Great [Monster] Journey 7

RSanon Nov 20th, 2013 2,353 Never
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  1. “Orcs.” Seira practically spat the word.
  3. “Huh?” asked Galen.
  5. “It’s just like them to do something like this, too.” She checked her injured wing. “Now I really wish I could fly across this damn river and be done with it.”
  7. “Why do you not like orcs so much? We haven’t even introduced ourselves.” Galen started prancing forward to do just that, but Seira’s paw lashed out and snagged him by his shirt, yanking him back. She loomed over him, poking his chest with a claw.
  9. “Unless you master them, orcs are not to be trusted. They’re extraordinary simple-minded in their goals, but crafty enough to usually get their way.” Seira squinted, eyes analyzing the group waiting on the bridge. “Eight. Far too many to fight.”
  11. “Can’t we just ask them what they want and give it to them? I’m sure they’ll let us cross, then.”
  13. She flattened her gaze at Galen. “Guess what they want.”
  15. “How should I--Ooohhhh.”
  17. She patted him on the back, releasing her grasp. “Now you’re learning. I could get across without trouble, but you are a different story entirely.”
  19. Seira rubbed her chin, watching the orcs, trying to figure out how to get by them when she was assaulted by a hug from Galen, almost pushing her over. He closed his eyes, grinning and squeezing as hard as he could. Seira grunted and pried him off, holding him at arms’ length.
  21. “What was that for?”
  23. “You don’t want to split up like last time! You could walk right by them and give me up, but you’re trying to help me get by, too.” He playfully smacked her on the back. “I knew you were a good companion.”
  25. “We can save the revelry for after we get across the river.”
  27. Galen nodded, then turned to the bridge. He couldn’t make out much from their distance, only a few black figures, a couple moving back and forth like a patrol. “Say, what are orcs like?”
  29. “They’re about as tall as me, though they can get to be pretty short. Slighty chubby, ears and tail like a pig. What you really need to watch out for is their strength. They can swing war hammers around like sticks and have enough control over themselves to avoid permanently injuring human prey. Relentless, too. If we’re to get you across, we need to make sure they never know about you, or they accept your crossing. Running won’t work; they’ll outlast us.”
  31. “Hmm.” Galen sat down cross-legged, slapping his hands to his knees. Closing his eyes, he calmed himself, trying to think up a way past this dilemma. From Seira’s advice, a straight-up approach probably wouldn’t work. The only thing they’d bargain for was Galen, and he had no interest in ending his adventure here. Fighting, while possible, was almost just as poor a choice. Galen didn’t know how to wield Toneruth and fighting with his normal sword would likely end up just like his fight with Seira. As good as Seira was, she couldn’t be expected to take on eight orcs, and Sybyll was completely unable to fight. The orcs wouldn’t even notice she was there. Some form of trickery was their only choice.
  33. The sun still hung high in the sky, so waiting for nightfall would cost them many precious hours. If the lamia showed up, they’d be in a much worse situation. Trying to sneak by would be a poor option in broad daylight, but still better than combat. A distraction could work. They probably wouldn’t want anything from Seira, so if she grabbed their attention, it would give Galen some time. Perhaps not enough to make it all the way across, but it would be something. They also might be able to lure the orcs into a trap and either imprison them or knock them out. But where would they get such a trap in the middle of a forest like this? A trap hole for eight orcs would take forever to dig.
  35. The last option would be to become their master. Showing a feat amazing enough to gain all of their respect would be difficult, however. Galen couldn’t think of anything off the top of his head.
  37. No matter which way he looked at it, their path was laden with risk.
  39. “Any ideas, Sybyll?”
  41. “I suggest we wait for nightfall. You should be able to sneak by with a suitable distraction then, or, if they do find you, lose them in the pursuit. They may be excellent hunters during the day as an organized group, but at night is a different story. Orcs do not have great vision.” She crossed her arms. “You could also separate from Seira. You mentioned these lamia chasing you are after her, correct? Let her run, give her wing time to heal, and lose the lamia while we camp here. She can meet up with us again and carry you across with a fully-healed pair of wings.”
  43. “We’re not separating again,” said Galen. “The lamia as just as much my problem as they are my companion’s.” He leaned forward, rubbing his forehead. “That also means waiting until night wouldn’t be a good idea. I can’t risk Seira on that, it’s not right.”
  45. “Not ‘right’?” said Seira, walking over to Galen. “How many times am I going to have to tell you: you must do what is necessary, no matter how things are ‘supposed’ to go, or what is ‘right’. Your enemies don’t care about that.”
  47. He turned to her, staring deep into those red eyes of hers. “That’s what makes us different. And earlier when we split up, I only went along because it was out of my control. Now that I am in control, I won’t let it happen again!”
  49. “You’re being immature.”
  51. “No, I’m principled! And it’s times like this that it’s most important.”
  53. Seira put her paws on her hips, walking away. “Fine. I can’t argue with you like this.”
  55. “So you agree with Sybyll? You think you should go off on your own until your wing heals?”
  57. Sybyll interjected. “I am sorry, I did not mean for my suggestion to cause an argument.”
  59. Seira ignored her. “It’s the most conservative option, but also the safest and most reliable.”
  61. “I don’t like it,” said Galen.
  63. She put her paws up in surrender. “Like I said, not going to argue.”
  65. Galen grumbled to himself, but knew better than to press her. They could argue about it later. With splitting up, waiting, and making a trap all non-options, that led him to one choice.
  67. “I’m going to sneak across. Seira, you distract them. Get their attention away from the underside of the bridge. I’ll have enough hand-holds to climb across underneath. We’ll meet at about this same spot upriver, but on the other side. Got it?”
  69. Seira frowned, but nodded.
  71. “Sybyll, you stick by me, let me know if any orcs are about to see me. It’ll give me time to reposition and hide.”
  73. “Galen, there is not much cover under that bridge. You will be making noise as well.”
  75. “I know. I’ll be relying on Seira to cover for me, but I have faith she’ll do the job.” He stepped toward her, poking her in the chest. “And don’t try to separate.”
  77. “I know, I know. I’m not going anywhere.”
  79. “Alll-right!” Galen punched his fists together. “Seira, do your thing. Sybyll will let me know when they’re not looking and I’ll approach the bridge on her signal.”
  81. As Seira and Sybyll moved out to their positions, Galen chastised himself for missing a great huddle opportunity. Hopefully there would be plenty more in the future.
  83. Crouching down, he locked his eyes on Sybyll and began the painful waiting game. His legs braced and tense, ready to explode into a run along the bank. He focused on his breathing, keeping it steady and slow. His thoughts kept going back to Seira, how she kept berating him about his tactics and ideals. He wanted to prove to her he wasn’t just words, that the world respected his ideas as well. A nagging voice in the back of his head told him he should be giving her words more weight. She was several times older than he, it would be natural for her to know these things, right?
  85. Shaking his head, he brought his thoughts back to the moment. He could worry about Seira later. Any second now she should be showing up.
  87. A silhouette approached the bridge. From his spot, he couldn’t make out much, but the mix of amber, red and charcoal told him it was most likely Seira. Part of him wished he could hear what she was saying, see how she was getting the orcs’ attention, but that wasn’t feasible. Seira became someone else when she was ‘in action’, and Galen wanted to know that Seira, too.
  89. Sybyll raised her arm and Galen exploded out of cover. Keeping his footsteps quick but light, he darted toward the bridge. Once he got to the underside, he’d be safe until the other side of the river. Each heartbeat rang through his ears like a drum, low and constant. He couldn’t keep himself from glancing up at the small gathering of orcs around Seira, wishing quietly for her safety just before he hit the underside of the bridge. It took him a moment to find a good handhold, but as soon as he did, he was already started across. He had known the river’s width, but actually being there, under the bridge, climbing across with whitewater rushing beneath was a different experience entirely. For the most part he had to hang from the supports, his movement almost as if he were crawling upside-down. Every creak and moan the bridge gave out made Galen cringe. He tried to ease his mind by telling himself they were normal noises, that they happened all the time, but he couldn’t see how the orcs were reacting. He had Sybyll keeping an eye out and she hadn’t said anything yet. He supposed he should take that as encouraging.
  91. His arms began to grow sore. It’d been a long time since he’d worked them so thoroughly. The wood he clung to was perpetually damp, meaning his grip had to be iron, lest his hands slip. Spray from the river buffeted him continually, like the river was spitting at him for trying to sneak across it. He froze when he heard the bridge creak above him. Was it an orc investigating? Or just wandering? He checked his position--he was only halfway, but his arms screamed at him like they wouldn’t last another ten feet. Blood rushed to his head, but he fought to stay calm and concentrate. Regardless of whether or not the orcs suspected, he’d have to keep moving, lest he fall into the current.
  93. He could’ve sworn he was moving the same speed as before, but the end never seemed to get closer. Each reach and grab burned through his muscles like fire, but he kept on. Passing another pillar, he glanced over to Sybyll. No signal.
  95. “Keep going, you’re almost there,” she said.
  97. Galen coughed a chuckle, not seeing the passive, cold Sybyll as someone to root him on like that. With a quick exhale, he pushed forward. His arms screamed at him to stop, to rest. His breaths became harsh, but still he climbed. Just as his fingers were about to fall off, he hit the opposing shore, collapsing into a ball and huddling up against the side of the bridge. The climb took far more out of him than he expected. He wouldn’t be able to dart off into cover with his arms and legs like this. All he needed was a minute to rest and get feeling back in his limbs.
  99. “Galen,” said Sybyll. He looked up and she pointed across the bridge. “Seira is coming and she has an escort. It appears they are allowing her to cross, but they may spot you once they get to this end.”
  101. “Shoot,” he whispered. “Can I make a break for it?”
  103. “Not now. Her escorts have their attention on this side of the river. They would see you before you made it to cover.”
  105. “Shoot again!” He glanced back to the underside of the bridge. “Tell me right before they get here and I’ll hang out under the bridge.”
  107. “You should go now. They are close.”
  109. Suppressing a groan, Galen grabbed back onto the bridge supports, his arms immediately protesting. A true adventurer had the willpower to get through situations like this! He couldn’t give in. After they were all safely past this, he’d have another story to tell, but it wouldn’t work if he let himself fall here.
  111. Footsteps and groaning wood planks announced the arrival of Seira and her escorts.
  113. “If you see any humans, send them this way, yeah?” Galen couldn’t recognize the voice. Must’ve been one of the orcs.
  115. “I can’t guarantee they’ll have anything left in them.” That was Seira.
  117. “After we did you the favor of letting you across? Manticores really are cruel.” Cruel? Seira? He kept hearing about how fearsome manticores were supposed to be, but Seira had yet to show any of that. Well, except for that one night in Silere. Galen’s arousal flared up at the memory, flustering himself with his lack of concentration. He had other things to worry about!
  119. “Hey, do you smell that?”
  121. “Huh?” Galen heard noses testing the air. “Is that a human?”
  123. “Yeah, that’s just what I was thinking!” A few steps. “Hey, manticore, you didn’t run into any humans, did you?”
  125. ‘Triple shoot!’ thought Galen. All he could do was hang there and hope.
  127. “Mmm, I did last night. He was delicious.”
  129. “That explains it.”
  131. Galen sighed.
  133. “Naw, this smell is too fresh for last night. Smells like arousal, too. He’s gotta be close.”
  135. His grip tightened on the wood so hard he thought he’d snap it. Could he please get a break?!
  137. “Galen, it’s time to run,” said Sybyll.
  139. He looked over to her, then back up on the bridge. One of the orcs was staring directly at him.
  141. Quadruple sh--
  143. “There he is!”
  145. Galen was out from under the bridge in a flash, sprinting away in another. He wasted no time looked behind, devoting everything to putting as much distance between those orcs and himself as possible. Sybyll ran alongside him, though she looked to put no effort in her stride while Galen’s legs pumped like pistons. They were already worn from the climb and his breathing had been heavy when he started. If the orcs were as persistent as Seira said, he had no hope of outrunning them. He’d need to find a place to hide or lose them. In a worst-case scenario, somewhere he could fight one at a time.
  147. Unfortunately, forests rarely offered that sort of cover.
  149. Without a feasible means of escape of fighting, he’d have to think his way out of this. He spoke to Sybyll through heavy breaths, making sure to watch his feet as he ran. “Sybyll, what do you know about orcs that could help me right now?”
  151. “They always hunt in packs. Their preferred method is to flank the target after exhausting it. They are not agile fighters, but their bodies can take a fair amount of punishment and they often need only land one blow to put their opponent down.”
  153. Galen leapt over a rock, his feet hitting the ground with a thud. He kept his path downhill as much as possible to give his legs at least a little help. Right now, the orcs sounded like the worst sort of enemy for this situation. He’d leave all sorts of signs with which he could be tracked, he was already worn, there was no terrain to use to his advantage, and he was terribly outnumbered.
  155. “Are orcs strong-willed?”
  157. Sybyll’s golden eyes narrowed as she considered the question. “Not necessarily. Tellus would effectively nullify their endurance, but broken as it is, I would strongly recommend against using it. Getting in close during combat is a not a good idea.”
  159. “Dangit! Can’t I catch one stupid break?”
  161. Heavy footsteps thumped against the ground behind them, approaching alarmingly fast. Galen spared himself a second to look behind himself and was relieved to find it was Seira, not an orc.
  163. “Got any ideas?” Galen asked her.
  165. “They’re only coming for you. I could break off, take them out one-by-one. I could probably get two or three before they even realize what’s happening. Right now, they’re thinking I’m trying to chase you down. My speed will--“
  167. “Weren’t you the one that said fighting eight wouldn’t be feasible?”
  169. “We’re out of options, Galen! We have to do the best with what we have. They’re not going to let us go without a fight!”
  171. “If we fight, we’re not separating! That’s not how--“
  173. “I swear to the mother of all monsters if you finish that sentence I’m going to punch you!”
  175. Galen clenched his teeth, ducking to the side to avoid a tree. He scanned the area for anything to use, huffing when nothing more than trees and dead leaves revealed themselves. If he just had something to work with, he could find a way out of this, he knew it.
  177. “Do either of you know anything about orcs we could use that you haven’t already mentioned?”
  179. “They are, in general, superstitious,” said Sybyll.
  181. “Superstitious? Like, they believe in ghosts and supernatural stuff?”
  183. “Correct. Under the right circumstances, they would fear it.”
  185. That might be what he needed. He didn’t know magic, and Sybyll couldn’t affect anything besides himself or the sword, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t without his weapons. His gaze sharpened, gears turning in his head, possibilities being created and discarded, contingencies, variations all considered and applied. Heroes in his father’s tales could squeeze out of situations like this, so he had to prove he could as well. Not to Seira or Sybyll, but to himself.
  187. He broke off his run, coming to a stop and turning around. Four of the orcs were visible from his spot, all moving at a light run. He could make out grins of exhilaration on their faces. To them, this was another hunt and Galen nothing more than prey. He would have to prove he was much more than that.
  189. “Galen! What are you doing?” barked Seira.
  191. “Getting us out of this.” He planted his feet, crashing his fists together. His adventure couldn’t end here--this had to work.
  193. “By giving up?” She walked up to his side, panting. That run must’ve taken more out of her than he’d thought. Trying to pick the orcs off never would’ve worked.
  195. “I’m not giving up. Now just let me do the talking.”
  197. The orcs were upon them. The other four must’ve been the flanking group, as they were nowhere to be found. Galen had no doubt they’d show up soon, though. They looked just as Seira described: tall, a bit pudgy with pig ears and tail. They wore little, a belt with a cloth attached covering their nethers, hard leather armor over their shins and forearms as well as a special piece covering most of their breasts. Their hair, coming down to their chins, looked greasy and worn. From the smell they gave off, Galen figured they didn’t care too much to hygiene. All four had their eyes on him with varying degrees of lust and excitement in their stares. One had tough gauntlets on, likely doubling as a weapon and armor, while the other three held clubs and hammers, all much heavier than what Galen could’ve carried. Even a glancing blow from one would put him down.
  199. He couldn’t show any fear. Total confidence would be required to pull his plan off. In a smooth, swift motion, Toneruth was out, hovering in the air between Galen and his opponents. He blushed at seeing the broken blade, embarrassed at putting it off as a true weapon, but swallowed his pride and hardened his grip.
  201. “Little man gonna use that twig to fight all four of us?” One, presumably the leader, stepped forward, hoisting her club over her shoulder. “Stupid thing doesn’t even have a blade on both sides.”
  203. “This ‘twig’ is Toneruth,” he spat.
  205. The leader lifted her head, spitting laughter at his comment. The other three joined in with similar cackles of their own, pointing at Galen and holding their sides. Slapping her side, the leader slammed her foot on the ground. “I didn’t know yeh was gonna be a bucket a’ laughs, too! Looks like you’s gonna have more use than a semen dispenser.” She leaned forward. “Ya know, if you put that thing away and pull the other thing out right now, we might only rape ya till next week.”
  207. Galen’s face heated with anger and humiliation, but he held onto the sword. Their cockiness would only serve him well. He just had to wait for the right moment to strike.
  209. “Not gonna listen? Well, I can’t be res’pons’ble for any kinda injury. You shouldn’t worry too much ‘bout that, though. We’ll make ya feel real good.” She brought the club to bear, then shot Seira a glare. “This one’s ours. I suggest you scram. I’d be a pity if my friend behind ya had to leave a mark.”
  211. Galen didn’t turn around. He knew they had no reason to bluff. All he needed to do was watch the leader. Wait for that mistake.
  213. Seira’s gasp confirmed what he already knew. A shuffling of leaves later, the leader relaxed. “Dat’s better.”
  215. It was then Galen saw it. The shift of her grip, tensing of muscles, the glance off to Seira--that was all he needed.
  217. He exploded into action, stepping forward with his strike. Toneruth hummed as it struck, a viper of metal and light. He could feel the eyes on him, friend and foe alike. He pushed the blade faster, as if he was slicing the air itself, watching the broken tip blur with its motion and hone in on its target. Even as the blade soared toward her, the leader smirked, amused with Galen’s attempt. She shifted her arm so the armor faced the oncoming blade. Typically, that’s all she’d need to do, with the blade being so short and inconsequential.
  219. But this was no typical blade.
  221. At the point of contact, Galen saw the blade waver--and pass through the leather armor as if it did not exist. When Toneruth hit the leader’s arms, the hilt went cold, much the same as Galen remembered feeling when Sybyll cut him. It passed through the leader’s arms without leaving a mark. He kept from smiling as he watched her eyes flash from smug to fearful. The moment he regained control of the momentum from the strike, Galen stepped to the side. The monstrous club she had been holding now had nothing to keep it in place. It slipped from her now-numb hands and crashed to the ground, her eyes darting between Galen and her hands.
  223. “How did you do that?” she said, stepping back.
  225. He desperately hoped the orcs behind him weren’t making a move, but he couldn’t turn around. He had to hold eye contact, make an example out of the leader. “Didn’t I already tell you? This is Toneruth. It is protected by spirits of battle. It cuts spirit, not flesh.” He strode up to the leader, keeping his posture straight and haughty. “That’s not all. The spirits are all around us. In fact, there’s one holding a blade to you right now!” He flipped Toneruth so it was hilt-first, hesitating just a second to let Sybyll draw her sword and leap into place. When he jabbed the leader with the hilt, Sybyll and her sword were very suddenly visible.
  227. The leader’s jaw dropped. Her eyes, wide and shaking, stayed locked on Sybyll’s sword tip hovering inches from her neck.
  229. “Wha--where’d yeh come from?”
  231. “I’ve always been here. You are lucky my master has not ordered your death. Yet.”
  233. The rest of the orcs, not privy to the display, all readied their weapons, ready to pounce but unsure of what they should be watching. Some watched the empty space where their leader gaped and the others looked about frantically, trying to spy out other enemies. Galen fought the urge to look back at Seira and smirk.
  235. “Now I’m not one much for violence, so it would really pain me to end all of you when all you were really looking for was a meal. I take it you’re of the same mind?” asked Galen.
  237. “Y-yeah.” The leader swallowed loud enough for Galen to hear.
  239. “Great! So why don’t you gather your friends and head on back to the bridge? Today is the not the day you’ll be feeding on semen.” He brandished Toneruth, then slid it back in its sheath with a satisfying clink. “And I would hurry. The other spirits you still can’t see are getting very restless.”
  241. Putting her arms up in surrender as much as she could, the leader took several slow steps backward. “You h-heard ‘em. Let’s prepare for the next guy who tries to get by. This ain’t worth it.”
  243. The rest were too shaken to even mutter and agreement. All eight took off at a jog, breaking into a run once they were a safe distance away. Galen straightened his back, crossing his arms and grinning with more than a touch of satisfaction as he watched them flee. When they had finally disappeared from sight, he jumped as high as he could, thrusting his fist into the air.
  245. “HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT?” he shouted. He brought up his fists, throwing punches at an imaginary enemy, bouncing up and down on his feet. “I did it! I totally did it! Did you see that? They ran!” He held his hands out, looking back and forth from Seira to Sybyll, mouth hanging open in anticipation.
  247. “That was cl--“
  249. “You bet it was!” Galen hollered, cutting Sybyll off. Shaking his fists, he jumped up again, still bulging with excitement. “Man, I’m gonna have such great stories when I go back to Nox! I’m on my way to being a real adventurer!”
  251. Seira sighed, crossing her arms under her breasts, looking off to the side. “It ended up fine, I suppose.”
  253. She turned just in time to see Galen rush in for a tackle, almost taking her clean off her feet. With clever use of her tail, she regained her balance, though Galen stayed clamped on and squeezed her in a fierce hug. “And we did it without splitting up!”
  255. “Woah there, hun.” Galen, despite the strength of his spirit, couldn’t keep Seira from breaking away. He wished she’d return at least one of his hugs. “Just because we ended up getting away without splitting up, doesn’t mean your choices were smart.”
  257. “Aww, c’mon! The fact that we succeeded means exactly that!”
  259. “No, it does not!” She stomped her foot-paw, jabbing Galen in the chest with a claw. “When a war is won, the victorious side is just that: victorious. They are not necessarily right or honorable or deserving. We went into that situation with crossed fingers and blind hope which almost got you caught. Do you realize what that would’ve meant? There’s no way I could’ve rescued you on my own, and I don’t have any friends around here. You could’ve been their captive indefinitely! You almost were!”
  261. “But I wasn’t,” he said, sticking his chest out.
  263. Seira seized her head, growling. “I am talking to a kid! That’s all you are, a kid!” She turned back to Sybyll. “Please back me up here.”
  265. Sybyll, her gaze ever-passive, crossed her arms and looked downward in thought. “Seira is not without a point. The ends do not qualify the means as anything other than successful. There were other methods which I believe would have been more prudent.”
  267. “You, too?” said Galen, a frown growing on his face. “I thought we were supposed to celebrate this kind of stuff, not argue over it.”
  269. “It is cause for celebration, but that does not make it immune to criticism.”
  271. He jammed his hands under his armpits. “Fine. Let’s keep going, then. They might change their minds about letting us go, anyways.”
  273. Grimacing, he stomped off, the usual spring in his step gone and the tune he often hummed absent from his mind. Seira and Sybyll watched him walk away, both wrestling with their own minds about the incident. Sybyll started off to follow him, but stopped when Seira put a hand in front of her.
  275. “Sooner or later, if he doesn’t snap out of that ignorant mindset of his, he’s going to find himself in a situation his principles won’t get him out of,” said Seira, staring into Sybyll’s eyes. “And I might not be there to bail him out.”
  277. “’Ignorant?’” Sybyll raised an eyebrow. “An interesting word for it. Perhaps not the one I would use.”
  279. “Which word would you?”
  281. She stroked her chin a moment, letting a thick silence pass between the two before choosing her answer.
  283. “Worthy.”
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