[center “I am going to pull them from their pedestal and I will watch them burn.”]
Wistina, a small but prosperous country located on the southern peninsula of Esteroak. Being one of the few neutrally aligned ports in the area they keep good standing with their neighbors. All in all they seem to be in a golden age. The only real complaints are those of a naïve and frivolous king, but with many well-trusted advisors at his side no one pays him much mind. That is, not until he died. Leaving behind his wife and a young son, there is much debate on what will be done and things are not looking good got the widow and her child.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The brief embrace of her hand had steadied some of the trepidation that was common before any fight. It was a means of assuring himself he was alive, focused, ready for what would come. He did not like to think there would be a day where he would be so accustomed to fighting that a tingle of adrenaline or the raising of the hair on the back of his neck would be gone. Those little changes allowed him to feel like he held some semblance of normality, and that was something he had tried to get across to Augustine, to flick that switch when the time came but be able to come back.
Thankfully these thoughts settled into the background as he focused more on what was ahead. For a little while it was nothing but darkness, his breaths echoing inside the helmet though he was aware of Marko moving up behind him and he waved a hand to keep him back a few feet. He did not want to risk hitting the dark skinned boy in the melee.
It was not much longer before the first scurrying of the attackers reached him and he crouched down a little, springing forward as the man passed by a streak of light from the fire inside, cast through one of the open windows. With these brigands being so assured of themselves they had not expected the small group to be waiting, and so his sword thrust up into the man's chest with little resistance or expectation. The metal weapon juddered to a halt in the man's chest cavity, catching on some bone perhaps, and Nicolai stepped back letting the man fumble to the ground with a groan of distress, too injured to cry or scream.
This caused those immediately behind him to pause in apprehension and consider their next actions. But as Töka had stated, they were not the brightest, and despite this sudden death they pressed forward with eagerness. Nicolai blocked several blows and the sparks that one particular clash drew allowed him to dip his sword and slash down across the man's thighs, a screech of delirious agony bellowed out into the night as he fell down and forward, forgotten by the elf who left him for Marko.
It was barely thirty seconds to a minute before several plumes of light struck the wall of the cavern nearby. Miniature explosions of fire that shed some light on the heads of those before them and by their light they were quickly followed by several unlit arrows. They passed close enough to Nicolai he felt the fletching graze along his arm, his chest and his helmet. The few arrows were precise and hitting their targets, disabling those who approached Nicolai or injuring them to make it easier for him to finish off. He was unsure if Flora knew how close she was getting and if she did then she was clearly a skilled archer – even if every one of her shots was meant to injure and maim, not kill.
He turned back for a moment to try and see the other side, to try and garner how Augustine, Florence and Töka were fairing, but he could not see much and was forced to turn back when he heard the grunt of the next attacker. The man was a behemoth, easily close to seven feet tall and wielding a warhammer in both hands like a giant cradling a club. He swung it toward Nicolai and though the elfin man tried to use his sword to deflect or turn the strike elsewhere, the sheer power of the man's attack pushed through with no dwindled power. It hit right into his chest, throwing him back against the wall to his side, leaving him wheezing from the impact and his free hand grasping at his chest in distress. Struggling for breath he did manage to to throw up his sword arm and slashed across the giants bicep thus depriving him of one arm, still it only seemed to rile the man up and he brought the large hammer back on Nicolai. Thankfully due to only using one arm it meant the attack was much weaker and as it struck against his helmet it did not cave it, rather his head rebounded off the inside of the metal armour and he went down near to Marko, kneeling beside the young boy as his vision began to swim and his hearing rang like a dinner bell.
Nicolai did not seem entirely convinced at her theory, so perhaps she was wrong. That meant one of two things, that she had missed more incoming bodies than she thought, or that these bandits were greatly underestimating them. The later was likely, if they had seen that half the party was comprised of children, no doubt that would bolster their confidence. There were near infinite possibilities for strategies on a battlefield, so it was difficult to know exactly what mindset to put yourself in when trying to see through your enemy’s eyes.
Nicolai threw out his own plan, and it sounded good enough to Florence. It was basic, but that only meant that it left plenty of room for flexibility if the tides took a turn. That was ideal for situations like this where they were not sure what to expect. She nodded, [+mediumseagreen “Alright.”] He took her hand for the briefest of moments, but her mind was already focused on the task at hand. She barely noticed before he squeezed and released her.
Following him down to the others, she saw him wordlessly motion to Töka, but that did little for the others. So, the woman filled them in on the plan and how they would be split. Florence also threw in a few encouraging words to try and prepare them, but without much time she was afraid it would not do much. They were pealing off shortly after that, but before Flora could make it very far, the woman grabbed hold of her. [+mediumseagreen “Before we can do much of anything we need to try and get some light out there. Follow me and do as I do.”] Showing, rather than telling, would be fastest.
Instead of headed toward the door, Florence led Flora to the remnants of the fire pit. Taking up a thin board, the woman quickly brushed some of the surviving embers onto it. She used the wood to carry them outside, trying to breath a bit of light into them as she went. Then it was to the outside of the building. The walls that remained of the structure were crawling with ivy. Or they had been when it was kept up, now all the tendrils were dead and dry. Ripping fibrous vines from the walls, Florence began to wrap wads of the stuff around some of her arrows. She tied it tight, and motioned for Flora to do the same. The young woman had no idea why they were doing this, but she did as she was told.
Once she was satisfied that they had enough, it was time for some explanation for the next step, because this was where they parted ways. [+mediumseagreen “Now, go set up someplace behind Nicolai and Marko, I want you to use the coals to set the ivy on fire then aim for the walls. Use the light that gives you to aim for whoever you are absolutely sure is not one of our own. If it does not work, fall back and try to back up the others by other means, Understand?”] Flora, being the person that she was, had a few questions. But they were easily answered and the girls parted ways when Florence was sure she knew what to do.
Taking off toward the Southern flank, the woman was swiftly to work. Once again she was stoking the flames that were beginning to eat at the board she was carrying the embers on. The fire would make her a target to some extent, but she did not think they had too many rangers. It was ill advised for the sort of tactics they were using. So Florence was able to set herself up behind the others. Augustine was just within sight, at least his figure and sounds of shuffling were there. Just as she expected Flora to, the woman followed her plan to a tee. She did not want to lose the fire on the shot over to the cliff’s side, so she gave ample time for the fire to take hold of the dehydrated ivy. When she finally took up and loosed the arrow, it went as planned. The illumination was minimal, but useful. She repeated the steps again and again until she was able to see figures dancing about. Based off silhouette she could tell which were her comrades, and so it was time to get to work. There would not be much time, while the soft wood of the arrows would burn brightly, the fire would run through its fuel quickly. She knew this and began to take aim at the foreign figures’ vitals.
The shouting of battle rang though the valley-like pass, but screams of surprise soon became intermingled in it. It was the shrieking of men being hit by an enemy they had not expected would be able to see them. The fact that it was anything other than silence meant that Florence was not getting as clean of shots as she would have liked, but at the very least she was hindering them so that the others’ job would be all the easier. And given the fact that they were moving sporadically and doing so in low light, she couldn’t really be too mad about the fact that she was not perfectly hitting her mark.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Listening to her relate back what she believed she had heard, Nicolai stared into the darkness silently as he tried to adjust his eyesight to the lack of light. There was little to be seen and as such he worried Flora and Florence would have no means of finding a target with their bows. But then again it worked to the detriment of the attackers too, as they would be just as blind when the fray began. It was now a matter of using light to gain an advantage by allowing them to use ranged attacks.
Though her suggestion that they may attack in waves was not one he had heard before, nor encountered with those who inhabited this pass, if she was as sure of the numbers that her voice showed then indeed they were not going for sheer force by numbers. A strategy of testing their defences did make sense and yet he'd never heard them doing such.
[+royalblue “They're separating our strength, we won't be able to defend as easily.”] His musings were quiet and rhetorical in nature. Lifting up the helmet he placed it atop his head, though left it up for a moment, his hand taking her arm gently.[+royalblue “We will split ourselves; myself, Marko and Flora whilst you take Töka and Augustine. Myself and Töka will take front ranks, take them on directly and act as a barrier. Marko and Augustine will follow, they will take on anyone who can get by or whom goes down wounded and finish them off. That leaves you and Flora at the back, try and get some light up and over them. If you can illuminate them somehow you can use your bows, otherwise you will have to help Marko and Augustine.”] It was quite a simple and basic plan but this situation did not call for tactical brilliance. And now he could hear shale skittering down the small slopes that led to their position, feet crunching on the aggregate beneath and it was rather near.
His hand on her arm slid down to her hand and for a moment their palms met as he squeezed lightly. Just as the warmth would begin to register however he took his hand back, pulling down the helmet and twisted the ear to lock it into place. His sword already in the other hand, Nicolai was ready and shifted forward as he caught sight of Töka stepping out of the building, managing to convey which direction he wanted her to defend with one hand as he stepped forward to defend the other. Fingers crossed, this went smoothly.
As Augustine left, Florence pushed out the sound of his footsteps. She focused instead on the far off sounds. At least, those that were farther off than within the structure they took residence in. The echoing of the canyon-like pass made it easier to hear that someone was out there, but in turn it made it very difficult to distinguish individual steps. They all melded together, making it near impossible to tell how many people were approaching. The woman had to rely on her eyes a good deal, which was less than satisfactory with the low levels of light.
Augustine managed his task efficiently, as it was not long before Nicolai joined her. He had questions immediately, and she had some semblance of answers. [+mediumseagreen “Initially it was the North, but now it seems we can expect visitors from both sides.”] Her voice was kept hushed, but with how close he was to her she had no doubt he could hear her just fine. [+mediumseagreen “Both a blessing and a curse, as I have a better visual to the South.”] She nodded over to a slant of moonlight that managed to stretch nearly the width of the ravine. [+mediumseagreen “I saw four pass through there… If we assume I missed at least one of them and that they have equal numbers coming in from each side, then we are looking at ten at least.”] It was not great news, but she did not think that was the end of it. [+mediumseagreen “That number seems low for how many we have… I would bet they plan to come at us in waves; the first will be to feel us out. If we can take them out quickly, it may startle them and discourage the rest from moving in.”] If they were truly as stupid as Töka mentioned, it was unlikely, but if there was a chance that they could get out of this without completely exhausting themselves, Florence wanted to take it.
As much as she wanted to start throwing out a battle plan, she waited for Nicolai’s input. He knew this area better than her and if he thought her previous logic was faulty and that they should not come on too strong too quickly, she would have to listen to him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat [+royalblue "I made no mention of snuggling, but now you mention it.."] One of these days his little coy and teasing remarks would draw a more positive response from her than the polite refusals he received now. Perhaps it would be a day long in the future, but it would be an interesting moment to see what she finally acquiesced to. Stepping aside for her to pass and inform the others he felt the warmth of her hand momentarily and he let out a breathless laugh, smiling at how her small gestures to him were rather large to her. Whatever helped settle her mind.
Sitting with the others he ate a little food and took some time to talk with Flora about what would happen. Having had several nights of uninterrupted sleep no doubt it would faze her a little to be woken suddenly after only a few hours. Whilst Augustine and his mother moved out to start their watch it left Nicolai to tell Marko and Flora how to stow their weapons to be on hand immediately. A few general pointers and they seemed much more confident in heading to sleep. He would have liked this first watch to be simpler and he perhaps should have taken the opportunity in the fields and forest coming up to the mountain pass. But that was the past, he would throw them in the deep end and see how they faired.
Accustomed to such nights like this, Töka and himself were soon off to sleep, the fire left to wane to not much more than a few flames so as not to blind them when they woke and yet leave them some means of seeing in the dark. It was uncomfortable on the floor but experience won out in the end and their bodies could relax enough to rest. Yet only an hour later and he was being roused from slumber.
[+coral “Nicolai!”] A harsh whisper at best as young Augustine tried to keep his voice to a minimum. Finding it was not enough, he leaned down, placing a hand to the elven man's arm as he repeated his name. His outstretched arm was taken firmly by Nicolai's hand and he was sitting up drawing his sword before his eyes blinked repeatedly, opening at last in confusion.
[+royalblue “Florence, is she okay?”] His words were quiet and uneven, the fatigue still evident as he tried to focus on the boy.
[+coral “Yes,”] he had not expected the question but on that reply alone the grip of his arm lessened,[+coral “she heard movement and thinks they are here.”] In the very faint glow of the fire he saw the mans violet eyes narrow on him and after that he received a quick nod.
[+royalblue “Wake the others, send out Töka, remain within the doorway with Marko and protect Flora.”] He pushed the boys chest to send him on his way, busy pushing himself onto his knees and feeling that every familiar twinge to his lower back. Age was not his friend, and on a body that had been fighting for so long, it would hit him harder in these later years. With Augustine out of his way however he snatched up his helmet at his side and held the sword close to his chest as he left the room quickly. Ducking down immediately, by only a slight shimmer on her shoulder did he see Florence and slipped in beside her.[+royalblue “What direction? How many do you think?”] He knew she could not know the latter question, but an estimate was better than nothing. He wanted to push her back behind him but with his adrenaline beginning to build his hearing was perhaps only as good as hers right now, so he waited to hear where they were approaching first.
[+mediumseagreen "As tempting as that is, I would like you to actually be able to focus on keeping watch. So I am afraid we will not be snuggling up on a night when either of us keeps vigil."] Having someone sneak passed or get the drop on them because they were too busy getting to know one another was something Florence wanted to avoid at all costs. Though, she did not really see it being an issue on her end.
Nodding at the adjustment, Florence was happy with that. [+mediumseagreen "Sounds perfect. Thank you."] Knowing that the most critical hours could be taken by someone she trusted was a load off. Not that she did not think Töka and Marko could handle it, but she felt better knowing they might not have to. At least until she was more sure of their abilities. That young woman talked a big game, but Florence was still a little worried about her abundance of confidence.
When she was sure that was all he needed, Florence wrapped them up. [+mediumseagreen "I will let everyone know."] Passing him on the way to the other's, she placed a hand on Nicolai's shoulder as she did so. Nothing more than a light touch, it was short lived as she skirted around him.
The rest of the group was finishing up their assigned tasks and coming in around a fire that had just barely began to burn. It gave her the perfect audience to let them know of the changes that were being made. The general consensus was that they were okay with being made part of the rotation for lookout, though there seemed to be a bit of nervousness coming from Flora. Florence made a general reminder that they would be in pairs, each with a more experienced person. She did not know if it helped any, but she hoped so.
Getting a bit of food in their bellies, it was time to lay down to sleep for everyone aside from Augustine and his mother. The pair took up a favorable position then there was little to do besides keep one another company and keep their eyes peeled. They were sure to keep their voices low so that they could hear the surrounding area and so that they might not wake the others.
Florence asked basic things of her son. How he was doing so far? How he thought the other's were fairing? What he thought of the group and what he was learning? She was content to listen to him and the occasional lizard skittering past the rocky terrain. But eventually he was able to flip the script and ask the woman a question, though it was not so easy going as hers to him.
[+coral "Mutti, are you and Nicolai [i really] together?"] He couldn't really bring himsself to look at her while he asked that. Instead his eyes were plastered to the ground. It still felt like a bit of a joke to him. All that trouble over it years ago and then nearly just as soon as they met again they were in a relationship. It did not sound right to him.
[+mediumseagreen "Yes."] That was the simple answer. Of course there was a lot more detail to it and she knew he would want it, but Florence thought there were certain lines not to be crossed with her child. And discussing things as unsavory as what she had with Nicolai some nights prior went over that limit.
He sort of cringed. [+coral "Why? You were perfectly happy before... Are you just trying to make sure he stays?"] Augustine did not think her forcing herself into this was necessary. Nicolai had plenty of other motivation to come back with them to Wistina.
Shaking her head, she coupled that with her spoke response. [+mediumseagreen "No, I was happy before, but that was in part because I was surrounded by my friends had family-"] she was cut short before finishing the thought.
[+coral "So you are just trying to find a replacement? What about me, I am still here. You have family right here next to you!"]
The woman hushed him and he could hardly believe it. [+coral "Answer the ques-"]
[+mediumseagreen "Augustine."] Her voice was harsh, almost a hiss, it surprised him as she never took such a tone with him. It stopped him going on. [+mediumseagreen "I heard something. Now be quiet."]
Letting the silence surround them, she did indeed catch the sound of footsteps. They were light, but the slate-like ground was unforgiving when tread upon. She took up her bow. Nocking an arrow, she stood from her seat and used the slightly higher perspective to look in the direction the sound was coming from. The moon was but a waxing sliver in the sky, but it afforded precious little light. In its silver rays she saw hulking figures skulking about.
[+mediumseagreen "They are earlier than expected."] It was nearing time to switch watches, but still some hours before when she thought they might make their appearance. They were impatient, or maybe just that stupid. Either way, she gestured with her head toward the others. [+mediumseagreen "Go wake them. We need to be in full force."] It was at times like this she missed having Gregory around. A few awful notes on that lute and everyone would be wide awake without having to leave the post or split their duo.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Her thoughts matched his own though she was more assured that this would be a good time for them to learn. He would listen here more than anywhere else as she knew Marko and Flora. To an extent, she knew Augustine much more too. Nicolai was still trying to learn who this new boy was, this new man. He was much different from what he remembered and not least from having a girlfriend in his life. And that was where Florence went with her closing remark, grinning at his expense.
[+royalblue “Well if you wish you can always join me on the midnight shift. It can get very cold so we would have to huddle together for warmth maybe.”] Looking at her with his own wry smile he winked teasingly and would have used that as a means of taking her hand or stealing a kiss of her cheek. But they had the others to think of, and the night ahead, so he kept things quite platonic for now and his hands to himself.[+royalblue “I will move you and Augustine to first, me and Flora second, Töka and Marko third. Tomorrow night I’ll change the groups up a little and keep it fresh for them. Sound good?”]
He folded his arms over his chest, the woollen jacket he had helpful for keeping out the cold but with barely any sunlight this area would be quite cold. He would make sure they had plenty of firewood to keep them going through the night. Sometimes you worry so much about being attacked you forget to keep warm.
The building, or remnants of it, was much along the lines of what Florence was expecting. It would be perfect for the night. Shelter of any kind would always be appreciated, drafty or not. And the position was favorable to keep watch from. Thankfully there were only two directions to care about as the mountainous cliffs that surrounded them were much too steep to be considered a viable option to climb. Doing so would result in little more than a painful, if not deadly, tumble down to the floor of the pass.
Settling in, it did not take long for Nicolai to commandeer her time. That was fine by her she wanted to talk to him about a possible change in night watch anyway. Though she gave him a chance to speak first since he was the one to initiate. But when he asked his question, she was not entirely sure what he was talking about. Her assumption was that it was the site, so she answered accordingly. [+mediumseagreen “It is adequate.”] The statement was almost inquisitive as she was still not sure that was what he wanted to hear. Must not have been because he was quick to dismiss the comment as his own ponderings.
After that he jumped right into exactly what she wanted to talk about. It seemed Nicolai had a similar thought to her, though he wanted to take it a step further and she was not opposed to it. His groupings were balanced and he was right that they needed the experience. [+mediumseagreen "Now is as good as time as any. Trial by fire, as they say."] Plus you really did not learn as much when there was nothing to do. [+mediumseagreen "My only gripe would be that I think one of our groups should be taking the middle shift. We have more experience with this and that it the most likely time for a strike."] People generally slept their most deeply at that time of night and if their enemy was as weak as they claimed, they would want any advantage they could get their grubby little hands on. The only thing was that that also happened to be the worst shift, in her opinion. You had to function off little sleep and then try to get back to sleep at the end of it knowing there was not much time left.
[+mediumseagreen "Also, do you think you will be able to handle Flora for that long?"] A subtle smirk showed that she was teasing, but if he actually had any worries she would switch up with him. As much as she wanted to keep her eye on Augustine, Florence trusted Nicolai to do just as well with that task.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai eyed the passing duo with scepticism primarily because two souls like that leaving the pass was not a likely thing. Granted, those heading North often had little worth taking, moving that way to make their money by delivering goods that the bandits in these parts would not find useful. But those two seemed to be too happy, too polite. He put it down to his natural dislike of anyone new in this pass and kept his ill feeling to himself as they went deeper into the chasm, pulling them closer to one side where it would open out a little for a small clearing.
Here were the remains of a temple, a way-station that had been built over two centuries before when this place was much more peaceful and therefore a religious building like that could be built without the worry of being raided or attacked. Subsequently it was burned down, rebuilt, ransacked and abandoned leaving behind the scattered debris of the largest building whilst the smaller one was relatively intact. Missing the glass for the windows and a door, with a hole in the corner of the roofing, this building was once the chambers of the religious chapter placed here by Nicolai’s memory.
With one side of the building having no windows, and therefore just a flat wall, he instructed the others to set up their belongings over there; there would be no need for tents tonight. Whilst the horses were unsaddled and given their evening feed, Nicolai waved for Florence to follow him and led her a few feet away to where they could peer both ways down the pass in the dying light. Quiet for a moment he sighed and rubbed at his temple.[+royalblue “What do you think?”] He asked quite abruptly though it took his a moment to realise what he had done and he smiled lightly.[+royalblue “Sorry, talking in my head again.”]
Turning to face her he took a few brief seconds to look at her, catching her gaze and finding himself just staring into them for a little time. It was these brief moments that helped to ease any discomfort he felt and he would have been very content to stand there with her like this a while longer. Yet he had called her across to speak and his smiled drifted away.[+royalblue “I was thinking about tonight, whether we should double the watch and push it to three watches instead of two. I’m thinking you and Augustine to begin, Töka and Marko, and finally myself and Flora. It will give them all a chance to experience taking a watch and yet they will have someone with them to guide them.”] He wanted them to keep learning, yet he brushed his hand over his smooth chin with indecision.
[+royalblue “I just worry now might not be the best of times to test them. I have a feeling we may have unwanted guests tonight.”]
Content knowing that they would not have more to deal with than a unintelligible hoard was some consolation. It was a strategy that could work, but the numbers needed to be a lot more overwhelming than Töka made it out to be. As for the rock slides, that was not ideal, but if there was so little advice to be had then it probably was not an issue she needed to worry about. Florence would keep an eye out for the couple of signs, but it would not be her main focus.
The plan beyond that sounded good to her, the woman had no qualms with it. And so she let Nicolai and his young friend keep the spotlight. They gave a few more minutes for any more questions to come up, but it seemed that was the end of it. Loading up the horses, it was time to start the next leg of the journey. One very short ride across the plain, they were at the mouth of the pass. Even before they entered there was a coldness to it. The chill did not compare to that of Mayfair, so at least it had that going for it.
At first the walls on either side of them started short, building into a steep incline, it was not long before the sheer rock barriers towered over them. With it getting to be towards the end of summer, the ground was exceptionally dry. Florence could only imagine going through this place when it was a muddy mess in the throws of spring, so perhaps that was one good thing that came of their trip being delayed. The good weather also meant that they were not the only travelers. It was not the most popular path to take, so they were few and far between, but they did pass another pair that were making their way north. They could be heard through the echoing canal before they were seen, but they gave their group no problems. Little more than polite well wishes for safe travels before continuing on.
Longer days meant more light in the sky to travel by, which was good seeing as the temple Nicolai mentioned was quite some way off. The strip of sky they were able to see was starting to change color before the elf announced that they were nearly there. Florence thanked her lucky stars for that. Traversing such a rocky path in darkness did not sound like a pleasant task to undertake. She could just see one of the horses stumbling and breaking its leg, leaving them to juggle what to do with the supplies and person it carried. Unfortunately, because they had not run into any problems that day, it basically confirmed there would be trouble that night. She wondered if perhaps they should have more than one person stay up for watch that night.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat [+firebrick “Like I said, they're idiots. They think they can kill anyone and anything just because they have numbers.”] Töka rolled her eyes, never one to give weaker opponents the time of day for her concerns, as she answered part of Florence's question. Nicolai had dealt with the others and here she felt the need to take lead and explain things further.
[+royalblue “Whilst denigrating them is fine in my books, perhaps you could answer the question and explain how they attack.”] Nicolai did not admonish her words, as to put down an enemy would help them to believe there was no threat. Yet he wanted them to know that whilst it may be easier than fighting trained soldiers, it would not be so simple.
Töka sighed and stood up with annoyance that this needed any further details.[+firebrick “They have numbers, that is how they attack. Usually they'll attack when they have four or five times the advantage as they know they're pathetic and a lot of them will die.”] Again she may be putting down the enemy a bit much but no objection came from Nicolai.[+firebrick “That means with six of us, we're only looking at two, maybe three groups in the pass that could or would take us on.”] She began to toy at her armour a little, making sure straps were secured.[+firebrick “They will try and block our path or hem us in somewhere they can get to us. That or get us at night – I would think that would be the better option for them.”] It would minimise their losses after all.
Nicolai nodded as he watched her.[+royalblue “I know one ruin we can use as a camp for a night. Whilst we are in the pass however no-one will put their weapons away. Swords and bows in hand.”] He looked to Marko for a moment.[+royalblue “And you'll be back to axe – I'd rather you used something you are completely comfortable with.”] Töka looked over then, quite interested in a fellow axe user and Nicolai planned on that connection.[+royalblue “If we get attacked whilst riding, Augustine you come to the front with me, Töka and Marko take the rear, Florence and Flora in the middle with their bows. Otherwise I will be in front, you three in the middle, Florence and Töka at the back as usual.”] They had travelled up this way in that latter order, but to have the archers protected in the middle would give them the ability to fire either direction and help where they could.
[+royalblue “As for the avalanches and landslides.. unfortunately the best advice I can give is that they are preluded by smaller debris. If you see small rocks rolling, or dirt, or anything like that just tell us and get us all moving. It happens more around water, so small streams or creeks that come out of the ground usually mean it's bored holes in the ground beneath meaning its not stable. Aside from that its kind of unpredictable I'm afraid.”] He had not experienced all that many, and the ones he had were often far enough away he was never in danger from it.
Having rather high standards for herself, Florence was not so sure she agreed. Getting sick and forcing them into down time was not exactly her idea of being a productive member of a party. Her bow skills had only come in handy a hand full of times. And while some of them were critical, she still felt she could have done more to move them along. Either way, he distracted from that thought by pulling the conversation back to his intended topic, her appearance. Rolling those emerald green eyes, she gave him a light smack with the back of her hand. [+mediumseagreen “You have a terrible one-track mind.”] But since he was being relatively tame with it, she did not lecture him any further than that. Plus, it seemed to help him get all of this out of his system.
Moving closer to the others, so that Nicolai had his platform to speak to himself, Florence listened to what he had to say. He was opening a free-range discussion to answer questions. As to be expected, Flora was the first to unload a few questions on the man. Though surprisingly enough, it was only a few. It appeared she was content to apply much of what she had learned on the way here to this situation. Perhaps she would keep up with that thought process and Nicolai would have one less thing to worry about. As for the others, Marko kept quiet, content to take things as they came, and Augustine had a few things that he read that he wanted to confirm, but other than that, Flora’s questions covered his concerns. Florence was the only one left and she took her time trying to think if there was anything she absolutely needed to know. She did not think it would be too much different than their trek through Mayfair, just longer and in need of a little more precaution. [+mediumseagreen “What are the most common strategies of attack used by the bandits here?”] If they were as unskilled as they made them out to be they probably just charged in, though perhaps they did lay in waiting to ambush travelers. [+mediumseagreen “And I know this area is prone to landslides. Are there any signs we should be aware of and looking out for?”] It was not a natural disaster she had much experience with, so she would very much like to know if there was a way to predict it. Attacks, she knew they could handle, an avalanche of boulders, not so much. Those were her only questions though.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was interesting that she did not chastise him for mentioning her physique. Whilst he had truly meant it innocently enough, wanting to compliment her for her working out and her improved health, he knew his constant pining for her would make her think he was being quite lustful with her. But she was proud of herself and he liked to see that in her demeanour as it suited her – that and he liked that he was not being hounded.
[+royalblue “You were not useless on the trip up. If you call using a bow like the elves of old or managing to hold our group together despite a particular bastard elf trying to mess it up as don't nothing then I wonder at what you do call useful. And well, whatever it is, it is clearly working. Though don't get me wrong, whilst Wistina Florence had her curving charms, Astoria Florence is just getting more and more beautiful.”] He finished with a soft if shy grin before brushing her arm for her to follow him back to the others. Wandering over he lifted his foot to rest on a rock and leaned down, leaning on his knee as he looked at them.
[+royalblue “Today we move into the pass. Whilst myself and Töka have moved through numerous times, the rest of you haven't and thats a problem. So before we go in, I want to know any questions you have. Any concerns. Any worries. Anything you want an answer to here and now. And yes Flora, ask anything you like.”] He saw the girl nod happily, perhaps a little shy beforehand to speak her mind and have the others dislike her for being so inquisitive. He would not begrudge even the more inane of questions now.[+royalblue “Florence, you too.”] He looked across to the mature woman and then back to the others.[+royalblue “Once you're all happy, Töka will explain the plan for getting through and then we can get going.”]
Admittedly, it was pretty funny to watch Nicolai get strung around by Flora. Much like Augustine she had an affinity for learning, though the subjects she cared about were a little bit different than his. Turned out survival and outdoorsmandhip were in that wheelhouse. Florence watched as she continually pestered the elf. Though, when she could see that he was truly becoming frustrated she would come to his rescue and redirect the girl. That did not so often work when they were trying to get their moments alone together, as the dark eyed young lady happened upon them. Florence practically had flash backs to the time she had been caught with Adrian. So that was less than ideal for her poor nerves. Luckily, that was not a reoccurring problem. Though with the way Nicolai was pushing his luck, she might have to start inviting the girl to sit with them to make sure he behaved.
It was satisfying to see their little ragtag group come together and start to function as a regular party of travelers. And all together they were able to work on more solid strategies for fighting, something they would likely need to do very soon. They were practically at the mouth of the pass. As soon as everyone finished their morning meal it would be time to start in on that leg of the journey. Florence was a mite nervous for it, but between her, Nicolai, and presumably Töka, they should have everything covered. Especially if the bandits here were not particularly fearsome.
Having finished up her food before the others, Florence went to join Nicolai for a bit. Even if the others were still in sight, it would be a moment alone. Believe it or not she did strive to see that they got one or two of those a day. This time he was determine to make her figure the topic at hand. [+mediumseagreen "I do not know what you are talking about, this [i is] the old Florence. This is closer to what I used to look like if you think back to when we first met."] Between living an idle life in Wistina and having her son, that was when things changed. Not that she was doing a whole lot in Astoria either, given her injury, but she liked to blame it on Wistina all the same.
[+mediumseagreen "Personally, I am happy with the change."] She worked hard to get here, so she had better be. [+mediumseagreen "Before, I was rather content just to let things be how they were, but after Julia gave me a rather sever tongue lashing I tried to make more of an effort."] Seeing the look of curiosity at the name, Florence quickly filled him in. [+mediumseagreen "Flora's mother. She is... intense."] That was the word she was choosing to use instead of aggressive. Not that she had much room to talk. [+mediumseagreen "I think she got fed up of me feeling sorry for myself, saw too much of how Augustus was after what happened. But I am grateful to her for it. It took a lot out of me to get back here, but she was right. It was worth it. I do not lose my breath so often as I used to and with that I do not get as sick."] She still needed to be careful not to push herself beyond her limits, but she had definitely expanded upon those boundaries. [+mediumseagreen "I did not want to be useless for this trip like I was for the last one."] Somehow things had gotten rather personal rather fast. Maybe Flora's chattiness had rubbed off on her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The subtleness of her touches, from taking his hand and squeezing it to walking closer to him as they walked to the stable, were greatly appreciated by the elf. He was simply worried she would begin to get cold feet so to speak, backing off from him and rejecting him. It could still happen and he would do his best to stop it. He meant what he had said seven years ago and on seeing her again he found those feelings were much the same – just from a new perspective.
Seeing Augustine did not want to look up at him made Nicolai smirk, though on looking at Flora he found a very smug look of satisfaction as she stared at him. Lovely, a nosy girl. Thankfully Marko and Töka did not seem to care much and so they managed to get under way without issue for their first true day of travel.
Taking the later with him as a forward scouting option at times, Nicolai would lead on from the front only dropping back when they had lost good vision about themselves such as in a forest or wooded area. Although he was trying to get them in the right mindset for the journey through the pass, he could not deny them time to talk and chat and keep themselves in an upbeat mood with several breaks planned. None of them would be accustomed to riding for days on end like he and Töka were, and for Florence it had been some time. In the breaks they took he would speak to Marko mostly trying to understand just what kind of a person he was. Quiet and stoic was fine, but Nicolai knew outer appearances like that could hide a frailty beneath.
The first night camping outside was more of an affair than he expected, mostly as Flora seemed keen to ask him about everything he did from which trees were best for burning, why they chose a camp site here and not closer to the river nearby, and why he opted to use a bow drill to start a fire rather than the flint and striker she had been given by her mother. It was nice she had questions, but trying to explain every detail was grating after a little while. He couldn't palm her off with answers of [i [+royalblue 'because it is how I do it']] for too long before she would question even that. By the time it came for them to sleep, he was almost happy to take first watch and waved them off with only a brief moment to get close to Florence, wrapping an arm around her waist and kissing her cheek – but of course, they were busted by the snooping Flora and he had to retreat away a touch embarrassed of being caught.
For the next three days, the time it took them to reach the pass, things settled into more of a rhythm. Nicolai or Töka would take up the lead single-handedly now, though sometimes one of the three teens would come with Nicolai so he could speak to them and teach them how to properly scout and discuss their general motives or expected outcomes for this journey. Sure, Flora came to support her boyfriend, but Marko the Mute – as he had nicknamed him in his mind – was a conundrum. This often left Florence with the unenviable task of keeping a close rearguard to them. With her bow she was best keeping closer at the back but he always made sure to keep himself or his tattooed friend close by to her, not wanting anyone to ambush them.
Of an evening, everyone had their roles and were trusted to do so unsupervised, though that had been the argument of the second night between Nicolai and Florence where he had to convince her that they were old enough now to fend for themselves – at least to the extent of running back to camp on seeing any danger. Töka would delight in telling the others some of her times in battle though the only ones outside of Malidek involved minor skirmishes and lop-sided victories. Marko would learn with Nicolai how better to use the polearm he had passed off on him, including how to wield it as a lance of sorts and how to let go so as not to pull him from the saddle. Flora was often set increasingly more difficult archery targets to try for whilst Augustine was quizzed on different battlefield stratagems and even tested against Nicolai to see how far his swordsmanship had come. It was not perhaps good enough for one of his knights, but Nicolai saw some moves that clearly came from Astoria and he made sure to give praise where it was due, although sparingly. No need to make the boy cocky.
Florence did not need a job. She was an adult and as such he knew she would fill her time appropriately, flitting between all of them and being more personal where Nicolai would be more general with his approach. That was not to say he ignored her, far from it he would find excuses to steal her away to hold her hand on a short walk or sit up with her after the others went to sleep and reminisce about times back in Wistina or the like just so that he could sit beside her, shuffling along slowly until their sides pressed to one another. She knew what he was doing and sometimes would push him away or chastise him for being too bold, but it was always met with acknowledgement not annoyance.
Come the fifth morning of this camping experience they were now ready to enter the pass and Nicolai was keen to have them come in so they could discuss how they would traverse through and what dangers lay ahead. Camping a top an outcropping of rock to give them good defence in the night, Nicolai stood on the edge looking out across the plain that lay before the pass itself. With the youthful members eating their breakfasts, he was able to pull Florence away a final time.
[+royalblue “You know there is one thing about this journey I did not expect to notice,”] looking across to her, he looked down her figure and right back up,[+royalblue “you're now using a new notch on that belt.”] Perhaps it was his eyes playing up but she did seem to be in better shape for having this ride, yet he was constantly taking peeks of her so he was just really admitting his perverseness as he grinned.[+royalblue “I don't know whether I'm sad or happy to lose the old Florence or gain the new one.”] He was a touch pensive about heading into the pass, and this was his way of relieving said stress. But then again he did enjoy both the curving Florence and this leaner version, folding his arms over his chest as he turned back to looking out before them with a grin plastered on his face.
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