Party 8: Part 1
watched the exchange between the catfolk neutrally. He shared Aiya's apparent doubts about Ryuse, but didn't want to start tearing the group apart with complaints before the start. He only hoped Sanroku had accepted the fencer simply because he had come. He could trust in that, he supposed - Sanroku had met more warriors through his years than any of them in that room.
Whatever... exercise the tigress had done with her jaw brought Enryich out of his thoughts and reminded him of his own preparations. He scooped some dirt into his hand, spat on it and smeared three streaks across his face in obvious lynx style. As he set about inspecting his bow, he smiled inwardly and waited to see if the tiger would make a comment about humans and stripes.
smiled, watching the group going through their specific preparations for adventure. He stepped out the doorway, sliding the vials into his sash as he took a few steaps away from the door in the bright, midday sun. He squinted his eyes in natual reaction to the sun before he spread his wings wide behind him before flapping them a few times to allow them to stretch. The sun had fallen just right on Akira to show a large, and rather quite impressive shadow on the ground behind him before he shook his head to clear the hair from his face, "We all ready to head out, then?"
Lifting a claw to her cheek, Aiya
narrowed her eyes at Enryich. "You em, have a little dirt. Right there." She scoffed softly and turned then to Akira. She nodded and stretched her arms. Her blades were securely fastened to her body, yet all easily and quickly accessible. "Ready." She spoke directly. Her tail flicked back and forth and her ears twitched in constant vigilance. She wanted to keep her distance from Ryuse if she could help it. He bothered her. It felt like he had a side he wasn't showing. That, or he really was what he came off as. A goof.
watched the exchanges in perfect silence; for all the group knew he might have been a wraith, for his tread made no noise upon the ground. As he walked, he watched; Aiya seemed the impatient, hotheaded sort, very odd for a tracker. Enryich was a soul like his own, he judged, though obviously different in many way. The problem was Ryuse, although he didn't know it, he had drawn the same conclusion as Aiya; the panther was not as idiotic as he seemed, or else Sanroku had a very odd sense of humour indeed.
"Well then, if we're all set to go..." Eri
said, strapping her blades on and settling them comfortably, "We might as well head out. No one has anything else to take care of, correct?" She had picked up her pack, set underneath her seat, on the way out, and shrugged herself into it as she glanced at the others for confirmation.
grinned at Aiya as he finished with his bow, satisfied that it'd last at least one more run. "I'm ready. Lead on and I'll follow," he said to Eri, with an eye towards the direction Ryuse had already wandered off to. "Just how far does the map say that camp of theirs is? Will we reach it before dark today?"
, who always traveled light, checked the few posessions that he carried on him. His sash, which carried all of his potions and smaller items had been secured, and his scabbard tightly attached at his waist. His sword, which was probably his most honored possesion was slid securely into the scabbard, and his amber ring was snug against his finger, "I'm all set to go. I'd imagine there is a good chance we could get near the camp by sunset tonight if we made pace now."
watched the others approach and simply smiled. His tail twitched next to his ear and he looked at it as if it had surprised him. He was hanging upside down from a tree branch above the path with a curious look on his face. When the others were within earshot he called out, "By night-fall, eh? I bet that's right, I bet we could do it!" With laughter in his voice, Ryuse pulled himself upright and disappeared into the tree from which he had been hanging. When he was out of sight once more, he peaked through the leaves and branches at the traveling group. He wondered what they thought of him. Did they think he was insane yet?
Walking to the front of the pack, Aiya
matched pace with Eri. She stood a little apart and spoke softly. "With your order, I will stay several paces ahead of the group- scout ahead. I don't want to be caught off guard. I would be far enough not to see, but not too far for your call to bring me." She walked silently along the ground with the map holder and glanced briefly up at the tree the panther had just disappeared into.
made no comment, but simply began to follow the group, his eyes on the tree whilst listening to Aiya. He nodded in silent agreement, more to himself than anything, at the soundness of her idea, but a frown once more creased his brow; the panther was either completely insane, or he was really over-acting his part. It reminded him of the drunken boxing his grandfather had taken him to see in his youth; men who would feign to, or indeed actually, be drunk, using their apparently harmless appearance to work up momentum and, at the critical moment, strike with the fury of a master smith on an anvil. He wasn't sure he liked the comparison, for he could all too easily imagine one of their party to be the anvil.
Nodding to Akira who had answered his question, Enryich
kept to the back of the group and peered up at the tree as he passed it. He imagined Ryuse would catch up, but hoped he wouldn't climb every
tree along the way. They drew enough attention as it was.
Enryich considered that if they'd follow a road, he'd keep to a side similarly to how he imagined Aiya was telling Eri where she would be. Let her take point if she wished. As they neared the gates and began to see the wall that was the Fell treeline, he slipped an arrow out of his quiver. Long habit made him walk in a forest with both bow and arrow ready, though his experience was from hunts, not... raids. He found feeling both items in his hands gave him both focus for the task and the calm he hadn't needed for his archery in years.
Enryich noticed that Tyza was also at the back (not counting Ryuse, for the moment still up in his tree) and decided to satisfy his curiosity before they reached the forest and silence would become necessary. He spoke quietly, unused to including more people in a conversation than necessary. "I noticed your first name, Tyza, is Rysallean. I know you said you were 'formerly Akako', but were you maybe born in Kisaki?"
walked along, picking up the third spot amongst the group, walking behind Eri and Aiya. His quiet reserve reamined as he walked long, stretching his wings a little bit every now and then, as they were still a little sore from the chair, but otherwise, he left his wings to hang along his back. He kept his right hand tucked on top of his Epee, to feel the weight of the sword. The Panther bore little interest to him. He imagine either he would catch up dutifully, or stay and play in the tree, either way it'd be for the better of the group; If he was a skilled warrior, he'd know to keep up with the group, or if he is as airy as he puts off, the group was better off leaving him behind.
"As you will, tigress." Eri
murmured back, nodding formally to signal the go-ahead to Aiya. In all, she was satisfied with the party that they had managed to find, however certain of the members might do with some watching. The panther should probably be warned about unnecessary shouting, though customs from his lands could possibly be different. Her main thoughts right now were to watch and to wait, and to pull everyone through if necessary. "While by the road I'm sure that we could reach the camp just before sunset," She said to the others in general, "It is likely that we will need to do something other than march in by the main way. I would spot sometime after nightfall for our arrival."
"Lady Eri," Akira
piped up from just a bit behind her, "It might be best for us to set camp a bit down the road from where it's suspected the have set camp. As late as we may be, their camp may be crawling with the redclaws, and they'd most certainly be at full strength. If we can catch the camp off guard after some of their numbers have left for the day to go raid, our combat would certainly be much more simple."
"This is true." Eri
said, nodding to show acknowledgement of Akira's plan. "However, at the same time, I would not want those out during the day to come back, discover our work and follow us in the interest of revenge. What say the others?" She asked, glancing around briefly to invite other opinions.
Moving away from the group, Aiya vanished into the coming grasses, her stripes the perfect camouflage. She had little to say on behalf of where to set their camp and reside. Whatever the group decided, she would be watchful. It was unlikely that the tigress would allow an ambush. She walked through the spotted shadows along the ground as the group's chatter fell soft on her ears. The noises of birds and squirrels at play became less and less as they approached the taller trees of the Fell thickets. Either they sensed danger from her as a predator, or the Fell Woods were not a lively patch of greens. She became extraordinarily vigilant and drew her knives silently. Her attention spanned out around herself and where the group was, looking for any movement or noise. Occasionally she'd hear a voice from the group.
Ryuse watched the others move ahead and dropped down from the tree when he could no longer hear their voices. He could still see them, but he wanted to keep his distance. The air was pleasant as he took a deep breath and readjusted his clothes that had become disheveled when he had been upside down in the tree. He needed a few moments to himself where he could be his true self and not the clown he pretended to be. He had discovered long ago that if one pretended to be something long enough, then they risked actually becoming that something. It felt good to act serious for a change. I wish i knew how all this is going to play out. At least it seems i have fooled the others. A few of them must think of me as insane by now. That will make combat against our enemies that much easier down the road.
Without involving himself with any of the group, Tyza focussed solely on Enryich, "Actually, I was born and raised as son of Lord Akako. My name is in memory of another, a friend of my mother. She thought it fitting that, as her friend died giving birth to her son, I should take his name, lest we forget the fragility of life and the fickleness of fate..." Having said as such, he resumed his stoic manner, though there was an odd stiffness in his spine.
Even as Day's light stayed bright, with the sun remaining high into the sky, light around the party slowly began to seeming sap from the area as they approached the Fell Woods. The energy in their steps slowly faded away, and the party began to become lethargic as the trail became surrounded by the tall, dark trees the made up the woods
Enryich had to stop himself from staring. Son? That would've put Tyza among the most powerful handful of people in Xiadom if not... 'Formerly.' I wonder why... Enryich didn't think much of fate or its fickleness, as his mistakes were his mistakes and that was that, but he could respect the explanation behind the name. "That's a good reason to carry a name, if not a happy one," he was content to say in reply.
Though he might have wished to ask about a mercenary's life, he swallowed the rest of his questions upon entering the woods. They were always like that - stifling like being stared at. He never felt comfortable speaking here, and the smell wasn't the healthy decay of any other forest. Just rot.
Enryich also felt uncomfortable following the road. He'd leave for the sidelines soon enough, but for now he called to Eri, "We can't travel here after dark, especially if we have to haul back more than a few vials of that medicine. But neither can those Redclaws. So if we're looking at arriving in their camp at nightfall, I say we ought to just clear it and stay there, take off at morning before it gets light enough for another of their patrols to come calling." He posed another question to those members of the group still around, "Do you know anything about this Redclaw band? Do they have members who can see in the dark, catfolk or the like?"
So saying, he glanced back to where Ryuse was following them. Unless he catches up, he might as well be a banner bearer if there's fighting...
Akira flared up his wings at the mention of enetering the raid tonight, "I don't think that's such a great idea. I mean, if we can hit them when they're not at full force, the less resources we need to use, however, if anyone else agrees with you, we may as well go with it. On the other hand, I don't believe that any of their kin can see in the dark. The Redclaws are mostly human, and have very little chance at spotting a well trained Stealth Artist scouting around the edges of camp, getting some reconnisance for us," he said in a low voice. A thin smile drew across his face as he mentioned the stealth artists, giving a bit of a nod to the head of the party, notioning towards Aiya.
She sat on a rigid branch about thirteen meters ahead of the group. Aiya listened carefully to each step and noise. The chatter from their band slowly faded as they entered the overpowering thicket. Her ears pivoted from side to side as a leaf fell here and a flutter of wings landed there. She took in a series of sniffs and shook her muzzle in disgust. She didn't smell any foe, but the smell of rotting wood was potent. This clearly was an irregular forest... almost possessed of despair. She placed her hand on the side of the trunk nearest her and took off into the next limb.
In the dark woods, all Aiya could smell was the dank, ripe scent of pure decay. The wood under her paws felt soft, almost as if the wood of the tree she was perched in was already beginning to decay froom the outside in. The tall, towering trees were ever so abrubtly disturbed by the movement of squirrels and the occasionaly bird that dared take cover within the Fell woods. The groups chatter certainly did slowly begin to fade from her ears, as did almost every other noise in the eerily silent forest.
"Heavy enough when it's light..." Eri murmured, the atmosphere all around making one want to lower one's voice by instinct, as if in fear of an approaching preadator. One much bigger than yourself, and with much sharper teeth. "Normally, I would say that moving through the forest at night is too dangerous, however, if the situation were dire enough..." She chewed on a thumbnail, an old nervous habit that her father had long ago given up on trying to break. "The plan that sir Marsh put forward is probably the most ideal, in this situation. Despite the risks associated with meeting the Redclaws at what is probably close to their full number, spending more time than necessary in the forest is quite unrecommended."
This doesn't feel right. Even the air in this forest is acrid. I can almost feel the evil on my skin. This will indeed become ugly before the end. Ryuse came out of his thoughts when he heard the voices of the others ahead of him. What were they doing? They were in enemy territory and their voices could be heard at any moment. Ryuse trusted Aiya who was acting as scout, but he didn't want to leave anything to chance. He sprinted forward as quietly as possible and stopped several feet behind the rest of the group. He had to remind himself to act the fool before he spoke, "A group who talks should talk while stopped. Voices carry like footfalls and the Redclaw pests will hear. So say I, keep your voices down." Ryuse didn't bother looking into their faces to see if they had listened to him. Instead, he moved ahead hoping to talk with Aiya.
Tyza had kept himself silent once inside the woods. There was, he felt, almost a miasma of ill feeling about the place. Subconsciously, he had drawn his katana, walking with it readied in his hand and his feet locking into the Second Stance of the Old-School of fencing. He wasn't sure wh, but every nerve in his body had tautened in reaction to this place and he didn't like how it made him feel. The odd lack of sound, usually a bonus in such terrain, merely served to un-nerve him. Nevertheless, he kept his head, and whilst the others talked amongst themselves about when and where to strike at the Redclaws, he remained apart, scanning the trees around them, slightly hidden by the underbrush in his non-descript clothing.
"I don't think..." that the Redclaws would try to ambush us so close to Kenata, Enryich tried to call after Ryuse, but as the panther moved off without intention of staying to listen, he let it go. He didn't like raising his voice and it wasn't impossible that the panther was right anyway. Enryich hoped Ryuse knew what he was doing, taking off ahead to where the scout was supposed to be.
"Then let's see how far we get while it's light enough to walk and see what we can do after it's not," he said to the rest of the group. With that, he moved off to the side into the forest, keeping a distance where he could see the group and they might see him. He judged his distance by keeping it clear enough for him to be able to fire arrows their way if necessary; if there was a Redclaw ambush on this side of the road, he'd be in the best position to spot it. With that in mind, he started moving from cover to cover and as silently as he could without falling behind the main group.
For once, he didn't mind the stifling quiet of the Fell, though a simple twitter from a bird would've done much good for his nerves.
Akira's eyes narrowed, and the feathers of his wings flared, not unlike the hair standing up on a cat reeling in fear. He tried to slowly and cautiously pull his sword from its scabbard, but even in his caution, the edge of the sword slowly dragged along the metal of the scabbard, letting out a thin, sharp screech. With haste, he removed the sword as fast as possible, to avoid the noise any longer to avoid detection. He shook his head at himself and kept pace with the rest of the group, still keeping mostly to himself.
Eri grimaced over the panther's comment, even more so when he bounded away without even acknowleging his part as one of the group. Still, she had to remind herself that things may be different where the catfolken came from. Still, a little common courtesy could make a difference. All the same, the panther was right, though she doubted that their voices would carry as far as some might think, at least in this environment.
Aiya crouched down upon the next tree limb and surveyed the bushes. She could almost sense the uncertainty and timidness of the group. They had taken on a silence that seemed almost more uncomfortable than the surrounding territory. She purred softly to herself, being away from it. She heard commotion and turned to view Ryuse coming up on her flank. She sighed openly and went on to the next limb.
As Aiya bounded farther and farther forward, no more than 500 meters down the trail, the scent of decay grew stiffer and stiffer before she realized that there was a large equine husk in the midle of the slightly winding trail. The body was seeping blood, and seemed to be encompassed by several hundreds, if not thousands of flies.
Aiya doubled back in shocked disgust. She caught herself against the trunk and felt her stomach churn from the smell. She had faced many corpses and deaths, it was part of her job. None of them had rotted around her though. She was unfamiliar with the overpowering stench. She collected herself and tore back through the still trees, past a trailing Ryuse. She landed with a soft, dull thud in front of Eri. "M'lady, up ahead." She composed her form and put an arm across her chest. "There's a corpse. It's been rotting for some time. I might suggest we up our guard." Her stomach was settling only slightly.
Enryich returned from the sidelines when he saw the tiger return unexpectedly soon. Unsure if what had been spotted was an ambush, he whispered, "What is it? How far?" He didn't notice Aiya's discomfort as he peered up ahead to see if he could spot it himself, whatever it was. Without thinking he had already nocked his arrow.
Eri nodded, grimace replaced now by a frown of concentration. "Thank you, tigress. Resume your position if you wish, but I would like to inspect this corpse before we move further. There is a good chance we could find out what did the poor beast in." There were several possibilities already running through her mind, a few more likely than others, but she would wait to reserve judgement until they came to the corpse. It could always have been something completely unexpected, and it was better to be informed in her opinion.
Akira quickly withdrew at hearing about the corpse, while his grasp for adventure drew him in to the grim scene, he knew he probably wouldn't want to be there once he saw it. Decay certainly was not his thing. "Heh, right. Dead...things. Well, sounds right up the ally of where this mission has been going so far, something is going to end up dead. If we want to get to the medicine and eventually, back to the children faster we just avoid this...roadblock. But it's whatever you say, Miss Eri."
Ryuse watched as Aiya moved past him and cocked his head to the side in curiosity. Then the foul stench found its way to his nose and he understood. Only one thing smelled like that...corpses. Ryuse crept forward to inspect the body and growled lowly to himself. What could have caused this? Something told him that he was about to find out soon enough. The panther jumped up into the trees above and looked down the path. "Come out, come out...whatever you are..." he whispered to the forest.
"It appears to be more beast than human." With a nod, Aiya climbed back up into the foliage. She spotted Ryuse and quietly passed him by. Her ears swiveled around again in different directions. She crouched low on a branch and pulled her under armor up over her muzzle to limit odor penetration. Flies buzzed madly below her. Her stomach flip-flopped at the grotesqueness. She flattened her ears and looked around.
"Corpse?" Enryich said, mostly to himself. And more beast than human, left on a road? His curiosity piqued, Enryich walked to the corpse with a passing glance at the cats up in the trees. When he got within fifteen feet of the corpse he hissed out a soft breath. While he had come across plenty of carrion in his time and lacked the catfolk sense of smell, the stench got to him as well.
A workhorse left to lie after a mercenary attack, a wasteful attack by a Fell beast... or bait? Enryich grabbed the first sizable branch he could find on the ground and threw it over the carcass to clear away the flies. He wanted to see what was under that black rug.
Tyza had, in the meantime, come up behind the others and was looking at the corpse with indifference. It was not the first time, and in his line of work he was sure it was far from the last, decomposing body he'd ever seen. A waste, he thought, that looks to have been a fine beast.
Eri murmured quietly as she approached the corpse, a brief prayer for the passed. Even though these were mostly reserved for humans, she felt that animals deserved some sort of thanks for their life all the same. After the flies had been cleared away, she took a brief walk around the corpse, breathing shallowly to avoid the worst of the stench. "Appears to have been some sort of horse-like entity, possibly for riding. I'm afraid we can't know for sure right now. The main points of concern are these," She motioned towards its side, where large, black and festering wounds were clearly visible even under the blanket of flies that were returning to the beast. "These, and whatever made them."
Almost as if on instinct, several of the large wounds on the large equine burst open to reveal what appeared to be fly larvae. There was several spots of the large boils that had burst open into the larvae. Otherwise, there were several large wounds across the beast. It's ribs were visible through the rent flesh, and much of its flesh had rotten away from the bone, its eye sockets were void of what should have been there, eyes, but were now replaced by mice that scampered away as the adventurers closed in on the corpse. There were no really visible wounds from abuse left on the beast from sword or arrow. Most of the wounds seem to be made by natural causes, such as natural rot.
"I think time made most of those..." Enryich said with a gesture at the wounds. But maybe not all. He took a couple of steps closer to get a better look at the carcass and threw another stick its way to keep the flies off. He wasn't going to search it for subtler wounds and was losing his curiosity. Just a dead beast, left there to lie. Still, he hoped to identify it. (Knowledge)
Upon closer inspection, Enryich was pretty sure the 'beast' was simply an old work horse.
Enryich let the flies settle to their feast. "You were right, it's naught but a horse," he said to Eri. What was a horse doing there, though? He didn't mean to fall behind if the rest wanted to go on, but he had one more idea to make something useful out of the carcass. "I'll just take a quick look around, if that's fine with y'all." With that, Enryich started a cursory search for tracks around the corpse; with luck, it was a runaway or castaway animal from the mercenaries' camp and they might follow its tracks there instead of relying on a map that might have been made obsolete overnight. (Survival)
A dead horse...flies...no apparent signs of weapon's damage...what caused this? Ryuse mulled it over in his head as he looked down from the trees. Something didn't quite fit into place. There didn't seem to be a cause of death. There was only the corpse and the flies. Then it hit him. Ryuse dropped out of the tree between the others and the corpse and crouched down. "Get away from the body! It may be plague infested." The panther made an effort to usher the others backwards while covering his mouth with his arm at the same time. "Think about it! What is our mission? We're being sent to retrieve medicine for the village's sick children. Now, why do the Redclaws have the medicine? Maybe they're fighting illness as well and they need the medicine. Perhaps this fallen beast is an example of whatever sickness plagues this forest." Ryuse looked from face to face, overlooking the fact that he was no longer playing the fool. The others needed to know that he was serious and they couldn't risk any of them becoming ill. "Get away I tell you!" He shouted.
As Enryich trailed off, he noticed that the horse's hoofprints followed right along the trail. For quite a while, the tracks appeared as if the horse had been walking, but beyond that, the tracks were farther spread out, more as if the horse had been running at first, then it suddenly stopped. No sign as to why, but it appeared as if the horse had just suddenly dropped in the trail.
As Ryuse dropped from the tree, hearing word of the plague, Akira back quickly away from the corpse, wrapping his wings over his face to screen his mouth. Then he thought. A horse with track still that fresh shouldn't have decayed this much in that short of time. At least not without a predator getting to it...or help decaying.
When Ryuse dropped from the tree, Enryich jumped away from him and the carcass with a squeak. He was as surprised by the urgent words as their source, but readily took several steps away. The stench, already bad, now also gained a darker meaning.
After hearing the panther out, he spoke quietly, barely loud enough for the others to hear. "He's maybe right, with all that. The tracks here... The horse ran, then slowed, then fell dead there. Normal sickness, if it was that sick to start with, it wouldn't've ran at all. If horses do that to themselves, it's for madness from fear... or pain." You poor beast.
Enryich didn't fancy thinking out loud more than that. Sanroku had told them the Redclaws were petty thieves, but they hadn't tried to sell the medicine back to the village for profit - or anyone else, as far as he knew. So Ryuse had worked out that they feared being without the medicine more than any hunters that might come their way. From almost beyond the range of corpse stench entirely Enryich looked closely at the panther. You are quick of mind when it counts, then. Or maybe always. But then why act the fool at us?
Aiya remained crouched on the lower branch, now completely attentive to the goings-on below. She pricked her ears and listened in as Ryuse spluttered out his words. She raised a curious hand to her chin and thought. It was true. It was rather peculiar that a large beast would run and suddenly fall short and collapse. Her tail hung off the branch and wavered back and forth. "Hmmmm..." She twitched her ears and looked back out into the gloomy environment.
Enryich left off staring at Ryuse after some moments. He didn't see wisdom in making a confrontation with the panther over his thoughts, and that's what they might lead to.
Enryich was again twitchy to move and was slowly turning an arrow in his fingers. He spoke to the group at large, "Well for my part I'm fine with carrying on. The horse's tracks follow the road so all as this carcass can tell us is what kind of rush we're in." He glanced once more at the corpse and shuddered at the thought of such sickness. With that, he headed back off the side of the road and into the forest, eager to leave the horse and its disease and stench behind.
"Yes. We should continue while we still can, if we are to have a hope of approaching the Redwing camp this night." Eri agreed, taking a step back from the horse and then turning to face deeper into the forest. "With this new evidence, the urgency for the medicine only grows."
Tyza shrugged his shoulders and hopped nimbly over the beast, scattering the flies for a moment in his haste to be away from the thing. Not that it perturbed him, at all, but he felt that if this was the fate befalling Kenata, he wanted the job completed quickly.
Setting off up the trail, Tyza kept to the same side of it as Enryich, but half on the road and half in the undergrowth, so he could move either way at a moment's notice. Thinking back to Ryuse's behaviour a few moments before, he hoped that Enryich would return to the trail soon; he wanted to discuss the odd panther.
Ryuse kept to his crouched position and slinked off down the path. He spit a few times as if doing so would lessen his chances of getting sick. In truth, he already felt sick. Though he was no stranger to combat and the ugliness of war, corpses still made him squeamish right to the core. He knew that the others were all around him, but he took no comfort in their numbers. If plague was indeed a factor in this forest, then how many people they had was irrelevant. Ryuse found himself full of desire to complete the mission and get out of the Fell Woods as soon as possible. As he made his way down the path, he sang softly to himself, quietly enough that no one outside of a few feet could hear.
Akira reluctantly turned away from the corpse. He knew there must be something...odd about the corpse that he just couldn't put his finger on. After a few steps, he finally dropped his wibngs from his face, allowing them to go back to his sides. He walked silently with the group, looking off into the distance in front of him. The forest may be crawling with disease, or it might just be corruption. He certainly just couldn't be sure.
The further and further the group walked into the woods, the father the sun seemed to dim in the sky, and before long, the woods slowly turned black, light barely filtering through the woods at all.
As visibility lessened Enryich slowly drew closer to the rest of the group. Small point in blundering about in the dark if he couldn't even see where the others were. Soon enough he was within spitting distance of the road, but he still moved as though expecting eyes on them at all times. He glanced about, seeing if he could spot Aiya. She ought to see them fine with her night vision, but that required her to be around. "Are we near their camp yet?" he asked. "If not, we'll have to stop soon. Another hour and I couldn't tell an arrow from an arm if it was tickling at my throat."
Almost as if on cue, Aiya landed silently to the left of the group. She could tell the sun was getting increasingly dim the further in they traveled. Inside she smirked at the poorness of human vision. She almost felt pity. The only other member of their group that might relate was Ryuse. Though Aiya was uncertain of how reliable he'd be. "What kind of smells might be emanating from such a camp?" She inquired. Sight was reliable, but she could still only see so far in the thick terrain.
"I'd only imagine they'd have a fire burning. This dark, and they'll need light. Not to mention heat. But then again...you don't want to draw unwelcome attention in this forest," Akira said, his wings began shivering as the air around them grew increasingly cool, he began to lightly flap them to get them moving so they could warm up. He kept slowly scanning the horizons for any movement, though he certainly couldn't see much in the near pitch that was the night.
Ryuse returned to the path near the group and looked around. As the night grew darker, their surroundings became less and less defined. However, with his night vision, Ryuse quickly adjusted. When he was within earshot of the main group, he stood upright and cleared his throat. "We shouldn't face the pests tonight! Only two of us can see in night's shadow, and the rest shouldn't fight blind. No, no, no...camp for the night, that be my vote." Ryuse yawned slightly though he wasn't tired. He decided to stay with the group and walked on. It was unlikely that any of them cared what his vote was, but at least he had spoken his mind.
"I would imagine the smells of a human camp." Eri said quietly, crossing her arms as she thought. "No matter how well they cover it up, there has to be some sort of residue from food, excrement, even just general human-ness." Glancing up towards the sky, she continued "Our panther does make a good point. Not that it gets too much brighter here, during the day, but there are some things crawling around at night that most prefer to avoid."
As the others spoke, Enryich took the opportunity of their slowed pace to unfasten his cloak, turn the darker side outwards and fasten it again. His outfit adjusted, he again readied his bow. He wasn't sure why they were discussing the smells of a camp, but he supported the idea of not fighting in the dead of night.
Enryich smiled minutely and said, "I don't need that much brighter, but I do like to see either the target or the ground." He waved his own words away, then continued. "Anyway, I'd prefer not fighting at night, too, but... are we going to find their camp or make our own?" he asked, mostly of Aiya.
Tyza had barely moved since the group stopped. Out of the darkness, his voice filtered through the dead of night, "We should stop. An invisible blade is the most deadly. Mine or your's, comrades, more than most. Some of you may see in the darkness, but I do not." So saying, he sheathed his blade for the first time since entering the Fell Woods, the greased scabbard silent against the edge of his katana. He looked towards Enryich's voice, not able to see him in the dimness, a troubled expression upon his countenance. "I do not like to think what should happen if we continued. It seems obvious that nocturnal creatures would find one such as I easy prey." The admission seemed to pain him, but he stood resolute, willing to admit his failing.
"Let's make camp. It is unwise to continue onward with such a weakness as sight. Make your tents or bags, whatever you plan to slumber in." Aiya kept her swords drawn and knelt down in close proximity with the rest of the travelers. She stuck her blades into the ground and leaned on them lightly with her arms. "I will volunteer to remain vigil while you sleep. I shall alert you if anything should come our way." She glanced around and stayed rigid.
"First watch, eh? All right, I'd like the last one." Enryich started into the forest from their designated camp site, though without intention of going far. "I'll seek us some firewood, and thank anyone who helps," he then remembered call to the group. Secondarily, he also kept an eye out for likely tree sprouts that he might use for arrow shafts. He didn't need more arrows so much as something to pass the time during his watch. (Survival)
Tyza stretched for a few moments, thinking to himself. He then turned to face the members of the party and merely muttered, "Midnight watch," before he made his way slowly over to Enryich's voice, just about able to see where his feet were falling. He felt that, despite everyone's apparent ease with the military lifestyle, he was probably the best to take such a watch, as it would allow him to sleep for a few hours (enough to remain alert on his own watch) and then return to sleep as Enryich, with his keener eyesight, took overfrom him. Stooping down, he began to search for firewood whilst whispering to Enryich, "Our panther friend irks me. The fool is no fool, if you catch my drift. Or am I the only to truly notice?" This was said almost inaudibly, so as to disguise the conversation from the group at large. Inwardly, Tyza was thankful for the invitation to collect firewood; despite any lack of ability to do so, he wanted to discuss Ryuse in private.
Enryich was picking up his first candidate sticks as Tyza spoke. He resisted the urge to glance, used to the idea of discretion when it was due. While uncomfortable and somewhat guilty about speaking about someone behind his back, he also refrained from glancing at back at the others.
He considered Tyza's words for some moments before replying equally quietly, while still picking a vaguely away-wards harvesting route. "I noticed. He saw the real deal with the horse before I even read the tracks and he's... excitable but falls silent as easily as he starts babbling. That's... off. But why feed us that line?" He asked, having no tracks to follow down that path of thought.
Tyza didn't reply for several moments, mulling over the thorny problem whilst discarding several pieces of green branches he'd hoped were suitable for firewood. An idea struck him and, as he and Enryich moved further from the group, he whispered, "What if he wants us to believe he is? To make us let down our guard around him, perhaps. Or to underestimate his abilities. His sword looks well-used, yet he has barely a scratch on his body. No true idiot could be so lucky.
"I believe he acts the fool so that we may be duped into believing such; then, when the time is right for him, he would show his true nature. The horse was a perfect example. He feared for the party more than his guise, and so it slipped."
Enryich juggled his bow over one shoulder. An archer could sometimes do with a scabbard-like to keep his weapon out of the way. He still kept his voice low; he put no store at all by whatever distance they put between themselves and the others. "Maybe, but why? We're not his enemies -at least I don't know why he'd think so. If he really did fear for us over his guise, why the act? We'd only be the wiser for knowing his real nature, and he could depend on us more if we could trust him." When he said that, it occurred to Enryich how seldom trust had ever before been an issue to him. It was a discouraging thought.
The tigress had momentarily left the group into the trees in search of animals to cook, though pickings were slim. It would be some moments before the camp was set and ready to sleep. She had time before her watch would start. Aiya noticed Tyza and Enryich still foraging for firewood and leaned over on the branch she was on, grabbing at the bark of the trunk. "The camp seems ready to get a fire going if you have enough wood. Food should be ready shortly after." She rubbed at her muzzle and vanished back into the darkness. Minutes later, the pathetic strains of a rabbit squealing ricochet through the thick forestation.
Once the party had stopped for the night, Ryuse found a thick, stable tree and climbed into the lower branches. He sprawled out on his back over one the thicker branches and looked up into the impenetrable darkness that was the canopy of the Fell Woods. He wished that he could see the stars. Their brightness was something that he could look forward to at night. That wouldn't be possible this night, however. Only when their mission was complete would he see the night sky again. Eventually, his thoughts drifted back to the mission and the events of the day. What had the diseased horse meant? What sickness could have done that to an animal so large and so fast? Something told Ryuse that the sickness was probably very specific. Otherwise, the entire forest would be wilted and dying...more so that it was anyway. Before long his mind was muddled with thoughts and possibilities and Ryuse banished them all. For now, it would be best to get as much rest as he could. "And it's a long, long road for the weary soldier...but a smile and a laugh waits for the dreary soul..." Ryuse sang quietly in the darkness and drifted off to sleep, awaiting his watch shift.
"Such an interesting group we have." Eri commented lightly, clearing a circle of dirt and placing small stones around its perimeter. "I'm actually quite glad that I came on this mission, even if it were for a lesser cause than the village." For now, it seems, she and Akira had been left at their decided campsite while the others went off do do their own duties. It had been a while since she had last left the village, and the new air - even if it was in the forest - felt good to her. Growing up, she had spent some time among these trees, though admittedly she had never tried to go too far in. It was almost like a 'watching place' to her, a place where she felt at once uneasy and yet at home at the same time.
As the party settled down, the last glimmer of natural light faded away and the forest was enshrouded in an unnatural darkness. It was now that the group understood the dread of the fell woods. It was not the mysterious illnesses, or the far off stench of corruption, it was the oppressing lack of light. If it hadn't been for the flickering fire, the group would've found the walls of blackness stretched all the way to their faces, even those who could see in the dark could only see about a dozen paces in any direction past the light of the fire. A few minutes later, the forest began to come alive, gradually, the atmosphere was filled with rustling of leaves and unnatural cries.
No time to be picky about the fuel anymore, Enryich thought to himself as the nightlife made its awakening sounds. And with the dark deepening, carrying on the conversation would have gone from opportunity to excuse. He gathered up what sticks he had scrounged and turned back to the camp. So quietly he was almost merely mouthing the words, he said to Tyza, "For this night at least, we all need him as much as he needs us."
Enryich returned to the campsite and set about building the fire. Once he had it going, he wasted no more time staying awake during his rest time than he already had; he could check and clean his clothes and weapons during his own shift as well as right now. He lay down on his side with his back against a sturdy tree, drew his knees up to an almost fetal position, threw his cloak over himself and pillowed his head with his arm. With that, Enryich tried to sleep.
Silently agreeing, Tyza followed the archer back towards the camp. Not particularly unsettled by the noises, Tyza lay himself down upon the earth, using his pack for a pillow. WIthin moments, as he had disciplined himself to do on the long marches in mercenary caravans, he wqas soundly asleep. However, this was a light, troubled sleep, keeping him close to wakefulness, and several times small noises could be heard issuing from his direction, names no one here would be familiar with.
As the night's sounds drifted around in eerie chorus, Aiya quickened her haste to gather food. She leaned down and tried listening for movement. Only the rustling of strange footfalls and rustling leaves was audible around the cat. The dreadful night life sounds were drowning out any chance she had of catching a meal worthy for the camp. Sighing in irritation, Aiya raised her snout to see if she couldn't smell out any small creatures. (Scent)
Ryuse flopped around on the tree branch restlessly. He had thought that he would find easy sleep, but he was wrong. As the minutes ticked away, all he found was restlessness and anxious thoughts. The Fell Woods around him were bothersome. The fact that he couldn't pin point any one sound's origin or nature was near maddening. Instead of sleeping, the panther pushed himself up into a sitting position and stared off into the trees. He was aware of the others in the group behind him doing their own things, but he couldn't see any of them. The darkness had become so complete that he couldn't see more than a few feet in front of his own muzzle. While he kept his own personal watch, Ryuse continued to sing in a whispered tone and waited for morning. "One leaf falls and another one flies, natures of the wind I can't ignore..."
Akira stayed back in the shadows a bit as the light began to completely fade from the sky, watching in the complete dimness of Fell night, he found another tree and leaned back against it, resting his head on the trunk and shortly fell asleep himself.
What Aiya smelled was unsettling. She bristled her fur, unsure how to handle what it was her trusty sniffer had detected. The rank smell of blood just lingered in her nostrils. Aiya shook her head and brushed her muzzle off. Debating if she should go off and see if it was prey or to tell the camp, Aiya hopped down from her perch. For now, she'd keep her curiosity at bay, it was the safe bet. Sighing dishearteningly, she carefully made her way back to the flickering untamed flames of their fire. She kept her senses alert as she made her stead near the fire. She looked around to try and see if any other companion was still awake. She'd never admit it, but having someone to talk with wouldn't have been too bad. Her watch had started.
Ryuse looked back randomly at the camp fire from his perch up in the tree and spotted Aiya. He knew that the tigress despised him, and that might prove a problem down the road if they ever had to depend on each other for anything. At any rate, it was a bad idea to enter battle alongside people who hated you. Perhaps I ought to go talk with her. Maybe I can quell her hate for me. Ryuse thought to himself. Without bothering to keep quiet, Ryuse dropped down out of the tree and made his way over to the campfire. He hunched down next to the flames and hugged his knees to his chest as if he were cold. He looked over to the tigress and gave her a wide smile. "Funny how even with the flames of a campfire, this forest still seems so dark. It's like this place is separate from the rest of the world all together." Ryuse wished he had a bottle of spirits to offer the tigress. He found that conversation was always easier to carry on with drink. However, in the absence of any such spirits, the Panther kept the smile on his face and hoped the tigress wouldn't chase him off. He was also aware that he had dropped his clown act for the moment. Perhaps that would further enforce his sincerity in the eyes of the tigress.
Eri sat crosslegged next to the fire, eyes closed and breathing steady, almost as though in sleep. However, she stirred briefly as the tigress reentered the firelight, glancing up out of her meditations at the catlady. "A good evening to you, tigress. Feeling restless, this night?" She smiled softly, a sign of being ready to listen to anything as the light of the fire casting odd shadows all around.
Aiya put her weight down on her knees seeing Ryuse and Eri with her in the orange glow. She nodded to Ryuse's comment in silence. She regretted wishing she had wanted conversation when he had sat. Eri seemed the safer bet. It was peculiar, Ryuse's bold nature was different now, more passive. It was almost calm. In the dim glow, Aiya had taken her blades out and carefully set them in front of her knees. Gently, she took her right-handed weapon and pulled a cloth from her waist, more of a rag if anything. She slowly and meticulously stroked the cloth over the blade. The fire danced eerily over the metal in a cold gleam. She wasn't compelled to speak. Just having company around her felt pleasant. She hated herself for thinking so. She was a loner. Aiya looked at the blade as she wiped it over with the cloth. "Not as restless as these Woods, it would seem." She exhaled slowly and swiped the metal once more.
"Yes, well..." Eri sighed, uncrossing her legs and relaxing into a looser posture, "There will probably always be that sort of presence to these woods, at least during my lifetime. I would almost call it comforting from familiarity, were it not for that very same quality." She glanced up to the treetops, swallowed in the gloom of night. Around them, she could hear the sound of wind through the leaves, though undoubtedly she thought that the tigress could discern much more than that.
Though not one for words, Aiya didn't usually hold back when a question picked at her mind. It was like unsuccessfully trying to swat away a persistent fly. She glanced up at the trees as Eri had done and then turned to the panther. It was for a brief moment before returning the stare back to her arsenal. Still, she spoke. "Ryuse, is it? I think I can throw an educated guess into the matter, but why do you put on a facade? Though the others might not sense anything deeper, I have my own instincts that you are more than you let on." Aiya was raised to be bold in tongue when willing. Contradicting though in her nature as a trained assassin, bred to be silent and stealthy. She let the words linger before raising her eyes to lock onto his. Maybe putting him on the spot would reveal more character. She was ready.
Ryuse looked up at Aiya with surprise. He hadn't expected her to speak to him at all, let alone call his bluff. Still, he shouldn't have been too surprised. People as skilled as those in this particular group had a better chance of seeing through his guise than standard folk. He gave the tigress a defeated smile and turned his gaze back towards the fire. "You think I'm putting on a facade, do you?" Ryuse chuckled and nodded. "I should have known that trying to fool a group of warriors such as those in our little group would be folly. Still, I've always believed that deception is a powerful weapon. If those around you don't perceive you as capable, they're less likely to depend on you when they shouldn't. Enemies underestimate you and comrades are forced to fight at their full potential to make up for your "short comings". Believe it or not, when people have to count on others, they don't always use their full strength. I figured if i put on the mask of the fool, no one in this group would expect anything of me. As a result, they would fight at their fullest and I would be free to do the same. I know all that doesn't make a lot of sense, but it was the way I was trained." Ryuse looked first to Aiya, then to Eri. "There...now you know the truth. Just the two of you..." Ryuse cut himself off and laughed, flopping backwards in the dirt around the fire. "I don't know why I just told you all of that...now I've lost one of my greatest advantages."
"On the contrary, sir panther." Eri smiled, stirring up the logs of the fire with a longer stick. "In my opinion, the knowledge that there is not someone I have to be careful of among my allies only lets me rest the easier. I thank you for your disclosure." She nodded a little to Ryuse in lieu of a bow. Breaking her makeshift poker in two, she tossed it on the fire and watched as it started to burn. Maybe she should go to sleep soon, but she thought she could stay awake a little longer.
In the shadows of night, Akira smiled to himself in what seemed to be his sleep, He rustled a bit amongst the fallen leave, enough to cover up his barely audible "thought so" before laying back down, now most of his body against the dirt, and continuing with his slumber.
Meanwhile, as Eri threw the log onto the fire, Tyza shot upwards, his hand on his katana. The low cry of "Ryshin!", borne from one of his frequent nightmares, died on his lips as he looked about him, scrutinizing the night for the source of his awakening. Turning towards the fire by accident, he nevertheless noticed the newly-placed log on the fire. "Oh, damn," he muttered, more to himself than anything, "I know I'm not going to be able to sleep now." Laying back down, Tyza nevertheless closed his eyes, though his breathing was not that of a sleeping man; if anything, he seemed to be thinking. They did not appear to be particularly good thoughts.
Enryich had quickly sunk into a near-dream stupor where the others' speech was mere background noise and missed it all, but he started awake at the latest, sudden sounds. As he saw Tyza with sword in hand and looking around, he hurriedly glanced about the camp himself. Once he noticed none of the others were as alarmed, he just sank down with a sigh. "What was that?" he muttered. But since most of the group didn't seem to be seeking sleep either, Enryich dropped that notion and sat up. He was interested in hearing what -if anything -was under discussion, or what the disturbance had been.
Aiya's ear twitched at the obtrusion of Tyza's slumber. She glanced up from her sword and over in his general direction, brow quirked. She shook her head silently as he settled back down and carefully sheathed her first blade. Picking the other up from the dirt, Aiya placed it similarly on her knees to polish. "I don't think you will have need to fret over whether I spill your act, Ryuse. It's rather clever." She shook off her cloth and proceeded to rub it over her second weapon carefully. The night was still young. Different thoughts ran through her mind as the fire danced on.
A bright smile spread across Ryuse's face. He appreciated Aiya's and Eri's words. They made him feel...good. The panther looked at Aiya and watched her clean her blades. She was definitely an imposing presence, one that suggested she shouldn't be messed with. Ryuse wondered if she was like that all the time or if she put on a guise like him. He kept his gaze directed at her, the smile still present. "Thank you for keeping my secret, lady tiger, but I have to ask...why not call my bluff in front of the others? Why wait til now? Something tells me you've known about my act for a while now." Ryuse looked to Eri, his smile unchanged. "And you, lady Eri...do you fear me?" Ryuse didn't realize he was being blunt. He had experience with a sword, but not with social graces. He was naive to interpersonal interaction . "You just said that you'd sleep better if you knew there was no one in the group to be careful of." His statements were honest, and his voice was pleasant.
Eri pondered Ryuse's question for a while, staring thoughtfully at the sparks the fire threw up as they drifted away and fizzled out. "I suppose, in some small way, I fear everyone. There's always chances for anything to happen. But as human, one of the things that I fear most is the unknown. To know now that your previous demeanor really was covering up something deeper, which you have now revealed, eases the sort of worries I might have had when we set out." She recrossed her legs, relaxing back into meditation posture. "To put it bluntly, yes I fear, but I prefer the fear I know is before me to the fear that might be waiting behind."
Enryich stretched slowly. He was still tired but no longer so sleepy after being jolted out of it. Not wanting to intrude on the conversation obviously being kept private, he instead started tending to his gear. He plucked and flicked leaves and dirt motes out of his quiver and off his clothes, and checked his bow again even though he hadn't fired a shot since noon. Though thorough, he worked without hurry or apparent goal; he meant to pass time until he could sleep again.
"Well, I'm glad to have settled some of your discomfort, Lady Eri." Ryuse looked to Aiya, then closed his eyes and yawned deeply. Contrary to earlier, he was finally tired. The flames of the camp fire were warm and comforting. The panther didn't even bother to go back to the tree. Instead, he flopped back where he was and fell asleep. Somehow, the disposing of his guise, even for the moment, had lifted a mental weight off his conscience. The sleep that followed was dreamless and fitful.
Eri smiled at the firelight, already feeling her breathing regulate itself from long practice. Despite loving her father and caring for the village, getting outside was always something she enjoyed. "Well, then, I believe that I will bid you a good night, tigress." She said, nodding to Aiya. "Should anything happen, please do not hesitate to alert me." Closing her eyes and settling in to her meditations, she let her mind slowly drift off into slumber.
Aiya bowed her head to Eri as Ryuse fell into slumber. She stuck her second blade into its sheath and tacked it back onto her shoulder armor. She tucked a few strands of braided fur out of her way and returned to a straight posture. She folded her arms over her thighs and kept attention as the night wore on.
The hours of night wore on and into the wee hours of morning. Shifts had changed throughout the night, and as the sun gently began to wash over the horizon, Akira sat at the fire, gently prodding it with a stick as embers curled up in the air.
With a large stretch, Aiya rolled over and sat up. She arched her back, typical of a catfolk, and looked around. The embers of last night's fire were sizzling out as Akira poked at it. She twitched her nose and slowly got to her feet. She had laid out her bedroll atop a gathering of leaves and twigs. Despite the extra padding she had a large knot cramping in her lower back. Annoyed, Aiya practiced a few more stretches before going over to join Akira at the fire. Her stomach loathed her. With lack of a nutritious meal for the last day, her energy was getting low. She sat across from Akira and tucked her legs underneath herself. The air was cool. The sun hadn't quite breached the thick trees yet it seemed.
Akira looked up as Aiya sat down across from him. A small smile crawled across his face as a quick sentence escaped his lips: "Sleep well?" was the only question he spoke before looking back to the fire and prodding it again.
Enryich came to and stood up abruptly. Waking was always easier to do swiftly. He started working warmth into his body with stretches. He glanced up through the black cover of trees at a crack of barely lighter sky and resigned himself to waiting for a while yet before dawn arrived under the branches as well. Habitually he checked his bow and cloak before taking a step anywhere. Then he too made his way to the fire. "Good morning, and long live boring watches."
The tigress nodded to Akira's inquiry curtly and glanced over to Enryich. Her tail swayed soundlessly back and forth behind her as he approached the fire too. Aiya scratched under her chin and shook her head. She was still getting the sleep out of her system. She looked at the dying fire for a moment and thought it in their best interest if more wood was retrieved or if it were put out. She decided to do either option soon, when more sunlight had made its way down.
Ryuse, still asleep by the fire, became aware of the others gathering and sat up quickly. Far too quickly and his vision soon blurred as the blood rushed away from his head. "No, not a good idea...not a good idea at all..." he mumbled to himself. With that, Ryuse fell back over on his back with an audible thud. He looked up at the morning sky, then around as best he could at the others. "Morning? And so we wake for yet another day, yep!" Ryuse tried to sit up again, this time slower. He hunched forward and crossed his legs as he yawned deeply. His ears and tail twitched. He looked first to Aiya, then to Eri wondering if either of them would speak of their conversation last night. He somewhat regretted divulging his secret, but it also felt good to have shared it with at least someone.
Eri had remained in position practically all night, legs crossed and eyes almost completely closed as her mind drifted in and out of wakefulness. Once she was alerted to the movement of the others, she pulled herself out of her reverie, blinking and stretching her arms to the sky. Straightening her legs, she stretched to get some of the stiffness out of them, then stood up and brushed herself off. "A good morning indeed." She said, voice only slightly foggy from sleep. Glancing around at the woods, she ran a hand through her hair and said "Everything went well last night then?"
Tyza, not having moved much all night, opened his eyes as the rest of the party gathered around each other. His body used to sleeping under such conditions, he stretched his arms and legs only once before ambling over to the others, "My watch was quiet. Eerily so, actually. I expected something to at least be interested in the flames. Especially as it was pitch black outside our fire." He seemed a little perplexed, but made do with sitting by the fire, staring at the flames for several moments. It seemed clear that he hadn't had enough sleep, and to anyone who'd been awake last night, his troubled dreams were ample reason.
"Nothing noteworthy on mine either," Enryich said, making arrow-drawing motions with his right arm and twirling an arrow in his left. "There was sounds, but nothing sounded close to the fire." He aimed his eyes up and rolled his shoulders. "So, how long do we reckon until we can start moving? We ought to now be pretty close to where we want to be, right?"
Akira shrugged and made his way slowly to his feet, "I wouldn't make haste too soon. We've waited this long, in a certain hope that the Redclaws will partially clear out of their camp. So, it's best not to start our invasion too early," He said as he stood up, splaying out his wings to stretch them and shifting the scabbard on his hip until both his sword and belt sat more comfortably, "We should probably put this fire out before they get moving so we don't have a beacon hanging above our heads," and with that, he started to kick a little bit of the sooty, sand-like dirt onto the fire.
Aiya scooped up the soft earth and began smothering the fire in the combined effort with Akira. This way there wouldn't be a plume of smoke as the flames were extinguished. It flickered and spluttered as they continued. She brushed off her hands and let the rest finish the job. As Akira had done, Aiya got to her feet to re-situate the black armor that covered her vitals. Her hands pushed against her swords to make sure they were secure. She shook herself off to fully wake up and looked off in the distance they would travel. Deciding not to linger around for when they would finally choose to depart, Aiya detached herself from the group.
After scattering the worst of the evidence of a camp, Eri reshouldered her belongings and took one last glance around to see if anyone had missed anything. Looking to Aiya once the tigress had gained the limbs, she nodded to signal the head out and said to everybody else. "If we're to move out early, the Redclaws will probably have the same idea. We shouldn't push, but I would advise making our start soon." she said, starging down the rough path deeper into the forest.
Ryuse watched the others pack up camp and head out. He looked around for something to do, but he had slept with all his clothing, armor, and weapons on, so there wasn't much to do. Instead, he stood up and stretched before jogging forward to catch up with Aiya. He moved along side her and gave her a curious look. "Good morning, tigress. How does the day greet you?" His voice was sincere, but his physical manerisms still mirrored those of the fool. His posture was slumped, hands clasped behind his back, and his tail swishing back and forth without control.
While Eri and Akira cleared off signs of the camp and the catfolk went their way, Enryich turned his cloak day-side out. He would have agreed with Akira that they need not move off so quickly, but with the fire put out it was no longer an issue.
Enryich looked to Tyza, who currently seemed the only other one left without much to do. It was as good a time as any to ask, and the mercenary seemed the most likely bet. "Say, will you look to stay in Kenata for work or move on once the mission's done here? I've been thinking to move off, and I could use a traveling mate if you're headed the same way."
Tyza didn't show it, but he was rather taken aback. He wasn't sure why Enryich was asking this of him, and he hardly trusted the man yet. However, as he adjusted the fittings on his armour, he mulled over the idea in his head and decided there wasn't anything, at present, to stop him. Turning to Enryich, he smiled, "I should think that will be agreeable, friend Enryich. I thank you for the offer. Do you have a destination in mind?"
Turning to the panther, Aiya rotated her shoulder briefly to adjust pressure from her blades. Her head nodded slowly in thought of his question. "Only that of which can be expected in such a dreary and ghoulish environment." Thinking slowly of what she just said, she added a quick, "Greets me well enough, thank you." Her eyes shot down the invisible path and then back to the group. She would keep pace until her position was a decent distance from the group. She wanted to be ahead once more to keep a faster reflex on things that may come. The smell of blood from the night still crossed the membranes in her snout. The cat woman shook it off and kept her legs moving. A weary hand rubbed the back of her neck in awkwardness. She hadn't anticipated anyone walking with her. "Uhm... yourself?"
Enryich looked pleased and relieved. "Yes, a few. Haven't decided which way to go yet... Y'see, I'm looking for someone." After saying that, he stopped for a moment. Time was when this would've been the first thing he asked of anyone. He really had stayed too long. He then continued, "A young lynx woman, named Sirlsvyn, maybe moving with a band of other lynxes and wearing mixed Rysallean clothes. I don't suppose you've seen such, or heard the name?" He looked at Tyza with tempered hope to see if any part would ring any bells, but expected nothing. He must have spoken those words thousands of times by now and to no end.
Ryuse looked around and considered Aiya's question. "Well enough, I suppose. To be honest, I'm a little jittery. I keep wanting this mission to be over, but we haven't even reached the Redclaws yet. On top of that, this forest makes me...edgy." Ryuse looked around again and rested his left hand on the hilt of his sword. He noticed that Aiya was looking for something to do with her hands and cocked his head to the side curiously. "Something wrong? You look...uneasy."
As the party walked on, a loud, probably drunked laughter rang through the forest, meeting to the ears of the party.
Tyza shook his head, sighing wistfully, "Oh that I had, to aid your search. I also quest for another, though likely for different reasons to your own." His hand came to rest on his sword-hilt, a hard gleam to his eye that only one who had experienced his loss could hope to understand. Then, without warning, he heard laughter echoing thhrough the forest around them, and instantly his head whipped around towards what he thought was the origin of the disturbance, an almost keen smile upon his face. All extraneous thoughts dropped from his mind like stones into a vast pool; this could mean only one thing, their quarry was near.
Enryich was about to respond when the laughter sounded. He dropped to a crouching walk instantly and nocked an arrow. Way to drop your guard, Enryich. Let them get without laughing distance so you'll know what they think of you. With the sound-eating quality of the woods, he couldn't tell how far the sound had carried from. He tried to at least judge the direction, then moved off to a side to place some sturdy trees between him and that direction. He then moved forward as silently as he could.
As the relatively raucous laughter reached her ears, Eri kept a calm front but inside she tensed up and her ears pricked, carefully trying to make out the direction of the sound. It was hard to tell, and she knew well the way this forest could twist perceptions. Glancing to Aiya, she waved to signal that if she could, the tigress should see if she could find the source of the laughter.
His question would have to wait. Aiya caught a glimpse of Eri's signal and nodded. In a flash, the tigress had swiftly drawn her blades out and made her way several yards ahead. Her body was as low to the ground as possible with still the ability to move quickly. Her ears pivoted back and forth in dizzying circles. Every so often her slitted eyes would be covered as she listened instead of watched. She raised her dark muzzle to the air and stood still. Bands of criminals were certain not to bathe and bound to drink heavy liquors. With that knowledge, she may be able to pick up scent of where this 'party' was. (Scent)
Ryuse froze where he stood, the sound of laughter obviously not coming from anyone in their party. The Redclaws had to be close. The Panther watched as everyone in the group went about preparing for the encounter in their own way. The last he saw of them was Aiya disappearing into the trees and scrub. Ryuse wasn't sure what to do. He had been prepared, but he hadn't expected things to happen so soon. The seconds ticked by, and still Ryuse stood there. Finally, he decided to go after Aiya. He had come too far to miss anything. Easy, Ryuse...don't get too eager. He told himself.
"In case we've been less vigilant than necessary, probably best to continue moving." Eri mumbled softly, just loudly enough to alert the few close to her. "I would advise awaiting the tigress' return before taking any major action." Glancing around, she raised an eyebrow to invite any other suggestions.
Hearing the laughter, Akira froze as quietly as possible, unfurling his wings as he slowly drew his blade from it's sheath. He nodded to Eri's response before slowly taking a few steps forward.
As Aiya moved fourth, she could still hear risidual laughter coming from in front of the group, slowly growing louder. Her nose was only able to confirm that fact, catching whiff of stiff alcohol, and a nauseous blend of human bodily odors.
Aiya suppressed a cough that tickled the back of her throat from the invasion of putrescence. She shook her snout and looked ahead. She couldn't for sure see anything distinct, but there was definitely a band in front of the group's path. Whether they were the Redclaws or not was yet to be revealed. The cat woman took in a shallow breath and managed her way swiftly past Ryuse and back to the group. She approached her fellow party members and nodded. "Someone is directly up ahead from us. I couldn't see if they were from the Redclaws or not, but they wreak heavily of b.o. and alcohol. We should carry forward as quietly as possible." She looked over at Ryuse. "The panther and I can take the front flanks. We shouldn't spread too far apart." Her ear twitched as another shrill laugh resonated from the group ahead. With that, she shot a glance at the group and Ryuse for confirmation.
Akira looked to the Tigress and nodded, stopping in his tracks. "I'll take a rear flank. I can work best when I'm not confronted by anyone."
"I'll go left. I don't want to start shooting from behind y'all if it comes to shooting," Enryich said. He could also get closer than he might if he traveled in the middle of the others. His heartbeat racing, he nevertheless kept quietly walking closer to the camp from his side, keeping the main group within sight but never in front of him.
Ryuse trailed back to the groups with Aiya, not sure what she had seen. Had she seen anything at all? What was going on? Ryuse decided to hold his questions and simply returned to the groups with the tigress. "I'll gladly take point with Aiya. However, we should determine if these are the Redclaws we're looking for or not. Who knows? Maybe this is a scouting party taking a long break...or something." The panther scratched the back of his head under the rim of his straw hat. Even to him his words seemed odd. Still, he wanted to be thorough. Then an idea struck him. "If these are indeed the Redclaws ahead of us, and we need to attack, I'd be happy to act as a distraction. All I need is approval from you all and a signal from someone." Ryuse looked from face to face, waiting for their responses.
Eri took only a brief moment to think, flexing her wrists to be sure of her blades before responding. "Fall into accustomed formation." She said, glancing around at everybody. "And stay on your guards, but do not attack until we can confirm whether or not these are the group we are searching for. If our catfolk would lead on the flanks," Here she nodded to Aiya and Ryuse, "We will attempt to ascertain the identity of this group. Please try to keep in sight of at least two members of the group at all times."
"Why don't we just send ahead a scout. Sanroku said they'd have red bandanas on if they were Redclaws didn't they?" Akira said, holding onto a brief moment of thought process. He figured it best to get the upper hand they could.
Tyza grunted, unsheathing his katana, "Redclaws or not, we should proceed as we have decided. If they are Redclaws, then we'll know when we see them. If not, nothing is lost by proceeding with caution. I'd like to stay to the right, near to Eri. I am well-seasoned with the blade and feel that, should anyone need aid, it would be her." He then turned to the girl, "No disrespect intended, of course, but your arts are more ethereal than physical, am I right?"
Eri flashed Tyza a quick smile, nodding as she said "You would be correct, of course. Quite the majority of my martial skills lie in defense, few though they be." She briefly touched the opal embedded in her right blade, "If the need should arise, however, please do not fear for my safety. We all do what we must."
Ryuse took a deep breath to steady himself and drew his sword. He was done with words and would do what the lady Eri had ordered. He would take point with Aiya and act as a scout. Silently, the Panther moved off into the trees to the right and moved towards the sounds of laughter. He kept one eye on the forest floor and one eye ahead of him, determined not to be seen or heard. He held his sword down and behind him with one hand as he moved along so that the blade wouldn't reflect any light and give away his position. Moments later the sounds of the still hidden camp grew louder and Ryuse knew he was close. He altered direction and slinked through the trees towards the camp. He should be able to see whoever was there momentarily...
Aiya followed his lead, both swords drawn at her sides. Her tail swayed stiffly behind her as she scurried along. She kept the same distance ahead of the group with Ryuse, but in the other flanked position. She would check her distance and footing constantly while maintaining speed. Even the movement of her armor was silent, fitting snuggly to the contours of her figure to increase the aerodynamics. They were finally seeing some action that measured above stoking a fire and keeping guard. This is what she lived for.
As the catfolk moved closer, they slowly saw a camp come into sight, or atleast what they believed was a camp. There was four men nested around an old campfire as the fire died down to embers. The men were all dressed in brown leather vests and leggings, with red bandanas wrapped around their faces. They all also had round, golden medallions around their neck. Several bottles of alcohol were strewn across the ground as the men all laughed in cheery glee.
Aiya turned her head away as if choking. The pungent smell of alcohol was almost too much for her sense of smell. It was putrid. She laughed inwardly. To be in such a dark and dangerous place... drunk off your tuckus. She half scoffed and waved a hand at Ryuse. She back tracked a little ways, mildly disappointed on whom the culprits of noise were. Her paws padded silently around fallen leaves and broken twigs to a relatively close distance from the party. In a hushed tone, the tigress relayed the clothing of the noisemakers as well as number and ...sobriety.
Eri listened attentively, for the moment paused where she was. Her mouth pulled into a tight smile as she listened, and glanced around at those of the party that she could see. "It indeed is an ideal opportunity. I would ask for advice on plans of attack, if indeed anyone should know one?"
Ryuse scanned the disheveled group of drunkards with a mix of amusement and indifference. He had been hoping to find the Redclaws in a more...alert state. It would be more fun to attack them that way so that some sort of challenge existed. However, it didn't seem meant to be. Ryuse caught Aiya's gesture and followed her back to the group to hear her report. Turning to the lady Eri, Ryuse shrugged and crouched down. "Any plan of attack will most likely work, yes it will. The pests are drunk and happy." The panther bounced slightly where he crouched and looked from face to face, waiting for things to get going.
Enryich returned to the group when he noticed the catfolk drawing closer. He grinned when Aiya related the state of the drunks. Maybe they thought they'd already gotten away with their theft, who knew, but the opportunity was golden. When the plans of attack were mentioned, he looked first confused, then mildly alarmed. "You're not saying we just march in there and slay the poor bastards? If they drank themselves that silly, I'd like to see if I can filch back the medicine from under their noses. We may not have to fight at all." And I'm not a butcher. Enryich looked around at the others, hoping to find some support for his plan.
"Quite possible." Eri agreed, flexing her fingers, "That would be the ideal method. However, I've learned that it's better to be prepared for any eventuality." She half focused on the group, half on her body, keeping her breathing steady though she could feel her heart starting to pump faster. High-stress situations like this didn't come around every day.
"Either way, it's best we get on the way, before time runs out for those kids," Akira said, his arms now crossed with his sword returned to his scabbard and dragging his foot through the fine dirt.
"All right. I'll try to sneak around and find the potions. If I get seen, you'll be like to know from the noise." With that, Enryich left to find the best way into the Redclaw camp. He believed he could do it, but he also had no wish to be there to hear if any of the rest would've pressed the case for murder. As they had approached the campsite fairly directly from Kenata, Enryich circled around and drew closer to it from the side. If there was a sober watchman in there, he would be looking most intently the way they'd come from. Or so he guessed. Maybe they hadn't expected anything at all, what with the drinking.
Once he came close enough to the camp to run the risk of being seen or heard, he slid the arrow he had been holding into his quiver and slung his bow across his chest to free both his hands. He then started to silently creep closer, listening for any change in the Redclaws' voices that might suggest he'd been spotted.
Aiya nodded as Enryich took off to seek the potions. She bowed her head to Eri and then nudged Ryuse's shoulder. "We can creep around to the side from the left. The rest of you can take the right. If Enryich startles any of the Redclaws, we can create an ambush. With their current state, I don't believe that they're expecting company. However, let's go in assuming the worst -that it's all a facade. Good luck." The tiger nodded again and gripped her swords in either hand. Her movements were swift and silent. Quietly, she started making her way around the encampment.
Eri nodded and glanced at the others, no longer wishing to rely on words. Setting off in the direction opposite that of the catfolk, she ghosted her way around the camp, slipping around the trees with the care born of long practice.
"Um..." Ryuse started to say something but the group was already on the move. The panther had just long enough to see Enryich move off in one direction, Eri in another, and Aiya in another before he was left alone. His left hand came to rest on the hilt of his sword, but he thought better of it and left the blade in its sheath. The group seemed to agree upon a non-violent approach to obtaining the potions and he wasn't about to argue. He wanted to avoid blood shed if possible as well. As quickly as he could, Ryuse moved off into the trees after Aiya. He knew his role and didn't want to be left behind. He only hoped that something didn't go wrong. If something did, he knew he would regret not drawing his sword sooner.
As the group slowly started to separate around the camp, and as Enryich came closer to the camp, two of the masked men stood up from the campfire and started stretching. It didn't take long for one of them to incidently turn and catch a quick, unfortunate glimpse of light shining off the broach that held Enryich's cloak together. With the light catching his eye, the man stood mesmerized for a very brief second before getting out a shout of, "Hey, you there, come out!"
Enryich froze in place and turned his eyes very slowly towards the man. What had he seen? Oh, no... He could have tried to meld back into the forest, but decided instead to offer some time for the others to get to their positions. Enryich stood up straight and peered at the Redclaws from behind a tree he'd been hiding behind. He kept his weapons out of sight and said nothing.
With a twitch in his eyebrow, the Redclaw dug into his leather bracer and pulled out a dagger, flinging it at Enryich who had just tried to hide as he was watching him.
Enryich ducked behind the tree again and readied his weapons. He could hear his heartbeat, but managed to wonder for an instant that even the local "petty criminals" would so soon resort to violence.
Even with his great speed, Enryich just barely slipped behind the tree as the dagger zoomed by and stuck in the tree. This Red Claw was clearly one of the least inebriated of the group, and called to his compatriots, "Hey, Boys, we have some company. Looks like just one more of those scouts from the city. Let's teach him a lesson." With the commotion, the 3 Redclaws that still sat around the campfire stood up, all staggering quite like a comedy act as the nearly stumbled into the fire, until they all drew short swords in defense of themselves.
Ryuse watched what was happening to Enryich from the cover of the trees off to one side. When the other members of the Redclaws drew their swords, he did the same. His sense of restraint and caution was gone. Instinct began taking over. Carefully, the panther lowered himself into a prepared crouch and picked his target. He chose the Redclaw closest to him and picked out where he might be most vulnerable. All he needed was a signal from the others. Something to tell him that it was okay to strike before things got any worse...
From where Eri was standing, she had a prime line of sight for the camp, though she was unable to see exactly where Enryich had made his attempt. Praying nothing too bad had happened to the man, she had no trouble realizing that negotiations were going to fall flat. Glancing hurriedly about, she signed with her fingers that now was the time to attack, before the Redclaws really got their feet under themselves.
Aiya crouched near Ryuse and kept her swords at her sides, prepared for assault. When she saw Eri's signal she quickly glanced confirmation to Ryuse and darted into the camp. Her throat tingled in preparation for a battle roar. The fight had started. She hoped that whatever was thrown at Enryich missed him completely. There weren't many Redclaws, but she certainly didn't need reinforcements to ruin the fun. The party needed every member to bring the thieves down. Watching Ryuse pick his target, Aiya sprinted to the next Redclaw nearest the catfolk, blades raised.
Tyza kept close to Eri, though his muscles ached to join the fight. He recognised the need for him to protect the woman beside him, and felt that unless needed he was in the best position to help the party. Nevertheless, he took the precaution of drawing his katana, adopting a stance of the Old Style taught to him under his grandfather's tutelage. Without a second blade, this was the best discipline he knew, and as he tensed his arm, gripping the sword firmly but supply. his felt all of the tension and excitement he was used to when battle loomed. "Stay behind me, Lady Eri; though please, if your arts prove necessary, I'd rather you used them over me than through, if it's all the same," he added, flashing her a quick smile. Possibly not the best time for chit-chat and banter, but this was when he felt most alive.
Eri smiled, laying a hand lightly upon Tyza's shoulder. "Fear not, good warrior. Should the need arise, you need have no fear that I will not do my part. In return, please do not hesitate to do what you feel you must." Drawing her cloak close, she carefully stayed a step behind and half a step to the left of Tyza, close enough to assure her presence, yet hopefully far enough away so as to avoid hampering his combat.
Ryuse took a deep breath and lunged forward, his sleek form exploding like an arrow out of the trees. He held his sword down and back, a position that would allow him to strike in a wide arc and hopefully dismember the targeted Redclaw before the other knew what was happening. Ryuse did not revel in the suffering of others, and if he was to kill, he would do it as quickly as possible. The group's goal here, after all, was to retrieve the stolen medication from the Redclaws so that the village children could be healed. Taking time to punish the enemy was not consistent with that goal. No, Ryuse would strike hard and fast in this battle.
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