Where One’s Life Leads

 


The Winter Guard had returned to the path leading to Thunderspire Mountain after having ended the threat of the Orcs. The merchant family’s bodies remained strewn along the side of the road – unfortunate victims of a bigger plot. Odus and Kane were busy preparing a funeral pyre for the bodies while Isak and Garrick gathered the bodies and prepared them.

“You can’t save everyone.” The thought echoed in Garrick’s mind as he stared at the battered and bloodied bodies of the man, woman and their child.

Suddenly, his mind flashed and he was somewhere else.

He was tired, disoriented… injured. He looked around quickly to determine his surroundings… he was in a forest… on a path… dead bodies were all around him and there was fighting going on. He was standing next to a wagon, part of a caravan. The horses pulling the wagons were long since gone… the driver sat in the seat, riddled with arrows.

Then came a thought… the family! His eyes darted around searching for the carriage… he spotted it not too far away. He ran towards it, the door was already open… he peered inside. Tears welled in his eyes as he saw the family of elves… father, mother and their daughter… all dead… their throats slit. But where was the little girl… she couldn’t have been more than ten… where was she? He scanned the area… THERE! He saw her laying by the side of a tree, an arrow piercing her left shoulder.

As he moved toward her, one of the attackers moved to block his path, “Still alive, eh? Not for too much longer!” The human raised his blade and rushed to attack Garrick. He instinctively spun around the attacker dodging the clumsy swipe and drawing his blade in one fluid motion. He then impaled his enemy with a backhand thrust of his sword.

He continued to the young girl. He kneeled beside her, “good, she’s still breathing…” he muttered to himself. She had already lost a lot of blood, she was barely conscious. I need to get her out of here.

Two men came running up to him. He recognized them, they were mercenaries like he was although they had been doing this MUCH longer than him. He met both Verdan and Graydon a few days ago when he joined up with Toran’s group of mercenaries. “We’re all that’s left! We need to get moving!” Graydon shouted.

“Where’s Toran?” Garrick questioned.

“Dead… he bought us some time to get the cargo out of here… we need to move!” Verdan answered.

“What about the girl? We can’t leave her, the family is already dead!” Garrick asked.

“Leave her! She’s almost dead. Besides, keeping her alive wasn’t part of the deal. We’re getting paid to make sure this cargo makes it to its destination! We don’t have much time” Graydon shouted back.

The response angered Garrick, “NO! I will not leave her while she still breathes.” he retorted.

They both looked at him in disgust and ran off towards the wagon carrying the cargo and began preparing it to leave. Garrick turned his attention back to the young girl. He gently shook her attempting to rouse her and keep her from falling unconscious. “Please, wake up. You need to stay up. Jenneleth!” her eyes opened at the sound of her name, “Please young one, you need to stay up” She stared up at him quizzically, then pain shot through her and she began to grimace. She started mumbling in elven. Garrick swore under his breath…she doesn’t understand me!

The sound of metal on metal rang out again. Garrick turned and saw that Verdan and Graydon had been descended upon by at least a dozen men. They were defending the cargo and the enemy was concentrating on them. Garrick knew they had precious little time to make their escape. It was obvious the young girl could not walk. He tried to pick her up gently but as he lifted her, she screamed out in pain drawing attention to them.

“Get those two! Kill them, we’re not to leave anyone alive!” the leader shouted as he ran Verdan through with his blade. Graydon was still up but it was only a matter of time before he too would fall.

Garrick ran off through the woods with the young girl in his arms. He could hear the men following them. They could not escape, the attackers were gaining on them. He would need to stop and fight. Garrick spotted a clearing off in the distance and made his way towards it… that should give me enough room to manoeuvre and at least have a chance.

He entered the clearing and lay Jenneleth behind a fallen tree trunk on the far side, hiding her from those pursuing them. “I know you don’t understand me but don’t worry, they will not touch you, I will keep you safe. Please, just stay awake” Garrick smiled at her, holding her hand. She stared back up at him and squeezed his hand in response. He heard them approach, he stood up, drew his blade and cleared his mind…preparing for the battle to come.

His mind was in a state of perfect calm, he could hear everything around him… the insects buzzing… the wind whistling throught the leaves… the oncoming footsteps as the men approached. His blade felt light and well balanced in his hand, more like an extension of his arm than a mere weapon. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath as his mind raced through the many swordforms he had mastered. He positioned himslef in his favorite stance… The Kingfisher Watches the Sky… blade held reverse-grip horizontally across his chest. He exhaled and opened his eyes to see four of the attackers enter the clearing. They began to charge at him. Garrick moved forward to meet oncoming charge…he was calm, emotionless… let it begin…and the swordforms sprang to life…

The Lightning Strikes the Oak… he met the blade of the first enemy in a horizontal parry… steel rang out as the blades met with such force they almost felt as if they were bound… Garrick used the oncoming momentum to quickly step-around the attacker, spinning them around their locked blades and extending his leg to trip his adversary. It ended with a forceful downward stab through the chest as the enemy lay on his back. Garrick quickly pulled his blade loose a strided forward to meet the next…

The River Undercuts the Bank…Garrick dropped to one knee narrowly ducking under the slash meant to take off his head. He retaliated with a decisive horizontal slash of his own, disemboweling his attacker. He stood and continued forward as the next two approached…

The Leopard’s Caress… he met the next strike in a parry, knocking the blade aside followed by a quick and sudden slash to his opponent’s thigh sending him stumbling back. Garrick quickly turned…

Arc of the Moon… a quick, diagonal slash upwards sliced open the next attackers throat. Garrick spun back around extending his blade in a long arcing horizontal sweep decapitating the enemy he was previously wounded.

A sharp pain temporarily broke Garrick’s concentration. He felt a blade slice across his back and out of his upper right arm. He felt warm blood running down his back and arm. His shirt was ripped open and soaked in blood. More of a hindrance, he thought and ripped it off as he turned to meet his new foe.

“Those were some of my best men and you cut them down like they were nothing… impressive” the leader commented. The leader carefully circled Garrick, examining him… sizing him up. His gaze became focused on the tattoos on Garrick’s swordarm running from shoulder to wrist. His eyes widened in shock and a hint of fear but he quickly composed himself. “A blademaster… and so young… very impressive! It’s too bad you’ll be dead soon!” he sneered. With that, the leader began his onslaught.

All Garrick could do was parry and dodge. The leader’s initial cut was deeper than he realized, he was losing blood fast. It must have also hit a nerve as he felt the strength in his swordarm waning. He could see the darkness at the edges of his vision…he knew he wouldn’t last much longer.

“Have to end this now” he thought to himself. The final swordform came into his mind, he knew what had to be done.

Sacrifice – Sheathing the Sword… Garrick raised his blade high into the air feigning an overhand strike leaving his midsection open… baiting his opponent. The leader saw the opening and thrust his blade into Garrick… it pierced through left side. Garrick immediately grabbed the leader’s swordhand and forced the sword deeper into him brining him closer to his target. The leader eyes widened in horror as he realized that he had trapped himself. He tried to pull free but Garrick held him firm.

Garrick brought his blade down to the the villain’s throat and with a quick jerk of his arm, sliced it open. He saw the life quickly fade from the leader’s eyes as they both dropped to their knees…

Everything was a blur of shadows… he scanned the area… he saw shadows of men coming out of the forest…

More… get up! You have to get up! he told himself. With that he slowly pulled the sword out from his side and stood up on shaky legs, clutching the gushing wound at his side. He could barely stand let alone hold the blade in front of him. One of the shadowy figures moved in closer and Garrick feebly swung at it but the figure moved out of the way with inhuman grace and caught his hand. The sword fell from Garrick’s grasp as the last of his strength left him… he fell only to be caught and craddled to ground by the figure. The Darkness was almost complete.

“Be at ease. We are here to help. You and the girl are now safe and in our protection. Rest Guardian for you are among friends” the Eladrin’s voice was soothing. Garrick felt comforted as all light left his vision.

“Garrick! Garrick!” Odus’ voice snapped Garrick back to reality. He stared out in front of him at the burning funeral pyre. He could feel the heat and tears on his face.

“Sorry. Yes Odus, what is it?” Garrick responded morosely.

“Would you like to say a few words before we leave? Rao has already blessed them” Odus answered.

Garrick smiled at his friend and said quick prayer to Bahamut to bless the souls of the family and safely guide them on their journey to the heavens. “Let us be off to Thunderspire.” he said.

As they mounted their horses and continued along the path, the thought echoed in his mind once again, “You can’t save everyone”

“No, I can’t save everyone… but I will never stop trying!” he answered his thoughts.

Author: Dave L