The High Captain of the Sentinel of Cassendar, Dracia Yates, sat atop her large black horse riding down a road settled in the southern hills of the kingdom of Lanoxan. She looked over to her right to see her second, Roderick Ellis, riding alongside her on his own large dark horse. They had been out riding in the kingdom for over a week, checking into reports of enemy forces along their southeastern border and in the hills.
So far, they had not come across any soldiers from the hostile kingdom of Gedonia, but they had visited a few villages that had been attacked. It all seemed very unusual to Dracia, which troubled her. Occasionally the forces of Gedonia would come and ransack one of their small southern villages on the edge of the kingdom, but never many at once, and certainly none that were far enough into the kingdom to be in the southern hills.
Gedonian soldiers usually liked to strike fast and close to their own kingdom. They raided villages to steal supplies and sometimes terrorize the people, but what Dracia had seen seemed more like an organized campaign along the border and into the hills. It seemed as if all the attacks were leading to something else. It all unsettled her and made her wonder what was really going on. There was no way the Gedonian forces could be this organized. The forces they sent usually didn’t have enough soldiers to do the damage she had seen in the villages.
“How much longer do you expect us to be out here, Captain?” groused a voice on her left.
Dracia looked over to see her other second, Darron, looking at her in irritation. She fought the urge to roll her eyes. “We will stay out here until we find the force that is causing such havoc in our kingdom and take it out. I would also like to know more about what is actually going on. There have been far too many attacks on our villages lately.”
“It is probably just Gedonian soldiers replenishing their supplies after the long winter,” said Darron. “I am sure they have gone back to their kingdom by now. We should head back to the Winsdell. I know you will want to be preparing for the Disciplines soon.”
“We will not head back to our home until I am sure our southern border is as secure as it can be. We will not leave our people to suffer at the hands of some savage kingdom.” Dracia looked behind her to see her twenty-five fellow Elites of the Sentinel all riding their own black horses and keeping watch around them. She saw the sun was very low in the sky. It had almost disappeared amongst the hills. “Darron, ride back and tell the others we will stop and rest as soon as I spot an appropriate place for us to set up camp.”
“Of course, High Captain. I serve at your pleasure, after all.” He gave her a small mock bow in his saddle and drew up his horse to fall back and ride with the others.
“Don’t let him annoy you so, Captain,” said Roderick as soon as Darron had left.
“He does annoy me, Roderick. He always has. I knew when I made him my second, he would be nothing but trouble, but I saw no way around it. I had to find a way to placate him a little after his disappointment at not being chosen High Captain. He has enough friends amongst the Upper Elites to make my life a little too interesting.”
“You have more support amongst those in the Sentinel than he could ever have.” Roderick paused for a moment. “You also have allies much higher than Darron will ever hope to rise.”
“I do not like relying on my father’s position to lead the Sentinel.”
“I wasn’t speaking of your father.” Roderick gave her a meaningful look.
Dracia sighed. “I’m not sure how many allies I actually have now besides my father, not after ignoring certain parties the past few months.”
Roderick laughed a little. “Has that has ever worked when it comes to it?”
“I am serious in my attempt this time. I cannot go on as I have. I must face reality at some point.” Roderick shook his head at her. “I do not wish to speak of it. I want to keep focused on the task at hand.”
“Very well, do you have any idea what is actually going on around here? Why are so many villages being attacked?”
Dracia looked behind her to see Darron and the other Elites a good ways behind them. She spoke quietly. “I really don’t, Roderick, and it has made me nervous. If this really is the work of Gedonian soldiers, they have never acted as such before. We have to find this force and not only end them, but try to get one or two to tell us what is going on.”
She soon found a spot amongst a dense area of evergreen trees at the edge of a forest. She led her Elites to the middle of the trees and commanded them to find places to rest. After whispering to her horse and dismounting, Dracia grabbed her supplies and sat down on the edge of the space by a large tree. Roderick joined her, carrying over an armful of wood. He placed it in a stack in front of her and raised his hand, taking a moment to spark a fire using his Mystics.
He moved back to sit next to Dracia as she offered him a container holding some water. He drank from it while she pulled out some dried meat to eat. She did not relish spending another night on the hard ground with the cold early spring wind swirling around them. She would like to be back in her rooms in the Sentinel Fortress, but there was a task to do. She would see the task through, and find out all she could to keep her kingdom safe. She was the High Captain of the Sentinel, and she would do her duty to the best of her ability. The Sentinel was only as strong as its High Captain, and she would prove to be stronger than anyone could imagine.
She knew many still questioned her leadership. A woman as High Captain was unheard of a year ago, but it didn’t matter to her. She believed she deserved her position. She had to believe it because doubt would not do her or her fellow Elites any good.
She looked up as Darron walked over to her and sat down next to the fire. “How long will we rest here, Captain?”
“Until the early morning hours. Everyone should sleep in shifts tonight to make sure all are as rested as they can be.” Dracia took a bite of her dried meat. “I have a feeling we will finally meet our foes by tomorrow.”
The evening past quickly as the sun disappeared. All around her, Elites slept, with a few patrolling the area. Darron had left to find a place to lie down, and Draica sat next to Roderick, both bundled up in their cloaks.
“You should rest for a while, High Captain,” said Roderick.
“You go first, Roderick. I do not think I could sleep even if I tried. You know how I am the night before a battle.”
“You really think we will meet with our enemy tomorrow?”
“I do, though I can’t explain how. I feel as if they are close. I could very well be wrong, but it won’t stop me from being anxious. Now, rest while you can. I’m going to take a short walk,” said Dracia as she stood.
Roderick gave her a look as if he wanted to say something, but she cocked one eyebrow at him and he sighed, “Yes, Captain.”
Dracia walked over to check on her horse, Aarit. He shook his head at her approaching, giving out a short whinny in greeting. She patted his neck and spoke quietly to him.
“I know you are ready to be home for a few days, my friend. I’m rather anxious for my own bed. It won’t be long, and we will be riding for home.”
Dracia laid her head against Aarit’s neck and thought of all that awaited her back in Winsdell. She had a daunting task ahead of her seeing over the training of the new novices they would invite to the Fortress. The Disciplines would start the first day of summer, and they needed some new Elites. She hoped they would have at least a handful of new trainees that would prove worthy.
There was another problem waiting for her back home, but she did not want to think of it at the moment. It was too hard. She almost thought she would rather roam the southern hills for a month complete, than go back and face what she must. She had tried to put him out of her head, and during the day it was easier. At night, when all was still, and she was alone with her thoughts, she couldn’t help but think of him. She missed him in so many ways, but she knew it was best to leave him in the past.
She pulled her head away from her horse and looked at him. “I wonder if he thinks of me as much as I do him, Aarit.”
Aarit shook his head, and Dracia gave a small smile. She patted him one more time as she heard a noise in the woods ahead of her. She wondered if it was one of her Elites, patrolling the area or taking their own walk. Deciding she would give whoever it was a break and see to securing the area herself, she walked forward towards the dense forest ahead of her.
She walked into the forest, not finding any of her Elites. She kept walking deeper into the trees as something seemed to be drawing her forward. She got a bad feeling as she walked into a small clearing. A coldness went through her body that had nothing to do with the night wind. She moved forward a few more steps, puting her hand on the hilt of the silver sword at her side.
“We are lucky, men,” said a harsh voice behind her. “I believe we are in the presence of the High Captain we have heard so much about.”
Dracia turned, drawing her sword to see five men come out of the trees. She took note of their black and yellow uniforms, knowing they were Gedonian soldiers.
She gave them a smirk and a slight curtsy. “It’s good to know my reputation has made its way all the way to Gedonia. I am flattered.”
“You wouldn’t be flattered if you knew what they said about you,” grunted a short man.
“Perhaps you would be so good as to tell me what is being said about me,” said Draica as she started calculating in her mind how to take out each man in front of her. “I will be happy to set the record straight.”
“Well, I can see at least one of the rumors about you is a lie,” laughed the man who had originally spoke. He was tall and muscular. “No one could mistake you for a man.”
Dracia rolled her eyes. “I’ve heard the rumor you are referring to. I was hoping you would be a little more original in Gedonia, but what can I expect from such savages.”
The short man growled. “You shouldn’t be so disrespectful when you are so outnumbered.”
Dracia gave one chuckle. “What makes you think I am outnumbered?” She held up her free hand. “I see you don’t know the first thing about me, but I will be happy to enlighten you.”
She threw out her hand sending a blast of fire at the five men. They split apart to avoid the flames. She turned and moved her hand sending two nearby rocks towards one of the men on the ground. He tried to get up, but the rocks hit him hard in the temple with a nasty thud. He fell to the forest floor and did not move.
She sent a blast of wind, knocking one man who had gotten up off his feet. She threw her hands out and another wind threw him into the trees. She turned and met another man’s sword with her own. She traded blows with him before overpowering him and running her sword through his chest. She was left with two men, and she wanted to make sure she kept one alive.
The men circled around her with their swords drawn and ready. Dracia held up her own sword and her hand. The men in front of her looked entirely too pleased to have just watch her kill their fellow soldiers so easily. She was about to make her move when a noise to her right made her pause. A large group of soldiers of at least one hundred men came into view. She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She could perhaps take out half by herself, but it was practically impossible for her to battle her way through such a large group.
She quickly weighed her options. She could run for it, and hope to make it back to camp. She could probably take out some of the group and run through, but one wrong move, and it would be the end. She could fight and hope the noise from the battle would alert her fellow Elites. She was deep in the forest, but she was less than ten minutes from where her Elites slept. Perhaps the noise would be enough to wake them up or alert those on duty.
The tall, muscular man in front of her took all options out of her head as he moved to strike. She blocked him with her sword as she threw out a column of fire with her other hand. She kicked out sending the man in front of her sprawling as she manipulated the column of fire to move around the soldiers that were surrounding her. A few got through and came at her with swords drawn.
She met one and blocked his move, before another lunged for her. She managed to sidestep him, and turn to plunge her sword into the man she had blocked. She pushed his body aside and threw out a blast of wind at the man who had tried to hit her. He was pushed back as she felt two more come at her back. She turned to face them when she saw another two coming towards her. She was suddenly lost in an endless cycle of blocking and striking, taking out those she could, while trying to keep safe. She threw out some more wind and fire, but she was becoming tired from her use of Mystics.
She had just blocked a sword coming towards her back when she heard a horse approach. She kicked out behind her and was afraid she wouldn’t block the man in front of her in time when the man staggered forth with a sword poking out of his chest. The man fell to his knees, and Dracia could see Roderick behind him. She turned and took out the man behind her before she and Roderick backed into one another.
“I thought you were going to rest,” said Dracia as she ducked so Roderick could take out a man to her right.
“I couldn’t get comfortable, so I decided I would see about walking with you. I didn’t get very far when I heard the racket you were making fighting all these men,” responded Roderick as he moved so she could send a blast of wind at a group of soldiers to their left.
“You didn’t happen to alert….,” started Dracia when she heard the thundering sound of hoof beats on the forest floor. She looked over and her twenty five Elites converge on the Gedonian forces.
Dracia took care of the solider in front of her and turned to Roderick. “We need to take at least one alive. We have to find out what is going on.”
Roderick nodded as Dracia scanned the area, trying to identify a solider to take, preferably one who looked like he was in charge. She spotted two soldiers at the edge of the field. One was large and his sword was still hanging from his hip. She thought he must be the commander. She grabbed Roderick’s arm and motioned with her head. She took off towards the man with Roderick running with her.
The man saw her coming, and he pulled out his sword as did the man next to him. She could have easily killed him with Mystics, but she wanted him alive, at least for a time. The man in front threw out his hand and sent a wall of fire at Dracia and Roderick. Dracia threw her hands up and pushed out, causing the wall to be pushed to the side. She threw a gust of wind back at the man, but he put his hands down and was only slightly pushed back.
Roderick moved in front of her with his sword drawn. He lunged at the man, and was met with a block. He lunged again and the man blocked and struck out, Roderick managing to get his sword up. Dracia moved around them, trusting Roderick to take care of his opponent. She held up her sword as the commander in front of her held up his.
He lunged at her, and Dracia blocked easily. She turned and stuck out at him. He met her sword with his own. They went back and forth, Dracia looking for a way to disarm him. She had just found her opening when something hit her knees from behind. It was the man Roderick had been battling. Roderick had defeated him, causing his body to roll into her.
She slipped forward, and fell in front of the man she was facing. He raised his sword to strike her when Dracia pushed her hand up. A harsh wind blew, causing the man to lose the grip on his sword. She smiled and stood up, ready to use her Mystics to push him down, when he staggered forward, a sword buried in his back. He fell down to reveal Darron behind him.
“No!” yelled Dracia moving forward. She kneeled down by the man, who was breathing heavily and coughing. “I will find a way to save you. I will ride hard and find you a healer if you will tell me why you are so far into the hills. Tell me why you have been attacking village after village. What does Gedonia hope to accomplish?”
The man coughed and half laughed. He shook his head. “What makes you think it’s just Gedonia?”
Dracia looked at him for a moment. “What do you mean?”
The man coughed up blood and then breathed his last. Dracia stood up and looked at Darron. “Why did you do that?”
“He was about to kill you, Captain. What did you expect me to do?”
“I had everything under control, Darron,” fumed Dracia. She turned and looked around the area. “Are any left alive?”
“It doesn’t look like it,” said Roderick as he held his hand.
Dracia sighed and looked at Roderick. “Are you injured?”
“It is nothing, just a small cut,” replied Roderick.
Dracia could see the blood pooling in his hands. “Let’s take care of that and then head towards home. There is nothing else for us to do out here now.”
She picked up her sword walked towards their camp, angry and uneasy, feeling as if they had accomplished nothing.