That anxiousness going on behind her seemed to come to its peak and then Töka decided to come out with it. There was an underlying issue, it came with whatever caused the scars on Nicolai’s head. No doubt that was also what the elf was being treated for when he was imprisoned in the Astorian castle. Florence would be lying if she said she was not curious about the whole thing. What kind of injury could leave him this way? She did not know. All her medical knowledge lied in keeping people alive just long enough to get them to a proper doctor, but that was not going to happen here. The woman was kicking herself for not making one come along from her home. Though that was not to only kicking she had to worry about as Nicolai began to spasm. He was going into one of his fits right here and now.
With no experience with this sort of condition, she let the younger woman take charge. She may not have seemed to know her first aid protocol, but at least here Töka had a plan of action. Florence listened to her, moving to straddle Nicolai’s legs and restrain them. Fortunately, she was in place before his jerking became too violent, a kick to the leg was exactly the opposite of what she needed right now. Though, he was giving her a run for her money in trying to keep him pinned down. Once again it was very apparent that he had gained some muscle in their time away from one another. She felt like this wouldn’t have been quite so difficult with how he used to be.
As she was focusing on her task, Töka barked for her to pass along the smooth wooden piece from his belt. Not long after she did so, the dark-haired woman shouted at the unconscious man for nearly taking her finger off, and she was not kind about it. But after that they seemed to be all in place to wait this out. Though she normally would have done so in silence, she found this was probably a good time to ask questions. At least ones that were pertinent to their current predicament. [+mediumseagreen “Once he settles back down will we be safe to let him go, or is this the type of thing that is likely to repeat once it has happened once?”] Basically, she wanted to know how closely they should watch him once this passed and if there was a specific window they needed to be more vigilant in. Florence was prepared to watch him as closely as she needed, but it was best to go into the situation knowing what was to come.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Töka was hesitant to leave Nicolai’s side when Florence beckoned for her to move away. There was an almost master and apprentice vibe between the duo and she was keen to ensure the man’s welfare did not suffer from his blow. Such a desire ran somewhat contrary to her dry wit and the playful nature that they shared in public, yet care for the annoying elf she most certainly did. Yet he seemed quite smitten with this woman, her green eyes catching the light at the right angle that she could see the intent glare when she did not immediately move. Huffing softly she shuffled back, standing up and folding her arms like a stubborn child as she hovered quite close by.
[i How did she know what to do? Why had he shown her how to do it?] Her brow furrowed deeply as she eased the helmet off the man’s head and instinctively Töka crowded forward. She was shooed away when she obscured the light too much and danced to the side whilst staring down on the man. He looked normal, his usual ugly self, staring blankly upwards and eyes closing of their own accord. The fact he was alive and conscious was a touch surprising but it was some good news at least.
Letting Florence continue her closer inspection Töka disliked how the man did not seem to respond. He blinked, he breathed, but he did nothing more. It was like watching a trapped being, only this one seemed to be trapped within his body like a prisoner. And she had seen that look many times before in the past which left with a feeling of unease as Florence continued her inspection. She shifted from one foot to the other, hands grasping firmly at their opposite elbows, her lips pulled taut.[+firebrick “This isn’t good.”] It was an understatement but it drew the attention of the other woman to look back at her and their respective gazes met.[+firebrick “The cuts on his head,”] she tapped the shaved part of her own head to accentuate the point,[+firebrick “they messed with him in some way. Healers say he’s not right anymore, called it falling down sickness or some nonsense. Can be nothing, like he’ll just switch off or stare into the distance for a few seconds. Or they get bad. Like he starts to shake, foam at the mouth, goes blank like this..”] She nodded at the still figure though she was watching quite closely.
It was perhaps for the best that she was watching him at the moment, seeing his hands were beginning to flex repeatedly, stretching out and closing tightly. Fiery eyes rose to the elven man’s face and she saw his blinking had become erratic, his eyes beginning to roll back. She muttered some kind of curse as she made to move forward.[+firebrick “For fuck sake, he’s gonna do it right now!”] She hissed through clenched teeth as she swung around the back of Florence, dropping down close to Nicolai’s head just as his body began to move. Dropping down heavily over the man’s chest she could feel his figure rolling and bucking beneath him and she growled with displeasure as her yet her lighter figure was not a match on its own.[+firebrick “Hey, sit on his damn legs or he’s going to kick you or throw a knee in your face.”] She called back to her as she tried to pin down the man’s upper half.
To stop him from repeatedly slamming her head into the ground she placed one of her arms over his forehead, keeping his head flush to the ground now though this seemed to a particularly bad episode.[+firebrick “There is a piece of wood in his belt.. give it to me now!”] She snapped back to Florence, her free hand pushed back and up to accept the requested length of wood. It was sat on his belt in a small loop of string near to the pouch where he kept the green liquor. About six inches in length and an inch this, the wooden dowel was cylindrical in shape and rubbed very smooth. Had Florence been in a moment where she could inspect it she may have seen the multitude of small indentations littered across its mahogany surface. But on being retrieved and passed on to the tattooed woman she would just catch sight of her fingers pushing into the man’s mouth, pushing past his lips to get to his teeth, yelping for a moment as she pulled her hand back.[+firebrick “Bite me again Nico and I’m gonna clip your balls off you bastard!”] She cursed the fitting man before she managed to manoeuvre his mouth open just enough to slip the wood betwixt his teeth, pushing his mouth shut to ensure he bit down on it and then pressing down on him again to help ride it out.
Not getting much in the way of answers from the youth, Florence was irritated. She knew visual was low, but they needed to learn to be more in tune to their surroundings. Before she had time to ask again, Töka was jumping in to make herself a part of this. Much like the older woman she was gentle with him at first, checking vitals, but she took a much less tender tone with the others involved. Eventually she got an answer out of Flora, which was not something that anyone had ever had to ask twice for before this point. Unfortunately, the red-eyed woman was not happy with what she heard despite getting her answer.
Florence was still hesitant to move him, especially now that she knew this was a head injury. But it seemed Töka was determined to do it with or without her and it would be less traumatic if she helped, so she hopped into place next to the masked man and took up part of his weight. This made her son nervous. Not because of his earlier concerns about the two, but more due to his mother’s limited stamina. He stepped forward to offer to take her place helping move Nicolai, but he was quickly shot down. Not all too pleased at being ordered around by Töka, he looked to his mother, but she nodded in agreement. No words were exchanged between the two, but they seemed to find an agreement and the boy fell back into line with the others. She just hoped that after such a crushing defeat, whatever bandits remained, if any, would think twice before making a move. Ideally, they would have a peaceful rest of the night.
[+crimson “Now… how the fuck do we get this helmet off?”]
That seemed to be her queue to step in. [+mediumseagreen “Let me.”] Motioning with her hand, Florence shooed Töka back a bit. Once there was a little space and she felt like the two of them were not crowding him so much, she got started. Leaning over the elf, she twisted the ears of the helmet like she had done before when he instructed her and unlocked the mechanism within. With extra care not to knock it against his head, she removed the mask and revealed a rather dazed looked Nicolai. Florence set the wolfish helmet to the side and brought her full focus to the man in front of her. His eyes were open, so he had remained conscious for the trip over, but how lucid he was was another question entirely. That would be the first thing she checked. Staying close even after taking the mask off, she called to the man, [+mediumseagreen “Nicolai?”]
Florence paid meticulous attention in the low light of the remaining embers. How his eyes moved, if he spoke in return, if he moved in response, any of these little things could tell her something and she watched for all of them. When she had the answer, she pressed forward to take a closer look at his head and scalp and if there was any damage that needed immediate attention there. After a quick look over, he did not appear to be bleeding, the helmet saved him the misfortune of scraping up his head on the jagged rock wall, but that did not mean they were out of the woods yet. It would be just their luck if he had a concussion or something. Not to mention Töka kept fidgeting behind her. It made her nervous, both because that was never helpful and it made Florence think that there might be something else they needed to worry about.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Töka found the fight rather invigorating and once fully awake, with her blood pumping fast through her veins she was like a whirling dervish with how she danced about with her axe. Though it was perhaps not as eloquent and beautiful a dance as one could make with long bladed weapons, she swung her axe as if it were one. Rather than planting the thick metal head into a torso and having it become stuck she instead slashed across chests, through arms, hit deep enough into thighs to sever tendons and muscles with no issue and leave the spasming, moaning invalids for Augustine to dispatch of in short order. The fighting only took a few minutes before she stepped back from the pile before her, seeing two figures slinking away until they felt comfortable enough to turn their backs and begin running.
Chest fluctuating with the exertion as her adrenaline began to subside she grinned as the warmth of fresh blood that coated her forearms and hands began to cool and become tacky to the touch. Augustine seemed to be holding himself together somewhat well, though his mother rushing over to coddle him like a mother hen did put the boy through some embarrassment and it made the woman chuckle quietly to herself.
Giving a further look back as the duo moved off to the check with the others, Töka took a little further time to confirm they were safe and it was not just a feinting manoeuvre by the attackers. The hushed voices of the others however had her walking back over ready to gloat about her final count to Nicolai when she saw them huddled around said man. He was knelt down, sitting back on his ankles with his sword on the ground by his side and his head dipped forward. Flora and Marko were making light attempts to rouse some kind of response from the former General who remained motionless even as Florence and Töka approached much closer.
The crimson eyed woman dropped down before the man and placed her hands on his shoulders, sliding a hand across to his neck to confirm a pulse – something he had taught her. It was there sure enough but with how lethargic he was being she knew something was up.[+firebrick “Did he get hit?”] She asked looking to the dark-skinned boy. There was no answer, barely even a whine or a shake or nod of his head though it could easily be missed in such little lighting. Her free hand struck out at the boy though and she grasp his shirt tightly.[+firebrick “Did he get hit you [i fucking mute]?!”] Her voice rose to a harsh whisper, though she was wary of being too loud.
It was Flora who spoke up, sucking in a deep breath to steady herself as her eyes flitted from Marko to Töka in quick fashion,[+plum “H-he did. He was hit by some… some giant guy with a hammer. Hit him right in his chest and he hit the wall of the building.”] She was not too sure of how things had progressed from there though Töka turned her attention over, still holding Marko.
[+firebrick “Did he hit his head?”] She stared at the young archer who could remember seeing the hammer swing once more and recalled the distinctive ring of the metals colliding. Her strawberry blonde locks swayed with her vigorous nodding and eyed the tattooed woman with a little unease.[+firebrick “Fuck..”] She muttered as she pushed back Marko almost knocking him on his backside.[+firebrick “You three stay out here. Florence, help me get him inside.”] She moved around to where Marko had been, the boy shuffling back quickly though she looked up to see Augustine approaching.[+firebrick “No, you’re staying out here. You have to keep an eye out in-case those assholes decide to come back for round 2. If they do, you come get us, otherwise sit out here and be quiet.”]
She stared up at the boy a few moments longer before turning on his mother, nodding for her to come and help. Once she had done so and taken up his weight on the other side, Töka nodded and between them lifted him up onto his feet. Thankfully he was not unconscious, his feet holding some of his weight though he would have gone back down if it were not for their support. The duo managed to walk him inside with a little finagling at the doorway and she directed them to the far corner where she could see by the waning light of the fire but was not overly straining on her eyes. Directing Florence to help lay him down she sighed and nodded.[+firebrick “Now.. how the fuck do we get this helmet off..”] She grumbled staring at the mask that seemed to glow in the embers of the fire.
It had been years since Florence had done anything of this sort, but even still she was confident in most everything she did. This left little room for anxiety, except in the case of Augustine. Even with him being relatively close to her, she was not always able to see him. Based off what she saw in the flickering lights and what she heard, he was having an alright go of things. The hesitation in his swings seemed to lessen and lessen with each man he came to face in Töka’s wake. Out front, she was making quick work of those who opposed her. It seemed she was not all talk, though Florence did not take that as a sign she could relax. There was still plenty to be done and a chance that the young woman could slip up.
Off in the distance a strange clang of metal reverberated down the corridor of stone. It stood out against everything as it was not the average clashing or swords. Florence couldn’t help but wonder just what it was. If perhaps the enemy had come in with another type of weapon or if something else had happened, but it was not a curiosity that she let consume her as it seemed they were beginning to wrap up on this side. They would need to hold strong even a while after the last enemy fell, just to be certain that there were no more. She did not want to allow this flank to become a weak spot because they backed down too soon to support the others. Then they would truly be surrounded and that was not a position she wanted to put them in.
On the other end, it was pretty clear that Nicolai was carrying his trio. Marko was having a hard time. Florence had said to aim to incapacitate if this happened, but in his formation, there was little room for him to do that. The elf up front was relying on him to make sure none of these bandits got back up. He pushed through the nauseating feeling that came with picking off those who were already knocked prone. The light that washed over them did not help. The boy was forced to see their faces and the number only increased now that Flora joined in to battle, but unlike him she was able to not fully finishing the job.
Mixed up in this black hole of emotions, the ebony skinned young man brought his axe down on one more enemy when he heard the almost hollow sound of Nicolai hitting the wall. Eyes flashing to the epicenter of the sound, he saw the behemoth of a man standing over the elf. His stomach sank. This did not bode well for the boy. Taking a step forward, the giant heard the clatter of the rocks beneath his feet and turned to Marko. The orange light of the fire danced in his dark eyes, matching the rage that they reflected. More uncertain than ever the blue-eyed boy stopped in his tracks. If a single hit from this guy did that to Nicolai, what chance did he stand? And it was not as though he could blame him. Look what they had done to all his friends? Frozen in place, the hulking man came forward at a menacingly slow pace and Marko began to wonder if he deserved what was coming to him. Where fear should have been, he felt numb. It was that same daze that held him in place.
The lighted arrows that she had shot into the wall were dimming and one by one flickering out. It was getting harder than ever to see anything. Flora’s eyes had adjusted to having some light, so the darkness was more prevalent than ever as it crept in. She wondered if she would become useless. The battle seemed to be winding down and she doubted there was time to go and gather more materials to replenish the makeshift torches on the walls. There only seemed to be one final enemy standing on the field. But just as the fiery haired girl was allowing herself to relax, things took a turn for the worse. Nicolai went down, masked head practically bouncing off the wall and it looked like Marko was next. She waited for her friend to take up a fighting stance, or even a defensive one, but he did not budge. The monstrous man, who was little more than a figure to her now in the ever-dimming light, was nearly upon Marko before it hit Flora that he was freezing up. Jumping to action she had her bow loaded and drawn back in a matter of seconds. With no room for reluctance she aimed for the head and let her arrow fly. The tip pierced his eyes, lodging up into what little brain the man probably had and killed him on contact. He fell to the ground with a lifeless thud. There was silence, and then the light went fully out.
Listening for anything and everything, a few minute passed. But to Florence it felt like forever. When she was finally convinced that no one else would charge them for the time being, she let the tension fall from her shoulders. Töka was already on her way back and Augustine was in tow. Standing straight, the woman joined her son, asking a million question all circling around his well being. He assured the woman he was fine, but she still felt the need to keep asking more and more probing questions.
[+coral "I am fine. Now let's hurry up and make sure the others are too."] He was more worried about his friends and mentor. Neither of the teens were accustom this sort of altercation, honestly he had little experience himself. He just hoped Nicolai had managed to keep things well enough under wraps like his mother and Töka did.
Drawing near to where the others should have been, no sounds of struggle were heard. It was likely they had finished as well. Though there was something else. Voices whispering amongst themselves. They were filled with an anxiety that Florence knew well. Someone was hurt. Picking up speed she ran carefully in that direction. Close enough to see a bit better, Flora and Marko were knelt next to their more experienced comrade. It seemed they were trying to get him to answer them. [+mediumseagreen "What happened?"] She asked, probing for more information before she made any move to help. Florence did not want to make things worse by jostling him about blindly. Though, she did plan on getting that helmet off of him soon so that they could hear him a little better. The woman did not like the way it distorted his voice.
[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.
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