We were traveling for three days along the river while heading to the place Artemis’s friend lived at. There was little that happened. Whenever someone was in our area, we managed to easily avoid them. The biggest problem was probably my strong desire to be alone. That over time just started to turn into a dull annoyance though. I didn’t think my want to be alone was going to go away completely though. I liked my solitude too much to ever want to be without it.
“There’s about an hour until its completely dark out here,” Artemis stated. “Do we want to start looking for a place to camp or continue a little further along?”
“There’s a village about ten minutes from here,” I commented. “I would rather we pass the village then continue on our way until its dark. I don’t want villagers to stumble on us during the middle of the night.”
“Scared of a few villagers?” Arion asked in a tone of voice I didn’t recognize really. After thinking it through, it made me think that there was a chance that he wasn’t being serious. He was possibly being sarcastic. But at the same time I wasn’t sure, since the tone of voice seemed so strange to me.
“More like they should be concerned for their safety, if they are going to wander nearby me in the middle of the night,” I answered.
“So then, for the villagers’s safety, we should continue on for the rest of daylight,” Artemis mentioned. Shade barked in agreement.
“I have no problems with it,” Arion stated. “Will we be seen by the village with our current way of travel?”
“I can make sure we avoid that,” I told them. “I know where to go in order to not be seen by people nearby.”
“Do you always just move around unseen in Ranvier?” Arion asked me.
“No, I go through all the twelve territories unseen,” I answered. “Expect for Terranit. I don’t trust boats enough to go out to that island nation.”
Shade then nudged Artemis on the leg. The bump almost knocked her over, diverting all of our attention to Shade.
“What’s wrong, Shade?” Artemis asked him. “Do you smell something strange?”
Shade barked in the affirmative.
“What was it?” I questioned.
He answered that it was something burning.
“He smells something burning,” I told them. “And how did you know he smelled something off?”
“He always does that when he smells something that I should know about,” Artemis informed me.
“If something is burning, then either the village has a campfire going that’s so strong Shade smells it from here, or there’s a danger from fire,” Arion commented. “We should make sure that nothing is happening that we should be concerned about.”
“I guess we’ll go through the village then,” I mumbled as I corrected our course to take us straight through.
“Don’t worry, I think the people are nice,” Artemis told me.
“It’s not the problem of whether or not they are nice, it’s the problem of I don’t want to be around people at all,” I replied.
“Do I just have to ignore a large portion of what you say about creatures and me in order not to take offense by you?” Arion asked me.
I went through what I said earlier and after doing it a few times noticed that someone could take offense from what I said. I didn’t really understand why someone would take offense, but they just would.
“Absolutely,” I answered Arion.
Arion didn’t respond at first. I had a feeling that he was looking at me with a weird expression, but I was in the front and unable to really look at him, so I wouldn’t know.
“Okay then,” he eventually murmured.
We reached near the village in less than two minutes because we picked up the pace a little. Artemis was the first to smell smoke, then Arion and I could around the same time. We all agreed that it was far too much smoke for it to be a simple campfire.
I started to wonder what happened when I heard that there were screams in the village. I immediately ran towards them, and the others soon followed. As we rushed towards the town, I was able to make out some words in the shouts and screams. I heard that there were attackers.
“It sounds like there are some slave traders attacking the town,” I told them as I got my longbow ready to shoot.
“How do you know that?” Arion asked me.
“I heard people shout about it,” I answered.
Arion murmured under his breath, “Just how good is your hearing?”
However, I was too busy to answer him at that time.
As we made our way forward, I sensed out the situation. My guess was that the people with weapons attacking people were the slave traders, and those running away in terror were the villagers.
The moment I was in shooting range, I took down a few traders that were nearby. Some of the wounds were fatal, some only injured, and a couple missed. In the end, I took out seven people with my bow within fifteen shots.
Arion, Artemis, and Shade were running ahead towards the screams.
“Any idea how many slave traders are nearby?” Artemis asked me.
“This is a small village, so my guess is that there is no more than ten left,” I told them. “What I can sense is supporting that guess.”
“We can handle ten then,” Arion commented. “Where are the rest of them?”
“The other end of the small town,” I told them. “Just continue to follow the screams.”
Artemis was ahead of everyone. She found herself behind a group of slave traders and tackled one to the ground. Shade came and helped her as they battled off three of them. It was mostly like a wrestling competition, since the slave traders didn’t have weapons that could harm Artemis, and Artemis wasn’t carrying any weapons. The main difference was if Artemis bit one of them, they didn’t have long until she could drain them dry of blood.
Arion took on some slave traders nearby. He was fighting two and was holding his ground pretty well. The slave traders were average fighters at best, and Arion was above average. He could handle two easily.
I, meanwhile, drifted off and took a different route. I climbed to the roof of one of the buildings, so I could have clear shoots and the higher ground advantage. I aimed and shot at the different slave traders. I first took off a few nearby Artemis, Shade, and Arion that went to support their friends.
After that, I found the remaining slave traders still attacking villagers and picked them off one by one. In some ways, it wasn’t really too fair on the slave traders. They were too far apart to realize they were being shot at. I usually had sixty arrows in my quiver and there were only about twenty slave traders that attacked the whole village. I usually hit my target on my first shot, but I had two more arrows I could spend on each person if I missed the first time.
When I took out the traders my travelling companions weren’t engaged with, I turned my complete attention back towards them.
Arion was doing rather well. He knocked one of the people out and was close to beating the other.
Artemis and Shade were doing okay. It appeared that one of the traders had been drained dry during the fight and was, consequently, dead then. The other two were fighting against Artemis. Neither got the upper hand on the other. But Shade would help Artemis out by keeping her opponents occupied looking for both a vampire and a large dog coming after them.
Since I didn’t want to shoot Artemis or Shade with an arrow, I didn’t do anything right away as I waited for a clear shot. After almost a minute, I got one when Artemis’s kick sent one of them flying. I shot the remaining one who had left himself open because he had gotten distracted. When Artemis noticed her other competitor got taken out, she went at the other one to finish him off by knocking him out cold.
At that point, I realized that there were no more traders since Arion finished off his fight. The only thing I heard that was disturbing was the fact that a building was still burning.
I made my way off the building in order to meet with Artemis, Shade, and Arion. We then rushed to find the burning building and helped the villagers put it out, except for Artemis who found the remaining villagers and helped take care of any of them who were injured. It was a couple of hours after dark when everything had finally settled down.
The villagers were rather nice towards us and seemed grateful that we were there. They did manage to all survive the slave trader’s attack and remain in their homes, so it made sense. The building that burned down was a barn with very little in it, so the damage had been minimal.
When I regrouped with Artemis, Shade, and Arion afterwards, they sat down to talk.
“This group was far too small to have been all the slave traders,” Arion murmured. “They tend to work in big groups. Also, since we saw them that means either the treaty we made with Terranit has changed or security has gotten relaxed in the last year.”
“The treaty is still the same as far as I know,” Artemis informed him. “These people are probably still from Terranit though, since it’s the only territory that still has slavery.”
“It means that either Terranit is breaking the treaty or that Tark is not keeping up security allowing groups working outside the law in both countries to get to work down here,” Arion grumbled.
“My guess is the second option,” I told them. “Tark doesn’t really seem to care for outlying areas like this since he became king.”
“It’s almost getting lawless out here,” Artemis hissed. “Some of the villagers told me about similar attacks happening to places nearby. Quite a few people have gone missing apparently.”
Arion whispered some insults and threats under his breath at Tark. Even I could tell that he was upset at that time. It made me think that Artemis was probably upset too, which would explain why she seemed to be having trouble controlling how far her fangs were (she stated that if she couldn’t, she would have sliced her lips several times already).
“Arion, Shade, and I got an offer from some of the villagers to spend the night here while you were locking up the slave trader prisoners,” Artemis told me.
“Okay, then in the morning you and Shade could probably use your sense of smell to track down where the slave traders came from, right?” I stated. “It would be more effective than my way of tracking. But all else fails, I can look for their trail. It would just take longer, since it involves more trial and error when I track.”
There was a moment of silence after I spoke. I began to wonder if I said something wrong. Since they seemed upset by the situation, I thought they would want to track down the remaining traders. Due to their silence, I then wondered if I interrupted their actions wrong.
“What?” I asked, wanting to know how I messed up.
“We just weren’t expecting that,” Arion told me. “We thought you might want to continue on instead of dealing with this delay of taking out the slave traders.”
“Don’t you want to stop the slave traders?” I asked, trying to piece their actions together.
“We do,” Artemis quickly replied. “We were just uncertain about whether or not you would.”
“Oh,” I replied. “Well, I don’t like slave traders, so let’s get rid of them.”
“Okay,” Arion stated. “I guess we should get some rest then.”
“Sounds good,” I told them. I then got up and went off before they could say another word. I went and found a comfortable patch of ground to sleep on because I never liked sleeping inside. I went to sleep rather quickly that night.
I woke up the next morning to find Shade right in my face by the time I started moving. I assumed that I woke up because I heard him coming.
“Anyone else up?” I asked him as he started to sniff my face.
Shade shook his head before licking me in the face. My impulse was to push his head away, but when I started he started to whimper. It seemed that I had offended him. To try to make it up to him, I decided to scratch him in the spot Artemis always did, which caused him to stop licking me and his tail to wag like crazy.
I slowly sat up as I made sure my body was away from his tongue. I did not like the feeling of dog slobber on me and thought that I would go wash it off.
Shade, who was ignorant of what I was thinking of doing, decided to sit on my lap as I shifted to a seated position. He made himself comfortable and then just stuck there, even when I asked if he would move.
“Is this your way of showing affection or are you trying to annoy me?” I asked him as I tried to think of how to get him off without offending him again.
Shade didn’t answer my question, only moved slightly to make himself more comfortable. I debated pushing him off, but I didn’t know if pushing animals counted as animal abuse, and I didn’t want to make him whimper again. So, in the end, we just sat there.
It was about a half an hour later when I felt Artemis approaching. She seemed to be looking for something.
I found out what when she found Shade and me and announced, “There you are. I was wondering where both of you went.”
“How do you get him off?” I asked Artemis.
Artemis let out a small chuckle before telling me, “Just start pushing him off gently, and he’ll get the hint.”
“Even after asking him?” I questioned.
She shrugged and stated, “I guess he only thinks that a push means that you are being serious about it. Asking is more of a suggestion in his mind.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I grumbled.
I started to push Shade off. I tried my best to do it gently, but he didn’t budge at first. I applied more pressure, and he still stayed on. I was starting to get to the point where it was not a really gentle push when Shade simply shifted positions to rollover, so that he was closer to me.
Artemis laughed and told me, “I guess he doesn’t want to budge today. You apparently make a good bed.”
“Well, I don’t like him there!” I found myself yelling in frustration.
Shade told me too bad through his pants. I tried to send a glare his way, but his face wasn’t even facing me.
Artemis then started to scratch Shade. He wiggled around in response.
“Hey, Raven, sorry about yesterday evening,” Artemis told me.
“Sorry about what?” I questioned, not thinking of anything worth apologizing over.
“We kind of said some things that could be taken offensively about how we weren’t sure you would want to go after slave traders,” Artemis explained. “I thought I should apologize for what I said.”
At this point, Artemis scratched Shade enough that he rolled off of me. I then stood up quickly so he wouldn’t go back on my lap.
I brushed the dog hair off myself as I told her, “Well, I didn’t notice that, so don’t worry about it. I probably would have thought something along the same lines in your shoes.”
There was silence for a moment. I began to wonder if I said something wrong. I didn’t like interacting with other creatures because their interactions were so confusing. I never knew what they were thinking, and it was exhausting.
“What?” I asked.
“I just didn’t know how to respond,” Artemis murmured. “I have a little trouble telling what you’re feeling.”
“Probably because I don’t know if I feel anything half of the time,” I told her. “I’ve been described as an unemotional rock before, so I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.”
“Okay then,” Artemis told me. “I hope you won’t mind if I still try to figure you out though.”
“Go ahead,” I murmured. “You probably won’t get very far.”
“True. But it’s nice to see the small things you do learn about someone on the way.” Artemis looked up at me, and I didn’t know why she was looking at me. I decided to shrug it off because I wasn’t about to lose sleep over trying to figure out other creatures.
“We should probably get heading out soon,” I murmured. “After I wash this dog slobber off. Is Arion awake?”
“Probably not,” Artemis stated. “The most surprising thing about Arion is how hard it is for him to wake up in the mornings.”
“No argument there,” I murmured as I then set off to wash and wake Arion up. Artemis and Shade followed me. They had a lighter feel to their step than usual, and I didn’t understand why. They confused me.
Luckily for us, Arion wasn’t too hard to wake up that morning. He was awake by the time I felt clean enough from washing my face. Once he was awake enough to get moving, we set off.
With their scents of smell, Artemis and Shade found the slave traders’s trail rather easily. We followed it for half the day until we came upon the remains of what seemed to be an old fortress. It was on the bank of a river that I knew stretched out to the sea and went a long way inland. The river went through several kingdoms. The fortress was in an okay condition from what I could sense. The right wall was definitely unstable, but it would hold for a few more years unless something like an earthquake or another strong force messed with it. I had come across it before, but I had no idea what it was doing there.
We were gathered around in the security of the trees. One thing I thoroughly enjoyed about Ranvier was that there are a lot of trees in their forests, which meant many places were available to slip away unseen.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“You don’t know anything about it?” Arion questioned.
“No, not really,” I answered. “I can’t really keep track of all these random places in the twelve territories. It’s just a random fortress on the river in my mind.”
“Well, this is the Riverside Fortress,” Arion explained. “It was built originally by the dark elves, but, when humans got in control of these lands, they took it and renovated it to fit humans better. They wanted it to help with the problem of slave traders, ironically.
“One of the additions was siege tunnels. In fact, the tunnels were used one hundred twenty-eight years ago during The Werewolf Uprising, so that the soldiers inside the fort could surround the attackers on both sides. That was how they managed to win the battle. The soldiers were sworn into silence about the tunnels though, in case they were needed again.
“The chance to use the tunnels never came up again, since thirty-nine years later the magic holding the walls up was fading, and it couldn’t be replaced anymore. The place has been abandoned, but the magic was too strong to tear down at the time. And I was thrown into prison before I could tear this place down, so that criminals wouldn’t use it as a hideout. It was high on my to do list.”
I grunted and replied, “So, that’s what this place is.”
“How do you know all of that?” Artemis asked. “That’s a lot of information about one random building out in the middle of nowhere.”
“My family’s archives have the plans to every fort, prison, castle, library, and government building, along with detailed histories of everything of importance that went on in those places,” Arion stated. “I read through them a few times.”
“Do you remember everything you read?” I questioned.
“Everything I find interesting,” he answered. “And I enjoy history, so this got saved in my memory. Along with the location of the siege tunnels, how to open them, and the fact that they led to the bottom floor, which is probably the same floor cells are on, since that was the style back in the day.”
“So you think that the siege tunnels are the best bet on getting inside the place and finding the prisoners?” I questioned.
“Yes,” Arion confirmed.
“That sounds like a good way to get them,” Artemis stated. “But how do we stop the slave traders from coming after us?”
“Have the place come down on top of them,” I stated. “Those who survive won’t bother trying to find the people who escaped with all the damage that will happen.”
There was a short pause before Arion asked, “How do you suggest we do that?”
“I can use the magical object that separates bonds to take out a couple support columns,” I answered. “The place will come down, but with enough time to make sure everyone gets out.”
“I like the idea,” Artemis answered. “It sounds like a good plan.” Shade barked that he agreed. Arion nodded.
“I say we move after dusk,” I commented. “We’ll have more of a mobility advantage then.” The others agreed, so we went to find a place to stay out of sight of the fortress until then.
We set off an hour after dusk. Arion was able to easily find the tunnel. It was a lot more spacious than I thought it was going to be, allowing us to move through easily. My first thought was tunnels that I might have to crawl through, but I just had to bend slightly, which was pretty impressive, since I was usually a foot and a half taller than the average human.
I was leading the group, since I didn’t need light to move through the tunnel. When we reached the end, I motioned for them to put out the torch, so that people wouldn’t be able to see it in the distance through the corridors.
With my senses, I could tell that there was no one immediately outside, so I strolled out without pausing. The others hesitated before following me out of the tunnel. They seemed so loud to me, but, since nothing happened, I guessed they seemed quiet to all the other living creatures in that fortress.
I started trying to use my sense of touch to locate the cells. It wasn’t hard since they were only a few hallways down. I quietly told the others and started heading there. They simply followed in pursuit.
We were making our way with no interruptions when someone started coming in our direction from around a corner. I simply drew out my knife and reached the corner. As they turned the corner, I slammed my knife’s hilt into their head. They went down without any resistance.
Arion and Artemis jumped back in response to the person coming around the corner.
After a short pause, Arion hissed, “Next time can you give us a warning before someone stumbles across us?”
“You want that?” I questioned.
“Yes, please,” Artemis replied.
“Oh, okay,” I told them before rounding the corner to lead us to the cells.
When we were approaching the cells, I noticed that the guards were in the room next to the cells. There appeared to be ten of them there who were armed.
I stopped and quietly told Arion and Artemis this.
Once I finished, I started to move forward when Arion grabbed my wrist and stated, “Is there any other information we need to know, and do we need to come up with a plan?”
“I don’t think so,” I told him. “I was thinking just attacking them when they were least expecting it.”
Arion sighed as he murmured, “Okay.”
Not waiting any longer, I grabbed another knife out. With a knife in each hand, I went forward. Arion got my sword out, and all the group followed behind me.
I swung the door open, and, as the group of traders were turning to look at who came through, I threw each of my knives at the two closest guards. They didn’t have time to fully turn around before they had my knives in their chests.
I pulled out two more knives as my travelling companions made their way into the room. Arion was engaged in sword fighting with two of the slave traders. Artemis and Shade both tackled some of the guards to the ground.
I sent two of my knives flying, one towards someone who was heading for me and another towards a trader heading in Artemis’s direction. The one heading towards me was hit with a direct hit to the heart, killing him instantly. The other one I hit got hit in the arm, but could shake it off.
I pulled out two more knives. I immediately used them to block a sword stroke of someone trying to attack me. I then quickly moved my left knife out of the block, and while using my right knife to push his blade away struck the hilt of the knife against his head. He fell to the ground unconscious.
Artemis, Shade, and Arion were engaged with the other traders in the room. But I felt four more heading down the corridors towards where we were at. Since I didn’t want to give them any advantage at all, I left the room to head them off.
As I went down the corridor, I switched my knives for my longbow and some arrows.
I quickly rounded the corner to the hallway that they were heading down. Before they could process that someone was there, I sent two arrows their way. They hit with deadly accuracy sending two of the four down.
I was sending more arrows that way, but the other two managed to duck down hallways with only scrapes.
I waited to find out what they were going to do. One of them stayed, and the other started heading down the hallways. After a moment, I realized that one was going to try distracting me up front while the other attacked me from behind. They just had no idea that it wouldn’t work that well on a dark elf. It was better for me though.
As quietly as I could, I moved down the hallway towards the person in front. When he thought it was time for him to come at me, he rounded the corner to find me a few feet away from him. I shot an arrow through him at that distance, killing him instantly.
I then turned my attention towards the one who thought they could sneak behind me. I quietly started heading in his direction.
I was approaching him as he rounded a corner. He was then greeted by one of my arrows, killing him also.
I felt around the corridors and could feel no other rogue traders around, so I made my way back to where everyone else was at.
As I approached the room, I heard Artemis state, “Well, he couldn’t have gone far.”
I entered and asked, “Who are you talking about?”
“You,” Arion growled.
“Oh, makes sense,” I replied.
“Where did you go?” Arion asked. His tone of voice sounded like he was biting down on something. I couldn’t remember what emotion was associated with that tone of voice.
“There were four people trying to come in for reinforcements, so I stepped out to take care of them,” I answered.
Arion paused a moment, then sighed before asking, “Would it kill you to tell us before you run off?”
I tried to think if I could have told them before I ran off. I guessed I could have mentioned something to Arion as I passed by him. I just didn’t think about it.
“Probably not,” I answered eventually.
Arion massaged his temples, as Artemis excitedly announced that she found the keys. I gathered my knives as everyone else unlocked the prisoners. Arion was telling everyone to remain calm and follow us so that they could all get out of there safely. They all crowded together as I felt for the support columns.
“Everyone is here according to them,” Arion murmured.
“You should start leading them out of here,” I told him. “It’s going to take awhile for me to break the support columns.”
“Will you be alright?” Artemis asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “I’m fast and know how to get around. I’ll get out alright.”
I started to head towards the nearest support column. They didn’t move for a moment, but eventually they slowly started to lead everyone out.
I found the support column and took out my magical rod that broke things apart. As I ran it across the support beams, they slowly began to break apart.
For a while, I cut through the support columns. I left when they were close to collapsing. I ran through the corridors, trying to make sure I made it out with plenty of time to spare. With the already weakened building, there was no way it was going to last an hour with the support columns going out.
I made it through the tunnels easily enough. Everyone else was waiting outside for me. When I got out was when we heard the first rumblings. It started to heavily crash as we walked through the forest.
“Well, there’s one thing off my to do list,” I heard Arion whisper to himself as the building came crashing down. He didn’t say anything else that night as we started to bring the villagers back to their homes.
I was surprised that it took us a week to drop all the villagers back off at their homes. It appeared that the slave traders had been working in the area for a while, and that there was quite the collection of small towns. In the end, it added up quickly, making for a rather long delivery.
Even though I was shocked, I found myself not caring about it that much. The only thing that annoyed me was when the villagers thanked us for saving them. For some reason that really annoyed me, and I just wished that they would stop. Since I didn’t really know how to respond to it, I didn’t. Arion simply murmured that what we did was how it was supposed to be. Artemis and Shade simply accepted their thank yous and, after some time I realized (with Arion’s help) they would find a way to naturally change the subject to something else.
During that time, the signal was sent by Night. All the villagers were confused when the constellation The Honest Man went dark that night. I just told them that it would be back tomorrow night. They stopped talking about it once I did that.
Once the last villagers were dropped off, I asked, “Any other delays I should know about?”
“Not that we know about,” Artemis told me as she put a hand on my shoulder.
“What are you doing that for?” I asked her.
“It’s a sign of affection, Raven,” she informed me.
“So why are you doing it?” I questioned.
“Because I want to,” Artemis told me. “So get used to it,”
“I don’t think I will,” I told her as I started moving away from the village. Her hand dropped, and I heard her actually chuckle as we moved on. Even though I tried for about an hour, I couldn’t figure out what that interaction meant. That was probably why I just moved on then. It was a lot easier to do.