Open Chronicles Waylaid Under an Endless Sky

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Aeyliea

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The caravan stretched across the Aberresai, an endless sea of dry grass in this season. The journey was slated between Elbion and Vel Anir, and they were already three weeks into the long haul across the open savannah. The last of the settlements had vanished behind them a long time ago, as they had pulled away from the sphere of influence that the city of magic held sway over. Out here, it was the nomadic tribes and lone wanderers, the beasts and the wilds and little else.

Here, wild herds of ruminates moved across the sweeping, rolling hills like clouds scudding across the sky overhead. Occasionally, great heads would rise from their grazing to regard the wagons and the men ahorse and afoot that traveled with them. Big, stupid eyes regarded them placidly from across hundreds of meters, tails swishing to stir the ever present biting flies from their hide.

And amid the herd, moving with the ease of long familiarity and the blessing of the Wilds, a single scout moved. He pressed a piece of glass and metal to an eye, and watched as the caravan leapt closer, like some kind of magic. The artifact had been confiscated from another such group, among other treasures from the so-called civilized lands beyond the grass. He stood in the shelter of a great four-legged beast, horned head turned momentarily to regard him before going back to cropping grass, and counted wagons and heads. The spell cast over him kept him safe from the beasts, and the misdirection would serve to keep him hidden from the eyes of his enemies.

After a time, he slipped away into the grass like a ghost. So it was that most never saw the people of the plains until it was far too late.

***

She held one of her spears in her left hand with the hide buckler still on her arm, and crouched low in the grass. A dozen other warriors were with her, crouching as well with their chosen weapons in hand. There were a few women here, alongside the men, but she was the only one that bore the skull on its leather thong that hung between her breasts. The rest of the clan had already broken camp and was even now moving onward and away from this place; it was never a good idea to let the outsiders know where they were until they, the No'rei, decided it was time.

May the Wild grant us victory or let us enter the Dream, she thought to herself. The others around her were still checking their kits; it was easy to tell the ones who were veterans of the raids and those who were as yet unblooded. The veterans looked their gear over with a calm that hid the turmoil within, for there was no such thing as confidence in the face of an enemy that was unknown or, if it came to it, one that was well understood. The World of Dreams awaited all whose flesh failed in the trials of the waking world. At least death with a weapon in hand was one of honor, unlike the accursed dishonor of living under the whip hand of the outsiders.

The new ones, of course, looked visibly ill, either that or strove to look fierce and unafraid. The illusion was lost on their seasoned brethren, for all of them had gone through the same rite. Some were not worthy of the way of the warrior, and there was only one way to fail in this test.

The sun beat down on her back as she crouched low. There, across the grass that waved in the ever-present wind of the plains, were the great ships of the grasslands; broad bedded wagons covered with tall, bowed fabric that ribbed outward. The massive wheels crunched through grass and the entire affair creaked and groaned as it crossed uneven ground. There were a dozen of these traders' wagons in this caravan, and at least two and a half dozen men and women riding or walking along with them, plus any that might be in the wagons themselves.

"Let the wind swirl and disperse, and protect us within Her embrace," she muttered to herself, the intonation in a language that differed from both No'rei and the traders' tongue that they used when they had to deal with the outsiders. Almost as if in answer to her quiet prayers, the spirits of the land turned the wind, so that it shifted in direction and carried the scents of spices and sweaty men from the caravan rather than carrying their own forward. The bones woven into her braided hair clicked in the wind, the feathers fluttered, and for a moment she felt as though the spirits had come to her personally, infusing her with strength and confidence that she would always say she did not need.

There was little to do but wait, now. The trap was an old one, used commonly on caravans trespassing in No'rei lands. A scout to determine numbers and direction, and then an ambush to kill as many of the invaders as possible, and to destroy as much of the goods they were transporting as possible. There was never any thought for stealing the goods, only their destruction. They did not know all the names of the great cities, and neither did they care; Vel Anir they had a special hatred for, born of the raids and then tender attention the Dreadlords meted out at whiles. It didn't matter, though, for they saw all the rest of the world as an enemy to their way of life. How could they see it as anything else? They came and stole their children and took them to be slaves or killed them, or else visited terrible poxes upon their peoples that left hundreds dead or worse, maimed.

The creak of tack, the tromp of boots. Aeyliea gripped the haft of her spear tighter, until her knuckles popped. She had her right hand around the skull that hung from her neck, that of a hawk with a pair of hawk's feathers worked into it. She could only try to will the spirits of the land into this vessel, and pray that they would offer her protection, and protection to all the rest of the ambushers.

And then the wind shifted, and everything went to hell. A shriek for a horse, followed by a hoarse shout from one of the men guarding the 'van, and suddenly the illusion was shattered, and what had been hidden in plain sight suddenly became visible. It was too soon.

There was nothing for it. Offering a silent oath to the Wild, Aeyliea snatched up the spear laying on the ground at her feet and sprang up, and then rushed towards the line of horses and wagons, braided rope of hair flying behind her and clicking and flashing in the afternoon light as she drove hard, half bent over, to add her own cry of rage against the invader to all the others.
 

Smiling One

Monster Hunters
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"Ah shit here we go again,"

Willis always felt uncomfortable traveling around Vel Anir lands, there was always that gloomy feeling about it. A dark cloud hovering over them, as though it was telling travelers that these lands were cursed. The human supremacist city were always looking to conquer lands. When they weren't conquering lands, Vel Anirans were thinking about conquering. Being Allirian, Willis had always looked at Vel Anirians as being Xenophobic. However he can't deny that they always have work available for Monster Hunters and Mercenaries.

The Monster Hunters in particular had a contentious relationship with Vel Anir. Since the organization is made up of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and other races, it was tough sending in their very best whenever Vel Anirian lands had contracts. The Monster Hunters were also involved in wars with the Vel Anirians mainly in the First Elven War where the organization had to take arms when the Vel Anirains killed a Solas: A legendary Monster Hunter.

Willis sighed as he looked at the coin purse, he took on a job in a village that involved killing a Gibbering Mouther that was in someone's basement. Amongst the common people, the Gibbering Mouther was always considered to be one of the most scary monsters due to their grotesque look with many mouths placed all over its amorphous body babbling simultaneously. Once you get past the look of the Monster, the Gibbering Mouthers were very weak.

Willis made quick work of it and got paid a hefty amount for their troubles. Sometimes it was best not to say how easy Monsters like the Gibbering Mouthers were to kill. Willis hyped them up when he talked to his client saying how Gibbering Mouthers often love to prey on children. That caused the client to cough up a decent amount of coin allowing for the young man spend more time than usual in the lands after he got paid.

He wondered along grassy plains searching for the nearest village. If there was one thing that the Abreressai was infamous for was that it was easy to get lost on the way to village. There was a lack of signs and paved roads which made it difficult to navigate. Thankfully the Monster Hunters recently built a safehouse and its leader was going to construct a map for Monster Hunters to go out and seek contracts. Problem was it was hard to find.

It was then Willis spotted a caravan full of horses and some men guarding then. They seemed friendly perhaps he could talk to them? Willis cautiously approached the men a bit wary of them if there was one thing that he learned during his time on the road was that time was coin and distracting these folk even for a minute would interfere with their pay.
 
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Liath

Son of Songs
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Someone approached his section of the caravan and pulled him from his reverie. Still a ways off, but looking very conspicuous. The large Erainn man, a giant by these people's standards, was astride a temperamental looking blood bay, which snorted and nickered, lips flaring back. Warhorses took a while to train, and the bond between these two was only developing. A real chance the weapon he rode might lash out and bite or kick at the stranger if he got within striking distance.

Shaking his head, Liath hefted a spear that looked as if it were a living root-branch wrapped around a hunk of flint-veined obsidian. A gift from the Lady Fiadh . Nodding to the two near him, then to the stranger, Liath pointed the spear at him from maybe a few dozen feet away. The grimace of the ginger man with heavy beads on bronze in a braided face was clear. Stay put or die.

He would begin to nose the horse that way, the other two already by the man, one with a bow knocked, the other pointing a spear. For now, the traveler would be kept. Reaching up, Liath touched the heavy head of a boar that capped his heavy bronze neck torc. Fingers rested a moment as if genuflecting, before adjusting the light and airy cloak around him.

Babysitting a caravan was hardly his idea of fun, but it paid coin. Granted, he didn't need to work. Fiadh would see he was comfortable. But it gave him some determinant over his fate. Something warlocks had precious little of. Though those he worked for took him as little more than an imposing and exotic brute. Except the keen-eyed merchant who he had bartered for the saddle for his horse. His had seen far better days, and the merchant had an instinct that went beyond commerce, supported by the no-frills scimtar worn at the straining gut of a man bedecked in jewels and silks.

Something to remember, should a time come.

Suddenly, the wind shifted, and alarm shot through him. From his bond to his Fey Patroness, his senses were sharpened. Almost a taste, of sweat and leather and death that had a more earthy and wild bite to it. Leaning just barely, Liath dropped the spear into the holder along the side, steering his horse to a sudden halt with his knees. Yanking a javelin free, he sighted a woman with a skull and hurled the steel-tipped dart with a heave. As it struck the man next to her, some twist of fate turning the Lahmfad's throw aside, the whole thing threw scorched sand and burnt hair. It had grazed the fellow and lit on fire as it passed, kissing the man with flame before whoomphing heavily into the sand.

Pulling another javelin free as the others began to respond, the oncomer was forgotten as he hurled a second one at the woman, watching the wind wrench it seemingly. Though this dart struck the raider behind her square in the chest. Ley magic burned in his veins, the blue tattoos burning bright as he threw harder than any mortal should, the javelin almost passing completely through the unfortunate soul. A third was thrown, this time at a raider trying to shoot a fired arrow at a wagon. The foe fell, head pierced.

With a screaming cry in Ïzä, the language of his Mistress, Liath wrenched his spear free and kicked his horse to charge at @Aeyleia, leveling it like a lance at her. Chaos had joined, but in the seconds since their charge, two were dead and one hurt badly by the man who was now laughing joyously as he charged his foe.

Feck coin and command, this'll be a FIGHT...!

Smiling One
 

Callarn Osfort

Restless Revolutionary
Dreadlords
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These were good people, the caravaneers.

Even if they hadn't said a word to Callarn, he could tell because he wasn't shackled nor could he recall being beaten since his road-worn husk of sun-maddened meat had been found eating handfuls of grass. A week, was how long his healing mind guessed had passed since that coup in Uri. And there were more coups to be had, here in the furthest reaches of civilization. Even if the travel promised to be harsh, wasn't a former Dreadlord more than capable of mastering the plains?

No, of course not.

But the caravaneers had taken him in regardless. Not that they knew of his past, skinned as his body had been from the marks of service - a free man at last! -; but they might have rescued him all the same such was the direness of his affliction... Or perhaps they would have killed him outright, and saved him from this vomitous churning that kept the moaning battlemage but a reach away from a bucket. A bucket! Here, in these wild and strange lands! These caravaneers really were good people.

"T-thank." he breathed through split, bitten lips. There was creaking around him, the scurrying of small feet. Dwarf? Gnome? It was telling that the Vel Anirian's mind first leapt to strange creatures and opening strikes, and not that he was probably being watched over by some child or crone. In absolute darkness he patted down his scabbard, a habit even now that it had been long empty, as well as his pockets. His ragged and defaced Dreadlord clothes were full of those. And filled with grass?

There was more sound, more than the waking of a moribund would warrant. Callarn peeked from the sick wagon - careful not to disturb what he hoped were some deep-slumbering few - and was mildly put off by the endless stretch of green grass. Slowly his eyes would adjust, and notice the coming charge of wildlings.

"Sword." he ordered with a thirsting rasp, hand reaching back and returning with a softly-handed saw. He slid from the wagon and walked as though pulled by weights, his limp as obvious as his wild state of mind.
 

Aeyliea

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Magic twisted in the air,of a kind and nature that made her gut twist in distaste. It was always so with the outsiders, the thieves of children and heartless, honorless slayers that killed for sport and aught else. What she did now was simply to try and turn the tides in a war that had raged for decades at least.

Shoutinh rose all around as the raid closed on its prey. They were outnumbered - were always outnumbered, as their youth were carried away - and so the tactic was often to slash at the enemies flanks, bloody them, and then flee. She had been on many raids herself over the last several years, and yet lived. This day, though, she felt something discordant ringing through the Wild, a jagged thing that did not belong.

She felt the passage of the missiles being hurled at her, and felt more than saw the death of her brethren. The power on display here was far more than a match for her own, and she felt a momentary thrill of fear. She skipped sideways in midstride to avoid yet another missile. She had time to think to herself that the horn bow on her back would have been a better opening salvo than running in like a fool with her spears. The foe - on horseback - was enormous by comparison. This was, she realized, a terrible mistake.

The other side of the caravan was faring better. A half dozen, mounted and with bows out, had charged into range to loose arrows on their enemies, firing one after the other. Out on the plains, far beyond anyone's range, the last two of the twenty were at work stampeding the great hunch backed beasts of the plain, struggling to get them to face the right direction and trample the caravan, shattering men and wagons alike.

The grand plan had, of course, fallen apart nearly as soon as the trap had been sprung. The defenders were predictable enough,but the savagery of their defense was unexpected.

Aeyliea waited until the last possible moment and then dove wide of the charging warhorse. She cursed in her native tongue, a string of thick, harsh language that managed to portray her displeasure even as she grunted from hitting the ground at full speed, rolling away from her attacker. She came back to her feet gracelessly a dozen feet back, one short spear snapped and lying in two pieces on the ground. She quickly shifted one if the spares to her right hand, ignoring the sting of splinters in her flesh, or the blood leaking from slashed skin. She spun to face her opponent, already knowing she was going to die today. She had chosen poorly in her assault, and come up with a viper instead of a hare. Of the other warriors, one of the boys - unblooded as he was - turned and fed, throwing his weapons down while the other nine pressed home. They did not have long to slash at the sides of this prize before they would need to be gone.
 
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Smiling One

Monster Hunters
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Willis was expecting an annoyed yet helpful caravan who would give him directions to the Monster Hunter safehouse. They have been newly built and has been spreading their network through out the Vel Anir lands. Perhaps there was a pretty girl and Willis would flirt with her for a bit, maybe she would allow him to kiss her and then Willis will be on his merry way to the Monster Hunter safehouse to rest and get new contracts. Instead he was in a middle bloody battle. Magic was hurled towards the caravan accompanied by screams and clanking of swords.

The young barely drew his Cutlass trying his eyes constantly darting who to help. He saw a screaming warrior scream at an ashen haired warrior his skin beginning to glow. For a brief moment Willis wondered if he was a Practioner of Rune Magic. Willis ran to his side. "Need some help friend?" Willis huffed as stared at him.

Liath
 
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Liath

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Rolling off the horse, the beast reared and kicked one tribesman screaming from a caravan guard arrow. A solid *thunk* of hoof to temple, and the screaming stopped. Liath landed in a spin, grimacing at the effort. Someone his size, no matter how hard he pulled on the Ley Line magic he had, it was painful to use in that way. As he rose, facing Aeyliea the spear in his hands trailed rippling air warped by heat, the stone head of obsidian glowing. Slow and cold, a smile twisted his face as Smiling One spoke from the side, knowing the man had the gleam of city-fighting in his eye. No soldier, but no slouch.

"Keep any fool friends of hers clear. This is a private affair. And watch my horse doesn't die... If she guts me, she's yours. As is the horse."

This one, this savage woman, was no summer yearling. A tribal leader. A warrior, of likely some renown and standing. So the former Erainn King bowed in a formal warriors bow, hand clasping spear and same hand slapped to chest as he did. Challenge and symbol of respect.

"Liath of Seabhac. Your spear shall be broken..."

With that ritual challenge, he twisted to the side and circled to her left at the same time, lunging like someone half his side. The land around him seemed to pulse with his movement, his patron and the faint traces of the far-off Ley Line feeding his bone and sinew to fight stronger.
 

Callarn Osfort

Restless Revolutionary
Dreadlords
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Wildlings. Descendants of the wilds. Callarn had called them grasshoppers once and got knocked upside the head for it. Proctors were not known for their sense of humor, he hated them.

He also hated how thirst cut flayed his throat and tongue raw. His whole body felt broken, scragged together and held in place by sharp needles of pain. Or nails more like, smelt from worse scrap than this bent saw that twanged in the breeze. Callarn's strange charge and weapon, the fever-smothered curses he could shout just barely, were hysterical to the two nomads that circled him.

They had a plan and a clear role, but the bravest young wished to return a blooded warrior. He charged.

Callarn threw the saw. The youth lost balance, holding to his scrap of eyelid, falling and screaming and too slowly realizing that the outerlander loomed over him. He reached for his spear but Callarn stomped on his wrist, fell knee-first on his chest, began hacking his at his throat furiously.

The other tried to save his comrade, but the shout from the battlemage startled the horse. It raised on its hinds, ready to turn against the rider's reins, until Callarn came crashing against its ribs. His whole body was put into the push. The horse crashed to its back, crushing the nomad. A quick death. The first of the two, still squirming with the saw on his neck, had his heart pierced with his own spear.

Callarn felt alive, although he was shaking and now mottled with sores. Breathing was harder than usual. He needed a horse.

"Horse." he felt weightless despite the lolling of his head "HORSE!" he reached for the mane of a far wagon horse, although he would've sworn he could count the bristles in its nostrils.

The world spun. He collapsed.
 

Aeyliea

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The thunder of hooves remained undetected by those facing the dying raiders. The real threat was behind them, but unseen as they slew the tribal warriors. In truth, the raid would end up a failure, for the cost in blood was far too high. Still, there were thousands of beasts in the herd, and even now they were looping around, bearing down on the caravan. A matter of minutes was all the people would have to get clear, and it was a thing that could not be done with the wagons in tow. Those would have to be left, to be smashed to splinters by the mindless stampede.

Sometimes the sacrifice needed to be great. The hordes in the cities outnumbered the plains dwellers by a fair margin, but the people of the cities did not have as many able bodied warriors as the No'rei could field.

Aeyliea did not have any mind, nor any eye, for that. The massive warrior that had skewered some of her tribesman right in front of her, trying and very nearly succeeding to do the same to her, was now dismounting. Aeyliea was no coward, but she knew when she was looking death in the eye. The man had several stone of weight on her, feet of reach, and likely a great deal of physical strength as well. Normally, she would rely on speed and agility to deal with such a foe, but the sense of magic that wafted off of him was alien to her, and fairly made her skin crawl beside.

<<"Fall back! Flee,">> she called out in a hoarse voice, her native tongue strangely soothing in its cadence. She flashed the pair of warriors in front of her a smile that was all teeth and no mirth. "Pariah, dogs of the city," she spat in the trader's tongue, her accent thick.

What do I do? The Wild will not heed my call, and the Anscestors have already abandoned us... The thought was grim, but at the forefront of her mind. She crouched low, not acknowledging the ritual challenge from the outsider. Even if she could understand what it was he had said and what it meant, she would not have accepted it from an outsider, some cur from the cities or in league with them. To her, it didn't matter if he held the slave whip, the chains, or simply worked for them.

Hard eyes followed the warriors in front of her as the lumbering beast struck, a fair bit quicker than expected. Even so, she was far quicker than he. It was a good thing, too, because had she not been she would have died immediately. The pall of alien magic about him seemed to warp the world, anathema to the grasslands in a way she could not comprehend. She was uncertain the warding she had placed upon herself would be equal to such a thing, and guessed likely that it was not so.

Buckler on her left arm, spear in right hand. The dance was a simple one; with a normal foe, or one who was unwary, the goal was simply to knock their weapon aside and skewer their liver. It was a quick, efficient tactic and for most foes it was a quick and clean kill, no mess, no stress. This fellow, though, was taller, stronger, and possessed of magic that she could not understand. It made him dangerous, and while she was no coward, she was also no fool.

Instead of meeting the attack, she faded away from it. She did not want that cursed spear to touch any part of her, and being unwilling to do so meant that she could not initiate her own counter. All she could do was buy time, defend as best she could, and wait for a moment to strike. That there were two of them and one of her made it even more bleak, especially as the number of spears in the press descreased to under half a dozen, and even though she had called to fall back, they were engaged with the caravan escorts still. Ten of the guards that had been standing watch were down, but it was the No'rei that were getting the worst of it.

The thunder of hooves grew steadily.
 
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Liath

Son of Songs
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Hooves. Thundering hooves. A mind connected the dots, and Liath shouted a warning. It might do but little good, but it would do what could.

Chaos erupted as men and women fled, but Liath remained. Challenge had been issued. Honor was on the line. The Erainn had been living in clans in the highlands and mountains mostly when he came to power, and by the time Fiadh had pushed him from the throne to do her bidding, they were only just fully 'civilized' in truth. There was a connection here between the two, and a respect that was growing even in opening fights.

Thumping the butt of his spear on the ground in respect to the speed and skill of his opponent, he drew in a breath and lunged again, spear in one hand as he advanced to press inside his opponents reach, the other hand coming up with a long-knife aiming for the groin - a savage strike meant to end thing swiftly. Ley magic was of the Earth and the power of nature. But the factors that determined his strength were on the low end of alignments at current, and so he was pushing his hardest while his strength was least.

Soon the toll would begin to override the Pact and take a toll on his life force. Flame-locks moving freely, he gave another shout as the two-pronged attack launched. All was distraction. Hope was that one of the actions would distract enough to enable the others to do their job. If not, he would likely be skewered or a new scare added.

It had to end soon.

Aeyliea
 
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Iris

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Iris was walking through the plains when she came within earshot of the fighting. Her curiosity peaked and she began walking to the sounds of it in order to observe. She spied the caravan, and the tribespeople who were fighting with them. She couldn’t make out any of those deliciously gory details, so she decided to get closer. She slowly saw that she was approaching the back of the caravan.

She got close enough to watch, and could easily be mistaken for one of those who were with the caravan. Her knee length cloak hid her wings from sight, underneath, other than her wings, was nothing but her strapless leotard. But to say she was defenseless was foolish. She was ready Tom summon her burning sword should she need it.

She stood in the open, her eyes unblinking with interest.
 

Smiling One

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Willis was a bit annoyed when the Rune infused mammoth of a man ordered him to watch his Horse. "Leave that to the stable boys," the young man grumbled facing the ashen haired woman. She was very cute and part of Willis didn't want to harm her looks but either help a pretty girl or get coin? Well considering the pretty girl is more interested in ripping Willis' and this man's face off unfortunately he had to choose the latter. The woman was speaking in an unknown tongue. Willis didn't understand the language but he understood the desperation in her voice, it was clear the tribe was losing the battle.

While the Rune Warrior and the ashen haired woman began to duel, Willis turned his attention to the rest of the fight. Some of the tribe was retreating others remained still engaging with the travelers. Willis took out a smokebomb from his little black bag and hurled it at the battlefield. Hacking coughs were heard by the warriors as Willis held his breath squinting through the smoke cutting through the stunned warriors in his way. Wasn't the most well thought out plan but judging by the four people Willis killed it was pretty successful.

It was then amidst the chaos, Willis heard a man screaming for his horse. Two tribesman got in Willis' way while he searched for the source of the voice but they were easily cut down. After stumbling around, the young man saw a person collapsed in the middle of the field. Willis ran to him placing his finger on his neck checking his pulse. "Hey buddy!" Willis began lightly striking the man's cheek. "Are you okay?!"

Callarn Osfort
 
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Aeyliea

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Thunder, rolling across the plains. The vibration of ten thousand feet rumbled through the wagons, the men that still remained upright, the horses. The animals drawing wagons were already trying to bolt in their traces, because they were certainly no fools.

The No'rei warriors were defeated at this point. The cutlass wielding warrior downed another pair as though they were little more than children, and what had once been a proud raiding party of supposed veterans and youths was reduced to one tribal shaman and a few survivors. The remaining warriors called out to one another as they disengaged in the face of the stampede, knowing well what they would need to do in order to survive their own gambit.

She was committed to this fight. She was not a coward, and would not run anyway, but even if she wanted to, she could not. To turn her back would be to expose it, and she was not eager to die this day. Instead, she stood her ground, and closed her eyes a moment. The thunder of the herd approaching, the fading sounds of fighting from all the others, the rush of her breath all seemed to magnify themselves to an alarming degree. Here, in the stillness of a singular moment in battle, she called to the Wild, the indomitable spirit that resided within the grasslands, in every stone and every drop of water, every blade of grass.

The world...paused.

She opened her eyes, spear and buckler still in hand. Nothing moved or, no - it moved, but as slowly as the sun across the achingly blue sky. For a moment, she could see each and every hair of the warrior opposite her, every bead of sweat on the cutlass wielding city-dweller. She could see the weave of the fabric of the wagons, the grain of the wood that made the beds.

"?" The question she issued was without words, without form. It floated in this no-time, this moment between moments, as though a defiant cry. It echoed soundlessly across the silent tableau. And something answered, something that defied rational understanding, something terrifying and implacable and utterly remorseless...


She opened her real eyes, the the flow of time resumed as though that single moment had not happened at all. All that had changed was the simple feeling of power that suffused her flesh, alien and partly unwelcome. Something seemed to reside in her flesh, and looked through her eyes.

The first of the great plains' beasts thundered through the wagons, animals twice the size of the horses with great horned heads. A wagon crashed round in a half circle as one slammed its great bulk into it, wood splintering as though it were nothing more than matchsticks. The great beast didn't even slow, not even when it trampled a fallen guard. The scent of expensive spices wafted into the air, proof of the destruction of at least a portion of some precious cargo.

Another raced towards the two warriors, but veered to one side so that it passed just beyond their reach. And then another, avoiding them to the other side, as if guided away.

With a feral cry, she took her chance then. Something surged within her, but she could see no difference in her own natural ability, and so therefore acted accordingly.

She had two spears still, one unbroken extra clutched in her shield hand and the other in her right hand. She closed fast and hard, twisting away from the thrust of his spear and then stopping hard before coming any closer, tossing the spear in her right hand awkwardly ahead of her and deftly shifting the remaining spear into her main hand before pressing behind the thrown weapon. It happened fast, as fast as she could manage. The stutter step delay saved her from the unexpected counter that likely would have gutted her like a gazelle, and his knife cut into the bull hide buckler on her left forearm with tremendous force. For a moment, she teetered on the verge of being thrown of balance, only just managing to keep her feet. She covered the weakness of her position with a lightning quick series of thrusts, one handed, intended to either draw blood or just force him back. She did not feel confident that she could best him now, not until given a better shot.

Another half dozen hairy beasts thundered by, and the crunch of another wagon being smashed to kindling echoed through the line.