Henry was sitting on the fence that surrounded the stable, Kira by his side, watching as Pater attempted, in vain, to bridle one of the old mares the monastery kept. Why, neither of them was certain, and even Pater didn’t seem overly clear on it, but try he did.
The horse was having none of it.
“Ten coppers says he ends up getting drug around the yard,” Kira said.
Henry gave her a startled look. “That’s a terrible thing to bet on.”
The ranger shrugged. “I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Henry groused. “Make it twenty and you have a deal.”
“You are so on,” she laughed.
Pater paused, bridle dangling in his hand. “You guys do know I can hear you, right?”
“Sorry,” Henry replied, waving at the monk. Kira stifled a fit of laughter at his side, making the young man shake his head as he resumed chasing the mare about in circles.
“We are bad people,” Henry chuckled.
“Yup, we are,” Kira agreed, still snickering.
“Of course, if he does get drug, I know I’ll feel bad. Not so sure about you,” he laughed.
Kira gasped. “Of course I’d feel bad! Bad enough that I’d rescue him.”
“Before or after you finished laughing?”
Kira rolled that about for a moment. “After.”
“See? Bad people.”
“Better than being dull people, I say,” she grinned.
Henry had no argument for that.
Nor would he get a chance to come up with one.
“Henry, come quickly,” Nerise called from across the yard.
The tone in her voice set him moving, jumping down from the fence to race towards her, where she waited on the steps of the cathedral. Seeing her staring off into the distance, he slowed to a trot, trying to see what she did, but finding nothing. By the time he reached her, Kira on his heels, Petalwynd and Bishu had arrived as well.
“What is it?” he asked.
Nerise pointed into the distance. “Driskian raiders, coming this way. Fast, too. They’ll be here by night fall.”
“Are you certain?” Kira asked.
“She’s right,” Petalwynd nodded. “I count eight.”
“Me as well,” Nerise nodded. “I had feared that Gilford would not long tolerate my release from his hold. It seems he’s sent some of his men to retrieve me.”
Henry rested a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t be so quick to blame yourself. All three of us have given him a black eye in our own way.”
The look she gave him was a mix of gratitude and surprise. “Perhaps, but it does not change the larger issue.”
“We’ve lead them to Bishu’s doorstep,” Petalwynd intoned, face becoming grim at the realization their new friends were in danger because of them.
“They would have come here sooner or later anyway,” Henry told them both. “There’s no time now for worrying over who is to blame for what. We’ve got to deal with them before they get here.”
“What are you talking about?” Bishu asked in surprise. “We can reason with them when they get here. There’s no need for violence. Whatever it is you are planning, I implore you to rethink it.”
“I’m going to go out there, and give them a chance to turn around,” Henry replied. “If they won’t, then I’ll do what I must to protect this monastery.”
Petalwynd nodded her agreement along with Nerise. “We’ll go as well.”
“I figured as much,” he grinned. “Grab what you need. We have to hurry.”
“Henry, please wait,” Bishu begged. “This is not the way.”
“No, Bishu,” Kira cut in. “I’m afraid that the Driskians won’t leave us any other choice. I won’t stand by and watch you and the others die. I’m sorry, but I’m going with them.”
He sighed, then nodded. “I suppose I can’t stop you, though I should thank you for keeping the blood shed away from our door.”
“It’s the least we can do,” Henry told him.
With that, the four defenders set about gathering what they would need, making ready to face their foes once again. Hopefully, they all prayed, for the last time.
They raced across the Hills, desperate to reach the Driskians before they could draw any closer to the monastery. Bishu and his followers would not fight to defend themselves, their sacred beliefs forbidding even that level of violence, and for himself only, Henry had no desire for the monks to bear witness to the bloodshed that he knew was going to follow.
Nerise loped on all fours alongside the horse Henry had borrowed, moving almost too fast for him to keep up with, her eyes dark with anger that her freedom would threaten others lives. Beyond her, Kira rode like the wind, and for a brief moment, Henry marveled at her grace and beauty, until he found her eyes, and saw only wrath in them.
Petalwynd, more than any of them, sought a quick end to this threat, her fellow monks desire for a life of peace something she was willing to fight, and even kill, to defend. She lead them, her small statue belying the impressive speed she was capable of.
All of them knew the price of their failure on the field as the sun dipped low, and the kindness that would be snuffed from the world if they did not succeed. It weighed on them, even as it drove them on.
Far sooner than they would have liked, they spotted the riders coming towards them, and made ready to face them, falling into the positions they had agreed on before leaving. Petalwynd took the forefront, her martial skill surpassing all the others, with Nerise flanking her left, and Henry her right. Kira, bow at the ready, would drop as many as she could from a distance before joining them.
The riders slowed as they drew upon the defenders, seeing the Juten they had been sent to retrieve, as well as the Halfling they had been ordered to punish. Eagerly, they dismounted, barbed swords drawn.
There would be no talking.
In a way, Henry was glad. He hated it, but it was still true, and he couldn’t deny it. Some people could only be reasoned with by violence.
The Driskians moved into a semi circle formation, matching their opponents, already grinning at the chance to inflict pain before death. Before them, Petalwynd glared back, giving them a single chance to retreat. She knew they wouldn’t, but for their sake, she tried.
The moved as one, rushing the small bad of defenders. It was the most costly mistake of the brief engagement, as Petalwynd launched herself into their still tight knit formation, disabling two of them before they knew what was happening.
A third fell as he hesitated, startled by the speed the Halfling possessed. It was all Kira needed to leave an arrow in his heart as by his side, Nerise unleashed her anger on another, disemboweling him in a single, swift movement.
Seconds had passed, and already, the Driskians found half their number diminished. Realizing quickly that the Halfling would be the biggest problem, the remaining four rushed Petalwynd, changing the direction of their charge in a heartbeat.
Henry had prepared for that, however, knowing all too well the impression his small friend made. As one closed on her exposed back, he found his strike blocked by Henry’s blade, the former blacksmith giving him a dark look.
The Drikian had a moment to try and press forward before an arrow took his life, burying itself in his head. Henry didn’t give him a second look as he shoved the dead man aside, already swinging for another as Nerise moved to cover Petalwynd’s back, allowing he monk to turn her attention fully to the last two.
She showed them mercy, and let them live, though they would never hold a sword again, every bone in their hand shattered beyond repair. Henry was less kind, taking their lives when they tried to struggle anyway. Nerise was the cruelest of all, allowing them to linger as they died in agony.
If Petalwynd thought less of her for it, she didn’t show it.
Once it was over, Henry stood, panting, sword stained with blood. Petalwynd said a brief prayer at his side that their souls would find a second chance, something he noticed Nerise bowed her head to as Kira rejoined them.
“Fools,” one of the Driskians coughed from where he lay.
“You look more than fool than we do,” Nerise snarled. “Or did you really think I would return so easily?”
Despite the coughing, the dying man laughed at her. “Gilford doubted we’d bring you back, beast. That’s why he sent Waylan to aid us in punishing you.”
“Waylan?” Henry asked.
“Gilford’s second in command,” she replied. “More a beast than I could ever be. He finds torment and death arousing.”
“Nice guy,” Kira intoned with disgust.
“If he was among you, then his reputation is overstated,” Petalwynd told the dying man.
He smiled, blood pouring between his lips. “He is not.”
Petalwynd frowned, then looked horrified even as Nerise said, “The monastery!”
“We’ve been tricked,” Kira snarled, looking back the way they had come.
“It’s already over by now,” the Driskian laughed. “This is the price you pay, beast, for…”
Henry impaled the man, cutting him off. “That’s enough out of you.”
“We must hurry,” Petalwynd said darkly.
They were far too late, the Driskian trap executed perfectly, luring them away, leaving the monastery defenseless. As they returned, they spotted the stable burning and hurried that much faster.
Pater lay dead in the courtyard, face down, blood staining the earth red. Behind him, in the doorway to the cathedral, Shelly lay still, her eyes seeing nothing. Henry felt his heart twist in a way he’d never known.
“No,” Kira screaming, away and running before any of her companions could catch her.
“Go,” Henry told Nerise, sending her ahead as he paused to close the dwarf’s eyes, Petalwynd sweeping past him to search the inside of the old cathedral.
Nerise caught up to Kira a moment later, but stayed back as the woman grieved, falling to her knees as she took in the devastation to the small monastery. Everything was gone, not just the barn. The fields burned as well, all traces of the monks put to the flame. She wept for them, her friends, only briefly before she rose, eyes burning with anger. Tear streaked though she was, she dropped her bow and drew her daggers, no longer willing to settle for anything less than an up close vengeance.
Nerise understood how she felt.
Hurrying to catch up, they found Petalwynd, looking to where Will lay. The often quiet and practical monk had clearly offered no resistance, adhering to his vows even at the moment of his death.
Pressing on for the main chamber, the found Hu, and even though Henry had known, seeing the young elf lying dead shattered part of his heart. Leaning against the wall, he smiled faintly, having lived as he pleased, and died with his beliefs. It was a small thing, Henry knew, but it mattered.
“Blasphemy,” Petalwynd muttered under breath, hands clenching at her sides. “This is a blasphemy.”
“They will pay,” Kira replied.
“With their lives,” Nerise added.
Henry said nothing, closing the elf’s eyes gently, hoping that where ever his soul had gone, it had found peace. It was all he could hope for now, as his eyes burned, and tears fell.
The main chamber, once used for worship, was where the monks meditated and sought enlightenment. It was the center of their spiritual world, and as the defenders entered, they saw how it had been defiled.
Waylan, a towering man of bulging muscle, was tugging his barbed dagger free of Bishu, who dangled from a rope. The man was alone, having no need for soldiers to deal with the monks, knowing they would not resist.
“Aw,” he said softly as they stared in horror at the tattered remains of their friend. “Just a little too late. The good monk has only just left us.”
“Bastard,” Kira snarled, raising her daggers.
“Now, now,” Waylan intoned, running his tongue over the blade he held. “There’s no need in all that. If you must blame someone, blame that beast, for it was she who caused all this.”
Nerise growled, a long low sound of hatred as she hefted her staff. “Blame me all you want, monster. I am not the one who slaughtered the innocent.”
“Innocent,” Waylan asked, cocking his head slightly, the one good eye he had filling with mirth. “There is no such thing as innocence in this world, beast. Only varying shades of weak.”
“You’re wrong,” Henry snapped. “These people were good, and kind. There’s no weakness in that.”
“Really,” the behemoth of a man chortled. “Then tell me, why did they all beg for their lives before they died? If they were not weak, why did they offer me anything to spare them?”
“They did not,” Kira spat, moving forward.
Petalwynd stopped her, holding out a hand, but stilling the ranger with no more than that simple gesture. Kira looked at her, anger flaring higher, but quickly backed away. It only took Henry a moment to see why.
The Halfling was seething with rage. The calm, gentle focus Henry had known for months was no where to be seen, replaced by such anger he did not have the words to describe it. In her eyes, he saw it clearly.
Waylan would not leave here alive.
“What you have done,” she said slowly. “It is unforgivable. I will not, can not, allow you to live after this.”
“Come and stop me, pipsqueak,” he laughed. “I’ll string you up along side your friend, and you too will beg for mercy before I am done.”
“Enough talk,” Petalwynd growled, moving like the wind, barely more than a blur as she attacked.
“Henry, go to her left,” Nerise shouted.
“No,” Henry said. “Both of you, stop.”
Kira looked at him in shocked rage. “Why?”
“Because,” he said sadly. “I’m not certain she would be able to tell her friends from her enemy right now.”
Both women paused, looking to the small monk, and realized that Henry was right. Petalwynd was beyond rage.
Waylan barely had time to ready himself before she struck him, her hand driving against his heavily muscled torso with enough force to stagger him. Startled, he swung for her, but she had already moved, circling him, pelting him with blows from her hands and feet that made him reel.
The monster of a man began to swing blindly as she continued her assault, punishing him as he desperately sought to land even a single blow. Her speed was unlike anything he’d ever seen, and after only a few heartbeats, he began to feel fear.
Blows to his knees brought him low. Blows to his chest knocked the wind from him. Blows to his face blinded him. Blows to his back sent him lower. No matter how he tried, she remained beyond his grasp, her fast, powerful attacks driving him down almost effortlessly.
Roaring in rage, he swung at her, hoping to connect, and felt his arm hit her. Relieved, he swung around to capitalize, only to realize it was she who had captured him. The hatred in her eyes made him shrink back in terror as she wrapped his thick arm around her, holding it firm, and pulled, shattering the bone.
Howling in agony, he tried to get free of the miniature dervish, but was unable. Groping, he hoped to seize her while she was still, but found her already closing, having brought him down to eye level with herself. Her hands darting for his eyes would be the last thing he ever saw.
Away from the fight, Henry began to grow concerned, even as Nerise looked away. Kira watched in horror, unable to believe that the ever kind Petalwynd was capable of such torment.
Waylan staggered, crawling across the ground, trying to escape. “Please, stop! No more! I surrender!”
“Surrender?” Petalwynd asked. “I do not recall you allowing the monks here to do so.”
“You aren’t like me,” he whimpered, flailing in the direction of her voice. “You would spare your enemy, right?”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” she replied as she drove him to the ground with a blow from her foot, kicking him over so she could straddle him, gripping his head in her hand.
She easily batted away his weakly groping hand as she held his face, ignoring the pleas he offered up for mercy. Balling her fist, she drove it against his head savagely, stunning him.
As Henry watched, heart breaking at her pain, Petalwynd beat Waylan without mercy. Again and again, she drove her fist against his head, until bone shattered. Over and over, as she wept, she beat him, until his skull collapsed.
Still she drove her small fist into what was left, screaming, mindless, punishing him long after there was nothing left to feel it. Tears flowed like rivers, washing the blood down her cheeks, as she released all her rage on the still form beneath her.
Her screams would haunt Henry for the rest of his life.
“Petalwynd, stop,” he said at last, forcing himself forward. “Please, stop.”
Faster she threw her punches, hitting nothing but the rock beneath what had once been a mans head. She was deaf and blind to her friends.
“Petalwynd, that’s enough,” Henry yelled, grabbing her wrist, finally stilling her blows.
Slowly, sobbing, she turned to look at him, the rage fading as the grief claimed her fully. Henry pulled her to him, kneeling, holding her as she cried out against the savage cruelty visited on those who had not deserved it, and her own inability to stop it.
Only a few steps away, Nerise bowed her head and wept, undone by the pain of seeing the one who had freed her suffer so. By her, Kira stared blankly, trying to understand what had happened.
Henry held her as she screamed, sobbing, crying at what she had lost. He held her, and let Petalwynd’s tears fall against him.
©-2017 Cain S. Latrani