Elia listened carefully as she walked down the deserted trail. Something about its silence put her on edge, but she knew she had to follow it. This muddy path would lead her back to the comforts of the main road, and from there, the gates of Khore. She couldn't get there fast enough.
Elia thought of the reward money she'd receive when she returned. The whole reason she was out of Khore was because she had been tasked to safely deliver an expensive gift from a rich aristocrat to his long distance lover. She had accepted the job because of the money. It would help her fund her goals.
After a long tiring journey under the beaming sun, she was looking forward to a nice refreshing bath in her cosy one room apartment in the city.
Suddenly, her attentive ears picked up the sound of a twig cracking on her right. Elia tensed. A man jumped out of the thick underbrush holding a long broad sword as two other men crashed through the undergrowth behind her. She was surrounded.
Bandits, Elia cursed. The problem with traveling near the main road wasn't the dark creatures that roamed the lands. They avoided over populated areas such as this one. No, it was the looters and thieves she had to look out for. Luckily, she'd avoided them when she had been holding her precious cargo, but it seemed unfair that they'd appear now when she was so close to home.
On instinct, Elia's hand immediately went to the short wooden staff strapped to her back, avoiding the katana strapped right next to it. She only used that to kill, and these low lifes weren't worth the effort. A second later, the staff was free and she was in a fighting stance.
"Easy there, girl," the one in front of her said. Probably the leader, she supposed. "Put your little toy down and we might just let you go."
Yeah, like that's going to happen, Elia thought.
"Let her go?" one of the two echoed from behind her. The man was a wall of muscle wielding a heavy hammer. "God damn, no way are we fucking letting her go! It's been days since we had a woman!"
Elia sensed him rushing towards her. She spun, her staff hitting the back of his left knee with such force that he tumbled down, following up with a finishing blow to the side of his head. With a groan, the brute lost consciousness, and one of his canine teeth.
One down, two more to go.
The other two moved immediately to the aid of their fallen ally. One of them was holding a crossbow, and Elia knew he would be the most troublesome. She ducked under one of the sword's swings, just in time to deflect a flying bolt from the shooter. Elia hadn't expected him to shoot at her while she was so close to his friend. The swordsman took advantage of her surprise and tackled her to the ground with his full weight. She lost her grip on her staff. To her dismay, it flew through the air and landed a few inches out of her reach.
The swordsman grinned menacingly, now straddling on top of her thin form. "Looks like I'm the one getting a taste of her first." His voice was oozing with malice.
"Let me know when your done," his friend replied. "I'm just gonna look through her bag." He ripped the bag from her shoulders and started rummaging through it.
Hope flared as a plan formed in Elia's head. This day wasn't going as planned but everything was going to be okay, she was sure of it. She just needed to wait for the right timing.
Hands slowly wandered up her body as the swordsman felt her curves. It took all of Elia's self control not to fight back. She knew she had to be patient, which meant ignoring the swordsman and watching his friend take one thing after another from her bag.
A normal woman would have screamed or begged for them to let her go. Not Elia. She had been through far worse than this situation and she wasn't about to lose her mind now.
Then, finally, the moment she had been waiting for came. "Hey, Zen. Check this out!"
Distracted from feeling her up, the swordsman looked to his friend in annoyance. "What is it?" he growled.
The crossbowman was holding a pale grinning skull in his hands. "Could she have killed someone and carried his head around?" he wondered aloud. "Disgusting! God, that is si-"
He didn't get to finish his sentence as the skull's face animated with life, its empty sockets glowing an unholy red.
The crossbowman screamed, dropping the skull. Elia took advantage of the distraction. Her hand closed in on a nearby rock the size of her fists and she smashed the side of the swordsman's face with it. Cursing, he twisted off her. He was getting to his knees groggily when she picked up her staff and knocked him out with it. A wave of satisfaction went through her at seeing her molester's eyes roll back inside his head.
Breathing heavily, she turned to the last of her attackers.
"He's done. I'm sure you wanted to be next."
The man shook his head. "I've changed my mind," he whimpered before he dropped his crossbow and ran. Obviously he didn't like fair fights.
Elia took a moment to gather her wits and then searched the two unconscious men left behind. Just a bunch of amateurs, she thought. There were a couple of gold coins on them, probably from some other ambushed victims. Elia pocketed them. The sum would earn her a decent lunch.
"If you're done looting from these thieves, Elia, I would appreciate it if you would pick me up and not leave me behind."
In her search, she had almost forgotten about Muriel. Elia combed the surrounding area and found the skull in the thick underbrush.
"About time. I've been face down in the dirt long enough," the talking skull complained. "And why didn't you hear them before they ambushed you?"
"I was distracted," said Elia..
"Clearly," he replied sarcastically.
They continued onward until Elia decided it was safe enough to stop and recover a little. If she were to be ambushed by bandits again, she doubted she'd be able to fight off her attackers when she was this exhausted. She had been traveling non stop for days. Better to rest now and then move on.
"What? We're only a few walks away from home. Why are we stopping?" the irritated skull asked in surprise as she dropped both him and her bag to the ground. Easy for him to say, thought Elia. He had spent the entire journey being carried around inside her bag, although Elia knew he didn't like it, and he wanted to be back home as much as she did.
Elia sighed. At this rate, she'll reach Khore by sunset. Exhausted, she slumped down next to the bag under the shade of a looming tree.
"Hello? Are you dead?!" Muriel didn't stop talking.
Ignoring him, Elia covered her face with her dark brimmed hat and closed her eyes.
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