Darkness was quickly descending around them as Traiel rounded the bend in the path, relaxing noticeably as the Lodge rose up before him… ‘Home’ he thought gratefully. He paused for a moment to shift and rebalance the makeshift stretcher which held his unconscious friend and their supplies, glancing over at Marcus to make sure he was still breathing – which he was, just, and then wearily trudged up to the Lodge.

With the exception of the incident with Argus and his pink bloomers blowing on the wind, it had been a pretty non-eventful trip back to Heldren. He had briefed the council, namely on Rohker’s Raiders that the Sentinel’s believed had been largely crushed and was in disarray, their numbers dwindled over the past month due to coordinated action against them, but they had been more concerned with the preparations for the upcoming festival, badgering him with questions over the safety precautions within the crypt.

He remembered chatting with Tessaraea while procuring some ointments on Gradis’ behalf – his knees had been playing up on him again, as they always did with the change of weather, and this recent heat had certainly had him sleeping uneasily. Traiel found being around Tessaraea very intense, when their eyes met her icy blue eyes would hold his in their endless gaze for a moment, and the insurmountable sadness and despair shown within, naked to the surface but endless in their depth always took his breath away, that shared silent vulnerability impossibly powerful, resonating between them.

Marcus had been his usual free self, enjoying the company of any that would appreciate his whimsical charms, but Traiel had noticed that he had dragged himself away from his admirers to chat with Morgan, something he had been doing a bit lately, but hadn’t opened up to Traiel about yet, and Traiel certainly wouldn’t want to intrude on the young rangers business – if he wanted to talk, he would be happy to listen, but until then it was Marcus’ path to walk.

The return trip had been disastrously the opposite. It had started when Marcus and he had ran into the aftermath of dwarven fury – namely Torin Bloodstone’s less than diplomatic response to an encounter with three of the Raiders (Traiel suspected that the ‘encounter’ had probably been of the dwarf’s making). This had both Traiel and Marcus disturbed, not because of the carnage, but because the Raiders if in disarray should not be active so close to Heldren. Traiel reminded himself to brief the Commander about this news, especially after the skirmish with the five Raiders that had left Marcus in the stretcher, unconscious.

He cursed softly again to himself for not detecting the bandit’s presence sooner, but the two rangers had managed to drop their supplies and move away into the forest before being spotted. He would have been happy to leave the supplies to the mercies of the bandits… they could always be hunted later, and hopefully back to their base if everything went well, but Marcus had gone into a rage and charged in unheeding of the danger under the goadings of the leader, who had suspected their presence in the forest, and then everything had happened at once. In Traiel’s memory, there had been almost a deep, angry rumbling of the earth as Marcus had screamed in rage, two of the bandits just disappearing and then charged at one with his swortsword, still screaming.

In the space of a few seconds, which felt like minutes for Traiel, he had rushed into his friends aid, hewing the leader almost in two with one cut from his greatsword with a long diagonal downward stroke, and then stepped into the inept, suprised parry of the unengaged bandit next to him, who had had his blade ready, sending the man off-balance, his legs tangling with the still falling leader, knocking him to the ground. Traiel used the opportunity to send the man’s sword flying, leaving him helpless to Traiel’s blade which quickly reversed its momentum and descended to finish him.

Traiel had become aware that Marcus was still screaming as he was straddling the last bandit – where had the other two gone?, plunging his shortsword again and again into the lifeless body. Traiel had grown up with enough Ulfen to recognise that his friend was lost in his rage, and knew better than to approach him, so he tried calling out to Marcus, and saw his friend glance at him for a moment. Traiel shuddered as he saw the absolute rage on his friend’s features, replacing the usual youthful, smiling joy that normally accompanied his friend. He saw Marcus blink, and then clarity returned to his features, and Marcus suddenly sat bolt upright, clutched his chest and collapsed.

Running over, Traiel quickly checked over him. He was alive but his breathing shallow. He felt so cold though, very, very cold, his skin almost blue. His eyes flickered open for a moment “Tell no one please” he rasped before falling back into unconsciousness. Traiel checked him for injuries, but strangely, couldn’t feel any, couldn’t explain why his friend was so injured. He recognised he needed help fast, so quickly grabbed some straight, dead tree limbs, took the swords from the fallen bandits and a blanket from his pack, tied them together with some rope to make a stretcher and gently laid Marcus onto it, packing their supplies around his cold body. He got some leafy branches and placed them on the ends of the stretcher to try and mask the trail he was about to leave, marked the spot of the assault, and resolutely started walking home with his burden trailing in the soil behind him.

A few of the Sentinel’s came out of the Lodge to greet their return, and quickly took in the situation, Toman, a young boy who had just entered the service of the Sentinel’s, who normally didn’t have the confidence to take action actually shrieking slightly as he raced back into the Lodge, presumably to get Yaman, the Sentinel’s resident healer to assist. Hait came up and in his gruff way, shrugged and picked up the other end of the stretcher.. ’let’s get him inside and put him on the table by the fire boy.’

Soon inside, Yaman came with his supplies and began inspecting Marcus.. ‘hmm, no wounds, but he’s so cold, perhaps a head injury. I think his body is shutting down. Let’s get him closer to the fire and wrap him up, i can’t do anything for him just yet.’ Traiel nodded numbly to all the action and sat down, grateful for the flagon that was placed in his hands. Yaman approached him. ‘You hurt young fella? Let me look’. Traiel waved him away and stared at Marcus… what had happened back there? Why had Marcus had a look of absolute horror as he had begged with the last of consciousness ‘Tell no one’. With that in mind, Traiel gave his report to Commander Oanys.

The Commander was a man he had quickly come to respect for his hunting, and tactical skills, but he was also a great negotiator who recognised the importance of allowing the rangers to keep their individual autonomy, while building esprit de corps for the organisation as a whole… but despite his great respect, he kept Marcus’ actions in the background, respecting his friends wishes.

The Commander looked grave and called for the senior members who were there. ‘Yaman, Hait, you two stay with the young ones. The rest of you, join me upstairs, we have some planning to do. It appears that Rohker is not done for yet.’


Reign of Winter Wildhunt78 Traiel