Plodding along at what seems like a snail's pace, on a hard packed dirt road, through a seemingly endless grassy plain, I let out a raspy cough, and try to keep my balance. I'm situated at the back of the caravan, riding the most unfriendly, unhygienic, and uncomfortable roosequin I've ever met, who seems determined to buck me off. All the dirt thrown up by the wagons isn't helping, making me spit and gag so often.
This Fucking Dust. The amount raised from a group of wagons is unbelievable. I can barely keep my eyes open, with the amount of grit in them. It gets everywhere. Into everything. From my boots to my fucking ass crack. I miss the baths, the beautiful scenery, the food. I miss everything about the village. Travel sucks donkey balls. I realize why everyone just skims over it. 'We traveled for 10 days and reached our destination' is much better than the reality. Saddle sores, calf cramps, travel food, and the fucking dust. There isn't even anything interesting to look at. Grass, dirt, some rocks.
I should learn how to fly. Or at least run in the air, like the stupid rabbits Taduk is always talking about. That would be much better than this shit. I blame Baatar. He just let it all escalate. Couldn't man up, and stand up to Akanai, say 'Rain is my disciple, bitch'. He's my Mentor, not her, but all my praising and begging just gets me a pat on the back and a 'return whole' from him. No help at all. Like I had plans to do otherwise. Just thought I'd leave an arm in his yard, cause fucking why not?
It's my sixth day of travel, and I still haven't figured out why I'm here. What did I do to deserve this? I just want to go home.
After my savage beat down from that psycho grandma, I woke up on a table, with Tokta the Healer, Husband to Khorijin the weaver, Father to Tenjin the Sentinal, waiting for me. The family introductions are annoying, but apparently it's polite. I guess I'm supposed to remember all these people I've never met, and their stupid professions. What am I supposed to introduce myself as? Rain the Masturbator, Husband to Lefty, Father to countless splooge cloths. What an intro.
After his introduction, he sat me down and began to teach me. Stupid things, like hand signals, whistle signals, formations, tactical maneuvers, and etiquette. He ignored all my irrelevant questions, and just kept droning on in that stupidly annoying voice of his. When I tried to leave, he smacked me around and made me kneel, while he continued his lesson. Dude is a fucking healer. Why is he so strong? Go heal people. Don't beat up teenagers. That's just shameful.
Five days of that bullshit. Beaten by Akanai, then lectured by Tokta. I tried complaining to Baatar, and all he did was sternly warn me to follow orders, or she would do worse. Just scared of his Mentor, the big pansy. They had me fitted with some armor, introduced to Zabu the angry roosequin, and endlessly quizzed. At the end of the fifth day, Tokta tells me to pack some clothes in a bag, and report to the village gates before sun up. Simple enough. I figured we were going hiking or something.
I returned home to find Alsantset running around, packing my things. Charok hands me a case of his carvings and furs to sell in the city, some coins, and imparted some wisdom about what to do, what not to do, manners and customs, places to visit or avoid.
Tokta failed to mention quite a bit. I'd been co-opted into guarding a caravan to the city. It would be 10 days of travel, 5 days in the city, and 10 days back, at the minimum. There would be danger, bandits and beasts, as well as responsibilities for me. 'Pack some clothes'. Real informative. Asshole.
Once I found out, I was a little excited about the trip. We were headed to Shen Huo, where Taduk owns a villa. He was there now, in fact. In a city. With people. I mean, the village is nice and all, but it would be nice to see a bit more of the world, and learn about it through experience, rather than from reading books. And prostitutes. I very much look forward to that.
Leaning over to the side, I spit some dirt and grime out of my mouth. Zabu hisses at the movement, and I try to calm him by petting his back. He does not like that. It's much better to read about traveling. I need some Goggles, if I'm going to travel. They have glass here, but I don't really want to travel around with fragile glass goggles. How do you make clear plastic? All I know is it comes from a tree. Or is that rubber? I close my eyes and bow my head in concentration, trying to remember.
“Eyes open, Cadet. Travel can be dangerous. Do not let your guard down.” Akanai. Angry, gorgeous, ancient, disapproving, sexy Akanai. So annoying. She rides next to me, commenting on everything I do. I drink too much water, I spit too much, I shouldn't slouch, I should dress better, speak more clearly. It's like she's made it her goal to browbeat me into submission. Now in Common. Everyone speaks Common while we're outside the village. Helps us fit in, not alienate the locals. Even though I still haven't seen anyone new. Sighing deeply, I lean back in the saddle, focusing on the endless sea of green and brown grass surrounding us.
The caravan consists of 8 wagons, 14 carts, 12 Sentinels, 37 Cadets, 47 villagers and children, and me. Almost a hundred people. I know some of them, but not very well. Sumila is here, along with her father, Husolt. He's a big guy, almost a head taller than Akanai. His arms are thicker than my legs, with a barrel chest and braying laugh. He has thin, black hair, and is well shaven until the afternoon. He also has a well scarred, milky-white left eye, and bear ears like Sumila. No long fluffy tail, so I think he's just an average bear, rather than the red-panda variety. It's impolite to ask, apparently. Only Taduk brags about his heritage. If it was before I learned her true nature, I would have been incredibly envious of Husolt, being married to Akanai. Now I just pity him. And envy him a little.
I pray silently for the sanity of Sumila's future husband. That poor bastard will be tricked by Sumila's cute button nose, adorable freckles, and floofy tail. What he'll get is dealing her crazy mother. Sumila sits in her fathers wagon, loaded with chests and weapons. She gets to be protected from all the dirt and dust. I ask her questions every now and then, mostly about training or spiritual weapons. She seems annoyed, but hasn't asked me to stop, and answers them all very concisely. She's a veritable font of knowledge. I want to ride in the wagon, get off this stupid quin. I wipe my face with a handkerchief. It comes back caked in dirt and sweat. Gross.
My outfit is cozy, is the best I can say. I'm wearing full fighting gear while traveling. Hard leather armored vest, bracers, pants and boots. Fur-lined gloves, with the option to remove the top part covering the fingertips. Large wood and leather shield and a short spear that doubles as a club, strapped to my back, long spear and bow in the carrier strapped to stupid smelly Zabu. All topped by a ridiculously heavy metal plated, fur lined leather helmet. My shiny new sword is strapped onto my belt, above my butt. All in all, a little overkill for a slow ride in the countryside. The weather isn't cold enough for all this fur, and the most danger I've been in is almost breaking my neck when Zabu succeeds in throwing me off.
Sure, there have been some small incidents, but nothing major. A few giant birds tried to make a meal of a straggler, but a few arrows took care of that and provided dinner. We've seen some land predators, but most just watch us pass, and the rest join the pots. They all taste terrible, tough and stringy, an offensive odor soaking the meat through. Although that could just be all the dirt.
The day continues on, boring and uneventful, until after lunch. A cadet rides up and salutes to Akanai. “Provost Tokta's orders: Possible hostiles ahead. Caravan is to halt and take defensive measures. Request for Chief Provost Akanai to report.”
Akanai looks at me, making sure I know what to do. Nodding in exasperation, I fall into my position, next to Husolt's wagon, guarding the rear. Taking my bow in hand, Zabu snarls at my movements. Chill out, you stupid fat weasel. Don't throw me again please.
The wagons and carts have all stopped and pulled up on the side of the road. The villagers are all hiding behind the larger wagons, in small orderly bunches. Many of them are armed with their bows, ready to defend themselves. The cadets and guards ring them, spread out, some in the grass, others on the road. Staring down the open road, I see a curve in the road up head, maybe 500 meters ahead. There's a small grassy hill blocking line of sight, as good a place for an ambush as any. I can see why they ordered a stop if they saw people. We're not in a great place to wait though. We don't have any cover on this dirt road, besides some knee-high grass.
I sit atop Zabu watching, checking my gear, making sure everything is at hand and properly worn. Glancing around the plains, there isn't much else to see. Unless someone dug trenches and are hiding, we aren't surrounded at least. I doubt anyone would be dumb enough to attack us anyways. We're too well armed, and it's almost all open ground for kilometers.
The clop of hooves makes me look forward again. A single rider on horseback is approaching quickly. Taking an arrow from my quiver, I hold it to my bow, pointed at the ground. Akanai has an upheld closed fist, the signal for hold fire. I can't make out too many details of the rider. A big guy, dressed in grey-blue furs, carrying a spear with a white cloth tied to the haft. He comes closer and I correct myself. He's not dressed in furs, he's wearing a fur. The entire pelt of a giant wolf sits atop his head, flowing down his back, the paws attached to his arms. In the background, a large number of armed bandits begin filing out. Some of them stop at the top of the hill, carrying longbows. More march down the road, no discipline or formation, carrying a hodgepodge of weaponry, from pitchforks to genuine battle swords. Between 300 to 500 in number in total I think. Dressed in field clothes or less, they move at an easy, relaxed pace towards us, laughing and jeering in the distance. Wolf Bandit stops 100 meters from the front of the caravan.
“The Bandit King Zhong Shan demands the surrender of your coin, goods, and women. Do so, and the children and elderly will be spared. Otherwise, we will slaughter every last one of you, leaving you without whole corpses.” He's loud, but has a bored tone, as if he's said the same thing a thousand times before. For a single rider in short range of over 50 hostile archers, he seems pretty uninterested. Or maybe that's confidence. How strong is he?
Akanai says nothing. She opens her raised fist into a palm, directing everyone to open fire.
In complete unison, every guard fires. The whistle of arrows stops the jeering. In an instant a number of bandits are down, bleeding or worse. Wolf Pelt no longer looks bored. Now he looks shocked.
Draw, aim, and fire. Arrow after arrow flies from my bow, into the mass of approaching bandits. They're close enough together that it's hard to miss, and most aren't wearing any sort of armor. They begin to charge at us, to try and close the distance. Too little, too late, to change anything. I don't watch my arrows land. I just fire and move on to aiming the next shot. Arrows plunk down in front of the caravan, their shitty archers barely able to hit us from their perch on the hill. I watch as one of them falls dead, arrow piercing through him. 500 meters and up an incline, our archers have some nasty range and power with our tiny bows.
Husolt also takes aim from atop his wagon. His bow is like a massive version of mine, almost two and a half times larger, yet somehow still seems dainty in his hands. An arrow that I could use as a spear leaps from the bow, and a bandit archer falls in the distance. Another arrow, and another bandit. Damn good shot for a guy with one eye.
Wolf Pelt finally snaps to, and he bellows in rage. Ripping the cloth from his spear, he charges. The first arrow hits him, maybe after two-horse lengths. A second and third follow soon after, and he falls from his horse, who drags him the rest of the way towards us. A cadet stops his horse, two guards taking Wolf Pelt and tying him up. Guess he's not that strong. Where the fuck was all his confidence coming from?
Within seconds of his fall, the rest of the bandits are trying to run, a number of them wounded, pushing each other aside in panic. Akanai gives the order and we stop firing, watching them scatter in all directions, injured and dead left behind. No honor among thieves it seem. The whole 'battle' lasted maybe a single minute, from start to finish. Unreal. Like shooting fish in a barrel. I just sat on my quin, picking off bandits. Bandit target practice. I didn't live it, it just feels like I watched it all happen.
The sounds of moaning and cries for mercy fills the air, snapping me back to reality. Scanning over the dead bodies and badly injured, I see most are either shot or trampled. None of them made it into close combat. The Sentinels slowly move out, long spears in hand, checking the fallen, stabbing the fallen. I leap down from Zabu and walk around, looking for injured to help.
Hands shaking, I count my arrows. The adrenaline is surging through me. C'mon, Son. That was barely a battle. Don't freak out. I shot seven times. How many did I kill? I take a deep breath. You heard the Wolf Idiot. These bandits were here to rob, kill, enslave and rape. They don't deserve pity. So stop it.
No need to dwell on it, I just need to get to work, cutting arrows, staunching wounds, wrapping bandages. We don't have any dead, just some flesh wounds, so that's good. Nothing serious. Trying to concentrate on my work, but there isn't much to do. Tokta stops me from treating the bandits, so within minutes, I stand idle, with nothing to distract me from my thoughts.
Why did they attack? Their only chance was to ambush us, they had to know that. 50 guards with bows could fire, at worst, 9 times in the minute and a half it would take for those bandits to reach us. 450 arrows, shot at 300 - 500 unarmored men. It's simple math. Even some of the villagers have bows, and most are better shots than me.
Their ambush failed, but they still walked out to be shot at, disregarding their own lives.
I don't understand it. Why did they just throw their lives away?
It was senseless.
A waste of life.