As they moved on at a steady pace, the energy of survival lingered in the air. The pace of the men was brisk, many of them looking behind, except for Sigi, who kept his gaze forward as he carved a path. Behind them, growing ever greater, was the light bell sound of the Goron.

ding

“Feh!” one of the men said loudly. “Why don’t they just hurry up and attack us? I want this fight done and over with!”

“Because they know to wear down their prey mentally before attacking,” Sigi turned and said. “If you’re exhausted from worrying about them, even in the slightest, it gives them more of an advantage. Expect them to keep at it for at least a few more hours.”

The man gritted his teeth, his beard becoming frostridden as they moved forward, eventually finding a small opening that they moved through. As they moved into the clearing, the ringing bells became surrounding, causing some of the men to stall while Sigi moved forward.

“They’re around us…” Relman tensed, looking at the treelines as the man stopped in front of him. He then looked to Sigi, who was still moving forward with some of the men. “Sigi! What are you doing? They surround us!”

“No, they don’t,” Sigi said loudly while facing forward. Relman tensed more, and on a whim, decided to catch up to the group moving into the next tree line. Still, some of the men remained behind, unwilling to move. Sigi stopped to ensure the men made it back into the forest line and saw two waiting out there.

“Move!” Sigi commanded. “You need to keep moving!” He looked at the men, who were staring at him with wide eyes for only moments before turning their gazes to the treeline surrounding them. “They’re just trying to split us!”

“We can face them in the open!” One of them called back, his voice cracking. “Why not wait here?”

Sigi looked forward to the men who continued moving through the treeline before looking back to them. “They want you to think that so you become stuck. The other men move forward without issue. Now MOVE!” Sigi boomed the last word at them, and that seemed to startle them enough to get them moving again. He waited until they both passed him, glaring at them as they went by before giving a grunt of frustration and riding ahead to the front once more.

The men quieted down as they rode forward, having to slow while they moved down a hill. The ringing of the bell was still occasional, causing them to flinch and turn around, looking for any sign of the Goron. A few of the men, like Telmar, kept their hand on the hilt of their sword while they carved a path through the woods. Eventually, Telmar rode up to meet Sigi, when the path provided an opportunity to do so.

“When are we going to turn and fight them? The night is going to be over us soon,” Telmar said under his breath to Sigi. “We can’t fight them at night as well. We need to see them.”

Sigi turned to Telmar. “They’re going to wait until nightfall anyhow. We should keep moving and get as close to the keep as possible. There’s a chance that we may leave their territory and they’ll turn back.”

“Territory?” Telmar questioned. “What makes you think that they’ll stick to anything?”

“They haven’t rampaged south,” Sigi countered. “They’re being conservative. And while that is… odd, it is consistent with what we know of them right now. We’ll set up several fires and double the watch tonight. Once we get back into more cleared wood tomorrow, we can move at a moderate pace.” Sigi finished this, and rode forward, seemingly unwilling to listen to anything else Telmar had to say. Telmar’s face was in astonishment as Thom rode up next to him.

“Well, then,” Thom began. “He isn’t one for words with you, is he?”

Telmar glared at Thom. “He believes that the Goron will wait until nightfall before attacking us… or that–”

“Yeah, I heard it Telmar,” Thom interrupted. “And he’s probably right. It seems like he’s dealt with them before.”

“Oh? What makes you so certain?” Telmar returned.

“Because, he knew to get us moving while we were in the blood field. We would have been caught in the open, knee deep in snow and not very mobile, had we stayed too long. He knew they were coming… though I wonder how he knew,” Thom began to think.

“What if… what if he called them down on us somehow?” Telmar posed to Thom, who immediately glared at Telmar.

“Well, think about it,” Telmar continued.

“I don’t have to,” Thom stopped him. “If he wanted to call them down on us, he would have done so in the open. What’s your deal with him, anyway? You’re taking him like a threat.”

“Well maybe he is a threat,” Telmar hissed. “He might be doing all of this to wrest Rothgard from his keep. He’ll come back there and deplete him of his gold and–”

Thom was close enough to punch Telmar, and did, singing a fist into his cheek before riding forward. Telmar recovered himself in his saddle, rubbing his cheek slightly, eventually closing his mouth from the shot. There was no doubt it’d bruise.

ding

The men flinched again, looking behind them. It was louder than the last. Sigi instead looked up at the treeline, the darkness beginning to consume the clouds themselves. He began looking around as he trodded on steadily, and eventually found a small clearing.

“Thom, Telmar,” Sigi began calling out. “Get three fires set up in a large triangle. Take two men each with you that are armed. The rest of you gather materials under their watch. I am going back up our trail a small ways to check for them. Do not delay.”

“Hergar, Hroth, your swords,” Thom called out. He looked to Telmar.

“Rellag, Relman,” Telmar called out. Several of the men looked at Telmar for calling Relman’s name. But the weight of the situation did not let them linger on his choice for long. Uneasily, Relman got his sword from his horse, and wandered forth with the rest who were gathering kindling. Sigi stayed atop his horse, slightly further off, watching the treelines surrounding the clearing. He looked back to the men occasionally, who were working fervently to get everything put together. Some began breaking away entire branches with their feet and hands from fallen trees, the adrenaline of the moment easing their movements against the wood. As they did so, they moved the materials back to a portion of the clearing, central to it all, so that the Goron could not assault immediately from one of the tree borders.

ding

The men were only empowered by the sound anymore, as they brought their horses in and began lighting the wood to get the fires going. Thom was pointing out places to put the material with one hand, his other gripping his sword.

“Come on, then!” He’d shout, pushing some of them en along. “Get them set up! …No, no. Put that fire a bit further out.” The men communicated with each other as they stacked wood in between the fires, ensuring they’d be close enough to keep dry with the nearby fire. Before long, the fires were roaring and the men were in between all of them. They looked around, and saw one person was missing.

“Where in the nine worlds is Sigi?” Hroth asked, looking around. Several of the men murmured, their eyes darting around frantically before turning back to each other. A footstep at their newly defined border drew all of their attention as Sigi walked towards them. He walked to the middle, sat down, opened a pouch and began eating. The calm aura which emanated from Sigi threw the rest of them off even more, a few of them gripping their swords with both hands. Sigi eventually looked up from beneath his hooded cloak.

“Get some food and water in you,” Sigi said, pointing at the ground. With some hesitation, the men began grabbing food out of their pack, watching the tree lines quietly.

ding

The sound came from a different direction this time. It was no longer behind them. It had moved ahead of them. Hergar clenched his teeth, chewing at a bit of food as all of them looked in one direction.

“I wish they’d just start it,” he said, reiterating an earlier wish.

Relman looked behind them, the wind whipping through the higher parts of the trees. His mouth was full as his eyes scanned the darkness, which had now fully engulfed the surrounding forest. He chewed his food slowly as he looked around, and he paused as his eyes paused on one particular shadow, which he couldn’t tell to be a bush or a person. He stared at it quietly, and he saw it fail to move with the next breeze. Then, uncharacteristically, it sunk down. His eyes went wide, and his voice whined as he scrambled to turn around. The only thing he found was all of the men looking in the same direction.

“They’re near,” Thom said quietly, his statement accented by the wind whipping between the men and the fires. Nearby, the horses grunted their fear, aware of what was in the shadows clearly. The men began looking around, and heard the small bells accelerating in their frequency, as if wind chimes were placed through the forest. Sigi stood up, drawing his sword. The others did the same, looking in random directions. Sigi stood between one of the fires, looking at the width between them.

“Thom, two alongside you between those fires. Telmar, same for you on that line,” Sigi gestured. “Everyone else try to stay evenly behind us, as support. Relman, you’re in the middle. Your job is to stick anything that jumps above us.”

A few of the men looked at Sigi. “Above us?” Relman questioned, reaffirming the thoughts of the others. “They can jump… above us?

Sigi nodded, the bells continuing to ring. “Just stick them as they come down. They have to jump two small ranks to get in between us. They’re going to try and divide us, and push us out. We’re easier to pick off separated. That’s their entire hunting premise… separation. Expect them to send a few to test us.”

“How many are there?” Skelder said over his shoulder to Sigi. The men continued looking in their respective directions, but turned an ear to Sigi.

“I see… around twenty to twenty five. Maybe more.” Sigi turned to the men. “They are rabid, and act like a swarm. If we ensure we’re killing the same ones at once, we’ll be fine. Watch where the swords are swinging, and swing them at the same one. The one in the middle staggers them, the two on the side kill.”

Sigi turned his sword upside down, pointing the pommel out first. The men gritted against the rising wind, the snow starting to make itself prevalent again, filtered slightly by the tree tops. The bells started to go silent, and with the increasing silence the men tightened their stance. The only thing that was clearly heard was the wind, and the fire protesting its presence. Sigi placed his hood behind him, his raven black hair whipping about in the wind. The leather gloves creaked around his hand as he tightened his grip around the unsharpened portion of his blade, drawing a foot back to support himself. One of the men behind him braced Sigi, and the others began following suit.

The first busted from the tree line, charging towards Thom’s line. The shaking in some of the men became apparent as they braced the front line, the two aside Thom trying to shrink away but meeting resistance from behind. Thom snarled and drew back his sword slightly as the pale white creature ran at an unnatural pace, hobbling sideways and carrying a sword. It lunged at Thom, who dispatched it by splitting it down its torso with an overhead hit, from the collarbone down. It immediately went down, roaring its pain before coughing and stopping.

Thom looked down at it. It was human, but barely. It was unusually skinny and underclothed, and had paint in some spots, and what looked like a bone punctured under its skin alongside its ribs which expanded, as it breathed a last breath.

“Ech,” Thom sneered. “That wasn’t so bad.” As he said that though, the roar of the other Goron rippled through the wind from all sides. It became clear that there were at least thirty. They were out manned two to one. Out of the tree line another charged towards Telmar’s line, carrying a club. As it approached the fire, it looked like its jaw was partially missing. As Telmar took stance to knock it back, it made a jump into the air… and they watched as it sailed over both ranks and made an attempt to jump right onto Relman.

Relman’s eyes went wide and he squealed as he simply point his sword up in the general direction of the descending Goron, whom impaled himself on Relman’s sword, causing him to stumble backward as the Goron landed, lifeless. Relman looked in horror as he tried to pull the well-embedded blade out of the Goron.

“Okay…” Relman tried to recompose himself. “Just… just like that,” he said under his breath. “Just… like that.” He looked at Sigi, who was bracing for his own charging the line. He was able to look just long enough between the shoulders of the men to see him take his sword, and draw the blade up from the ground. What he saw between the shoulders of the other men as a result was a cleanly cut semi-human, split from his crotch to his head. The halves thudded onto the ground as Sigi resumed his prior stance. Relman’s eyes went wide, and the two men alongside Sigi stared at him for a moment, before turning their attention forward.

The men recomposed themselves, standing fast and looking around frantically for where the next charge would be coming in. The wind pushed around the triangle fortification, shoving their cloaks around them. Above the wind, they heard the roar of the Goron in the surrounding forest. There were still more to come.

And as they went silent from the roar, they began to emerge from the tree line, rushing their defense. The eyes of the men grew wide to show the white that compared to the snow around them. There were at least fifteen Goron to each side of the triangle, rushing them.

“What a time to want a shield to myself,” Thom said as he braced the ravenous beings coming towards him. “Watch where I strike!”

In moments, the Goron were on top of Thom, who immediately took to striking. The two men aside him stabbed and slashed at it wildly, nearly hitting Thom at the same time. Thom bashed one back, allowing a few more strikes before three more were on top of them. The men behind Thom’s line began stabbing at other Goron, reaching over their shoulders to do so while they braced them.

Telmar worked expertly with his sword, slicing at tendons by the knees to disable them, allowing the men alongside to quickly dispatch them as they fell. Though minor, the pile of bodies landing at their feet slowed the Goron advance. As they braced, two more jumped over to try and push out from the middle.

“EEEGH!” Relman squealed as he slashed about at the Goron, who were deflecting his attacks with speed. One of the men turned back from the second line to help out Relman, quickly piercing the Goron. As Relman looked up to thank him, he saw a sharp spear jut through the man’s throat from behind, causing him to drop his sword and grasp at his neck in instinctual fashion, before falling down to the ground.

“Spears!” Hroth yelled, knocking one out of the air with his sword as he sat behind Sigi, helping brace their front line. While there were only so many Goron, their speed and tenacity made them seem endless. Relman looked around; Telmar and Thom’s lines were holding. But a new rush was coming towards Sigi’s line.

“They’re pushing to Sigi!” Relman yelled frantically, putting all his might into bracing the man bracing Sigi. Thom looked briefly behind him before barely ducking an attack from a Goron as he turned around, thrusting his short sword into the Goron’s armpit.

As the group charged towards Sigi, the men alongside him braced for it, seeing some of the Goron wielding sharp blades. Sigi’s eyes darted back and forth quickly, quickly assessing the situation before taking two steps forward ahead of the men aside him. They wanted to step forward, but Sigi held up his hand for a moment before re-gripping the sword. The men stayed fast, some looking behind to see how the other ranks were faring. As they turned forward to Sigi, they saw four Goron charging him. The men winced as they approached, fearing the end of Sigi.

Sigi reared back, switching the sword to be blade-first, and made a mighty swing, roaring as he did so, cleaving all four of them at once, cutting them open wide before resettling his stance. Two a few that were charging to meet the other groups diverted, making a beeline for Sigi. Sigi braced right, thrusting left into a Goron directly before swinging his sword around. The Goron was flung off his blade as he came down and through a shoulder of another, and then pivoting his hips to cleave two more that were trying to jump above him.

On the other side of the triangle, three more Goron jumped up and above the line, overwhelming Relman and causing the men to turn to fight the Goron, who were successfully driving the triangle apart. Thom felt the pushing from behind him.

“Stay together!” Thom yelled loudly. “Don’t split the lines!” He turned around to see Relman desperately trying to counter a Goron that was trying to gut him, and Telmar’s line had been pushed past him. One of the men that was behind Telmar made a run for it, but not before a Goron leapt to him and shoved a small spear through his chest, wedging it and separating part of his torso, making him want to scream loudly, if not for his lack of breath.

Sigi turned after having repelled the major assaulters, making a push through the middle of the triangle, reinforcing Thom and looking at the others that had managed to strand themselves in the middle of the field, barely visible from the fire that was still whipped around by the wind. He watched briefly as one was dragged off by two Goron, before being separated at the shoulders and dismembered.

Sigi turned his attention to Thom’s line, which had diminished slightly. Telmar filled in behind, picking Relmar up off the ground with his off hand and putting him beside him while they covered his flank. But as they gathered, they noticed the Goron starting to retreat to the tree lines. Some of the men finally doubled over from exhaustion, all of them breathing heavily from the enduring fight. Swords began to clink slightly as they hit the snow-laden dirt, the wind still keeping the fires alive. They looked about, and saw Goron lined alongside the logs. Slowly, Relman began regaining himself, and started to look at who was lost.

The roar of a Goron distant in the woods snapped the men’s relaxation for a moment, before they turned towards the fires, sitting down and catching their breath.

“We lost five,” Relman said reluctantly. The other men began to look about the field, seeing some of the bodies scattered about in pieces, others near the fire where they had held the line. “They even took… bits… of Rhyern.” He pointed towards the place where the body had been dismembered, the clothes the only thing showing life as they were rippled by the wind.

Sigi came back to the middle of the three fires, sitting himself down and looking to the rations pack, which he opened to find meager portions left over. He ate at them, little care for what was left, as he sat and evaluated the situation.

Sigi pointed a bit further off. “The Goron won’t be back for a while. Let’s get a fourth fire going over there, and start piling all of the bodies on it. We’ll say rites for those among us who fell tonight, rest and then make for the keep at first light.”

With slow motions, the men began to get up. Thom quietly directed some of them, taking some of the wood they had gathered and helping them move it to the place further off, downwind. Relman sat down, recovering from his own exhaustion. Telmar walked over towards him, looking down at him as he sat.

“You didn’t run,” Telmar said monotonously. Relman looked up.

“No, I didn’t,” he retorted quietly.

“Good,” Telmar responded. “You can come help with the dead.” Relman looked up at him, sighed briefly before getting up and walking off with him, walking past Sigi. He regarded Sigi differently now, who sat looking north. He walked out, and began helping Telmar, reluctantly, with getting the bodies to the fire that was being built.

It will be good to get back to the keep, Relman thought to himself.