed to the path they opened.
One after the other, the still-able men moved out of the entrapment while surrounded by tips of spears and bows.
“You, you, and you,” Maize pointed with his finger. “Come with me. We’ll chase after the Hero.”
Then turning to the rest of his men, “The rest of you, tie the captives and deliver them to her Highness! Take their possessions as well! For the disabled ones, finish them off and then burn their bodies!” Maize commanded.
Shifting his sight towards the wyverns, “What about you?” Maize asked.
“We’ll stay here,” an Enarf replied while stroking the White-tail from its back. “If you don’t mind, we have to feed these with those horses.”
Shaking his head, “Take your time,” Maize replied.
Tugging the reins of his horse, Maize faced west.
That little one, we need to hurry before she takes them all by herself.
About an hour earlier.
“Mihehe...” a playful laugh came from the orange-haired girl.
While drooling, her hair tied into a ponytail fluttered a trail in the vast amber sky. In her hands, she held a rein far thicker than that of a horse.
“Heh, they started diving huh,” Kanna muttered as she caught sight of two black objects in the distance with the help of Farsight. “I guess I should start too.”
Leaning forward, Kanna kicked with her folded legs and said, “We’re going Birby.”
In response, Birby gave a low growl.
With an unwavering smile, Kanna grabbed a goggle from atop her head and fixed it on her eyes. She blinked a few times before they started their descent.
When Birby retracted its wings, Kanna’s view gradually shifted from the horizon to the prairie below. Then, with a stretch of her arms, she grabbed the iron handles strapped to the base of Birby’s neck. Leaning her body closer to the saddle, she buckled her stretched legs on the stirrup.
“It’s time to hunt!” said Kanna with a grin. Then she took a deep breath and held it.
While descending, wind rushed on Kanna’s face and drew her fringes backward. Clamped hands on the handle, chains rattled behind her while the rush of wind deafened her ears.
Within her sight, four figures drew a line on the prairie. In their direction, twelve more figures waited. Decided on her path, Kanna pulled on the handles and directed Birby towards the four horsemen. Then her view spiraled half a circle. Closing in, Kanna pulled on the handles while spurring the stirrups forward. In response, Birby steadily shifted its body orientation and gradually stretched its shaking wing membranes.
Then with another pull on the handles, Kanna arched her body backward as she kicked on the stirrups forward. Brewing up a gale, Birby descended at the side of the horsemen and unleashed it with a flap of its wings.
“Oops...” Kanna muttered upon realizing she blew the hero along with the surprised horsemen. “Sorry.”
Immediately after Birby landed, Kanna tapped Birby’s back twice then pointed to the west and said, “I’ll handle this.”
“Who are you?! And what are you doing?!” shouted the brown-haired girl as she propped herself on the ground, battered with bruises.
Dressed in a fitted brown leather armor similar to that of the elves, Kanna jumped down from Birby’s back and approached the Hero. While pulling the cloth gag down, she drew a dagger from her hips and started severing the ropes.
“Are you okay?” asked Kanna.
The Hero, while drenched in sweat, shook its head weakly in response.
Meanwhile, Birby charged towards west.
Drawn with a face warped in anger, “Imbecile!” the girl shouted while she drew her a dagger and a shard. “You deserve divine punishment!”
After the Hero was cut free, she slumped on the ground with an eye shut in half.
“Take your time and rest,” said Kanna as she shifted her sights to her enemies.
“You! Stay away from that girl!” demanded the girl. “If you won’t, we’ll end her life!”
“Lia told me there’s no way you’ll kill her though?” replied Kanna as she reached her braced arm beside her slightly pointed ears and drew a dagger.
In response, the girl twitched as she rasped her teeth.
Clasped within Kanna’s hand was a fang dagger with a bluish-silver blade. As its tip pointed to the ground, chains dangled at its handle, connected to the bracer on her arm. On the dagger's guard, an unusually pointed hook stood.
“Tch!” the girl spat then shouted. “Now!”
Moving towards Kanna, the three other men drew their daggers. At the same time, the girl manifested fireballs at the back.
“Sorry, but you have to wait,” Kanna said with a glance on the Hero.
With a start dash, Kanna moved towards the three.
“Die demon!” shouted a man with a mad smile as he thrust his dagger.
Leaned to the left with a bent knee, Kanna dodged the dagger that glided beside her neck. At the same moment, Kanna twisted from her planted left foot and raise her right. Then with a forced cough, the man received Kanna’s knee. Behind her, the dagger fell from the man's hand as he spat the air from his lungs. Then grabbing the man with her left, Kanna kicked the man towards the incoming fireballs.
With a jump backward, an earthen spike emerged from Kanna’s original location. At the moment Kanna landed, she threw her dagger past the man holding a shard before jumping a second time. With a sudden pull of her right before landing, Kanna whipped the chains. While emitting a clanking sound, a pained shout came from a man with a slit neck.
With another dash, earthen spikes trailed behind Kanna.
“Dammit!” cried the girl approaching the Hero.
Turning towards the girl, a man closed in on Kanna. But with a sudden step forward followed by a twist, the dagger whipped around.
Unmindful of the man screaming in pain with arms bleeding profusely, Kanna made her way to the girl.
“Don’t come close!” the girl shouted while producing more fireballs. “I’ll burn her alive!”
In response, Kanna halted and glared at the girl that drew her dagger on the Hero’s neck.
“That’s it!” sweating buckets, the girl said with a mad smile.
Scratching her head, Kanna raised her finger and pointed behind the girl, then said, “You forgot him.”
A few seconds after, a black wing smashed the girl from the side.
“Nice work Birby!” smiled Kanna as she dashed towards the girl that rolled on the ground.
As the girl stood, chains wrapped around her and a hook lobbed on her flesh.
“AAAGGHH!” she cried.
“It’s over,” Kanna said.
Heaving pained breaths while her skin paled, she smiled and said, “It’s not!” then the crystal hanging at her bracelet broke. “No one gets the Hero if we don’t! Ahahahaha!” she laughed madly.
With a sigh, “Haah...” Kanna drew her fist into the air and smashed it on the girl’s face. “You’re too noisy.”
As I took a step within a room lit by flickering torches, a chain rattled against the slabbed floor. Further in, a figure of a chained girl entered my sight. She had brown hair. Another step closer, she reared her neck and looked up to me. Perhaps recognizing my figure, her battered lips rose into a smile.
“You failed, demon,” it said followed by a laugh.
Leaning closer to her face, I slid my fingers into her forehead and grabbed her by the fringes, “Really?” Head tilted to the side, I asked with a mischievous smile.
“The Hero is dead,” she muttered as I drew her head closer.
Tilting my head to the other side, I placed a finger on my lips. Rolled my eyes, and said, “I wonder.”
Shifting my sight back to her swollen face, I asked, “Did you see her die? Did you hear her cry? Maybe you dreamed of her death? Or perhaps, it was just an illusion?”
“Ahahaha,” she replied. “The Hero is dead, demon. I already broke the crystal.”
Releasing my right hand, “Oh,” I said, brushing my fingers down her cheeks and onto her neck locked with a black collar. “Perhaps you meant something like this?”
Then I retracted my hand, placed it on my lips, and giggled.
“Look at this uneducated girl, no, insect. But oh, I shouldn't expect that from an insect. Or should I?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I will,” I waved my hand in dismissal. “But you see. It’s indeed laughable,” I said with a giggle. “For a member of the church to underestimate the Hero they wanted to use, that’s quite a rare sight. But I forgot. You're no longer part of the church. You're just a crime slave waiting for execution.”
Taking a step back, “But no worries, I’m quite generous. So I’ll give you a choice. I'll give you the chance to arrange the sequence of your torture.”
Raising a finger, “One,” I counted. “become a prostitute in a brothel for a week.”
Lifting another finger, I continued, “Two, get drenched in boiling water. And three, receive small doses of arsenic for an entire week.”
“Heh,” she muttered while a bead of sweat formed on her forehead. “Don’t you need information?”
“Why would I need to hear that from you?” I asked while rolling my eyes. “The fact that someone, your pope, saints, or apostles didn’t show up meant that the runaway Hero isn't their main priority, right?”
With a clap of my hands, I said, “The troops that acted as your aids, they're from different towns and villages in Laurel, right?”
Taking a step backward, I said, “Although it was lackluster for Maize, have you ever thought why you didn’t receive the support of Libet’s army? And your pawns, their just measly observers. They aren't those specialized assassins right?”
With the last step, “Oh, I forgot. Those Nobles who gave you support. They'll be in the same seat as you. So don’t worry. You won’t be alone on the day of your execution,” I said.
I turned around, “Oh, your reply. Someone else will hear it from you. I’ll just fetch the unleashed dogs in the border,” I said.
Shifting my sights towards the dim and narrow hallway, I heard cries from behind me.
“Wait! Wait!” the girl shouted. “I’ll tell you anything! Everything!”
Unbothered by her pleads, I climbed the narrow stone hallway. At the end of it, light shone through like light of the day. Upon exiting the stairway, I glanced to my side and found a man with a dull crimson hair.
“Maize,” I called as I roamed my eyes on the surrounding. “How’s the Hero?”
“Your friend Kanna brought her to the duchy as ordered,” Maize replied with a bow.
“Good. And I presume the Hero’s condition is good?”
“Physically, yes. But mentally...”
Placing a hand on my forehead, “I see,” I replied with a sigh. “But it's fine. We've reduced our possible enemies by one.”
“Anyway, please prepare a list of the Nobles involved in the skirmish.”
“Understood,” Maize nodded.
How I wished it was Libet's troops instead! It would've been a reason to paralyze the trade indefinitely!
“One more thing,” I said. “Have that girl utter what she wants then severe her tongue. But I doubt we'll get anything useful. She's but a sacrificial pawn after all.”