“Never forfeit a drop.”
The advice of Stellan's father rang in his head. The words spurred him on as he climbed the steep incline that led towards the dense forest. The convocation was almost a month away, and if he wanted to make it there, he had to head in the opposite direction, but during his stay in the region, he kept hearing murmurs about breachborn in these parts. Dirt gave way under his feet, and he grabbed a nearby tree for support. The bark underneath his left-hand fingers felt odd. Stellan righted himself and inspected the bark. Two diagonal grooves could be seen there. Stellan leaned in closer. No animal or bird could leave the inner bark discolored like that. No, this was done by metal. The markings indicated that Stellan had finally entered breachborn territory. Down the slope where the road was, a traveler would be relatively safe if they didn’t linger too much, but going up meant you were looking for trouble. Stellan continued up, mindful of his surroundings.
He strapped his shortsword tighter around his right thigh then made sure the longsword by his left hip was secure as well. His pack was always close to his back, but he checked it as well just in case. Higher survival rate hinged on minimal noise. He continued to climb up. Each time a bush moved suspiciously, or the crown of a tree made a noise Stellan didn’t like, he crouched down and stopped. Vigilance was going to get him more blood for the sword, or it would facilitate a timely retreat if the odds were too unfavorable.
Soon enough, he reached a cottage. It was well made and sturdy, stone walls, a window in the front, and a quaint chimney on top. Two breachborn were laying low just behind the tree line on the other side of the clearing the cottage occupied. Stellan could see their heads bobbing up and down as there seemed to be a heated argument. A third breachborn separated himself from a tree shadow a foot away, and the bobbing heads froze at the same moment. Stellan hadn’t noticed the third breachborn, but by his looks, he seemed to be in charge. After he gave a silent command, the two on the ground got up and started to prowl towards the cottage.
“The third one is definitely a veteran,” Stellan thought as he watched the figures come closer to the cottage with mute and cautious steps, “if I trail them for a day, I can find out where they rest and deal with them there, but I don’t have time for that.”
Never forfeit a drop, his own voice rang in his head this time. This time was different, however. He was so close. The convocation was so near it was palpable. He only had to submit the blade and actually start his life. The fifteen years on the road wouldn’t be for nothing.
“I’ll just see who lives there,” he decided. “If it’s a man, it’s his folly for living so far away from others, without his lord giving him confirmation of a full Reclamation of these parts. He took the risk, same as anyone else. If someone else is there…”
He didn’t want to think about that right now. He just continued to watch as the breachborn broke into the home and dragged a middle-aged man out front. The breachborn in charge had better camouflage than the rest and an imperious aura around him. His demeanor was that of a commanding officer, so Stellan dubbed him Captain. He wore a longsword on his hip while the others had one shortsword and a sort of metal baton. The Captain took a look at the frightened man and nodded to the breachborn with the baton, who went inside the house. After a short while, he came back out, and there was a short word exchange. The captain nodded, then moved his head and signaled the breachborn with the shortsword. The weapon was drawn out and put to the kneeling man’s throat.
A young woman walked into the clearing from the far left, behind the whole scene. Stellan saw her, and so did the scout breachborn in hiding. Dropping on top of the raven-haired woman, the scout pinned her to the ground.
“Damn,” Stellan whispered and sprang into action.
He moved forward in search of the second scout that was surely lurking nearby. Leaves rustled on a high branch two trees down. Stellan knelt behind the closest tree and drew one of the stakes fastened to his left thigh. The clearing began to echo with screams of the woman as she was dragged on the ground by her wrists towards the Captain. Leaves rustled again, masking the sound of the flying stake. The poison coating the stake made the scout lose control over his muscles and fall behind the tree’s trunk. Stellan crept to the fallen scout and put a hand over his mouth as he stabbed the shortsword in his gut. The camouflaged breachborn’s eyes grew wide, but he was well into paralysis now. The gut stab was to ensure he didn’t go anywhere before the poison wore off, and Stellan was able to get his coveted drop of blood. With the scout taken care of, Stellan crept further closer to the clearing. Now, each human throat had a breachborn blade to it. The Captain gave orders for the baton wearer and went into the trees to fill in the position the scout had vacated. Stellan had no clear line of sight for a stake throw at the Captain, and there was no time to reposition. He clicked his tongue and hurtled a stake towards the breachborn holding the woman, then dashed forward. The stake plunged in the back of the neck, hitting vertebrae by the look and sound of it.
“Might’ve killed that one outright,” Stellan judged as the body began to slump down unnaturally.
The breachborn holding the man pushed him away and fell into stance. Stellan already had his longsword drawn, and using his momentum, swung upwards in a horizontal arc toward the breachborn. The breachborn’s shortsword couldn’t come up in time to block, but the Captain’s did. Swinging down, the Captain had put all of his efforts into deflecting Stellan’s blow, but it was a moment too late. A wound splitting half of the breachborn’s neck opened up. The dark green and brown camouflage he wore had been rent. Pale-white, bordering on frost blue, skin peeked from the tear.The darker red color the breachborn bled appeared on his concealing clothes. Stellan used his free left hand to draw the shortsword. The Captain seized the opportunity to turn his blade towards Stellan and counterattack. Stellan released the handle of his sword. The palm of his free hand was on the flat of his shortsword. Braced for the impact as he was, he didn’t expect the bones in his right hand to hurt that much. The Captain was stunned by Stellan’s unorthodox abandonment of his longsword and lost a vital moment. A moment, which Stellan used to slide the blade of his short sword along the edge of the Captain’s own. Before the Captain was able to refocus, Stellan had impaled his throat, swordtip poking through the back of the neck. A final flail of the sword arm and managed to cut Stellan’s left forearm and shoulder. The last breachborn was murderously close, Stellan realized as footsteps came from behind him. He wasn’t going to turn in time. The breachborn in front of him was stubbornly holding to his shortsword. The blade came free, but a cold realization froze Stellan’s gut. It was too late. Feeling numb, he spun on his heel, hoping to at least take the breachborn down with him.
The masked face did not move from where it stood, only a foot away from Stellan. Sword stopped in mid-swing, inches away from his hairline. Stellan blinked away his stupor and leaned to one side. The raven-haired woman had a coil of water piercing the breachborn’s head from the back of the skull and bursting out from the middle of his forehead. The watery appendage had gone through the head and burrowed itself into the weapon arm of the breachborn, stopping its sword from splitting Stellan’s skull. Stellan blinked and noticed that the leaves and grass around the clearing had turned dead black. The woman panted a few times from exhaustion then the killing water fell to the ground.
“A water mage in the middle of nowhere,” Stellan said and relaxed his posture. “I’ll be sure to punch the next idiot that says all of you are useless. Thanks for the help.” Not dying made him smile the most genuine smile he’d had in he didn’t remember how long.