Chapter 27: Walk the Earth; Horde
They were on higher ground now. The top of the bluffs was less than a person high, and would have been easy to climb if they had wanted. The Elken forest continued to brood on their left, threatening and black as night. Chloe and Lilllith’s group really could move only forward to the north, or retreat south.
The Riley that faced them were ambling ahead at a slow pace until someone behind them hollered an indistinct command, and then they began to charge. Many of the Riley, like animals, dropped to all fours. They wore tattered leather and a little over half of them held short, easy to use blades.
“That call to attack came from a Lussa,” Lilllith said. The Riley army reached them, and promptly surrounded the group. “Damn! Change formation!” Her command meant nothing for most of them.
Chloe moved anyway, knowing that the weakest, Siren and Senica, were at the back. She turned around, and a group of Riley on all fours leaped at the party. In two steps, Chloe was on the other side of their group, swinging her weapon. It hit three of them, bodying them to the ground. They are light. Of course, Riley are short. Lilllith and Alexandre had taken care of the rest of the first wave of attacks.
“Make a circle! A circle!” A rough excuse for the shape formed, with four main points held by Alexandre, Lilllith, Kent, and Chloe.
Another set of Riley jumped towards them, backup up by an armed group. They were fended off with ease, but those behind with the small swords turned out to be a bit more of a problem. They attacked, but they lacked any technique, there was no skill. Instead, they seemed to have no concern for injury. They thrashed and gouged at Chloe and her allies wildly; sporadically. Kent and his sister had little issue with them. This was what their weapons were designed for. Lilllith could fight against any sort of enemy style, but she was still sore from the hours of intense battle the previous day.
“How lovely to face these kind folk after such a long journey,” Alexandre said. She wasn’t having many issues. Alexandre fought almost like the Riley did, aggressively, violently. “Get out of here! I’ll rip your—”
Astore could see Lilllith’s exhaustion. The inner part of the circle-like formation only had to contend with stragglers and those who broke past the outer frontline, which wasn’t much. Astore had time to watch the hole and to steer their melee toward it. He could also see Lilllith’s attacks weakening. He started interrupting her attacks with his own and provoking her targets. He said, “Watch my back.”
Lilllith gave him a scornful look but stepped back from the front. Astore opened his senses. He could hear metal striking metal, bodies falling, Alexandre swearing and screaming at her opponents (who she incidentally did not share a language with). The hole was only a sprint away, but a sprint on open ground was a distance far greater on a battlefield. He saw figures far back, beyond the hole, standing on top of the bluffs where they were only knee high. He tried to make out their faces, but something launched itself at him—or tried to, but was instead impaled by a sabre. Lilllith’s sabre.
“Come now, pay attention! You Solune people and your awful fighting habits.”
“Do you see them?” He called back to her. “There, right beyond the hole.”
Lilllith could barely make out silhouettes in the dark. “I think. Tell me how they’re dressed. But watch yourself this time!”
Astore focused on his fighting. He tried to steer the party forward, step by step. Eventually, he hoped, they would reach the hole. Either that or Alexandre would kill everything. He cut into some Riley’s face, and the rest seemed to back off. Alexandre took the chance to look again.
“They have on…it looks like some good linen. A few layers. Squared.”
“So it’s the other noble family!”
“And—“ He engaged another Riley, “What the—they just left! Down the hole!”
“Good. Out of the way.”
“No, no,” Astore was not at all happy about this, “It’s no good if they leave!”
“Ack!” Siren called out. Lilllith helped him, thrusting between his arm and Senica’s back. Col grabbed Siren and pulled him into the centre, then took his place in the formation.
“They’ll probably set up another ambush! They left because they assumed this one would not be enough!”
“And they will take us while we are weakened. Hmm.” Lilllith thought aloud. “It is likely.”
Chloe hadn’t heard much. She was paying attention to other things. It seemed her weapon was warding off most attacks quite easily, so she had a lot of time to analyse the situation. We only need to get down that pit, not wipe them out. The Riley will likely not follow. What to do then?It seems we have taken out a third or so. Alexandre is cutting into them like a madman. We could…
“Alex? Alexandre!” Chloe called to her left.
“Come on, come on! Weak! You call yourself a Riley? Than what am I, king of Riley?” Alexandre beat one of them, a female, to the ground with her blade. “What? Chloe? What is it?”
“Can you fight your way out of the Riley”
“And leave everyone behind?”
“No, and run into the—” Chloe reacted, tearing into a ribcage. “Sorry! —Run into the woods. I am certain the Elken are watching us, paranoid. Bring them out and we can escape in the confusion.”
“Or die,” Alex mumbled.
“Can you do it? Can you get past their formation?” Chloe shouted.
Alexandre retook her wild grin. “What formation! Hey,” she called back to the group, “ Someone take my place.”
Lilllith stepped in beside her. “Getting tired?”
“No,” Chloe interjected, “We are going to provoke the Elken.”
“Hahaha!” Lilllith took over.
Chloe launched a smaller Riley a few cubits away. “Oops…” She wondered how young that hundred-percent was. Do the Riley send their children to fight? Or perhaps they volunteer… I hope not.
Alexandre and Lilllith worked together to break the enemy configuration. They made a surprisingly effective duet, and so it was fairly easy. It also helped that the Riley had no structure or plans to counter their actions. Alexandre weaved across the battlefield, gouging at a couple of shocked opponents. She broke through with little issue.
She ran. She hadn’t run like this in a long time. Alexandre laughed as two, then three of the hundred-percent Riley followed her. They went right behind her into the jungle. If the plains seemed dark at twilight, then she wasn’t sure what to call the Elken woods. But she didn’t need to see clearly to sense the spears. Alexandre fell to the ground and heard them thud into her pursuers. Good enough for me. I’m done. She stood and sprinted back into the din. Black wooded spears followed her out.
Chloe watched Alexandre running back towards them. It was good that she was so tall; long legs. The spears came. They flew in coordinated volleys. “Oh no!” It didn’t take long for the Riley to realize the impending danger. Many started running. Another volley followed, this time aimed farther. It fell into the battlefield—not quite far enough to hit Chloe’s group, but enough that the Riley who had stayed behind began to leave. One called out, either a scream or something in another language. There were only stragglers and victims left.
“Ah shit.” Alexandre fell forward. One of the spikes was in her back, below the shoulder blade.
“Come, we must go now,” Lilllith called. Chloe ran westward and grabbled Alexandre. “Come!”
They moved first away from the forest, and then toward the hole to the Underside. Halfway there, the spears suddenly ceased. The Riley were quick to notice, and one screamed.
“Not again,” Siren said.
“Just go!” Chloe called from a distance behind.
Most Chloe’s group made it to the hole. Astore first, and then Kend, Senica, Siren, and Col.
“Jump!” Lilllith commanded. As if taken, they jumped. Then, Lilllith turned around.
The Riley had made a wall between her with the hole, and Chloe and Alexandre, who had been slowed by Alex’s injury. Lilllith took a fighting pose. Far to her right, she saw a dark skinned figure in the black of the jungle. His arms were crossed, and he was watching them, waiting for their next trespass. His hair glowed white, and his face had deep lines of anger and strain. So this was the Elken. Lilllith didn’t have time to admire their features or coordination.
“Can you make it through?” Lilllith called.
“Yes!” came Chloe.
“For sure,” Alexandre called.
The shouting drew attention, and a couple of feral men with blades turned on Lilllith.
Chloe had said she could make in but now she wasn’t so sure. She could see Lilllith fighting off a few Riley through the crowd in front of them.
“Get out of my way!” Alexandre hacked at them furiously, as if she wasn’t slowly bleeding through her clothes. Perhaps the wound was superficial. “You stupid, ignorant…”
Chloe couldn’t fight that haphazardly with her own weapon. It was too large. “Ah!”
One of the Riley had leapt on Lilllith and both of them tumbled into the pit. Chloe felt like her friends; her hopes, were going down that hole one by one and leaving them behind. Am I dying here? I am not dying here, to wild people.
“Alexandre, cover me.”
Alex started fighting more carefully. Chloe stopped fighting altogether. Luckily, Alexandre managed.
Liquid streamed down from them Chloe Rhye’s eyes as she turned them in the direction of the hole. She took a deep breath and brought her mind as far back into the reaches of understanding as it would go. Then, she exhaled, and her vision became fury.