As they headed into the clouds, Oren and Martell lost sight of Tabia and the several rows of people in front. They could make out about five rows ahead of them and that was it.
The troop proceeded for hours in this manner. Oren and Martel could see the nearby landscape change with different rocks and plants. The air quality seemed to change with their ascent, as some took time at the side to catch their breath, others moved forward to take their place. They would eventually fall in line when they were ready to move on. At some point, they broke to eat lunch. It was a tasty mix of dried meat and stale bread. Word was they were three quarters of the way through the clouds.
As far as Oren was concerned, they could have gone around in circles all morning and he would not have noticed. The sentiment was not only his as others had started voicing concern about the endless march without much other than tired feet to show for it. As a whole, they were willing to put up with it for the day; the issue was they were used to at least a slight change of scenery after this long of a march.
The afternoon entailed more of the same, a gloomy trudge across rocky ground. The talk was kept to a minimum as there was not much to say among Oren and Martell or really any of the company. Oren was not certain as to how much time passed before word came down the line that the front of the column had broken past the cover. The light started to filter in past the cloud wall as Oren got closer to the edge. The cool, clear air was a welcome change from the dense clouds and heavy, moist air.
Oren and Martell could see Wind Gait; it lay about half a day on from where they were. It would no longer be climbing upward, but now across the ridge of the mountains over to it. They looked back into the clouds and saw only the dense wall that they had seen for hours before. The rest of the party was forming up into squads for the next part of the approach. Nobody could have suspected what happened next.
There was a screech from further down the cloud bank as a large reptile sprang forth. The creature snapped at the priest with the robe bearing a castle and two flames, rearing its head back with his motionless body in its jaw. It landed on the ground while fumbling with the body. The priest was tossed out of its mouth across the ground, his clothes now blood soaked.
The creature shrieked again before rearing up on its back legs, clawing at the nearby infantry that had mustered up courage to attack. A flurry of arrows flew, most bouncing off the wyvern’s scales, with a few lucky shots penetrating. There was panic and anger flowing through the crowd. Martell picked up on the lack of leadership, and grabbed those close to her.
“Stand your ground!” she shouted. “Archers fire another volley.”
Some of the men looked to her and saw her preparedness to fight and followed her cue. Others still in panic retreated for cover.
Oren heard another voice wring out, “You heard her, let’s get back in formation and attack.” He looked several yards away to see Ba-shar building on her rallying cry. “Vocknuera, he has insulted us and our allies. We shall not stand for this.”
Martell and Ba-shar lead a charge of those that stuck with them to attack the wyvern. Oren looked over to the archers to see that Dhavak was with those firing yet another volley of arrows at the creature. It winced in pain as arrows found their way into its scaly hide. Oren followed behind the back of the group charging the wyvern. He felt his odds were better in the group then being a lone person right now.
The knights made it over to the wyvern and as Martell expected, most blows were not strong enough to pierce the beast’s skin. Whether it was the strength behind the hit or the weapon itself, she could not say. She ran to the front of the group, certain her blades would make quick work of the wyvern. The creature raised its wing claw to swipe at Martell and all went black for a moment. When she could see again, the beast was stumbling back as if it had just hit a stone wall.
Martell took this moment to plunge her short sword up beneath where the wing attached to the body. The wyvern howled in pain with the hit. Meanwhile, several of the men had broken out ropes to throw over the beast and restrain it from thrashing around anymore. It was mere minutes later they gained control of the situation and the wyvern was dead.
Oren looked around to see that a few of the knights had gone over to the priest and were trying to save him. From what he caught, they were unable to do anything to counter the damage from the mauling he had just received. They feared he would be dead before nightfall.
Oren went over to the carcass of the wyvern. He poked around at it with the staff a little, still uncertain that it was dead. He was slightly annoyed that it got blood on the end of his staff, but he continued to look at the beast not worrying about that for now. Oren, like most people had never seen one before and felt both with fascination of its existence and fear that others may be lurking in the peaks. He was not the only one curious about the beast; others came over to have a look at the carcass as well.
“Impressive creature,” Martell said walking over to him. “They will take that body back when we finish our campaign.”
“The scales mostly. Its hide is tougher than many things; you saw the arrows bounce off of it. But then, there are some who will want to study it, learn what they can. One of the orders will want to study it to learn its weaknesses.”
“I see. I thought they might use some of it for making talismans.”
“They might…Never thought I would be up against one of these. Really happy we had an army here to take it down. I would not have stood a chance alone.” Martell paused in thought, “So is that darkness what you experience when you shield yourself?”
“Yes, disorientating at times since you don’t see what is going on, but preferable to the alternative. You would have taken a claw to the face.”
“I missed it until it was too late. So unwieldy, I prefer something my size that I can track in entirety.”
“Martell, Tabia wants to see you.” One of the knights said walking over to the two of them. “You as well Oren.”
“What about?” asked Oren. “She has been keeping us out of discussions till now.”
“She did not say. All I was told was to find the two of you and have you report back to her.” The knight hesitated for a moment, collecting her thoughts and then spoke, “Also, thanks for rallying us Martell. That beast caught us all by surprise, and could have done more damage if panic had settled in. Some of the men you have fought with said you were with Tethinger in the past. After hearing of the order’s betrayal, many had concern as to what to expect from you.”
“I am curious as to why the priests or the commanders of the orders are not more organized and let that assault happen.”
“Well, the priests were leading from the front and the commanders were at the rear of the column,” she explained. “I do not know their logic for any of this. Clearly, if I am out running errands for them, they don’t feel the need to consult strategy with me.”
“Indeed, you are to follow commands like a good little knight,” Oren jabbed.
“You, master Oren, we do not know what to think of you. Originally, we were told you were here from a merchant house. Though you are not like any merchant we have ever met and you have talismans that perform in ways that even my superiors can’t recall seeing before. I would watch your belongings, though we strive for higher morals here, we have not yet all achieved them.”
“Why thank you for the information. I will make sure I heed your advice.”
They arrived at the tent where Tabia was. While they had been musing over the corpse of the wyvern, the army had been doing a decent job of setting up a camp and perimeter for the evening. The knight bowed to them and pulled back the flap for them to enter. After they walked in, she closed it and stood guard outside.
Inside the tent was a board on the ground with a few papers laid out. They recognized a crude map which had been drawn up with the surroundings and the stronghold. Inside the tent were the three commanders of the orders, along with the two priests and both Ba-shar and Dhavak. It took Oren a moment to see that the third priest lay over in the corner; he looked pale, but was very alert.
“Good, Alana found you quickly. That means we can get started sooner. She’s a good knight, though she does occasionally dawdle.” Tabia spoke. “Let me do some introductions. Oren and Martell these are the leaders of the orders. Knight Commander Aarika of the Vocknuera Order under priest Gera the Silent of Dahl, Knight Commander Kala of Edostera Order harbinger of Latl’s return, and finally we have Knight Commander Attilio of Kaddock Order under priest Obadele of Casapaten.”
“A pleasure to meet you all,” Martell responded. “How can we be of service to you?”
“We would like the two of you along with Ba-Shar and Dhavak to sneak close to Wind Gait and confirm we can enter.” Tabia spoke calmly. “We had a couple scouts report back the gates to the stronghold are open and there is no sign of anyone present.”
“This sounds like you are sacrificing us to trigger a trap,” Oren shot back.
“On the contrary, you should be able to keep safe the small group and the other three have proven their prowess in the field above all others.”
“So you think they are gone or do they just not care about us?” Dhavak asked.
“We are uncertain about that,” Kala spoke. “However sitting out here night and day guessing what may come will get us nowhere. I also suspect the longer we linger here the more likely another wyvern will assault the camp.”
“Agreed,” Aarika consented. She continued, “The one out there is only a juvenile, likely that he has family that will eventually come looking for him.”
“So, is this a morning operation or are we to nap and head in under cover of night? Ba-shar asked.
“This will happen tonight. You will rest once you leave the tent and after the moon rises you will be sent over to check out the fortress.” Attilio commented. “We wish you best of luck in the infiltration.”
The four took this as a single that it was time for them to leave the tent. It was not the most diplomatic of goodbyes in Oren’s opinion. But it did prevent any of them a chance to decline participation. They wandered back to their tents for a vain attempt at rest. Oren and Martell were starting to get weary of Tabia; this was not the calm, rational priestess that had met them initially outside Abbysta. She had changed and was showing less signs of her initial self. Martell was worried that someday a similar fate might befall her sister. Oren reassured her that all would be well, but it was little comfort to either knowing that they had no way to control this if it truly was the goddess’s influence.
Oren lay staring up at the roof of the tent unable to sleep. Martell had passed out a while ago. In a short while he would be putting his life at risk and for what he wondered? Would he have been better off having ran like Martell had suggested when there was still time? How would he deal with Lady Nattan of Casapan if they were really inside the stronghold? Regardless of them being present, what traps still lay in Wind Gait? He had learned a few things on disarming traps since his first venture into one of these places, but he was uncertain if his skills would be enough.
The time passed slowly for him in the quiet of the tent. He could see that the sun was setting from the changing tones of the tent’s tan fabric. He knew this would be a long night and sleep was not going to come in time. He figured the other two, being used to this lifestyle had probably also gotten some sleep.