Kill or Be Killed
“What do you mean bad news?” Demelov asked.
Just in time, two men came running to their tent thrusting their swords forward. The group scattered while Demelov and Frank took on the two armed fighters. They weren’t really that adept. Once they were disarmed, they were pretty much helpless in hand to hand combat. They were able to subdue and pin them to the ground in no time.
Demelov and Frank were astride the two members of the Brotherhood, one hand grabbing their arms behind their backs. Demelov flicked his long silver hair.
“What were you saying about them being bad news?” he mocked Claus.
“Do you always have to be so cocky?” Claus replied.
“I mean, you’re welcome. I just saved your life. You were so scared but these men were just piece of cake,” he boasted.
The man Demelov was holding struggled and looked up on their masks, his expression was filled with hate and malice. “The Brotherhood will come and find you. And Paladis will be purged from evil.”
“What are you taking about?” Ink asked.
The man only laughed maniacally without responding to the question and repeated the same words, “The Brotherhood will come and find you. And Paladis will be purged from evil!” he shouted.
“I think these men are just nuts,” Catherine declared.
“Yeah, I think so too,” Sebastian seconded. “What are we going to do with them?”
“Should I kill them?” Demelov asked.
“What?! NO!” Rebecca protested.
Demelov grinned. “I was just kidding. What are we supposed to do then?”
“I think we should tie them up for the mean time,” Marty suggested.
“What are we supposed to do?” Demelov asked, pretending not to hear Marty.
Catherine rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “You heard what Marty said.”
“What are we supposed to do?!” Demelov cried.
“Oh, for goodness sake. Just tie them up will you,” Frank answered.
Claus tossed the rope to Frank who nimbly caught it in one hand. Out of the blue, an arrow was shot from the shadows missing Frank’s head by a hair’s-breadth. The man pinned by Demelov used the distraction to roll to his side, effectively throwing off his abductor. A barrage of arrows came raining out of nowhere and the rest of the group ran for cover. The man managed to grab his sword once again and turned to Demelov who had hit his head in a log.
Rebecca saw everything happening in slow motion. Dread sucked her breath but courage filled her spirit. She snatched a knife from the makeshift table and threw it at the man’s torso grazing his sides. His attention now turning to her.
Claus focused intently on where the arrows were coming from. And upon recognizing the source of the shots, motioned to Ink’s and Sebastian’s direction. Ink signaled to Marty who understood and acted as a decoy while the three ran to the opposite path towards the archer.
Frank was wrestling with the man on the ground, too preoccupied to see what’s going on the other side. The guys had gone after the person who was shooting the arrows that there’s no one left to help Rebecca. Catherine and Eris had hidden themselves away from the chaos.
So, she steeled herself. She wished she had taken the bow and arrow from Frank’s satchel. She was pretty good with those. But it’s too late now, the man swung the sword and she ducked to evade it. She crawled under the small table which he hacked with his sword. Seeing a piece of rock lying on the ground, she picked it up and threw it at his face. It bought her enough time to run away into the dense shrubs. As she was running, she turned to look back at her attacker who was now in pursuit of her. She wasn’t even a few meters away when her feet got caught on a protruding root of a tree, making her stumble and fall. She looked up at the man as he raised his sword to deliver the final blow. When all of a sudden, a sword was pierced right through his heart. The man looked down at his chest where blood was pouring out, his hands grew limp and Rebecca watched horrified as life was sucked out of his eyes. His body fell to the ground and behind him stood Demelov. He moved beside Rebecca who was frozen on the ground she was sprawled on.
“Becca, are you alright?” he worriedly asked.
“He… he…,” she stammered.
“I know,” Demelov replied. He tightly gripped her shoulders forcing her eyes away from the lifeless body of the man.
“He’s dead,” she said with glistening eyes. Her mask was no longer covering her face. She bit her lip to stop herself from crying. But Demelov knew all too well that she wouldn’t be able to stop the waterworks from coming out. So, he hugged her as she wept softly.
Sebastian came running after next. “Becca? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” his eyebrows knotting underneath the mask. He crouched beside her in silence trying to ease whatever pain she might be feeling.
Claus, Ink and Marty came back to their camp a few seconds later to see the whole place in a topsy-turvy. Eris and Catherine were cleaning things up and bringing the place into order. Frank was nowhere in sight.
“Where is Frank?” Claus hurriedly asked.
“He ran after the guy he was wrestling with awhile ago, Master Claus,” Eris replied.
“I tried to chase after him. But I lost them,” Eris replied guiltily.
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine,” Claus said more to himself.
“What about Rebecca?” Ink said alerted that she is nowhere in sight.
Demelov and Sebastian together with her walked slowly into the light. Her clothes had specks of dirt and blood on it that they worried whether she had been injured.
“Becca, are you hurt?” Claus moved in to inspect her closely.
“It’s not my blood,” she replied mournfully.
“What happened?” Marty asked.
Demelov bellowed and took out his anger at Marty. “Now, isn’t the time to talk about that! Can’t you see she isn’t feeling well!”
“Enough Demelov!” Frank shouted for the first time, just arriving himself. “Now, isn’t the time for us to fight amongst ourselves as well. Get perspective.”
“Frank is right. Now isn’t the time to argue. And it’ll be best if we all cool our heads off first,” Claus said looking at Frank who was also clearly on edge. He’s not someone who goes off just like that. Demelov is understandable because he is always that way.
They all gathered around the remains of the bonfire where Ink and Rebecca were just talking a few hours ago. None of them knew what to say. Each was mulling over their own thoughts until Claus decided it was time for them to discuss their next move.
“We lost the archer,” he began.
“I lost the other man as well,” Frank sighed. “It seems like they are more familiar with the forest here.”
“What about the other man?” Claus asked, turning to look at Demelov who sat beside Rebecca.
“He’s dead,” he simply replied.
Silence. They weren’t sure whether they should be glad that their attacker was dead. None of the group ever had to make that choice whether a person should live or die. None of them were murderers.
Ink wondered whether Demelov was feeling alright. He knew the guy was rough. Rebecca said so herself. But he wondered if he could stomach doing something like that. He knew for sure that Claus couldn’t. That was the reason why the archer escaped in the first place. He couldn’t deliver the blow. None of them could, not Sebastian, not Marty and certainly not him.
It would’ve been an easy kill. They outnumbered him, four to one. But even if they had him pinned down and even if the guy taunted them to just end his life. They couldn’t do it, till the guy mustered up enough strength and managed to run away. He wondered if that was the same for Frank’s case. Did he allow the guy to escape? Like them, could he not take away his life? Rebecca dragged him out of his reverie.
“He saved me,” she said. “If it wasn’t for him. I’d be dead.”
Ink realized that she wasn’t wearing her mask anymore. Her face was tear streaked and her eyes a little red. No doubt she had been crying. He wondered what she must be feeling, having to witness such a thing. He couldn’t even imagine.
“It has been a rough night for all of us. But we can not stay here. The guys who managed to escape know about our location. We have to pack and move right away. We can’t be certain when they’ll return,” Claus said.
“What are they? What’s the brotherhood? And why do they want to kill us?” Marty asked.
“I wasn’t sure if their existence was real before. The intelligence my father, Lord Grindylow had, were based only on rumors. There was no solid proof but it had been said that they were the ones attacking the couriers along the road. The Brotherhood of Light Bearers is a group undiseased vagabonds, humans who pledged their life to the purpose of purging the world of Paladis from evil. They kill beings like us who were touched by dark magic. They believe that it is their sacred duty to protect the people from dangerous beings,” Claus explained.
The group took in the information and understood that they weren’t a group to laugh at. Even Demelov would agree that he had been mistaken to underestimate them. There’s little reason to doubt that they were indeed the ones killing the couriers and town defenders leaving Maskerville. And if they had been doing it for years, no doubt they’re an organized group who probably had more people serving the cause.
Little had been said that night after the discussion. They gathered their things and mounted their horses. The light of the moon shining their path as they move northward despite of the darkness. They kept on moving until they were far enough from their previous encampment.
As they were riding their horses, Frank vigilantly watched the surroundings for any sign of danger. He was at the rear of the group. While Claus, on the other hand, led them on. Rebecca had been too quiet than usual. None of the guys knew what to say to make her feel better. She was always the one who cheered other people up, not the other way around. Even Sebastian who tried to talk to her, failed to get her out of her thoughts. She didn’t even put on her mask back.
Eris, for the first time, moved his horse to amble beside the lady. Out of all of them, he was the one who resembled Rebecca’s personality the most.
There were a lot of displeased workers growing up in the household of Lord Fillias and he always tried to bring cheer to those people, despite of him being in a worse situation due to his illness. A trait that Lord Fillias didn’t fail to notice.
“Would you mind if I ride beside you, my lady?” Eris asked.
“No, not at all, Eris,” Rebecca answered.
He looked at her: shoulder hunched, head bent down and eyes glistening. It was the first time he had laid eyes on Rebecca’s bare face. She had her hair covering the Mark of the Undead and she didn’t look like one of the diseased. At least, he looked normal to him, but that is only because he was like her too. He knew better though, without the mask, the undiseased would see a ghoul. And no doubt, attempt to kill her, especially the Brotherhood.
“You know, my lady. It’s the first time I saw your bare face. You are really pretty but you are ruining it with you expression,” he joked.
Rebecca laughed a little. “Oh, Eris.”
Eris smiled beneath his mask. If he could guess what Rebecca was feeling, it’s that she felt guilty about the death of that man who tried to kill her.
“I want to share a story to you, my lady,” he said.
Rebecca looked at him.
“When I was a kid, my father worked as a courier to feed me and my brother, Farris. He delivered stones from the quarry of Lord Fillias to the south. My mother died just a few months after I was born, some kind of disease. One time, we begged that he take us with him. At first he wouldn’t, said that it was dangerous, but we begged and begged till he gave in and said yes. But before we could even get halfway to Sulare, a group of undiseased ambushed our carriage. They killed the town defenders that was guarding the goods and the two couriers that was together with my father. We fled from the scene, but one man saw and ran after us. I was a sickly boy. So, I couldn’t run as fast. Our father hid us in the bushes while he went to fight with the man. He managed to displace his sword. But the man was better with hand to hand combat. He beat our father up. Farris couldn’t bear to look so he went to help father. He picked up the sword that was on the ground. He shouted as he approached, the man had our father in a headlock. He dared Farris to kill him. But Farries cried. He couldn’t. So, our father was now dead…. A town defender came rushing to help… but it was too late. They took us back to the quarry where we worked till our bones ached and ate the same soggy corn soup every day. But Lord Fillias saw us and took us in. The rest was history.”
Rebecca stared at Eris’ figure as he recalled his tale to her. He had seen death at such a young age. And worse, it wasn’t just some random person he happened to come across, it was his father. She gulped.
“You understand why I’m telling you this, right? I do not blame Farris for our father’s death, far from it. But had he killed that man, our father would’ve lived. Then we could still be together and our life would have been different. It is not your fault why that man died. Had Master Demelov hesitated, you’d be in the same place as my father. You can’t have both things, my lady. You weren’t able to save him. But there are others like him out there that you might. That’s how you repay the life that was taken,” Eris answered.
A day had gone by and no sign of the brotherhood were spotted. They decided it’ll be better to spend the night near the river before moving out in the morning. Pairs were assigned to keep watch in shifts: Claus and Frank were the first pair, followed by Demelov and Sebastian, then Ink and Marty.
The night had settled. Claus and Frank took the first watch and were talking in hushed tones when they heard the sound of twigs breaking.
Claus motioned for Frank to keep quiet and they edged closer to the bushes. Frank had keen eyes, eyes like a hawk’s that even through the darkness he could still see moving figures. He usually preferred to hunt at night and he was thankful that he did.
He spotted a group of men still a few distance away. There were more of them now, a dozen people. He told Claus to wake the group up. If they managed to get on their horses right away, they could still outrun them. They were all on feet and with their horses, they’ll have the advantage.
The group had been alerted by the danger and quickly stowed away the things that could be easily packed. By the time the group were near, Frank used his crossbow to hold down the fort. He was good at it. He moved like a hunter in the shadow, barely making a sound and aiming perfectly to disable their pursuers. Ink was right, his blows were not meant to kill but only to incapacitate: a shot to the ankle, to the leg anything that would keep them immobilized. He was simply buying time for them to get away. Seven he managed to take down, five were still approaching.
Rebecca and the company were almost mounted on their horses except Catherine when the men came charging to the tent. They all were swordsmen which explains the absence of firing arrows. The men shouted the same litany as the previous brotherhood members they have encountered, about purging the world from evil. The horses became violent and thrashed. Each galloping wildly away from the danger, their cries echoed in the night as their riders grabbed unto them for dear life. Catherine was half way up her horse when it stirred violently, dropping her to the ground.
And a slash, blood started dripping when a swordsman cut her across her back.
Marty howled and ran to her rescue. Frank heard the pitch cry and saw Catherine bleeding unconscious. He shot another bolt from his crossbow right through the neck of her attacker.
The rest of the company was already a few distance away on their horses. Ink came rushing back. Rebecca wanted to go too. But Demelov and Sebastian stopped her from going.
Marty dragged Catherine’s body and cradled her head weeping. Ink swooped in just in time to haul her out of his arms and into his horse.While Claus joined and grabbed Marty by the hand to ride with him. Frank had served as their defense all throughout the getaway. He was the last one to get on his horse and to gallop into the night, leaving behind the brotherhood of light bearers setting fire into their tent.
They had been on the run for a week now and they hoped against all odds that they had finally lost the group of men that had been chasing them.
It was easy to outrun them at first since they were on their horses. However, once they had rested and camped somewhere, the men would just pop out of nowhere as if they didn’t sleep all night just looking for them. Every time this happened more men would be there, like they were regrouping and sending reinforcements.
The group had now chosen to encamp behind a huge tree filled with dangling vines that served as a curtain separating them from the rest of the forest. They were all exhausted from riding restlessly through hills and meadows, making sure that they’d put enough distance between their company and the Brotherhood of Light Bearers. It had been an arduous ride.
Inside the dangling vines were evergreen bushes. It was actually the home of the pixies. They are creations of the Elves. They have white skin like that of ivory and they have a star-shaped flowery organ attached around their necks which they can conveniently use to cover their faces whenever they are feeling shy or doesn’t want to talk. They also use it for camouflaging themselves. It had been a great sign for Rebecca and her friends. It only means that they are now nearing Valhalla.
Despite of the brief joy brought about by the pixies, she was still feeling miserable because of Catherine’s state. Claus did what he could to stop the bleeding. But she had lost so much blood and her face is becoming more pallid as every minute passed. Ink worried about her terribly, too.
“Catherine, will be fine,” Rebecca assured Ink. “We are almost there at Valhalla. The pixies are a proof of that,” she pointed at a flying creature who were content on ignoring them.
Ink smiled a bit. “I hope you are, right. Catherine… she… she doesn’t look so well,” he admitted.
“Claus is doing the best he could,” Rebecca comforted. “And I know she’s a fighter. She wouldn’t give up just so easily. You should know that best of all,” she reminded him.
“You’re right. She’s strong. A cut on the back would do little to stop her unwavering spirit,” Ink reassured himself thankful for Rebecca’s presence.
“Um, I just wanted to say thanks. You know, for always lifting my spirit up,” he replied.
“No worries. We must look out for each other,” she said taking a deep breath and smiled. “There is still hope. It’s gonna be just fine.”