Falling Maple Leaves~Chapter 53~The Demolition (Part 1). Please read and comment.
Posted March 5th, 2013 by LaurenM
in Caverna, zipping out of the kleptomancer's cave with a llabricorn tucked under my armpit.
A/N: I'm posting this at school!
Also, there are lots of changes...'Fyemane' is changed to 'Fyrmaen'
just for the heck of it.
And Old Rusty's hiding in the forest instead of the dungeons instead...Yeah...Have fun reading!
Chapter 53~The Demolition
Old Rusty was a big homunculus, too big to put in any of the dungeons. It was vaguely shaped like a large, pointed sausage. After we moved away all the crates and when we all drew up our legs and made ourselves as small as possible, there was enough space for everyone to sit. Some people rested their heads on their arms, which were draped over their knees, using this extra time to get some rest. Probably the most logical pastime, but I couldn’t sleep.
We’d been sitting here all the time while Old Rusty flew from Profelumous Cave to Sheka Castle. It was weird to think of being so close to civilisation while spending nearly four months living the life of a hermit. With the hum of the propellers thrumming behind me, I clutched the window ledge and half-crouching, I pressed my forehead against the smeary glass. A dark green mass of broccoli-esque stuff—trees of Glistlenus Forest—flew away beneath us.
Feeling a weird pang of deja vu, it seemed as though I was in that hay-filled box at the end of that carriage, on my way to Sheka Castle with Marthe. Marthe was fingering plaits of hay that time; now she was entwining her fingers around a flower chain she made with anemones and a few bedraggled lunabuds, a sad smile of what probably was nostalgia on her face. I had the same feeling of dread, that I was journeying to my doom. Yet now, I’d give anything to be going to Sheka Castle for the first time as Luna’s maid. I’d give anything to truant into Glistlenus Forest with Luna and talk with Gaia again.
Sitting here as rigid as a marble pillar, I felt brittle inside, like I’d break if I moved an inch too many. A lead feeling was swimming up and down my legs, so I banged my fists against my thighs to waken my muscles. I suddenly wanted to bounce up and sprint the length of Old Rusty to ensure that it wouldn’t feel like I had rocks tied to my legs, but the homunculus was too cramped, so I leant back on the inside of Old Rusty, tensely restless and exhausted with life at the same time.
I’d never really thought about death before, though I’d always tried to survive. Doesn’t anyone? Death is a definite part of life, and I wouldn’t even know, unless that afterlife crap is true. But being a huntress, I’d always been the one killing instead of dying, and bloody squirrels and rabbits hadn’t given me a good impression of death. In order to survive, I’d have to be a predator.
“Open yourself up and spread out your senses, Maple. Listen to every sound, look out for movement, in the bushes and up the trees. Trust your instincts and be on your guard when they tingle.”
The memory of Luna describing me as a fox and squirrel hybrid—she sure was big on hybrids—swam up to my mind. Foxes have acute senses, which I apparently do as well, and squirrels are quick and nimble. We rebels’d have to cooperate like a pack of wolves in order to knock the warriors down.
The box of homunculi slid from Old Rusty’s pointy rear as it tilted slightly forward. I caught it while the others turned towards me with apathetic listlessness on their faces, hands skirting around the apple sack full of Explosives. Setting it on my lap just in case the rest of our journey turned out to be even rockier, I heard a homunculus say, probably Silverstreak, “That’s much better.” Marthe on my side hugged her own box of healing stuff like Fyrmaen tailhairs and Quillpuff quills.
So small, a young innocent girl with the most normal life possible, toughened up by the rebels and the rebellion. Her blue eyes glinted with what little light there was inside Old Rusty. I put an arm over her shoulder and she relaxed against me. It felt good to have someone beside me.
We sat in this position, staring dolely into the darkness, until we had to step off to our doom.
We descended through a gap in the canopy of what apparently was the south-eastern edge of Glistlenus Forest. The people whose lives we depended on after we got severely wounded—the Yellows—stayed in Old Rusty, wishing us good luck with expressions similar to Asphodel’s. Like the northern edge by the clearing, the trees got less dense as we walked outwards. The archers had multiple quivers slung over their shoulders, me with my knives stuffed into a worn leather sheath secured to my belt, and the combatters kept a hand on their lances, swords and machetes.
Fawx held up a hand, signalling us to halt. Old Rusty’s coppery glint’d barely have been visible in the daylight, much less at midnight like this. I peered through the trees and couldn’t see any castle, only the iridescent armour shining in the torchlight and watery black spread.
“Sneak-attackers, you’ll be attacking from the trees.” She said in a quiet but clear voice, “Apply the Imitator; you’ll need it when you climb up them, and it’d be good to remain chameleonic when you attack in secret. Dab some on your quivers as well.”
I accepted the small phial and tucked it in my waistcoat pocket and buttoned it shut, like I did with the garment. I was in my jumpsuit with the waistcoat over the top—I needed it for luck, though I didn’t believe in it.
Reaching for the box of homunculi in Aden’s hand, she unclasped it. The homunculi’s faces were serious as far as I can see, with their seemingly endless energy held inside. She knelt down and placed a phial of shiny silver, opaque liquid, and without telling them what to do, they dipped their noses in one by one.
“The armour-piercing thingy?” I whispered to Thorne, who was watching the weird little ritual beside me.
“Yes.” He replied under his breath.
“Why don’t we put it on their hands? We can punch through their armour if we lost our weapons!” I suggested.
“We could. Unfortunately, this potion is only suitable to apply on metal—it is harmful to the skin. The homunculi’s skins are only half metal—flexible and shields them from feeling pain— which is why they applied it only now. They might feel an itch of some sort.” He explained. I wondered how he could keep all this information in mind at this moment, watching as the potion seeped into their pointy noses.
After every homunculus’ nose had the ability to pierce the warrriors’ armour, Silverstreak untied the burlap sack of Explosives with his small and deft fingers and took an Explosive, its cool, smooth exterior sphere concealing the force of fiery heat that casts bits of bombshell every where.
“Remember, no lighting the Explosive until it’s in place.” Fawx warned, “Don’t put them all in the same place, and stick a few Fyrmaen hairs through the ground unnoticeably in its position when you’re done, to let us know its position.”
They bobbed their heads in acknowledgement and scampered off to the edge of Glistlenus Forest, digging into the ground like moles.
The cook turned to address us sneak-attackers, “Don’t attack until I tell you to—I’ll give a shout.” She paused. Were we to go now? My heart was slamming itself against my ribcage, “Apply the Imitator before you’re close enough for them to see you, and then climb up a tree. If there are no suitable ones, hide in a bush or in the shadows—out of sight.” Fawx took a deep breath, “Good luck, everyone.”
“Good luck.” We echoed faintly. Some of us waved goodbye; I didn’t. I repeatedly swallowed to get the lump out of my throat and squeezed Circe’s arm beside me.
Falcon Fortress was built on a small island in the middle of a wide river, made of peachy-orangeish stone blocks. The only reason I could see its colour was because there were torches mounted on sconces on the fortress walls. It wasn’t too tall, a fort of a thousand stumpy turrets, a strong keep and crenellations cut into walls, where warriors manned, probably with bows. It had a drawbridge closed over the entrance door, leaving us no way to reach the fortress unless we paddled over there by boats on the bank, and even so, we wouldn’t be able to get inside. On both banks of the river, the warriors stood, staring ahead with longswords in scabbards around their waists and strapped to the back.
I narrowed my eyes. We had to fight those warriors—well, the ones on the other side of the bank are less of my concern—and get Johannes, who was probably hiding in the safest part of the fortress, wherever that is, for the official execution. Faint plops sounded as the sneak attackers, putting their bows on the ground, unstoppered their phials and applied an ample coat of the Chameleon Imitator, nearly invisible in the semi-darkness.
Bushes dangled over the banks and trees stopped growing about fifty metres from the bank. Some crept near the warriors silently, lurking in the bushes and the shadows it casted, and I clambered up a tree, where I was in my element, along with Thorne and a few others. There weren’t many adults who were sneak attackers and I felt quite vulnerable because of that, adolescents against a gigantic bunch of strong warriors.
I found a good, sturdy branch and perched there, ready to grab the branch over that if I wobbled. I was ready.
Crouching tensely, I scanned the ground for Fyrmaen hairs and found limp strands of grass-like tendrils glistening like red dew was beaded on it. So far, the homunculi were doing a great job—I wouldn’t have known they were there.
The warriors were in full armour—that breastplate and blackplate thingy, shoulder guards, gauntlets, knee guards and all that. They could’ve spared the hands or something—wouldn’t gauntlets make gripping your weapon harder? Even normal gloves do that, let alone metal gloves. Having your palm sliced open wouldn’t kill you, unless they were tipped with poison or if it got infected.
Better not going into a deep thought now, I resolved, wondering why I was even capable of doing that. The warriors were still standing stiff and unmoving like pillars. My eyes swam upwards to Falcon Fortress and the warriors peering from the crenellations. They weren’t quite as still. Through the leaves, I saw a helmet-protected head twitch and turn, and like a chain reaction, the warriors beside him started to twitch as well. One extended a gauntlet-protected hand and pointed—
I looked down at myself, pressing my palm against a leaf. It turned from grainy and brown to moist and green, with delicate little veins spreading over it. Still chameleonic, so the Imitator couldn’t have gone faulty.
Hearing a large rustle of leaves as loud as a ton of paper crackling, I glanced to my left. The branches were flailing like the arms of a drowning person. I made out a faint outline of a person scratching his or her back and fidgeting on the branch.
Hatred for stupidity shuddered through me. They saw us. I strained to hear Fawx’s cry for us to attack, but all I heard was the continued rustling of leaves. The warriors were whispering and pointing very obviously now, why didn’t anyone do anything?
I flexed my arm, my fingers pinned on the rebellion symbol stamped onto the hilt and threw my knife with all of my might. It somersaulted through the air, past the warriors by the bank and splashed into the river. I should’ve known that the fortress wasn’t within my reach, and now I had one knife less.
Simultaneous twangs from bowstrings sent arrows flying from the trees and from the crenellations. The flint arrowheads buried either into bodies, slipping into the armour like water, or stuck in the grass, slanted. Fawx led the party of combatters onwards with a battle cry, brandishing swords, machetes and lances, nimbly dodging past clumps of Fyrmaen hairs. The warriors by the bank charged up to meet the rebels and with thunderous booms, black smoke clouded the air. Shards of black Explosive shells blasted into all directions, smacking helmets and bouncing off again.
The warriors and rebels close by exploded into bits of bloody flesh through the haze. Fawx rolled quickly towards the trees, away from the detonating Explosives and the smoke. She had a rag, limp and soaked with water, tied behind her ears, to protect her lungs. I hoped to the sky that the others had done so as well.
My knives had hit a warrior or two before everything became black smoke, bombshell shards and anguished screams. I kept the other one in my hand, ready to be thrown. I couldn’t risk hitting the rebels, so I watched as blades sang, a sharp song of metal clashing, torchlight glancing off the steel. Heavy footsteps thumped as the people struggled to keep to their feet, and like ten thunderstorms raging at once, plumes of putrid grey smoke spouted into the air, higher and higher, with high screeches cutting through the haze that I could only describe as cat-like, though a lot more unearthly and terrible than that.
It was worse than watching people being tortured, though I've never seen that. The screams were coming from seemingly everyone. I wasn't safe anywhere, not even up the trees. The madness wafted up like the smoke and suddenly I wasn't scared anymore, and I wasn’t kind of horrified because of that. I grimly threw one knife after another, almost with a rhythm.
Another unidentified rebel was felled by a sword in its stomach and he toppled forwards. Half-expecting another cloud of smoke shooting up into the air, I fixed my eyes on a warrior staggering out of the smoke giving hacking coughs and a second later, my knife was sticking out of his chest. I suddenly realised that aside from letting our weapons penetrate their armour, the liquid our weapons were tipped with had done something else--give them a false sense of protection. I wondered how long it'd be before they realised.
More warriors staggered out of the smoke and arrows rained down on them. A rebel unwittingly staggered into the way, getting an arrow in his arm. He howled from the pit of his throat and disappeared into the trees. His arm was already bleeding profusely from a cut or something, and now he had an arrow wound to tend to as well. I hoped that we had enough resources, enough Quillpuff quills to stop the flow and soothe the pain.
The smoke was slowly clearing and the air was less opaque towards the left. Both rebels and warriors were taking great care of where to place their feet, and for a moment, the madness was less overwhelming. I went back to normal predator mode, narrowed my eyes and brought my hand down sharply. The warrior dodged out of the way just in time, or maybe it was just a coincidence. An easier target wandered out of the smoke, but the rebel was weakening and if I didn't act now, she might die. I focused hard on a spot on my target, practically burning a hole through it and a second later, my knife buried itself at the back of his neck.
Hurling my knives with an urgent desperation, though for what I didn’t know, my fingers automatically wrapped themselves around the hilt, only to find that there was no hilt. My sheath was empty.
Hardrick, on the other hand, was feeling better than he had in several weeks. I have to admire their nerve; he mused in silence as he lunged forward and swung his sword in an arc, slicing open another rebel’s stomach. He dropped his weapon and wrapped his arms over his wound, trying to keep his entrails in. Swinging his sword at another arc, he chopped off the rebel’s head, took the rusty machete from her already stiff hand and tossed it into the river.
That move wouldn’t have worked if the rebel had done it instead of him. It’d scarcely make a scratch on his cuirass and if he were lucky, have the metal chip. They didn’t have armour, not even leather armour. He prowled, on the look for another stupid rebel and spotted one who’d just stabbed a warrior, probably through some cracks, and had a fleeting expression of pride on his—no, it was a her, face. Not any longer. She had a wet cloth tied over her face, a pathetic defence compared to his visor and helm.
This was battle, and it felt so good to work with his sword again, truly living up to his duty as a Brightorrian Royal Warrior. His leg throbbed a little, but that was nothing…don’t you dare eff me up.
As if to purposefully spoil his splendid mood, those weird landmines exploded again, letting out a stream of smoke just a few feet to his left. Questions exploded in his brain like those under the ground—how did they get those? We don’t use bombs or landmines in battle, so they couldn’t have stolen it from us. Were Dragonspine Villagers that professional? Did they link up with some weird bomb-making guy? Or did the servants make it themselves under their noses? These servant-rebels were shady, and a lot more dangerous than he’d expected.
His temporary frustration gave him strength and she nearly, nearly fell down? How did girls grow so strong? He almost regretted not letting Princess Helena come with the rest of the party, though he hadn’t known that there’d be a battle like this, if he knew that she could be that good at fighting. He thought she was good for a girl, but his current opponent was…astounding, from her quick parries to her shocking spiky purple hair.
Sol stared at her opponent through the slits in her helm, who was struggling to put up a good fight with his own machete, an old rusty farm tool in comparison to her splendid one with the dragon hilt. An exasperated voice spoke up in her mind, what are you toying with him for? and with a series of quick parries and jabs, her opponent was on the ground, blade at his throat. He muttered something, already as frightened as a rabbit being hunted. She’d gladly have taken her time and frightened him until he wetted his breeches, but this was no time for fun. She swiped her machete carelessly and left him to congeal or whatever, moaning as she turned to fend off another rebel.
He was quick and silent, running forwards to attack while she was still focusing on her previous victim. Sol managed to drive the blade away before it sank too deep into her skin, gave her covered wound a glance and providing another opportunity for her opponent to attack, she realised that she had not been attacked.
Well, that was impossible, since it was damn painful and she could feel the blood seeping along her skin. But there were no cracks in that part of the armour, and the armour wasn’t broken either. Slashing and parrying, she watched from the corner of her eye as a ragged-clothed figure attacked a warrior from behind and stabbed right through his armour like it didn’t exist.
I gave an incredulous, half-hysterical snort, like running out of knives was something too normal to happen during the Demolition. Now, what should I do, crouch here and watch the Demolition rage on on my branch, or go down into that madness without a wet rag, combatting skills or weapons? Throwing knives aren’t exactly good for close combat, but at least it was sharp, and now I didn’t even have one of them.
Considering my options, I watched as Serenity, her golden hair dulled by grime, step forward and promptly having an ear-splitting bang crack in the air. How could the rebels see clearly? The Explosives were too well-hidden and the Fyrmaen hairs looked too much like grass. In the heat of the battle, they were easily overlooked.
There was a loud splat and a bunch of leaves fell off, an arrow skewered through them. The archer-warirors’d stopped attacking the combatters and had started on we sneak-attackers instead. Not much of sneaks now, and sure enough, as I glanced briefly at my hand, I wasn’t chameleonic any more. I heard a sneak-attacker yelp in pain and plummet off the branch. At least those lurking by the bushes were safe—up a tree wasn’t such an ideal hiding place, after all. Another arrow, slim as a needle, slipped through the dense leaves, burying itself into the branch which I was standing on seconds ago. Warriors and rebels were fighting by the pretty big expanse of grass by the bank, while sneak-attackers and warrior-archers picked people off up the crenellations and the trees by the bushes. We were equal in combatting; having the homunculi jabbing at their ankles and their false sense of protection pretty much made up for our less skillful combatters. The warrior-archers had excellent bows, the force of their bowstrings much stronger than ours, and their arrows managed to reach our trees, whereas ours fell into the river halfway towards the fortress. Multiple sneak-attackers were being killed at this second while the culprits fared pretty well up the crenellations. And that had to be fixed.
I slipped down the tree trunk, landing lightly on the fallen leaves. Glad to be doing something productive again, I ducked into the shadows and ran into the forest. A minute or two inwards, sure enough, was Old Rusty, a vague gigantic blob hidden by the trees, with its door open to any injured rebel. A small flickering light wavered near the door and it hummed with hushed murmurs and occasional yelps of pain.
“Ah! Just the perfect person!” beamed Lindy a second after I stepped into the homunculus, “Aren’t you supposed to be throwing knives at the warriors?”
Her cheeriness was insulting in a way, but before I could open my mouth and say something snarky, Marthe piped up, “Maybe she’s hurt, Lindy. Are you okay, Maple?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I was fine, in a way, but this Demolition tired me out so much that I wasn’t sure if my mind was okay, “Listen. The sneak-attackers are getting shot while those archers by the crenellations aren’t. Neither our arrows or swords could reach the fortress—I’ve tried, and my knife fell into the river. All combatters, warriors or rebels, are dying at about an equal rate, more or less, but not for the sneak-attackers and archers. We need to balance it, or better, wipe out all of them.”
“I was talking about this problem as well.” Said a voice by my feet as I took a step backwards, “OW! Don’t bound my wound so tightly, it hurts!”
“Sorry.” Marthe apologised, gesturing at a girl beside her to move the candle near the injured person so she could see more clearly. The candlelight illuminated Thorne’s face and I saw that he was grinning at me.
“My arm got skewered by an arrow,”
“—Yeah, never mind me. I was talking about dipping all the archers’ arrows in that armour-piercing potion so they’d be killing their own allies as well as us. I mean, the combatting people move, and once the arrow’s shot, its intended direction can’t be changed, so they might hit a warrior as well. Same goes for us, but we try anyway. Their armour might protect them from the warriors’ arrows, but once its dipped in that potion, we’re equal!”
“And we were discussing whether to send a homunculus, but realised that the arrows might be too big for them to handle—they can carry things well, but not screwing open bottles and stuff,”
“You should be glad that Silverstreak isn’t here; he’ll get seriously offended.” I smiled, the battle craziness dying away a little.”
“And Lindy said—“
“‘Ah! Just the perfect person!’”I quoted.
“Yup. But your plan’s much simpler and much more destructive.” Thorne nodded in approval.
“The plan wasn’t even fully formed yet! How do we wipe them out?” I pointed out.
“Why, of course, with the leftover Explosives. I’m so glad they didn’t bury them all.”
“Will I fall?” a voice piped somewhere by Old Rusty’s now chameleonic rear.
“Shut up, you; you’re not even by the door.” snapped Thorne, who was now propped up by Old Rusty’s side, his forearm wrapped with Quillpuff quills. He handed me a rather heavy black ball with a single sticking up thing like a candle’s wick.
“Are you sure it won’t explode if my hand’s there before I light it?” I clarified, setting it on my lap and holding a match in my hand and the matchbox in another.
“It won’t. An Explosive explodes when there’s sudden impact, and there’s no impact when you clutch it tight. Of course, if your hand twitches a lot and if you smack it, it will—”
“Well, be prepared to say goodbye to Brightorri because Old Rusty’s flying freaking bumpily and my hand will twitch a lot.” I grumbled.
“Just a little bit forward to get a square hit.” Called Marthe, clutching the edges of the doorframe tight as she peered out. Old Rusty stopped and hovered about thirty metres above Falcon Fortress, a sturdy square in the black snake of a river. The wind whipped the stray hairs into my face and I tucked them back behind my ear.
I took a deep breath and sighed, “No, I can’t. I can’t just light the match and hold the Explosive at the same time. Either someone light it while I hold it or the other way round.”
Marthe volunteered and clutched the Explosive in steady hands. My hands were fumbling, so it took a few swipes before the match was lit, as clumsy as I was before Asphodel taught me properly. My quivering hand held the match above the wick as the entire Old-Rusty-ful of Yellows and injured fighters held their breath. It caught the flame and I shook the match until my flame went out, my elbow banging against Marthe as she leaned outwards, ready to drop the Explosive—
And we watched, frozen by shock and horror, as Marthe fell out of Old Rusty into the smoky void, the Explosive slipping from her hands, and her scream was the most painful, the most horrible, the most heart-wrenching one that I’d ever heard.
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