Chapter VI: The Saw and the Tooth
Within minutes, Yerevan is stalking the opening in the woods, hidden behind a tree. Thankfully, the gunshot was just one, so Yerevan ruled out the possibility that the militia engaged Roma in combat. The opening is crowded with the militia. To the front of the group, a couple of hunters are kneeling on top of a trap, examining it closely and talking with two soldiers who apparently lead the patrol. The soldiers say something. The hunters shake their head.
“Boys! Listen up.” one of the soldiers shouts. The militia falls silent straight away.
“We’ve got a visitor. Split in groups of ten and find him. Your orders are to bring him in ALIVE, if possible.”
I have to find her before they do. Without wasting time, Yerevan crawls along the perimeter and moves east, towards where he saw Roma heading. Not a few moments pass, and nearby gunfire erupts south of his position. He glares. He runs. The air is filled with a dense, white mist of burnt powder that hovers between the tall pines. He spots a cloud of smoke being pushed of the barrel of a musket to his front, then he leaps and slides behind cover, a line of bushes covered by snow.
He assesses the situation. To his front, some ten soldiers have taken cover behind a short snowy mound, two out of whom wield muskets and eight of whom are holding bows and arrows. Why are they not charging? Roma only hold a basic hunting gun, as the sword sisters are generally averse to handling anything as powerful as a musket, and a shortbow.
By all means, they could just assault her position, losing two or three men while they’re at it. Yerevan moves to the side, trying to get closer to Roma. It seems that the perimeter is secured by soldiers that supress the center of the combat. I need to create a diversion. Yerevan checks his blackpowder pouch. It is just short of full. He throws it right behind a congregation of soldiers that stand to his front.
He unbelts his pistol and exhales. Then, he fires right at it. The explosion throws the soldiers standing right above the pouch to the air, and causes the rest to flinch. Three of them run for their lives, obviously never have dealt with war environments before. One however, stands his ground. This one is covered in furs, and carries a saw-like blade much like the ones in the ambush. That’s a soldier. The man then drops the musket he was holding, and pulls his gun with his left hand and his blade with the other. He looks towards Yerevan and immediately spots him, perhaps due to the white cloud that does not disperse fast enough.
The men exchange stares. Then the soldier lifts the pistol up and aims towards Yerevan. Yerevan ducks. No bullet is fired. Yerevan lands amid some bushes, and tumbles through the snowy leaves. He catches a glimpse of spark and a white cloud of smoke expanding towards him. The bullet flies right under his nose and pierces through the log of a tree, throwing chips of wood all over. This is my opportunity.
Yerevan stands up. The soldier is filling the gun’s barrel with powder. He charges forth, pulling his saber from his scabbard midway. The soldier drops his pistol on the ground and assumes a defensive stance. Yerevan raises his blade high up in the air, then brings it down with massive momentum. The soldier manages to block the strike, but only closely. He falls back-first on the ground. Yerevan regains his balance quickly after landing the strike. He rises his saber up in the air once more, and brings it down. The soldier rises his saw blade and blocks the strike again. This time, however, the saber’s blade is trapped between the saw-teeth. The soldier smiles, then twists his blade, causing the saber to rotate with force, being forced out of Yerevan’s hand, and landing one meter to the side.
Yerevan flinches. The soldier kicks him in the groin, throwing him backwards. He stumbles on a rock and falls down back-first. He darts up, only to find that the soldier has stood up and is charging him. He lunges to the side, and after a short flight, he lands right next to his sword. He grabs it and rolls to the side, the saw blade landing right next to his head as he does. The rolling stops a meter to the side, and Yerevan only barely manages to lift his blade up and block the strike. Yerevan braces for the next incoming strike. It comes down hard, trapping the saber between the saw-teeth once again. Yerevan glares. The soldier twists his blade again, and once again the saber rotates with massive force that flings it to the side. This is it. The saw blade comes down. Yerevan throws his arms over his head and closes his eyes.
The wind stops for a moment. Then it shifts in direction. A thud reaches Yerevan’s ear from above. Could this be what death is like? Nothing happens. Yerevan sits with his arms covering his head for a moment longer. Then he hears the soldier yelling. He lowers his arms and turns to look. A wolf with rough black fur is standing over the soldier, trying to bite his face off with a set of bloody, violent teeth. Yerevan scans the snow for his saber. Where the fuck are you? He spots the soldier’s pistol, half-buried in the snow. He grabs it, and looks down the barrel. The powder is in, just not compressed. He takes his baton out and pushes it down. The wolf screams. Yerevan looks. The saw-tooth blade is protruding through a nasty wound on the beast’s back. The soldier rolls the corpse to the side and drags his blade from the crying creature’s stomach. Yerevan fondles his belt for the pellets. The soldier is confused. Gotcha. The soldier stares right at him. The sound of the pellet rolling down the barrel makes him glare. He charges, shouting his lungs out, but his roar is overcome by the silent clicking of the pistol’s cock.
Fuck you. Bang!
The burnt powder emits an intense smell. The white mist slows down as it comes in contact with the freezing air, gradually falling down and hovering right above the ground. Five seconds pass before the mist disperses enough for the soldiers outline to become discernible. The shadow drops the sword, then falls to its knees, and then to the ground.
Yerevan drops the pistol. He approaches the body and picks the saw-tooth sword up. The grip feels crude, with the patches of alien leather having multiple sharp, thorn-like protrusions that hook themselves in the glove; the hilt is rough, short and made out of a single bone-like piece of dark gray color; the blade seems sinister, feral even, with small teeth near the hilt, that grow into larger, curved edges that spiral into a single hook shaped edge. That’s original.
Yerevan notices that the shooting has stopped. He positions himself behind the rock where the militia stood. The body of a cave bear is lying in a pool of blood right on the entrance, and next to it five pickax-wielding militia are standing on the sides of the opening. Before Yerevan could think of some plan to divert them and get to Rome before they would, she was being shoved out of the entrance. Two soldiers, cladden in furs and metallic cuirasses follow suit. Roma looks healthy and mostly untouched, with only a minor wound right on her left cheek.
“Wrap her up and get her to the dungeon.” one of the soldiers says. The other gets a piece of paper from his pouch, scribbles something on it with piece of coal and gives it to the tallest of the militia. “Give this to Captain Morgun after you lock her up.”
Shit, they got her.
The Unbroken captain makes haste to return to the hideout. He barges in, after kneeling and crawling. The party stares at him with curiosity, but he only rushes to one of the corners. He grabs a small, sharp stone and starts running it against the dirt. Dromon approaches him with slow steps from the back.
“Cap, Captain? Everything alright? Where’s Roma?”
Yerevan stands up. “Check this out; Milly, get over here, I’ll need you as well” he points towards a crevasse in the shadows. The two soldiers look where Yerevan told them to, but nothing is there. Yerevan kneels, and the two spot some scribbles on the shallow dirt. It takes Milly more time to realize what the drawing is than Dromon.
“Northlight?” Dromon asks. Yerevan nods, keeping his gaze fixed on the plan.
“Cap, don’t you think having an army on our back is the urgent issue here?” Dromon is obviously thrown aback.
Milly understood the plan, but refused to believe that Yerevan was actually suggesting that they storm Northlight, a fortified city, protected with cannons, and the impending blizzard.
Yerevan: “Ah, this is where you’re wrong guys. See, there are three paths out of Northlight.”
Milly:“Yes, so? All three paths are guarded and equipped with cannons.”
Y: “Take a step back, Milly.”
M:“What do you mean?”
Y: “Dromon, you went after their sniper. Right?”
Dromon: “Yeah, sure did. I only barely spotted the little fucker.”
Y: “Let me ask you something, how many men did you spot from the lookout? Including the ones that jumped off the carriage, that is.”
D: “Fifteen, maybe twenty. Didn’t count them to be honest. Then I saw some double that sitting on the northern road, these too carrying a carriage to ambush us”
M: “They were twenty-one in the ambush. I counted them before charging in.”
Y: “Great. Now, there are three roads to Northlight. If the soldiers are after us, and considering the well-thought ambush plan I suppose they did, there are two scenarios: either they sent their full force down two paths, so their force is about forty to fifty men strong, perhaps seventy.”
D: “So their total number is forty to seventy men?”
M: “Makes sense.”
D: “So what? We can’t take them head on.”
Y: “Bad news, they got to Roma before than me.” this one was a whisper, “she was surrounded by at least seventy men.”
D: “So they’re more than seventy? I’m not following you Cap.”
Y: “Not quite. Only a handful of the seventy were soldiers.”
D: “And the rest?”
Y: “Miners, hunters and fishers.”
M: “Militia. They must be out of their minds.”
D: “Or desperate. Looks like the port is blockaded still, and we have broken the landlines for good.”
Y: “Northlight is unguarded. We make a move on it.”
D: “A siege cap? We couldn’t hold the city if we took it. Hell, we couldn’t hold the keep if we got it!”
Y: “I did not say that we are taking anything. We are burning the keep, and the whole city with it!”
D: “Captain, are you sure? Our orders are to disrupt the supply lines, not to destroy the city. What will we tell the Marshal, should Naramar decide that it wants to claim the place for its own? It is a prime passage for Bandamar traders, especially during the spring. If we destroy it, there will be nothing left to lay claim to.”
Y: “Its either this or retreat Dromon. Our mission is to disrupt the supply lines, yes. What better disruption than complete annihilation? Even if the Marshal does decide to claim the Chiontezzo, his work will be easier without the fort-city that sits right on its middle.”
M: “And we could get Roma out while we’re at it.”
D: “So, what’s the plan?”
Napoly starts coughing, interrupting the conversation. “Captain, where’s Roma? You did not tell us.” she asks.
“Oh! Roma’s just fine, she insisted to keep on hunting.”
“With that blizzard captain?”
“Due to that blizzard sister. She wants to catch something extra in case we are snowed in.”
Ulm grips the opportunity to lay some blackpowder on Tommy’s wound. With a quick motion, he runs a fuse on a rock protruding from the floor, then lays it right on the wound. The powder explodes in a smoky flash of white. Tommy does not react at all. The young boy just lies there, motionless. The fire burns off the wound for some seconds, until nothing remains of it, leaving behind a crater of deformed, black meat.
Napoly turns to look, horrified. She glares at Ulm with fury, then places her head right on top of the boy’s chest. She gulps. Her body gets tense, and her breath gets faster. Noone dares speak. Then she relaxes, and drops her head down on the boy’s chest. Ulm touches the boy’s neck, and focuses. Nothing. He shakes his head to Yerevan. Yerevan nods.
“We have a mission to complete soldiers. Milly, how many firebombs do we have?”
“Twenty one sir. I could make some more if you could give me the time.”
“No, they will have to do. The militia will cower before the blizzard, and they’ll lock themselves up if we don’t move right now. Soldiers, get ready, we move out in five”