Book two: Wild dogs and hunting wolves
AN: I started posting the first book of Ronin Trip about a year ago to an extremely tepid reaction. Because of that I decided not to post the second book even though I'd already written it, but now apparently I just can't help myself I really do think that this one will get me more reviews (please let me get more reviews!)
Also after this chapter I'll probably employing an editor, so if it seems like this one is a little bumpy grammatical, don't worry it'll get better...
Chapter one: Rescued from the Styx
"SURPRISE ATTACK!" Those words shattered the world as Riou knew it. Everything he thought he could count on vanished in an instant. The leave he was going to get tomorrow was gone, he might never make it back to his home town of Kyaro, might never see his adopted sister Nanami again. But these thoughts flashed through his mind in the blink of an eye and he didn't take the time to contemplate them long.
Not for nothing had he become an official member of the Highland Army's Unicorn Brigade. Yes it was a "youth" brigade for those too young to be full soldiers, but Riou was far from simply a youth himself. Though the training was less rigorous than it could have been, it had done a lot to improve his reflexes. Which was why when he heard the words he at once out of bed and opened his eyes.
By the time he could make sense of what he saw, he was pleased to realize his friend Jowy Atreides was already up and offering a helping hand down to him. Riou took it without any hesitation, not only was this no time to be worrying about his dignity, but he and Jowy had been friends since their childhood in Kyaro. That long friendship had seen many moments when one of them had gained some kind of advantage over the other, it would doubtlessly survive one more.
"Grab your weapons and let's go see what exactly is going on." Riou didn't need to be told twice, the small tent had been shared by four soldiers but the other two had already left making the task of getting his twin fang tonfas easier. Thankfully, given how cold the tent was he had gone to sleep with his clothes on leaving with him one fewer thing to worry about.
Once he was ready he raced from the tent with Jowy and they were confronted with devastation. Outside the tent the dead bodies of several of Riou and Jowy's companions lay without rhyme or reason. In his still hazy frame of mind Riou couldn't be perfectly sure of what had killed which, and it was something that he was grateful for. The last thing he wanted to have during a massacre was a keen understanding of exactly what was going on around him.
Several of the tents and trees around the camp were on fire and the smoke stung Riou's eyes making him blink and squeeze them shut. Still the carnage held the two motionless for several seconds on end.
"What are you two waiting for, the State dogs to come up and slit your throats? You have to get out of here!" Riou turned around to face the speaker, recognizing a voice to which obedience had recently become a deeply engraved natural response. The brigades leader Captain Rowd was not the warmest of commanders, but he was the only one that Riou and Jowy had ever known. More to the point, his sword was out and it had blood on it, and in the sparkling light cast by the fires he did look every inch the military man.
"Of course sir!" Riou wasn't quite sure if he should follow those words up with a salute or not, though Jowy apparently decided that he might as well.
"Not now Atreides, the only way out of this blasted camp is through the forest to the east! Get moving, I'll go see about paying back those City State bastards!" Rowd furiously gestured with his blood stained blade and the two friends took off at once.
The tenuous peace that had recently been established between the City State of Jowston and Highland was apparently another casualty of the last few minutes of Riou's life. But he didn't much think about that either, he only thought about running. He had been in good shape before he had joined the army, but he was in excellent shape now, so the rhythm of raising and lowering his legs came easily to him. He wasn't sure how long he had been running for before he noticed that his was the only sound of footfalls that he was hearing. He stopped as quickly as he could and turned around. Thankfully Riou had only stopped running rather than been hurt in some way.
"What are you stopping for, we have to get out of here..." Jowy stuck his staff in the ground and leaned on for a moment, he wasn't in quite as good shape as Riou was.
"We do, but not this way. If the State soldiers were smart enough to manage to sneak up on us and avoid our sentries, do you think that they wouldn't have noticed how this forest is the only way to get out of the camp? They could have launched the attack with a small portion of their forces to spook us and then be waiting further ahead to smash us to pieces one by one while we're panic stricken."
Riou paused and did think about that, it made only too much sense considering that they hadn't seen a single State soldier anywhere near the camp despite the flames.
"You're right, we need to go back and tell Commander Rowd." Still with all do haste they began to retrace their steps back the way they came.
As they approached the camp their pace faltered. Things seemed to have gone quite, but to an unnatural degree. All the fires were out and no screams of the wounded or battle cries filled the air. A single look was exchanged between them and they went from running to creeping along in the shadows, after all it was entirely impossible that the entire camp had been overrun.
They kept as many tents as they could between them and the soldiers gathered around a new camp fire that had apparently been made by burning a tent to the ground. When Riou slowly peaked out it was not a great many men dressed in State uniforms, but Highland ones. Not those belonging to the Unicorn Brigade, but real soldiers. Rowd was with them, as was another man who easily stood out.
He was dressed in white armor with pieces of golden trim and had black hair, his eyes were impossible to see since he was currently looking away from them.
"That was excellently done Rowd. All the proof we could ask for of the State's treachery. Those heartless monsters, murdering soldiers who were so very young!" He laughed at that point, but it was a sound that precious little levity in it. Rowd responded, but for the first time his voice could not have been more respectful.
"Of course. Your idea was brilliant and if I may say so, perfectly carried out. The ambush went out without a hitch." The dark haired man nodded as he drew a sword which unlike Rowd's was unstained.
"Yes. The dwindling coals of this glorious war will soon be rekindled and burn all of Jowston to ash! I just wish I had been able to take part in the ambush, I've gone too long without slaking my swords thirst." Rowd shivered slightly as if he worried that the sword might quench it's thirst by taking a bite out of him.
"Witnessing your skill in combat would have shamed the other soldiers your majesty. There is no finer swordsman in Highland than Prince Luca Blight." Riou pulled back behind the tent as did Jowy and they decided that it was safer not to say anything. The last thing they needed was for their voices to attract extremely unwanted attention. So instead they began to slowly half crawl half sprint through the camp till they could be sure that they were far enough that their words wouldn't carry.
"How could they?" Riou hadn't quite managed to exchange his fear for anger yet the way that Jowy had.
"We obviously can't escape through the woods, your right it'll be an ambush. But that only leaves the cliffs..." Jowy rose from his crouch nodding stoically.
"It wouldn't be the first long climb we've had. Besides like you said, it's not like we've got any other choice." Jowy suddenly leaned a lot more heavily on his staff than he had been. "But if it's all the same, why don't we take our time about getting up there?"
"Yeah, the less noise we make the better." Of course part of Riou knew that he was just trying to find some reason to ease his aching chest and legs, and this seemed like the best chance that they would have for a while."
"Looks like I was right..." Jowy and Riou's eyes went as the solider stepped out of the pile of bushes near the edge of the cliff he'd been hiding behind.
"The prince didn't think that any of you pipsqueaks would be smart enough to try and escape this way, but I thought better safe than sorry." Once again the two friends locked eyes and exchanged volumes of information without needing to speak. It was quite clear that the less than harrowing pace they had taken up the cliff had just proven itself to be a very good idea.
"Why are you doing this?" The soldier drew his short sword and approached the two boys.
"Don't be so selfish about it. You're just living up to the promise you made when you joined the Unicorn Brigade, to be willing to give up your lives for the good of Highland! Do you want to die like kicking and screaming children or men who honored their word?" Neither option seemed very appealing to Riou, he had agreed to join the army to protect Highland, not to get his throat cut serving it.
"If dying for Highland is so great why don't you do it!" Jowy adjusted his body slightly, transforming the object in his hands from walking stick to weapon. The soldier took another step forward and Riou raised his arms, ready to use his twin fangs as well. The solider swung at Riou, but he blocked the blade with the tonfa on his right hand. He tried to strike out with the other one but the solider had a much longer reach and only laughed as Riou's swung at open air.
He stopped laughing when Jowy thrust his staff directly into his chest. Instead he let out a sound of surprise, and reeled backwards slightly. Before he could catch his breath, Riou raced forward and struck at the man's legs. His first blow simply skimmed along the armor, but the second arriving a few seconds later managed to smash through a weakened section of armor.
The soldier dropped to his knees and then Jowy whacked him upside the head with his staff, making the armored helmet ring and the soldier drop flat. Jowy dropped his staff and reached for his combat knife with one hand while using the other to remove the soldier's helmet. Riou saw what he was planning on doing at once and tried grabbing hold of his friend's shoulder to stop him.
"What are you thinking?" Jowy shook him off without ever removing his eyes from the soldier's neck.
"The same thing we're doing a few seconds ago. This bastard wants to kill us, and so I'm going to kill him. That's what they told us being soldiers was all about wasn't it?" Riou looked down at the unconscious soldier, and then looked away, turning his attention to the mountains. He shivered slightly at the sound behind him, though the sight of the mountains made him shiver even more. They were practically straight up, even if they hadn't been tired there was no way the two boys could climb them.
"We can't just wait here, sooner or later they'll come looking for us, or at least to find out happened to this soldier." When he looked back Jowy was cleaning his knife on the dead soldier's outfit as best he could.
"Yeah. But that guy is only going to tell them that we were here and not which way we went. They'll never be able to get us if we jump into the river." Riou looked over at the edge of the cliff, which was a harrowingly long way down.
"Maybe, but even if we manage to survive the fall, we don't have much chance against the current." Jowy, instead of paying attention to the river, was looking at a small stone nearby the edge of the cliff.
"Do you think I don't know that? But whatever chance we have in there must be better than the ones we have if we just sit around here twiddling our thumbs..." Jowy made use of his knife again and carved a diagonal slash into the rock.
"There, now you do the same thing Riou, and I promise you that when all this is over we'll meet up back here again. That way, no matter what happens we'll both be okay because neither of us would ever break a promise to the other, right?" Riou slowly walked over and drew his own combat knife. A bit of the blood from Jowy's knife had seeped into the slash he had made.
"Right." A quick slash and then there was an "X" carved into the rock.
"All right then, on the count of three?"
"Friends to the end; one, two three." The two clasped hands and jumped into whatever came next.
End chapter one