The two had been running for hours, both of them covered in sweat, dirt and wounds. The instant that they gotten to the base of the mountains, they were immediately ambushed. Kali had narrowly dodged a poison arrow while Stanford cleaved through as many people as his large sword would allow him to. Not five minutes later the two were once again attacked, this time by a group of mercenaries each carrying what looked to be expensive armor and weapons. It took a greater effort, but the two managed to defeat them and continue on their climb, however, Stanford had suffered wound in his shoulder.
Though he was an excellent fighter, Stanford was still a boy that had not yet matured and was fighting against adult seasoned warriors all the while swinging a blade that likely weighed more then he did. Kali noticed this, and also noticed that the young warrior was starting to wear down as they continued on, which was why she suddenly stopped running and stated “Let's take a quick rest.”
“Huh?” Stanford turned to face the princess. “Why? We're almost there.”
“We've still got a ways to go,” Kali explained, sitting down. “And it's getting dark out, meaning we're going to have to be more careful. We need to rest so that we can clear our minds a bit.”
“That's stupid, but you're the one in charge,” Stanford shrugged, taking a seat beneath a tree. “So tell me, exactly who are we supposed to be meeting at the top of this mountain?”
“A friend of mine,” Kali answered. “Or rather, I guess it's better to call him my adviser. His name is Mackrell, he's a member of the senior council and has been with me ever since I was a child, honestly it's because of him that I managed to live these three years.”
“Sounds like a parent,” Stanford chuckled.
“In a way he is,” Kali shrugged. “I didn't spend much time with my father, him being the king and all, and now that he's dead I suppose Mackrell has fulfilled that role for me.”
Stanford gave a bitter smile and looked up at the sky. “Well at least someone took on that role for you,” he stated. “My father was gone before I was even born, I don't know whether he's alive or dead.”
“And your mother?”
“Died shortly after giving birth to me,” the raven haired boy sighed. “I lived with some....relatives, but they were poor and ended up selling me off as a slave when I was five.” He pulled off one of his gloves, revealing a mark on the back of his hand. “I was sold to a noble family in the Kingdom of Kaytram, where I worked in their wine vineyards.”
“Wait a minute,” Kalen's ear's perked up. “You don't mean the Blackwoods do you?”
“Yeah,” Stanford was now scowling. “Turns out their hearts are the same color as their name suggests. They fed me the scraps of meat that their own dogs wouldn't eat, and I had to work from sunrise until sunset.” Stanford stared at the mark on his hand. “This damn mark signaled that they could do whatever they wanted to me, but to be honest, I was one of the lucky ones. The Blackwoods prefer elf slaves, and the things I've heard they do to them are unspeakable.”
The elf said nothing, only stared at the boy in silence. She knew that opening her mouth would be a bad idea, after all she was a princess that spent the majority of her life in a castle with servants, while this boy in front of her had an entire life filled with nothing but hardships. It made Kali feel as if the last three years weren't so bad after all.
“Alright,” Stanford pushed himself to his feet. “Let's get going, the sun has fully set and we've still got a few hours before we make it to the top of this mountain.”
“You're right we....” Kali suddenly trailed off as she felt her ears twitch uncontrollably.
“What is it?”
“Someone's here,” she announced, looking around. “I can hear them moving about....it's more than one person.”
“Shit, they caught up to us that quick?” Stanford unsheathed this word and got into a defensive stance. “They must have been waiting for nightfall to strike.”
“Which means they're probably more efficient in the night, we need to go now.”
“What is-” the elf was suddenly tackled to the ground by Stanford as several shining objects flew past where they were standing and landed on the tree nearby. “Holy shit....” The two scrambled to their feet to see what nearly hit them, as Kali pulled one of the objects from the tree.
“Knives?” she brought them to her nose and took a sniff. “Laced with poison I assume, they were trying to kill is in one shot. Thanks to your quick thinking, we managed to....” the girl trailed off once more when she saw that Stanford was currently wincing at the fact that one of the knives were stuck in his back.
“I'm alright,” Stanford held up a halting hand. “More importantly, we've got company so I suggest you get ready to fight.”
In that instant, Kali heard the sound of someone shifting through the bushes prompting her to reach for her staff. However, before she could get there she saw a blur run right past her and snatch the weapon from her grasp.
So fast! Kali thought.
“Watch out!” came Stanford's voice from behind as Kali saw another group of knives hurling in her direction. Without thinking, the elf held up her hands as a gust of wind blew away the knives in different directions.
“Heh heh heh,” a dark laughter came from the shadows. “Is that wind magic?”
“Weak wind magic,” another voice chuckled along with it.
“Damn it,” Stanford cursed as his frantically began looking around. “This isn't good.”
“Will and Trost,” the warrior announced. “I know these guys, they're mercenaries that will do any job for cheap.”
“Are they any good?”
“Not in a straight up fight, in fact I can easily take them both out myself,” Stanford clutched his sword. “The problem is, they're damn good in the dark and they're poison experts.”
“Great,” Kali sighed. “So what now?” She could hear the rustling in the bushes again, but she was having a hard time pinpointing exactly where the duo was. She figured they were likely moving around constantly to avoid being found.
“Hey assholes!” Stanford shouted. “What the hell do you two think you're doing taking a job like this?! It's way out of your league!”
“Heh heh, we couldn't pass up the money, Stanny-boy,” one of the voices responded. “Plus, how often do you get to hunt an elf princess?”
“A pretty elf princess at that.”
Another volley of knives came flying toward Kali, as Stanford jumped in the way and used the broad side of his large sword to block them. “Don't elves have better senses than humans? Why don't you start using that to pinpoint their location for me?”
“I've been trying that, dumbass,” Kali spat. “They're obviously aware of that, so they're constantly moving around and not allowing me to lock onto them.”
“Shit, these bastards decided to bring their A game today,” Stanford muttered. “I guess we'll just have to do this the old fashioned....” Suddenly, the brunette stopped in his tracks, dropping his sword from his hands.
“Stanford?” Kali quickly rushed to his side, gasping when she saw the shape the boy was in. His body was shaking rapidly, as beads of sweat rolled down his face and neck area. “What's wrong? Why are you shaking like that?”
“Damn....it's the poison,” Stanford suddenly collapsed onto his knees. “It's starting to take effect.”
“Uh oh, the bodyguard's down.”
“Guess it's time we finished this little game of chicken, heh heh heh.”
Kali clenched her teeth in frustration as she racked her brain for solutions out of their predicament. The thought of running away and leaving Stanford behind crossed her mind, but she quickly dismissed the thought and simply sank to her knees along with the paralyzed warrior.
“Heh heh heh, not even gonna put up a fight?”
“What a let down, heh heh.”
“Shut the fuck up already! And stop laughing like that, it's weird!” Kali growled. “Whatever you're gonna do, just do it.”
“Alright then, here goes!”
Kali shut her eyes and braced herself for the inevitable strike, however she suddenly realized that everything had gone quiet. The constant moving she'd been hearing had stopped, and their two attackers had even gone silent. Slowly, Kalen opened her eyes and was shocked at the sight he saw.
Standing in front of her was Stanford, somehow back on his feet, with his sword embedded in the chest cavity of an unrecognizable person.
“Gotcha,” Stanford grinned at the man on his sword. “I knew you'd be stupid enough to try getting closer, Will. You both love watching your prey suffer up close.”
“Y-You bastard....” Will coughed, blood gushing from the sides of his mouth. “The poison....”
“It's called a bluff,” Stanford then placed his foot on Will's stomach, kicking him off his sword. “I'd say it was a pretty good one.”
Kali watched incredulously as Stanford, who was still shaking and seemed to barely be able to stand, pointed the sword toward the darkness of the forest.
“Come on out, Trost!” he shouted. “Let's see if you can last any longer than your partner!”
For a brief moment, no response came. Then, Kali felt a chill in the air as a figure appeared from the shadows and into the moonlight. Standing before them was a tall man that appeared to be in his early twenties, he was quite large and had a mostly shaved head with a singular rat tail hanging from the side of his shoulders. On his back was a basket, likely where he kept his poisonous weapons, and in his hands was a large club. His face was twisted in pure rage, thick veins popping from his forehead and cheeks as he slammed the club against one of the trees.
“You're dead, boy!” he growled. “I don't care if I die, as long as I take you down with me!”
“Bring it on,” Stanford goaded. “At least try to make me sweat this time!”
However, before Trost could take another step toward the duo, a large hand reached out from the shadows and grabbed the wrist.
Trost was quick to turn his head to see who had grabbed him and was shocked to see a very large man glaring down at him. The man was at least twice his size and had a thin goatee, he looked to be on the older side as he had no hair on the top of his head but some on the side. He also had pointy elf ears, which twitched as he tightened his grasp on Trosts' wrist.
“Who the hell are you?!”
“I have no obligation to answer that,” the man growled, his intense glare darkening. “But I do have a question for you.” Suddenly, Trost noticed that the man was holding a large ax high above his head. “Just what the hell do you think you're doing to my queen?!” And with that shout, the man brought the ax down on Trost, cleaving him from his left shoulder to his right hip.
Both Kali and Stanford watched as Trost's mangled body fell at the feet of the large, angry man, who then swiped his ax through the air to remove the dripping blood from its blade.
“M...M....” Kali murmured.
“What is it?” Stanford braced himself, ready to defend the elf princess.
“Mackrell!” the princess shouted gleefully, causing the man to turn to face them.
“Princess Kali,” Mackrell, who was now wearing a warm smile instead of an angry glare, stated. “I am glad to see that you are okay.”