Roderick rode by his High Captain as they traveled to the east. The night was clear, and the moon was bright, giving them more than ample light to see their way to Cadmial. He looked over at Dracia as they rode. She faced forward with a determined look on her face. Some strands of hair that had come loose from her braids whipped around her head as she leaned forward and whispered to her horse. She cut her eyes at Roderick and glanced at him.
“Will we ride through the night?” he asked.
“Yes, we will ride until we are within ten miles of the village. There is a large forest there. We will stop in the forest and have the Elites hide amongst the trees to rest. You and I will sneak to the town and see what we find.”
Roderick nodded as they rode on. They kept mostly off the road, sneaking through trees and over hills as they made their way east. They avoided villages and large settlements of people when they could. It was almost impossible to hide a group of fifty Elites on horseback, but they wanted to keep their presence as secret as possible.
Roderick looked behind him to see the group of black horses with riders dressed in black and silver. He felt a sense of pride, riding with his fellow Elites. They were an impressive group. He had no doubt they would be victorious yet again. Roderick never feared battles. He never felt anxious before having to face enemies. He felt trained and more than ready to do what he needed. He had decided to serve in this way, and if he died doing it, he would die fulfilling the purpose he had chosen.
Roderick looked again at his High Captain before turning forward and watching the road. He could think of no one he would rather serve as his captain than Dracia. When she was named High Captain, many were shocked; Roderick was not. He had never met anyone as talented or as driven as her. She could disarm most Elites when sparring with swords within five minutes. Her use of Mystics was beyond anything Roderick had ever seen, and though Mystics took a vast amount of energy, she never seemed to tire.
If she had been born a man, no one would have ever doubted her selection as High Captain. There would have been talk of her having potential of being one of the greatest ever to serve the Sentinel. Instead, people spoke of her being too weak, merciful, or kind. She was merciful and kind, but she was not weak. She was always able to do what was needed for the Sentinel.
Roderick sometimes wondered how long she would actually serve as High Captain. If the prince had his way, she would step down soon, and Roderick was unsure that would actually make Dracia happy. He knew she loved Prince Leal, but she also loved the Sentinel. He couldn’t imagine her being happy spending her days living as a royal of Lanoxan. He wondered what purpose she would find away from the Sentinel. He knew she would have to choose for herself what life she wanted to lead. He just wanted her to be happy. He thought if anyone in the kingdom deserved to be happy, it was Dracia.
They rode through the night, stopping only twice for a quick rest. They saw few people on their path and had no delays. As the sun was rising, they arrived in the forest, ten miles from Cadmial. Dracia ordered the right flank to hide to the west of the village, and the rearguard to wait on the east side.
Dracia and Roderick rode on through the forest silently, their horses moving through the trees quickly. When they were a couple miles from the village, they found a dense group of trees in which to leave their horses well hidden. They dismounted, whispered to their horses, and made their way quietly towards Cadmial.
They got to the edge of the forest and looked towards the village from the tree line. Roderick could see some burnt-out houses that were still smoking on the edge of town. The streets on this side appeared deserted and quiet. Dracia motioned with her head, and they walked to the right to see if they could get closer to the other side of the village.
They had walked for a couple of minutes when Dracia suddenly grabbed Roderick and pushed him up against a tree. She pressed up against him and put a finger to his lips. He looked down at her and swallowed, watching her as she listened with her mouth slightly opened. Roderick listened and could hear footsteps close to him, crunching through the leaves and growth of the forest floor.
Dracia took her finger off of his lips and held up two fingers. He nodded slightly, knowing she could tell there were two people near. She moved very slowly against him, tilting her head to look behind their tree. She moved her head back and looked up at Roderick. She put her hand on his chest and mouthed the words, stay here.
She pushed off of him and ran around the tree. Roderick stood still listening. He heard nothing for a moment before a man cried out. Then he heard the sound of metal on metal that he knew was two swords meeting. He listened as the swords met again and again before he heard the sound of a sword falling to the ground.
Roderick turned against the tree and peeked around to see Dracia standing over a man with her sword pointed at his chest. She looked over at Roderick and nodded. He walked over and stood next to her, looking down at the man on the ground. He was a young man dressed in a Gedonial soldier uniform of yellow and black.
“How many soldiers are in Cadmial at the moment?” asked Dracia calmly.
“Why should I tell you?” asked the man angrily. “You are going to kill me anyway.”
“Maybe, maybe not, I am still thinking on it, but whatever information you give me will help me make the decision,” said Dracia.
The man looked up at her and said nothing.
“You wish to die for your cause? I can respect it if that is what you wish, but I will give you one more chance.” Dracia pushed the tip of her sword against the man’s chest. “How many soldiers are in the village?”
The man looked at her for a moment before saying, “As of last night we are up to four hundred.”
“And how long do you plan to stay in the village?” asked Dracia.
“We are waiting for one more group of soldiers to join us tomorrow before we head out towards Winsdell.”
“What is your purpose?” asked Roderick.
The man shrugged on the ground. “They have not told me. I only know we are to make our way to Winsdell to meet others.”
“What others?” Dracia glanced at Roderick.
“They didn’t tell me that either. I am just a lower level soldier. I know nothing of our plans.”
“Are you sure?” asked Dracia pushing her sword slightly against the man’s chest, causing a small hole to form in his shirt.”
“Yes, yes,” said the man fearfully. “I know nothing, I swear.”
“Who would know something?” asked Roderick.
“Our commander. He is in the village center,” said the man breathing heavily.
“How will we know who he is?” asked Dracia.
“He is wearing all black except for a yellow band around his arm,” said the man. “He is a large man and has no hair.”
“Is there anything else you have to tell me before I decide what to do with you?” asked Dracia.
“Some of the men stayed up drinking last night, even more than usual. I imagine they will be sleeping well into the day.”
Dracia narrowed her eyes. “Is that the truth?”
“Yes, yes, I swear. I am not lying.”
Dracia studied him for a moment. “Very well, I have reached my decision.” She took her sword away from the man, who smiled slightly. He sat up slowly, looking at Dracia. Dracia sheathed her sword at her side and put her hand on the man’s head. She closed her eyes and took a breath before opening them. The man fell down and lay still.
“Bind his hands with that rope you have,” commanded Dracia. “He will sleep most of the day. We will hide him over in those bushes. If he is lucky, someone friendly will find him later.”
“Or he could still die out here,” said Roderick.
“He could, but he will have a chance. He earned that with what he told us.”
They took care of the man and walked back to their horses. They mounted and rode back to their fellow Elites. Dracia gathered the leader of the right flank and the leader of the rearguard to go over a plan to clear the village of the soldiers.
“There are a least four hundred soldiers in the village,” said Dracia. “According to one of their men, many will be sleeping late today after overindulging last night.”
“Do you believe he was telling the truth, Captain?” asked the leader of the right flank, Elite Gwallter, a slim older man with white hair.
“I do,” said Dracia. “My gut tells me he was telling the truth, at least what he knew of it. I believe the earlier we strike, the better.”
“What would you have us do, High Captain,” inquired Elite Justin, the leader of the rearguard. He was a middle-aged man with light brown hair that was started to gray on the sides.
“I am going to lead the right flank into the village from the west side. Elite Justin, I want you to have the rearguard come into two waves from the east side. Stack the waves about ten minutes apart. Hopefully, we can confuse them on where to put the bulk of their forces.”
“When do you want to attack?” asked Roderick looking at Dracia.
“As soon as possible. You and I will go wait close to the west side of the village while Elite Gwallter goes and gathers the right flank.” She turned to look at Gwallter. “Go gather your forces now and meet us there. As soon as you are in place, we will attack. Stay behind me on horseback, and I will clear a way for us. We only need one survivor, and that is the commander. I have questions to ask of him.”
The two men nodded and went to do as their High Captain asked. Roderick and Dracia went back to their horses and mounted again. They rode to the east side of the village, just out of sight from anyone who might be out in the streets and waited.
Roderick noticed that Dracia seemed unsettled, which wasn’t like her before a battle. She was usually very steady no matter what task was in front of her.
“Is something wrong, High Captain?” asked Roderick.
“No, I don’t believe so. I just have a bad feeling about something, but I don’t know what it is, or if it is really anything.”
“Do you want to rethink our plan?”
“No, this is the best way to go at this. We should be able to take four hundred Gedonial soldiers. I just hope that man was correct on the numbers.”
“Do you have reason to believe he was not correct?” asked Roderick.
“No, we did not see any encampments around the forest. The backside of the village is a sheer cliff leading to the river. Also, the Gedonial army is not very large. There shouldn’t be many more soldiers they could bring. I am surprised of them sending even four hundred.”
They waited in silence as the sun grew brighter in the sky. After a time, the right flank Elites rode up to join Dracia. Gwalter came to stand his horse behind Dracia and Roderick’s horse. Dracia nodded, and she took off, Roderick and the others following her.
They made their way into the village, riding through the small streets in pairs. As they came to the middle of the village, the way opened up to show several soldiers who seemed to be just waking up for the day and coming out of houses and tents set up in the center.
Dracia leaned down and whispered to Aarit, slowing him a bit as she stood up in her saddle. She smoothly hopped down and threw out her hands, causing the stone street in front of them to explode in a shower of broken rock, scattering and throwing several soldiers and their tents to the side.
Roderick whispered to his own horse, standing up and sliding down easily as his horse slowed to a walk. He ran to stand just behind Dracia, taking a breath and feeling a wave of energy flow through his arms. He pushed out his hands and water from the nearby well, flew out and pushed a group of soldiers against a nearby building.
The Elites on horseback came riding in as more Gedonial soldiers flooded out onto the streets towards them, pulling out swords. Dracia and Roderick both pulled out the swords that hung at their sides, standing back to back as soldiers rushed at them. Elites on horseback swung their swords or starting using Mystics to slash, push down and throw soldiers.
Several soldiers came at Roderick with their swords drawn. He met steel with steel, blocking and striking where he could, taking down soldiers all around him. He leaned forward as Dracia moved to his back with her hand out, a wall of fire rushing towards a group of soldiers, engulfing some, and making others run.
Roderick fought his way closer to the village center with Dracia at his back. They moved around together, seamlessly as two who had fought side by side for years. Him moving one way to let her send a blast of wind at a soldier, and her turning slightly for him to stab at the soldier coming at her. Roderick kept his eyes open for the Gedonial commander. He saw Dracia looking around for him as well.
They had gotten to the center still fighting the many soldiers that surrounded them when the first wave of the rearguard rode in. Many soldiers were caught off guard, being throw aside and sliced through by the Elites. Roderick was distracted by the incoming Elites for a moment when Dracia turned to send some loose stone at a group targeting the newly arrived Elites. A soldier next to her sliced at her left arm that was outstretched. Roderick tried to block the soldier’s sword, but he was a second late and missed slightly. The sword sliced open the underside of Dracia’s arm.
She jerked back her arm, causing blood to fly through the air as she gave a short cry. She recovered quickly and plunged her sword into the soldier who cut her. Roderick looked at the deep cut on her arm, watching dark blood seep from it before she turned like nothing happened and sent a pillar of fire through a group of soldiers.
He turned and backed into her, focusing on slicing through soldiers and sending elements as best he could. The last wave of the rearguard came from a different side, helping to turn the tide further. The Gedeonial soldiers were dwindling in number, and some seem to be trying to retreat.
“Do not let any leave,” said Dracia harshly. “We need no survivors unless it is the commander.”
“I haven’t seen him,” said Roderick as he plunged his sword into a soldier. “Maybe he already left.”
“Keep looking, Roderick,” she said. “He might still be here somewhere.”
Roderick saw her wince slightly as she moved her hurt arm to send more stones against some soldiers. He could see her lower arm was so covered in blood, he could no longer make out the runes she had marked herself with. Her sleeve was wet with blood. He was worried about how much she was losing, hoping a vein had not been nicked too badly. They needed to end this so it could be seen to.
They finally were able to round up the remaining soldiers into a tight circle in the middle. Several Elites jumped off their horses and surrounded the soldiers, their swords out. As if on cue, the Elites moved as one, working their way through the soldiers. The soldiers fell as blood splattered the stone streets, and cries of dying men were heard all around.
Dracia stopped fighting for a moment and looked beyond the violence in front of her. Roderick followed her gaze to see the commander at the end of the village center, backing up to escape down a narrow street. Dracia took off towards him, running around the melee in front of her, and Roderick followed.
They made it to the edge of the town to see the commander was walking slowly as he had a large gash in his leg. Dracia moved her hand and a fierce wind blew, knocking him off his feet. She walked over to him and placed her sword at his throat as he looked up at her.
“Who were you planning on meeting in Winsdell?” asked Dracia
“Many people,” said the man smiling. “But I was most looking forward to seeing the king.”
“What people? What is your kingdom up to?” asked Dracia as she put her sword tip on the man’s throat, causing a small drop of blood to form.
“Does it matter, High Captain? There is nothing you can do. It has already started,” replied the man with a short laugh.
Dracia looked down at him with her mouth partly open when Roderick heard a loud woosh noise that sounded like a harsh wind. He looked up at the same time as Dracia to see hundreds and hundreds of arrows overhead, coming their way high in the sky. Roderick looked at Dracia, who had dropped her sword. She had her eyes closed.
She opened them suddenly, and Roderick felt a strong wind fling him back hard into a close building, hitting his head against the stone. He fought to keep his eyes open as he slid down the wall. The last thing he saw before darkness took him was Dracia with her arms outstretched, surrounded in pieces of stones with hundreds of arrows over her head.