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A Lowly Merchant [Spring April 19th, 533 YOI]

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Eames Croft

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He’d gone from a Knight Commander in the Raisean Legion to a lowly merchant in the blink of an eye it seemed. His little chat with Robby certainly had an interesting turn it appeared. All-Powerful Robert, the shining young face of Celis had really become a nuisance in their last meeting. As he had left, he’d watched him and young woman meet in the citadel, but he was too angry with the man who had the gall to call himself Triumvir that he could hardly contain himself in the meeting. He led by no example, and yet had the audacity to threaten him, Eames Croft, with death over the disagreement of how the mission would be carried out, then to call out him on lack of authority?! He deserved none from what Eames could see, it was something that needed to be earned, not demanded. Yet, Eames found himself waltzing as a lowly merchant instead, choosing the dignity he still held instead of defying orders and becoming a full blown fugitive. True, he could probably find a comfortable gig elsewhere, but he was far too good at what he did here, and his men actually looked up to him in battle- he wasn’t willing to let some other nitwit ever take that and try to lead without respect. It was nothing but a death wish to all parties involved.

Staring aimlessly towards the bluffs ahead, he turned slightly, seeing one of his soldiers; a centurion to be specific. He looked so awkward, walking in the bits of cloth and ritzier clothing that these others wore. It was obvious he couldn’t completely grasp what he was doing, missing out on the steel plate that usually adorned his body as well as the sword that was always sheathed at his side. Although it wasn’t just an oddity for him, the entire unit was reeling from it, it just wasn’t natural for a soldier to dress up for a “secretive” mission and blend in perfectly. They’d all heard the whispers, the merchants talking amongst themselves about how these men couldn’t be anything but soldiers, and Eames had done everything he could in his power to quiet them from building throughout the entire camp. The convoy was like a small town though, and if one person told a secret, it was public knowledge by the end of the day, the natural circle of things. Eames had been “lucky” though, growing up as a merchant’s son- though the falling out with his father had stressed any kind of family ties that still existed. It was mostly a dead family, but he had always been raised to be a merchant, and by god he fit in just as well as the seasoned men that drove this convoy forward.

Reaching down for his canteen, he took a small drink of the lukewarm water; enough to wet his lips as it had to last him at least a couple more hours until they reached their next destination for unloading and set up. There were so many goods shoved into every nook-n-cranny in the wagons and carriages that made a bulk of the caravan, it was a sight behold, especially when they entered town and began giving the goods to the population that was around, though he could imagine there were only so many more places that it could get to before being depleted far more than it was already. Small towns took a lot more than he’d ever had guessed, but it was all in good faith, plus it was free for them.

He found himself zoning out as the sun beat down on them, though the weather wasn’t too bad, and his eyes fell closed for a moment. With the heightened senses, he heard a horseman galloping behind him and gave a quick look to the noise. Someone wearing the seal of Celis was riding along and Eames could only roll his eyes. The only man he knew was going to be in contact was Hannibal, and the past two days had brought around two or three messengers a day, and they weren’t even close to the borders, let alone the areas where the attacks had been taking place. At least another two days you giant buffoon! Let us do our job and you’ll figure out how to do yours eventually.. Tonight they were to be staying in the city of Acristos, a decently populated place which was far too close to the capital to even have to worry about what was going on in the plains further north, it was nothing more than tiring out a perfectly good horse.

His duty came first though, and as every other time, Eames jogged forward to a black carriage and jumped up on the step rail and waved to the rider as he threw the door open. Usually this worked, though the rider seemed a bit thick and rode past, only to come to a dead stop and begin looking around before he found the only man standing on a black carriage, it was about as obvious as possible. Sinking into the Carriage, he sat down on a crate of oil. Watching the rider step inside, he gave a small salute to which Eames only rolled his eyes:

What the hell are you doing? You riders are coming far too often, especially with how close we are.. We’re nowhere near where the positions of the last convoys were lost and you guys are coming in like clockwork. This better be important.

He could tell he had gotten to the rider which brought a small grin across his lips as he watched the rider dry swallow and scratch at the back of his neck.

Sir, please understand that it is only my orders that I come here. Commander Hannibal is under orders to keep a close eye on you and he sends us to- to make sure that you’re still aware what you’re duty is and to keep updated on what’s going on and… well… yeah…

The envoy was staring at the ground as Eames’s eyes had narrowed as he heard the order. Typical hierarchy believing that they always had the better idea and it was only infuriating to the ones that actually were doing the job. Worthless!!! Gesturing to the door, the envoy understood almost instantly and stepped out, leaving Eames to think to himself. After a moment, he finally calmed down and stepped out and began walking alongside the wagon he had formerly been at. His moment must have been longer though, the city appearing on the horizon ahead of them. A high church steeple could already see them coming as the long bellows were heard even out to them. It was a nice feeling though, the day was almost over, and hell- a night at the inn sure sounded better than camping out again. City life sure grew on a man when he was stuck there while awaiting orders or even just on leave. Back to military life though, he couldn’t quite put his finger on what kept him there, but he actually enjoyed it. Maybe it was just the fact he was a ranking officer in a very prestigious unit; that was probably it.

As the caravan entered the walls of the city, dusk had begun to settle over the landscape, leaving streaks of orange across the sky in compliment to the purple clouds that made up bits and pieces of the heavens above. A beautiful work of evolving art that hung above them, but he had work to do. As he began unloading the carts that he knew were set to be going to the townspeople in Acristo, the church bell once again began to sound. He nodded to one of the lieutenants to keep the men working and promptly ran towards the small gate that they had just come through, seeing as a small group had already begun forming. To no surprise, there was already conspiracy floating around the crowd as Eames fought to get to the front of the pack and find out, but was stopped by the town’s gatekeeper.

Listen, be quiet about this but I’m a military figure. What is going on out there that these people aren’t supposed to be seeing, let alone to worry about? This is a secure city, is it not?

The keeper gave a smug chuckle at the military figure comment, but still allowed Eames to pass and step outside the gate. A chill ran down his back as he saw a small group, no more than ten horsemen in the distance. Wearing nothing but black clothing, and what looked like bones or possibly scrappy armor, they stood on the top of a hill in the distance just staring at the town, or at least that’s all he could guess. Watching them for a minute, he saw them begin to move, and he instinctually went for his weapon, of which he had none as they were still stashed in the carriage, but no hostility seemed to be coming his way, only a horse with a rider on it, but this rider was different. Narrowing his eyes to the distance, he realized quickly what the difference was: this rider was wearing the colors of the Celisian military, not the brutish look of these barbarians that stood in the distance. Stepping back to the door, Eames dropped his shoulder into it and slowly pushed it open a few inches, giving a quick hit to the gate keeper to open up.

Running back out towards the horse, he reached up for the reigns and pulled it in, looking at the headless body of an unnamed soldier that was sitting upright, just like he would be riding normally, but his head held the terrified look of someone that had been captured earlier, the face of a rider that he had visited only earlier, yet this time instead of a nervous drawl, it was dead and cold. Pulling on the reigns, Eames slowly brought the horse in, walking it in along the wall, trying to keep it from the crowd that continued to build and laid the body down in the grass behind a vendor of some sort, it would have to be dealt with later on.

Making his way to the convoy, it was almost entirely his own men unloading as the others had gone down to see what the attraction was at the door, giving him the time to gather the Wolf Cohort to the side.

Listen, I don’t know who these riders are, but there’s ten, maybe a dozen sitting out about three-hundred yards from the defenses of this city. They’ve already killed a- a rider of the celisian military which declares war upon our nation. I want night guards paying attention in four hour intervals along the front gate as well as the north gate. I’ll be taking the first watch with the first squad to observe any behaviors. Men.. we’ve been sitting at home, bored out of our skulls.. I think we might have a fight coming in the near future gents. Be ready and remember, we’re the best out here. These are our people to protect. We do our jobs, we’re all getting awarded for it, then we finish this pain in the ass mission and become heroes of Celis.

The men really seemed to like the idea of heroes, which the ones that walked away would be if this led to the end of the caravan attacks, but what this enemy held was all known only to them, nothing but surprises from here on out.

Eames Croft

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Sleep hadn't come easy for Eames, something of a rarity, even under times of extreme duress. Only thing that had changed from his usual mission was that there was an enemy showing, and unlike the usual charges he had led, this one was different. He'd always known exactly what he was going to be running into, and this time, he was clueless as any of the others. Problems were on the horizons though, especially with the emissary being beheaded and sent back to the cohort that was with the convoy, meaning there was no communication back to Hannibal that day, not that it meant anything as it was. He'd told off the man, and in his arrogance, possibly caused the death of the man. It's not my fault though, how could we have known that they were following us only a day into our journey.. it's not like he rode ahead, he was going back to his own legion and they still got him. It makes no sense. Nothing had come up during the first watch, the dusk would've been their best time to attack if they were planning on doing such, but nothing ever came, and judging from how quiet it had stayed the rest of the night, nothing ever did.

Hearing the stirring of the merchants and workers, he decided to get up and begin making his quick rounds to check that all the weaponry they kept with them was still accessible, he took it with a nonchalant duty and began kicking the soldiers that were still sleeping on the ground around the small stands that they had been giving out supplies in the night before, the crowds were extremely gracious which gave him a sense of pride, something odd coming from commoners. Shaking his head a bit, he tried to wake up just a bit more and walked to the leader of the convoy, a slave driver of a man, who with his small stature sure made up for it with his energy and ignorance of how anyone else was doing. He probably trained for marathons and the rest of these goodwill workers were practically dying just to make it from place to place. Eames set his hand on the man's shoulder, making a gesture to him to step aside to the background and began explaining the situation:

Listen, we can't leave this town. Yesterday, we had a big commotion, and while the city officials are just saying it was a word-of-mouth ordeal, it was far from it. You know of these attacks that we've been having, and whatever it is that's making these raids was out there. They know where we are, and they have us surrounded somehow. I stepped outside the gates and saw.. these monsters, and if we leave this city, it's another full day before we're even near any kind of outpost where we can find a refuge, and none of them except the Great Tower is going to house any sort of defense against this.

The man just gave Eames a blank stare, something in which he would've set a dagger through his jaw if it had been under better circumstances, but his expression went from serious to a jolly look, this small speck before Eames was laughing at his story, this man was going to get them all killed.

Now now young merchant, I know the superstitions are growing as we get farther North, but we'll be fine! There's nothing that this security detail can't handle.. they're soldiers from the Capital you know. We'll be fine, and we have deadlines to make up for, it's time to get moving so get your cart settled and we'll be out of here in another hour.

Eames clenched his fist, really about to drop this speck of dirt where he stood, but held back, instead marching off to his men and getting them awake as quickly as possible.

I know what you're expecting from me, but the ignorance and goodwill of these people is disgusting and they wish to pull out of Acristos. We can't let them go at it alone, and it's our orders to make sure that they stay safe. The next city on the journey will be Sarsus, up towards the eastern mountains, and we won't make it before nightfall, we have to push these people to go in the dark and make sure that we get there, or we'll be left out in the middle of nowhere to our deaths. Pack up and make sure you're near where you have stashed your gear, if the worst comes, we'll be the only troops for any coming onslaught.

The men, just stared at him, and he knew that they didn't like this anymore than him, but slowly they seemed to accept the fate they were given. It took the burden off a bit to see that they were trusting in him enough to follow and it gave him a sense of urgency to make sure that he saw them make it back to their homes as soon as all of this was over.

Hey! We can always blame the Triumvirs who aren't here, right?!

He didn't know what soldier had said it, but it make him smile a bit as he heard the laughter around him. They were taking this with good spirits, which made it all the easier as he began packing up everything that he could and watched as each wagon began making it's way out the north gate and beyond. It was fascinating how this train moved so well, but in times of distress, he had a feeling that everything would crumble. He had to stop that, it was his main goal now.

As the time slowly rolled into hours, only two stops had been made at villages that lined the path they were to take. The villagers were joyful at the sight of the goods that they were being given, as well as buying a few more, and he could tell that with the people in good spirits, his own men were calmer than they had ever been. Yet they were back on the last leg for the night, still at least four to five hours outside of where they needed to be when the sun had begun dipping down into the horizon. The mountains didn't help at all though, as they neared the rocky slopes, the sun dropped even faster. Ideas of stopping at some point began to flood through the group and he spread his own that they would have so much more comfortable arrangements if they continued. The leader must've believed that they would make it regardless as he continued up the trails that were ahead and so they kept moving.

The night fell faster than any of them had hoped, and they continued up towards Sarsus, less than an hour even. The first lights came then though, surprising everyone who had been so oblivious to the terrain, and everyone was awake as the flaming arrow landed just in front of the convoy. Screams were heard up towards the front as the convoy began moving much faster, the merchants and workers jumping on the sides of their wagons as they took off. Eames ran to keep up along with his, but turned back when he saw some of his men staggering to keep the pace and went back to them.

Joining them in a group, about twenty of them or so that were left behind, they jogged along the edge of the ridge, trying to stay out of the twilight as they watched for any sign of where the convoy, longer than anyone had ever seen, had disappeared to. Too much weight was there to take off at a gallop, it had to be near, and he was right, as they soon found it, amongst a group of these shadow warriors. The convoy stood in a giant circle, a standard defensive measure for the wagon trains as they traveled up along the uninhabited lands of Celis, and around it, the bodies of the small security detail lay dead, filled with arrows or even the occasional sword, left from the hand of whatever these things were, all he could observe about them was that they were the enemy. Two of these monstrosities began desecrating one of the pour souls that had died in the quick fight, tearing the limbs off, and what Eames could barely watch, was the fact they began eating the raw flesh and muscle straight off his bones.

They were savages it had appeared, but intelligence was not above them. They had killed the security detail, and from what Eames could see, the others were taken hostage, for slavery or dinner he had no idea. The beings that held them captive were sorter than a normal Celisian, though quite stocky. They had great strength, and while speaking an unknown dialect, it showed they were no idiots. Their skin was gray, almost scaly looking, they all had black eyes, and they did something that even the Novustals had done to Eames, give him a small taste of fear. The claw on their left hand was threatening enough, but these things actually knew how to use weapons. Eames wasn't sure about what exactly he was to do, but his legs seemed to gather his wits faster than himself as he began sneaking down the ridge.

C'mon men, we need to get to the main cache, it should be on the back side, so we need to sneak in and get them. Then... we're going to light fire to the merchant half of the stock and make a go for it. Our fellow soldiers are still down there and we need to give them a chance to break for it, and these things aren't going to make it easy. Stay behind me, and keep to cover, I don't know what they are, but if they can see us in the night, we're dead as it is.

Eames only received questionable nods and fearful looks from his men, but they all followed him down as he scaled down and began moving from one wagon to the next, cautiously as possible as he noticed a small contingent making rounds along the outer rim of the caravan. His heartbeat began pounding, but he kept moving as quickly as possible, his men right behind him as they neared the black carriage. Carefully opening the door, he slid inside and pulled the bench out of the back wall, spilling weapons down into the floor, but instead of pausing for the noise, he began tossing the swords and small shields he could out to the men and then grabbed his bow and the quiver full of arrows and made his way outside.

They were quicker than he thought and barely made it back behind a small rock grouping before the shadow beasts had made it and began investigating the scene, and finding the rest of the weapons that hadn't been carried out by the others. Given twenty men, they had around seventy weapons and it meant that they had to get back to the others. Eames took an arrow from the quiver and dipped the steel end into a small pouch of oil that hung from it, and with a single spark, the end was ablaze. Standing up, all the attention from the four grunts that had come to check was on him, and without any hesitation, he fired, missing the beast, but in turn hitting the back of the carriage, igniting a cask of oil and sending a huge flame roaring in the night, spreading behind to the wagon next in line, much faster than he could have anticipated. The monsters were stunned, looking back and shielding their eyes from the light, which gave his men perfect opportunity to drop them where they stood, even giving insight that these things were possibly nocturnal.

Following the fire, they began making their way back towards the crowd where all the people had been taken, these monsters couldn't quite comprehend what had gone wrong, and as they began coming along the sides, they were dropped in their tracks by blade and pointed arrow. A bigger squad was left that they had planned, and with two of his men rushing in, Eames dropped the first three, leaving the others to die at the hands of his men, wild with rage and the fighting spirit that had crowned them Raisean Legion in the first place.

Coming in from the side, Eames stood straight, pulling an arrow as one of the beings tried running at him, and with a quick release, the grotesque thing had an arrow through his eye. The time was given and most of his men had weapons and began moving through the group, pushing the workers up and ran towards the unburned part of the caravan and after what seemed as though a lifetime, the first wheels were turning once again, they must make it to Sarsus.

As more wagons began the quick trek up the mountain trail, more and more of these monsters came from the darkness to try and stop it, only falling from Eames's men who had been staying close to the fire, hidden in the nocturnal eye of whatever these things were. Eames hurried around, grabbing all the water canteens he could find and began dousing the front of the former cache carriage, and had the oxen that were pulling it before brought back to do their duty once more as the flaming back was quickly brought up to the rear of the caravan on the sprint to the small military settlement. Most of his men were with the rest of the column, and the rest were either with him, or just ahead, no one was left behind tonight and with the fire roaring behind him, the monsters never once made another move towards the caravan that night.

As they neared the city, spirits were calming down, the walls of the former fortress looming high in the distance as they neared, and Eames took it upon himself to be the first one to open the doors, deciding to sprint ahead as the convoy came to a stop and began pounding on the doors, an answer coming only moments longer and with the slow task of bringing every wagon, beast of burden, and man inside, the gate was sealed, the Wolf Cohort already manning the few posts they could to watch for this new enemy.

Leaning back against the wall beside the door, Eames could only give a sigh. He'd been right, they weren't going to just make it here, but luckily almost everyone had been brought back along with him. His stare dulled in the night light, he'd lost a single man, the soldiers around them as security were gone, and wherever the other members of the Raisean were, they weren't nearly as close as they should be. Eames and the Wolves were alone, to Sarsus the battle was probably already coming.

Ellara

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When Ellara awoke in the morning, it wasn't even morning, really. The sun was barely beginning to make an appearance, with tiny flecks of light slowly crawling up into the sky, but not over the lands yet. Grunting, she pushed herself out of bed, pulling on the raggedy boots she'd bought from a young soldier. She had slept in her attire for the day, and it took her less than twenty minutes to properly arrange her hair. By the time she had finished her escapade, she had turned herself into a he. The evening before, she had stayed up into the darker hours of the night, binding her chest flat with bandages, then leveling out her hips with even more wraps. She had also bought a wig, which was cut in a natural-looking boyish way, and masked her own well underneath it, without suspicion. Ellara's eyes she couldn't hide, although she did pull the bangs of the bought hair down over them, which made them appear black rather than violet. The peasant clothes were mildly baggy, further helping her cause, and when she left her room, the man who watched the entrance during night duty looked up with surprise at the stranger pretty-boy. She smiled cautiously, then departed for the edge of the city.

Her pack was light in the fine spirits of the morning, the dew fresh and giving everything a softer look and feel. Even as she walked, Ellara felt like she'd be able to run for days in weather like this. But the painful fact presented itself that she couldn't run for days and have the convoy still in sights. Though Robby had told her to stay and wait for reports, she knew they were on equal ground in the grand scheme of things, so she left him (and Owen) a pleasant letter basically telling him he'd have to get over it. While she was certain this would cause her trouble in the near future, she wasn't worried about much. She'd left him a gift to help assure him - her raven, carrier bird, which could find her if she buried herself in an avalanche. She also knew her duty was to the people, the Celisian people; these soldiers were Celisian citizens, and while they didn't necessarily fall under her jurisdiction, there was no way she was just going to let them go as they were. To her, the idea of separating them from their weapons was infinitely dumb, and a hazard to their own health. They needed all the help they could get, and reporting to Robby would keep him on the main front with the men.

The city began to stir after only an hour, and by then, she had covered herself with dirt and small scratches, ridding herself of many of her clinging feminine features. At last, she could see the convoy arranging itself, gathering up their supplies. She took note of their commander, Eames, simply because if she met him, it'd be difficult to explain the circumstances of the situation. Even as she watched the convoy, she carefully slid through the gateway, exiting Novus and entering the wilderness. The air was thick and rich, and she set off at a normal pace until she was well out of sight of the guards on the wall. Once she couldn't see them, she sprinted out to the forest, giving herself a league's start on the caravan.

Ellara kept pace all day, making it to Acristos a good two hours ahead of the wagons. Settling down on a roof, she stared out at the landscape, surveying and judging. In the distance, a black group formed on the horizon, still except for their slowly gaining size. Even as they approached, she didn't like these shadows. It was only after the specters appeared that the guards noticed her on the top of the building and cried out in alarm. She calmly slipped down, weaving through the city and back out. After making her way around to the most extreme edge of her vision where she could see the caravan as it entered, she settled in the grass, keeping an eye on both the disguised soldiers and the sinister patch, which had now formed eleven distinct figures, one of which seemed to be attached to some freakishly formed beast.

It took what seemed like years for the convoy to get settled, and only then did she see the odd form split, the majority of which broke out and ran with all haste toward the town. Squinting, Ellara dismantled the figure with her eyes, then suppressed a gasp. She also realized that it would land right on top of her unless she moved, so she stole away from the scene. Even as she jogged, she glanced back and saw the beheaded figure, as well as the trail of blood that ran to the hill where the figures were perched. Bile rose up in her throat, and she took a hefty swig of water to keep it down. That's sickening. But I can tell, Eames isn't going to go investigate, if he even saw the trail. He's got to worry about the town now. Let's see if I can't do him a favor and find out a touch more about these shadows...

When night fell, she strapped back on the pack. Acristos fell into slumber, and the world seemed at peace. That repose was disturbed by Ellara, who moved like a shadow across the field, lithe and graceful in her movements. With silence as her only friend, she followed the line of blood and hoof prints back to the hill. It continued down to the edge of the forest, where a slashing spatter was splayed across the dirt, an indicator of the man's execution site. With care, Ellara then turned and studied the other tracks in the area. They led into the trees, but it wasn't this that interested her. Their shape wasn't normal - These things were clawed, with rough edges but smooth movements. Even as she examined them, she found a scale, which in the shadows appeared black. Her eyebrows furrowed, and she cautiously pocketed the item.

Not long after this, a shadow fell over her, and she looked up. A bird with ragged wings and shining onyx feathers dropped out of the sky, landing a few feet behind her and picking up a piece of flesh that had been torn from the rider's body. Tossing it toward the sky, the sick creature caught it and gobbled it up, nearly choking. It turned its beady eyes to Ellara as if to ask, "What kind of trickery is this?" But the woman just smiled and clicked her tongue quietly. The crow hopped over, leaping up to her knee and raising one leg. Ellara carefully untied the letter that was attached and read it, the small creature perched patiently on her leg.

"Ellara,
I can only hope that you do not defy me like this again. Were you not the one telling me that the death of a Triumvir would throw this nation into chaos?! I am absolutely peeved by your outright disobedience and I will not forget this, even if you come back with the leader's head on a gilded platter. I expect you to reply to this immediately when you receive it, and include any details on what you've seen, heard, ANYTHING. I cannot stress how important it is that you keep yourself safe. Stay hidden, don't get caught, don't fight, don't go into town, and I am begging you to end this escapade now.
-Robert"


With a wicked grin, Ellara quickly turned the letter over, pulling out the charcoal stick she had stashed in her pack. Using her unoccupied leg to bear down on, she wrote him a reply:

"Robert,
Thank you for your concern, but if you really love me, you'll let me go. It just didn't work out between us.
Hannibal's messenger beheaded. Keep him close to the group. Scale here is from creatures that attacked. What do you think?
I just don't love you that way! I'm sorry!
-Ellara"


Snickering, Ellara gingerly rolled the scale into the letter, pinching down the ends so that it wouldn't fall out, then she slid it back onto the raven's leg. He looked at her with a dull, unhappy glare, then shot up into the night, disappearing against the black velvet clouds. As she watched him go, the lady sighed deeply, then made her way around the city, setting herself up between two rocks, the opening of which faced Acristos. Better to be caught by your friends than by your enemies. It only took a few moments of counting stars before her eyelids dropped and she fell into a deep sleep.

It was only a few short hours before the sunlight crept over her face, falling into her eyes like hammers. The gentle songs of birds seemed like screams to Ellara's ears. Groaning, she sat up, glancing at the city to realize that it was already stirring, including the merchants and soldiers preparing to leave. With haste, Ellara collected herself, then dashed to the woods, crawling up into a tree and finding a comfortable branch to wait for them on. Yawning widely between bites, she ate a light breakfast of cheese bread and grapes. She knew that today she'd have to stop for lunch if she wanted to keep herself from passing out, but that was for later worry. Once the chain of carts was within sight, Ellara dropped back to the ground and wandered ahead of the slow-moving convoy.

As the day pressed on, Ellara was forced to quicken her pace due to the soldiers waking up. Now that they were making good time, she had to jog to keep herself a decent distance ahead of them. She was careful to watch their surroundings, and her skin always crawled when she saw a shadow moving in the woods a good distance away. But that quickly passed from her mind as she came into sight of one of the tiny villages. Her stomach growled, reminding her of how long ago she'd eaten, so she made a mad dash for the settlement. Of course, the minuscule inn served minuscule portions in their meals, so Ellara had to double-order. By the time she was done, the caravan was almost on the village. She barely made it out of its limits before the group arrived.

After she had gotten in front of them again, her faithful pet arrived, and Ellara sent Robby an update, describing the eerie figures and the progress of the caravan. The bird arrived again while the merchants were stopped in another town, so she replied again, this time telling him that all was well, it seemed, but that she worried about the night. The looming mountains felt ominous to her, and Ellara had a sneaking suspicion that they were going to be the enemy before nightfall.

Sure enough, the shade of the mountains cast a premature nightfall over the world, and it cut the time the soldiers had practically in two. Still, the group pressed on, probably in fear of being caught in the open when true darkness fell, so Ellara climbed up into the mountains, high enough so she could see the group and its affairs from the plateau of rock she was settled on. However, her momentary peace was interrupted by a light flashing to life below her. Peering down, she watched as one of the creatures loosed a burning arrow in front of the first wagon. As the men broke down into confusion, the creatures chattered cheerily in success, providing Ellara with the chance to pull out her crossbow and its bolts.

Gingerly knocking one, she took aim and killed the original attacker, although his death went unnoticed while his friends fired a volley on the the escort. Just as Ellara was preparing to fire on the next, her target screeched and pointed to his fallen comrade. The creatures began to survey the ground below, looking for the source of the attack. It took Ellara only a few minutes to pick off the rest, but when she had finished, she discovered that two of the monsters had broken off from the fighting to investigate their lack of support. She only had time to take out one before the other began rushing forward. Abandoning her bow, she slid down the slick rock to the precipice below her, stealing twin rapiers from one of her victims before leaping down to confront her final enemy.

Upon seeing her, the creature stopped and, to her surprise, said, "Come now, must we fight? I could just take you home and you could be my children's playmate." Ellara laughed upon hearing this, and commented, "It's too late to stop the fighting. And I'd rather die!" The creature crouched, then pounced toward her. But her speed took the creature by surprise. Their tango lasted what seemed like hours before finally the desperate monster lunged at her chest. Ellara leaped up, flipping over its head and releasing her arms as she did. The two blades cut off its arms, and it screeched, dropping to the ground.

"At least I died honorably to the hands of a male..." To that, Ellara laughed and took off the wig, revealing her nature, to which the attacker responded with a rasping screech. In one last struggle, it threw its leg up, claws slicing through her flesh. Ellara screamed and crumpled, although she had the sense to stab the creature quickly before she lay still in the dirt. After this brief respite, she stood, gasping for air before looking down at the damage. The deep wound was bleeding profusely, and Ellara stared at it for a moment, dumbstruck. When she lifted her gaze, her eyes met a soldier who was frozen, staring at her from his position helping pick up the wagon. The last of the blood drained out of her face and Ellara fled back to the mountain's shadow, abandoning the weapons and wig as she went.

http://www.myspace.com/darkmagiciangirl_elyse

Eames Croft

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A woman? You’re sure about this.. you must swear to me that you saw her.

Eames ran his hands through his short hair as he heaved a sigh, the soldier guaranteed it. It wasn’t everyday you heard about a woman sighted on the battlefield, especially when she was wearing the garb of a Celisian military member. She was working with them though, so it was almost his obligation to go after this warrior woman and make sure she was alright. From the report, she had been hit by a last ditch kick and Eames knew better than anyone that these things had claws.

Alright, I’ll take your word on it, and against my better judgment mind you. Gather ten others, preferably one of them being a field med, and bring them to the back of the chapel. There’s an exit through the hills behind Sarsus and we’ll get out that way. Hopefully we can sneak back to the site where the blaze was set, and figure out where she would’ve gone.

Watching the man sprint to the men, Eames shook his head as he took a deep breath of the smoke stained air that hung around him, the fire on the back of the black carriage had only been finished off moments ago, and he’d thought the problems were over there, but of course, the job of a Knight Commander was never over it seemed. He grabbed his bow off the wall and slipped his dagger into the sheath that hung along his back and began walking up the hill towards the cathedral that stood tall in the center of town, his cover blown with the merchants, but if it was left to that or death, a cover is all too hard to live in as it is. As he reached the back of the cathedral, he threw open the door to the basement and leaned against the wall, waiting for the soldier to show up.

His wait wasn’t long as soon enough, ten wolves walked around the corner, catching Eames nod, and began following the steps into the crypt that sat beneath the cathedral and stood along the back wall, most trying to stay orderly, but a few obviously shaken by the bones and bodies that they were surrounded by. Eames stepped down, instantly hit by the stale air that reeked of rot and stepped over to a wall, holding up a wall for his men’s silence, which they all abided by. Leaning down, he swept all the bones off the shelf before him and found a small handle. Giving a hard tug, it didn’t budge, but on a second try, it slowly began opening, exposing a sewer system beneath the town.

Alright, from here on out, only speak if you must. Silence is to be kept as well as keeping your cover. These things see in the night, meaning we’re at a huge disability, so is our friend. Time is of the essence gents, time to be worthy of something. If we get separated, make an owl hoot sound, then count your numbers to see who's gone. If I'm gone, or part of the group missing and you hear that sound, you go back to the sewer entrance and barricade it, no matter what. We all have small medical kits for cuts, I think we’ll be ok.

Jogging down the sewer tunnel, they reached the end in only minutes and were free to breathe once again. Taking in the fresh air, he turned around and nodded to the men behind him and began the slow journey back to the original site of the small rescue that had taken place earlier in the night. Each minute felt like an hour, especially with the rough and uneven terrain giving them more trouble than the enemy would have been had they been seen. Eames could hear the gravel fall below them as they made their way, in his mind, he was praying that whoever this woman be, she would be worth all the trouble. He heard someone speaking behind him and bit his lip, his men were better trained than this and turned around, staring right at the head of one of the humanoids and suddenly his words left him, only his instincts took control before he could grasp the situation. His dagger was in the palm of his hand and before he could even try to find the rest of his men, the monstrosity had it’s head removed from it’s body, and Eames slowly dragged it back and laid it down. He then noticed that his team was much farther behind him, but he understood why. It was as-if a battalion of these beasts had just sprung up in-between them and Eames hadn’t even noticed them. God damn they’re sneaky! He couldn’t stay where he was, he’d be noticed in no time; so he pressed himself in against the rock that sat off the road. Putting his hands on his mouth, he made an owl-like sound then took his bow and closed his eyes.

He kept his eyes closed, certain that one of them would’ve heard him and investigated, but the grunts kept marching behind him, and Eames took the sign as a blessing and sprinted after a rock in the distance. What was a short run, seemed like an eternity under the starlight, but Eames made it, and luck stayed on his side as he had once again beat fate and gone unnoticed. As he breathed the fire out of his lungs, he stared in the direction he was heading and realized he was much closer to the burnt out wagons than he thought he was, the raging inferno that had saved them just earlier was now nothing that blackened wood and ash that littered the ground. Making his way around them, he searched for where the lieutenant would’ve been standing and after a couple minutes, he believed he was somewhere near, or at least at a place to begin looking. It was hard to find a single spot from an explanation given when there were much more pressing matters, but he figured it was good enough as he soon found an armless being lying on the ground, and next to it lay a short hair wig.

Hours had passed since the fight had taken place, and while the cool silence was settled all around them right now, he knew that this was wide open territory, anything could be around them and it was a little unnerving. Staring at the area around the wig, he found a trail of something he could only assume was blood leading off, and since the being laying on the ground was the only sign of a struggle, he began following it, and with each passing minute, he grew more and more surprised how far this woman had made it while bleeding this much. She’s a welcome soldier in my unit by all means, just as long as she doesn’t have that dark side like every other god damn wench..

As he continued, the trail got lighter and lighter, dropping Eames’s morale in finding her, and he was soon standing in a field, no trail to lead him or anything. A sound got his attention and he was soon sprinting in the only direction he had heard it from, but quickly slowed as two of the grumbling monsters now stood in front of him, like they had found something as well. Pulling his bow from his back, he palmed one arrow and quickly set the other and pulled back. Before the release was even audible, the first one was down; as the second began to react, the second arrow was already flying through the air, implanting itself in the skull of the grunt. Eames, with a sly grin of pride, began strolling to where they had been standing and glanced over the landscape.

So what were you two idiots lookin’ at, eh?

He questioned them as if they would answer him, but they stayed silent as all dead do, leaving him to only look through his own eyes, the stars offering dull light across the entire area, a rock formation just ahead and thus he began jogging through the grass once more to reach it. Upon closing in, he set his hand up on the hilt of his dagger and walked around the rock cluster, not finding anyone around the area, which absolutely drove him mad. In anger, he threw the blade at the base of the rock, hearing it stick in the dirt. With a huff, he walked over and pulled it out of the ground, but as he straightened up back up, he noticed the rocks had a small cavern. Leaning his head in a bit, he could make out the sight of a body, a woman’s body inside.

Hey! Hey! C’mon, we’ll get you patched up quick and we’ve gotta get back on the move. These things aren’t only relentless; they’re damn good trackers and right now making their way up to the outpost. We need to go, miss.. uh- whoever you are, and we need to go now!

No sooner had he started talking, he pulled out the small pocket that held wrapping and small vials of medicine and began to disinfect and cover her wounds.

Ellara

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The world was a blur to her - Every second seemed to drag on, as if time were trying to stop, even though that went against nature. As she ran, she tried to cover the wound, using the bandages from her chest to do so. Still, Ellara could feel that every crawling moment was dragging off a piece of her life, and it wasn't long before the first bandage was soaked through. It was strange, but in that freakish sickness that comes with dying, the crimson on the scarf was fascinating, almost addicting, and she found herself glancing down at it. In fact, she became so distracted by it that she didn't even notice she'd come to a walk, and a terrible limping one at that. This awakened her, and she assessed her body's situation while she looked for shelter.

Her breathing was ragged, shallow, and her throat was dry. Her heart was beating slowly, trying to defy the open wound that was sucking away the blood like a vampire. Her limbs, especially her arms, were slowly becoming unresponsive. The overall idea was clear: She was going to die if she didn't stop moving soon. Desperate, she dragged herself to a nearby outcropping of rock, curling up in the shelter that was provided there. She wasn't alone - a spider was weaving its silver strands there, but it glanced at her in her pitiful state and left her alone, probably thinking she wasn't worth taking the energy to go bite. Her glazed eyes dropped, and the uneven, relentless ground felt like the softest down mattress.

Although it would have pleased Ellara to no ends to just give up right then and there, to pass out and let herself die, she shook her head and pulled off the second bandage, folding it carefully and pressing it to the wound. Even though the bleeding had begun to stop, it was nowhere near done yet, and soon that, too was soaked. She then removed her undershirt and wadded it up, adding that to the defense while her body fell into convulsive shivers.

Only between the violent shudders did she hear the sniffing. Her entire being froze, and her eyes grew wide. The odd language pervaded the outside air as a seeming argument rose between two of the creatures. Ellara closed her eyes, willing herself to believe that it wasn't the end. I won't be discovered... they won't find me... I will get out of here... But as the sounds of approaching life reached her ears, Ellara recoiled, covering her head defensively, despite the fact that it wouldn't help her now. She was surprised, though, when they stopped, her heart pounding in her throat before sinking back to her stomach as they continued toward her. It's the end...

The voice that filled the air came as a shock. At first, Ellara was too stunned to move, but then the biting pain of medication seared through her leg. She bit her lip so hard that it bled as she stifled the scream wishing to break free from her form. Even though her body and mind resisted, the woman pushed herself upright, staring at the soldier incredulously for a brief moment before she began to work her way forward. Once she had reached the mouth of the hiding place, she stood, stumbling at first. Well, my bone marrow will be getting some exercise... She took a step forward, caught herself, then took another. Looking back at the man, she nodded, indicating for him to lead the way. She also put a finger to her lips, letting him know that she'd explain herself later.

As quietly as she could, Ellara limped along behind him, surprisingly keeping up with him even though occasionally her gaze at his feet would randomly move to be staring at the stars. Still, she pushed herself forward, mostly with promises of feeling better if they made it. She had picked up one of the rapiers as they'd passed, and would turn, ready to kill, at the slightest noise. Twice, she turned and caught an enemy, one of which she killed, the other her comrade claimed. Soon enough, they came to a small party of men who had been ambushed by the creatures, so they joined in the fight. Even in her delirious state, Ellara was only knocked back a little with her speed. Her main problem was that she was having trouble seeing enemies. Instead of attacking, she lagged back and defended peoples' backs. Once the enemy party was gone, the men filed back to the sewage system.

All of the guys seemed pretty unhappy with the smell, although it could have smelled like roses and Ellara wouldn't have known the difference. When they emerged into the crypt, she took a chance at a joke and said with as much cheer as could be mustered, "Maybe I'll just take a nap here!" A couple of men snickered and Ellara offered a tired smile, then crawled out into the base. Immediately, the bright lights of torches burned her eyes and she shrank back like a nocturnal creature. One of the soldiers standing nearby jumped up, grabbing for the sword that wasn't on his waist, before he realized his mistake and slowly sat back down.

Exposed by the firelight, Ellara could see the damage that her movement had caused. A couple of the soldiers from the rescue party bore wounds, although none were life-threatening. The entire convoy seemed to have aged somewhat since she had last seen them entering a village, which she wasn't sure was either good or bad. And the men, most of whom she'd never met, were looking her over. Finally, one of the guys, a regular at the bar she worked part-time cried, "My lady?!" At this point, Ellara shrugged. "Only if you want to get technical here." A fresh wave of exhaustion hit her and she dropped to her knees, grimacing. Even as she struggled to stand again, someone pushed her back down, turning her leg to where he could see it. Ellara grunted. I am NOT weak... After watching the medic for a moment, she turned her attention to the leader.

"Eames. It's nice to meet you. I'm Ellara Archiates, Triumvirate representative of the Celisian people. If it so interests you, I left Novus, breaking commands, to run ahead of your men, in an attempt to foresee any problems and call in Hannibal for backup. However... my plan was flawed, as I didn't factor in the notion that, hey, I might wind up almost literally on top of our enemies. I apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused... But you, your soldiers, these merchants, the towns... All of them are under my jurisdiction. I fully intend to see to it that they are helped in any way possible even..." Ellara trailed off for a moment as weariness gripped her with iron intensity. "...even if I have to do so personally."

She was struggling to stay conscious, but she could pass out on her own time. For now, there were more important things to discuss.

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Eames Croft

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Eames had to give her credit, the unknown woman sure could hold her own. Even with the severity of her wound, she was still able to fend them off; the group they ran into alone, the small force that attacked his own men whom had been stuck on the ridge trying to get back to Sarsus, she still pulled her weight in a fight. Arriving back to the city though, the sewers still seemed to go forever, and once they were finally in the crypt, sealing the door behind them was all Eames could do before letting the weariness just collapse upon him. He watched the woman be coddled as the men were all over her, trying to help where they could, practically carrying her away for treatment, giving him a small smile. At least the mission had been worth it, they’d rescued her and from what he could see, the couple lacerations amongst his men and they’d actually had a good run with death. Couldn’t say it would last, but their luck was good enough for now and he’d have to pray it continued.

Stepping out of the crypt, he made a quick check on the woman before hearing her name- then her rank. His eyes flashed white with rage as he turned back to her, raising a brow as he took a knee beside her while one of his men took a look at the wounds.

Now why would you do something stupid like that, Ellara? You know, the light really helps with my memory, because the last time I saw you, you gave me a nice little look while you were speaking with Robby.

He listened to her finish her statement, hearing around every other word and gave a small snarl as he looked at his troops. Unbelievable! Am I not trusted to do my own fucking job?! As he stood up, he shook his head, looking at his lieutenant and shook his head as he pulled him aside.

Don’t let her out of your sight. She’s who she says she is.. and while I hate to admit it, we need all the help we can get. I don’t know why we’re now safe-guarding a high ranking political member of Celis, but we’re far from Novus and if something happens to her while she’s around us, it’s every one of our heads. Make sure she heals up, I’ll take your extra duty along the front and make sure these walls are held. The church’s pigeons are gone, we’re practically surrounded. Any bright ideas?

Eames wasn’t only stressed, but with Ellara now practically part of his army, it felt like he’d been crushed by the mountain itself. She’d gone and gotten hurt, but it wasn’t his fault; thought Robby probably wouldn’t care. He straightened himself up and walked off towards the wall. His men were busy, securing the giant door was hard enough, but the wall that surrounded the city had hardly any kind of walkway to set watch on, but also no area for the enemy to cross unless they wanted to just jump the fifteen-ish feet to the ground. The only stations were the three posts where he already set his best archers, and as long as they held, the door was the only possible breaking point.

Walking back to Ellara, he pulled the sword from one of the private’s sheaths and stuck it in the ground before her and took a breath.

You say that we’re all under your jurisdiction now? Then you better call a revolt and have my usurped. Right now, it’s my job to make sure all these people are safe, just like you, but I’ve got a bit more experience than you have, so I think I’m gonna take command of this one. Do whatever you want within the city, but all these matters with what’s outside the walls will be mine. They already have a legion outside according to those that can see the glints of steel and armor, much much more than we are probably ever going to see. So please, go heal up, and make sure that the others are alright. After that, you can join us here if the attack commences, or do whatever. Just remember, Celis isn’t here to save us, there is no government now.. it’s just us.

Standing up, looked up at an archer who was waving a torch, signaling an enemy advance. Quick on his feet, Eames raced towards the nearest post and to the top he went. As he stood next to one of the archers, he took out his own bow and dipped an arrow in oil, lighting it from the flame of a nearby torch. Without aiming, he fired up into the night, letting the fiery arrow land amongst the crowd, accidently impaling one of the enemy troops, but it was enough of what Eames wanted. The light from just one arrow light up along the front, showing the true mass of this army that must’ve been marching to ambush them here already, a planned siege against the Wolf Cohort whom hadn’t been expecting any kind of fight outside of the small squads that had tried to get them before. This was much worse than anyone could’ve expected, there was no way, even being the best troops that Celis had to offer, that they could hold out very long against a force like this.

They marched slowly towards the stone walls, their black armor shining like a swarm of hornets under the light. With each movement, the stars show a new one, in this seemingly endless wave that was marching up hill. Across their backs, the horror of their planning really showed as the ladders were carried along their troops. At least a dozen, maybe even two dozen of these ladders, the stepping stones into the outpost, were being hauled in, ready for use when this horde was ready to assault. What was behind them was all the more frightening though, a large wagon was being pulled by about thirty of these things, and as it got closer, the battering ram was easily noticed by the sharpened end of the heavy ram, all the easier for these gates to fail. All of this was shown to Eames as he stood in the deck of the small tower, and as he took it in, he stood without showing fear, hoping that it might rub off on his men or act as a sign of courage, but inside, he was dreading every other moment that would be taking place sooner or later. The fiery arrow he’d shot earlier was extinguished, but he knew that they stood just outside of the range of the other archers that stood around him, and even if they decided to come rushing in, they’d eventually run out or be overrun by the sheer numbers.

Well gents, it’s been an honor fighting with ya’ll. Whenever this starts, it won’t be during the day, so make sure when the sun rises, you get your rest. It’s only a few more hours from now, and they shouldn’t start any kind of attack if we could push them back that easily with the entire sky being our ally. Keep an eye out though, if you see scouts getting close, take them out. Anything else changes from their current position, alert everyone.

Walking down the stairs, Eames was emotionless. They could hold out a night, maybe two. Then they’d be out of arrows, out of oil; and while the town’s supplies could still be used, they would need everyone to pitch in and help out the soldier’s efforts. He shook his head, looking at the supply chain that had never even made it halfway across it’s journey and sighed, knowing it wouldn’t finish it.

Hours passed, the sunlight began to streak across the sky and Eames sat up from where he had nodded off only an hour or so ago. Breathing in the fresh air, he blinked, watching the bustling soldiers running back and forth to their lookout positions before he was called once more, the tower above him was signaling once more. Shaking his head, he rubbed at his eyes as he walked up the staircase to where they were and when he stared at the soldier, waiting for an answer, he was directed by a pointing finger out the small window. Small huts had been put up all across where the troops had stood the night before, but the worst part was that along the far side, more of them were marching, here in the light of day! They wore coverings over their eyes, pitch black they appeared though too far for Eames to really tell. His eyes couldn’t believe the rotten luck that he’d been dealt and everything that had worked out for them in the past seemed like a bitter taste that was only being overtaken by a worse one. Turning back, he leaned out a window facing towards the town and looked for the lieutenant, finding him in the crowd along with Ellara, and yelled:

They have some sort of covers on their eyes, they’re still moving out there! Ready the men and tell them to get into their positions!

Looking back out, he grinned as he gave a quick shrug of his shoulders and picked up his long bow. I better get a medal for this.

Ellara

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When Eames opened his mouth, Ellara suddenly understood Robby's rage toward him. She hadn't shown him any bias in the Citadel - In fact, she had treated herself as his lesser, lowering her gaze in his company like he was a king. Further, she had never said anything about staying. Never had she planned on attacking. She hadn't wanted to fight, except she had no idea what had happened to the Raisean and she'd felt the group would have been slaughtered if the secret attackers weren't taken out. She suppressed these feelings, though, choosing not to reply. He probably thinks I'm trying to hold some kind of power over him. But he's wrong... I'm just a soldier. I'm not even really a Triumvir. If I died, the only ones who would notice would be the orphans whose home I sponsored and the builders whose jobs I helped contract. Maybe a couple of soldiers... But if he thinks that I'm trying to undermine his authority, he is gravely mistaken. I'd rather just not even be here...

When he became preoccupied and left, Ellara glanced down at the man binding her leg. He was now sweating, nervous probably because he didn't want to mess up. Groaning, Ellara reached out and took the bandage, finishing the wrap in a matter of moments and standing up, facing the group. With a low voice, she said with as much tenderness as could be driven out of her being, "Look. My rank, my title, my JOB have nothing to do with anything. If I had never gotten any of them, if I'd just been a soldier, unemployed in the city, and I found out about this, you know what I would've done? The same thing. As a representative of the people, I have to BE the average person. Therefore, I'm on the same level as you! So don't waste your time over me. Don't treat me differently. I'm only a politician when I have to put on a fancy outfit and pretend to be someone I'm not. This job won't change my identity. It hasn't yet and I'm not going to let it."

Some of the men seemed a bit shocked, but Ellara had stopped caring. Just because she spoke for Celis didn't mean she should be coddled and cooed every step of the rest of her life. That was ridiculous! Still, they seemed uneasy. And whatever Eames's opinion of her, he was probably right: She was taking up space in his unit, and draining their supplies. No more. Turning, she climbed up the nearest set of stairs up onto the wall, then jumped down to the other side. Fire raced up her leg as she landed, but she kept herself composed, leaning against the wall until the current patrol had walked by. Taking a deep breath and steeling herself, she then ran full-force back to the mountain, which meant she was almost literally flying over the Earth. Before she could be noticed by the guards, she had disappeared into its shadow, and the night had swallowed her whole.

As the night came to a close and the red sun laced into the sky, Ellara's form appeared, returning the same way she had come. She was a sight to be seen, though - Her body was covered in a gray-ish black fluid, hair matted, bruise-like bags under her eyes. She had regained her limp, and was wincing with each step she took. At long last, she reached the wall, climbing up it before coming to rest at the top. A startled soldier looked down at her.

"My lady, wha-?"

Ellara cut him off with a strangled laugh, then she walked down the stairs. Taking her time, she found an empty privy and changed, then exited and ate a meager breakfast, which she'd retrieved from her pack that had come back with her. Also returning from the journey was her crossbow and all the bolts she'd shot. She carefully pulled out the medicated bandage she'd removed while out of the base and reapplied it to her wound, a light grimace on her face. She also took out a bloody bandage and rinsed it with water, using a clean spot to scrub a majority of the dark fluid from her flesh and hair. After throwing away the now useless string of cloth, she wove through the throng of people, finding a lieutenant. In a low voice, she began explaining herself, until she was interrupted by Eames.

Abandoning the lieutenant, Ellara joined Eames on the wall and looked out at the mass of creatures. Rubbing her eyes, she caught a patrolling soldier as he passed, nodding to his bow. "May I borrow that?" When she took the weapon, she tested how much strength was required to draw it, then stole one of the man's arrows. Once she had lit the tip on fire, she gave no one the chance to protest as she swung the bow upward and fired. At first, the shot seemed random, but then, as the speck of light made an arch in the sky, it became clear where it was headed. It was almost too far to the left, barely catching the battering ram's side, but after a few moments, the whole thing burst into a nasty green flame. Black smoke rose from the giant torch as it burned, and the enemy lines stopped. The creatures broke into chaos for several minutes before deciding to abandon the weapon.

Shrugging, Ellara handed back the weapon and said to no one in particular, "You'd think they'd have noticed their missing oil reserves." After a short pause, she continued. "Or maybe the leaks in their water barrels and wine-skins. ...Or, perhaps the nasty smell coming off the meat they've been continuously gorging themselves on." Looking at Eames, she offered him a sly smile, then she shook her head. "If you think those things look nasty, you should've smelled the inside of a rotting one. I think that was honestly the most disgusting thing I've ever done." She watched as a few of the creatures that had gotten up for a midnight snack suddenly dropped dead, screeching in pain and clutching their middles as the neurotoxin ate through the lining of their stomachs. Damn, that stuff was expensive, too. While she wasn't really interested in being commended for her late-night moving, Ellara felt a prick of pride appear deep within her, although she was more than prepared for some lecture on how dangerous that was or how idiotic she must be. In fact, she was almost expecting it from Eames. She'd have probably gotten along well with him if he wasn't so prejudiced. Ah well... He doesn't have to love me, just respect me. If he can't do either, that's alright - I don't have to stick around.

Sitting down, Ellara pulled her lightweight leather armor out of her pack, which was all she could have managed on that trip, and began to pull it on.

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Eames Croft

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It wasn’t everyday someone took his bow, but Eames stayed quiet on the matter, but as he she fired, he looked for her target and saw it. I see, you lil sneak. You went out there for your own gear and to set everything up eh? Well I won’t be outdone today. As the battering cover went up in flames, Eames leaned back against the wall, the armies below him enveloped in chaos and death a welcome treat to what they’d been giving his own men the entire night; and all caused by this woman. Sure, she was political, but credit was due and Eames dropped his head in a nod to her. He was impressed in the way that she took herself, even evading his own lieutenant on two occasions, someone he trusted more than anything, and took it upon herself to make the first move. Shaking his head, he extended a hand to her, but it was interrupted as an arrow flew through the window, landing just beside his head.

Moving to the front of the room, he looked through the side to see the army at a wild charge, highly unorganized, yet highly dangerous due to the soldier’s vengeance and dire need for the supplies they harbored just inside the walls. Glancing out the side, the men were preparing for the soldiers he’d let them know about, but on a second glance, the ladders were already setting up along the wall as more and more troops gathered in front of the door, beating against the strained wood and steel bands, the locks would hold though unless they had something to pry or were let inside, two things Eames was sure that would never completely take place.

Arrows showered down just behind the wall, the Wolf Cohort’s ground fighters backing up for cover, but the beasts began to move forward. An easy fix to the ladders but when Eames reached back to grab a torch, it was already extinguished. Dropping it to the ground, he looked around, eager to find something to light them with, but failed as the sun was now up, and all the light sources around the city were either out or so dull they weren’t standing out in his quick glances. Looking to the other tower, arrows ravaged the wall as his own archers attempted to fire out, but were quickly subdued and held under cover. Turning back to the people still inside, now aware of the battle’s start, Eames took a moment to think before placing his orders.

Get lit torches out here quick, and keep them on hand. These ladders are short and cheaply made, but they’ll do the job, hopefully they’ll burn just as well.

Without a second word from his soldiers, Eames turned to his side and pulled himself slowly out the back window, and grabbing a hold of the edge of the tower, began making his way towards the wall it was connected with. As he neared the edge, he could see the beasts crawling up, now jumping over the wall and landing hard, but they seemed all too hearty as they stood straight up and began fighting with the sword and spearmen that laid wait below. Closing his eyes, Eames tried to imagine him in a more happier place, even somewhere- anywhere else than here, even that Ellara politician could be there, it didn’t matter; and with another leap, Eames landed on the top of the wall.

He had no time for balance, stumbling more than enough as he began running across the top of the wall. Arrows zipped past him, but he never turned to even think of one hitting him and as he neared the first ladder, he dropped his shoulder and slammed into the soldier that had been climbing, sending it back down as he kept a hold of the ladder, but Eames falling back as well, towards his own men. He grabbed a tight hold to the wall though, not wishing to fall and lose the job he’d just set for himself. Pulling himself up once again, he sprinted for the next one, but as a grunt crawled over, Eames set a hard knee into it’s shoulder, but it braced, catching his leg. Thinking quickly, Eames drew his dagger and thrust it into the eye socket of the beast before turning to his side and pulling the thing up for use as a shield of sorts. Damn these things are heavy. Dropping the corpse down the ladder, it too fell as he kicked it out to the army; he, grinning as he began for the next ladder, two more to go.

The next one fell easy, their archers trying harder to hit him, but finally having his footing, he was able to keep up, just ahead of the arrows. The last ladder up became tricky though, two grunts leaping over the wall and Eames thought he had the easy knock, but it was ill timed. As Eames went to kick it, an arm reached up and grabbed his ankle, trying to drag him down or at least hold him still for one of the arrows to make sure he had taken his last breath. Reaching back for his dagger, he got a finger on the handle, but a hard yank from his captor and he pulled it out just enough, watching it fall to the ground below, but at this awkward position, Eames kept his other foot still and instead pulled an arrow from his quiver and stabbed it into the beast’s wrist, and taking advantage of the newly found freedom, heaved the ladder back where it came from. Giving a small limp, he quickly ignored where the claws had dug into his flesh and made a final sprint for the last tower, and as the last wave of arrows passed, he dove for the same top he had earlier climbed across, but this time was unlucky. His hand slid across the rough stone, scraping his hands and in the pain he let go, falling down to where the stairs begun and with a hard roll, his body found ground. He didn’t have time for the pain yet though as he looked up at his handy work, but it was a short lived achievement. The ladders were pushed back up, this time there were about six and much heavier.

A sigh was all he could muster as his lieutenant rushed to his side, handing him the dagger which he’d dropped earlier, causing Eames to smile brightly and pat the man’s back. It wasn’t usual where happiness was this golden in the heat of battle, but this dagger was special to Eames. Shaking his head, he watched a few more grunts begin jumping the wall and how his men were quick to meet them with their blades, but his first real joy was found when the first ladder went up in flames. It was a sigh of relief that took over from him at that moment and when the arrows ablaze hit the next few, he knew that they had the day won, or at least for now, a small rest was better than none. Running over through his men, they held up their hands in a small cheer. As all six of the ladders stood burning, the door was the only entrance that they had to hold and it seemed secure enough, the endless battering and beating it took on the outside was only known to the ones doing so, but all was good for now. A few of his men circled around him, two spearmen he would remember more than most because they only said two words, crazy bastard. It was a good morale to keep around here.

Wandering around for a moment, he found Ellara and gave a small shrug of his shoulders as he took a breath, pulling his bow from around him and sat down on the ground in the middle of the “marketplace” as it had once been called. The sun was high in the sky, the afternoon warmth taking place, but this elevation and season; it was absolutely perfect out to Eames. He breathed in deep, the crisp air and laid back against the gravel that made up the ground around him. Taking a quick drink of the ‘skin that hung at his waist, he recapped it before hearing an alarming sound, wood splitting. Pulling himself off the ground, he leaned forward and ran down towards the wall, finding his contingent standing amongst themselves, just staring at the door.

Alright, well I dare say that they might have decided to be a little brutish. We did kinda throw their ladder idea aside.

Looking around, Eames looked at the black and dirty faces of the men around him, many with cuts and scratches, others, he recognized, not standing there at all. It was depressing to lose a single man as he had the night before, but now these monsters had taken more from him, something he did not wish to continue, though in his heart he knew that it must.

Alright. All archers to the cathedral tower and the defense towers along the inside of the wall, or any other high point you can find overlooking the entryway. Spearmen on the sides of the entryway, swordsmen take up the back middle of the line, we’ll form a tight line allowing them to enter, but when they hit the soldiers at the back, the spears at the sides and the arrows up above with rain down, we’ll fill that spot with bodies, just make sure it’s not your own.

Stepping back from the group, he pointed out a few spots which were easy enough for the archers to place themselves in perfect view of the gate and turned to Ellara. Well, we’ve got a couple minutes. Any brilliant ideas left?

Ellara

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Ellara had just finished pulling on her bracers when the arrow whizzed past Eames's head. Well, that's lovely. Good thing they're mad. Even as he rushed off, she turned away from where he'd gone and looked down the wall. A couple of the brutes had crawled up and were dropping down into the town. Great, just great. Taking the gentler stairs, Ellara emerged at the bottom and picked up the twin rapiers which she'd left below. These too had come back with her from her trip, and now she was glad she'd chosen them. A couple of men had formed a ring around where the creatures were dropping, but Ellara shook her head. Not a good idea... Yelling as loudly as she could, she cried, "Break your formation NOW, scatter, and rush them as they drop!"

The men, not used to receiving orders from her, were slow to respond, and suddenly, one of the monsters leaped from the wall, slashing down one poor soldier's face and tearing at his throat in rage. Although the man was dead, Ellara ran forward, beheading the creature, allowing it to drop onto the limp body. Well, at least they're paying attention now... Even as the soldiers picked off their enemies, Ellara ran around the edge of the wall, cutting down those who made it into the village. She looked up at the wall to see Eames rushing by, taking out ladders as he went. Unfortunately, the distraction caused her to fail to notice the grunt that had crept up behind her. The beast had tackled her from behind and was unsheathing his weapon when half-turned and caught him in the head with the hilt of her sword. Standing, she took a deep breath, then continued her skim of the perimeter. Only after the enemies were gone did she walk back toward the place she'd been.

She watched Eames give his commands, then sat down beside him, taking a sip of water and offering some to him. From her crouched position, she had to look up at him, and as she turned her gaze back to the front, she caught sight of his leg. "I think patching that up is a brilliant idea." Picking a first aid kit off a dead archer nearby, she applied the cleaning salve to the wound, then a layer of gauze, then a bandage on top of that. Having finished, Ellara stood back up and stared at the gate, her mind rolling over in its lack of sleep and tossing some memories from her soiree at her. At fist, she grumbled, but then, a tiny flash of information flew past. After calling it back, she mumbled to Eames.

"An answer you're probably more interested in is that whatever it is protecting their eyes is not sturdy. The material can't take any kind of heat, even the wafting drafts of a flame. Perhaps if we forced them to move through the gate past fire, the protection would melt off and they'd be exposed to the sun, which might stun them enough to give us an advantage from the start."

As the lady spoke, one of the inner boards of the wood cracked, and she grimaced. "But my brain isn't being very cooperative at the moment. It's your turn."

Turning, she waved a lieutenant over and nodded to Eames, then she turned back and joined the group of men, who stood in formation. They all were at attention, watching their leader and waiting for either instruction or battle. She took to the wall, leaning against it and holding the two weapons by her side. While she liked to lead by example, Eames was right: He was far more experienced in battle tactics than she was, and he was certainly more qualified to lead these men.

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Eames Croft

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Hearing Ellara, Eames was all but completely confident. His own schemes had kept them alive thus far, but he wasn't sure exactly how much longer he could keep it up. Sure they'd won the battle for the day, but as the evening began settling down over them, how were they supposed to hold the advantage. Pulling one of the archers to the side as he was running to his post, Eames quickly thought about what Ellara had mentioned about the headgear that the grunts had to wear just to see during the day light. Alright, not even the wafting drafts of a flame.

Go to the storeroom in the cathedral and then the town storage. Get me the numbers of how much oil we have in keeping and how many torches there are. Make it quick, soldier, or you're gonna let everyone of your brothers down.

Watching the archer nod, then quickly sprint off in the direction of the high church steeple, Eames turned back to the men, all eager in their formations for what would lie next in their day. Most of the swordsmen were leaning against the heavy tower shields that they set before them, the only protection against the rush when the gate eventually fell. He shook his head, glancing at Ellara who'd taken a break from being the one person he'd been asking questions from, and when he actually had time to prepare, he really couldn't quite deduce anything.

Hearing the sound of footsteps, he turned around and watched the approaching archer. Coming across the gravel, he began to slide across the rocks, coming to a stop once Eames extended his arm, bracing himself just as much as stopping the runner from colliding, and with a tired breath, he began to explain.

Sir, the cathedral houses casks upon casks, more than enough to keep the lights in the city burning bright for days still. The city storage is only more of the same, more than I, myself, could only imagine. There's more than enough oil and torches to make sure we can make our stand, right Commander?

Eames smiled, waving a few more of the idle archers to join him in a small group.

Alright, here's the deal. Go and get two casks of oil from the city storage and bring them down here. The rest of ya, start pulling down these market stands and piling them along the entryway as well as along the front of the wall. Make it quick. When you begin running out of wood and fabrics, go and start breaking apart the wagons and carriages. Build these stacks as high as you can, and when you've done a fair height, begin throwing oil over it, don't be stingy. Have some of the other footmen to help you, if they're not on the line right now, make them work.

Watching them run off with their jobs, he ran upstairs, glancing down from the side of the window, watching the sheer numbers of the beasts still clawing against the doors, having already pulled a lower band, steel band, off the door. They were extremely strong, Thank the gods these things can't hold themselves in a fight against us, if I'd gotten stuck with the Hanballian or smaller legions, I would've had a bit of a problem bringing these things down. Watching them work for a moment longer, Eames hopped out of the post as the two casks were rolled down, the soldiers that had done the work still questioning his motives. These questions were quickly answered.

Alright, douse the outside edges of the door in the oil, use a generous amount too, keep it burning as long as possible. We're gonna turn the tides for now.

The officer started to turn away from Eames, but Eames refused to let him get away with it. With a small shove, Eames's order had been complied with and the two that had walked the barrels down began throwing the oil up against the wooden door. As the wood slowly became saturated, Eames watched with all but a prayer, as the first fire came in contact, the fire quickly spreading up along the sides as the heat soon became unbearable to be within ten feet of. As he moved back, so did the men in front of him, but all eyes were on the door, weakening with every second, but as the timbers fell to the ground, they sat ablaze right in the path of where these monstrosities would be running through. Slowly, the door burnt into a lovely, hellish creation that, while white hot, was finally hollow.

The beasts wasted no time in rushing through the gate, and just as Ellara had reported earlier, the fire blinding them as the eye protection they wore was melted, and quickly they fell to the blades and arrows of his men. Pulling out his own bow, Eames lined up a shot on one of the creatures and watched as it came out of the flaming door, it's hands up beside it's head in the blind rush and without a second of hesitation, Eames's arrow found a home inside the skull of the monster, dying with it's hand stuck to it's own head. It was a sickening feeling, taking on an opponent as it was blind and stupid, running straight into death without a second though, yet Eames found no remorse for these beings. He'd seen what they were capable of, especially during the night, and while the "battle" continued, he realize that the stand was theres, especially as long as these monsters kept flooding into their swords and spears, creating a wall of death.

Turning away from the nightmarish scene that filled the entry to the outpost, Eames watched as the men he'd earlier posted for the job of lining the walls with lumber and wreckage continue at their work, every so often taking a glance at the carnage that was before them and giving a small grimace. They knew it shouldn't be this easy as well as Eames, but this was war and when it came to survival, people always did whatever they could. As the oil was poured over the remains of a merchant wagon, Eames shook his head before turning back to the reckless charge that had been continuing. He'd worried earlier that these things would have much less trouble, and he was delighted to see his plan working for the moment.

Suddenly everything stopped though, the enemies rushing through the gate had become an afterthought. His own men though, began moving forward towards the smoldering ashes that still remained along the ground. STOP YOU FOOLS!!! As they came to a stop, Eames had never been so agitated with his own troops, them acting as morons would. It was understandable though, as most hadn't slept in over a day, just like himself, and he felt it completely. The exhaustion had been kept at bay by the adrenaline that flooded his veins, but it wore off with the day, causing his body to seemingly lag in the real time. The men began to step back and the workers he'd called on earlier began moving closer and closer to the gate, stopping once they reached the entryway, and as the evening began to darken more and more to the night, the piles were set. As the day stood at a calm, Eames began to gather his men together once more.

Alright, all archers keep torches and pouches of oil on hand. You'll be on watch all night, taking shifts as we've all learned. I'll set up in the church steeple and begin as dusk hits. These things are far more dangerous during the night so everyone, and I mean everyone, must be on full alert. Footmen, you fought well today, second team take the forward positions and let the first take rest up by the marketplace. Stay keen though, if you're called into action, be ready for whatever hell they bring on us. We'll take shifts now, pile these bodies up in the arch where the door had been. We don't need them just sitting around here and it'll give them just one more thing to climb over and give us a hint of their invasion. If these things try breaching the walls, archers light an arrow and fire them into the piles around the walls. This should light the entire place up just like day and we'll turn the advantage into our own. We'll keep torches along the walls, just watch for the sneaking shadows. I'll try to keep an eye on the activity outside the walls, and if something is coming, I'll start ringing the church bell. That's the big alert, that calls for the entire army to move to where I order.

Glancing around, he saw the slow nods of his men, tired as he was if not even more so. He'd done what he wanted, try to ensure that he was the right leader for the men, and thus far it seemed that he'd done it well. The night would be the final strike in it though, and as he began making his way towards the tower, he took a deep breath and looked at it, high as it was, and shook his head. What the hell are you getting yourself into Mr. Croft? Gonna get yourself killed at this rate..

Ellara

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Even watching the few men move, Ellara and the rest of the soldiers had nothing to do but sit and wait while their leader was lost in thought. Seconds that ticked by felt wasted, useless, and suddenly, she felt the urge to do something. However, the return of the archer suppressed the impulse, and Ellara watched Eames, as everyone else did. When he began issuing commands to a few soldiers, the majority of his men began to rustle, fidgeting nervously with anxiety over the coming plans. Only Eames knew what was going on for the moment, and a part of Ellara. She'd figured he might take her tip, and he had chosen to do just as she would have done, which she found rather interesting. Maybe, under different, perhaps better circumstances, I could get along with him nicely... Maybe.

She suddenly came to the realization that she no longer carried her crossbow, so when Eames moved to the wall, she followed, but simply picked up her pack and moved back among the soldiers. A low rasping sound jarred Ellara's ears and she glanced about, looking for the source. Her eyes fell on a soldier who was nervously racking his blade with a whet stone. Frowning, Ellara made her way over, then caught his hand and gently repositioned it. "Easy, soldier. You'll be busy in a few moments. You might as well do this right in the meantime." The young man stared at her like she was a rabid dog choosing whether or not to attack him. This fear was echoed in his voice as he spoke, "S-Sorry, miss. Won't...Won't happen again!" Ellara just rolled her eyes, then turned as the oil was delivered.

Although commands had been issued, Ellara wasn't really included in them. However, she leaped up and surveyed their enemies, then dropped back down and watched as a group of the gentlemen tried to remove the cork from a barrel. She knew this was no time to be squeamish, so picking up the alien blade she'd appropriated, she turned its razor-fine edge and smiled. Just how effective are you? Having the soldiers back up, she raised the blade and brought it down. It sliced through the wood like it was cream, and left a bow shape from where her swing had met a minimum at the middle of the barrel. The guys all looked at her and she tossed them one of her extra blades. "Just don't lose it. I'm going to need that back." The soldier with the weapon jogged off, and she turned, surveying the progress.

Three men were leaning against a nearby building, watching the motion, and Ellara slid over beside them. They snickered at some of their allies, which made the girl want to slap each of them silly. Instead, she said in a cool voice, "Do you know what happened to the footman who didn't work?" The trio jumped and glared at her, but she smiled charmingly. "They died on the front lines because their peers wouldn't back them up." After the slackers had exchanged glances, they split up and began to aid various groups. Putting her hands on her hips, Ellara shook her head, then turned and watched the door. It was now dripping oil from the inner workings of the material, so their side was saturated. Suddenly, the center was lit on fire and the entryway became just that.

Ellara was quick to relocate her second blade as the onslaught began. Properly armed, she slipped through the flame during a mild null and caught the enemies as they were going in. Since the flame was so hot, the creatures weren't able to see even as they were crossing the threshold. Ellara sat at the edge, sweat beading up steadily across the left side of her body that was exposed, but because she was so close to the fire, nothing could approach her without being blinded. She simply sat there as bait, then danced forward to kill before sliding back and waiting for the next brute. Then a huge, sluggish, gnarled-looking grunt limped forward, one of his legs tiny and almost useless. It barked a short command and the company withdrew, leaving the flame and their slaughter behind them. The commander stared at Ellara for a long, hard moment before turning and limping back amidst the throng.

Jumping back through, Ellara was greeted by the same medic who had taken care of her leg. "Merciful heavens! Do you even pay attention to what you're doing?!" Glancing down, she could see that her entire arm was covered in second-degree burns from the exposure, and her pants and shirt were sticking to her side from what was likely milder burns. "No wonder you're in trouble with the other Triumvirs - you've no sense of self-preservation!" It took until after he had grabbed her arm and pulled out a salve for him to feel the cold flame that was radiating from her gaze. When he looked up, he quickly let go of her and turned away. Grabbing his shirt, she pulled him close and growled, where only he could hear, "Maybe I shouldn't be so selfless if these men are anything like you. And if I hadn't been so selfless, your ass would be their dinner thanks to their archers hiding in the shadows." Releasing him, Ellara added, "Think on it."

It took a few moments for Ellara to compose herself again, but once she had, she gave the nearby group of men, who had been watching the rather egregious interaction, a sheepish grin. Then, with a ghost of a smirk still on her lips, she began to walk off, calling back in a polite tone, "I think I'll address my own wounds from now on, thank you very much!" Casting her eyes about, she located Eames and trotted the short distance to catch up to him. He was walking toward the church. As a joke, Ellara said cheerily, "I didn't know you were a very eclectic man!"

A brief pause passed, then she continued with a more serious tone. "Look, I know you haven't slept in longer than I have. Humans aren't nocturnal, and your men are counting on you. You've got to be able to think, because I'm sure that right now, they really can't. If you want to rest up there, I'll keep an eye out for you and wake you up if anything happens, alright? I just think that'd be safer for everyone."

After waiting for a reply, she grinned and added, "Nice trick with the fire. No clue where that idea came from." And while he may have thought she was joking, Ellara probably would never have said anything about her giving him the intelligence. In fact, when it was all said and done, it would probably seem like she had never been anywhere near the fighting, and had just left on a short trip at around the same time they had. By doing so, she hoped to ease the tension between the Wolf cohort and the Triumvirate, allowing them to bathe in the glory that would ensue should they survive.

Of course, there was always that temperamental "if."

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Saint

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Robert had but received the message Ellara had sent him before he started preparation to leave the city. It had only taken a handful of hours for his own personal guard of fifty men to make it from his estate and be fully equipped and ready to leave. It had been his thought that perhaps whatever was ailing northern commerce would overlook his small group of soldiers. They could also move more stealthily because of the small size of the unit, and quickly due to the horses they rode. A small grim look befell his face as him and his men departed the city, although they were lightly armed and armored they still looked to be a force reckoned with.

Robby had donned a set of chain mail armor instead of his own armor, it was lighter and he had decided that's what he was looking for. Over one shoulder hung a short sword known as a Xiphos, and at his hip a longsword was strung hanging from it's scabbard. Over all of this his men had worn grey/green mottled wool cloaks, they had been slightly torn and roughed up to make it so that they wouldn't be seen as well in woodland areas. Something one of Robert's friends had introduced him to in his earlier days, he knew that stealth and surprise was always an advantage in battle. And with the small amount of men he had with him, they would need every advantage possible if they encountered an enemy. Especially since the odds of them being outnumbered if an enemy was actually encountered were high.

Robert decided to move about a mile away from the road, following it's basic course unless a more direct route was possible. The last known position of the forces he had sent was near a good sized town to the north, he figured that he would take his men to the town where he could get some militia together and go out hunting for the lost men. It took them awhile to get to their destination but they traveled quickly and made good time. About four miles out from the town Robby thought it prudent that they ditch the tired horses and make the rest of the way on foot through the woods. He ordered his men to pad the rest of their armor and weapons so they could move silently. Moving his short sword around his back he made it easier to grab in case of an attack, in the thick woods a longsword wouldn't be much use. Ordering his men to move forward they moved low to the ground and slowly, almost taking them half the time the ride had taken to make the trek through the last four miles of woodland.

Most of the men around him he had known since he was young, they had trained and fought together bonding and becoming good friends. It was something that made Robert think about the choices he made, that every time he asked these men.. his friends to fight in a battle he was potentially asking them to die. Shaking his head he watched as day turned to night and things became less discernible. Although the town ahead of them could not be see it gave off an eerie glow. It was obvious that something was wrong, most towns were darker than this at night. That and the fact that on the journey there Robert had seen an excess amount of smoke rising from that general vicinity.. Robby knew that something had gone terribly and horribly wrong.

His men continued to move stealthily through the woods, it was something that made him proud. Although most of the men here had only seen a few skirmishes they acted with ease born from practice. Most of them didn't even look too concerned about their current situation, their eyes were filled with watchfulness. Their minds and bodies alert for any danger that might befall them. When Robby judged that the tree's would come to an end quickly, he ordered his men to start crawling towards the edge of the woods. And it seemed like his order was processed and followed just in time, black robed figured suddenly came from no where and ran past them. One of the people stepped on his hand and Robert buried his face in the leaves and grimaced.

As if the appearance and disappearance of these men had awoken his own, they seemed to move with an even greater stealth than before. Like seeing those strange cloaked figures had somehow awoken them to a reality that was not there before. When they reached the edge of the woods the truth of what was occurring in the town hit him and his men hard. Bodies lay strewn along the ground in front of the walls, and an even greater pile seemed to take up most of the gate way. The gate itself was gone and men seemed to be guarding the walls in fear. Turning around he made a slight hooting noise and his second in command crawled up beside him whispering in his ear.

"Sir? What should we do?"

Shaking his head Robert thought for a moment before replying, "There isn't much we can do. I want you to take three men with you and get out of this predicament. Go back to Novus and get the rest of the Raisean Legion. Alert them to this little problem and tell them to double time it here. But wait.." Robert took his ring off that marked his position and put it in the hands of his officer. "Take this as proof of what I say. And hurry, this town doesn't have much time."

The man nodded resolute, seeming to crawl a few feet away and then disappear. Robert turned his focus back to the battle. It seemed as if there had been a short pause in the onslaught that he had missed. He waved his hand in a circle motion and his men got up crouching and moved around him, forming a tight circle. Speaking with authority and anger at the enemy he looked at each of them, "We need to get down there and into that town, we may be few but our numbers might help this town hold out longer. I know charging down to the main gatehouse doesn't seem like the smartest option, but we can't risk sending a messenger down there and giving away our position. As we move we stick together and stay in a tight formation. I don't want heroics, you all need to try and survive. The less of us that makes it through that gate, the less of a reason for the charge at all. Understood?"

His men nodded grimly but seemed to accept his orders with finality. These men he had known for much of his life, and they were more loyal to him than the average troop. Taking a large stick he reached into his pack and pulled out a standard with a large red M, the letter was on a background of red and would be easy to pick out in the confusion of a fight. Handing it to one of his friends the man took it up and waited. Turning back towards the town yet again he pulled out his short sword and called for a swift forward movement. Although they weren't running they were moving quickly down the small hill towards the town, they had formed a rough circle with men facing all sides. Halfway to the gatehouse he spotted a large group of the robed warriors rushing up from where they had just came. He quickly issued orders to his men and the better part of his forces moved to face this new threat. They continued to move towards their destination but the rate was slower. The only thought that was going through Robert's mind was.. "Have I just doomed my men?"

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Ellara

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Ellara sat on the church steeple that she had converted to a watch tower and watched the horizon in grim silence. There were fluffy, grey clouds lumbering toward them like an old friendly dog who smelled ham. When she was a girl, Ellara would go outside and dance in the rain from these such clouds for the rain and the clouds were good spirits, but now she could feel nothing but dread as the mass approached. Rain beat fire, and fire beat their enemies. She wasn't certain how much of the enemy was left, but she was sure that they were reorganizing for a new attack. Her idle hands had taken up a play with her knife while her brain worked, and with the ease of long practice they flipped the blade over, never once letting metal meet skin.

The respite gave her time for more than just that, though. She marveled at how young she was. 'If there were someone here who wanted to say they had so many important things left to do with their life, it would be me...' But the whistling wind carried that away. She wouldn't have known what to do with her life anyway. Sure, she could make the people happy - but then what? A calm sigh passed through her. Perhaps she wouldn't die. She'd return to the Citadel with these few brave survivors and get them the credit they deserved... perhaps even a bit more. With her non-endeavored hand she rubbed some sleep out of her eyes, the pale yellow crust an odd contrast to the tiles below her. After kicking them away she sat still, all but a statue as her hair refused to rest while a scrap of wind still stirred it. And still she couldn't help but feel this deep sense of melancholy. Her entire life she had trained for a moments like these. Had she failed? Was this a representation of her possible talents?

'Alright, I know if my friends from the soldiers' mess were here right now, they'd be telling me I need to find an attractive guy and just get laid.'

The idea of her friends brought a smile to right side her lips, although the other side wore a mask of hard acceptance and confidence. She made a silent promise to them that she would teach them how to scale that wall in less than 3 seconds and show them the quick way through the obstacle field. It might mean that one day the get themselves out of a situation like this. And then they could return to Novus and find attractive women and get laid. And for the first time, her musing broke through both sides of her face and she began laughing. It was loud, and the men below her seemed slightly unsettled by it. Their enemies could hear her too, but they made no motion except to regard her before returning to their preparations. With a quick recomposition the jubilee was over and she sat once more on the roof of a watch tower at the edge of death.

Her eyes fell upon the black bird that circled the edge of the forest like it hunted prey. Ellara was the only one that knew this bird did not hunt at all, and so it drew her attention and not anyone else's. Squinting hard, the Triumvir could barely make out a few misshapen bushes. The first thought she had was that Hannibal had finally caught up to them with reinforcements, but a closer examination told her that these men were not his. Their clothing and armor provided for stealth and speed, and would probably be less welcome in battle as they had been in journey. Combing her memory, Ellara could only think of one other person that knew they were in danger. 'No... NO. NO...'

"No!"

Her last exclamation left her lips as a whisper that the wind carried away and as a cut on her hands as she caught the knife too tightly in her palm. But the blood there was of little consequence compared to what was about to be spilled. Horror settled into her features as she watched, dumbfounded, as her idiot friend and his men began to edge out of the forest. She knew it wouldn't be long before they were spotted and killed by enemy archers. 'Oh Robby, can't you just leave anything? Must you play the hero? ...For that matter, why does there have to BE a hero?' Slipping down from her position, she hung in the window and went to kick Eames awake, but she was pleasantly surprised to find him already alert and squinting at the force. Dropping into the room, Ellara stifled a yawn and said softly, "Robert..."

Without waiting for a reply, she fell from one roof to the next until she was at a level from which she could drop to the ground without breaking anything. After reaching the ground, she stood in the archway that was now a bed of dying embers and watched the force. They were skilled from what she could tell from their movements, but that wouldn't get them within the city walls in time. Her brain rushed to think of something, and once she had something it scrambled further to calculate the odds of her survival and whether or not the endeavor was worth it. 'If Robert dies, the country's hero, leader, friend, idol, and love dies. If I die, no one would give a damn because only Novus knew me. Now, do I really care that much...' The last thought was a joke. She hiccuped a laugh as pained fear beat through her heart, but turning, she strode out from the archway onto the field before them.

Just to add insult to injury, she found a decapitated enemy's head and began kicking it like a ball across the field, chasing it as she went. Now, she had the creatures' full attention. After Ellara felt she was close enough to make that kind of shot, she kicked the head up into the air and sent it flying straight into the heart of the enemy camp. Every pair of those forsaken eyes moved to her, but her composure remained. Underneath, her instincts were wildly rushing, screaming for her to give up this madman's venture and to flee, but her intellect reassured her that now it was too late for retreat. With the calm voice of a woman who faced the gallows and had accepted death, and the commanding volume of thunder, Ellara addressed her enemies.

"I challenge the leader of this faction..."

The creature limped forward, his straggling leg swinging uselessly. When it had left the comfortable safety of its men, she finished her sentence.

"...To a battle of strength."

She could almost feel the gaze and the emptiness the brains of her allies as she watched the creature come closer. At length, it stood up beside her. If a child had sat upon her shoulders their combined height may have equaled the commander's. And if Ellara gained 500 pounds, she might have been as wide as him. Steeling herself, she turned her eyes up to his condescending gaze, a knot forming in her stomach.

"I accept your challenge, little one... But you are a brave warrior. Perhaps you would like me to just kill you now instead of having to die slowly?"

Ellara found it incredibly hard to bluff, but she tried anyway. Taking her time to collect the saliva, the female waited until she had enough to spit it into his face and make a serious insult. And then she did so.

"I'll take pity on your soul when I win and pray for you."

The growl was fierce, and the creature turned, walking several paces back toward its men before abandoning its armor. Ellara began to shed her own on the battlefield. Without it, she suddenly felt exposed and naked. She knew that the men would question why SHE had to be the one to do this task, but none of them knew the rules of the foreign engagement, and there wasn't enough time to explain. Now the focus was on that fight, and that was all that was important. A demure sideways glance told her that Robby and his men had made it about halfway there, but now that the wicked leader was engaged his men could do nothing except wait for the challenge to end.

Both Ellara and the creature crouched low to the ground before finally it rushed her. Although the girl could have dodged, she let the first blow land on her. She was thrown back and to the side 30 feet before she smashed into the dirt. All air left her lungs, and her diaphragm struggled to make something happen. The skin on her back had cracked apart from the force of the impact, and her chest now bore a bruise in the shape of the creature's fist. But the calm acceptance in Ellara was still fighting, and she leaped up after a half-second, because she knew that any contender that stayed down for more than 2 second forfeit his (or her) life. Returning to the area of battle, she dropped into her ready stance. This time when she was rushed, she dodged, and launched a counter-attack aimed straight for his back.

'If he's this slow, there may be a slight possibility of me winning... As long as I don't get hit like that again. And that's a definite if.'

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Eames Croft

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Eames had been sleeping peacefully for the first time in the day, but it was cut short when a small ruckus was heard outside the walls. As his eyes slowly dilated to the darkness once more, he could see the clouds in the distance that slowly blew in from the North, bringing rain and their only true hope of maintaining the fight, fire. His attention turned back to the small force moving towards them through the dark, apparently trying to use the night to further their stealth, though the creatures being nocturnal had spotted them without trouble. As the forces began to converge on the men, he heard Ellara come from the tower and mumble the name he wasn’t exactly pleased to hear. He turned back to her, but she was gone, leaving him with his mouth open, questioning where she was planning on going, but he had another plan. Running down the hall, he quickly traversed the church and made it down to the ground floor and ran towards the town hall where the civilians had gathered and quickly made his way to a town official.

I’m going to be blunt; this town is going to fall. Rain is moving in from the north and the enemy will continue to push until the gates fall and my men are unable to hold them off. Use the cathedral entrance to get out of the walls and my men will force a diversion for as long as possible. Acristos is just south, if you can make it there, there should be another military garrison nearing, or at least that’s what we were told. I’m sorry for everyone’s loss, but make it quick.

The town official glared at Eames, but the soldier’s tired eyes were already turned to the door as he made his way out. The official began his speech though, and as Eames stepped outside, he heard the commotion as it grew; the pending evacuation had been set and Sarsus was now less a city, just another lonely fortress that stood in the Celisian countryside. After a small time inside, the townsfolk began stepping outside the town hall, and while all Eames could do was drop his head slowly to them as they passed, he could feel their angry, tear filled eyes on him as they passed. The small gathering continued to pass into the church, the officials taking the end of the line.

Eames forced himself to wake up a bit more as he began running for the men that were stationed around the forward walls, perking up slightly as he glanced once more at the incoming clouds then to his second in command.

The citizens are evacuating the city, I’ve told them it’s lost and we’re to give a distraction. The oil and wood around the walls, it’s to be ignited and burn through the night and day. There’s also a small matter of a small group of “heroes” that have decided to come to our aid, as they are now engaged with the enemy outside the walls. Light this mess and everyone meet at the archway. We’re dropping the wall of bodies and pushing out to help them. Archers will man the two forward towers and provide cover from there.

His men knew the risks, though complied with his orders. Within minutes, the walls were ablaze and, while the heat quite unbearable anywhere near the outside of the town, his men had formed into their ranks and stood ready at the gate. Sweat dripped from his brow as he glanced up to the archers, watching him from their posts and he gave a small nod of his head, signaling them to start firing their projectiles towards the growing number of brutes that had gathered. Running towards the remains of the caravan that had brought them to the hell they had sat in now, he brought 3 men along and together, they loaded one of the casks into a cart and slowly wheeled it towards the bodies that were piled in the place of the main gate. With the force of the men behind them, the bodies slowly fell to the ground, creating a carpet of death and decay across the dirt. Eames stepped back and drew his bow from his shoulder, lighting a single arrow from the inferno in which surrounded them, and nodded to his lieutenant. With a hard push, his unit had sent the wagon rushing downhill towards the enemy encampment, and as he let the fiery arrow go, it quickly ignited the wagon, spilling the burning oil inside a great radius, forcing chaos in the ranks of the beasts and his men quickly charged out of the city, meeting the enemy in their disarray.

As the two armies met, his men quickly took advantage of havoc that had been caused by the fires, both inside the walls and outside. The arrows came down like rain upon the creatures, and within minutes of the battle, his men were already making great gains towards Robby and his small squad that he’d decided to bring along. Eames quickly moved through the enemy ranks, sprinting as he moved between the clashing warriors as he drew a dagger from his belt and jumped, taking down a beast from behind, then spun around, letting the blade spill the blood of another as he slashed its neck. Turning around, he couldn’t help but grin as he saw Robby still moving up the hill towards the rest of the Wolf Cohort behind him.

Well well well, if it isn’t the hero of Celis himself. Brave sir Robert! I say, how are you? Please, may I be the first to welcome you to the wondrous Sarsus and I do hope you enjoy your stay.

Eames turned around after his small exchange and made his way back to his men, whom had formed a line of sorts, as their training had always taught them, and to the surprise of Eames, they held. Even in their weary state, the Wolves of the Raisean had continued to keep the unknown creatures from ever making a decisive move, only holding them off, and still now, they had brought the attack to the enemy that still outnumbered them, and they held. Eames caught the movement of a beast to his left, and quickly braced, only to watch the monster fall to the ground and slide to a stop at his feet, an arrow hanging from its neck, courtesy of one of the archers he himself had trained. As he had his small break, admiring the resolve of his men, he couldn’t help but be prideful in the ones that he had trained and raised for this moment.

Turning up the battlefield, he began sprinting towards the enemy camp, dispatching of two more beasts that stood in his way. Another turned around to see him and as it brought a crossbow to Eames’s chest, it was hit from his hands, though still left a smooth laceration through the leather armor Eames wore. Too caught up in the battle at hand though, he ignored the pain that rose from his side and brought a dagger just above the beast’s collar, dropping it instantly. As he slipped the dagger from the corpse, he noticed a small gathering of creatures, bigger than most the others, that all seemed to have their attention on something else. Drawing his bow, he palmed three arrows and set one. Firing one after another, and within seconds, each of the beasts fell, arrows protruding from the back of their heads. Eames slowly walked forward, curious as to what they had put the battle behind them for, and he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Ellara. Drawing another arrow from his quiver, only to find it was his last one. Setting it in his bow, he pulled it back as he aimed at the one she was fighting, but as she countered it’s charge, he lost his shot and continued to watch, waiting for a clear shot, and a reason to fire.

Hey Ellara. If you let him beat you, you can consider that honorary Wolf Cohort position gone.

Saint

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Robert watched as Ellara bounded across the open expanse and challenged the leader of the foul beasts him and his men were fighting. His brow furrowed in concern but he wasn't able to think too much on the subject because he came under attack. The beast slashed down with it's wicked sword towards Robert's head, be side stepped quickly but was unable to counter attack. The creature continued to come at him with a ferocity and strength he had never witnessed before. Robby was hard pressed fighting the creature, it always seemed to be one step ahead of him. The only thing that was actually saving Robby was his knowledge of technique. Siding stepping a particularly savage downward slash, Robby ducked inside his opponents guard. Hitting the creature in the stomach with the pommel of his sword, he lashed out with headbutt to the creatures face. Which would have worked out quite nicely if the creature actually seemed half way as effected by it as Robby did.

Stepping backward he slammed into one of his own men, luckily it kept him from falling down. The creature came at him again but this time it made a mistake. Misjudging it's own strength it put most of it into another downward slash directed at Robby, sidestepping once again Robby barely hit the creatures sword with his own. This redirected the attack towards the ground and away from the man he had ran into. Kicking the creature where he guessed it's knee was, he brought his sword up and slashed the thing in it's side. A spurt of blood came out but the creature backed up, a vengeful look in it's eyes. Although the thing was still standing it was obvious the wound was taking effect. The creature once again came at him a blur of a waving blade. One of it's attacked actually hit it's mark on Robby's left arm, Robert grimaced and let out a small gasp of pain. The blade hadn't actually cut him but he was afraid it had broken one of his bones. Dropping down to the ground he kicked at the creatures legs, dropping it to the ground where it lost hold of it's sword. Bringing his own blade down he stabbed the creature directly in the throat.

He left the creature still clutching at itself, he was off in his own world as he watched the battle occurring before him. He watched the Wolf Cohort form a line, turning to his own men he yelled across the battle. "FORM UP WITH THE WOLVES!!" surprisingly they made it into the line pretty quickly. He ignored Eame's words and followed the man over to where Ellara was. She seemed to be dueling the creature in charge, and she wasn't having the best luck at it.

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Ellara

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When Eames walked over, the Triumvir was not in the best situation.

"I think I'm worried about keeping my LIFE right now, thank you. I'm not really worried about losing a spot in your cohort."

While the extension had been done in a good heart, there wasn't going to be any kind of accepting if Ellara was dead. And although Eames was a pleasant enough person, she really didn't have time to pay attention to him now. She began to dance away from the lunges of the leader, pulling him across the circle. It started to look like a bull, and she seemed to have a red flag on her chest. 'Gonna survive and go home... get laid... finish my job... die from boredom. This will not be the end of it.'

Soon enough, only thing Ellara could hear was her own heartbeat. She was hoping that was a sign of concentration, but she wasn't really certain. Struggling with her aching, tired self, she raised up and wiped the sweat from her brow. The woman had been dodging enemy attacks for several minutes now, and it was beginning to show in her actions. Panting, she locked eyes with the hunched-over creature. 'Ugh, what a disgusting thing...' But it probably thought HER disgusting.

The strange beasts around them began chanting, which set her teeth on edge. Suddenly, as if the creature had just gotten a burst of energy, it growled and leaped up, slashing down toward her. Taking a chance, she dove between its legs and rolled to a stop behind it. Before it could really recover, she threw herself onto its back, clinging there like her life depended on it (and in a sense it did). The brute struggled to get its arms on her, but since it couldn't reach to its crooked back, Ellara managed to stay in place. Her scrambling fingers found the soft flesh of his neck and she tore into it, growling. One of the creatures shrieked and started forward, but its ally pushed it back. Pushing her feet against its hips, Ellara twisted, ripping it's head off. An exhausted smile came to her just before she realized she was about to get crushed.

'Damn.'

The weight of the dead beast landing on her leg split open the wound from the previous day and fire ran up Ellara's leg. She howled in pain. Tears in her eyes, she launched the disgusting head at Eames. "I won... now help me up!" With his help, the Triumvir was freed. She immediately stood up, which was followed by a failed step that left her sprawled on the ground. Sighing, she closed her eyes. "Alright, your turn Eames. And it better be good." Pushing herself up, Ellara limped back to the town, passing Robert on the way there. She said nothing to him, choosing to simply push on and let her damage speak for her.

'You better be here for a reason, Robert.'

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Eames Croft

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Eames just stood and watched the fight as it continued, unable to do anything except keep the arrow palmed, though the bow had been set back over his shoulder, his other hand resting on the dagger on his belt instead. He felt helpless, but realized that this is what Ellara had wanted and as she finally killed the beast, in a fashion that was beyond the comprehension of how she had done it to Eames, the monsters around them had finally come to the deathly realization that their leader had been killed by this warrior woman. Eames quickly jumped down towards them, slipping his hands under her shoulders and pulling her from underneath the great beast as she was wounded once again from the sheer weight of the monster. Giving a small nod to her, he couldn’t help but smile as she’d impressed him once again. Helping her up a second time, he caught her comment and glanced back, remembering the threat that surrounded them.

Just get back to the town while it’s still burning and sound the retreat to the men that are still on the battlefield. We need to regroup and start working out the next strategy.

Drawing his dagger, he backed out after they had left, the circle of beasts moving in to retrieve their dead captain, though many stood around, just glaring at the Celisians as they backed out. Eames caught the eyes of one of the beasts close to the corpse, and its eyes were all but dead, sinking his heart into an uneasy hope. Glancing along the makeshift line that his men had formed when the battle had been taken outside, he saw the Wolves and the few of Robby’s men backing out, and yet the creatures never made a move forward, acknowledging the death of their leader.

Figuring the beasts were done with the attack for the night, Eames turned his back to them as he watched the last of his men moving through the archway which were still burning brightly. As his light jog brought him closer, he suddenly felt a sharp pain against his left shoulder which brought him to his knees. A spear fell to the side as he dragged himself to his feet, two of his archers coming to his aide as they walked alongside him as he made his way back to the safety of the walls and burning light that kept them safer. A glance back though, he saw the single “soldier” standing alone on the roadway, a serrated grin at its lips as it watched the smaller people retreating back to their haven. As Eames held his shoulder, he walked towards where Ellara and Robby had gotten, Ellara’s leg being checked by a medic and his shoulder was also being inspected by one of the few field meds that had decided to join them on the journey which was now supposed to be nearing the northern borders of the country.

I must say Ellara, quite the display against that foul thing. You can join us Wolves in battle anytime you want to tag along again. You’ve been quite the wildcard, darling. You got my vote in the Triumvir or whatever runs this god forsaken place anymore.

Grimacing slightly as the soldier cleaned his wound, he shook his head, asking only for a bandage over it after the alcohol was dripped into the new hole. Slipping back on the leather cuirass that he wore over his body, he stood up and sent a soldier to gather the men around where they currently sat. Might as well let Ellara sit for now since she’d just given them the time they needed for the next part of his plan. Glancing over to Robby, he gave a smirk as he turned to face the Triumvir that now stood in the same blood soaked market that had housed his men for a day and night, though wasn’t going to for much longer. Lost in his thoughts for a moment, he hadn’t even noticed that his men were all together until a small tap on his shoulder came from his lieutenant.

Congratulations men. You’ve all fought harder than anyone would’ve ever believed. You’ve saved the lives of the merchants we were escorting against a force that was as unknown as the heavens themselves. We’ve done things only written in history books and the epics of old, and I think it’s time to call it over. Hannibal’s legions should be just behind us, and spread across the east, we have the rest of Raisean coming to help us.

Feeling a drop of rain landing on his hand, Eames glanced up to the skies now clouded over nicely as the sprinkles of rain began to fall over the city inferno. He only had his hope still remaining, faith that the other armies spread in the Celisian north were nearing closer as they were supposed to and the support they direly needed.

These walls and this blaze is keeping them from coming in, they can’t deal with the light and this rain will be the end of us if we stay here. Sarsus is lost, but we will not be falling with it. They have to regroup from the loss of their commander and that gives us the time we need. If we back out through the cathedral and move down the mountainside, we can make it to Acristos. Hell, we should make contact with one of the Legions before that even.

Taking a breath was getting harder and harder as the smoke coming from the small pockets of ash was making breathing more and more of a difficulty. Glancing around, he put his hand on Robby’s shoulder, giving a small shake as he grinned to his men.

Your brave and noble leader, Robert, is even here to fight alongside you men. Follow him out of this city and out of the battle now. The refugees have hours ahead of you, and if you do make contact, make sure they stay safe. Me and a few others will stay here and will create one more diversion that will hopefully slow their chase after they find the city desolate to a crawl. Those are your orders, and we’ll make sure that we catch up to you guys real quick. I don’t plan on dying in this hell hole and I doubt any of you want to so I recommend taking the out. This isn’t a time to be “brave,” use your heads. And you Ellara, please.. you’ve been making us look bad. Let us make up for everything you’ve done for us.

As he finished, he pointed to five men to join him, and excused the rest. They stood silent, watching him for a moment before he finally waved them away. The evacuation was slow, but it began moving efficiently enough as Eames and the few that were staying behind began piling the corpses that had built up the wall in the archway. The labor was much more painstaking than he figured it would be, especially with the shoulder injury still plaguing him with pure pain driving across his entire left side. As the last of the soldiers had left though, him and his men continued their work and as the hours past and the last of the flames were still burning under the heavy rain that was now pouring down over them, the first part of the task was done; the corpse wall stood once more, allowing no signs inside of the walls of Sarsus.

Eames quickly began running back towards the main hall as he searched for the remaining oil casks that were stationed at the middle of town. When found, they were loaded onto a cart and hauled up to the cathedral where they were set down into the basement. As the entire support structure was doused in the oil, the rain could be heard outside and against the glass that towered inside the main hall. It was now dark out and Eames’s men quickly began lighting the supports of the building and as they all began to burn, the weakening timbers were all heard as the sound of cracking and structure failure was apparent, though the part that struck Eames the most was that the Tower was the first part to burst into flames, the rest close after though. As his men ran out through the basement exit, they couldn’t help but watch the inferno that make the church glow in the darkness, like a beacon from the heavens. A smile crept up along his lips as the supports weakening was taking effect, now the building was just minutes until the collapse and his small diversion would be over. As Eames caught up with them, they regrouped and began making their way south towards the rest of their unit, and hopeful salvation.

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