One for Nate

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - 9:14 PM

Tirsah returned unseen, startling the nearby sentries when he reappeared, but Jade Bear did not show any surprise. He remained standing with his massive arms folded, peering down towards the dark mass crossing the river far below. Around them, weathered pillars and heaps of reddish stone concealed their encampment.

“There are about six hundred soldiers in the Hunt,” said Tirsah, narrowing his dark eyes at the steadily moving army below.

Jade Bear nodded. “The two of us against six hundred... good odds.”

Tirsah shot an annoyed look at his huge companion, and kept his voice low. “There are FIVE Dragon-bloods down there, and one of them is Searing Brand.”

Turning his head slightly, Jade Bear glanced down at Tirsah, brow furrowing heavily. “Then we must use the soldiers. Without them, the enemy will slow us enough that the Dragon-bloods will bring us down.”

With some effort, Tirsah laughed openly and kept a bright smile on his face while he spoke quietly. “Are you insane? They'll die like dogs out there. Sure, they're good, and getting better every day. But that's a Wyld Hunt. Searing Brand alone can account for fifty of our men. He's carrying Tears of the World with him... we dodged them before, Jade, come on.”

With great dignity, Jade Bear unfolded his arms and slowly moved them to clasp his hands behind his broad back. “We can't keep running.”

“We've still got time.”

“We would have had more time, had you chosen to leave the Delzhan woman alone. Instead, we had to flee Chiaroscuro, and now Searing Brand is here again.”

“...ah,” replied Tirsah, and then just shrugged. “...Well, you only live once.”

Jade Bear laughed, a rich and reassuring sound, and Tirsah could practically feel some of the tension in the camp lift. But the wind and silence rushed back in again.
“That is a lie,” murmured Jade Bear. “And you know it.”

Tirsah sighed. “Yes, it's a lie, but I also know that there are fates worse than death, and one of them is riding towards us. I'm telling you, Jade, we should bide our time. Let's go.”

Jade Bear set his jaw in thought. This was an easily recognizable posture which the men would realize a serious decision was being made. So, Tirsah took the moment to give the nearby sentries a reassuring, cocky grin.

The men had been on edge for a couple of days now. Thrashing desert bandits was one thing; with Jade Bear's training and Tirsah's cunning, every man of the company had been a hero. Even the scandal at Chiaroscuro had been harrowing but exhilarating for them, especially once Tirsah had told the story of the high-born Delzhan woman and her irate suitors. They revered his wit and taste for the unattainable as much as they were awed by Jade Bear's intuition and strength. The Scarlet Empire was a distant, negligent tyrant to be cast aside or scorned.

Now, things were different. Now, it was the frightful warrior Searing Brand, whose arm broke cavalry charges and blasted men in armor to charred husks. Worse, he bore the unquiet flail Tears of the World, and any living thing with any sense of mortality was afraid of that weapon.

Even Tirsah was, but he had doubts about Jade Bear's opinions on mortality.

“No,” said Jade Bear quietly. “If we flee, it will be slow death for many of these. We must cross hard ground, and the Dragon-bloods can ease passage for their troops. Wood-and-Water is with them, remember.”

Tirsah swore, but Jade Bear continued. “You've kept us safe for a long time, my friend, but now it is my time, and we must do this.”

“You realize what you're doing?”

“Of course,” said Jade Bear, as if the answer were obvious, and he turned to face the camp.

“You are going to kill all of them,” hissed Tirsah, putting on his unconcerned face as he also turned.

“No,” murmured Jade Bear. “The Wyld Hunt will kill many of them. But together we will daunt the Hunt, or maybe even defeat it. And then those who are left will follow us north.”

Tirsah was about to respond, but Jade Bear's voice boomed out over the remains of the camp, and gathered the men. Already in motion, it only seemed like a second before the ragged and dusty but determined soldiers filled the area before the two Exalts.

“In an hour,” Jade Bear announced, “We will meet the Wyld Hunt in open battle. We will flank them from two sides, in the canyon approach to this mesa. They will be ready for an ambush.”

There was a surprised murmur, and then someone spoke out. “What of... Searing Brand?”

“I will handle that,” said Jade Bear as if it were not important. He paused for a moment, and then raised his massive hand to quiet the soldiers. “Listen. This will be the greatest moment of your lives. You will be fighting against heroes of an empire that has ruled over Creation for countless generations. You will be confronting weapons forged by spirits, and the children of the Dragons of the Earth. Who among you has ever dreamed of such a thing? Who could imagine that you would be here, right now, fighting alongside men like these? You are thinking that you will die. But you are wrong, my friends.”

He spread his arms wide.

“You will become immortal.”

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