An Iliad: Part Four
Trees and trees and trees and trees. They just went on and on and on. When Azure had fought the Shadow Blades for the first time, their black clothing had annoyed her. Now she was struck half-blind by greenness. Maybe she was too sensitive to colors.
It had been a monotone and one of those bored-to-death days. They had spent the day walking. Walking from Altador to wherever they were going now. Day One: Walking and greenness. Historical.
Azure almost tripped over a root, as she marched in constant pace of her group. There were about two dozen pets in the “Special Unit”, including herself, Kalec, Jerdana and Lord Bracken, their commander. (The petpets didn’t count.) They were being sent to scout the forests and mountains where the Shadow Blades often hid. They were to be undetected, which was the reason the unit was so small. They were to hopefully find the enemy’s base or camp or wherever they often gathered and report back to Altador, where the main army awaited. Then the whole army would march to that location and wipe out the trapped Shadow Blades for good. It sounded so simple, and it was. Except for the walking.
Jaded and tired, Azure was very much relieved, when they broke camp, by a small brook. Six were sent out to catch fish. Six were sent to forage for berries. The remaining twelve rested, watching the sun set, beneath the shade of some trees.
Azure sipped from her water canteen, but made a face as she discovered its contents were warm and had a mildly rusty taste. She dumped it out into the creek and refilled it there, too.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Kalec remarked. “If you don’t boil it, you can’t be completely sure it’s safe to drink.”
The Draik took a deep gulp. “Yeah. Sure. Recite a poem, will you? I’m so bored I’m ready to take poetry from you, today.”
“Desperate, huh?” Kalec snorted, but he happily obliged. “The stars above will sing, if you only listen...”
The gentle rhythm of the poem lulled her to sleep.
They met a group of the Shadow Blades the very next morning. It was twilight; the forest was flooded with that period of silence just before dawn. That calm was snapped in half, as a startled Special Unit found a half dozen cloaked figures hiding behind a large rock.
Azure picked out an opponent, who seemed to be a Wocky, but it was difficult to tell, because of the masks and all. Her foe had what looked like a wand. Whenever, the Faerie Draik moved forward to attack, he would wave it and Azure would be thrown back by an invisible force.
“Coward,” she snarled, “Come and fight, you sniveling yellow-bellied little tenna!” But no matter how many insults she hurled, the Wocky betrayed no emotion whatsoever. It was like he was a stone block holding a wand.
Finally, Jerdana ran by, ribbons on her dress flying on the wind like slivers of silver. “Be gone!” she growled, and a powerful blast of sparks threw the Wocky against the nearest tree.
Impressed, Azure turned around to see another masked pet, this time with a good old-fashioned sword, and no foul tricks like the last one. But then it was an obnoxiously large broadsword. So the trend had spread among the enemy, as well? With a yell, she lunged, stabbing her blade at his head. The Shadow Blade ducked, but not in time to completely avoid Azure’s sword. She knifed into his mask, cracking it into several pieces which fell off of her foe’s face.
Then she drew back in horror. It was a Zombie Aisha, with greenish skin that seemed to be falling apart before her eyes. He had a blank, emotionless gaze that stared right through Azure, as if she wasn’t there. Yet he still advanced towards her, his knife swinging wildly. The Draik held out her own blade, but backed away, slowly, searching for a weakness. Could Zombies die? After all they were already undead, so even if she removed his head, would it matter? Not taking any chances, she retreated, but observed her opponent, searching him for a fault... like her father tried to teach her. Always watch your enemy for a slip-up. Use all and any weaknesses they show you, against them. Never let your own guard down. It was amazing actually, how much diplomacy and fighting had in similarities, if she thought about it. But she wasn’t really thinking about that, right now.
With amazing speed for a walking corpse, the Zombie Aisha attacked. Azure parried his knife, batting it aside easily. Then she slashed him right across the chest. Nothing happened. Her foe didn’t even flinch.
So Zombies couldn’t die. The myth was confirmed. Well, you learn something new every day, Azure thought, as she leapt away. Her enemy followed her at a leisurely pace, as if he had all the time in the world to catch her.
Jerdana came by again, having defeated another enemy. She stared at the Zombie Aisha and opened her mouth in surprise. Azure blinked, confused, trying to read the expression in her eyes. It was shock... and recognition! Did Jerdana know this creepy zombie guy? Then the Blue Aisha hardened her mouth in grim resolve and lifted her hand, chanting something; the words were lost the howling wind that suddenly whipped up. The Zombie was thrown against the ground with force that would have made the Snowager quail. However, he got up again, a moment later and continued to advance slowly. Azure ran over to Jerdana who glared at the other Aisha grimly.
“He’s well-protected,” she muttered. “Something is blocking him from most normal damage. He has grown...”
“What?” Azure asked, trying not to pry.
“No. Nothing important,” the Protector replied quietly, after a pause, “We can defeat the other Shadow Blades. But this one...,”
The Draik was burning with curiosity, but she wasn’t going to annoy and prod the sorceress. It was the middle of battle, too—and the Zombie charged. Jerdana snarled something. Azure covered her eyes.
There was a deafening explosion that threw the Faerie Draik off her feet and into someone behind her. Even though she now had a throbbing headache, Azure sprang up again and held her sword against the someone who she had smashed into. Fortunately, it was just one of the Special Unit, and not some other black-robed zombie creep. Woozily, she looked around. Lord Bracken was at the opposite side of a clearing, giving orders to the troops. All five of their attackers lay unmoving on the ground. Wait, only five—?!
Jerdana stood still, staring at some bushes, as if the trees would rear up and attack.
“What’s wrong?” Azure inquired tiredly. “Where’s the creepy zombie guy?”
“He ran away, right into those bushes.” Jerdana looked warily at their surroundings. “I have no idea why. Maybe I was about to discover his weakness?”
Azure frowned. She knew a lie, when she heard one, but why would Jerdana, the Protector, lie? Azure shook her head. She was just being paranoid and weird. The Aisha had fled because his weakness was about to be discovered, just like Jerdana said.
Or maybe he went to get reinforcements, Azure thought darkly, after pondering this. Another part of her whispered, Don’t be such a pessimist, Azure. It’s not healthy.
“This whole war’s not exactly great for my health either,” she mumbled at loud.
“What?” Jerdana asked.
“Hm? Oh, nothing.” Azure sighed. She was just jumpy when she was tired. There was no danger now. They had defeated the Shadow Blades. Jerdana almost blew the last Creepy Zombie Guy up. All was well. But that was not what she was thinking, that same evening.
After the incident, during the day, they had walked some more, before settling down for the night by another stream. Azure had fallen into a light doze, and some of her companions were also getting extremely comfortable—their snores were literally echoing throughout the trees. With Loyalty curled up next to her, the Draik expected this night to be exactly like the last.
It was anything but. The first screams came from the other side of the stream. This instantly jolted her awake, and the other soldiers in deeper sleeps stirred uneasily. Kalec was already up and he was squinting into the darkness. Pharos squawked nervously. Azure saw movement behind her, as Jerdana crept forward, a soft purple light spilling from her palm, illuminating a couple feet of darkness. The soft clinking of armor told Azure that Lord Bracken was with her.
Then, even closer, someone else let out the howl of a wounded animal. This time, all the other soldiers rose, confused and sleepy. They were the perfect targets. Several figures dressed in black seemed to meld from the night and immediately dispatched the first ten troops in their path.
Azure snatched up her sword, just in time to block a sword thrust from a Shadow Blade. She swept her blade at him, dislodging his hood. This Shadow Blade wasn’t wearing a mask, and without his hood, he was easily recognized. It was the invincible zombie Aisha from before. He gave her a chilling smile.
“Huh. Haven’t seen you in hours,” Azure gasped. “Nice to meet you again, too.”
His only reply was another creepy grin, and all of a sudden, he spun away from her and disappeared into the crowd of battling pets. Putting him out of her mind, Azure took to the air, hoping to get a bit of space and see how many Shadow Blades were attacking. What she saw only further horrified her. The forest seemed to be crawling with black-cloaked figures wielding knives that glinted in the dim light. There were forty, no, fifty! But from the east, even more were coming. They were outnumbered.
Then she saw something else that made her want to scream. It was Creepy Zombie Guy again, and he was headed towards Lord Bracken. The Grarrl was preoccupied with fighting off five opponents at once, and did not even notice. Azure forced her body to move, and went into an almost vertical swan dive. The zombie crept closer to Lord Bracken, his paws cackling with black fire. Oh of course the invincible zombie just had to know magic, as well!
The Draik was just twenty feet above them, now. She lifted her weapon. If she was quick enough, she could knock Creepy Zombie Guy away with her sword, and still avoid breaking her legs with an impact on the ground. Just a little faster—
Then the Aisha blasted Lord Bracken, right in the back. The heat singed Azure’s wings, even though she was still a good five meters above.
Azure heard someone screaming, and stopped when she realized it was herself. But she could only watch in horror, as Lord Bracken fell to the ground with a thump. His shield clattered down next to him.
She was so frozen with shock that Azure barely noticed that she was falling. Well it was the law of gravity; because Azure had completely stopped flapping her wings, naturally she plunged.
Some instinctive part of her took over and started moving her wings again. This gave the Draik enough lift to right herself and land on her feet, instead of becoming a pancake on the forest floor.
Azure stumbled towards the Zombie Aisha, her eyes wide in blind rage. Lord Bracken may have kidnapped her, but he was a decent, honorable warrior, who just wanted the best for his city. She would have done the same in his place. And the Aisha had backstabbed him, backstabbed! If there was anything more dishonorable than that, Azure would play Cheeseroller for the rest of her life.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Kalec running towards them, stunned at the sight of Lord Bracken. His sword was almost slipping form his grip and Pharos was screeching, above him.
Azure darted at the Zombie Aisha, her lips forming promises of vengeance. He only laughed mirthlessly and causally tossed his knife at her. Azure deflected it with a metal bracer she had decided to wear that morning for no particular reason. He hurled fireballs at her. Azure maneuvered around them, ignoring the heat that further seared her wings, as some barely missed her.
From the air, Loyalty joined in the fray, and landed almost on the Aisha’s head. He grunted and flicked the petpet away. Azure dropped onto all fours to avoid another fireball, and then she leapt into the air, bearing down on her foe. His blank eyes bored into her furious ones. Then the Draik was thrown aside by the Aisha’s magic, and sent rolling into the dirt, until she was deposited ungraciously at the roots of a tree. Even angrier than before, she rose, sword again raised, ready to kick his butt all the way to Mystery Island.
But then she found that she could not stand. Azure’s legs were all wobbly, like she had turned the color Jelly, although when she looked down at herself, the scales were still that annoying shade of Faerie blue and white. Yet, she was suddenly very dizzy and felt nauseous. The Draik examined herself, until she found the culprit: a shiny silver dart protruding from her shoulder. How odd. It was the same shoulder that Lord Bracken had shot her with his dart. Why was everyone using darts, these days? Another trend, just like the broadswords? Why didn’t she ever find out about these things?
Azure looked up and saw the Zombie Aisha coming towards her, still holding the blowgun, probably loaded with even more darts. Now she was tired and sleepy. What was the use? Lord Bracken was dead, Jerdana was nowhere to be found. Maybe she was defeated as well. Either way, it was all hopeless. The shadows of the surrounding forest seemed to lengthen and steal her vision. And feeling an odd sense of déjà vu, Azure felt herself slipping into the dark.
To be continued...