Following the path that the leader of the town told her to, she was making good time. The best way to find out where the other Titans are was from the capitol of Grail. The journey would be long, but she was armed with food, knowledge of the terrain and local flora, and some supplies. Indeed, that woman had been rather kind. The town had lived in constant fear of the Titan who wandered their territory for ages. Ever since they arrived, it was something to fear. Entire pathways and caravans could be destroyed by a Titan’s foot. Though there were rumors that all kinds of Titans existed. Ones that took to the sky and swam under the water. This knowledge would have to be taken into consideration. It sounded like there were also quite a few, each one unique. Had she taken on more than she could handle? There wasn’t enough time to truly ponder it. What was done was done, and she had to deal with the consequences. But this knowledge did make her travels easier. Her theory had been right – the Titans were a menace that must be stopped.
However, it seemed that they had a place in the local culture’s lore. Some people believed them to be holy, and that killing one of them was a mortal sin. There were a few ugly looks, as she had left the town. The leader there had been amicable, but she knew not to overstay her welcome. And that was what led her to be on this path, gently traveling in what was a beautiful day. There were a few clouds here and there, but overall, it was wonderful. Rested and given new vigor, this felt like the first step on a positive road.
Some time in the afternoon, she stopped by a stream and loaded her water canteen. The wind was picking up. It felt so good, She let her dirty blonde hair flow in it. The sun was such a nice thing here. Where her tribe lived, seeing it was so rare. So much clouds and rain. Not to mention chill. Indeed, since being this far south, she was finding herself only in her vest and thin leggings. That had gotten her some looks, back in the town. So many women who wore dresses. It was odd. Among her people, such attire was only used for ceremonial purposes, and it wasn’t the flimsy kind of dress that these women more. It was more like a shirt and a long skirt. How these women could fight was beyond her. Although, it sounded rare for women to fight. Among the comments she got, there were those asking why she had a sword on her person.
As she sat, feeling the breeze on her pale face, there was a smell that suddenly greeted her nose. It was smoke! Her horse smelled it too. Running over, she got back on. Had another Titan come looking for her? It would be quite fortuitous, if such were the case. Then she could kill it and be that much closer to being able to go home. Moving fast, the two headed toward the smell. Coming to a small clearing, she looked up and saw smoke billowing into the sky! But something was off. There were no signs of a Titan! Indeed, they left vast swaths of destruction behind them Not a sign of that could be seen. Aside from the smoke, there was only the sound of screams. This wasn’t a Titan. Getting closer, there was the sound of swords. This was a battle! Dismounting, she tied her horse to a tree that was off the road. Almost a ghost in the underbrush, she drew her knife and moved fast.
Coming through some trees, she saw that the road was in chaos! There were several wagons, all of which were either burning or upended. A few dead horses on the ground, along with men in large metal armor. Among them were other people. Some were people dressed in fine fabrics. The men appeared to have had their throats slit. One of the women was stripped naked, a look of terror on her face. What had happened to her?! The girl was afraid. She moved fast through the rubble. Then she came upon a different set of bodies. These ones were armed to the teeth! But they had no armor. They were dressed like her, to move fast. Each of them appeared by the armored men. This armor looked very extravagant. If the armor was a sign of wealth, then it stood to reason that these men were in the employ of the fine-fabric individuals. Protectors? If that was the case, then those who attacked them were some kind of vagrants, looking to take from the wealthy people. It made sense.
The further in she made it, the more carnage she found. The people with the fine fabrics were brutally killed, their possession being taken. Large containers that were filled with clothes and other things were littered about, opened and gone through. Another woman stripped naked and beaten. Had they raped her? A sensible assumption. The leader of the town had warned her about bandits. She wasn’t worried. Perhaps that had been an error, on her part.
Coming around another carriage, she stopped. There were two of the vagrants. They were going through some possessions, talking amongst themselves. Now was her time to move! Drawing her knife, she knew that if she did not kill them first, they would likely kill her. In a flash, she was on the first man. Moving around him, her blade slipped across his throat. The man gurgled as blood poured out.
“Oi! Who the fuck are you!” The second man drew a knife of his own. Dropping low, she readied herself. No vagrant was going to kill her! The man charged at her, but it became quickly-apparent that he was not nearly as skilled with a blade as her. His swings had purpose, but they lacked finesse. He was just throwing himself at her. Did that work with the ones in armor? She doubted this. Which would explain why each one of those typically had five or more bodies around them. These vagrants were using numbers to their advantage. A clever tactic, when your enemy has more skill. In this battle, however, it did him little good. Her blade went smoothly into his shoulder. Coming out, blood flowed everywhere. In a couple seconds, the man dropped.
The sound of battle was louder now. Whoever these men in armor were, they were still in the fight. Perhaps it was best to assist them, as a means of protecting the other people in this caravan. Moving through the wreckage, she killed two more unaware vagrants. Stealth was her ally. With it, she was unstoppable. Without it, she might succumb to numbers, as the armored men did. There were three vagrants assaulting a woman.
“Where’s your rich boy now, whore?!”
“Yeah,, he seemed to cut and run when he saw us!”
The woman was terrified. “Let me go! Take my dress! Take anything! Please, just let me go!”
“What do you think, lads?!” These vagrants were enjoying this! She decided to not let them decide. In an instant, she was upon them. Her knife went into the loins of the first man, making him scream and fall. The other two turned fast. Right as the first caught sight of her, her sword took his head clean off. The last one clearly didn’t have much spine without his compatriots. Dropping his weapon, he made to run. Her knife rumbled in her hand. Did it want his blood? She obeyed it, throwing the weapon right into the man’s back. After retrieving it, she walked back to the woman, with her dress torn open and tears running down her face.
“Thank you!” the woman cried. “Thank you so much! If you hadn’t have stopped them, I don’t know what they would have done!”
“Likely, you would have been a victim of carnal violence,” she replied. “Remain here. I have dispatched all the vagrants behind me. I must assist in killing the rest. They clearly have no honor. I must deal with that.”
“Wait!” The woman grabbed her. “You must save Princess Valen! I saw them taking her! Gods know what they’re doing to her right now! Her guard is too busy fighting bandits to help! You are the only one who can save her!”
While there was a part of the girl who wanted to join the fight with the armored men, if this young lady was unable to be helped, it fell to her. There was always time to join the fight after saving her.
“Which way did they take her?”
“That way! Into the forest! Hurry!”
Dropping low, she moved like a cat, with silence and speed. Using the thick undergrowth to cover her movements, she followed where the woman had pointed. There was indeed a large trail of footsteps moving into the forest. They seemed to be dragging some things behind them. Was that this Princess that she was told about? Only one way to find out.
It didn’t take long for her to catch up to the vagrants. They were carrying a large amount of things on sledges behind them. One of them was a woman with gently-tan skin and dark brown hair. She was kicking and snarling, bound and gagged. There was a look in her eyes of fear and anger. A unique dichotomy, but she could see it. Drawing her knife, it rumbled again. Why was it doing this? Was it not just the Titan that it wished killed? Did it want more lives? Something to figure out, but later. They were making a ton of noise. Jovial conversation about how much “loot” they had made off with, they seemed to pay no attention to their surroundings. Did the fate of their comrades not concern them? No surprise. These were honorless vagrants, after all.
Coming up behind the first, she grabbed him and pull him in to the undergrowth. Her knife went into his neck, as her hands covered his mouth. In a second, his struggle ceased, as he died. This was a good tactic. She could kill the vagrants who were following behind those who were dragging their gains to wherever they made home, then deal with the rest. Coming to a bend in the river, she took her chance. Like a predator striking, she ran at the next vagrant. Her knife went into his neck as she vaulted forward, using her weight and the river-bend to throw him off her weapon and into the water. There was enough of a ledge to avoid being seen as the rest looked back and saw their comrade fall in. They were laughing.
“Aye, enjoy the trip downstream!”
As anticipated, they showed little concern for his well-being. These people didn’t have any real form of camaraderie, outside of getting wealth. This could be exploited. Once they continued on their way, she moved up and headed back toward the undergrowth. As she ran, her eyes met the young woman. She had seen her! The Princess’ eyes were pleading with her for help. The girl nodded to her. Help had indeed arrived.
Next up was one of the people with sledges. He was traveling too close to the undergrowth, which gave her a chance to strike. None of them seemed to look back long enough to notice if one went missing. Especially now that the rear vagrants were dead. With deadly intent, she struck. Her knife slid in, and the man stopped twitching in a moment. Now she had to work quickly. There were two more men with sledges of gains, and two men in front, watching the path. This had to be done before any of them could react.
Without making a sound, she charged from the undergrowth. With her knife in one hand, and her hatchet in the other, she was upon the first man. The hatchet came down on his neck. She threw her knife into the shoulder of the man with the other sledge, that was carrying the Princess. The two lead men turned around fast.
“Who the fuck are you?!”
“She don’t look like none of those rich pricks! What your beef wit’ us?!”
Seeing no reason to respond, she attacked. These two man were not the same fools as the others. One had a sword, the other had a sword and a knife. Both charged at her. Having retrieved her knife, she used her smaller size and low stance to her advantage. The first swung at her, but she used her hatchet to move it away. The second charged in fast. That might have worked, had she not seen him coming. Almost dropping to the ground, she kicked out and brought him down. Her hatchet came down on his neck.
“You’ll pay for that, bitch!” The man’s swings got wild. A person without restraint was dangerous. Plus, he was the last one. He clearly knew the score. Swinging at her, she kept moving back. His anger gave him strength, but it didn’t last long. Soon, he was breathing heavy and moving back to catch his breath. That’s when she struck. In a moment where his guard dropped, she put her knife in his neck. Blood flowed onto the blade, which almost seemed to glow. What was this weapon? Perhaps her father had known more about it than he let on.
Standing up, she cleaned her weapons and sheathed them. Walking back to where the Princess lay, she took her knife and cut the binds. She then undid the gag, with the young woman coughing.
“You saved me! You saved me from those awful bandits!” The lady hugged her tightly. It was an awkward moment, for the girl. Was she supposed to hug her back? It seemed logical, so that’s what she did.
After a moment, the two pulled apart.
“My name is Princess Coreal Valen. Daughter of High King Massar Valen, of the Kingdom of Grail. What is your name?”
Looking up at her, she nodded her head. “A pleasure to meet you. My name is Jelineau of the Night. I am from the village of the White Crow, in the lands to the far north.”
Coreal perked up. “I know of those! My people have long since avoided to the northern tribes. They were lands that were not fertile enough, and there were rumors of a horrible Titan lurking there, who could destroy a town in seconds. It was said to be a dangerous place.”
That got a bitter look. “It is true, there was a Titan in the lands to the north.”
“I slayed it, to avenge my people. Now I am traveling, to find the others, so they might meet the same fate.”
The Princess was in shock. “You can’t be serious! The Titans cannot be slain! We have tried, for hundred of years! How could you have done what our greatest armies could not?”
“I was guided by my blade. It is a weapon that my father gave to me. It hungered for the Titan’s death as well, and it led me to places where it could be killed. I suspect only with a weapon such as this.” She showed the knife to the Princess.
The girl ran her finger along it. “Amazing! The knife is black! It must be made of special metal! You may be right that only it could have killed a Titan.”
“I am headed to the capital of Grail, so as to ascertain the location of other Titans, so that they too might fall by my knife. As the Titan I killed told me, they shall be coming for me, so I must do this.”
Eagerly, the Princess took her hand. “I am the daughter of the King of Grail! You shall come with me! We shall return to the capital and I shall have all our armies find as many of the Titans as we can!”
Jelineau shook her head. “You do not owe me that, Princess.”
“Of course I do! And please, call me Coreal. You saved my life! I would be dead or worse, had it not been for you!”
Pondering for a moment, she nodded. “Alright then, Coreal. Let us head back towards your carriages. I shall protect you. Your armored warriors seemed to still be fighting. When we get closer, I shall have you hide, while I assist them.”
Grabbing her hand quickly, Coreal looked frightened. “Don’t! Don’t leave me alone! I don’t want to be alone again!”
Jelineau returned the grip. “Fear not, Coreal. You shall be safe. Trust in me.”
A brief pause. “I do. I do trust in you.”
“Alright then, let us return.”
They didn’t get far down the trail before they heard trampling footsteps running toward them. Coreal grabbed Jelineau’s backside.
“More of them!”
“Quickly, Coreal! Hide in the trees! I’ll deal with them!”
The young woman found letting go difficult, but did as bidden. Drawing her hatchet and knife, she got in her low stance. Around the corner came half a dozen men, dressed in heavy armor. They saw Jelineau and drew their weapons as well. Leading them was a younger man, with auburn hair and regal features. At his side, he had a sword with a hilt of gold.
“You are among those bandits that attacked us, yes?” he asked.
“I man not!”
“Then who are you?! Speak quickly, or I shall have my warriors attack!”
“Stand down, Captain!” came Coreal’s voice. From behind the trees came the Princess. She stood beside Jelineau, who had relaxed her stance.
“Your Highness! You are alive!”
“I am! And it is this young woman who saved me!”
Bowing to her. “Forgive me, M’Lady. I did not know.” He moved forward. “Many blessings upon you, stranger, but we shall lead the Princess from here.” He took a satchel from his belt and threw it on the ground in front of her. “Here is a proper reward, I think.”
As he reached for her, Coreal smacked his hand. “I shall have you treat my rescuer with more respect than this! She is my honored guest! And until we are back in the Capital, she shall be the one watching over me!”
The man was clearly hurt and annoyed, but his decorum too charge. “As you wish, Your Highness.”
Taking the satchel from the ground, Jelineau tied it to her belt. “Though I shall take the coins. Thank you.” A smirk came to her face. The man looked so insulted.
Coreal pretended not to notice the two’s stand-off, motioning for them to continue. She kept by Jelineau’s side, never moving away.
When they got back to the caravan, they saw what remained of the vagrants. The fight was brutal, but the rest were dead. What remained of the passengers was being protected by three armored men. They salvaged what they could of the carriages. Only two were still able to move.
Jelineau looked to Coreal. “Remain here. I must get my horse.”
“No! I’ll go with you. I can ride with you as well.”
Thinking for a moment, she frowned. “Coreal, I do not believe it would be wise for you to ride with me. It is very exposed.”
“You shall call her Your Highness, stranger!” an armored man shouted.
“It was by her request that I call her Coreal, warrior.”
Gasps went around the area. The Captain looked so offended.
“I will ride with you, Jelineau! Or, failing that, you shall ride in a carriage with me. That is how it shall be.”
Deciding not to argue, she shrugged. “Alright then. You shall ride with me.” The two started off toward her horse.
Some time later, the sun was starting to get low in the sky. The carriages came out of the forest, being escorted by what was six men on horses, and the rest being on the carriages. Jelineau felt that she had reached a milestone in her journey. Indeed, this Coreal might just be the ally she is looking for. With her help, she could find the rest of the Titans, kill them, and return home. But as they were riding, she couldn’t help but notice that the Princess had fallen asleep. To keep her from falling from the horse, she wrapped an arm around the young woman’s stomach. She groaned and leaned into her. Despite the bitterness and hate that had driven her, for the first time, she felt something warm inside herself. Saving this lady’s life had given her a sense of satisfaction that had seemed like a distant memory. Holding the lady close to her, it felt like the end of a day that was worth something more than revenge. What is that feeling worth?