Kelsandra, Chapter 4

Kelly stared at him in awe. Invading a massive centaur camp would get her everything they needed?

Valgar stood there, looking at her, unmoving, as if he already knew her answer.

“The humans didn’t come back for you,” she said.

“Someone would have. You did.” At her incredulous look, he shifted and continued, “No, I see what you mean. It’s your choice. Out here, everything is your choice. You chose to revive me, and now another choice presents itself, and it’s yours.”

It didn’t feel much like it, but she knew he was right. Kelly looked at Sterj, who seemed attentive enough and could probably hold out for a few days without making it to the lake.

“Alright,” she said. “I’ll—join, I suppose. It must be worth it.”

She followed him cautiously over a hill and they headed north, just where he’d indicated the human camp would be.

As they neared a clump of trees, she jogged to catch up with him and asked, “Are you sure that the takeover hasn’t happened yet?”

“I woke up with an inkling of how long I’d been dead.” Valgar slowed his walking and looked around.

“I’ve never heard about that,” Kelsandra said. “Is that just something with Norns?”

He continued walking but stopped his search to look down at her, and she tried not to shrink back, feeling like the irritating younger sibling.

He didn’t acknowledge it, however; instead, he murmured discreetly, “There.”

Kelly followed the direction his head was turned and saw a boulder positioned next to a large tree, creating an alcove that, when further examined as they walked closer, went slightly underground.

“Valgar,” a very deep and almost unintelligible voice said from their left.

Kelly felt her throat block as an orange-red Charr in light black armor stepped out from behind the heavy branches. She backed up so Valgar was between them.

“Guard duty?” Valgar asked. “Shouldn’t you be in there, being a part of the plans? Or are you just going to botch things up like before?”

“You weren’t here for our last raid.” Kelly was still having trouble distinguishing his words. All she could hear were growls.

“I’m here now. The big one is tomorrow, isn’t it?” He wasn’t even trying to hide the excitedness from his voice at this point.

“We’ve done it many times before.”

“But it’s always the most exciting. We get such rewards.”

The charr stepped back into the shadows. “They haven’t gone over the plans yet, but they’ll notify me when they start.”

“That’s the most helpful you’ve ever been, Batemar.”

“Don’t take my kills tomorrow.”

They continued walking toward the alcove. Kelly said in a low voice, “He seemed hostile. You antagonized a Charr? That’s so human of you!”

“I am sure you weren’t this annoying when I asked you to join us,” he said.

Valgar pulled aside a curtain to reveal a group of humans sitting casually around a minimally set, very dark room. There had been a light chatter, but it ceased when he and Kelly walked in; the people didn’t seem happy to see either of them. A man chuckled at Sterjin, who followed a few feet behind.

Kelly felt tension build up in the room with every step they took. Valgar, stooping to fit, pulled out a chair for her, and then pulled another chair next to it that a man was using as a footrest. The man gave him an irritated look, and seconded it to Kelly. She looked around as she turned to sit. The room was badly lit, with only two lanterns on either side—she supposed having too many lit would heat the place up too much—and there were about ten humans sitting around, some on the floor but mostly in chairs. Above and around them was dirt and leather tarp, placed to create the room, which was a good height but under ten feet in diameter. She noticed a male, long-haired Norn in the corner, but that was the only non-human. He was sitting on the floor. She looked to Valgar, who was leaning forward with his elbow on his leg. It didn’t look comfortable. She realized that he was irritating them on purpose.

Sterj curiously sniffed at a bag, and the owner of it swiped her foot at his face, but he stepped back and turned his head before she could land a kick. Kel smiled, but the woman said, “Can you put him outside?”

“Oh,” Kelly said quickly. “ I’m sorry. I didn’t know he wasn’t allowed.” She stood and took a step, waving Sterjin out, but Valgar put a hand on her shoulder.

“He is allowed. The damned jaguar is always here,” he said.

“That’s different,” the woman answered.

“It’s okay, Valgar,” she said, eager to leave the room.

Someone pulled the curtain aside and light poured in. It was Batemar.

“They’re back with dinner,” he growled. “And we’ll be going over the plans.” He then pointed at Kelly and Valgar. “You two, guard duty.”

Kelly sighed in relief, but Valgar squeezed her shoulder involuntarily. She moved sideways to loosen his grip, and he let go. The three of them awkwardly left.

As they walked up to where the Charr had been stationed, Kelly whispered, “What was that?”

“Don’t mind them. They’re all just bitter,” he mumbled.

“How do you feel comfortable going out to fight with them?”

They had reached the clump of branches by the thick trunk. They stood by it, neither of them taking up the spot, in silence.

Without an answer, she was too scared to lead up to the overarching question on her mind. “So,” she said. “You go here, and me?”

“You go to the other side of the camp. There’s another spot like this, with a smaller tree. You should see it. Directly across from here.”

Kelly nodded and walked between the trees around the room, pulling down her handkerchief around her neck. The sun was setting now, and the rays didn’t reach her side. She found her spot and sat on the ground, Sterj taking up a standing position beside her. After a few minutes, he put his head in her lap and folded his legs underneath him. It was something they’d done so many times before, back in Claypool, but it seemed so much more special now. She sat, he lay, and they both listened. After an hour, someone thrust a cold steak beside her, and it landed on the dirt. She tried to see who it was, but they’d already run back to the camp. Kelly picked it up, brushed the dirt off, and ate for the first time in a day.

She shared the larger guardpost with Valgar once everyone fell asleep, and he pointed out the pistol tucked into her belt. They were both standing slightly out in the open, with Sterj sleeping at their feet.

She took it out. The barrel was cold now, and she didn’t know how to check the bullets. “I think it’ll come in handy tomorrow,” she said quietly, “but once I use it up, I think I’ll just throw it away. Do you know much about them?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

“My arrows barely protected me from the bandits I took this from. I think I’ll mostly serve as a distraction.”

Valgar shrugged. “That’s a start. Was that what you wanted to ask about earlier? Buying new weapons?”

“Um—no. But that can wait.” She bent down and patted Sterj between his eyes, which opened sleepily. Their shift was almost over.

“Does the decision involve seeing how I fight?” he asked.

“I’d rather not say.”

 

 

They woke early, right as dawn began. Kelly opened her eyes as people stirred and rose around her, but someone felt it necessary to kick her shoulder, as well as Sterjin’s side, in order to wake them. She knew that as soon as this was over, she would take the first opportunity to leave.

Her bag, bow, and quiver lay against the wall; to her relief, they were untouched. There was some form of respect here. She took the pistol out of her bag and tucked it into her belt, then took the bow and arrows.

Someone patted her shoulder, not roughly. It was the woman who’d insisted that Sterj stay outside. She had the same weapons as Kelly, though clearly much stronger. “You’re with me. We’ll be meddling with their supplies before the full attack.” Kelly followed her out away from the camp and walked quickly. “What’s your name?”

Kel rubbed her eyes, trying to adjust to the sun’s rays, already strong, coming from their left. “Kelly. And Sterjin.”

The woman looked back at Sterj, who was still not fully awake and had fallen behind. “Ster-yin?” she asked. “Why?”

“You don’t have to say it,” Kelly said. “I’ll just be talking to him.”

“I’m Sonya.”

They were quiet for a bit, then Kel asked, “Do we know which part of the camp has the supplies?”

“Of course we do,” she said. “But it’s mostly in the center. I was hoping the drake could distract them and clear a path.”

Kelly scowled. “He’s—just a drake. They’d tear him apart.”

“Then you got anything else?”

She knew there couldn’t be any hesitation, so she said immediately, “I’ll do it with him.”

“You?”

“Yeah!” Her voice went high, which she hoped wouldn’t give away the absolute terror she felt at being left alone.

“Are you sure?” Sonya pried incredulously.

“You were about to give the entire job to my drake.”

“Well, he’s—“ She interrupted herself. “It’s just as well. Neither of you seem very useful in terms of stealth.”

Kelly ignored the comment and retied her handkerchief over her face. After a few minutes of the uncomfortably fast walking, Sonya suddenly stopped them. She pushed Kelly behind a sharp hill. “We’re almost there,” she said quietly. “We tread carefully now, and you have to stay with your pet, so go slowly. There’s a few more of these hills, and then a dip, which is where the Camp is.”

They both watched as Sterj caught up with them.

She continued, “If you’re seen, it’s best to split up.”

“Okay,” Kelly said.

Sonya checked the clearing, and then ran behind another hill. Kelly checked the other side of hers, and saw a boulder, so after looking around, she slowly walked towards it, her back bent low and Sterj right beside her. She tripped over a large rock and her face turned red as she heard the woman’s snicker.

They continued. Sonya ran, and Kelly walked, again and again until they came to the next hill, and then the next. Right in front of them was a horizon, and smoke coming from the large dip in the ground, and her breath caught in her throat. She looked at Sonya, who had been trying to signal to her.

“Look,” she mouthed urgently.

Kelly peeked over a low part of the hill and caught a glimpse of a centaur. She quickly bent down, but had noticed that he didn’t have a weapon. She forgot what that meant.

“Trampler,” Sonya mouthed.

Kelly nodded breathlessly. Sonya could have said anything, and she would have been terrified. Her mouth and tongue felt like cotton. Her mind raced as she tried to figure out what to do.

The trampler was pacing with a heavy step, generally coming closer.

Kelly waved for Sterj to go back, behind the low-branched tree that was their last hiding spot. He obeyed. She went 12 feet to her right, to the side of the hill, and sighted the centaur from there. She quietly took an arrow out and aimed it, knowing he was too far away to reach. Before she could do anything, however, he saw her and yelled, charging towards her. Unexpectedly, he went around to the right side of the hill, so with a quick look to see that Sonya was gone, Kelly ran towards where she had been crouching. “Sterj!” she said, taking care not to shout.

Sterj ran out from behind the tree and leaped, biting the centaur’s front leg as he rounded the corner. He yelled again and went back on his hind legs, throwing him off. Sterjin tumbled into the hill but Kelly’s arrow hit the trampler’s chest before he could retaliate.

The centaur ran at Kel, who rolled to her left behind the other hill. She stood up and shot her arrow into his horse half from a very close range, and this time it stuck. It bought her and her drake time to run back around past her previous hiding spot and to the cliff bottom that had always been to their right.

He was running at them again, and Kelly shot arrows at him in quick succession, but they barely slowed him down. From the front, he was too strong. And they’d be no match for his speed.

She bent down and pushed Sterj, running to the left as he went right. Kelly crouched behind the boulder; the centaur chose her to chase. She grabbed an arrow and stuck it in his hide with her hands as he passed. The centaur’s body staggered slightly, but he grabbed Kelly’s coat by the shoulder and threw her.

She landed on her front, and saw the rock she had tripped over before. There were others like it, smaller ones, nearby.

The centaur took this arrow out and then charged towards her yet again, faltering slightly from his wounds. Kelly grabbed the nearest rocks and threw one at his head. It affected him more than she’d expected; he slowed to a walk and rubbed his head, shaking it. Sweat was pouring down his face and she could see he was breathing heavily. She ran sideways and threw another rock at his side, and he groaned in pain.

There was a pang inside her as she aimed another arrow at him, but he ran, north and away from the Greatcamp. She sighed in relief. He must have known that this was part of a larger attack and was seeking refuge at the other camp, the one Valgar had died near.

Sterj anxiously looked at her from behind the second hill. She waved at him to follow, and they quickly walked to the edge of the horizon, where Sonya was waiting by a few trees.

“That took a long time,” she said quietly. “There are three more at the entrance. Think you can handle it?”

Kelly let out a long breath, having finally caught it. “Oh yeah,” she said, wiping the sweat dripping from her forehead as casually as she could without shaking. “Definitely.”

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