Friday, June 19, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 1 - Caravan

Caravan duty was boring, long, and awful. Wyrena looked up at the clear blue sky, aching for some relief from the hot weather and plentiful amounts of road dust that had accumulated on her aching body and her equipment. Not a cloud was in sight, and while her lexoth-enhanced steel armor was not nearly as heavy or as hot as plain steel, Wyrena almost found herself cursing it. Again, Wyrena questioned the need for the Justicars to take on such menial-seeming assignments as caravan duty. The Officers had assured her that the tithes paid by the caravaneers for the protection of Tyr's elite kept the Justicars in food and equipment, and that the protection of the lawful from the forces of disorder was the sacred duty of every follower of Tyr, but Wyrena saw little distinction between serving as a caravan guard in the service of Tyr and being just a common mercenary. Plus, it had been months since the last caravan attack on the road between Corna and Jhan, and this tour was little different -- the fortress-city of Jhan was well within eyesight, and there would likely be no trouble before the caravan reached the gates just after noon.

Wyrena's recent torment at the hands of the ELF operative Porphyria had left her with nagging doubts. She knew that she should warn her superiors of the information Porphyria had because of her, but she just couldn't bring herself to cope with what she saw as her failure to live up to the ideals of her holy Order. And besides, she considered, it had been over two weeks since she had cracked under the unbearable pressure of that demonic ELF agent -- perhaps nothing would come of it, after all. After all, as far as Wyrena knew, the artifact was secure in Coelwyn's possession, and would soon be destroyed by the incalculable fury and justice of Tyr.

The horse beneath Wyrena shuffled uneasily in its gait, and Wyrena scanned the horizon, looking for signs of trouble. She was thinking that perhaps the horse was just getting impatient for the comforts of its stable back at the Ivory Tower when she spotted the glint of metal off amongst the tall grasses which surrounded the well-worn road.

"Sergeant!" Wyrena shouted, pointing to where she had seen the ominous reflection of sunlight. The sergeant turned to look, squinting against the sunlight to where Wyrena pointed. After a moment, he pulled out a brass spyglass and put it up to his eye.

"Raptorak!" the sergeant spat, calling out to the head of the caravan, "Make ready, all, a party of raptorak approach from the northeast!"

The alacrity with which the half-dozen Justicars assembled themselves into ranks bespoke lifetimes of military discipline. The sergeant-in-command ordered the Justicars to ready their weapons and shields as the horses strained against their reins in anticipation of the coming fight.

"Private Wyrena, stay behind and guard the caravan." the sergeant ordered before calling a charge against swiftly-closing raptorak. The five Justicars spurred their horses into action while Wyrena stayed behind, anticipating the swift destruction of the raptorak menace at the hands of the faithful of Tyr -- raptoraks were fierce combatants that would not go down easily, but the numbers seemed fairly even, and the Justicars had a good record in fighting these occasional pests.

Wyrena snapped out of her reverie as she heard one of the wagon drivers scream in pain. She looked at the source of the cry and found that the man had been impaled by a wickedly-barbed spear. Before she could react, a dozen or so raptorak burst from their hiding places in the long grasses alongside the road, and were on the caravan in the blink of an eye.

Wyrena's sword, blessed with the power of Tyr, glowed with energy as she spurred her horse towards the closest raptorak raider. The sword flashed breifly, shooting a bolt of ordered energy into the raptorak and sending it staggering before Wyrena brought her sword down at the junction of its neck and shoulder, opening a deep gash from which the creature bled profusely. Even though it was clearly well past dying, the lizard-creature continued to thrash about dangerously, its spiked tail whipping about in its death throes and hitting one of the nearby draft horses. Wyrena dodged the flailing raptorak and focused her attention on the rest of the raiders, who were now falling upon the caravan with ferocity.

Wyrena saw the closest raptorak spit a glob of viscous green poison into the face of a wagon-driver, whose look of surprise quickly contorted into a grimace of pain and horror before he was put out of his misery by the raptorak's spear. Wyrena spurred her horse towards the raider, again sinking her blade into raptorak flesh and side-stepping the horrific thrashing of the dying beast. Elsewhere in the caravan, the party of twenty or so men were taking losses, felled by the raptoraks' venom or their spears. Although the untrained caravaneers were attempting to muster some defense, pulling old and largely unused steel swords from their hiding places in the wagons, the caravaneers were obviously fighting a losing battle.

Wyrena looked to where the rest of the Justicars were in the midst of fighting six raptoraks in the distance, and yelled out her need for help from her companions. Suddenly, Wyrena felt dull pain at her side as a raptorak spear crashed into her armor but fortunately failed to penetrate. The next spear found its way into the flank of her lightly-armored horse, which reared up and threw her to the ground despite her attempts to hold on.

Wyrena's unkind contact with the ground forced the breath from her body and sent her sword flying into the grasses. Although Wyrena was dazed, she quickly rolled to her knees, drawing a dagger from her belt as she deflected another blow with her blessed shield. The raptorak had apparently decided that Wyrena held the greatest immediate threat for them, and were now attacking en masse. Wyrena staggered to her feet and deflected blows from the raptoraks' spears with her shield as she looked for an opening to get inside their reach and use her dagger. A gob of raptorak venom splattered against Wyrena's helmet, narrowly missing her exposed eyes, and Wyrena prayed to Tyr for strength as she deflected the raptorak's spear thrust and bashed her shield up under its protruding snout, thrusting her dagger into the raptorak's now-exposed neck. The blade glowed fiercely, as if with anger, as Wyrena pulled it back out of the raptorak flesh, and Wyrena smiled grimly as she felt the blood of this chaotic creature splash against her gauntlets -- today, Tyr's will was being done.

Only a moment later, Wyrena felt her feet go out from under her as another raptorak's tail slammed against the backs of her knees. Again, she felt the ground against her back, and only seconds later felt a spear blade penetrate the armor protecting her upper leg and sink deep into her thigh. Wyrena screamed in agony as the barbed blade was ripped out of her flesh. Nine raptorak remained alive, and although Wyrena had great faith in both Tyr and her own fighting ability, she knew that she would not be able to survive alone for much longer against such a force.

Wyrena parried spear blows, using both shield and dagger as she struggled to regain her feet, but her wounded left leg would not support her weight, and she looked around her for some kind of hope, smiling grimly as she saw the four remaining justicars from her party galloping at full speed back towards her position. Wyrena threw herself to the ground just as the four horses jumped over her now-prone form and crashed into the remaining raptorak, the silvery weapons of the Jusicars swinging with great force and leaving two raptorak in their death throes.

The return of the Justicars caused the usually-fearless raptorak to break morale, and another of the lizard creatures was struck down by the sergeant-in-command as it turned to run away. Quuickly, Wyrena threw her blessed dagger with all her might at the closest raptorak to her, and saw it enter the creature's flesh with a satisfying thud. Four of the five remaining raptorak were quickly surrounded by the Justicars, while the fifth dove into the tall grass and ran.

The four raptorak wielded their spears with fierce determination, knowing that the Justicars would show no mercy -- death was the penalty for their crimes, and the raptorak obviously preferred to go out fighting. The sergeant looked at the four with barely-veiled disgust and raised his shield to the skies, incanting an ancient and deadly prayer to Tyr.

The sergeant's shield glinted once in the sunlight, and erupted with a blinding silver light as it served as a channel for Tyr's awful judgment against the sinful. The bodies of the four raptorak were seemingly consumed, transformed by the unbearable, silvery light into structures of pure order before vanishing. The wave of silvery light passed over and through Wyrena, and she could feel herself being scrutinized inside and out by an awesome force which sought out and weighed her flaws against her assets, and Wyrena felt terrible awe which turned into relief as she was found worthy and passed over, unharmed. Wyrena felt herself weeping at the experience, knowing that while she had been found worthy of Tyr's mercy, she had yet to atone for her horrible transgressions. Wyrena made up her mind to inform her superiors immediately upon her return to the Ivory Tower.

Wyrena felt the cool gaze of the sergeant looking down on her, and felt his hand upon her leg, wincing as the sergeant inspected her wound. "Don't worry about the tears, private. That affects all of us the same way the first few times we feel it." the sergeant said with understanding, "It looks like you did okay out here. You might just make corporal for this. Now, let's get to Jhan and get this wound treated."

Looking up, Wyrena saw the stern but kind face of the sergeant, his brown eyes glinting with the remnants of the awesome power he had channeled moments earlier. "What of Private Ambrose? I didn't see him make the charge with the rest of you." Wyrena asked, hesitantly.

"Oh, he's fine. He lost his horse, like you, and I think he may have broken his arm. Nothing at all to worry about. Unfortunately, not all of our caravan survived."

Wyrena nodded, feeling relief that her companions were all still alive and safe. As she allowed herself to be lifted up and seated in one of the wagons, atop a bag of grain, Wyrena felt confident that everything would be just fine.

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