|Regulus of Exile|
Path of an Exile
Forest Clearing, South of Spavati
The Black Rider's command seemed to shock the refugees with most becoming paralysed and the remainder moving from side to side as if unsure what to do. His head snapped around to glare at the motionless crowd, his blue eyes shining coldly out from the darkness beneath the cloak's hood. As his gaze washed over them a feeling of cold dread chilled them all, few stood their ground after that. Most made a run for it rushing to put out the fires and gather what remained of their belongings. Amongst the few who remained strong under the Black Rider's icy gaze were Aurelia and Arash.
The feeling of dread was amplified as the Black Rider slowly sheathed his blade. To the few who had stood their ground it felt as though the whole world shook, when he dropped to the ground and began to walk towards them. His voice was lower than it was before, but seemed to vibrate through the air cutting through the chaotic background noise. "Those of you who are still here need to guide the rest. It is neither my duty or job to protect you. I have already risked my life once for you today, do not expect me to repeat it."
He stepped past the small group and projected his voice outwards. "You keep up or you're left behind, if you're so greedy that you value your gold and property over your lives then you will lose both. Follow me if you want to live!" Having seen what the Black Rider was capable of the refugees weren’t willing to risk being without him and being caught by the raiders again.
The last of the flames were doused bringing darkness to the camp once more. Aurelia stood frozen to the spot in awe of what had just happened. Alone and using just a couple of moves, a single man had made dozens of men turn and run. Now their rescuer strode across the remains of the campsite, his eyes darting from one spot to the next as if trying to take it all in at once.
His cold attitude was almost frightening and yet he had just taken on what most would consider impossible odds to protect them. She knew nothing else about him and yet for the first time in days she felt safe, the feeling left her momentarily doubting her own sanity. She supressed the notion as the panicked activity finally seemed to calm into preparations to leave.
The Black Rider whistled and his horse trotted to his side. He spoke quietly the sound of his voice not carrying enough to be understood. Aurelia quickened her pace to try and get close enough to hear. As she got closer the horse flicked its head to one side, clouting the cloaked man on the head. "Damn it Scarlatto!! I know...I know.....but we couldn't just leave them" His voice was much gentler than before and yet the horse snorted giving what Aurelia could only describe as a disapproving look. "It worked didn't it?" The horse seemed to even nod its head. Aurelia wondered whether she should begin questioning his sanity as well as her own. "Just lead the way back, I'll guard the rear. Scare these people into getting moving." Without waiting for a command Scarlatto trotted away ahead, whilst her master turned to face the crowd trailing behind them.
"Follow my horse, she knows the way. No one will fall behind!" His voice had taken on its original coldness and his eyes sent shivers down the spine of everyone their gaze touched. The crowd quickly upped their pace till they were nearly running into the dark forest before them.
Deep Below Ground, Alquvia
In the darkness of the catacombs below the conquered city of Alquvia, its former protectors languished in chains. The sounds of the suffering wounded reverberated off the walls, the conquerors had left them to rot below ground out of sight and out of mind. At least that was how it felt to Avita Custodia as she struggled against the shock and pain of her current condition. In one day her troops, her empress and her nation had fallen, leaving her a broken shell of her former self.
Even more galling than the defeat was the fact the Falshin had left her unchained on the floor for days. With her arms and legs broken beyond use they obviously felt she was no threat to them. It was a humiliating that even having risen to the rank of High Guard Captain she was to be treated like so much useless meat.
She was jerked out of her wallowing by the scream of the woman in the next cells. That was a scream of fresh pain; it dredged up all the memories of the battle just three days before. She trembled to her very core as heavy foot falls moved slowly towards the door of her cell. The door thudded with the weight of pressure against its other side and the lock slowly screeched open. The next moment was the longest of Avita's life; the minute changes in pitch as the lock was dragged open, the groans of the wood as the door was forced open and the earth shaking thuds from the boots of the one entering. The details burned themselves into Avita fear filled mind for no matter how she struggled; she was in no condition to fight anyone who came in.
As she saw the face of the man entering the cell, her heart spiralled into an even deeper level of despair. For in walked the man whom had defeated her, by destroying her body and crushing her soul. In walked the vicious giant who called himself Hamza. His great hand reached down and grabbed hold of her head, pulling her up to her feet. She could practically hear is lurid grin as she avoided looking at this face, repressing a shudder of repulsion. "Well, well if it isn't the precious little Guard Captain." He growled under his breath to her, as he eyes seemed to review her injured form. "Broken and defeated, we have no use for you."
Avita began to tremble feeling that her end was coming soon. Another voice spoke out from the shadows, this one much more soft and yet infinity more chilling. "Now, now Hamza she was the former captain of the High Guard. I'm sure she still possesses some value to us." He stepped into clear view within the room and the gleeful look in his eyes was even more disturbing than Hamza's lurid grin. "We took this city in order to search for something called a 'Nexus'. To you it would be an ancient shrine, probably underground around here somewhere. Where is it?" The man drew his sword and slowly dragged the tip across the floor he drew closer to Avita. "I will have my new army, High Guard Captain." He spat the title with disgust as he drew up close to her face. "When I do I will need a way to pull the strings of the mindless puppets. If you help me I shall not make you into my method of control." Avita was confused beyond anything she believed possible. He'd invaded for the sake of a shrine? He was getting a new army? They would be mindless puppets? None of it made sense to her exhausted mind, but a second later it no longer matter to her as she felt his blade slide into her and the real interrogation began.
The Deep Forest, South West of Spavati
It had taken nearly an hour for the crowd from the convoy to reach their destination and they were all exhausted. Yet to Aurelia's amazement she noticed that they hadn't lost a single person in the darkness of the forest. Every member of the convoy had dropped to the ground when they finally reached the clearing where Scarlatto had stopped. Aurelia noticed Arash looking around the clearing and she looked around it herself.
The clearing was a great big cirlce of short grass with an small copse of trees in its centre. She didn't understand why the horse would stop here and yet it had never seemed unsure of where it. Her attention was drawn by the Black Rider's arrival into the clearing. He strode past those he had rescued with so much as a second glance. Instead her moved straight to his horse's side to check she was alright.
Aurelia pouted in annoyance at the gesture, why was one horse more important that dozens of refugees. Arash stood and walked after the Black Rider, his was mind made up and he was determined to get answers. As he approached the back of the rider he heard the distinctive sound of metal on metal, instinctually he dropped backwards as the cloaked man before him spun around sword drawn. Arash was ready for it, his body already down in a low stance watching his opponent carefully. However the attack never came and the Black Rider sheathed his sword once more. "Jumping into The Wyvern's Riposte in under a second and you don't move right for a civilian. Who are you?" Arash quickly composed himself whilst trying to figure out how he'd given himself away. "My name is Arash and I am a Ganderian merchant." The ice cold feeling washed over Arash once more as the sense of malice reached out from beneath the Black Rider's hood. "There is no such thing as a Ganderian or Ganderia and you move too quietly for a merchant. So let's drop the pretence and speak plainly."
Arash sighed internally ‘Why did his Ganderian ploy have to fail at this moment?’ "No one could react to a move like I just made without some martial skill. Martial skill is something this group is severely lacking. When the time comes I will need you to take the front line with me." Arash was taken aback by the man's candour, but before he could respond Aurelia had passed him and was shoving the Black Rider in the middle of his chest. "You talk about dropping pretence whilst keeping that hood up and not telling us who you are? What a joke!" The Black Rider stood silently for a moment then reached up for the hood. "I walk the path of an exile so I have no family name, but you may call me Regulus."
Aurelia was shocked by how young he was, he looked barely older than she did and yet he'd been acting like the old soldiers she remembered from her childhood. She found herself trying shake off the image of a grizzled old man and struggling to reconsile him with the baby faced man before her. Regulus sighed and gave her a scathing look "You can decide whether you like me or not later. We need to get everyone into the copse over there. There is only one safe approach and we will control it. If we can draw them in to us there, we can win this fight." He spoke so confidently that the pair could not help, but believe it could be done. As if his confidence was somehow being transmitted to them, strengthening their resolve.
Regulus stepped past the two and showed his face to the crowd. "The men who attacked you are members of a gang out of Spavati, they call themselves Baratines. They are not soldiers or warriors; they are thugs with clubs and horses. We can drive them off for good, but only if you listen to my orders and do not run." The crowd looked hesitant and nervous. "You will not have to fight them hand to hand, but this fight cannot be won without you. Stand with me and we shall have victory!!" The crowd cheered at his speech and started coming towards him as he led them all single file into the trees.
One Hour Later
A light mist was forming throughout the forest, drifting through the boughs making it hard to see past either tree line in the clearing. Regulus cursed the mist as a double edged sword as whilst it concealed the restless civilians, it also meant he could not see the Baratines coming until they were out of near the edge of the trees. After putting the civilians in their positions and giving the instructions he'd remained leaned against a tree, right at the point where he wanted the enemy to come. The entire plan of battle hinged upon them coming straight at him and so he waited for the enemy to appear.
Every passing minute seemed like an hour as he prayed the civilians resolve would hold long enough for him to end the fight. If they broke cover, if they didn't do what they had been bidden or they froze it would be the end of them all. Regulus was silently kicking himself for getting involved in this fight. No matter how he looked at it the fight was a fool’s errand. To fight a force of superior skill, armaments and mounts with only a handful of skittish civilians was madness. Yet there he stood ready to pull off a crazy stunt like the one he had planned.
A swirl of the mist made him jump; leaving him gripping his sword as if drawing it would do him any good at such range. Ever since his exile he had been off his game, jumpy in situation that he would have previously taken in his stride. Yet somehow he had survived the loss of nation and allies so now it was time to become stronger for it. The thought steadied him and he felt the familiar cool headedness flow over him like another layer of armour. When the next swirl came he was ready for it and the red capped rider that it slowly revealed.
Regulus felt the grin growing across his face as he realised the foolish Baratines were doing exactly what he had hoped. They had ridden single file to follow their trail through the dense woods. It was the mistake of a rookie commander, something he would capitalise on before they knew what was going on.
He dashed out from the cover of the trees, his lance in one hand as he began to close the distance. As he twisted and launched the heavy weapon through the air, began to pray that his aim was true. He needed the shot to be absolutely perfect for his plan to work. He needn’t have worried as with no deviation in the air the lance sailed across the open ground and buried itself in the body of the first man.
Regulus turned and began to run for safety. He had half of the clearing to cross and he had just presented the enemy with the dream target of all cavalrymen; a lone fleeing man on foot. He could hear the thunder of hooves as the horsemen dashed out past their dying comrade to ride him down. The ground trembled with the weight of the horses bearing down upon him and he struggled to keep his footing on the soft earth. His heart raced as he fled for his life not daring to look back as the enemy came to smite him. Finally as his lungs began to burn from the exertion he spotted it, the marker he had been waiting to find his shield.
In a single moment he stopped and turned to face the enemy, his right hand tearing away the clasp of his black cloak whilst his left took up his shield from the ground. He saw the pursuers clearly for the first time as he came around to face them, his grin transforming into a fully fledged wild eyed smile. He heard the shout from the civilians “Now!!” as the lead horsemen tried to close the last bit of distance to him. Regulus dropped low onto one knee, raising his shield above him to cover his back watching as the glimmer of understanding appeared in the eyes of the lead horsemen.
In that moment it became too late for the horsemen to save his own life, the creak of wood from the copse had signalled his doom. The trees on the edge of the copse snapped forward launching a torrent of sharpened wood stakes. They flew as if fired by a company of archers to skewer horse and rider alike.The horsemen who survived the initial flurry for stakes clattered into the bodies of their fallen brethren finally bringing the last of the riders to the ground.
Regulus felt the familiar feeling, he had known so many times before. The sense that the battle would decided now, in this very moment. He drew his sword and dashed forth into the melee, disappearing from the sight of the civilians. Of all those he had saved only two followed his example and dashed out into the melee of bodies and death. Arash who had been waiting for his moment rushed out from the cover of the tree and into the press of enemy bodies. With lightning quick speed he began to strike any enemy within reach. His limbs were a blur in the mist as blow after blow struck the mired Baratines ending their schemes of plunder and death. Finally into the fray came the deposed empress with the blade of her guard captain in hand. Her mind was awhirl with visions of her people falling to invaders and the cries of suffering. The images were a searing torture on her psyche, almost making her want to cry out with the pain of them. Her anger was such that she lashed out wildly with the blade and it struck home, hitting a man in the chest. She locked eyes with the man and froze; his eyes seemed to bore into her as the last of his life drained away down the sides of the blade.
The pressure was too much for her mind to take and she lost her grip on the sword, stumbling back from the man. She fell back onto the inert body of a horse, hands shaking as she tried to grasp what she had done. Unable to move she watched in awe as the two men whom had been at her side just mere minutes before danced through the crowd. Regulus was a flash of red and brown spinning and slicing his way through the rear of the ranks. His movements were frenzied until finally, mercifully, he came to a stop.
Aurelia watched him through a haze as he strode across the field of death; unaffected, unsullied, unscathed. He seemed in that moment to be an untouchable force. Having survived a cavalry charge, a hail of death from above and the madness of the melee that followed; Aurelia could almost believe that it was true.
Regulus stopped before her seeing the blood on her hands. The girl was obviously high born and untrained, yet she had come out onto the field when most others had not. She had even got her hands dirty in the fight, even if she was not made for battle he could respect her for stepping out. He turned to her fallen opponent seeing the sword sticking out of his chest he felt a flicker of recognition. Gone was the gleeful joy that came from surviving a life and death melee, gone was the admiration for the girl beside him, all that remained was pain.
“I know this sword.” He spoke quietly but his words struck Aurelia like hammer blows. “It belonged to someone special to me, one of the truest friends I’ve ever known.” He pulled the sword out of the man’s chest and cleaned the blood off the blade. “She would never have given this sword away; it was her most prized possession ever since she took office as captain.” He turned to Aurelia his eyes filled with a look of pure agony. “Why do you carry her sword?” His words were enough to drag Aurelia out of her shocked state and make her grab the sword out of his hands. “Avita gave it to me!” she snapped. The expression on Regulus’s face made it obvious he did not understand, as he struggled to grasp what her words could mean.
A moment of tense silence came to pass as the pair struggled with the information each had just become privvy too. Arash watched cautiously his mind working overtime; he was certain that he knew the man's face. The moment dragged out as that brought clarity to the pair. “You stand before Empress Aurelia Flavia Luciana the 1st, the person Captain Custodia entrusted her sword. I believe you were acquainted with the captain, Legatus Primus.”
There was a moment of silence as both Aurelia and Regulus stared at each other taking in the other’s face as if for the first time. Then as if all else that had happened had been washed away a smile appeared on Regulus’s face. “So Avita really pulled it off? In the midst of all that hell she managed to get you out to safety.” Even as he smiled Aurelia and Arash could see a single tear roll down his cheek. He took a deep breath and slowly breathed out as he turned to face Aurelia. “Then Empress, if you will allow it I will take on Avita’s will.” He knelt down on one knee with his sword laid across open palms before her. She recognised the gesture and felt her heart swell with relief as she understood his meaning. She placed her right hand on the centre of the sheathed sword and waited for the words that so few had spoken before:
|Regulus of Exile|