Episode 1 - Finding The Way
Columns of light pierced through the canopy; volleys of ethereal arrows cast through the rustling leaves that whispered to each other as they swayed in the rushing breeze. The scout stopped. Underfoot the deadfall crumbled, echoing between the mossy trunks of the ancient trees; emerald sentinels on eternal watch. Leagues behind the lone vanguard, a thousand footfalls trampled the undergrowth, the clanging of armor defiling the calm of the forest he currently enjoyed. For now, however, the solemn congress of the wood dominated the soundscape. The army had broken camp before first light and so only now did the periodic splinters of sunlight begin to boil away the morning dew that had come to reside in every fiber of his clothing. A leather bound palm pulled his heavy hood back. Hard eyes scanned the rolling earth, skillfully analyzing which path would be most easily navigable by the mass of bodies still creeping toward him. His gaze traveled the land once more before he made a decision, silently nodding to himself as he took a length of ribbon from his waistband and tied it to a nearby limb. Onward he went, clamoring down a short escarpment of rocks from which a small waterfall misted the low ground. He sighed, his clothing clinging to his body like a mass of leeches; heavy from feeding. He walked along the escarpment following a shallow ravine, searching for a safe passage for the main column. It was at that moment his ears pricked at the unmistakable hollow hiss of an arrow being dragged from its quiver.
“State your business in the Highlands,” said a woman’s voice from somewhere between the myriad of trees. The scout scanned, but found only false positives; a rocky outcropping that, for a moment, looked like a hooded assailant; a dark figure that was nothing but a shadow cast by a swaying branch. Fear billowed in his gut, but his will was good and quelled the brewing storm. “As far as I can tell, I am not quite in the Highlands just yet.” He motioned with his head to the north west, “Pretty sure the boundary is along a narrow river a dozen miles that way.”
“Answer the question,” said the voice in retort.
He no longer had to do so, as the time he’d bought with banter had given his senses all they needed. First he had picked up the faint scent of perfume; violets and snowdrops. Then, the silhouette of a forearm, stretched out behind a drawn bow. With the short moment of silence between their words; he had discerned her dull but quickened breaths. She was alone, or at the very least, much like himself, ahead of her party.
“Answer, or I loose.”
“The question is,” he said with a smirk, “how quickly can you nock your second arrow?” As if to punctuate his words, the hiss of the fletching raced toward him. He had been ready for this, and watched the spiralling wood, warped by the force of the bowstring, come rushing toward him. The moment he caught its shape, his mind projected the flightpath and he darted to the side, drawing steel as he leapt down the rocks and ran at blistering speed through the ravine. He lunged from the water, transitioning to soft moss just in time to hear the second arrow nocked to the bow. With a jink, it hissed passed. Uphill he ran, listening as a third arrow was quickly ripped from the quiver. Finally, the figure became clear; a form matted in leaves and greenery; camouflaged nearly perfectly in the cavity of a rotting tree trunk. With staccato footfalls of nearly inhuman speed, the scout raced across open ground, his body leaning heavily into the gait. He grunted, shifting his weight at the last moment as the third arrow whizzed past.
Her eyes grew wide as her shot yet again missed its mark. She took in a sharp breath, pulled a fourth arrow from her quiver and slid it with practiced ease along the rest. With clenched teeth, she pulled back the eighty pound draw, tracked her target as it closed within ten meters. “Dodge this,” she said between her clenched teeth before she loosed the arrow at the leaping scout.
The fourth shot was much too close to dodge, with a white knuckle grip the scout threw himself off the rock at full sprint. Mid flight with one fluid motion, he raised his blade and deflected the arrow before bearing the steel down upon the lone archer. The trunk in which she hid exploded into tinder, moss burst into tufts of green and gray and silence fell as the cloud of debris lingered in the air.
As the dust settled and the splinters rained to the ground, he stared into her terrified eyes. “That’s enough of that.” he said, pulling his sword from deep within the wood and sheathing it.
The archer coughed in the dust, and held up her bow, now reverse curved with its tension relaxed. The bowstring had been severed by the scouts blade.
He stood up straight and shot a gaze toward the escarpment. “The column will arrive soon. I have to find the edge of this cliff. Do you know where that is? He put his hand out, offering to help her up. Her brow furrowed, “Are you insane?”
The scout cocked his head to the side, pondering the question. “There’s a good chance, yes.”
She stood, furious. “Why didn’t you simply answer the damn question?”
“Why didn’t you just refrain from threatening my life before even uttering a word?”
“Times aren’t exactly peachy. A darkly dressed armed stranger in the forest is unlikely to be out to smell the roses, you’re suspicious enough to warrant concern.”
“Speaking of flowers, you should probably lay off the perfume. I could smell you a mile away.” “Well at least you smelled roses. I could smell you from a mile away too, and for a good while I thought someone was fertilizing their fields.” “Oh come on, now you’re just being childish. In all seriousness, I am an Imperial scout, leading the main column of the army of Trinity Aerie Rheinhardt, The Lost Princess of the Pale King, Mother of the Fifth House and Queen of the Crescent Sea. She is being escorted to the Highlands for the sitting of the Crimson Council.”
“You owe me a bowstring, whoever you are.”
“My name is Adrien DeCoursant.” he bowed, “and I owe you nothing. That’s the price for trying to kill me for no good reason.”
“No good reason? Do you have any idea how mischievous you look? Dark cloak, longsword, trudging through the woods by yourself; answering basic questions like a complete ass.”
“Coming from the murderous shrub wearing trunk dweller, I think mischievous isn’t all that bad a sign to wear.”
She sighed and rubbed her brow, “By the Gods, how do people stand you? Maybe that’s why you’re out here and not with them?”
“Are you going to help me or not?”
She stared at him, hatred dripping from her grimaced lips. “Follow me, Imperial scout.”
“Great.” Adrien walked off behind her, a spring in his step. “So what’s your name?”
“I’m not telling you my name.” “Murderous shrub wearing trunk dweller it is.”
“I really wish I had killed you earlier.”