“Kindle, wait here. Vella and I are going forward to see this fellow coming down the road. If anything seems amiss I’ll dip my torch twice quickly. If I do that, I want you to run back down to the camp as fast as you can and tell them to return to the ship and alert the captain to haul anchor.” The crew and ship have to come first, and your gut is telling you that this situation is quickly falling apart. It won’t hurt to have a runner ready as a precautionary option.
Kindle looks back down the road before shrugging. “Fire prolly’ just dropped below a crest inna’ road anyway. Hard to see anything out here t’night.” He’s resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. “‘Urry back. S’cold out here.”
You shoot the man a smile and give him a nod before starting forward once more. Vella falls in at your side as you begin down the small valley between your position and that of the torch carrying figure. The tension keeps creeping up, warring with your ability to cast off the strangeness of this night as nothing more than paranoia. Vella is quiet as you walk, and it seems that only the sound of your feet and hers give any voice to the night.
It’s not long, yet it feels that it takes hours, and you’re drawing closer to the torchbearer. He stops several feet away, standing still, his torch illuminating only part of his pale face. He’s holding it high above himself in what looks like an uncomfortable manner that leaves him cast in shadows. Perhaps it’s your imagination, but the torch doesn’t seem to be flickering as yours is.
“Are you a scout for a larger group?” You ask, trying to get a feel for the man.
He nods once.
“Then the others are still coming?” You add.
He nods again, and you find yourself gritting your teeth. You’d feel better if he’d say something, respond in some manner more than a movement of his head. This interminable moment is eating away at your false calm. You watch him, waiting for something to happen, but he is incredibly still. Even his cloak doesn’t seem to catch the wind. It looks almost solid in the dim light cast by his torch.
“If you’ve come for the ship, we need to know how many of you there are. The quoted numbers are quite large, and we might not have room for all of the extras you’ve brought along. How many of you are there?” You push for an answer that requires more than a simple nod.
“Many.” A single word, but the tone of the reply is off. It doesn’t quite catch your ear the way it should. There is a buzz behind it that doesn’t sound like natural speech, and suddenly the sense of wrongness about this whole encounter grows much deeper.
Vella’s hand grabs your arm and you almost jump out of your skin before she whispers quietly. “They’re in the woods at our sides. I saw light out there.”
You take a step back, drawing Vella with you. As you do, you use your other hand to sharply dip the torch your carrying twice. “We’ll go back to the others and let them know you’re coming then.” You say, stepping back again.
“Go back.” It’s words are clear but, again, wrong, not spoken with human vocal chords.
There is an explosion of motion at your side, and you only just manage to draw your sword before something massive comes lumbering out of the trees at you. A torch lights for a moment, and you catch sight of a chitinous monstrosity. What you took to be a torch is some kind of yellow-red glowing light that is immitting from the end of a long, scorpion-like tail with a forked, dual stinger at its end. The creature moves in an almost bipedal fashion, but each of its legs is made up of four smaller legs, like two halves of a spider working in unison to crawl the body forward. The initial impression of the cloak was right. It is a layer of solid capice covering an inner body that that writhes and squirms as though the whole thing is composed of hundreds of separate living pieces. Most horrifying of all is the pale white face that is little more than stretched flesh spread over the top of whatever horrifying thing lays underneath. In the right lighting it looks like a person, but now, this close, it’s impossible to understand how you might have mistaken it for anything other than a monster.
You strike fast with your sword, a blistering attack that splits the air between you and the horror and strikes the “gut” of the beast. The blade slices through, causing ichor to come spilling from the monster, but it doesn’t seem to have been a fatal blow. A series of scyth-like limbs strike out at you and you barely manage to back out of the way as they streak through where you’d just been standing.
“Dissonance!” Vella curses, and you feel her back hit yours. She’s clearly fighting something on her side as well. You’re surrounded. “What are they?!” She shouts at you as the thing on your side begins to make an awful, rattling, hissing sound.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think they’re our passengers.” Your words are almost cut off as it lunges at you suddenly. You lean into Vella as you twist away from the attack, taking her with you in the process. Her motion joins yours in a harmony of form that you haven’t experienced in a very long time. How long has it been since you last fought with someone trained in the Way? You can’t remember for sure, but certainly not since leaving the school.
A slight pressure on your left side sends you spinning around in the other direction, your sword coming up in time to turn aside an attack that was originally aimed for Vella. Harmony. Two people fighting as one. There is an exhilarating power to the experience. It’s not enough though. A pain on your right side is all the indication you get that an attack on that side, just outside of your vision, has struck home.
“A third!” Vella yells, and you are beginning to realize that you’re not going to escape this situation. These things are powerful and there are too many of them. You reach back and lightly grab Vella’s shirt.
“Aggression.” A single word signifies your intent to change strategies. Vella steps closer to you. She’s ready. The creature before you is rearing back, getting ready to launch another attack, but you don’t give it time. You explode forward in a rush, sword flowing with the motion of your body, riding the current of dance you’ve committed yourself to.
You strike once, twice, and then a third time before you’re cycling down and away as Vella comes in over top of you. At your side another creature is already advancing and you launch a flurry of attacks in its direction as you come out of your first sweep. You’re hitting, but the blows aren’t enough. Still, you stick to the pattern of the attack, riding through the cycle until you’ve come full circle. Vella is breathing hard, and it’s only hearing her heavy breathing that you realize you’re no better off. There are four creatures now, though when the fourth came you can’t say for certain. The three you’ve just attacked are injured, circling warily, but it’s clear they don’t intend to leave you be.
“Resonance.” Vella says. You’d been thinking the same, but you weren’t sure Vella would be ready. Things were desperate now.
“Resonance.” You answer. “Are you sure?” The moment of peace is slipping away. The surprised monsters are gathering themselves.
Instead of replying to you, Vella begins to hum the cantos for a moment before lapsing into the quiet, internal pattern. You let a breath out, clear your mind, and invite the Cantos in. Immediately Vella is there in your mind, a flowing font of knowledge and power. You reach for her as she reaches for you.
Unity. Where before you fought as one, in the unity of the Way you are one, and you are more than one. Each of you becomes as strong as both of you, as fast as both of you, as skilled as both of you, as aware as both of you. As one you rejoin the fight, flowing with the Way.
There is no longer a need to coordinate movements with Vella. When you both move next it is with full knowledge of what the other intends. The two of you flow together towards the nearest of the attacking creatures, and in your combined vision it seems to slowly respond to this new threat that you pose. You can see this from multiple angles as it tries to decide whether to defend or return the attack. It is still trying to decide when you both slip through its line of defense and deliver staggering blows to it’s misshapen body. Pieces of it fall away and it recoils, but it can’t back away fast enough. Flesh and carapice hits the ground in chunks, and soon enough that one isn’t moving anymore. The others are coming now, but they’re just as slow as the first one.
You turn on them, and it feels like you’re towering over the battle now. The result is a foregone conclusion. You slaughter them all, killing until nothing but you and Vella moves on the road. Together you let go of the Cantose and then gasp in shock and loss as the moment of harmony is stripped away and you have to come to terms with being just yourself again.
You look over at Vella, and she’s looking at you as well. This is a dangerous time. You both want nothing more than to rebuild the bond, but you can’t. You need the separation. If you join too long like this you risk becoming resonance transfixed. It’s a good way to end up staring blankly into nothingness until you starve yourself to death.
“I signaled Kindle to return to the ship.” You tell her, your voice sounding small to you. The world feels dimmed, as though every experience has been muffled. Sound is quieter, the dark deeper, and your skin feels numb. “We should head back as well.”
Vella is nodding her agreement, but she stops and points further down the road instead. Just visible from where you are, you can see a massive line of torches coming over a hill in the distance and winding down the road in your direction. “Is that . . . the passengers? . . . or?”
Or was it more of these creatures. There were so many. I wanted to believe it was the passengers coming, but it was too dark to know for sure. Would they travel at night? I couldn’t let them stumble into this mess if it was a group of families, but if it was more of those creatures I needed to make sure the ship was being warned. I had signaled for Kindle to go back. If he’d gotten the message he should be on his way.
“We can’t let them just march through what might be a trap.” It wasn’t an easy choice, but I couldn’t take the chance of a group of unprepared civilians walking into a mess of those monsters. We’d killed four of them, but there might be more. Besides, knowing whether or not it was our passengers would make it easier to decide whether or not to keep the ship waiting anymore. We’d already come this far.
“We can’t get into another fight now.” Vella and I couldn’t fight an entire horde of those creatures, and if that was what was coming over the hill in our direction, we wouldn’t stand a chance. We had to get word back to the ship and prepare for the worst. With any luck Kindle would already have them on alert, but if not then we would get word through. If they were just a group of people and not a group of those things, surely they’d send someone ahead to contact us before we could drop sail.