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Round Robin 1.3: The Saga Continues Again

Alston stepped away from the stage, a feeling of alarm swept through the very core of his soul. He looked in the direction that Sammie had gone. She had disappeared; perhaps to get more lemonade for the remaining workers.

The group of green armored men were still in the distance, but they were growing closer with every beat of his heart. And his heart was racing. "I have to go." He told Lahan, who was in charge of the stage this year.

Lahan nodded his bushy head without looking at Alston. His eyes were on the horsemen. "Go find your sister, boy. Take her somewhere, and hide her. Then make sure you hide yourself with her. I think this is about to get ugly."

Alston clapped Lahan's shoulder in appreciation. But he had no intention of hiding himself. He'd hide Sammie, but if the village men were going to fight, so was he. He hurried off to look for her.

The women were grabbing their children, heading for the Chapel at the center of the village. Underneath the Chapel, were a series of tunnels made out of stone. Even if the marauders burned the Chapel itself, they would be safe. He planned to take Sammie there when he found her.

He passed a girl his own age as he went in search of Sammie. He grabbed her arm a little rougher than he intended. "Hallah, have you seen Sammie?"

Hallah tossed back her long, black hair, glaring at him. She shook her arm loose, rubbing it. "Who gave you permission to touch me?" She demanded. She was a spoiled brat, whose father was the head of the village. She thought of orphans like Alston and his sister as nothing more than filth, and she wasn't afraid to show it. "Just because my father decided to let you keep little shack of yours after your lazy mother died, doesn't mean that I owe you anything! Find the little brat yourself!" She turned away, her nose in the air.

She hadn't even given him the chance to defend his mother, whose health had been bad since their father had been killed.

With discomfort, Alston realized that she was headed for her own house, instead of the Chapel. He chased after her. "Hallah!" He called out. "Get to the Chapel. There's--" She slammed the door in his face. "Hallah!" He pounded on the door, but she didn't respond.

"Damn it." He muttered to himself. He didn't have time for this. "Hallah, I know you can hear me. I have to look for my sister, but you'd better get to the Chapel. There's horsemen in armor headed this way, and I have a really bad feeling about it. Please, Hallah, don't be stupid!"

He turned away from her door, hoping that she would listen. He couldn't waste any more time on Hallah, though. His sister was more important to him. He ran towards the little shack, hoping he'd find Sammie there.
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"SAMANTHA!" he called as he threw open the door and heard a small yelp a Sammie turned with a start.

"Alston!" she stammered, looking guilty. "Wha... What are you doing here?" Both her hands were behind her back as if hiding something.

"You need to get Chapel, now."

"Wait, why? What's going on?"

"Riders, come on!" He grabbed her arm, and as he started to drag her out, he heard a dull "clunk" of a bottle hitting the straw-covered floor.

Alston stopped. Sammie looked at him even more guiltily than before and quickly snatched up the bottle before more red fluid flowed out into a puddle and tried to jam the cork back in the neck.

"Is that Lahan's-" Alston began.

"I just wanted to taste it!" protested Sammie, "I was going to put it back! Don't tell, pleeeeease!"

Lahan would have a fit if he found out, Alston knew that much. This was some of his best wine, the stuff he saved for special occasions. And even though Lahan was almost like a father to them, Sammie'd be in so much trouble if he found out.

Of course there were more important worries first.

"We'll talk about this later, we have to GO!"

Sammie nodded mutely and followed as the two hurried out into the light.

The sound of horses and men were close now. Were they in Javon already? Alston couldn't be sure, he just knew he had to get his sister to safety and that meant the Chapel.

He heard the sound of hoofbeats in full charge and a man's scream close by. Hurriedly, he pulled Sammie in between two houses moments before a green-clad rider tore past in full gallop.

"Oh gods," he breathed.

They were here. And that rider...the rider had a sword and there was blood.

They'd never make it to the chapel now.

"Sammie, we have to find someplace to hide quick," he whispered.

Sammie nodded. She was still carrying the bottle, but had changed her grip and was now holding it more like a club. She understood.

Right now he wished he had something too. He wished he hadn't left his hammer back at the stage now.

"I have an idea," Sammie whispered back.

"You do?"

"But you're not going to like it."

"...What idea?" Alston asked.

"You're really not going to like it."

"Sammie, just tell me already!"
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Blades of grass that bore the brunt of an early winter snow just days earlier now bore the weight of the approaching riders. The leader of the party, astride a tall pinto, galloped ahead of the others. He was confused.

He came to a halt where the simple path ended, and raised the visor on his helmet. There were nothing but trees and vegetation before him. Their intended target was supposed to be in the village down the road.

But where was the village?

With outstretched arms, Hallah stood before the raiding party, chanting in words that Alston didn't recognize. He knew that her father spent fortunes on teaching her the arcane arts He only hoped that this gambit would work.

The air before them shimmered like water and dancing around within were tiny specks of light that buzzed around like ghostly fireflies. Through the strange barrier she put up, Alston could see the riders as they halted, their horses neighing fiercely. The closest raider urged his horse forward before raising the visor on his dark, black helm.

It's working. It's working, Alston silently cheered. Turning his attention back towards the village, he saw nothing. Not a single bit of movement. Sammie, please hurry.

With eyes that were merciless and unemotional, the armored leader of the marauders studied the road that lay before him. It ended abruptly. It ended and became nothing but grass and trees and dirt as if no one had ever ventured this way before.

Yet, they had just traveled on a large established road from Sarrs.

Looking back the way they came, he could see the clearly laid path and freshly cut marks from wagon wheels.

Some trickery is afoot, he thought as he drew his blade.

He didn't notice the sudden crack, or quiet groan that issued from behind him.

Oh damn, thought Hallah as she saw the bandit in black and green armor draw his sword. That idiot got me killed! She cursed Alston for this absurdity... that she could dissuade the approaching bandits from advancing while help came.

Then suddenly, the quiet yet shrill whistle of an arrow sounded. Looking back, she saw Donagio and Leewen taking aim while Bartel knocked another arrow.

Holy! The apprentice sorceress stepped back as she realized that she was directly in the line of fire.

Two more arrows were loosed as Hallah lost concentration. The air between her and the raiders no longer shimmered as the barrier fell. But two more of the raiders did as the archers struck their targets. Armor or no armor, they scored their targets as if they would a stag.

As if a mist had blown away, the pathway before him was laid bare. Stumbling back, a dark haired girl in a light violet dress caught his attention. Sorcery. He then noticed the others. The archers that just fired upon him.

But if magic was there to hold him back, he would surely take the source of it out first.

The girl.
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"The girl!" The leader shouted, pointing the sharp end of his sword at the girl in the violet dress. "Take out the girl first!" He swung his sword, almost taking her head off. He would have gotten rid of the witch, too...if not for the young man who suddenly tackled her. As it was, a strands of dark hair now littered the ground where she'd been standing.

Hallah kicked at Alston, fuming that he had landed on top of her to knock the wind out of her. Then she realized something. She anxiously touched her shoulders, where her hair should have been. She screeched in anguish. The bastard had shorn her locks! Her long hair was gone. It barely touched her shoulders now, and to make matters worse, it was uneven!

"You bastard!" She howled. She clapped her hands, and a fireball zoomed towards the rider, striking him in the chest. He was flung backwards off the horse, and his sword went flying.

Alston didn't give Hallah a second glance, before he was on his feet, after the rider's sword. He didn't really know how to use one, and he was more of a brawler, but he didn't want the man to reach it. The rest of the men were being held off by the archers, but Alston knew he didn't have much time. He scrambled for the sword, nearly tripping on Hallah's shorn hair.

The leader was also going after the sword that had been knocked from him, his armor smoking where Hallah's fireball had scorched it. The two men collided, and Alston punched the man in the jaw, while his other hand reached for the sword. He kicked the man's legs out from underneath him, and his hand wrapped around the sword triumphantly.

Then before Alston could get his bearings, he felt something smack him hard on the rear, then smelled the cloth burning. "Ouch!" He howled, dropping the sword to drag his rear on the dirt, trying to smother the fire. He'd forgotten all about the sword. Hallah had flung a fireball at him?!

"Oops!" Hallah said. "Sorry! My aim was off."

"Right." He muttered. Whatever else was cut off when he felt the tip of the sword at the back of his neck. The leader had recovered. Alston became very still, and Hallah clapped her hand over her mouth, perhaps realizing that her petty revenge was about to get him killed.

"Cast another spell at me, you little witch, and I'll shove this blade into your lover's skull." The leader growled.

"Lover?!" Hallah scoffed. "Whatever! Go ahead, I don't care. That boy's just trash, anyway!" She touched her shorn hair sadly. "If not for him, I wouldn't have lost my beautiful hair. So go ahead, kill him!"

"Should I tell everyone what you made me do in order to get you to help?" Alston asked her slyly.
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"Go ahead!" Hallah snapped. "You think I care-"

"ENOUGH!" the man ordered, "Quiet or on my oath I'll-"

The arrow that thudded into his shoulder was enough to jerk spin him halfway around. He bellowed in pain and leaning heavily on his sword, sunk to his knees.

"Alston, get Hallah out of here!" Bartel bellowed, pulling another arrow from the quiver.

Even as he clambered to his feet, Alston could feel the rumble of heavy hooves through the very ground. The town defenders may outnumber the riders, but the men on heavy horses were faster, better armed, and better armored.

A hand grabbed his arm and started pulling. "Come on, you're supposed to be protecting me," Hallah groused.

"I know!" Alston grumbled back. Whether I want to or not.

"Well, you're not doing a very good job of it!"

"Wait, where's Sammie? SAMMMIE?!"

Before he got a response, a rider on a huge gray horse swerved and started to bear down on him and Hallah. He held a wicked looking mace and held it upraised, ready to swing.

Alston pushed Hallah behind him protectively, for all the good it would do. They were surrounded and being overwhelmed.

The riders closed in. All he could do was try to fight.

Gods protect you Sammie...

* * *

Daniel woke with a start.

He was alone in his house, peaceful with only the sound of sleeping people. So peaceful, unlike...

He rubbed his eyes. Was that another vision like the ones in the caverns? He thought Robin had been somehow responsible for those, but this... Robin couldn't have caused this one, could she?


Lord Tomas said there was a massacre at Javon.

Maybe it was just a dream. After today's attack... yes that made the most sense. Just the weight of all the excitement and his mission was making him have nightmares.

All simple and easy to explain.

And Daniel couldn't make himself believe it for a minute.

Wrapping himself in a blanket, he quietly made his way to the fireplace. Only a few embers remained, but they radiated a pleasant and comforting warmth in the early dawn.

Nearby, he heard Marcus stir.

"Just me," he said quietly.

The guardian sat up and blinked a bit before donning his glasses. "What time is it, lad?"

"About dawn. Too early for you, old man?" Daniel joked.

Marcus chuckled. "Not THAT old, boy. I'll have you know I've yet to see fifty summers and... what's that?"

Daniel listened too. There were sounds of some kind of commotion coming from outside.

"Gods, not again," Marcus growled and reached for his boots. "Never thought Aric would return so early."

"No wait..." Daniel listened. It didn't sound like an attack. Just voices. He went to the door and looked out.

There was a small group, looked to be the town watch, making their way hurriedly towards Miriam's the Herbalist's home.

One of the men was carrying a young girl who looked tattered and half frozen.

Daniel blinked. Sammie?
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Marcus lost all patience and reason as he pushed past Daniel and bolted through the door. "Samantha!" he cried as he rushed to the aid of the child, now limp and helpless in the man's arms. "Samantha! Dear lord!"

Daniel shook his head. It was no dream he just had. Not any type he's ever had before.

"Oh, dear gods," the Herbalist gasped. She pushed the doorway wide open and shouted "Quickly, get her inside."

Quickly, the young girl was rushed into the house and gently laid to rest on the couch. Exhausted as she was from whatever ordeal she suffered, she was barely a puppet as blankets and pillows were used to comfort her.

Not once did Marcus leave her side.

* * *

The branches and thorns of the bush she was thrown into tore into her flesh. The wind knocked out of her, Hallah barely took notice of the man armed with the spiked mace. Alston, bruised and battered, defensively raised the sword once again even as more men on horseback approached.

How many more?

Ten? Twenty?

With a resounding crack, the mace made contact and knocked Alston backwards. No longer did he have the sword in his possession; his arm was shattered by the impact. Alston tried to roll away, but the man had other plans. A swift kick in the ribs made the young man crumple up in pain.

Hallah watched in fear as the thug lifted the mace in the air. She raised her arms and pressed the palms of her hands together as she hastily began a chant.

* * *

"Robin? Robin, dear."

"Her mind still clouded with visions of battle, Robin looked around her bedroom as she finally focused on her mother standing over her. "Robin."

"W-what is it, mom." she asked, wiping the sand from her eyes.

"I don't know, but there's something going on at Danny's house."
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Sammie was in bad shape, but it wasn't life threatening. At least that's what they'd been told. How she had gotten in that state was another matter entirely. Marcus was sitting in a chair next to the bed that Sammie had been laid upon. Daniel was standing beside him, gazing thoughtfully down at the child. "Do you know her?" Daniel asked quietly.

"My niece." Marcus replied, burying his face in his hands. "She has a brother as well. Alston. I wonder how he could have let this happen! Their sister, died six months ago, but I thought the castle was no place for them. Too much corruption. Too much greed. Alston claimed that he was old enough to watch over her. I never should have listened."

Daniel placed a hand on the older man's shoulder. "You don't know yet that it was his fault. Besides, I know those two as well. Alston and I grew up together, and I know that he's strong. Whatever happened to Sammie, he probably didn't know about it." Or he's dead. Daniel didn't want to say that aloud, and the thought made a horrible pain grip his heart. "I'm going to Javon." He announced. "The village may need help. Keep an eye on your niece."

"Danny!" His mother exclaimed fearfully. "Not by yourself." She grabbed his arm, trying to stop him. He shook her off, heading for the door. He didn't want to be cold to his mother, but this was not the time to argue with her. "Please, Danny!" She called after him.

Robin came running just as Daniel headed into the stables. "What's going on?" She demanded of Daniel's mother, who was sobbing inconsolably.

"Sammie..." She whispered, pointing to the inside of the house, where Sammie lay upon the bed, with Marcus beside her.

Marcus had half risen when Daniel had announced that he was headed for Javon, but he couldn't bring himself to leave his niece. She might need him. Besides, Daniel was no weakling. If Javon was in trouble, he'd help them. He had to place his trust in the boy. Right now, he had no other choice. It was his fault that she was like this. He should have forced Sammie and Alston to move in with him after their mother had died. Then he would have been able to protect them.

"Go after him." Marcus told Robin. "He'll need your help. Sammie's my niece, so I-I have to stay by her in case she needs me."

Robin nodded in understanding. "He's headed for Javon, then." She ran towards the stable, and saddled her horse quickly. Daniel didn't have that much of a head start, so she should be able to catch up with him quickly.

Marcus bowed his head, wanting to tear his hair out in frustration. He could just sit there and wait.

"Uncle Marcus?" A sweet, childish voice asked hesitantly.
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"Here lass," Marcus spoke softly.

Words flowed in a fevered rush. "Javon, riders, they... they attacked, don't know why. I went for help, and I don't know what happened to Alston and I got lost and I saw the fires! I didn't know where to go and-"

"Hush," Marcus gathered the girl in a comforting embrace. "You're safe now."

"But Javon- Uncle Marcus you HAVE to-"

"Shhh... You rest. I'll see to Javon."


It was hard to read the emotion of the expression that flickered across Marcus' face, it was only there for a split second before it returned to the comforting concern of before. "...I'll find him," he answered, "Gods willing. You were very brave Samantha, but now you have to get better, right?"

Sammie sniffled, but nodded her head.

"Good girl. These people will look after you, make you well. I'll come back."



He lay the girl back onto the bed where she obediently closed her eyes. He pulled the covers up to her chin and brushed one of her blond curls from her face.

Then, he left the house without a word.

Daniel found him in the stable, repacking the horses.

"I thought you were staying here?"

"Changed my mind," answered Marcus. Daniel noticed the old warrior didn't turn around.

"And the village?"

"Will do fine without me."

"...I see."

"Tell Robin we'll be leaving soon. I'll not have her saying I broke my word about leaving her behind, but we can't afford to stay much longer."

Daniel chewed his lip, debating how to say what he was thinking. He decided on the direct approach.

"Alston never mentioned you."

Marcus continued to work as if Daniel had said nothing.

"Neither did Sammie," Daniel pressed on. "In fact, I never even knew they had an uncle until now."

He saw Marcus hesitate in packing. So he was listening.

"Why is that, Marcus?"

"They weren't allowed."

Daniel stopped. He felt like somehow he'd touched a nerve.

"It was my idea," Marcus continued in a voice that was devoid of emotion. "The sister of a Necrordinator, even a false one? I'd never wish that on Isabelle, so we agreed I was never to be mentioned outside of the family. Safer for them, simple as that."

"Even when their mother died?" Daniel hadn't meant to say it, but it slipped out.

"You think it was easy, boy?" he said in the same cold voice. "For two years I didn't dare send so much as a note to them because of the darkness and rot that surrounded me. I didn't hear about Isabelle's death until weeks later and by then, what? Come and get them? Me, the man who was fast becoming a favorite son of a group of deathmongers and torturers? The man who let... who surrounded himself with people like Tiberius and Aric. No, even alone they were better off than if I'd come. Now get Robin, we need to pack."

And thus, the conversation ended.
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He watched as the smoke rose from the valley below. A few days ago, what he surveyed was once a thriving town of a hundred. Now, a desolate gravesite of blackened ash and strewn corpses. His eyes scanned every collapsed hovel and every bloodsoaked form in the dirt. Nothing must live.

Nothing but him.

The man turned from the destruction, his forest green cloak spreading out behind him as he strode towards the nearby encampment. Aric was doing a fine job, but his progress was ploddingly slow. His loyalty was unquestionable, but his methods were that of a politician, not a tactician.

Balthus had to do something if he intended to achieve his goal. Time was close. Yet the components demanded for his goal were far from complete. Another tactic was needed.

Something bloodcurdling.

* * *

No one entered his tent. No one dared. Not anymore.

From outside, it appeared no different than any other. Dark forest green made of canvas. A tall, pavilion styled unit that could shelter six or more with ease. But inside was different.

Very different.

Within the darkness, ebony walls glistened as what appeared to be veins running along their length. A heavy black table with silver inlay was at the center, and in the back... a canopy bed lined with red satin.

Removing the cloak and tunic, Balthus began the arduous job of removing the heavy plate armor. Gauntlets of leather, the heavy epaulettes of steel, eventually the breast plate. The plate that hid the dark violet shard embedded within his chest.
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A once prosperous village had pretty much been razed to the ground. The grass was scorched from numerous fires, and the air stank of rotting meat. The fields had been trampled and destroyed. Not even a single crop remained. In the center of the village, were the charred ruins of a stage. They had been about to celebrate the Winter Solstice, which was now nothing more than a distant dream.

Daniel dismounted, feeling a wave of sickness. These people...he had known them. No one was around. They had either been killed or had fled. But where were the bodies? He could smell death in the air, but he couldn't see anyone.

"Someone's been cleaning up." Marcus said softly. He dismounted, standing next to Daniel. "There's still survivors. The least we can do is see if they need any help. The attackers must be long gone by now."

Daniel shook his head. "I can't believe this. I used to come to Javon. My mother had a friend here that she'd grown up with."

"Don't think about it, Danny." Robin whispered. "Please, don't."

Daniel glared up at her. "Don't think about it?" He growled. "How can I not? It's our fault that this happened! Don't you understand? If we had stopped him before now, these people wouldn't have had to suffer! If there is anyone left, what are they supposed to do now?"

"Danny..." Robin said, her voice filled with pain. If this was anyone's fault, it was hers. She was the one who had allowed Balthus to escape his prison. If she hadn't allowed him to deceive her, he still would have been bound.

"This isn't our fault." Marcus snapped. "None of us! Stop feeling sorry for yourselves! We have to find the survivors. Takuro is the closest village, so we'll send them for help. I'm sure that there's more people around than it looks like. If you look closely, you can see that Javon fought back."

"But..." Daniel protested.

"Think, Daniel. You know this place well. Where would they go if they were invaded?"

Daniel frowned, trying to remember. There was something he remembered as a child. A small party of bandits had come to Javon while he'd been here with his mother, and the women and children had been sent somewhere, while the men had fought them off. But where was it?

He could see a dark place, lit only by a few torches and candles. It was cold, he thought. And damp. Somewhere...underground? "I remember!" He said in triumph. "Follow me."

He led them to where the Chapel had stood. Most of it had been destroyed, leaving only a base of brick and stone. But that didn't worry him. If he was right, the survivors would have been far enough underground that none of them would have been harmed by the destruction of the Chapel.

"If I remember correctly, there's an entrance to the caverns on the side of the hill. We just have to find it."
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