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Bandits, Bandits Everywhere
Henry blinked in surprise when Jason ruthlessly killed the sentry. His friend’s eyes were wild, his breathing erratic… He’s about to snap, Henry thought.
When Jason turned and looked at the bandit camp, he grunted like he’d been hit. Then he glanced back one last time, snarled, and teleported. The bandits over the hill began yelling and sounding an alarm. Henry shook his head as he ran, Okay, he snapped.
Henry kept running until he got to the top of the hill and stopped when he saw the prisoners in the cages. Some of them were only children. A little, dark haired boy lying on the bottom of one cage could have been sleeping if not for the arrow sticking out of his back. Henry felt his revulsion rising, a deep terrible anger following it. They didn’t even have a chance. He stood still for a few moments and breathed deeply to center himself. Losing his temper wouldn’t help these people and it would just put him in danger. It was a jagged pill to swallow, but he had to calm down.
Uluula was not so reserved. She took one look at the atrocities committed by the bandits, growled so deeply her entire petite frame shook, and charged forward to help Jason. To her credit, she took a path winding behind trees and through dips in the landscape, but her efforts to avoid arrows proved to be unnecessary. All the bandits were focused on Jason. They shot arrow after arrow, but he was high enough in the sky that hitting him would be difficult even if he wasn’t teleporting all over the place.
Jason stayed mobile, changing his vector, throwing knives and screaming in inarticulate rage. Henry hoped his friend was still considering his own life but it didn’t look like Jason was doing much thinking at all at the moment.
Despite Jason’s skill with throwing knives and the aid of his magic, he wasn’t getting many solid hits. The bandits were ducking behind cover and staying out of his line of sight. They weren’t exactly hardened soldiers, but the bandits were still wily criminals. After seeing the first of their number go down, they made themselves more difficult targets. Even though Jason could throw a knife pretty much from any location in his line of sight, it was still hard to hit a moving target and it took a lot of concentration to use his magic correctly.
Henry shook his head and started down the hill. He had to help his friends and that meant it was time to jump in to the fight. If he died, at least he knew he’d be killed doing something that mattered. He boosted his strength from the earth to his new maximum, increased since he’d been training, and bounded down the hill, armor rattling.
Henry gestured for Rark-han to follow him. The wolf man got a nod of confirmation from Bezzi-ibbi and loped after Henry. The big Mo’hali’s axes flashed in the sun.
Rark-han let loose an ear-splitting howl as he ran towards the battle, creepy as it was loud. Henry grinned, showing all his teeth, and his eyes were hard. He wasn’t Mo’hali, but he understood the sentiment. He let loose his own howl and went to meet the closest group of bandits with flashing bronze righteous anger.
Mareen stood on the hill watching the chaos unfold and felt the pit of her stomach drop. What I am I doing here?
She gulped when she saw the evidence of the bandits’ cruelty and she was scared when she realized how many bandits they were truly fighting. Meanwhile, Henry bowled into a whole group of bandits, scattering them before he and Rark-han fought them off, back to back.
Above Henry, Jason was like a god of death, delivering glittering knives out of nowhere to occasionally strike down archers and lightly armored bandits. He flew through the air, effortlessly dodging arrows and screaming his defiance at the bandits.
Jason was in great danger but Mareen was most worried for Henry. Not only was he fighting for his life, he was also relying on a man who’d been an enemy less than an hour ago. Mareen knew Mo’hali honor and cultural was very strict, but she still felt sick. If Rark-han ever betrayed them, Henry would be in trouble.
What Henry needed was someone to guard his back. He needed someone he could depend on. He needed someone… who wasn’t Mareen.
She knew she was useless. She could do math in her head, but anyone with parchment and pencils could do that same thing. Sure, she was a Body mage, but she wasn’t all that powerful and the two men she was trying to support could practically heal themselves. She knew how to use a bow, but she wasn’t very skilled. Despite being stationed on top of a wagon, she wasn’t able to hit any demon wolves when they attacked the caravan.
She didn’t even have the upper body strength to use a real war bow, not that it mattered if she couldn’t hit anything. She wasn’t strong enough for some camp chores and Henry could do most of them effortlessly anyway. She was a pretty good cook, but surprisingly, so was Jason.
Mareen knew that she could get a job pretty much anywhere on Ludus with her magic, but compared to her friends, she felt like a failure. Nobody in the group said she was useless, but she wondered if they were just being kind of her.
Mareen felt like she was betraying her decision to support Henry and Jason. What’s more, it seemed like every time the stakes were raised or the situation got more serious, her companions got more powerful, more skilled; Mareen didn’t. She felt like she was stagnating, bringing dishonor to herself and her village. Plus now that the group knew Jeth was a murdering rapist with the bandits, her village’s honor was further damaged.
On top of everything else, she was fairly sure Henry knew she had feelings for him. He wasn’t even talking to her anymore. He hadn’t outright rejected her, but she knew it had to be coming.
Mareen stood on the hill next to Bezzi-ibbi and realized she didn’t know what to do. If she ran down to fight, she’d probably be a liability to her team mates. She felt deeply ashamed. Her father hadn’t been a Holder, in fact he wasn’t even been born in this world and he was still one of the greatest adventurers of his time. Meanwhile, his daughter was a failure.
Suddenly, Bezzi-ibbi cocked his head and ran off with no warning. His little legs moved incredibly quickly and his tail stood straight out behind as he sprinted. The boy was more graceful, powerful, and brave than Mareen could ever hope to be. Even the little boy is more useful than me!
Mareen was alone.
She stood watching the battle for a few more moments while she choked on her own helplessness.
It looked like Jason was about to run out of throwing knives and he was teleported to the top of a guard tower, probably to conserve energy.
Henry and Rark-han were joined by Uluula and they were holding their own. Uluula was able to keep the bandits at bay with the length of her spear, Rark-han was skilled and fast, chopping at the other bandits’ weapons with his heavy hand axes, and Henry was like a force of nature. Some of the bandits had crude armor and a decent amount of skill, but Henry was skilled, armored, and his strength was overwhelming. Plus, if a bandit took too long to dispatch, Henry simply shot them with one of his bronze projectiles.
Mareen wasn’t a soldier but even she realized that if Henry could reload more often instead of fighting hand to hand, the battle might be over already. It was too bad his strange weapons weren’t more accurate or he could have just stayed on the hill with her, cutting the bandits to pieces even faster than he already was.
Mareen carefully avoided setting her eyes on the blood and death surrounding her. She thought she’d be okay as long as she didn’t focus on anything that would make her nauseas. She had to be strong for her friends.
I will not be useless for this battle. I refuse to be! Mareen clenched her jaw.
She wanted to help but she needed high ground to use her bow. Somewhere defensible… She spotted an empty, well defended bandit tower at the rear of the camp. With a new surge of determination, she began moving towards the tower through the woods on the perimeter of the camp.
However, unbeknownst to her, a feverish set of eyes tracked her from a short distance away and began to follow.
Henry was beginning to feel cautiously optimistic about the battle. They’d taken down about half the bandits. They were still outnumbered, but every time a bandit popped out from behind cover to shoot an arrow or hurl a spear, Jason threw one of his few remaining knives. He didn’t hit very often anymore, the bandits were too wily. It still kept their heads down, though.
Henry knew Jason could probably teleport for a better position or even fight directly with his sword, but his friend was probably trying to conserve magic energy like he was. The amount of power he and Jason already used up was far greater than their total available power after first bonding with their orbs.
They were fighting their first large group of people, though. The monsters they’d fought before were strong and fast, but they were stupid. The bandits were clever.
Bandits pressed Henry just enough that he couldn’t easily load his exoguns. They also didn’t give him time to aim. They threw themselves out of the way when he fired and stayed on the move. Henry was glad the bandits didn’t know they cut his ammo pouch too. The truth was, he didn’t even have much ammo left, only 3 more balls in his tube.
He could tell where the dropped ammo was by using his earth mapping skill, but there was no way he would have a chance to go back and pick them up. He was starting to slow down too.
Henry had a few moderate wounds on his body. His endurance skill and his healing ability were probably helping, but he was losing energy. He took an arrow to the back of his arm and had to rip it out, the broad head leaving a gaping, gushing wound. He didn’t have time or space to deal with it, though. He just hoped his healing ability would close the wound before he got light headed.
Still, despite his injuries and the bandits fighting smarter, it was beginning to look like he might even survive. As he cut down another bandit with his heavy khopesh, Henry created just enough space to load a ball in an exogun and shoot another bandit. Damn. It was a bad shot, he just hit the man’s arm.
The wounded bandit fell back, but Henry needed to stop him. A living bandit was one who could still throw weapons and take advantage of opportunities. Henry gritted his teeth and loaded the exogun with another of his two remaining projectiles. He fired again, the shot quick and un-aimed but he got lucky. The bandit fell back, groaning and clutching his chest.
Henry decided he learned his lesson. If he ever walked into another battle again, he would be sure to have a better ammo retention system. He probably needed to upgrade his exoguns too. They were working well for him, but he really needed a self-contained weapon. They also helped Henry turn the tide of the fight.
Between Jason’s rage-induced attacks and Henry destroying an entire small group single handedly, they managed to help even the odds a lot in the first few minutes of the skirmish.
Now the battle was definitely turning in their favor. There were only a handful of bandits remaining, and those that were still alive wouldn’t fight Henry’s group head on. They mostly threw weapons and rocks at them from behind cover, only occasionally running in from behind a tent or shed if they thought the group was distracted. Henry was able to easily block the projectiles with his rawhide-backed, bronze shield.
Suddenly, Henry caught movement out the corner of his eye. He barely glanced behind him quickly enough to see a large wooden barrel crash into Jason, knocking his friend from the top of the tower he was standing on. Jason landed in a boneless heap on the ground.
Henry turned towards where the barrel came from and saw an average sized man with dark hair and a dusky complexion walking towards them from a cave at the rear of the camp. “You know,” said the man, “you’ve done me a great favor. In the time it took me to completely wake up and put on my armor, you managed to kill off most of my men. I have a cave full of goods to sell that I don’t have to split so many ways anymore. I just became a much richer man.”
The swarthy man carried an enormous bronze sword. Henry was shocked, That thing must weigh a ton… The man also wore what looked like bronze lamellar armor. The way the armor moved and hung, each plate looked obscenely thick. A normal person probably couldn’t even pick it up, much less wear it. The man’s bronze helmet was a barbut and it also looked unusually thick.
The man shouted, “The rest of you lot from my camp, get out of here. If you stay longer you’ll probably die and I don’t want to build an entirely new crew from the ground up!” The handful of remaining bandits ran away without a backwards glance, more afraid of the man walking towards them than they were of Henry and his friends.
Henry began to get a really bad feeling. When the man got closer, he understood why. A chime sounded in his head and text scrolled over his left eye:
Thod Te Ver Nacker, Ludan, Berban
Dolos Orb, Modular Build, Generation 1
Thod continued to approach them, his body language relaxed, absently twirling his huge sword. “These new alerts from Dolos are really convenient. Is your friend only a first rank Holder too? I’m impressed that you two were able to take out so many of my men. I hope you know this isn’t personal, but I need to kill you now. The bounty announcement from Dolos was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Henry blinked and tightened his grip on his sword. He was already tired, covered in blood and a lot of it was his. Meanwhile, Jason wasn’t moving, Uluula was panting, leaning on her spear, and Rark-han looked terrified. Henry had no idea where Mareen or Bezzi-ibbi were.
He sighed. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.