WTF.. a ranger without a bow?!?
Aeyo edged through the underbrush, a predator eyeing his prey from under old growth branches obscuring overcast skies. It had rained earlier, making the leafy debris beneath his feet wet enough to mask his steps. Ahead he could hear his quarry as it meandered lazily along the shoddy dirt road that wound through his forest. Five wagons trekked along the route, led by horses and flanked by two dozen heavily armed soldiers. Their plodding steps pressed messy footprints into mud that was quickly cut into furrowed grooves by the narrow wooden wheels on their vehicles. The procession lay down a trail that stretched many leagues back, and Aeyo had followed them for most of that distance.
They were all on guard, of course. Aeyo could see it. The men twitched at every rustle in the trees, and scouts were sent to investigate every sound. The thought seemingly never crossed their mind that an assailant could ever evade their detection. Or maybe they were confident that no one would be mad enough to try ambushing such a well protected convoy.
Of course, they were wrong on both counts. A small droplet of water fell from the sky, a harbinger marking the return of the sky’s tribute of water to the forest. Aeyo patted down his hide cuirass, brushed back a stray lock of his blond hair, looked to his left, and signaled his brother: It was time for the attack to begin.
The two brothers had grown up together in the thickets of the Dalelands. Aeyo had been adopted during his first year of life, taken in by the bandit elf tribe known as the Arborblades. He had been the only survivor of an attack they made on a merchant convoy, very similar to the one he was tracking now, and was only alive today because of the kindness shown by an elvish man named Norell Sorovar. Norell had shown compassion where his comrades had only seen a burden. He raised Aeyo together with his son Thael, and in time both had become valuable assets to the group. Leading this assault today was a rite of passage for the brothers into the Arborblades proper, and with its completion they would finally be allowed positions of leadership within the tribe.
A droplet of water hit a guard and he fell dead, slumping over face-first into the oozing earth. His closest ally barely registered the event before he, too, was taken by a deadly rivulet. Another two were slaughtered by the rain before anyone noticed the arrows that had skewered them. A shout of panic went up, echoed by the braying of the terrified beasts of burden, but it was too late to respond. As the storm turned into a torrential downpour, a single lightning bolt briefly illuminated the treeline through the cascade of water. Elves were materializing out of the shadows, wielding blade and bow, and quickly striking down all who stood in opposition to the Sorovar brothers’ raid.
Aeyo darted through the battlefield in exhilaration, cutting through bone and sinew as his two blades cleft men into neat pieces of dead flesh. He grinned as he saw Thael trip and impale a soldier that had tried to catch him off guard. Thael grinned back. The two elves were always in competition for prestige, and today it seemed the game was to see who would rack up the most kills. Blinded by rain, and deafened by the screams of their dying comrades, one after another their opponents fell to the elves’ expert swordplay. They spread a wake of carnage through the convoy as they made their way to the wagon at the very center of the procession.
“How many was that?” panted a soaked Aeyo as the two reached their goal.
“Seven,” responded Thael. “You?”
Aeyo only smiled and mimed ‘eight’ before slicing a hole into the back of the carriage’s cloth sheathing and jumping inside. He heard his sibling curse before following him inside. It was a profanity both of them very quickly repeated once they realized what they had stumbled into.
A lantern hung from the wagon’s roof, casting soft shadows into the space and illuminating a pair of men. They sat mumbling inside the transport, taking benches on either side of a locked chest that rested between them. They both sported graying hair and faces lined with wrinkles, both wore plain black robes that billowed over their frail bodies, and both stared at the intruders that had entered their private sanctuary. If Aeyo hadn’t know any better he might have just assumed them to be a pair of old merchants. What gave them away was the way they stared back at him. Both had intense gazes of concentration rather than fear as they muttered under their breaths. In fact, the more they chanted the warmer Aeyo seemed to feel.
That could only mean bad things.
He barely had enough time to tackle his brother through the opening they had cut before the two mages let loose. As the brothers hit the mud a pair of fireballs shot out overhead, exploding in midair into blossoms of hellfire. Once more the mayhem on the battlefield was illuminated, but this time a much different scene was revealed. The other four wagons had been split open and each had released a payload of soldiers. The raid party had gone from being on equal footing with the guards to becoming heavily outnumbered, and his men were being picked off by the overwhelming forces. Above they could see one of the wizards peering down at them, his eyes glowing as he prepared another spell.
“Retreat! Men, retreat!”
Aeyo and his brother both rolled out of the way as a beam of fire struck the ground where they had been moments earlier. The rain washed blood and muck from their armor as they ran for distant cover, their party falling back to the trees where they thought they would be safe. However, the extent of the disaster was quickly beginning to unfold.
Already crippled by heavy losses, the Arborblades found themselves being struck down as they ran from the mayhem. Those that made it out of melee range more often than not found themselves picked off by crossbow bolts and errant spells. Every inch of progress was an eternity of struggle. Conditions that had once been favorable for their advance now hindered their escape, leading to many deaths as they ran the gauntlet to safety.
The last thing Aeyo saw was his brother, covered in lacerations but otherwise alive, looking back towards him in horror. He saw a flash of red, felt an intense searing from behind, and then his world went black.
It has been over a hundred years since Aeyo woke up from the aftermath of that failed raid, badly injured but miraculously alive. When he returned to his home base, he found the soldiers had followed the survivors and laid waste to their encampment. His brother was still alive, but his father had perished in the fighting. Both of the surviving Sorovars were exiled from their homes as punishment, and they had a quick falling out as they passed the blame to one another.
Since then Aeyo has wandered the world, and barely a day has passed without him thinking about the misfortune he faced that night. He has had many questions, and very few answers. Who were his parents? Why did Norell save him as a child when no one else had been allowed to live? Of all the convoys to be sent after for a coming of age raid, why had he and his brother been assigned that one? He had known it would be heavily armed, but why so many guards? Why was it being overseen by two very powerful war mages? And, most importantly of all, what was in that chest? Aeyo seriously doubts that it was a shipment of platinum pieces as had been led to believe.
About twenty years ago he heard word that his brother had returned to the bandit group, taking over and establishing himself as the leader of the Arborblades. Aeyo never entertained such thoughts of returning to his old home, focusing only on finding out his true heritage, but recently a string of faltering leads on his true lineage has changed his mind.
One day very soon he plans on making an appearance at Thael’s camp to have his questions answered.