Chapter Five: Trust & Betrayal

The first traces of daylight were beginning to part the veil of night. Dawn had come but sleep and rest had not. Sharing a camp with the Silatian regimen had brought some measure of comfort and of safety but not enough for Butterfly or any of the Three to relax their guard enough for a restful night. Each had taken their turn at the watch so the others could find peace enough, but none truly believed their surroundings to be secure enough to relax his guard. The Silatians themselves were also quick to reach for sword or bow when a noise or shadow not quickly identified presented itself. The Captain had on several occasions, forced a throaty laugh out towards his men when they did so in an attempt to ease the tension but his men knew their captain too well. He had constantly scanned the camp’s outer edge during the night, marked by the light of several small brush fires where men passed the time tending to nicks in blades, throwing dice, or trying some other unsuccessful means to carry their thoughts from the danger at hand. Although he had seen nothing out of place, the hackles on the back of his neck told another tale, one that experience had taught him to listen to. When he spoke, he attempted to do so in a way that would ease the mood.

“Ho friend, I fear your companions faired no better through the night than my own men at arms. Could you sense it also? Is that why you appear so vigilant even at this hour?” What he had hoped to sound like relaxed banter had a ring of caution and concern to it and Butterfly and his men picked up on it immediately but feigned ignorance to allow the captain some peace. Butterfly had hoped to hide his own uneasiness as well. As a journeyman of many battles, he had never learned to master the means to mask his true feelings when it came to the protection of others. It was naught for him to smile easily at what might seem his own death but when faced with the care of others, no, his face could not hide his true concern. He sat thoughtfully for a moment, then, let his gaze meet that of CXT. He did not speak but motioned nearly invisibly to the large Silatian. Being a seasoned warrior, CXT knew not to raise an alarm to his men, or to those who Butterfly had indicated were watching their every move. “Aye, tis most likely nothing but too much wine at the fires last eve playing tricks with my…” At that instant, the captain reached to his back and hurled the double sided short axe which was his close quarter weapon. The axe whistled through the air, passing behind Mr Heretik by the smallest of margins but striking true to its mark. From the grove just beyond where the Three had been resting mere moments ago, a Canisite scout fell dead, head split like a ripe melon, clutching a long bow, from behind a small growth of brush and briar patches.

“I believe he meant to lessen our number further still by picking off those who wandered too far from the others and silently drag their bodies away for whatever foul purpose these beasts have deigned for us. This one, however, will hunt us no more.” That being said, the captain bent over the wolfen headed figure. Putting foot to its still quivering jaws, he tugged powerfully at the short handle, freeing the axe from its bloody resting place. As he wiped the blade off on the creature’s fur, he warily eyed the border of the camp, pondering how many other such scouts masked themselves in the sparse foliage just beyond their sight. The question was not to go long unanswered. From within the camp, men of the regimen were yelling, separating and forming a small circle around one of their troop. The man had fallen as if ill, convulsing and shaking, writhing on the ground like a serpent in its death throes. First one, then another, then another till half there number were acting out the same strange dance in the dirt of the camp floor. Slowly at first, then almost as if in a military fashion they rose. Hand was now claw, tooth was now fang, and what had been the window to a man’s soul had been replaced with an amber gem of fire, burning to spill the blood of its all too human prey.

At that moment, chaos reigned in the camp of the Silatian soldiers. Where once stood a friend or comrade in arms, now stood a Canisite, ready to rend, devour, and kill. Many fell, wide eyed and dumb struck, with sword, spear, or arrow protruding from their still disbelieving body. Others turned to run only to be struck down in mid flight. But a few, a war hardened, battle ready few, waded through the ranks of the devil creatures, cleaving skulls or splitting beast from head to hip. These few, led by their captain, asked for no quarter and delivered the same. CXT, their captain, seeing what had befallen the first to drop convulsing, readied himself as quickly as the second fell. He had gathered to him his best and formed a small company of men, weapons ready, to confront the inevitable.

Butterfly, fearing the worst, had gathered his men as well. Mr Heretik had already begun gesturing in the air, eyes tightly shut, mantra leaping from his tongue. Within seconds, the transformation had begun. His skin darkened and had a hue similar to tarnished silver, and his mass increased to nearly three times its previous size. Ranger G stood, weapons at the ready, eyes fixed, waiting for his teachers signal. Hedkikr stood relaxed and took a single deep breath. As always, he would let the battle come to him as he would guard his teacher’s back. He had anticipated danger. Nothing such as this had crossed his mind but still, he knew danger would come. He was prepared, calm, and ready. Butterfly waited patiently, watching the strange performance play itself out. He nodded to his men and all were instantly into action.

Ranger G notched two arrows at a time, letting them fly into the midst of the on-rushing Canisite. Some would fall only to be trampled by there brethren in their heated charge for carnage. The ones that didn’t fall would be slowed by their wounds, leaving them easy prey for the broadswords and axes of the howling Silatians. When they had closed to near for arrows, Ranger switched to double poniards. With weapons in each fist, he waded through their masses, gutting one, slashing tendons of another, slicing an unguarded throat, all the while moving like a darting cobra, swiftly striking his mark, then away.

The captain and his men had wedged themselves through the oncoming force and separated them into weaker sections. It was now a two front assault but CXT had seen some of the battle being waged by Butterfly and his men and trusted them with the sizeable yet smaller force they now confronted. His men would focus on the larger force and hope the two groups would survive to meet again to fight as one unit. Even as he was forming these thoughts, he was crouching beneath a well swung Canisite sword which sheared the plume from his helm. Bracing his broadsword with both hands, he rose and drove the sword to the hilt under the beast’s rib cage, driving his shoulder into it at the same time the point thrust outward from between its shoulder blades. As the creature was falling dead, the captain was already pulling his sword free to parry the downward strike of yet another. A well placed boot to the groin doubled the foe over as a downward strike cleaved its head from its body. As he looked back towards Butterfly’s group, the captain saw a huge figure moving like a great lumbering beast through the ranks of the Canisite. As it traveled, it would lift a foe and tear off limbs, throwing the remnants of body and appendages in opposite directions only to move on a repeat the same exercise. A head thrown here, a leg in another direction, two halves of a torso ripped cleanly apart, then tossed aside like a child’s unwanted plaything. This was Mr Heretik’s power and it was frightening to behold. Lances left only the smallest of cuts against his thick hide. Purplish blood oozed slowly from the scratches. Arrows met his skin, paused in flight, then fell without purchase. Silently, inexorably, methodically forward he moved. Some were broken simply by the sight of him, trying to flee only to be stepped upon, their bones splintering from his massive weight.

Butterfly and Hedkikr moved to each flank of the enemy and began their assault. Hedkikr drew his assailants to him in small groups. They would eye him hungrily, notice he had no weapons, roar, and attack thinking their prey was all but helpless. The first to advance found his teeth shattered and skull caved in by well placed heel. Before the body crumpled lifeless to the ground, the leg flashed again, splintering ribs and sending them violently into the lungs they once defended. A choked, gurgled sound came from the now lifeless figure as Hedkikr turned his attention to another and yet another. Wind kicks breaking necks and spines, shadow kicks attacking from impossible angles, and stone cutting kicks ripping bodies in twain. Butterfly’s approach was most subtle of all but his strike was the most deadly. Even Mr Heretik feared his awesome displays of deadly accuracy and power. As an enemy approached, Butterfly was already moving, subtly at first, then with speed, purpose, and energy. A lance, driven towards his chest, was easily parried to the side, leaving the smallest of moments for reaction. Before his foe could recover from the slight motion, Butterfly’s fingers were protruding from the back of the creature’s neck. With a small twist of his wrist, his hand was free leaving a hole large enough for a small bird to fly through unobstructed. He then turned to snatch an arrow from the air the was meant for his back, and broke it in two, forcing the end with the arrow head through the ribs of one foe and the shaft through the eye of another. All the while, spinning, side stepping, and finding the backs of opponents to limit their ability to strike him while maximizing his own targets.

Then, above all the clamor, weapons striking shields, swords clashing, and screams of the living soon to be dead, a loud, echoing outburst shook everyone into motionless attention. One canisite, larger than even Mr Heretik’s transformed persona, strode towards the center of the battle. The hellish thing stood taller than a man on horseback and much more massive than two of the same side by side. All fighting had ceased and now cheers came from the ranks of the Canisite. The beast had a huge spiked mace in one of its talons, the remains of its conquests in pieces, hanging from its bloody spikes. In the other, it had a metal shield with an outer edge honed to razor sharpness. On it was the image of a wolf, tearing the throat out of its victim. It spoke in a rasping, hollow, near-howling voice. “Humans, who is your strongest? Which of you will face me in single combat? Which of you will fall first to my might? Humans, if terror has not taken the will from you, who will face me?” The captain moved forward to accept the challenge but Butterfly motioned him back.

“If you fall captain, what will become of your men? How long will they survive if their captain can no longer rally them or command their efforts?” spoken in a near whisper from the contemplative teacher’s lips but falling like a hammers blow on the ears of the captain. “No, my friend, I will face him. Should I fall, my students have been instructed to aid in your continued efforts.” Reluctantly, angrily, the captain yielded to the logic and persuasiveness of Butterfly. Being nearly a head shorter than the rest, at first glance, Butterfly’s form did little to strike fear into the hearts of those he faced. With a deep bellowing laugh, the Canisite champion moved forward, pointing its mace like weapon toward the small human threat. “You expect me to fight…this, THIS!” It spoke incredulously. “I have bested entire armies and you would have me fight this flee of a human speck?!?”

“You talk when you should plan. You judge when you should strike. Even the smallest drop of water, over time, can destroy solid stone and you my friend, are much less than stone.” The creature, throwing its head back, roaring monstrously, went into a mindless rage upon hearing the words of the small, unobtrusive teacher. Butterfly’s men began to sit and chuckle openly, feeding to the beast’s rage.

“Enough!” The creature raised its massive weapon high above its wolf like head, already visualizing the stain to be left behind after the complete destruction of the annoying human’s body. As it moved, so did Butterfly, darting to the side of one of the huge legs. Firmly planting his feet, while chambering his hands to the side, Butterfly paused for the briefest of moments then struck. Both palms came to bear on what was once the side of the creature’s knee. Bone, tendon, muscle, and marrow leapt from the creature’s leg faster than a crossbow bolt. In an instant, the creature was crippled. It brought the mace down in a thunderous explosion of earth and iron but where it struck, no one was. Butterfly had already moved to the creature’s back to perform the same swift and deadly display of devastation on the beast’s spine. Before he could strike, the creature reared back to slam its huge bulk, hoping to crush the small human with its sheer weight. The teacher, having anticipated this, rolled to the side, now level with the head of the enormous lupine, smiling, looking it in its amber eye. A simple “thank you” was all that was heard, followed by the squishing sound of palms being forced through wolfen skull, piercing and rending the soft tissue that was its brain. Over and over, the teacher struck, ensuring the creature would not rise once the threat was believed to be ended.

With their champion defeated, the remaining Canisite broke ranks and fled, some not swift enough to avoid arrows sent as parting gifts from well aimed Silatian long bows. The cries of victory went up from the men only to die in their throats as they looked around the camp at the slain Canisite. What was once the slain remains of beasts was beginning to quiver and flow like water till only human carnage remained. The secret of the hidden Canisite camp was now revealed. The Canisite borrowed bodies to do their fighting. The leader would use arcane magicks to transform its prey into its army but the spell was limited. It could only be used sparingly and only on a small portion of the enemy. If the spell was performed at night while a foe was sleeping, they would believe the enemy had attacked from outside, using the darkness as cover. This was normally the course followed but for some reason, perhaps thinking success was inevitable, they had deviated from the norm, revealing their true aspect. The news was a double edged blade. Now, magicks could be invoked to prevent future such occurrences from taking place but it did not help the brave fighting souls who lay lifeless strewn through out the camp site.

CXT assembled his men to count his losses and to provide some level of reassurance to his remaining forces. Once this had been done, he wandered over to where Butterfly and his men lay gathered, patching wounds and checking weapons. “Thank you my friend. Your wisdom and bravery are as powerful as your palm strikes. Were I to fight that thing, victorious or not, my men would have suffered again for I doubt I could have done more than driven it off, licking its wounds, only to possess my men again another time. You have done us a great service and I am thankful.” The only reply was a nod to acknowledge the captain. Butterfly resumed tending to his student’s injuries. There was nothing to truly be thankful for. Although they now knew the nature of these beasts, there was no doubt that Raul Perez was behind their attacks and similar attacks across all of the 9 kingdoms. They would need to move swifter still to join Fisherman & Taison, strengthen their alliances with other warriors who might aid in their cause, and launch some type of counter offensive against the savage warlord before all was left in ruin.
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"The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."