A Ragnarok Fanfiction by Lushard.
- Chapter 10 -
Upon the question, the Hunter whom Azarel had summoned several minutes ago nodded. Azarel the Ranger, Catriel, Gizelle and some soldiers were studying a map that was only available to the Hunter Guild—a map that contained full information of secret passages and underground entrances throughout the broad land of Midgard. As they needed a member of the Scouting Team to be present to update them with information, a hunter had been summoned to fill them in. But what the Hunter reported in was disturbing: the Scouting Team had found that one of the secret passages that connected the Archer Village and the Far East of the Forest had been closed off by boulders.
The Hunter waved his hand, sweeping at the direction of the West Gate of Feyon toward the thickness of their forest. "We were taking the usual route assigned to us last night. That was where we spotted that one of our secret passages was already sealed. We were able to move fast enough to examine the ruckus of rocks moving below our feet, followed by a muffled sound of explosion." He shifted his gaze to Catriel. "We found nobody down there. No traces or footprints, no hints whatsoever."
"What else did you find there?" Catriel asked.
"Ma'am. We found that the culprit was using some type of bomb to start the flame as there was a black spot like one you would find when something was being thrown to the ground and explode shortly after. We are still examining the explosion powder left in the dirt."
"Alright, that was quite an info," Azarel responded with a clap of his hands. "Thank you for reporting this to us. You are dismissed."
After the Hunter had left, Azarel turned to Catriel, a frown settling between his eyebrows. "I don't understand the culprit's intention," he said. "What use is there to seal one passage?"
"A tantrum," Catriel spoke slowly, so softly that Azarel barely heard it.
"A tantrum," she repeated, with a more stern and assured tone this time. "It was clearly a tantrum, or more like, a challenge." Just when Azarel was about to utter more questions, she quickly said: "The fact that the culprit, whom I thought to be on our enemy's side, closed off one of the secret passages that won't bring any good for his ranks clearly states that it is a challenge. And quite a bold one."
An elder of Feyon spoke up in a confused tone this time. "You mean that they've found some of our secret passages and they're informing us that they've seen us through? What use is there in being so cocky and brash?"
"I don't know," the Junoan admitted, shaking her head. "As I said, the enemy would gain nothing by informing us that they'd attack Feyon in the near future. But my theory is that they want to challenge us, scaring and confusing us."
There was silence for a moment before Azarel gave out a long sigh. "So their target is clear now. They plan on ambushing us. Ambitious, aren't they?"
Catriel gave a curt nod to Gizelle, and the Lord Knight quickly bowed and left the Map Room. "We will start evacuating the citizens, if you don't mind," she explained at the unspoken question from the staring eyes.
There were no protests nor questions. Catriel could only sympatiyze that these Feyonese must finally sacrifice their hometown to the raging war. After the evacuation, they knew that they would only have two options: to surrender Feyon to the enemy and flee along with the citizens, or fight back to defend the city. Catriel was not stupid enough to guess that they'd choose the first option. No; no when she had already seen how deep was their love for their home and forest. The people here were fond of the nature around them, and that much was quite clear from the way they nurtured their surroundings.
But this was a war. A war never went without any casualties. The elders of Feyon knew that.
It was quite a pity that a place so calm and peaceful like Feyon would burn and become a battlefield. To be truthful, she had grown to like the place. It reminded her of her childhood days. Everyone in this place was so warm and accepting, so peace-loving and nature-perserving. The culture and traditions were being kept in a much respecting and loving way. And most of all, they really knew and regarded souls with more than respect. Catriel had never been found a place so quiet and warm like Feyon.
She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes, dismissing the image of a quiet Feyon.
Soon, all of it would vanish, leaving only traces of blood and fire.
- x - V - x -
The evacuation didn't take very long. The allied forces were already preparing to retreat through some underground pathways and secret passages scattered in the woods, just like what the intel had taught him. The boy, who was also in the midst of a group of citizens, walked rather slowly while analyzing how the knights and hunters there move to escort them to a designated safe area. It was almost nightfall when his group had been ordered to evacuate. The gentle breeze which he often considered refreshing had been contaminated with fear and anxiety that were even sensible in the cold air. Every face he met was troubled, and there was this grim silence across the forest that reminded him of his past experience before the battle of Amatsu took place.
But never mind that; these people would either die or live in a futureless world anyway. War, as far as he knew, would always end like that. More importantly, he had his objectives. The simple order that had given to him yesterday was all that he was thinking of. His extraordinary skills of sensing and moving in a stealthy fashion were soon to be put into action. No one had ever spotted him, and he was more than convinced that even the lady knight wouldn't be able to sense his movements. The 'chance' meeting at the Archer Village had proven that.
Now, where was she? Were was his target? If his calculations were right, she should be around the entrance of the last passage, busy monitoring the evacuation and also preparing for the upcoming battle as any good commander would do.
"Is this the last group?"
Bingo. It was definitely her voice his sensitive ears just caught from a band of knights gathering at the forest entrance just now. With so many backs obscuring his vision he wasn't able to spot her, but knowing that she was not too far away from where he stood was more than enough.
The boy turned slowly to have a better look, maintaining his expression blank and his walking pace in tune with those around him. Five knights and two hunters were standing at the entrance, their backs were backing his view of the Rune Knightress' slender figure. The boy quickly thought of possibilities and the chances he would have: wait for them to disperse first seemed to be the option. No matter how fast and sharp he was, dealing with some hunters and knights were a bit time consuming, not to mention that it held too many risks. His order was to eliminate their commander and quickly run back to the forest to give a signal from there. Simple. Yet one mistake would ruin everything. That much he knew.
What he had thought to be the best option proved not to be even a comparison to what happened in the next second: a sound of explosion resounded through the area, just when the knights and hunters were about to move. Before anyone could react, another explosion was audible, followed by some shouts and cries of battle from the defense squad who seemed to be the target of the bombs.
"Incoming attack!" a knight shouted.
Chaos almost broke loose when escorted citizens went panic; children were shouting and the adults were trying desperately to push whoever in front of them to move faster to the entrance.
"Prepare to engage, defensive formation!" he could hear his target's command in the midst of panicked voices.
Knights and hunters were on high alert now, running to take up a defensive formation, circling the citizens with their bows and swords drawn.
A faint smile bloomed on the boys' lips. It must be them. It must be his clan members' doing. Well, knowing that the Ninja Clan was on the move never gave him more satisfaction; his task would be much easier with their distraction. After all, a stab in the back is always easier to perform in a chaotic situation, no?
- x - V - x -
"Where does it come from?" Catriel, who was half-running towards the rear while summoning her runic armor, asked the knights who were accompanying her.
"From the South, My Lady!" one of them answered.
She made a stop and turned to her men. "You guys go and alert the other squads—the hunters are on the move to investigate. The safety of the citizens is our priority. You three," she turned to the knights closest to her, "follow me and cover my back. We'll go to defend the rear and make sure to halt whoever's coming this way."
Some citizens, who were being coordinated by the knights were still on the area. Catriel gave a mental note that there should be some left near the city's entrance, left thinly unguarded no less. Catriel bit down an angry snarl. This was truly not good... How could they be caught up in such a surprise attack? She had made sure that the knights and hunters were on their assigned position; no enemy should be able to enter the border of Feyon without being noticed.
Calculations aside, she had only one priority for now. The sun had already set, and in the darkness, their chances on repelling the enemy was lower since it was their cover. They lurked in the shadows, and surprise attack was their speciality—being able to rescue the citizens alone would be a miracle, she didn't dare to hope that they'd get an easy win in a dire situation such as this.
Before they could manage to reach the rear, however, an explosion occurred just two feet away from the group. Catriel jumped back while drawing out her dual runic swords while the knights entered their battle stance. "On your left!" she shouted to her men.
It was a second too late. The second explosion hit one of the knights in the body, tearing his armored flesh like burnt meat. Screams and shocked gasps of the citizens were audible, creating more chaos in the already uncontrollable situation. Blood was spilling everywhere now, tainting the dark soil with color of rich red. Catriel looked around, trying to detect the attacker's position through her enhanced senses.
In a bare second, she slashed one of her runic blades upward, Aura Blade expanding its reach. Got him. She felt the tip of her blade hitting something, somebody. As predicted, a body soon fell down, a male dressed in dark suit whose left shoulder was wounded severely by the knightress' attack.
"A shinobi?" one of the knights gasped.
The male shinobi, clothed in a traditional ninja uniform, quickly threw a kunai towards Catriel in hope to distract her and make a run for his life. But she saw that through and jumped at the shinobi, her blade parrying the thrown weapon, eyes fixed on the desperate target. Blood was poured when her other blade met the ninja's scarfed neck. An eerie strangled scream was audible, and he collapsed thereafter. The knightress quickly turned her attention at the woods behind them, her sense absorbing tiny bits of movements and hushed voices from the density of the forest.
There were more of them. A dozen or two, perhaps.
Although smokes and fire were limiting her sight, she tried to grasp any sharp movements that was not possibly produced by panicking citizens or patrolling knights and hunters. Those shadows are quick and stealthy, she knew, but they had one weakness: their stealthy moves were never done without a supply from their energy system. In order to minimize the sound they made while moving, they usually used a little amount of their life energy to be converted into a thin layer of aura around their feet and hands—thus, making them not so 'invisible' as they thought they were. Sure, the aura could not be seen by naked eyes, but to someone whose aura control had surpassed limitations like Catriel, it was still sensible.
"My Lady, the evacuation is halted due to an attack on the front lines," a knight reported in.
Catriel tore her gaze away from the forest. "All right, I'll go and see what I can do there. Please dispatch more knights to guard here and ask the hunters for help. If the rear is assaulted, then there will be more chaos among the us." She threw one last glance at the forest before adding, "I sensed more of them in the woods. Be on guard, and alert the hunters about their presence. It is safest to lay traps around the woods if you could help it."
The knight nodded and quickly did as Catriel had ordered while the knightress herself rushed to the front line by dashing in her enhanced mobility. By using her raw, runic energy, of course. It was not a highly advisable way of moving since it drew out her strength greatly, but it was not like she had other choices at hand. A second could decide a villager's fate. She would not waste it.
After passing some towers, she found herself standing before a gate that would lead to the western forest. Most of the citizens there had been evacuated, leaving only bands of people behind with some knights and hunters circling around them. She was about to ask for some details from a knight when a presence alerted her. She whirled around to find a boy standing behind a tree not far from where she stood. A lost child, maybe. Catriel walked towards him, her blades dispersing into auric mist before fading away.
"Why are you not with the others?" she asked as she neared the boy.
The boy turned slowly to meet Catriel's gaze. He had the complexion of an Izludese, but his dark hair indicated that he had a mixture of blood with the Southerners. The boy's face was looking a bit pale, and his eyes were dark and confused, his mouth a thin line.
At his silence, she softened her gaze and summoned a reassuring smile. "Let's go and evacuate with the others. It is dangerous here," Catriel said while offering one hand.
He took it reluctantly and whispered the word, "Mother," in a low, soft voice. Catriel nodded.
"We will find her. But for now, you have to stay alive. Let's go."
Catriel turned back and was about to walk to where the last group of citizens were waiting in lines when she felt a cold sensation on the back of his body. A sting, was more accurate. Her body heat rose in response, indicating that there was a deadly poison imbued with the blade.
Slowly turning around, she found no trace of the boy. He had disappeared into the woods. Two seconds were all the time she had before her consciousness started falling into a bottomless darkness.