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Round Robin 1.3: The Saga Continues Again

“Now quickly,” she whispered. “Before they find us.”

Alston was almost ready to follow the cloaked figure, but he paused. “Wait. No. Hallah....”

The figure spun around quickly and with a loathesome scowl, she spoke sternly. “We don’t have time for this, boy.”

Boy? Alston almost laughed at the remark had he not be so out of breath. Despite the armor she wore, she couldn’t be any older than fifteen herself. “Not without Hallah.” he maintained.

Grabbing him by the neck of his shirt, she yanked him towards her. “Listen, roundie,” she muttered. “I don’t care if your people kill each other, but if they singled you out like that, you must be something important.”

“I’m not,” he admitted. I couldn’t protect anyone. He turned his eyes downward, unable to meet her stare.

He knew he was being scrutinized by the girl. He had no right to argue. As weak as he was, she had been able to pull him around like a rag doll. “Yes, I suppose you aren’t,” she grumbled. Turning away, the girl stepped into the green of the forest and quickly disappeared. “Guess I’ll count that back there as target practice.” Her voice traveled to him from a distance already.

“Wait!” he pleaded. “What about Hallah?”

“Who cares?” was the reply.

* * *

Fortune seemed to toy with him today.

By sheer luck, Alston managed to find the cliff where his executioners met their fate. Carefully, he watched from the treeline to make sure no one else was around before he ventured out to examine the two bodies left behind. One of the two was passable. No blood on the coat or tunic. He dragged the body off to the treeline and stripped the man bare.

“Just toss the body over when we’re finished.”

He knew didn’t have much time remaining before others would come. After donning the robe and armor, he quickly dressed the corpse in his own clothes. Even weighed down by the new armor, he dragged his double to the cliffside and pushed. Alston turned away immediately, unable to watch as the body hurdled towards the ground below.

The sound of heavy footsteps alerted him.

As quietly as possible, Alston dashed for the trees. Surely the green from the armor would help him remain unseen.

* * *

In the dead of night, he returned to the camp by following the patrol. Impossible as it seemed, his ruse worked. One of the men even looked over the cliff to see the “boy’s” dead body broken on the rocks. Yet they seemed uneasy, and quickly hurried off... not even caring to look back as he ghosted them.

He strode through the camp with ease as he looked for the tent Hallah was being held. It was simple enough to find with the two guards outside. They didn’t even question him as he entered...

...entered to see the figure bent low over Hallah’s sleeping form, knife in hand. The hood fell back to reveal the girl from the woods...

...the elf.
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"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Alston demanded.

She raised her finger to her lips to silence him. "Just checking. This isn't the person I'm looking for."

"Then who are you looking for?" Alston said, moving closer as if to protect Hallah from this suspicious person.

"Never mind." She growled, sheathing her knife. "You know this human?"

"What if I do?" He countered.

"She's been marked by death. She probably won't last the week."

Alston's blood ran cold. "What the hell do you mean?"

She shrugged. "I don't give a damn about this girl, so I have no reason to explain myself." She pushed past him, pushing back the flap of the tent. "You'd better get out of here." She told him over her shoulder.

He seized her arm. "What do you mean about Hallah being marked by death?" He growled.

"Doesn't matter." She said coldly. "She's just a human, so I don't really care."

"I've known her all my life."

"So what? You should concentrate more on yourself, rather than worry about these lesser beings. You'll all be extinct shortly anyway."

"What are you talking about?"

"That's all I'm going to say. Excuse me." She yanked her arm out of his grasp.

"Wait...are the elves planning a war?"

"Not us." She said.
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"Then who-"

"He's one of your kind," she snarled at Alston, "Why don't you ask him? He's already begun, we could feel the agony of our own dead all the way in the Hall of Souls. And I promise you, that human will have the walking dead outnumber the living very soon if he has his way."

"One of.." Alston trailed off. Whoever ordered the massacre of Javon, that's who it had to be.

The woman cautiously peered out of the tent seeking signs of patrols. When she glanced back at Alston, he was trying to pull Hallah to her feet.

"She'll only slow you down," the elf said flatly.

"Doesn't matter. I can't leave her here."

She watched him struggle for a moment, then muttered something that, while Alston couldn't understand the exact words, had the universal signs of "swearing" about it.

She darted over and pulled Hallah's other arm over her shoulders. "I get you both out of this camp, and then you're on your own, understand?"

"Thank y-"

"Don't. Doesn't do me any good if you get caught. Just try to keep up."

* * *

Robin stood at the mouth of the cave, staring out at the night.

Javon had been a nice sized town as she recalled. She'd expected more people when they reached the caves. At least more than the dozen or so survivors that met them and their escort. A few were wounded, a few were young children, and all of them had a haunted look about them that told of the horrors they'd seen.

Daniel told her it wasn't her fault. So had Marcus. The people didn't blame her either.

Yet she couldn't shake the awful feeling that this was still her fault.

Damn Bathus! Damn him and his magic!

She hugged herself tightly against the cold.

And damn me for letting him out.

She'd stop him. She didn't know how, but she'd stop him. Some how, some way.

"Robin?" It was Daniel's voice.

Robin quickly composed herself before turning around. "Hi Danny."

"I was wondering... are you okay?"

"Just... keeping watch."

Daniel nodded, but she could tell by his face that he didn't believe her. "Marcus says we should get some rest, long day tomorrow."

"Where to this time?"

"He didn't say."


"I know. But he's talked to everyone here so I guess he knows where we're heading."

"I guess."

"... Are you sure you're okay? You looked kinda... sad when I-"

Robin giggled and gave him a quick kiss. "You worry too much," she smiled. "By the way, ears."

Like a reflex, Daniel's hands quickly inspected his headband. He sighed and adjusted the fabric to cover his elven heritage.

"Just in case there's more like Corbin," Robin added.

"Let's hope not," he sighed.

"I still think they're cute."

"Corbin doesn't."

"He's just jealous," she joked. "They all are."

"I wish Robin," he sighed. "I wish."
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Marcus tried to pay little attention to the remaining townsfolk of Javon, wiping the brasswork of his staff with oil as he would a sword. He found he preferred this weapon for its versatility rather than using it as a mere killing tool.

Two little girls skipped past him, giggling as they went.

He paused for a moment at the unexpected chatter. It almost lifted his heart, but the Guardian knew the children were wholly unaware of their plight. They escaped with their families while others had not.

It was ages since Marcus last visited Javon. He tried not to think about it, but he hadn’t heard anything about his brother or his nephew. Shut up. Don’t think about it, he scolded himself. He tried to remind himself that Samantha was safe, but it didn’t help. She was alone in the world now. Alone unless she is taken in by a family back in Takuro.
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As much as he might want to, he couldn't take in Samantha himself. Certainly not now that Balthus had been freed. The idea of his niece in the hands of strangers made him shudder.

Too late...he was always just too late to do anything! As a boy, he'd felt this same helplessness as his village was slaughtered. His own mother had sacrificed her life to save his. She'd hidden him behind a secret door, and he'd watched as they'd raped her, then killed her.

He'd wanted to get out there and help her, but the door wouldn't open from his side. He could only watch and listen helplessly as they'd violated her. Her blood spilled underneath the door after they'd completed their business. Laughing, they'd never known about the boy who had witnessed their cruel deeds.

But Balthus would be much worse. There would be no homes left for hidden children to escape. Anything within that maniac's path would be completely annihilated. Something had to be done about him, but it seemed as though nothing he did seemed to help.

There would be many other places like this one. Some had managed to survive, but others wouldn't be so lucky.
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He couldn't be too late this time. Balthus cold not be allowed to continue. He'd read the notes, he knew what this monster was capable of, what he wanted to be capable of and he'd have the Necrodiantor's help to do it now.

His thought wandered back...

He'd been about Samantha's age when it happened. He remembered his father had died inside that day, the body still lived but the spirit was broken which is why in anger and frustration he'd left and decided to make due on his own, cut all ties. It was better to stay unconnected.

He'd survived. A little pickpocketing, a little theft, whatever was necessary. It wasn't a life he'd wish on Samantha, but at the time, he'd have told anyone he was happy and doing just fine, though he'd be lying.

He lied a lot back then, often to himself.

And then one day when he'd tried to lift the purse of a man a head taller and several stone heavier and with unnaturally good senses, things changed. It had been a hard lesson in overconfidence and by rights he should have been dead right there and then, if Simion hadn't intervened.

Marcus smiled to himself. Good old Simion, practically a second father. Marcus still didn't know what he saw in a rough boy with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Nimian Spire, but he'd intervened and sent the angry fighter off with his proverbial tail between his legs. Marcus had never seen anyone move that fast before.

Afterwards, Simion introduced himself and made him an offer.

He'd accepted, mostly because it meant getting regular meals and a bed that wasn't crawling with life and anyway, he could always sneak away later if he wanted to. He never expected to learn anything.

Funny how that worked. In only a few years, Marcus the thief and occasional thug became Marcus the Guardian, and to his own surprise, it suited him. He wasn't helpless anymore, he could do something to keep what happened to his family from happening to anyone else.

Or so he thought.

Aeriel... Eric...

Marcus shuddered.

It had been years, yet the memory still felt fresh and raw in his heart. It was like it had been with his mother, only worse. Over the years he'd replayed it over and over in his mind, always with the same results, his training for naught.

They said he shouldn't have survived his wounds, but somehow he did.

And from then on he'd started volunteering for more and more dangerous missions for the guardians. He let his personal ties wane, perhaps protecting himself from another loss. Above all, he was a guardian, and guardians protected people, even if the people had abandoned them. Someone had to. Infiltrating the Necrodiantors was just another way of doing that.

Which brings us back to Balthus, he thought. What are you and your men up to?

* * *

"What're they doing?" whispered Alston.

"Shh," the elf woman hissed.
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The two guards Alston expected to be outside the tent were missing. Even as he peered outside, the elf girl pulled him back by the shredded neck of his shirt. Even before he could protest, the glare of her sapphire eyes pierced him. She then closed the tent flap and started rummaging through the folds inside her cloak.

"What are you doing?" Alston whispered.

Leaving him alone to support Hallah’s weight, she proceeded to retrieve a small burlap pouch from her robe as she stole a peek outside. There was still no one on guard. To her surprise, there appeared to be no one outside at all.

"What are you doing?"

“Getting us out of here,” she replied, not bothering to look back.

Hallah started to shiver. Alston knew something terrible happened to her as her unconscious form still shuddered and twitched in his arms. The horrific nightmares she was forced to endure still plagued her in her dreams.

“Get ready.”

* * *

The encampment was as silent as a tomb. Not a bird nor a cricket uttered a even the slightest of sounds. A dark green hood slipped out into the open from the tent. The girl obscured by the cloak held herself close to the green of the tent. Looking around, she saw not a trace of activity. What’s going on here, she thought as she brandished the burlap sack in her hand.

With her free hand, she opened the tent flap. Alston emerged carrying Hallah’s prone weight. Watching him struggle with the bloodied girl’s weight in his arms, the elf girl shook her head in amazement. The boy refused to surrender after all.

Yet, she didn’t have time to linger among these roundies anymore. They were an annoying, short-lived, immature race destined to destroy itself and she truly wanted no part of them. She strode away from the tent and then bolted south to leave the two behind.

Alston stood slackjawed as the robed figure ran off to leave him alone with Hallah. A grim death seemed fated for him, yet he refused to concede. As quietly as he could, he stayed in the shadows as he and Hallah slipped behind the tents. He stayed as far from any campfire he could as he made his way carrying Hallah towards the hills and the nearby treeline .

He stumbled forward, barely righting himself before he collapsed on top of the defenseless girl in his arms. Only a few more feet, he thought. He didn’t dare look back. He had to keep on going regardless of how exhausted he was. He made a promise and damn well meant to keep it.

Just a few more feet.

The ground under his feet became hard and rocky unlike that of the encampment in the valley below.

Almost there.

Stepping from behind one of the trees was a familiar hooded figure. Having been abandoned by the girl just moments ago, Alston’s face drew a grim visage.

As he approached, the elf girl smiled.
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The scent of smoke and blood chased after Samantha as she fled through the woods. Behind her, she could hear people screaming in terror. She wanted badly to go and help, but knew that she'd only get herself killed. The best she could do was to reach the other village.

Someone was chasing her! She looked over her shoulder as her feet sped across the grass. The monster on the horse had a strange, misshapen head that looked like a skull. The horse's eyes glowed blood-red as it bore down upon her. She screamed in horror. The attacker seemed to be more than merely human. A demon!

She tripped on the grass, sliding down a hill as the demon horse breathed upon her neck. She had to get up. She had to run.

She stumbled to her feet desperately. The demon horse and the monster who rode it followed closely. She knew that it would overwhelm her at any moment, and she would die.

Tears coursed down her cheeks as she ran as fast as she could through the woods, certain despite all her efforts that she would die horribly.

A dense fog loomed before her. She didn't want to go in there! There would be more monsters! But then she might be able to lose the monster that so persistently followed her. She ran into the fog with the desperate hope that whatever lurked in there would leave her alone.

Red eyes glowed all around her. Dark, terrible shapes moved through the fog around her. She'd been wrong! This was worse than the lone rider! She had to get out of here!

Her hand touched the bark of a tree. She stared at her palm, which was wet and sticky. Blood...oh god! She screamed.

Through a thick haze in her mind, she heard a sweet, gentle voice whisper her name frantically. "Samantha, please honey. Wake up. You're safe now."
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Samantha sat up with a start and immediately found herself wrapped in the comforting arms of Margaret Lethe.

"Shhh.. it's all right Samantha. Everything is all right."

The girl sobbed and tried to stop trembling. The terrors of her mind were still fresh and frightening but the woman's soft voice was comforting.

Eventually she looked up and the woman dried her eyes with her skirt. "See? You're safe," she said to the girl. "It was just a bad dream. You're going to be fine."

Samantha sniffled and nodded.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Margaret asked.

The girl shook her head.

"If you're sure... Do you want some water?"

She hesitated, then said "A little... please."

The woman smiled as she rose and went over to the earthen pitcher. Samantha watched her from the bed. The woman, Margaret, had been one of several taking care of her since she arrived in Takuro. The days before were still a horrific blur that was creeping into even her dreams.

"Here you go dear," said Margaret, handing her a cup. "Drink up."

"Thank you." She gulped down the cool water and started to feel a little better. The woman sat beside her and stroked her hair in a motherly fashion.

Samantha put down the cup and looked up at her questioningly.

"Yes Samantha?"

"...You remind me of... of someone," she corrected herself quickly. "She was an elf too."


"She died. Before Javon was attacked."

"I'm sorry."

"Do you think Uncle Marcus is okay?"

"I hope so." For Daniel's sake, Margaret added to herself.

"I do too," said Samantha.

"Now, you need your rest. You're still weak. I'll be here if the nightmares come back, all right?"

"Would you say a prayer with me?"

"Of course, honey."

They murmured a child's prayer of protection and then Margaret tucked the girl back into bed. She sat by her bedside until Samantha quietly slipped back into slumber, and then silently prayed a second prayer for her son, where ever he may be.

* * *

Daniel couldn't sleep.

It was warm enough with both blankets and the glowing coals of the fire, but somehow, he couldn't seem to relax even though he knew he needed the rest.

Most of the survivors, save those on patrol, were asleep already. Even Robin with her endless energy was sleeping soundly. He didn't see Marcus, but imagined the guardian was elsewhere asleep in the caves; there was only so much room by each firepit.

Eventually Daniel sat up, reached for his belongings, and drew the elven blade from its sheath. Faint light danced across its polished surface. He was still amazed at how natural it felt in his hand, It was a blade that called to his elven blood, a part of him that he'd tried to hide for most of his life.

He'd killed a man with it. It had been necessary, but that hadn't made it any easier. The thought still made him feel sick.
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Those men deserved it, he continued to tell himself. It was either them or me. Them or me. After pulling a heavy rag from his pack, he proceeded to wipe down the blade. Feint traces of blood still lingered, though spotty and looking more like brown rust.

That was one thing he didn’t have to worry about. The sword would never rust like the swords of men. It wasn’t steel or iron or bronze. Still, he wasn’t sure about how strong it was... if the blade was durable or dulled easily.

It sang in the air, arcing widely to the right. He swung the blade without thought or hesitation. It felt natural to slice through the air at the figure just behind him.

The gray shaft was raised in time to stop the glimmering blade, the edge biting into the hardened steel. “Heavens!” the old Guardian muttered, holding his staff before him.

Daniel’s eyes went wide with the stark realization he had almost killed the old man. He was frozen from shock as Marcus stepped back, pulling his staff free.

“Hrm, and I just finished polishing it, too,” Marcus then groaned.
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