Our Journey Together

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Prologue Part 3: Will Treaty the Ranger

Admiring the beauty of the forest around him, the twenty five-year old Ranger was brushing the coat of his faithful horse Tug, humming the song in which he was famous for. Well at least those who had heard him sing it.

’Graybeard Halt is a friend of mine
He lives on Redmont’s hill
Graybeard Halt never took a bath
And they say He never will.’

Tug snorted, turning his huge head towards him. His eyes stared into Will’s, as if saying, ’You know he doesn’t like that song.’

“Oh, come on Tug.” Will whined, his face giving a mocking pout. “I can’t help it if that song comes into my head. Besides, he’s back at Redmount having a reunion with Pauline right now. So there’s no way he’s going to hear it. After all, why would he even want to come here to hear my song when he could be with her anyway?”

Tug made an approximation of rolling his eyes before snorting. Suddenly his ears perked up to hear hoofsteps coming their way, almost silent hoofsteps. Knowing who it was, he just shook his mane before going back to eating. Unfortunately for the Ranger though, he was bending over to brush Tug’s barrel, so he was caught completely unaware when he heard a loud cough.

”Who knows?” A voice followed. “Maybe I like to take a walk through the forest, enjoying the scenery while meeting my ex-apprentice. What do you think, Will?”

The Ranger winced. Yup, he knew the owner of the voice and being the object of the song itself, he knew that he was in trouble. “Oh, hello Halt.” He started, trying to hide his nervousness from him. “I didn’t see you there.”

“Oh heavens no,” Halt replied, his expression neutral. “If you did, then that would mean I am losing my touch, doesn’t it.”

“So...um,” Will wracked his brain, desperately trying to find a way out of this conundrum he put himself in. “Nice weather we’re having.” Of all the things to talk about…Halt just glared at him, lifting an eyebrow. “Oh, come on Halt! I didn’t expect to visit us since...you know...”

“Know what exactly?” The older ranger dared him to go further.

Will sighed in frustration and in defeat. “So do you want to come in?” He said, not wanting to drag the situation any further. “I haven’t made any coffee yet, so it might take a while.”

Halt nodded and went to the small stable next to the hut, inwardly satisfied that he had once again out-talked his ex-apprentice. Taking off Abelard’s tether and saddle, he then went into the house and sat on a chair, just in time to see WIll coming in from to stable as well.

“So do tell, what is the reason of your visit, Halt?” Will asked, skeptical as he began to brew the beverage they both were addicted to.

“Why, can’t I visit my ex-apprentice without the intent of just saying ‘hello’?” Halt retorted, raising an eyebrow.

“So it isn’t because Pauline is going to Castle Araluen for a meeting and you are just feeling lonely in your apartment without your wife, right?”

The older ranger fought to find something to counter his words, but in his mind he knew it was futile.find a good comeback for that statement, but try as he might he knew he couldn’t find one. “Like I said; I’d just wanted to have a peaceful conversation with you, like two old friends, colleagues and neighbours. Is that alright with you, Will?”

Will just snorted lightly before going back to brewing the coffee. “So then, what are we going to talk about? Will you start the ‘conversation’ then Halt?”

Halt narrowed his eyes at him before sighing. “Suddenly I missed the days when I could just shut you up with a word.”

Will just grinned before coming out with a fresh pot of what they regarded as nectar from the heavens. Pouring the coffee into the two cups that he brought along, he sat down in the other chair and picked up one of the cups and added his usual spoonful (two to three spoons actually) of honey. He then took a sip, sighing appreciatively at the taste before looking at his former mentor doing the same.

“I really did get your habit of drinking coffee, did I?” Will commented.

“And Horace got his from you, I wager.” Halt shot back.

Will smirked at the remark, feeling that this was like one of the many conversations they had in the past, picking off one another about their bad habits. “Got that right, but still I must blame you for getting me into that habit in the first place.”

Halt just snorted before taking a sip of his coffee. “And what about Alyss?” Will then coughed and spluttered into his cup, prompting a grin on the older man’s face.

“What about her?” Will asked, his eyes glaring at him while he wiped any traces of coffee on his chin.

“I don’t know; maybe about when you kept on staring at her when you visited us?” Will was racking his brains on how he would wipe that smirk on his face when he heard Abelard and Tug whining loudly outside at the stables. “See, even the horses are agreeing with me.”

The younger man huffed, eyes glaring in annoyance before taking a sip himself. “Whatever makes you happy…” he grumbled under his breath, taking another sip. Halt smirked before taking another sip himself. Though he barely registered the fact the horses had stopped whining after a while, but the moment his sharp ears heard soft whisperings and the crunching of hay behind the door to the stables, his danger senses immediately went to ‘red alert’.

Quickly he stood up, grabbing his bow and quiver that he had laid by the side of his chair and instinctively nocked an arrow, aiming at the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he smiled briefly when he noticed Will doing the exact same thing, knowing that his former apprentice had noticed as well. Good lad, He thought.

“I know you’re there,” Will ordered, “ come out or we’ll begin shooting!” There was no answer, but for a moment there the two Rangers heard some hushed whispering and then silence once again. The two looked at each other and nodded.

Halt quickly and silently crossed the room, putting away the bow and arrow while unsheathing his saxe knife. Stationed behind the door, he placed his left hand on the door handle with the other hand was holding the oversized dagger in a reverse grip. He looked back at Will and gave him a nod. The younger ranger nodded, ready to back up Halt.

But before he could open the door, it was slammed open with a loud bang and four hooded men immediately rushed in, each holding a small shield and a short sword. Will, in a split second, adjusted his aim and shot, the arrow speeding towards one of the assailants’ chest.

However, as if he anticipated it, the man had already lifted his shield to guard against the arrow, resulting with a loud clang. Then the four intruders quickly rushed towards the two Rangers, two of them fighting each Ranger, weapons raised for a fight. Will, knowing that a bow was never meant to be used in an indoor fight, quickly jumped back to avoid a side-slash by one of two assailants and slung his bow over his shoulder. At the same time he drew both his saxe knife and his throwing knife, prepared to defend himself. His two attackers took it as he was ready to take them on and started attacking once more.

Seeing the motion of a downward slash, he brought both his knives up, the throwing knife clutched in his left hand supporting the saxe knife held in his right, forming an ‘X’, and successfully caught the blade at the centre of the cross. Will then acted quickly, his left hand moved to grab the attacker’s drawstring around his neck. However, the attacker immediately guarded against his attempt his shield and retaliated by pushing Will away, forcing him to step back before being attacked by the other foe. He tried to attack, but his attempt was blocked by the shield. Any further attempts were dismissed when he was jumped by the first attacker. Outnumbered, Will had no choice but to go on the defensive, using his incredible reflexes and ability to evade most of their attacks and the Double-Knife-Defense for those he couldn’t.

The exchange went on for a couple of minutes but Will knew that he was on the losing end. During the exchange, the Ranger quickly realized that both attackers were somewhat on par with Horace, a fellow friend and knight of Castle Araluen, or at least slightly less skilled than him. Even their strength and speed were at Horace’s level. With that in mind, Will wasn’t confident that he could beat one of them in fair combat, but the problem was that he was facing two of them. Worse, when he stepped back, he had bumped into a wall and quickly realized that he was backed into a corner.

“Oh great.” He cursed, frantically thinking of a way to escape. “Will!” He heard his former mentor calling out to him. His eyes instinctively shifted to him as the older Ranger shouted, “Get down!” He quickly got down, his eyes barely showed his confusion when he saw Halt was not in any position to assist him as he was barely faring against his own opponents. But he soon realized that it was just a distraction the moment he saw his attackers got down as well, turning to face Halt, ready for any projectiles that he might throw at them.

The Ranger then took this opportunity and rushed forward, striking one of them at the back, leaving a long bloody red line across his torso, and dashed across the room to fend of one of Halt’s attackers. With one fighter each and with the element of surprise, both had a slightly easier time fighting against each attacker, though it wasn’t much to begin with.

The two men quickly backed off, standing protectively whilst the third was looking over the one that had fallen. Taking the chance for a respite, the two Rangers stood in their battle-ready positions and assessed the situation. “What’s going on, Halt?” Will asked his mentor desperately. “What do they want from us?”

“I do not know and that’s what bothering me.” Halt muttered back worryingly. To him, it just didn’t make sense. He knew they were strong and fast enough to kill them, but all they did were hitting them with the flat side of the sword and the shield, and occasionally with their fists, leaving them with mostly bruises and some cuts here and there.

“Then what shall we do? Much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think we can beat them like this.”

“Well I don’t know about you, but I think that this place is a little cramped for two fights to take place. What do you think?” Will only had time to give his former mentor an insulted look before the two men began attacking them once more. But this time it was way different than before.

When the two men saw one of their own fell, they glowered at the Rangers and began retaliating back. Hard. It was then when the two Rangers realised how outclassed they were. Each stroke of the sword were faster and stronger, their shields were now used more for attacking instead of defending and the Rangers were given no chance to even attack.

Once more, the two Rangers were backed against the wall panting, now sporting more bruises and cuts across their body. “Any ideas?!” Will asked, trying to keep his rising panic down. “We ain’t going to beat them like this!”

The older Ranger huffed heavily, his aging limbs aching in protest from the constant pounding from the force of his opponent’s attacks. Frowning, his mind frantically put together a desperate plan. Halt knew it wasn’t one of his best plans, but he hoped that their speed and the element of surprise would give them the edge. “Follow my lead!” he ordered, throwing his throwing knife at the one closest to him.

The hooded man quickly brought up his shield, successfully deflecting the flying knife. However in doing so, he had blocked his vision with the shield, leaving him momentarily blinded. Will then quickly moved to attack him in his blind spot but the second man intercepted him, raising his sword for a downward slash. Instinctively, Will raised both knives and defended against the attack with the Double-Knife-Defence. The second attacker then tried to attack Will with his shield but Halt blocked it with his free hand, slugging him hard at the cheek. Dazed from the unexpected attack, he was unable to defend himself from Halt’s second powerful punch right at the nose, causing him to fall on his partner.

Seeing both assailants knocked down for now, the two Rangers quickly jumped on them, their knives raised to finish the fight when suddenly, a powerful force blindsided them, smashing them through the thick wooden wall of the cabin and onto the small patch of grass that served as the front yard. Stunned, they looked up to see one of the hooded men walking towards the hole in the cabin’s wall, his hand stretched out before him with the palm facing them. But what shocked them was the fact that the ‘hand’ was covered in fur and had pads and claws, like a cat’s paw.

"What in the world is that?!” Will exclaimed, scrambling to his feet as fast as he could. Unslinging his bow, he released a volley of arrows at the hooded man along with Halt. But the man just flicked his hand upwards and immediately the arrows were sent away, as if an invisible hand had swiped them in midair.

“That’s...impossible…” Halt stuttered, unable to comprehend how he did it. There was no way it was physically possible, but he could not deny what he’d just seen. It was as if that man had just used…

Magic…” Will muttered unbelievingly, stepping back in a moment of fear. It was unreal, an impossible fact. After all, he was told that ninety-five percent of the cases dealing with magic were just run-of-the-mill trickery or stage magic, another three percent that involved mind domination of the weaker mind and a further one percent that dealt with hallucinations that manipulates the victims’ sight and hearing. That just left with one percent that… ”No, it can’t be real…”

Just then, the assailant walked out of the cabin, behind him were the two men that Halt and Will struck down followed by the one that Will had critically injured. He was walking upright and without pain, as if he had never been injured in the first place. All four walked side-by-show, towards the stunned Rangers.

“Will, we have to get out of here. Now!” He barely heard Halt’s order, only shakily nodded his head before bolting towards the treeline. They’d barely made ten paces when they were thrown off their feet once more. Weakened by the injuries they accumulated and the weight of the attacks they were forced to guard against, Will and Halt could only moan in pain as they laid defeated.

With them down for the count, they were only able to raise their heads, just enough to see two of their attackers raised their hands. Glowing, patterned circles formed an inch from their palms and they snapped their fingers. The circles disappeared and immediately roots sprouted from the ground, roping themselves around the two Rangers, binding their limbs together tightly. Will grunted, weakly struggling against his bonds but couldn’t break through them. “What…”he coughed. “What...do you want...with us?”

They didn’t respond, but they smirked victoriously instead. One of the men turned around and took two steps forward. He clasped both hands together and muttered a few words, before slamming them onto the ground. Though nothing had visibly changed for a few seconds, the two Rangers could feel a rapid build-up of heat and energy in the air. Then the ground began to tremble and whatever animal that were nearby fled the area.

Suddenly, there was a crack in the air and light shone through it. The crack then became wider and the air surrounding it swirled outwards, forming a hole in midair. “What...in the world is that?” Halt gasped in fear, something that Will was shocked to hear in his former mentor’s voice if he hadn’t been distracted by the glowing hole as well.

“Our way home,” one of them spoke for the first time since their attack. “And we need your help.” He then raised a paw and another glowing circle formed. Suddenly Will yelped instinctively as he felt himself being raised into the air.

“What are you doing to him?!” Halt roared, fearful for his fellow Ranger and a son-he-never-had.

The four hooded men could only offer him sad smiles. One of the other men walked towards Halt and knelt before him. “I’m sorry for this,” he muttered sadly, the sad smile looking sadder. Halt looked up at the captor’s face angrily, only to be shocked at what he saw under the hood. The man raised both hands, or paws from Halt’s view, one on the Ranger’s forehead and the other towards his bonds, holding a knife.

“You’ll never be able to find us and no one is going to believe you,” he whispered to Halt with kind eyes. “But don’t worry, your friend will be fine.” The hand on Halt’s forehead began to glow a green light, catching the attention of both Rangers.

“Halt!!” Will yelled, afraid for the safety of his fellow Ranger and father figure.

“For now, sleep and by the time you wake, we’ll be gone.” With that, the glow on the hand became brighter and immediately, Halt’s eyelids became heavier. The Ranger knew that the mage was trying to put him to sleep and take Will from him after that and he couldn’t let that happen.

“No…”He grunted, fighting against the spell as well as pushing against the bindings around him. “I won’t let you...take him away!” Though his head dropped onto the floor and breathing heavily, Halt squinted his eyes fiercely, his fists clenched tightly, gathering what minute concentration he could muster. “No..I...won’t!”

But even he knew his efforts were futile. The moment his strength failed him, the spell quickly took over. In the moments he saw Will being taken away, he heard him crying out for his mentor. With tears of guilt in his eyes, he muttered, “Will...I’m sorry.”

And that was his last memory of it before darkness took over.

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