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The Ancients

Chapter nine

By NCS NapierPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 16 min read

Eight:

A scream echoed through the forest jolting Flint awake. Unsure of whether it was a dream or reality, he instinctively reached for his daggers. Disappointment strangled his heart when he couldn’t find them; the previous day's proceedings flooded back into his memory and filled him with despair. That woman – Yanik, had ruined his life in one fell swoop. She had tainted his beautiful den, taken Volk’s affection with her fake friendship, and stolen his beloved daggers. Somehow, all felt calm. The scream must have been in his head.

The sun had barely risen, the forest trapped between its ominous and glorious states. An opportunity had presented itself for Flint to rid himself of his burden. To find the sleeping woman and plunge – he could never do it, not as she slept. He was too intrigued by what she knew, what she could teach him about the world of humans.

Another muffled scream was enough to launch Flint to his feet; he frantically studied his surroundings, keeping his eye on Volk, who was sniffing the air. There was no one else in his immediate view. No one else. Yanik was gone from the den and the water pail missing. But her horse was still attached to the tree. A human always means more humans.

A barking dog no more than two hundred paces away cut through the silence. Analyse. Danger? Immanent. Conceal. Flint ran to Volk’s defecation and scooped it up. “The one time we ate fish,” he mumbled as he crumbled the poop in his hands and smeared it through his hair and across his clothes. Luckily, it mainly consisted of undigested arrowwood berries and held a surprisingly sweet aroma. He retrieved a piece of amadou and then dragged a chunk of bark, which he had covered with moss and grass, over the smouldering fire pit. It wasn’t perfect, but it would take a skilled tracker time to uncover the remains of his camp.

He tossed the remaining firewood into the forest and bundled up his deer hide, still hanging in the tree, then pushed it against the back of the den, along with Yanik’s belongings, his bed, pillow, and blanket. He snatched up his satchel and stuffed it with his coat, a knife, jerky, water sack, wooden tinder pouch, and medicine horn, then attached a small handheld axe to the outside. He slung the satchel over his shoulder and almost burst into tears when he rescued his beautiful gauntlets and daggers hanging from a rock in the den, perilously close to dropping on the floor. It felt wonderous to slip back into the leather gauntlets which covered his arms and relieved his feeling of nakedness. No longer was he defenceless. Helpless. Alone.

Flint untied the horse from the tree and pointed into the forest. “You’re free,” he mumbled. It looked casually from side to side before lowering its head and munching on grass. “Come on, you stupid…” Flint grumbled as he slapped it on the behind quarters. “Get out of here!” The horse kicked backwards with its haunches and collected Flint in the chest, sending him tumbling to the ground. He clutched his ribs, winded, when Volk growled a guttural snarl that sent the horse galloping into the forest as fast as its legs would carry it. “Couldn’t have…” he snatched a breath, “Done that earlier?” He groaned, pulling up his tunic to inspect the horse hoof welt that had begun to appear on his ribs.

Flint gingerly returned to his feet and inspected the camp one last time, satisfied he had covered his tracks reasonably well. He broke off a piece of fern from a nearby bush and dusted the area for noticeable prints. “Let’s go,” he said to Volk, walking in tandem with the rockface that held the den before double backing away from the barking dogs. The further away he got, the better. Flint looked down from the overhang to the small clearing that had been his home for nine winters. Again, he found himself without a home.

“Come on.” He called to Volk as he turned and began south. He couldn’t help but feel sad about setting off into the unknown. Sad and terrified.

Something was missing from the start of his new journey. Something vital. It was Volk’s soft padding as she lumbered after him. Maybe she had been unable to find her way above the rock face? Flint returned to the top of the overhang to find Volk below, sniffing the air and grunting stubbornly. “Let’s go,” He called as he clicked his fingers and pointed south. “We’ll find a better Den,” he said, trying to convince himself as much as he was her. Volk calmly turned north towards the barking dogs, re-lifting her nose to smell the air. “Leave her,” he demanded, “We have to go now.” To his displeasure, Volk took two steps in the opposite direction before turning and looking over her shoulder forlornly. “Argh!” Flint groaned much too loudly, straining his upper body as he clenched his hands in frustration.

He sucked through his teeth as his ring dug into his finger and pinched his skin, causing a trickle of blood to run down the inside of his hand. He slid the ring from his finger and wiped the blood across his tunic before gently blowing on the pinched skin. As he moved to replace the ring, he noticed a pool of blood on the inside that had taken shape directly opposite the faded golden cross with the four circles. He lifted it and squinted at the tiny bloody markings, which seemed to show a triangle with two long sides, one short, like a spike. He moved the ring even closer to his face. The spike looked like it was poking into three curved lines stacked on top of one another, or the curved lines were coming out of the tip; he couldn’t tell. What he did know was that the golden circles and the red of the blood that revealed this hidden secret were staring up at him. Demanding to be heard. Commanding him to pay attention. How will I know when I’m ready? “You won’t.” Mother’s voice repeated in his head.

Flint sighed and clambered down the rock face. He crawled into the den and retrieved Yanik’s bag. “Seek,” he said reluctantly to Volk as he slung it across his opposite shoulder. She sniffed the air with excitement before moving north into the forest. They walked briskly along their usual track towards the river, stopping only when Volk dropped her head, warning him to take cover. She inhaled steadily before continuing along the path, happy the intruders had left.

“How many?” Flint asked himself as he approached his pail of water that had been shattered on the ground. No ­- not the ground; it wouldn’t have broken like that. The pieces were too spread. It must have deflected off… yes, that skinny birch. He moved over to it and found scratches along its trunk at head height. Someone must have thrown it. He followed the direction of the throw and found a patch of earth that had recently been trampled on by four different-sized feet. Each one in boots. The same boots. Some sort of uniform. He followed the scuffle and found three droplets of blood spattered across a large rock, along with Yanik’s recurve bow, which he picked up. She never would’ve left that behind. The blood must have been hers. Flint followed the boot marks on the ground and found a fern bent out of shape that had been crushed as someone was dragged unwillingly through the forest. “Seek,” he said to Volk, who took off in pursuit.

It was a short walk before human voices filled the air. They were screeching and laughing like they owned the forest and everything in it. They were utterly unaware of Flint’s presence, which gave him a distinct advantage. The two crept towards the edge of a clearing where humans in uniform had gathered in the middle, surrounding Yanik lying in the long grass. Soldiers.

One was standing a pace from Yanik, one relieving himself at a nearby fern, one inspecting Yanik’s small pouch, two playing with the dog, and six standing to the side, pointing at a map. Eleven against two. Eight men, three women. He didn’t like those odds. Though, they were rather spread, which may have given him time to ambush them effectively, but if he couldn’t take them down quickly, he would soon become overwhelmed. The soldiers had impractically heavy armour, which left joints exposed for his daggers but covered up their torso and legs, meaning he would have to be precise with each attack. They all had swords at the belt and, no doubt, other smaller blades concealed elsewhere. Bad odds. “Below fifty. There’s nothing we can do.” Flint mumbled to Volk, who gave a disapproving grunt. “I will not risk our safety.”

He returned his eyes to Yanik just in time to see her head butt the closest soldier, who clutched his nose and staggered backwards, shouting. She jumped off a nearby log to give herself extra height and passed her bound hands underneath her feet. Both soldiers playing with the dog charged at her, but she skilfully moved around their swords, double-handed punching one in the face then launching her body horizontally to kick the other in the groin. As two of the soldiers who had been reading the map descended upon her, Volk sprang from the bush and charged for combat.

“Damnit.” Flint moaned as he dropped the bags from his shoulders, unbuttoned his leather pouches, and drew his daggers, holding them backwards so they faced him. He sprinted from the safety of the forest and moved towards the soldiers advancing on Yanik. He had rather liked her technique of gaining extra height and knew he still had the advantage of surprise. He launched himself off the same rock, using his momentum to smash his hilt across the jaw of one soldier and the temple of another. They hit the ground as hard as a tree snapping in a storm. Two down, nine to go.

Volk roared at the barking dog, who sprinted for the forest, then tackled and mauled the defenceless soldier who had been relieving himself. Three down, eight to go.

Flint slashed Yanik’s bindings, allowing her to pick up a sword and help repel the five soldiers who had moved in on their location. Flint weaved and ducked between their sloppy swordsmanship, easily defending himself from the weak jabs and thrusts that never had a chance. He waited patiently for his opening, slid underneath a mistimed slice, and drew his dagger across the back of a soldier's knees. Spinning to his feet, Flint blocked an incoming hack before slashing at the back of a soldier's hand and punching her in the face. Five down, six to go.

Flint watched Yanik parry, then strike at a soldier’s throat, before tripping on a stick and losing the grip on her sword as she fell. She may have been good with her bow but looked less than comfortable with a sword. The two soldiers took their opportunity to move in for the kill, unaware of Volk, who leapt to her defence and tackled one to the ground. The other closed in on Yanik, sword in hand, ready to strike. Flint hesitated as the soldier drew his sword upwards to bring it down on top of Yanik. It was him or her. Someone had to die. Flint closed his eyes, envisaged his dagger hitting the target, and hurled it at the soldier. It hit him perfectly between the eyes. Eight down, three to go.

Flint turned to assess the remaining battlefield and almost had his head cut off as a soldier lunged at him with their sword. Idiot Flint, always be ready. The three remaining soldiers charged at him, pushing him back as all three delivered simultaneous strikes. He moved precisely, using his gauntlets to block whenever necessary and ducking and weaving amongst their well-timed strikes. These three had far superior techniques and were starting to wear him down. As all three jabbed from different angles, Flint hit the ground and rolled as fast as he could. He sprung up and gasped for air. He was desperately out of practice, outnumbered, and fearing for his ability. He glanced at the forest and considered making a break for it.

“Flint!” Yanik yelled before throwing his dagger end over end directly at his head. He caught it in front of his face and felt its power surge through his wrist, up his arm, and into his chest.

Analyse. All three soldiers were more tired than he. He had more discipline. All he had done his whole life was train. It was time to put it to use. Flint went on the offensive and blocked on either side of his body, working with quick slashes and nippy jabs in the middle. The soldiers couldn’t keep up with him. No one could. Not when he was at his best. They could not break his defence with his arms constantly on the move. Finally, the soldier on his left made a mistake! An over lunge. Flint disarmed and kicked her from the skirmish, then flung his dagger backwards and plunged it into another. His eagerness to finish the battle all at once left him vulnerable to the third soldier, who had a clean shot at his kidneys. Flint was weak. He had made mistakes. He had already paid the ultimate price for overestimating himself, and here, he had made a mistake again. He watched the sword career towards his unprotected back, ready to prove his uselessness yet again, but never received the finishing blow. Yanik had stabbed the soldier through the torso.

Flint stared in disbelief at Yanik, whose grin was spread across her face. “What took you so long?” She panted as she placed her hands on her knees to catch her breath.

“Thank Volk,” Flint softly replied, wiping the blood from his dagger as he inspected the carnage around him. Nine winters he had gone, barely sighting a single soul, and now he was in the middle of a fully defeated army. He watched as one of the injured soldiers crawled through the grass towards a bag. He began to untie it, and before Flint could stop him, he blew into a horn, blaring a ringing sound for the whole forest to hear. Yanik ran to him and brutally brought the sword down through his breastplate, killing him instantly.

“Why didn’t you kill him?” She shouted as she kicked the soldier’s body from her sword. “Who knows who he just alerted!” Flint ignored her and picked up one of the soldier’s water sacks before weaving through the bodies to Volk and washing the blood that had stained the fur around her mouth. “Hey!” Yanik cried, storming towards Flint, “You need to be smarter than that. If you want to survive…” She placed her hand on Flint’s shoulder, who knocked it away before palming her in the chest, knocking her to the ground and standing over her body.

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know why you’re being hunted.” Flint yelled, spit flying from his mouth as his whole body angrily pulsated. A fire raged in his chest; his muscles clenched and begged him to lash out, begged him to kill them all, begged him to – Yanik’s eyes were wide with shock. No. He would not do that. That was not him. Volk nuzzled her head into Flint’s arm. He wiped the sweat from his brow before kneeling in front of Volk and calmly washing her muzzle. “I destroyed this whole army. People I’ve never met. People with their own lives. You’re asking me to kill more of them?”

There was a long silence as Yanik remained in the grass. “I’m sorry.” She said, returning to her feet. “You’re right. I owe you my life.”

“Two lives.”

Her grin returned. “I saved you once!” She said as she began to search the soldiers’ bodies. “That brings it back to one.”

“Volk saved you as well,” Flint said as he placed his forehead on Volk’s and took a deep breath. “That’s why it’s two.”

“If you think this is a whole army, you’re going to be shocked when you see -”

Volk stepped away from Flint and reared onto her hind legs, letting out a continuous low-pitch moan while gazing into the forest. “We have to go,” Flint said, following Volk’s gaze and searching himself. “Now!”

“I need to find it first,” Yanik called back, waving him off as she continued to search the soldiers’ supplies. “I can’t leave without it.”

“Come on!” Flint yelled, running to Yanik and tugging her arm, dragging her back the way they came. “A human always means more humans!”

“I need the Elixir,” Yanik cried, pulling her arm out of Flint’s grip. “I can’t leave without it.”

Flint scanned the soldiers and rushed towards the one he had seen playing with Yanik’s pouch with that symbol. He found it tucked into the soldier’s pocket and held it in front of him for Yanik to see. “Here -”

“No, don’t!” She gasped. It was too late. Flint threw her the pouch. It sailed through the air and landed safely in her hands. She sighed with relief that didn’t last long as dogs began barking. The two of them looked to the outer edges of the clearing, where the tree line had filled with soldiers. “Run!” Yanik shrieked as if Flint wasn’t already striding towards their equipment.

“Capture them!” A chilling voice rang out across the clearing, followed by chanting of approval and the rumbling of footsteps.

Flint and Yanik snatched up their equipment as they followed Volk, who led the group through the forest. Ferns and low-hanging branches whipped their faces as they darted in and out of the trees. Volk led them to the edge of the Deep Forest, where the three ran parallel with the wall of trees. It was almost too late by the time Flint recognised the clearing where Vara’Tulak had approached him. “Jump!” He shouted over his shoulder as he launched over what looked like a tree root protruding from the ground.

Yanik hadn’t understood, too concerned with the perusing troop and stepped on the large root that snapped shut around her ankle and hauled her into the air. She groaned as she clutched at her head while swinging upside down. Flint ran back to her, trying desperately to loosen the snare that had wrapped tightly around her ankle. The toughened bark fibres had pulled extremely taut and didn’t allow for any movement or possibility of escape. Flint cursed himself. If he had used grass like he normally did, the snare would’ve broken instantly. The crashing of soldiers and the barking of dogs drew closer as they homed in on their position.

“Whatever you do, don’t let them get this,” Yanik said groggily as she handed Flint the pouch. “Leave me. Take Redg and ride.”

“No Redg,” Flint mumbled as he drew his dagger and hacked at the bindings. “I sent him away.”

“What the fuck do you mean you -”

“It doesn’t matter,” Flint grunted, progressing through the bark. “We’ll find him later.”

“There is no later,” Yanik said with surprising calm. “Do you know who that was? The Tormentor of Pochreka. Yarganov Uksmat. Does that mean anything to you? Please take my advice, Flint, run. Through there, they won’t follow you. Run. Now. You can’t let them get it.”

“I’m done running.” Flint hissed as he cut through another section of the bark, allowing Yanik’s weight to rip her free of its clutch. She groaned as she collided headfirst with the ground but quickly took Flint’s hand and returned to her feet. She had no time to feel sorry for herself. They had to go.

The two took off after Volk but found their paths blocked by a soldier who had cunningly cut them off. They tried to retreat but soon found themselves surrounded by soldiers circling in on their location, stopping their path to the Deep Forest. Flint was counting how many there were, but it was no use. The odds weren’t just bad; they were impossible. There would be no fighting their way out of this. Flint opened a hidden pocket and tucked Yanik’s pouch inside his gauntlets. The soldiers closed in on the two and completely encircled them, standing five paces away but daring not to come closer. There was a long, uncomfortable silence.

“You’re not an easy one to track.” A cold voice said. The soldiers parted to let a tall, slender man through. Flint had no doubt this was the man Yanik had mentioned. He had no hair anywhere on his head, his skin the darkest Flint had ever seen. He wore a long red robe with mud crusted along the bottom. Or maybe it was blood. The robe menacingly elongated from his shoulders into spikes that pointed into the air and fell away into the beginning of oversized sleeves that looked like they could carry more than Flint and Yanik’s satchels combined. “You fought valiantly.” The terrifying man whispered, his tongue darting across his teeth which had been sharpened into points that looked primed for ripping flesh. “But in all my forty-two years, I am yet to be beaten. Jakob.” He said, gesturing to a soldier behind him who stepped forward and relieved them of their weapons, satchels, and Flint’s gauntlets. Flint considered head-butting this Jakob, who looked no more than a young man with a pimpled face covered by a half-grown beard, but thought the better of it. “I will be taking back what is mine. You two…” Yarganov’s lips curled into a demented smile, “Will be spending the rest of your lives with me. Mm.” He moaned as he turned away.

Flint saw a glimmer of eyes high in the Deep Forest trees. Maybe they would help, take pity on him. It was worth a chance. Before he could yell out, Jakob stepped forward and slammed the hilt of his sword into Flint’s face.

Sci Fi

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NCS Napier

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    NCS NapierWritten by NCS Napier

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