Another Hero's Journey: Part Nine
“That looked like Reuben,” said Omar, as a flash of white and brown whooshed past their cave. The four of them were packing up and getting ready to leave, and were still in the aftermath of Reuben’s departure. He attached his sword and its scabbard to his belt and looked at everyone else. “Guys, did you see that?”
Devin stuck his head out of the entrance. “I don’t know,” said the green Kacheek. “No, wait... that was really him!” He pointed out the route. “He was going that way, and he was really running fast.”
“Are you sure?” asked Andrea dejectedly, stowing her written compositions and her journal into a pocket in her bag. “Maybe you were just hallucinating.”
“You didn’t pay attention,” said the brown Lupe swiftly. “It was a Blumaroo, a white one, with a brown cloak. And it really was him.”
“Or it was just a phantasm,” denied the red Kyrii. “Apparition, vision...”
“If it helps, I saw him too,” said Olivia, and she sounded like she truly meant it. “Perhaps Reuben has decided to pursue a different path? He was running in the opposite direction of the route he took when he left us.”
Devin scratched his head. “Either way, maybe we should find out what’s wrong. It might be something serious. I mean, he didn’t even stop by to say hi!”
“Then it must be something so serious that he doesn’t have time for sightseeing. Can our supplies still last? That’s the only thing I’m worried about,” said Omar, shrugging. “You’ve still got enough arrows for your crossbow, Dev?”
“Yeah... your sword hasn’t rusted yet, has it, Omar? Okay, let’s get out of here before we get too attached to this cave. I never realized how long we’ve been in here, and how musty and dark it is when the weather’s nice outside. Oh, the irony.”
* * *
Reuben tried not to swear again as the group led him straight towards Trestin – where he had begun his journey. Not only was it tedious, having to start all over again, but the riders were moving as though they were in a hurry, or were itching for something – definitely not a good sign, Reuben noted, as he went on his mad dash, even though his side began to burn, and his chest was heaving.
They only looked back once, and when they did, the white Blumaroo dove behind a bush, wincing as he was scratched by several stray branches. As they resumed their ride, Reuben stuck his head out from the leaves and plucked a few twigs out of his shirt. It was like a rest period after his long run, but it wasn’t enough of a rest period. When he followed them again, he could practically hear his feet screaming in protest.
But of course, he wasn’t going to stop till he found out what they were up to. Not even his plan to find Rohane would stop him right now.
Then the group suddenly stopped, just several yards away from the outskirts of the village, within a patch of rocky forest.
Tottering slightly from running so much, Reuben stalked them, ducking behind any plant or tree that could hide him and making sure he didn’t accidentally step on and cracked twigs or dry leaves along the way.
He couldn’t hear much, but he could hear the words, “raid”, “pillage”, and “escape” from their conversation, muffled by their kerchiefs and cloaks. Counting them mentally, the white Blumaroo observed that there were sixteen of them, including the Unis, and there were two female members. A female yellow Kougra had a Pawkeet perched on her shoulder.
But should he act now – start pointing his fingers at them and accuse them of victimizing his village? Their words were suspicious, their clothes were suspicious, even the way they carried themselves were suspicious... was all that enough? Should he start screaming it out loud for Trestin to hear?
It was too much. Reuben had to make a choice, and he had to make one fast. The only problem was that it was too late.
The travelers extracted themselves from their little makeshift headquarters and rode into Trestin village limits, unwary that a white Blumaroo was following them. Neither did they know that when they unsheathed swords, unveiled bows and uncovered daggers from under their heavy cloaks and brandished their weapons before the village folk, Reuben stopped in his tracks as well, too scared to make a move and almost concealed by a bramble bush.
Still, he could hear the cries and screams of the villagers as the group rode in, shouting insults and threats, and the cacophony was more than enough evidence to confirm his suspicions.
“What’s going on?”
“Okay, start handing over all your loot and nobody gets hurt! We’ve got good friends up north who’ll make you if you don’t!”
“Don’t – they’ve got big heavy swords! You don’t mess with guys with big heavy swords!”
“Lock up the market! Lock up your doors! Don’t cause more trouble!”
Anyone who was outside when the bandits arrived started scattering and hiding, and the fears of the white Blumaroo turned into outrage, especially as noises like crashing pots, scurrying feet and piercing screams rang in his ears.
Reuben drew a knife from his belt and narrowed his eyes. Don’t cause more trouble? What, does that mean they’ll just stand back like the ever-peaceful village they are? Sometimes you just have to stand up and make a hard choice, because it could be lives on the line! And who do these guys think they are, picking on a quiet village just because they can?
Then again, he understood that Trestin, shrouded by the Meridellian mountain ranges, was almost never touched by little skirmishes like this. And when it was, it wasn’t as big as a group of nearly twenty bandits. So even though he was rather enraged, he wasn’t surprised when he saw everyone scrambling around and panicking, and one of the bandits swearing loudly and pointing his rapier viciously at a passing Babaa shepherd.
“What do you want from us?” the yellow Kacheek demanded, as the tip of the blade sailed briefly past him as the rider and his Uni galloped past.
“Everything,” he said briefly, and his hood fell back slightly to reveal the white Kyrii underneath it. “Anything you’ve got in this dump – we’ll take everything!”
Reuben saw the Kacheek gasp slightly, a Babaa clutched tightly to his chest as the Kyrii’s group scattered around, terrorizing anyone who dared linger outside and taking whatever could be taken. The Blumaroo saw the frightened face of Seth, a Babaa herder who was an old friend of his.
But before he could hurl one of his blades, or leap out from the bushes, a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Only Reuben’s hard grip on the knife kept him from sinking the weapon into whoever had grabbed him.
“Are you going to take them down one by one? You’re crazy! We’ll help you.”
The white Blumaroo turned and saw the face of a very familiar, burly brown Lupe, with a sword in one paw and the other on Reuben’s shoulder.
“Well, we meet again, eh?” said the Lupe, hefting his sword. “We can’t just let you run off and play hero again and get yourself killed now, can we?”
“We saw you pass by our cave and followed you because it seemed kinda weird that you were taking the path that would probably take you back the way you came,” said Devin. The green Kacheek took a deep breath after saying everything at top speed. “What do you want us to do? This is your town, your home base! Quick – what’s the strategy?”
Reuben scratched his head. “What strategy?”
“A fight is much more than several enemies bashing each other to bits. It requires critical thinking, strategic logic and lots of common sense,” came the mystical, faraway voice of Olivia, the purple Lupe nature seer. “Right now, the grass and trees, and pretty much every aspect of nature I can see, cannot give me a clear prediction of how this battle will turn out. It’s all up to you, Reuben. Perhaps this might be your destiny.”
“Way to lay down the pressure, Mother,” said Omar. From the corner of his eye, he could see a beautiful red Aisha with brown braids screech as a yellow Kougra with a Pawkeet on her shoulder grabbed the Aisha’s braids, and one of her comrades, a white Kyrii, yanked a glittering sapphire heart pendant off the Aisha’s pretty neck.
He wasn’t the only one who saw it.
“Li!” gasped Reuben. The brown Lupe’s viselike grip on the Blumaroo’s shoulder was the only thing that kept Reuben from shouting and giving away their hiding place.
“Friend of yours?” asked Andrea, lingering behind Miss Olivia, who was already muttering something as her purple paws clutched a fallen twig, which began to glow a steady cerulean. Suddenly, they heard the cracking and rumbling of the ground a good distance away from them, and the group saw the two bandits attacking Li thrust into the air by two large, wriggling green branches.
“I could do the rest,” said the Lupe seer, “but it’ll consume a lot of magic. And when my magic comes out, I could end up using my own life for the sake of my spells. There, your friend’s safe... for now. Are we just going to sit here like waiting, hidden targets, or are we actually going to do something?”
There was a moment’s pause, and the chaotic noises that spelled out Trestin’s predicament seemed magnified tenfold. Omar, Olivia, Devin and Andrea were all staring hopefully at Reuben, who was staring at the ground, thinking long and hard. At last, they got their answer when he looked up at them again, a small, sure grin with only the tiniest hint of hesitance.
The white Blumaroo nodded defiantly, gripping the knife hilt so tightly that it left an impression on his palm, and caught a glimpse of the turquoise stone hanging from his neck.
“Okay, let’s do this,” he whispered. “Here’s the thing... maybe we could...”
As Reuben attempted to create a strategy, some of Olivia’s words continued echoing in his ears.
Perhaps this might be your destiny...
To be continued...