Chapter 3: Barrier Breached
I carefully stepped over the slain man lying in the tent's entrance. What I saw beyond the opening made my heart sink. It seemed that dozens if not hundreds of torches lined the ranks of soldiers in the distance.
The sound of swords clashing nearby turned my attention to the sight of Dallo engaged with five men at once, a look of concentration set hard upon his face. I was about to rush to his aid when three consecutive arrows found their ways into the backs of three of the soldiers. My gaze followed their point of origin; Rallo sat in a tree nearby, already nocking another arrow to his bow and aiming it at the next group of approaching individuals.
I looked back to Dallo and watched in awe as he skillfully dispatched the two remaining foes, his sword a blur in the moonlight. His blade removed the right arm of the first man and decapitated the second. He wasted no time to run off to another group of soldiers while Rallo provided cover fire from the tree.
I searched the grounds of the camp for anything I might have missed. I noticed a group of six men making their way for Lenoa's tent, spears at the ready. I sprang into action, barreling through the lot of them, just before they reached the tent's opening. I knocked two of them down with my momentum and whipped around to face the other four.
I prepared to engage the closest one when an arrowhead all of a sudden sprouted from his larynx. He shrieked in pain, clutched at this throat, and staggered to the ground. Another man to his right fell, grunting from the sharp pain afforded him by an arrow in his back. Up in the nearby tree, the young Shanari offered a quick nod then turned his attention elsewhere as more men approached the camp from another direction.
I took the moment of confusion that Rallo afforded me to leap on top of the two I had initially knocked over, one boot planted on each of their backs. One of the two soldiers that remained standing quickly jabbed at me with his spear. I instinctually brought my shield to bear, and the pointed end of his weapon glanced uselessly off its curved surface to my right. I immediately saw the opening in his defenses and leapt from atop the prone soldiers to plant a kick firmly in the man's face. He spun about and dropped to the ground.
From my left, the fourth soldier also tried to skewer me, but my sword deflected his spear with ease. His next attack was aimed higher, and I ducked the attack as well then immediately sidestepped another. This created an opening that allowed me to move forward quickly and close the gap between us, rendering his primary weapon ineffective. My sword's hilt connected hard with his sternum, the blow accompanied by a resounding crack. He fell in a heap at my feet, dropping his weapon and clutching his middle.
The others were beginning to rise again, discarding their spears and opting instead for swords. The soldiers ambled towards me, but I was prepared to meet them. None of my attackers were equipped with shields or bucklers of any kind, which left them open to well-placed thrusts from my sword when they did not parry in time.
There remained just one man, and though fearful from the death of his two comrades, he did not flee. His bleeding nose and lips identified him as the man I had kicked in the face.
"More?" I asked with a smirk. "You can lie back down if you want."
He replied with a growl, and attacked. He slashed at my ribcage, but I stepped inward at the same time and bashed his arm hard with the edge of my shield. With a cry of pain, he dropped his weapon again. He backed off quickly then defiantly pulled out knives into both hands. The look on his face now was one of desperation. He threw both blades simultaneously in my direction, but I easily dodged one while I shielded myself from the other. The man finally took off at a run, through with trying to best me one-on-one. He only made it a few feet before another of Rallo's arrows found its place right between his shoulder blades. He shrieked, fell to the ground and then was still.
Are these the same soldiers that faced the Shanari Legion? I wondered. The men of Sha'An had met such horrible fates, and, yet, the three of us were felling them like front line fodder. Where was the power that had obliterated an entire army? Even more curious was the fact that the mark on my left hand remained lit.
Then Lenoa appeared at the entrance of her tent. She wore armor akin to her traveling companions, and strapped around her torso was a quiver of arrows and a bow. She was also equipped with a short, curved blade that hung loosely from her belt.
The man whose sternum I had cracked was crawling away from where his companions had fallen. She gave the man a tired, contemptuous look before stringing an arrow to her bow and putting him out of his misery. The jarring juxtaposition struck me as odd: that one who had gone to great lengths to pull a person—that person being me—from the brink of death could turn around and snuff out another's life just as easily.
I immediately stowed the thought, for Dallo was in trouble. He had taken a few, serious hits, but was still going, now fending off three men that were armed with spears and short-swords. Above the din, he yelled, "Lenoa! Take the Hylian and flee!"
Lenoa nodded then looked to me. "Stay here and help however you can," she ordered. "I have to prep the horses; we are all getting out of here!" She directed the last part at Dallo, though he was too busy running his large sword through a soldier to acknowledge her words.
I watched her take off around the back of the command tent then turned my focus back to the fight. Rallo remained occupied shooting as many approaching soldiers as possible, but the torch light surrounding the camp was coming closer, which meant no amount of arrows would hold them back forever.
Guided by urgency, I ran to Dallo's aid. The two men he fought were proving difficult. One caught his back with a vicious slash, and the Shanari cried out momentarily in pain. I arrived just in time to engage Dallo's assailant, cutting through his wrist then slamming the edge of my shield into his face, forcing him out of the skirmish.
Dallo—wounded, tired, but full of battle frenzy—rounded on the remaining human. He howled with fury and shot what appeared to be a glowing missile of energy from the empty palm of his left hand. The soldier flew back from the blast, landing ten feet away from our location. A large burn mark on his chest, the soldier gasped from the pain and began to crawl away.
I turned to Dallo. "You're wounded. Let's hurry and get you saddled up."
He looked at me but did not respond. Another group of humans, maybe ten in all, were advancing to flank us on our left, while another large group appeared to our front. Dallo cried out menacingly at them, raising his sword into the air, challenging those that neared us.
"We need to fall back," I urged him, taking a step backwards. I looked to check on Rallo but found that his situation was even worse. He was scrambling to get out of his tree, regardless of the number of foes that had suddenly gathered below him. The ranks of men in the distance had dispatched archers who were using their comrades' torches to set fire to the tips of their arrows. They were targeting Rallo's tree.
I watched in dismay as about fifty flaming projectiles lit up the night, and, in that instant, Rallo jumped from the tree straight into the arms of waiting enemies. The rage in Dallo's eyes intensified. I continued to back away while, to my utter disbelief, he charged forward to engage the group that had engulfed his brother. A magical aura seemed to form around his frame, and his attacks became more powerful, more desperate. His enemies were falling two by two, sometimes three at a time. He rushed blindly through the melee, wildly smashing into the crowd with an incredible magical force that rattled my bones with each blow. It wasn't long before I lost sight of him amongst the soldiers crowding beneath the burning tree.
I was left alone for the moment, the remainder of the assault force rushing forth to aid the fight under the tree. That's when I saw him. Beyond the commotion, near the group of archers, was a man clad in a full, black suit of armor, bearing a large, fierce-looking battle-axe. This man was much larger than the other soldiers, rising above their ranks by an entire meter. The horned helmet on his head turned, piercing me with a veiled gaze. Nearest to him were robed individuals, and upon their heads were large, ornate glass spectacles. They noticed me as well, pointing in my direction.
My blood began to boil upon seeing the tall, armor-clad individual. I felt as if I should know him, and, although he was frightful to behold, I found myself stalking towards the man, slowly and determinedly, more interested in why he evoked such a strange feeling in me.
He held up a fisted gauntlet, which emitted a glow brighter than the torch light around him. My left hand began to tingle almost expectantly. His light was like a beacon to my mysterious mark...it felt as if our two hands should unite.
We continued to lock eyes across the open space of the camp. Finally, the large man began to march towards me as well, motioning for his troops to remain. He removed the enormous axe from its resting place on his back and brandished it, the light of his hand skittering across the whetted metal.
Lenoa's voice cut through me like a razor. "Quick, this way!" she called out. I retained my gaze on the man opposite me and took another step hesitantly towards him. "Hurry!" she urged again.
I snapped to, and all my senses returned. The marks of our hands ceased glowing, and reality came crashing down all around me. The dark-armored man seemed to hesitate, but then he waved his men forward, motioning for them to move in and overwhelm me, as they had done to Rallo and Dallo mere moments before.
My options were limited, with only one choice to ensure my survival. I turned and ran as fast as I could towards Lenoa's voice, soldiers hot in pursuit. I navigated the rows of tents until I came upon a small corral of horses. The Shanari woman was already atop one of them.
"Quickly!" She tossed me a bow and a leather quiver of arrows. "Can you use these?" I expertly strapped the quiver around me, cinching down its leather strap. I sheathed my blade, and held on to the bow instead.
"Good!" Lenoa then gestured to the horses. Among them was a brown mare with a white mane that trotted right up to me. The shouts of the soldiers were quickly drawing near. I easily put one foot in the stirrup and swung myself over and on the saddle. "Where are my companions?" she asked once we were ready to leave.
An arrow whizzed past my ear. "They're gone." More arrows flew past us. "Time to move!" I shouted. "Hyah!" I planted my feet firmly against my horse's flanks, promptly causing her to take off at a swift gallop out of the open gate of the corral. Lenoa trailed close behind. We were soon clear of the camp, riding out into the dark, open field. My new companion rode up beside me, but she remained silent, eyes fixed in front of us.
The horses carried us swiftly away from the foot soldiers, but more arrows took flight and sailed past us, alerting us to the shooters swiftly bearing down on us atop their own steeds. I nocked an arrow to my bow and directed it behind me, all the while staying steady on my horse. My aim was true, and one of the riders fell from his mount. I glanced at Lenoa and caught her smile for a brief moment, apparently satisfied that my skills with the bow were par for the course.
I glanced over my left shoulder and glimpsed another rider send an arrow my way. It clipped my horse's brown hide, leaving a small flesh wound. I half-expected my mount to recoil in some fashion, but she continued on as if the hit was nothing more than a gnat.
I readied another arrow, aimed, and released. The archer flew from his mount forcefully and with a shriek of pain. An arrow from Lenoa struck a second rider in the shoulder, and just in time, for he almost got off a shot with his crossbow. Lenoa was already nocking another arrow by the time the first hit its mark, and I grinned appreciatively at her marksmanship.
"Look out!" my companion yelled. I barely had enough time to pull my horse to one side as a man came up beside me, swinging a long blade. I barely dodged its sharp edge and swung my bow in quick retaliation. Not only did I manage to knock him completely off his horse, but he was instantly trampled by the one following close behind him. Next, a small crossbow bolt, luckily, bounced off the hard leather of my horse's saddle. While the shooter attempted to reload his stiff weapon, I fitted a new arrow and shot him in the arm. He grunted and fell back.
No matter our success, we both knew our arrow supply was limited, and the men continued their pursuit. However, the dark border of a forest loomed close ahead. I shouted and got Lenoa's attention as she fitted a new arrow to her bow. I pointed towards the approaching trees with my free hand. "We can lose them in there!" I yelled to her. She nodded approvingly and took out another pursuer with a well-placed arrow to his chest.
We stayed well ahead of the pursuing party and strove towards the forest as fast as our horses would carry us. An arrow pierced Lenoa's horse's tender left thigh, and she hissed angrily. The wounded animal reared up and flung her off right at the edge of the forest.
"Hylian!" she yelled. I grabbed my horse's reins, pulled back hard, and ground to a halt.
"Damn!" I cursed. "Hang on, Lenoa!" The riders quickly approached, leaving little time to act, if any.
To Be Continued…