I was walking in the thick forest, hand in hand with my fiancé, Seth, and my full regiment of six women who were walking with Seth and I, carrying on. I bantered and laughed with my order, my best friends, my sisters, as we tried to lure out the small band of orcs Emily and I had found on a recon mission earlier in the week. The band was so small that the seven of us hadn’t even donned our armor, not even Natalya and I, who were the front line fighters.
To make noise, Natalya clumsily chased the lithe elf, Dáníella, in the trees. Nat’s giant sword five times her size banging loudly on the things around her. Emily and Malaya joked and laughed boisterously on the ground with each other and at the race that was happening in the trees above us. I joined them, as did Seth, as we tried to add to the small cacophony of noise we were making. Only Nicole, sometimes the most responsible of us all, stayed focused, and worried about us with our guards down, as she always did.
About midday, we finally heard what we were listening for, even though the din we had been making. We had heard, all at once, a rustle ahead of us on the vague path we were taking that no forest creature could make.
Our chosen quarry for the day was not known for being stealthy. The rustle was so clearly no animal, that it almost seemed to not be covered at all. Now that all of us were focused on the noise that didn’t belong, we silenced immediately, even mid-word for some, to hear the sounds of more boots tromping in the underbrush. A guttural kind of croaking that was clearly meant to be quiet seemed to scream out to forest around me. I released Seth’s hand and grasped the sword that was hanging easily by my left hip. My other hand traveled up and grasped the shield that was on my back.
While I did this, I ranged out my hearing, listening to see if they had us surrounded. I was not alone in readying for the coming battle, so close at hand it was almost a tangible force in the air.
Dáníella silently released her daggers from their sheathes by her side, still high in the trees. Natalya gave up on getting higher in the branches, and dropped down with a loud thud to the ground below. Nicole notched an arrow, her eyes already wheeling about the forest, looking for the enemies. Emily drew her immensely long sword, running her two forefingers down the flat of the blade, chanting almost inaudibly. Malaya took her bladed staff of her back, gripping it tightly, almost fearfully, in her hands. Seth stayed the same, but I could tell by the shift in the air around him, that he was ready as well. They, too, seemed to be sensing out into the forest as I did. By the looks on their faces they heard the same thing I did.
More boots within the forest around us, matching the one that had alerted our attention. But more than I had seen in my earlier mission with Emily. More than the seven of us were prepared for…
I heard the loudest, heaviest boots and turned my face towards it. I drew my sword, Bloodbane, and pointed her towards the owner of the shoes. “We know you are there!” I called loudly to the forest, to the leader, I assumed, in a challenge. “Fight us, if you dare!”
A laugh that sounded more as the cough of a hanging man rang mockingly through the trees. “You have nerve, girl,” a growling voice full of malicious mirth said. The boots were loud and an orc that was taller than any door in my house and just as wide came from under the cover of the foliage. It had a broken toothed grin that seemed more like a painful facial spasm than an actual smile. More orcs came with him, surrounding us. More than triple the small number Emily and I had seen not two days ago. Vastly outnumbering the seven of us. Nicole quickly scrambled up the trees with Dáníella, a few arrows following her, but by the grace of God missing. The other orcs laughed as they saw her panicked face and heard her soft squeals. Once she was high enough in the branches, the arrows stopped following her.
My own face was twisted into rage, masking my own panic and fear. I saw to my immeasurable relief, that, though outnumbered, we had taken on odds like this and won without much damage.
But it would be close…
The orcs stopped in a choked circle around us. I surveyed them, backing up, forming my own circle with the four women still on the ground. Seth stood a fair distance away from us, but still clearly on our side. The orcs laughed in what seemed more like a hungry growl of a feral animal ready to take and devour all in its path. I bumped shoulders with Emily and Malaya, and could hear Natalya taunting them under her breath, directly behind me. I saw Seth’s form begin to shake, his own powers readying to be released.
I stared at the leader and he at me for one tense second. The thrill and panic of the verge of battle hanging in the air like the fumes of gasoline, ready for the spark that would cause the explosion. We waited for the attack, they waited for the order, in an instant that seemed like an eternity.
The lead orc made a strange click, and the spark flew.
The orcs rushed us. Seth seemed to detonate himself, disappearing, in his place a gold dragon the size of a horse appeared. The orcs around him cried out in fear as the dragon started to tear them apart. I lashed out with Bloodbane to the nearest to me, slicing his torso open. I spun with the attack, turning in a fast circle to gather momentum, then used that to smash my shield into his face. Another came at me with a clumsy swing, which I parried easily. I turned the parry into a strike and thrust Bloodbane hard through its stomach. It fell, and I with it, Bloodbane stuck in the damned creature. Its fellow came behind the corpse, its sword flashing in the light. I brought my shield up, blocking the blow. It tried to come at me again while I struggled to release Bloodbane. A sliver arrow streaked through the air and stuck itself into the neck of the thing, showering me with blood, but saving me. Again, I was in Nicole’s dept.
I finally freed Bloodbane, coming up fast. The pommel smashed the jaw of another orc that had tried to take advantage of my state. I kicked him back, sending him reeling into more who would rush me. I looked around quickly, having lost what the others were doing. I saw Dáníella first, spinning in her deadly dance with her daggers flying around her. She was in control, but I saw an orcish archer that had its bow trained on her that she clearly didn’t see. I rushed at the archer, ramming into it with my shield and shoulder. Too late, I remembered, that I had left my full plate at home. I felt my shoulder grind against my collar, excruciating, had I been able to feel it. But my adrenalin wouldn’t let a laughable thing like that slow me down. The orc fell back a few steps, and Bloodbane sliced through its bloated face.
I heard more bow strings, felt and saw arrows land all around me. I thought a few had hit me, but I couldn’t feel them, and would worry about silly arrows later. I surveyed the battle before me, searching for my next victim, thirsty for blood. My lips were curled back from my teeth in my own feral grimace. More saw me, and I rushed them as they rushed me, a cry building in my throat ready for release –
“No, don’t do that!” a voice said loudly, followed by a hard and unpleasant tug in my leg, breaking through to me above the clatter of battle.
I started, disoriented. Where was I? Where were the enemies? I was lying down, my head on Seth’s lap, feeling his warm, gentle hands at my face. I saw him look down at me, concerned, before he turned his face away, toward my feet. “Be careful!” he said, his tone a bit harsh, cradling my head slightly to him. “I think you hurt her!”
I lifted my head, still confused, to see who he was yelling at. I saw Dáníella standing over my right thigh. Besides her was Natalya. Seeing them, I remembered in an instant where I was. I was in the healing tent, after the battle I had just been dreaming about. Dáníella had been trying to retrieve an arrow out of my leg, before I had fallen asleep, feeling Seth stroke my hair. Dáníella must have called for Natalya, who on her off time was becoming a doctor. It was Nat’s voice that had broken through my thoughts. But I mostly focused on Seth. I didn’t want him to be upset when I wasn’t hurt in the least.
“Seth, no, it’s alright,” I said soothingly, placing my hand on his cheek. “I was just lost in my dreams and forgot where I was. They startled me,” I said, turning his head. “That’s all,” I added with a gentle smile.
His face held traces of the harshness he had used with the pair working on my leg, but when he found only truth in my words and face he sighed and relaxed, even smiling a little. His hands that were still on my face cradled my chin, while his fingers traced down my cheeks and over my lips. I sighed, content even with the more vicious tugs at my leg than there had been before I had fallen asleep.
“Just— like— this—,” Natalya was saying with every tug. The sensation was not pleasant in the least, and I thanked God for my unnaturally high pain threshold and the anesthetics Dán had given me earlier.
“No!” the more experienced healer said beside her. “There will be bits left in the wound!”
“No— there— won’t— be— elf—!” Nat was still saying and tugging.
“Jones!” Dáníella shrieked out Nat’s surname with such force Seth winced.
“Got it!” Natalya said in triumph as she gave one final violent yank on the arrow head, which came tearing out of my leg, making me wince though there was no pain.
I looked up to see Natalya holding between her thumb and two forefingers an arrowhead of mighty destruction. The end was hooked wickedly, surrounded by barbs and paper thin razor blades. It was clearly crafted for pain over lethality, though it certainly looked capable enough of killing something. But seeing it covered in blood and bits of skin and muscle tissue made it that much worse.
Knowing the gore on the bit of sharpened metal in Natalya’s hand came from my leg almost was enough to make me, a hardened veteran of more battles than I could count, pass out.
Dáníella glared at Natalya with a ferocity that made me wonder why Nat didn’t just spontaneously combust where she stood. Then she sighed and said, “Fine. What’s done it done. Now move so that I may finish healing Crystal.”
Natalya, not without a smug smile, walked off to clean her hands, or so I assumed. Seth looked more worried than before, no doubt seeing my clammy face and eyes that were trying to roll in the back of my head. “Crystal…” he said softly, sliding my head off his lap and angling himself so that his face hovered over mine, but so that he didn’t come anywhere close to being in Dán’s way. “Crystal, are you alright?”
“I will be,” I said in a weak voice that I was intensely ashamed of.
I shook my head a little and blinked rapidly. So focused was I in not throwing my breakfast all over my soon-to-be husband’s face, I didn’t even realize Dáníella was finished healing my leg until she came in my line of sight as she walked off, saying, “It is done, though you have another scar on your leg, thanks to Natalya,” she added with a grumble. “Seth,” she stopped to look at him briefly, saying “I take it you will carry her out so that we may collapse the tent and leave?”
He didn’t turn, only looking at me, still concerned. But he smiled easily and lifted me in his arms as if I was a doll. “Come, love,” he said, taking me outside the tent. “The fresh air will do you wonders.”
And he walked me out into the cool night, holding me closely to his warm chest.