Shadows of the Evergreen - Part 11
This was a post that almost wasn't. My storage HDD where I kept ALL my writing failed. I've only had 2 hard drives break on me, and both were Seagate. Lesson learned. Anyway, all of my writing for Shadows of the Evergreen were on that HDD, but thankfully ElvenAvariel is such a fan of the story that I had sent her all the existing chapters to help her form ideas for her next images, so I was able to go through my communications history with her to find my lost writings instead of having to recreate the story from memory. Thanks, ElvenAvariel, for being my illustrator and my fan.
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Mr. Wyatt walked into the tent with three other units in his stack. Two stabbers, a man and a woman, with swords at their belts and the piker who appeared to have been standing guard the entire night. The infantry units had crumbs around their mouths from eating their rations too quickly, but Mr. Wyatt was still spotless from cleansing. None of the units noticed that nothing had popped for Grey to eat. That was their first mistake.
The infantry units formed up behind Mr. Wyatt in a diamond formation, the stabbers in the middle rank and the piker in the back. Mr. Wyatt firmly told Grey to stand up, as if it were both a command and a challenge. The infantry did not move to Grey's sides to secure him, as it seemed they were waiting for their warlord to finish whatever he intended to do to Grey as part of their travel preparations. That was their second mistake.
Grey held the empty end of the shackles in his hand and struggled onto his feet the way a bound man would, weight against the chains and the pole as he got his knees and then legs under him. Mr. Wyatt was already unfolding his unique knife out for use when Grey brought his gaze up to eye level. When Mr. Wyatt saw his face, he was surprised. Not by Grey's hard and sharp gaze, he'd seen prisoners point gazes like that at him many a time. Mr. Wyatt was surprised by Grey's smile, halfway between a grin and a snarl. There was no Erfly reason for a sane prisoner to be smiling at his captor like that, which was why Mr. Wyatt was surprised. Which was why he hesitated, which was his fatal mistake.
Mr. Wyatt was standing securely just outside of unarmed range, which left him the perfect distance. Grey put explosive power into his right arm by using the grip of his left to put tension on the chain. When his grip gave out, the hollow end of the manacle was already swinging fast. With a single circular swoop to increase it's speed, Grey landed a clean hit to Mr. Wyatt's jaw with the gratifying sound of a crunch, and the pale warlord flew to the side. While Mr. Wyatt's teeth were probably ruined for the day, the impact did little real damage. The shackle was a makeshift weapon, and damage penalties applied. But if Grey had learned anything the night before, it was that an injury didn't need to be deadly to hurt. And it was a clean blow to the jaw, which transfers energy straight to the brain, causing partial temporary incapacitation at the least. Which would hopefully last long enough for Grey to take care of the small fries.
There was just enough velocity left in the manacle flail to put another swing into motion as Grey took a step forward. The renewed spin caught the male stabber that was previously standing to Mr. Wyatt's left in the head just under the helmet. The man spun and dropped to one knee on the ground. The female stabber was grabbing at her sword, but the immediate problem was the piker who had no need to unsheathe a weapon. The piker thrust forward, quick and clean. But also clumsy. The attack was automatic, nature taking over instead of experience or training. It was easy to predict the path as it was a stab straight at the center mass of Grey's body.
The piker had only used the strength in his arms to attack. His feet were not squared and there was no hip movement in the strike. It was fast, but that was all. Even with the stack and leadership bonuses, it was still weak enough to deflect with a side shuffle and a left forearm strike to the side of the wooden shaft. The spearhead shot past Grey's torso, doing no damage. Grey hopped straight into the off balance piker and drove his right elbow into the unit's neck, collapsing his throat. Suffocation rules went into effect immediately and the unit's grasp on the spear weakened enough for Grey to yank it out of the piker's grasp, left hand holding the shaft near the spearhead. The collapsed throat was a fatal wound, the piker would asphyxiate within minutes.
Grey slashed through the piker's neck with the spear head's bladed side as he spun, croaking the unit instantly. Suffocation rules were too slow, and the piker might stumble outside to alert others to the fight. Grey didn't go out of his way to finish the piker off by a single inch, though, as he had needed to turn to face the female stabber anyway.
Grey's sharp eyes saw the slashing sweep of the stabber's sword as she pulled the blade free from the scabbard. A proper swing, hips involved and pushing forward to bring her full strength to bear. Grey's footwork was a mess, he was chained and it constricted any movements larger than a small stride or a hop. Grey would never be able to employ enough power to block that attack while his legs were constrained. So Grey instinctively hopped back enough that he only took a grazing blow to his chest that cut through the face of his Titan ink. A move that put him off balance and left him open to a second attack.
An attack that could have croaked Grey if he had only dodged.
With a dull thud of wood on skull, and a wet crack of skull yielding to wood, the haft of the spear's blunt end slammed into the side of the stabber's head. The spear had a longer reach than the sword, any unit with any sense could tell you that. And all the force of Grey's spin, plus the gravity of his falling after the hop were all transferred into the impact to that woman's head, knocking her face into the ground with her eyes scrunching into little exes. That marked the second infantry unit croaked, and the final stabber had gotten to his feet with his sword in his hand. Grey had only enough time to rebalance himself before the stabber attacked. Grey met the blade with the dull haft of the spear, he'd had no time to change his grip from his left hand near the spear head. Grey was disadvantaged in the fight, the business end of the spear couldn't be brought into play, and the blunt end could only really do damage if it had a lot of power behind it. Grey couldn't form a stance to get that power, so all he could do was block and look for an opportunity. Then the stabber cut clean through the haft with a chopping swing with his full power and a great attack roll behind it. Grey was left with a stump of a spear against a fully armed and competent enemy. The stabber had triumph in his eyes when Grey sent the spear head flying through one of them.
For a piker, a broken weapon was death. But a nub of a spear was just about the same size as a dagger. Weight was a little bit off, but that close it didn't need to be well balanced. Grey only had to adjust his grip and explode his muscles in a straight line with his target. Leaving his make shift war dart buried tightly into the face of the croaked stabber, Grey turned to check on the warlord that had been conspicuously absent from the fight so far. Grey saw Mr. Wyatt popping his neck with his sword drawn in his right hand with his left feeling at the damaged side of his face. The warlord obviously chose to observe Grey instead of charging into what seemed like a battle his stabber was winning, and now continued to measure and weigh his opponent instead of striking quickly. Grey returned the favor.
Mr. Wyatt was a level lower than Grey, but he had been in a stack of four. The combat bonuses beat Grey's, who only had his own level to fight with. Grey's stats were more than enough against a small stack of infantry with combat bonuses, but fighting a warlord was a whole different bag. It also didn't help that Mr. Wyatt's sword was non-generic. It wasn't special in the least, but it was at least a plus one to his roles, and Grey was unarmed except for his make shift manacle flail. And Grey was pretty sure Mr. Wyatt wouldn't give him the chance to arm himself from one of the bodies on the ground. Which meant that the rolls were on Mr. Wyatt's side. On the other hand, Grey's improvised weapon had a longer reach and a stunning effect, so one blow with it would leave Mr. Wyatt open to follow up attacks. Grey had also turned a four against one situation into a one on one, meaning his combat experience was fudging the rolls in his favor. It was anyone's fight, and the both of them knew it.
So the two warlords stood there, staring each other down.
"There's only one way this little escape attempt will end," said Mr. Wyatt. "You know that."
"No," replied Grey solidly, as he slowly spun the manacle chain gripped in his right hand. "There's only one of two ways it'll end. And neither of them is with my recapture."
Mr. Wyatt was quiet for a long moment before saying, "Is that a fact? Well. Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?" And then the fight was on.
But aside from the swinging chain and a little swaying for position, neither side made a move. They stepped slowly, feeling each other out. Mr. Wyatt made a few feints, low rounding stabs at Grey's left side, which Grey responded to with a twist of his wrist as the chain swung. This caused a complete change in direction of the manacle flail so that it swung past Grey's left side, so that he could deflect a thrust should it come his way. It didn't.
Mr. Wyatt made a few more feints before Grey made one of his own. Grey waited for Mr. Wyatt to be on his backward step before making a probing swing at Mr. Wyatt's head. It was not a fully committed swing, but it was enough for the man to pull further back, juking his head slightly to the side. So Mr. Wyatt's probing changed it's tone, as if Grey's swing had whispered, "Hey, you're not the only one that can play that game." Grey had carefully watched Mr. Wyatt's movements, just as Mr. Wyatt had been watching Grey's. In a fight where one strike could decide the winner, their quiet study was the real fight. The combatants tested each other with feints and half serious attacks, to find which side had the hole that could be exploited. Neither side was willing to fully commit until they had their opportunity. So they stepped slowly around the narrow tent, as if the small changes in footing mattered.
As soon as Mr. Wyatt had maneuvered the tent pole to cover his left side, he swung at Grey for real. It was a swift serpent strike, halfway between a lunge and a swing. The upward curve of the strike was aimed at the heart, but the curve meant the entry and exit of the sword would slice a larger hole than normal. The position of the pole on Mr. Wyatt's left meant the manacle flail would be blocked, that no strike to the head or the body could be cleanly executed. It was a plan concocted by a man use to combat, who was willing to go for a swift critical strike, with the intelligence to turn the pole from a terrain feature into a combat advantage.
It was what Grey would have done. Which was why it didn't work.
Grey stepped back and to his right just fast enough to have three ribs slashed through and be left with a grazing blow causing minimal damage instead of a hollowed out chest. With the same movement, Grey twisted his wrist to change his weapon's rotation and used the other special feature that a length of weighted chain had, one that Grey instinctively knew it possessed. He'd worked with too many lengths of rope to not know about it. The ability to Ensnare.
The weighted chain fell down onto Mr. Wyatt's wrist, and then wrapped itself around enough times to solidly hold onto him. Then Grey put all his weight and muscle into a sharp pull, yanking Mr. Wyatt's arm into the shaft of the pole. Mr. Wyatt grunted and tried to pull his arm free, but Grey grabbed the bound wrist with his left hand and slammed it into the pole again and again. It only took a few seconds to smash Mr. Wyatt's arm into the pole enough times for the Disarm attack to succeed. As Mr. Wyatt's sword struck the ground, Grey pulled in to grappling distance to the warlord, pounding the man square in the face with his right fist.
That was Grey's fatal mistake.
In the heat of the moment, Grey had forgotten about their respective combat bonuses. While Mr. Wyatt had lost the weapon bonus from his sword, he still possessed his stack bonus. His direct combat rolls were just plain superior to Grey's, and he was a wily grappler. Grey only got the one clean hit in before Mr. Wyatt blocked the next strike by intercepting the swing at the elbow, turned the arm with his leverage, and then pulled in closer to head butt Grey in the face. Grey was thrown off balance and back into the pole, his back hit and then braced by it. Mr. Wyatt used that second of an advantage to pull his right arm free of the chain, and then grabbed Grey by the neck to squeeze the life out of him.
Just like with the piker, the Suffocation rules went into effect immediately. Grey couldn't breath and his combat rolls immediately began to suffer for it. Grey couldn't pull back, the pole was in the way. He couldn't push forward into Mr. Wyatt, it would only put more pressure on his throat, maybe breaking his neck in the process. So Grey began striking Mr. Wyatt's wrists to break the grip. With that manacle on his arm, Grey probably would have succeeded, except that Mr. Wyatt pulled in closer into Grey's chest to reduce Grey's avenues of attack. Grey's vision was starting to pulse white, waver and fade like a painting melting off the canvass. Mr. Wyatt was right there, in Grey's face, and Grey could only grip ineffectually at the albino's hands. So Grey gave up, and let his hands fall away from Mr. Wyatt's wrists. It was already impossible to break the man's grasp.
So Grey broke his balls instead.
With a full swing to build momentum, Grey sent the manacle flail's chain rolling down Mr. Wyatt's back to bend upwards between his legs, and impact right into his crotch. Mr. Wyatt's face, already distorted in Grey's vision, twisted further and a howl left his throat. It may have been Grey's imagination, but as Mr. Wyatt's fingers left his throat it seemed that pale face had turned a shade of blue. Mr. Wyatt's hands naturally shot downward towards his cod, there not being a male unit that ever lived who wouldn't have done the same, and as Mr. Wyatt bent ever so slightly, Grey moved past him.
The rebound of the impact sent the manacle swinging free of Mr. Wyatt's body. Grey's sharp eyes were able to catch it's movement even through his inhibited eyesight and he snatched it out of the air as he turned and looped the chain over Mr. Wyatt's head. The chain tightened around the albino's throat, and Grey twisted the chain links over one another to seal the makeshift garrote closed. Then Mr. Wyatt was the one suffocating, much to Grey's pleasure as he coughed and sputtered his precious air in and out of his previously starving lungs. But Grey still hadn't recovered completely from his lost status due to the suffocation rules, and Mr. Wyatt's groin pain was nearly gone. The strangle hold wouldn't last at that rate.
So Grey used his control over Mr. Wyatt's center of gravity to smash the man's face into the pole. The blow threw Mr. Wyatt off his balance, giving Grey the chance to smash his face again. The second blow dropped Mr. Wyatt to his knees, so Grey smashed his face into the pole again. Grey didn't need to do so for combat superiority, it just felt right. Grey's instincts demanded it. And so, with Grey having completely dominated the battle, Mr. Wyatt was helpless in Grey's grip. So Grey smashed his face into the pole a fourth and fifth time. Grey may have kept it up if he hadn't noticed that Mr. Wyatt was nearing the end of his life. So Grey bent in close, and with a smile that could have doubled as a snarl, he whispered into the soon to be croaked Warlord's ear.
"When you stand before the Titans, tell them I sent you, and they may be more forgiving of your incompetence."
Grey knew the exact moment when Mr. Wyatt croaked, because he felt his experience points jump. In fact, Grey leveled from it. The surprise and nostalgia from the feeling of leveling up disoriented Grey slightly, but not too greatly. Really, it felt like a light glowing happiness in the pit of his stomach and a fleeting lightness in his limbs as his stats increased. How many hundred turns had it been since he'd leveled? Grey had no clue. It had been long enough that Grey had forever stopped bothering to check his progress to the next level, at least. Lydia would probably want to celebrate it if Grey ever got back to Everclear, and slip something into his drink in the process.
Those kinds of random thoughts were going through Grey's mind as he dropped the ex-eyed lump that had once been Mr. Wyatt to the ground. There was no aggression or hatred in Grey's dumping the body. No feelings of vindictiveness or of vengeance being fulfilled aside from a mild satisfaction. Grey had merely fought his enemy and won. He had been the survivor. It was the law of nature and thus of Erf, so there was no need to crow over his victory, nor could he truly hate his enemy any longer now that the Signamancy that identified him as such was, for all intents, no more. It was the way it always was with Grey. Croak his enemy, and then carry on. Grey only felt aggression towards his enemies, not hatred.
Except for Humperdink. The fact that he had sentenced Grey to torture was only a small part of Grey's newly found consuming hatred for the man. He was a warped and disgusting reflection of what true Royalty was. He was a living abomination of the will of the Titans. And he needed to be stopped, maybe croaked. Preferably by Grey's hand, but Grey wouldn't be picky. But for the time being, Grey had Duty to attend to. He had to escape.
Grey quickly snatched up Mr. Wyatt's sword and moved over to the tent's entrance, turning his head and slipping his line of sight just outside the flaps, keeping his head inside and out of view. There was no commotion, no quick assembly of stacks, no disorder. The camp was efficiently packing itself away to prepare for a day of marching. The thickness of the tent's materials seemed to have muffled the struggles enough to keep anyone from overhearing, and the nature of the tent kept anyone from questioning what noise did reach them from it's insides. That meant Grey had some time to prepare, but none to waste.
Grey tossed the sword over onto the body of Mr. Wyatt and picked up the chest that contained his stolen gear. Regretfully, Grey hadn't had any time to dig through it before Mr. Wyatt had entered the tent. A half dozen daggers would have made the fight far easier. But Grey had time now and he was gratified that the chest had no lock on it. There had been absolutely no thought that a bound, blind, and guarded unit would be able to get free, or Humperdick had just been too ticked off to think to have Grey's gear removed. Or too horny. The disgusting piece of crap.
Grey set the chest down next to Mr. Wyatt's body and pulled out the two items he would need from it in order to make his escape. His ruined and completely inoperable Farstrider cloak, and his magic hat. The cloak he wrapped around and around the chain securing his legs so that the clinking would be muffled and its visibility would be reduced. The magic hat Grey turned inside out and pulled over Mr. Wyatt's head, then down over the corpse's face. Grey lined up the eye holes and the mouth hole. Grey then picked up the wand that operated the magic hat. Not to send a message, there was no time. It was to operate it's other function.
That magic hat was quite possibly the best kept secret in the whole of Everclear. The only ones who ever truly knew about it being the King, the Chief Signamancer, the Thinkamancer and Hatamancer that participated in the Tri-Mancer link, and no more than a dozen other units throughout Grey's lifetime of serving Everclear. None of the regular Warlords or Chief Warlords were ever informed of it's existence. The Casters who participated in the link were bound by Art's strongest NDA contracts. And only the most trusted of Farstrider warlords had ever been informed of it's existence in case it ever had to pass ownership. It had gotten Grey into and out of enemy territory many times, but never too often. Never enough to reveal it's existence or function. It was even doubtful that Charlie himself had learned about the hat.
The hat was so secret, that even the magic words for activating it's ability were little more than coded letters. Letters that Grey recited as he waved the wand above Mr. Wyatt's enwrapped head.
"Tee. Eff. Two."
And with a dip of the wand, the Infiltrator's Cap was activated.
Artwork by ElvenAvariel. Gallery and Shmuckers Jar located here.
I've also updated all my Fiction to include my name, BakaGrappler, as a keyword, making it easier to navigate and find my fiction. I hope other authors will undertake the same user friendly measure.
My impression of the muffled shouts that might have been heard coming from a Torture Tent should Mr. Wyatt have called out.
Mr. Wyatt: "Help! Help! I need some help in here! Son of a B! Help me!"
Stabber A: "Wow, someone's really getting tortured in there."
Stabber B: "Let's do what we always do and just ignore it."