The Last of the Elves (Photon & Tzarima) IC
Uraseil dodged to the side as an arrow missed him by inches, burying itself in a tree trunk. As he turned, dashing behind a pile of rocks, he glanced behind him. Only two men were still following, the others being forced to wait back at the small chasm he had jumped over, too far behind now to follow. There was only one way out of this and Uraseil was hesitant to follow through with it; he was weak from lack of sleep and food, while these men were well rested and fed. He realised however that he would only have one chance at this, and he needed to make it count. Uraseil scanned his surroundings, and took position standing behind a large tree, leaning against it between two of it's roots. He drew his sword.
The first man ran past, not even glancing around as he completely missed Uraseil. The second man was moving at a slightly slower pace, and it was him that Uraseil attacked first. He stabbed at the man as he slowed, but the sword struck one of the steel studs in the man's leather armour, glancing off it and giving the man time to react. Uraseil was still faster, as any elf would be compared to a human. The man already had his sword drawn, and immediately swung it at Uraseils leg, but Uraseil shifted his weight and spun around, slicing into the man's left arm as he did so. The man paused, the pain distracting him, and Uraseil finished him off, just in time to block an overhead blow from the axe carried by the other man, who Uraseil now realised was a tall dwarf, not a short human. Uraseil withdrew a few steps, taking a defensive position. The dwarf did not wait, pressing his advantage with a cut aimed at Uraseil's neck but slightly mistimed, giving Uraseil the chance to step forwards again, between the dwarf and the head of the axe, and stabbing the dwarf through the stomach as he did so.
Uraseil sighed in relief. He knew how lucky he was to be alive, and realised that he had only won due to the element of surprise when he first attacked. After searching the bodies for food and water, Uraseil continued on his way, jogging down a path towards a nearby lake. He knew of a small cave system at the edge of the lake, and planned to stay the night there.
A few hours later, Uraseil had a campfire set up inside the cave, knowing that light would only be visible to someone just outside the entrance to the caves. He quickly fell asleep, hoping that for the first time in weeks he might be able to sleep for more than a couple of hours.
Having received the news of Merithiarnath’s fall only days ago, the travellers, consisting of an elven nobleman and five of his guards, were grim and weary. The message reached them on the road, while they were on their way back there and the lord Vaelrindel had been persuaded to abscond, rather than try to find survivors of his family, by his guard. Even if everyone on some level wanted to rush to their home, fight for it and help others that were there, it was decided that they should not risk the life of the noble they had with them, and who as far as they knew might be the last of the house. And so they all turned around, away from the road leading towards the place where the Merithiarnath hall was supposed to be.
They had left the road and were making their way through the dense forest. The party was silent aside from the when the guards would quietly discuss the direction they were going, how far they should stay from the road or when to rest, which was not often. Despite his rank, Vaelrindel himself had little part in these decisions. It was a typical situation where you should trust someone else’s expertise, they knew what they were doing better that he did, and their mission was keeping him alive. He was not challenging them on it, and had spent the last few days barley saying a word and following orders from his bodyguards.
It was at sundown on third day of this journey that they were attacked. “Damn this, I thought we were so careful.” The one of the guards hissed as they heard the battlecries of the troop that found them, and they all drew their weapons. Vael had drawn his sword when the captain turned to him, there were black lines under her eyes from resting too little and she looked tired and worn. “No. You run. Go over that that ridge and down to the left from there. Now!” She somehow yelled under her breath. He hated that he had to flee and leaving these people who were fighting for him, but he did not argue with the decision and reluctantly ran towards the point she had pointed out to him. He soon heard the sound of steel against steel behind him as his own small troop clashed with the enemy one. He didn’t have an chance to get a good look at them and didn’t know how many they were, but if they were near as many as they sounded like, it was unlikely he would see any of the guards he left again.
He was dreadfully tired even before he started running, and when the sound of battle grew fainter he stopped for a moment and calmed his breath to listen to see if he was followed. He did hear footsteps, or rather the sound of someone crashing through bushes and trees. Someone had set out after him, but those who did were far away and likely didn’t know where he was. He kept going, away from his pursuers and still following the captain’s directions. He was about to fall apart by the time he was sure he had lost his follower. He could hear nothing but his own hard breathing as he stumbled down the ridge towards what he thought was left from compared to where he came from. The night was thick around him when reached a lake at the end of which he saw the entrance of a cave. It was probably the place where his captain intended he should go and he made his way towards it. Then he saw the light of a fire reflected on the wall of the opening. Not knowing whose fire it was he drew his sword and stepped cautiously inside. He hoped it was another elf in hiding, but if it wasn’t he didn’t wasn’t to be noticed. The sword would probably not help him much if he was attacked now, he barely had strength to stand, but he felt just a little bit safer with it in his hand. His attempt at being silent was soon foiled by him losing his balance in his exhaustion, he stumbled and some rocks tumbled down, echoing through the cave. He hoped again that it was someone friendly who resided here, but he thought that more likely than it being a small dwarven platoon stumbling over it and making it their home.
Uraseil awoke to the sound of someone stumbling over some rocks. He immediately grabbed his sword and kicked out his fire, taking care not to look at it so that his eyes would adjust quickly. If the person approaching was a dwarf or human, he knew that he would be able to see better than them in the dark, and if it was another elf, then he didn't have to worry. Uraseil crept to the cave wall, and followed it around, trying to circle around the intruder while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He spotted movement to his left, and paused, staying as still as possible while he tried to make out their form. Definitely not a dwarf, too tall for that, but Uraseil could not tell if the figure was a human or an elf. Once he realised that the figure was facing away from him, Uraseil jumped out from his hiding place, putting his sword to the figure's neck and snarling,
"Are you elf or human?"
Vael managed to regain his balance and looked around, barley having time to realize the light of the fire was gone before he had a sword against his neck. He cursed himself silently. After all the struggle and sacrifice his guards went through just to keep him alive and the first thing he did was to walk straight into someone’s sword. He had known that he was barely strong enough to stand and that there was someone unidentified in the cave, and still he stumbled in there like an idiot. A nice display of common sense. He threw his own sword on the ground, a few feet away as an assurance he was not going to use it.
“Elf” He said calmly, not able to tell the race of the owner of the sword either. “Now put that away, I will not fight.” There was no fear in his voice, just resignation. He should have known better. This could be another fugitive just as well as a human scout and he could only wait to find out if he was a prisoner or not.
Hardly believing his luck, Uraseil drew back slowly, feeling the ear of the man in front of him as he did, feeling the point of it before he fully relaxed. He walked back towards the remains of the fire, bending down to gather it up and relight it as he spoke.
"Didn't think I would be seeing another elf around here, it seemed to me that the dwarves had done a pretty good job rounding everyone up. I'm Uraseil Larith by the way. I was a general in the Ferael House."
Uraseil managed to get the fire burning again, illuminating the small space in the cave he had been resting in. He turned back to the other elf and looked him up and down. A noble by the looks of him, but obviously exhausted. No surprises there, nobles would have bodyguards to help them escape. This one seemed to be alone though, must have run away from his guards. Uraseil frowned as he took all this in. The man didn't look like he could run far enough that he would be able to escape the professional warriors of the humans and dwarves for long. That meant that unless the bodyguards had managed to kill all of the attackers, there would be hostile forces on their trail within hours. A noble and a war general in the same area would be enough to justify sending multiple platoons to search for them.
"You must be a noble, though I can't name you by sight. Come, let's move deeper into the caves. I would suggest fleeing, but I don't think either of us is up to running at the moment."
Even though Vaelrindel could not be sure on the identity of the one who addressed him before he spoke again, he still could not help twitching his head the other reached for his ear. He was surprised to hear a name he recognized, he knew this general by reputation, and even though he also knew he had been positioned in this area, it was one of the last people he had expected to find in this cave. Alone at that.
“Uraseil of Ferael, truly? I’ve heard much about you, general. It’s strange to meet you under these circumstances.” Vael said, in avoice making it clear he had been running for long, and picked up his sword, checking if it was chipped from being thrown on the ground like that before sheathing it. He nodded at the general, aiming it for both the correct assumptions and the suggestion. “Vaelrindel aer Merithiarnath” he introduced himself, “Well, what’s left of it. And I can attest to that the dwarves were quite efficient in their searching, we had expected to at least be out of the forest before running into any trouble.”
After that he helped with dispatching the fire properly and followed the general deeper into the cave system. Grateful for finding someone friendly, grateful for having someone to just follow right now that he could barely think straight himself and grateful he was trusted to come along without immediate questioning, aside from whether he was an elf.
Uraseil glanced around, surprised as he heard the name of the noble. He had expected someone who was lower ranked in one of the minor houses, not one of the better known nobles in the area.
"Vaelrindel? You were in charge of your house's army were you not? We may be in more trouble than I thought. I take it you didn't kill your assailants, so if any of them get back to their army they will send far too many soldiers towards us for us to escape. We need to stay well ahead of them if we are to survive."
Suddenly realising what he was saying, Uraseil stopped walking and looked back at Vaelrindel again. He was already talking as though it was a given that they would travel together, and had not even greeted the noble formally, as a man of his position deserved. Uraseil bowed towards the man, keeping both hands behind his back as he did so.
"My apologies, I forgot myself. Vaelrindel aer Merithiarnarth, it is an honor to meet you. I am at your service. With your permission I would lead you to the back entrance of these caves and be your escort for as long as you will have me. I believe the best route to safety would be directly north, staying away from Hyunla and the surrounding towns, and crossing the Dwarven Mountains over the Huth Saddle."
Although he was hoping that Vaelrindel would be one of the nobles who would brush away formalities in times like this, Uraseil knew of some who would insist on following tradition to the grave.
Vael was about to answer when Uraseil to his surprise changed to the officially correct way of addressing him. He couldn’t help but smile a little in the midst of the misery and the dire situation, partly because of it.
“I think formalities are a little past their uses now, don’t you? And I would much appreciate you company, general, I’m glad I found you. Please, do use my first name.” Even though he himself was never much for formality unless it was an official situation (which it very often was) and he hadn’t even considered enforcing something like that now, he found he appreciated it being offered. That even though he just stumbled into a cave, dirty, tired and completely alone with nothing left to be a lord of, there still was a tradition there, and that the general would have kept that up.
“That’s the way my guards deemed best as well. We were aiming for Etalas, as the only place we could be sure to find refuge. At least Thranir didn’t want to risk a non-elven land with what the situation looks like. And no, I did not get the chance to kill anyone, I fled when my group was attacked and I have no idea how the battle turned out.” He silenced for a moment. He wished he could go back there and look for them. He wished that, even if they were all dead he could have given them a proper funereal. He knew how much that was out of question.
“Well, if we have to move then it can’t be helped. How long do you suppose we will have to go before we are safe enough to rest?” He felt he had reached his limit a long time ago and did not like the idea of continuing at all, but there was no arguing with necessity.
Smiling in slight relief as he relaxed, Uraseil took a moment to stop and think about the situation. Vaelrindel was obviously tired, and Uraseil didn't know him well enough to know how well he could hold out for in this state. It was a risk to continue without rest, but there was also the risk that the dwarves and humans would catch up with them if they rested in these caves. Though the caves weren't particularly well known, the path through the forest that Uraseil wanted to follow was, and would be one of the first places the dwarves would scout in the area. If they waited, they would have to take a more exposed route, but at least they would stand a chance if they ran into a scouting party. If they went immediately, they would be able to take the better and less exposed path, but if they ran into any dwarves or humans, they would be forced to surrender.
Weighing up the options in his head, Uraseil started thinking of where their next hiding spot would be. There was another cave system to the north, but Uraseil didn't know if it had a back exit. If they were cornered they wouldn't be able to escape. Aside from that, however, there were only the slightly more secluded patches of the forest. They would be able to sneak through the forest without being caught, but once they hit the other side, the dwarves would already be there, having taken an easier and faster route.
"Curse it all!" said Uraseil, breaking his silence. He started to speak quickly, laying out his thoughts for Vaelrindel
"I don't see a good way out of this, so we have to take the best bad option. The path I was planning to take will be swarming with dwarves by morning. If we cut through the heart of the forest we can make it through alive, but the dwarves will already be on the other side, and I'm not sure how easy it would be to get past them. If we leave now we can avoid both of those situations but if we are seen, we probably die, and also there aren't any good hiding spots for about eight hours at least. Ten or eleven more likely, given the state you are in. If we don't get that far, just hiding off the beaten track won't be good enough, we need to be a good thirty minute walk from the path before I would call it safe to rest."
"If it was just me I would make a break for it and try to keep moving for eight hours. There is a large rocky area with so many tiny hiding spots that the dwarves probably wouldn't even bother trying to search it. It's your call, I don't know how long you can last. Cut through the forest or head down the path?"
Vaelrindel sighed, ten hours. As much as a desperate situation could bring out unexpected strength in someone he thought he had most likely already depleted that, and he could barely walk through this cave without falling every few seconds. It was just not possible and he’d likely be a greater burden if he tried.
“I could go on for a while if I must, but not another ten hours.” He said, shaking his head. ”I’m sorry, perhaps half the distance we would have to go was the half I could take that chance. As it is I would rather risk a few hours delay and know that then I will able to run or even fight if I have to. I’m walking target practice right now. I would say we rest for the time we can afford and then cut through the forest.” He glanced towards the cave entrance. He had found it in the dark and it was far from impossible someone else would as well, even if they didn’t have a fire that could be seen from the outside.
“Do you think we should take turns keeping watch or aim for keeping the time we have to stay here and rest to minimum?”