Drake lay low at the top of the fall he had created. His eyes searching into every niche, nook, and cranny of the steep slope, memorizing them. He started thinking of whatever tricks he could use to keep himself alive.
Several miles northeast up the ravine, he could see campfires, as his enemies settled down for the night, not wishing to go any farther tonight, but instead taking the rest, even waiting for the stragglers coming up the cliff. The army probably expected to overtake the trio the next day if, hoping they were contained by a box canyon.
"They won't be expecting a naturally fortified wall they have to fight over, though," Drake smirked. He crammed his body on the south side of the face. Taking out the bolt cartridge he had used to set the booby trap the day before, he took the arrow that remained in there. He never used the sixth arrow. He set the arrow on the rock started tracing a complex weave of intricate runes in the air above it, his face tensing in concentration. Where one bolt once was now sat seven. He loaded six in the cartridge, then took the other cartridge from the bow. He put both the arrow that was loaded and the newly created one into that box, then slammed it back into the crossbow. Above the remaining cartridge he drew some more runes, and five more cartridges appeared. He put these in his satchel.
A wave of exhaustion swept through him. He took out the bag of goat, and started cramming the contents down his throat. He was quite serious when he said that he needed his energy. It was going to be a long, grueling battle.
Hunger assuaged, although not completely, he settled into his crack, his mind blanking out as he settled into a half sleep for the night, hoping that the Lutins decided to get up late that morning.
The night passed quickly in his state of awareness. Even though his mind was asleep, his body was at ready, each sound, smell and taste registering completely through his body. He was rudely awakened in the middle of the night by the uncomfortable tapping on his helmet as water dripped off a rock just over his head. He put a water skin at the pestersome trickle, hoping that it was runoff from higher elevations and wouldn't go dry during the next several days. He settled back down to a doze.
It was morning when his mind finally awoke to the sound of scraping rock. Peering down, his helmet somehow not reflecting any of the sunlight which could alert anyone of his presence, he saw the first green Lutin had discovered his "little" wall. The Lutin scout didn't do anything, but instead waited for another to come.
As the sun rose, Drake pulled out a soft, black leather cloak, raising its hood so that he could better hide his presence. The party at the base of the wall grew to over a hundred. It was early afternoon when the first decided to climb. Drake took a deep breath, his battle reflexes took over, driving his body and mind to a state of calm. His readiness was premature, though, as many of the first Lutins to climb fell only a quarter of the way up.
Drake muttered at the incompetence. Despite the numbers, this was going to be easier than he thought, though that didn't say much. He tallied another day or two to those he could hold out, bringing the total to a week.
The dropping Lutins paved the path for each successive one, though, and surely but slowly they progressed to the hiding fighter's waiting place. It was late evening, nearly 6 hours after they began climbing, when Drake finally had to act.
It was a small motion, and didn't alert any of the Lutins of his presence, but, with wicked humor, he pushed the boulder the leading Lutin grasped. Both the creature and the massive boulder began tumbling down the slope, striking more climbers and fouling lines. Over a score of bodies began dropping on those waiting at the base to ascend, still unaware of the wolf-knight lurking at the top
Drake shook his head, almost embarrassed to be facing these guys. At this failed attempt, the invading force decided to settle down and wait until tomorrow. The fighter was certainly ready to do the same, taking some more food and looking for a place for a latrine, trying to concentrate on not wetting himself in his armor.
Another night of half-sleep passed for the traveler, as he looked disappointedly at his dwindling food supply, hoping that a mountain goat would half-wittingly stumble across his location. The only good thing about half-sleep was that it helped conserve strength, but he didn't wake up refreshed as he would after regular sleep.
He checked the Lutins new strategy. They were now employing the use of Giants. The goliaths, though, had no hope of moving the gargantuan stones at the bottom, lest they bring the ones at the top down upon their heads. Instead, they were raising the Lutins up to arm's length, nearly thirty feet, reducing the distance they had to climb.
Drake scowled underneath his helmet.
"Oh well, makes the game more interesting," he muttered. He looked up the side of the gap, another grin of his own cleverness shining on his face. He scrambled up the dark side of the slope, hidden from the scouts' views.
He wedged his spear into a crack and started to wait. Yesterday, there had been a lot of noise and cries as the Lutins struggled up the climb.
He wasn't disappointed. A scream echoed through the canyon as one of the climbers fell. It's high-pitched death cry reverberated throughout the ravine, going away then coming back, away then back. At that instant, Drake strained, levering his spear, tilting a large boulder, it's equilibrium shifted, then it started to lean over the edge. Above, other boulders groaned. Letting gravity do the rest of the work, Drake wisely moved to more stable environs.
A low rumble replaced the high-pitched echoes, as the avalanche progressed down the hill, crushing bodies below. Drake stood watching, shaking his head in sympathy and sadness for the poor souls below.
After the dust settled, he could see the Giants struggling to extricate themselves from the rubble. Over a hundred Lutins had died.
Drake could hear one human, presumably the leader, screaming at the Lutins' incompetence (though what had happened was at no fault of their own). The leader started setting up another run.
Drake sighed sadly, hoping the pursuers would leave, acceding defeat to their natural opponent and obstacle, albeit it was artificially provoked.
One of the giants roared in pain as another tossed a hundred pound piece of debris on its foot. Drake took this opportunity to start another avalanche, perhaps even more devastating than the previous, this time completely burying three of the giants, and killing off fifty more Lutins.
The commander screamed at them, though softer, wary of starting another avalanche. The rest of the day was spent trying to save the giants under the rubble. The ravine floor was covered with sharp pointed rocks. The avalanches had reached and demolished half their camp. The rest of the day was spent clearing debris.
Drake swore, though, as now the slope to the wall had grown slightly gentler, though it was still treacherous at the least. No longer did they have to climb vertically. They did, however, need to navigate the slope halfway up the wall, before having to climb the fifty feet to where, unknown, Drake still stood, waiting.
When the sun came down, they had managed to save two giants, the third missing, now accounted as dead. They did not attempt the climb the wall again that day.
A night went by, and the next day arose. Little more than three hundred Lutins, and three Giants remained, a little more than half the force that originally made their way up to the ravine, originally after three fugitives. That day was spent setting up base camp farther away from the wall.
Drake remained low and unseen that day. He figured he had enough meat to last the day as it was just starting to go bad.
The grizzled traveler had to wonder at the commander's motives. He assumed that the human enemy presumed that the Scouts were trapped in the mountainous terrain, presumably thinking that they had struggled the same as this company now did.
Drake knew better, though. Day dreaming, he remembered seeing this ravine, so long ago, as she flew across the sky, her golden scales glimmering in the sun, glaring hope wherever those reflected rays shined upon.
He shook his head out of reverie. That was another's memory, long before he had been born.
He sighed, wondering how long it would take the two people who haled from Metamor Keep could make it there and back. The memory that had lead him to this place didn't take into account of distances. Was it a week, less than that? More? How long would it take a force to make it here, twice that. He had to hold at least for two weeks.
A movement caught his eye. His hand shot out. Catching a rat, breaking its neck. Removing the wolf's face from his own, he held the rat, thoughtfully studying the enemy and the new terrain. He hoped that something more substantial would come along, instead of rats. If he had one more goat, he might be able to survive just long enough to hold this army so the Metamoran cavalry could arrive and slaughter it. He continued to study his surrounding as he crunched into the rat, ignoring the fact it was raw.
By the end of the third day of facing the enemy, Drake knew that tomorrow would be the day he would have to actually face the enemy. The terrain still ensured that he wouldn't have to face them all at once. What would they do then? Go for an all out assault? Wait for him to starve? Quit the field?
He snorted with mirth. One thing came at a time. When it happened, he would deal with it. He would defend himself against each opponent at a time. Whatever happened after was beyond his control.
He watched the darkness swallow the day, and waited for the light to rise again. He closed his eyes, letting his weariness take him in the last full night of true sleep he would have for a long time. *
He woke, when the sun broached over the canyon's walls, perhaps two or three hours after it had truly risen. His body immediately readied for battle.
He watched as the Giants cleared the last of the debris, finally allowing the Lutins start up the slope to the apparently diminished wall.
Drake watched calmly as the short, green creatures, still unaware of his presence, scaled the rocky face. The commander was starting to conserve his resources, as only twenty five Lutins made this climb. They collaborated, helping each other instead of their blind, all-for-one approach.
It was after noon when the first showed as if it would crest the obstacle. Drake prepared his spear.
First a hand gripped over the wall, then the Lutins head pulled up. Thankful to finally be at the top.
It's thanksgiving turned into despair as it saw a black-clad figure with a silver wolf's head, holding it's spear over his shoulder like a scythe.. Drake swung with his down stroke. The wolf's head of the spear connected solidly with the Lutin's chin. The force of the blow carried the body up as the fighter followed through. The lutin's body flew away from the wall, and fell atop three others.
-Four-, Drake thought, tallying how many he had slain with one blow as he admired his handy work.
Two more pairs of hands grasped the edge to either side of me. He rapped each with his staff head, alternating between the two. His staff circled high over his head, which turned back and forth to watch where his strikes hit. They fell screaming down the side of the cliff, also taking a couple of their fellows with them on the trip down.
Drake planted his spear point on the ground as he stood at attention, staring at the army.
"What?!" he heard the commander shout incredulously as the Lutins fell, apparently for no reason at all. Drake saw the human's head above the rest of the lutins. The captain's eyes squinted at the sight. Drake couldn't have asked for better timing.
What the human must have seen was a black figure silhouetted against the sun, holding a staff just as tall. The suns rays reflected off the wolf's features of its helmet.
"First impressions," Drake muttered. He joked to himself, "After all, presentation is everything."
One word echoed across the canyon.
"ATTACK!" was that imperative order.
The slew of Lutins charged out of camp. Braving the slopes. The giants, though, reached the wall first.
Drake replaced the spear across his back, and pulled out the large crossbow, it's wooden limbs snapping forward to ready. He cocked the lever at its side with his left, aimed and fired. Twice more he repeated his motions.
The giants died as the arrows passed through their necks, wedging themselves between thick vertebrae and snapping their spinal cords.
The Lutins swarmed up the slope and wall. Gone was the cautiousness that they had exhibited earlier that day, and, as a result, little more than two handfuls had reached the top.
Attempts to climb the wall, as before, ended as darkness took over, ending the fourth day.
For the next three days, the Lutins tried to make progress, and, as before, they made none. They faced a seemingly insurmountable wall, with an equally undefeatable, tireless foe waiting at the top. They fired arrows at him, but at the height he was at, they harmlessly bounced off his strong garb, if they hit at all. Arrows descended from the top, with much more accurate results.
But Drake was tired. His mind drove his body like a slave driver. When he could, he snagged lizards that wondered in multitudes onto his little mountain. He was thankful that he didn't have to do much work, but less Lutins were dying. And the day before, he counted an extra hundred Lutins added to their company.
Yet his besiegers didn't sense his weariness. They, too, dreaded the next day, as daylight signaled the next assault against the wall.
Another night passed, and Drake awoke to an innovation on the Lutins' part. Against the wall, what looked to a metal shield, actually many shields overlapping each other, formed an overhang, protecting the climbing Lutins as they set anchors to allow their fellows an easier climb.
Drake watched, admiring their ingenuity. He saw a pick going into the cliff. Whipping out his crossbow, he cocked and fired. The bolt ripped through the shield, striking the laborer. He was just testing the shield, though. He knew that it was a futile gesture. As he would need many more bolts than he had at present. He didn't want to waste the energy to use the same trick he had used on his bolts earlier.
So, content to wait for the inevitable, he sat cross-legged, his spear across his knees, trying not to think about food.
By afternoon, he found construction had reached beyond half way up the wall, as the Lutins moved the barrier up after securing the climb and structure. Walking back and forth across his wall, Drake saw archers standing at guard. He couldn't go down there and foul the rig.
Drake decided that the assault wouldn't come until tomorrow, and watched the creatures as they abandoned their work, taking guard against the chance he might want to risk dropping down from his safety.
He was content to wait, and to hunt some delicious lizards that he had found proliferated the wall. He liked lizards better than the few rats he found, anyway. They were much cleaner, for one.
Throughout the night, he kept a lookout, awaking for a quarter hour, then sleeping for the balance. Drake knew that tomorrow, one way or another, this would be ended.
In the morning, he hunted more lizards coming out to bask in the sun's rays, letting the Lutins waste their time.
They worked tenaciously, and, by the time the lutins were ten feet to the top, Drake decided it was time for him to take the offensive and press the issue.
Looking to the encampment, he saw the commander smirking at the wolf-warrior.
Drake whipped out his crossbow again and fired. The bolt flew up and over, landing right in between the commanders feet.
Drake didn't even bother looking at the human's reaction as he holstered his bow and took out his spear.
Running over and up the side of the canyon, he levered another bolder, causing another avalanche. Demolishing the construction and shield, as well as the Lutins working underneath it.
The avalanche evened out the slope to the wall from the camp.
Immediately the order was given for the all out attack. Drake calmly walked over to the center of what had been the wall. He took out his crossbow again. He fired it four times, then dropped into his hand, only to replace it with another. He fired five more bolts, and duplicated the whole process twice more.
A score of Lutins lay still, but there were a lot more following.
He stepped lightly and as one hand held the staff vertical, formally presenting his weapon. The other was set against his ribs.
Stepping back, Drake set the staff horizontally and held it with both hands, spreading his legs apart shoulder-length. He drew the spear into his chest and lowered it to ready at his waist. His silver bracers along his shins and forearms rang out as a trio of spikes slid wickedly upwards from each of them, covering his joints. So Drake waited for the wave of Lutins, rushing up the slope to crash over him. And, just as that wave crested, did he hurl himself at them. His staff whirling and whorling about him. The spearhead slashed through skin, as the wolf's head at the opposite end bludgeoned people, sending them flying away.
The wolf-knight danced at the top of the slope, disdaining others blows as his staff turned them aside and his bracers rang a bell tone each time they were struck. He lashed out with his staff, with kicks, even with his elbows and knees, the spikes tearing at sinew and across throats.
The fighter slew scores of the creatures. And yet it came as no surprise when his knee gave out as a club struck it. Kneeling, Drake swirled the staff around him, keeping his attackers at bay before abandoning it. He ripped his sword out of its sheath, and unable to take the time to stand up, faced the short creatures which now towered above him. And still more of them died as his sword circled about him.
For each two he struck down, though, one of their weapons found their way past his guard. None of their blows penetrated his armor completely, but he felt its weaves snap with each strike. He still felt each blow that cut deeper, seeking skin, bruising the muscle underneath.
Drake was knocked down, sword arm pinned beneath a boot. A Lutin stood above him, ready to pin the traveler in the chest with a spear.
The knight stared death unblinkingly from his helmet through the glass visor, embracing it. Life is all or nothing, and he'd willingly gambled it for the lives of two others, if not many more.
The spear descended, but, at the last moment, it averted to the side, slashing through his armor, as a cruel black , hyperbolic shape swathed through the Lutin, along w/ waiting bystanders. He felt iron cold iron of the blade, now embedded on the ground, on his unbroken skin through the remaining weave of armor across his right ribs.
The pressure against his wrist released.
All around him, woman and animal beings pressed the shorter army back. "Looks like you've been having a little fun here," the vulpine silhouette said over him. It wielded an even darker, large double bladed- ax, connected to a long staff.
Drake stared in astonishment upon hearing that voice.
"Llewellyn Brightleaf?" he questioned, as he took a proffered hand. The red fox hauled him up to is feet.
The fox shook his head, "He was my grandfather. My name is Misha. We'll talk later, lone wolf. My boys and girls and I will take care of this."
Drake formally wrapped a strip of leather across his blade, then drew the blade across, cleaning it. The return motion sheathed the weapon. Leaning against a rock, he watched the battle, more like slaughter, proceed before him. The weariness attempted bring him under, but the warrior forced himself to stay alert. He assessed the damage his suit had undergone and cleaned himself off, barely paying attention to the dying taking place a few yards away.
Other than his suit, his bracers and weapons were all intact, is he knew his helmet was.
Minutes later, the fox returned.
"So now, how do you know Grandpa?" he inquired.
"I traveled with him, long ago apparently, and despite the fur, you sound and act just like him," Drake answered, trying to get up, but weakness washed over him. Lowering the face of his helmet to his chest, the elder knight muttered, "I'm getting too old for this. You got anything to eat, I'm starving."
Misha motioned to one of the Metamorans, who went to the packs. "I'll say, if you knew my grandfather, you must be old. How long have you been facing them here?"
"A couple days past a full week. The Lutins started climbing the day after I left the Scouts. They didn't realize I was up here causing rock falls on them for three more, which was more than I expected to. There were originally seven hundred of them, and four giants. The avalanches wiped out a quarter of them, and plain stupidity and impatience another fourth. Then, two days ago, they started getting smart.
"Thank you," Drake acknowledged eyeing the dark-furred raccoon, armed similarly to himself. The human continued, "They used an awning made of shields to protect them while building something underneath. Maybe stairs or better hand holds or lines. I'll never know for sure, as today I dropped another good section of that hillside on them, as they were too close to the top for my comfort. It also made that nice slope down there, and they swarmed. How far away were you guys?"
The raccoon answered, "You certainly made an impact on them. There must have been over six dozen of them dead before we arrived. We were about a mile away when we heard a loud rumble. Presumably that last avalanche. We hurried as fast as we could. What are you laughing at?" Rickkter demanded.
The old fighter was doubled over, slapping his thigh in mirth.
"Sorry, seems like a good joke. If only I had waited five minutes. You got to love the irony," Drake said between fits of laughter. He wiped a tear from his eye with a gloved hand. Rickkter scowled at the fighter.
"That kind of reminds me a lot of you, Rickkter," Misha observed, sharing part of the human's humor. Rickkter scowl increased as he walked away.
"We would have been here at Lone Wolf's Gap sooner, but we got delayed because we had to organize the sortie," Misha explained.
"Lone Wolf's Gap?"
The Long Scout shook his head, "Sorry, that's what Finbar wanted this place called. He wanted it to be your memorial."
"So those two scouts make it back okay, then," Drake sighed in relief.
"Arla and Finbar?" Misha asked, and Drake nodded in acknowledgement. "They did, though we almost had to chain Arla down once she showed us how to get up to this canyon. She has a thing about taking care of our own, and not leaving anyone behind."
"A nice trait," Drake admired.
A woman walked up and saluted, "The Lutins are wiped out. The squad is trying to get the leader. He ran as soon as we showed."
"Thanks Daria," Misha said. "Make sure that no one gets away. We want to have some time here to start fortifying the area. Get the men working on prepping it. A few of us are heading back, so you're in charge."
Drake crammed another mouth foul, finishing the travel ration. "Got any more? I've been living off lizards for the last several days, and haven't had much otherwise. I'm still hungry."
"Lizards? Were they good?"
"Much better than rat."
Misha laughed. "I think you'll do pretty well at the keep. You'll probably won't be staying too long, though."
"I think Finbar mentioned something about that," Drake replied as the two started walking southward, along with a few others in the company.