Sergio pocketed the letter against Sloan’s wishes. “They just got a three hour head start is all,” He stated looking at his sister.
Scott scratched his head in confusion. “Gave who a three hour head start?” He waited for an answer, but his older cousin just got up and went to his room. He turned his question to Aiya, “You read the letter. What is it?”
“Captain Gray,” She replied, “headed out at lunch time today guarded by twenty of the Elite Guard. He’s meeting the emissary in a hidden camp in the Ra Forest near Dryads’ Retreat.” She looked at her hidden blade and feathered the length of it once. “I’ve never been that deep into that forest before. I’m nervous.”
“You don’t believe those stories do you?”
“Just, because I don’t worship the Ra doesn’t mean I don’t believe they exist. Most people don’t believe in conspiracies, but here we are.”
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“You’re almost seventeen Aiya. You should stop letting dryads and nymphs scare you,” Scott said mockingly. “You probably believe in merpeople too, don’t you?”
“All I’m saying is that our government hasn’t outlawed Ra worship. Mak is where the gods created us. We named our country for Mak. Just five blocks from here is where our god,” she paused placing a clenched hand over her heart, “created humanity. Right here in Hiarlym City cousin. Our entire country is founded on the belief that Mak is the creator. If the Ra didn’t exist the King would’ve outlawed their worship years ago.”
“Enough you two!” Teagan quieted her only living inlaws before they could get into another one of their pointless arguments.
“She’s right,” Aiya said. “We should go get ready; our target is three hours ahead of us and I’d like to get him before he risks more of our countrymen’s lives. We have friends in that army. Don’t forget the matches and the kerosene. You never know when we’ll need some fiery arrows.”
Aiya went to her room; she was one of the few with her own room, a privilege for the best assassins. Not having time to bathe, she took off her wet and bloodied clothes, wiped away dirt and blood from her face with a damp towel. She dried off and put on her undergarments on before going to her trunk. Opening it she pulled out a white robe bearing a golden ‘V’ above the the right breast, Aiya did not know what the ‘V’ stood for, but one day she would. At least according to her brother she would. She laid the robe on her bed.
She grabbed her extra pair of leather boots from the trunk and set those aside. She grabbed her left forearm bracer, she rarely wore it. The bracer was leather and started at the bottom of her elbow. It didn’t end around her wrist, but continued to her index finger where it wrapped around it coming to a point. She tossed it on her bed.
“Where are you? Damn it,” Aiya spoke quietly to herself. “Ah there you are.” She grabbed a thin leather strap with a clip on either on end. She sat on her bed and put it around her ankle. “I miss you mom.”
She donned her left bracer with the finger armor and iron reaver claw then the right with the hidden blade and then she robed. She sat back down and strapped her leather boots onto her feet. Finally, after she stood, she went to her glass locker where she kept her knives and black dagger. The dagger was a gift from Prince Hamlin of Tannia, he told her that the blade was formed from the scale of a dragon injured in combat.
She opened the robe and slid throwing knives into hidden sheathes inside of the robe and clipped three onto both of her bracers. She sheathed the black dagger on her belt. She looked into the mirror on the wall above the glass locker and gave herself a smirk as she lifted her hood over her head. “Let’s go kill us a Makian Captain,” She spoke to herself.
She met her brother and cousin in the den before departing. Sergio sheathed his two backswords as they left the den. “Hope you kids are up for a run.”
It was dark by the time they entered the forest. Luckily one of the moons was full and the other was partially eclipsed behind it. The unfamiliar sounds made Aiya uneasy. Fortunately, Sergio had ventured through the forests for many years with their father before their parents were killed. Unfortunately, their dad forbade him from going anywhere near Dryad’s Retreat. They had no idea what was waiting for them.
Even on the dimly moonlit road the wagon tire tracks and horse hoof imprints were easy to track.
Ahead on the road Scott noticed a flickering light. “What is that, Sergio?” Scott asked his cousin.
“It’s probably just a torch,” Sergio answered almost condescendingly.
“It’s too close to be a torch,” Aiya added. “It’s only about ten yards away.”
“There’s no way that a fire is burning that close to us and we're just seeing it now. We’ve been on this trail for the last fifteen minutes,” Sergio sought reason even though he could clearly see that his sister was right.
Then as the flame so suddenly appeared it disappeared. Thwip thump! Thwip thump! Thwip thump! Aiya looked between her feet where she heard what sounded like an arrow hit the trail. That is exactly what it was. An arrow for each of them.
“There were three shots. If there was more than one archer we would’ve heard one single shot. You know, so they wouldn't give away their numbers,” Aiya said. “Where are you,” She yelled.
“If that was only one archer he sure is quick. I’ve never seen anybody nock arrows that fast,” Scott said.
Sergio lifted his crossbow. He attempted to look for who shot the arrows. “Get off of the trail now!” Just as he yelled the command an array of arrows littered the trail. One arrow ripped Scott's pant leg as he dove off of the trail. There was easily over three dozen arrows protruding from the very ground the trio had just been standing atop.
“Still think there’s only one little sister?” Sergio yelled across the trail.
“Only one way to find- Agh! Let me! Sergio help!”
Immediately Scott and Sergio ran through the trees pursuing whoever was swift enough to both sneak up on Aiya and then carry her away at such a fast pace. It was hard to see what was ahead of them as they ran by the trees, over the tangled roots, and under the low hanging branches that littered the forest, but Aiya kept screaming giving the boys something to follow. This was probably the narrowest deer trail Sergio had ever ran through, and he had ran through many.
As Sergio jumped over a fallen log he was tackled by what felt like a mossy tree with the force of a bull. Scott looked back momentarily, but knew Sergio would kill him if he gave up on Aiya so he continued forward. Something swung out from behind a tree, it felt like a thick cane when it connected with the side of Scott’s face. He spun twice while airborn before finally hitting the ground.
Aiya was forced down against a tree. A bony figure scratched her as it roughly used twine to tie her wrists together. Aiya finally stopped screaming, but only because the terror that grasped her commanded silence. She was always told that dryads resembled beautiful women and protected the trees of this forest. The being that handled Aiya was more tree than anything else. It was made of branches and was definitely more male than female; it had a beard of moss that reached its knees. The thing turned and ran back the way they had came from.
After a few short moments a light appeared floating towards Aiya. The closer it got to her the more she could make out what appeared to be a tiny winged man wearing leaves. It landed on her shoulder. Aiya shot her hidden blade, it ripped through the twine. With one quick move she grabbed the tiny man and pinned him against the tree.
“Who are you and what was that thing?”
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The tiny being stood on his toes and grabbed her ear getting as close to her ear as he could. “My name is Ghillie Dhu. You can call me Ghillie. That thing was an elmborn.”
“And what on Sebat are you?”
“I told you I’m Ghillie. I’m the one that tried to scare you away on the trail. The dryads don’t like nonbelievers in their territory. You shouldn't have came here.”
Annoyed at the response Aiya continued the question and answer session. “Where are we?”
“We’re near Dryad’s Retreat by Elm Father,” Ghillie Dhu answered.
“The Elm Father?”
“Yeah the one the Dryads protect. He is my life source. The elmborn are his spawn, well the Dryads create them from his bark anyway.”
“Where are my brother and my cousin?”
“They’ll be taken to the retreat.”
“And what then?”
“Probably gonna be sacrificed to Elm Father unless they swear fealty to the Dryads and the other Ra.”
“Which way to the retreat, Ghillie?”
“Follow me but stay quiet the Dyrads aren’t kind to ladies especially the pretty ones.”
Aiya stayed close behind Ghillie. The pixie flew right through many spots that Aiya struggled with in the dark, but eventually they made it. Aiya hid behind the trunk of a tree and looked towards her brother and cousin who were forced to their knees in the center of the retreat.
“Milly,” said a beautiful feminine voice, “the elmborn have brought us two travelers.”
“I see that Mila. Look at them; How handsome are they?” Milly’s voice was just as beautiful, but sounded completely different it was as if her voice was draped in song.
Milly stepped into the moonlight. Her body was what men dream about and she wore nothing but a few leaves connected by twine. “Tell us humans, what are you doing in our forest?”
“Couldn’t you have asked us that without beating us half to death first?” Scott asked sarcastically. The right half of his face was covered in blood and Aiya was pretty sure there was vomit on his shirt.
Aiya readied an arrow. A female’s body pressed against the back of Aiya and slowly covered her mouth. “I wouldn’t do that human,” Mila whispered into Aiya’s ear. Startled Ghillie flew away from the forest floor and high into the trees.
Aiya slowly released the arrow and put the bow on the ground. “Smart move,” Mila said as she pushed Aiya into the retreat. She grabbed Aiya’s wrist took her into the retreat to stand in front of Sergio and Scott.
“Maybe now you can answer my question,” Milly said as she ran her hand across Aiya’s throat.
“Don’t harm her you demon!” Sergio yelled.
“Hehe! They all call you that right before you kill them sister,” Mila said.
“Okay, okay. We’re here to stop a meeting,” Sergio admitted.
“The only meeting that's taking place in this forest is by our worshippers, now why would I want you to stop that.”
“Because, if this impending war isn’t stopped the Makian Defense Ministry will cut down at least half of this forest to fight off Dest’s humongous army. Centuries of growth will be cut down in months, dryad.”
Mila spoke, almost singing, “Sister I believe him.”
“We are gods. Do you not think us capable of hindering a few saws and axes?”
“You’re not gods. Mak is god on high,” Scott said. “His daughter and son are the only other gods. The rest of us are merely his creations. What have you created besides those damned elmborn?” Scott stood. “I only now believe you exist, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to worship something that is not a god. You’re not even fit to walk amongst the heavens with the angels as I will one day do. Diabolus doesn’t even want you in hell. You’re stuck in this damn forest forever aren’t you?”
“And one day you’ll be stuck in this damn forest when all of your precious trees are gone,” Aiya added.
“We Makians love this forest. We’ll only cut it down if our hands are forced. You’ll be forcing them if you don’t let me do this.”
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“Our god,” Scott paused clearing his throat, “rewards us as well as protects us.”
“I’ve killed many believers of Mak. Many of them are among the elmborn that captured you.”
“We won’t be as easy,” Aiya said, smirking. She spun around deeply scratching Mila’s face with her claw. Mila screamed and fell back. The wound healed immediately, but it still pained the dryad.
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Scott ran to Sergio grabbing a flask from his pack. Sergio unsheathed his blades and allowed Scott to pour the contents of the flask onto them. “Hurry with the matches little cousin.”
Scott took a match from his pack and stroked it along a patch on his pants. He tossed the lit match onto a blade causing it to become engulfed in flames. Sergio connected the blades causing the other to catch fire. He turned swinging and striking an elmborn. As if the creature was made of dry sticks it immediately caught fire and began flailing wildly.
Risking injury Aiya dipped her metal claw and dagger into the kerosene flask and ignited them against her brother’s sword. She struck an elmborn in the eye and pulled it forward. As she advanced she stabbed it in the back as it fell screaming to the ground. Soon the fire in the retreat allowed increased visibility for the assassins.
Aiya stabbed the ground with her claw once the fire engulfing her finger became too hot for comfort. While she was down Scott grabbed her shoulder and threw her back. One of Gray’s Elite Guard barely missed Aiya’s neck when Scott rescued her. Scott jumped forward punching the guard in the face. He stripped the guard of his weapon and continued to pummel his face and stomach. The guard fell to his knees. Sergio kicked him in the jaw. Three audible pops where heard. The first was the sound of the guard’s jaw cracking, the second and most quiet was the dislocation of the jaw, the third was the sound of the guard’s neck breaking.
“Stop!” A commanding female voice yelled.
The three assassins were surrounded by the Elite Guard and many Destian soldiers. The commanding voice was the emissary from Dest. Next to him stood Aiya’s next victim.
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