Interlude - Tides of War

Tyee rolled the kinks out of his shoulder as he strode out of his hut. His gaze wandered over the sea of colorful canvas in his immediate vicinity that made up his tribe. Farther off, he could see more structures that affirmed the presence of many more tribes in the region. All gathered at the Rock of Haida - something that hadn't happened in centuries, to discuss the matters of war.

Rock of Haida, Tyee mused as he started pulling down the rough hide covering his temporary hut, was literally a boulder that Haida the Blessed used to bash the head of his last opponent and gain control of all the Centaur tribes. Tyee wondered how long ago the event must have happened, to have passed into myth. A Centaur super-tribe that ruled all plains seemed more fantasy than reality after all.

Tyee had seen the rock for himself. It seemed like any other rock to him; except perhaps he would need his two arms to barely lift it instead of using it as a single-handed bludgeon like the legendary Haida. It was not the rock itself that mattered, however, but the idea it conveyed. A dream. A possibility.

A few others were now up and about, packing up their belongings or opting for food first. Tyee was just about down with securing his packs, so he pulled out a roasted maize and sat on a log to enjoy the tough corn. The sun began to rise, and Tyee ruminated on the events of previous weeks.

After splitting up with the Hero, he backtracked their trail until he was sure that he caught the attention of their pursuers. He tried to lead them on a wild chase but the human Rangers were far too skilled to evade for long. But just as soon as they were about to catch up, after barely a few days much to his shame, they gave up. The Hero must've made it to the High Passes safely.

Without the need to cause a distraction, Tyee flew like the wind to meet up with his old tribe. The Tadako tribe was riding hard up north for the war-meet with Nina at the helm. He caught up with them after a week of hard ride, and just as he suspected, was welcomed with open arms. More so than he expected. The dual reasons soon became clear.

First, Nina had not publicized his exile among the tribe. For all they knew, he had simply gone on for a long hunt. Nina herself may not have opened her arms in welcome, but desperate times called for such necessity.

Second, the reason for such desperation, was that their last healer was dead. Kai had died in her sleep, a few days after he set west. Saddened though Tyee was for the loss, he realized that the old Centaur could not have asked for a better death. Kai had fulfilled her purpose. She had died as she had lived - on her own terms. Tyee knew she was at peace, riding the carefree plains with the spirits of their ancestors. Even so, he would recite a prayer for her at twilight when the spirits were most active.

When they reached the site of war-meet, situated around their historic artifact, he like many others, had gone to pay his respects. The war-meet would be held around the Rock. The sight of the chipped bolder brought forth the memories of another smoldering boulder. Of a perhaps-Spell-Maker and definitely-Battle-Mage Hero who, despite being at such a low level, could call the destructive forces of nature on a whim. Tyee briefly wondered if the other Heroes were as absurdly powerful.

Nina had refused to bring him with her to the actual council. Her anger at his actions still burning hot, mayhaps. Earlier he had thought that to be a mistake, his counsel would've been useful. And he did have a not insignificant pull as the Medicine Man. But he need not have worried. Because the war-meet ended within a few days and only one death. The tribes had unanimously chosen war.

And Nina was the War Chief.

Perhaps it was the relief of a successful plan coming together, or perhaps her new position required more subordinates, but Tyee was included in the discussions held later on approaching the humans. Nina was adamant about recruiting all the Centaurs. Taking after Haida himself, Nina conceivably yearned for a united Centaur kind to stride the warpath. Even the relatively peaceful and isolated Chachan tribe were sent summons of their War Chief. Those refusing would be conquered or destroyed. This meant those tribes secretly allied with the humans would be forced in as well. Tyee wasn't sure if he was relieved with the fact that their forces would count betrayers among them.

After the tribes were rounded up, they would ride east. The city on the north-eastern coast would make a fair starting point for Centaur dominion. At least those were Nina's words. Tyee suspected they were not her own. Even so, he could not find any reason to disagree with the course.

Tyee finished all the corns on his maize and left the husk for scavengers to feed on. Most of his tribe was up and awake now. He could see a hitherto hidden excited fervor amongst them. Like he felt when in the midst of a hunt. Perhaps this war was the largest hunt there was to them. Some of them were darting glances at Nina's grand tent, hoping for a call to ride sooner than usual.

Tyee, instead, glanced east. The Sun was now well and above the horizon. Soon they would ride there and meet the humans with weapons in hand. He briefly wondered if he would face the little Hero Mage on the battlefield as well. And what would he do if they did?

He shook his head and readied himself for a long ride as the high-horn sounded. It was right on time.

¤ ¤ ¤

Francisa released a deep sigh as she sipped the cold stew without really tasting it. Finally, some news. Pat was safe.

She couldn't believe her ears when she heard that he was kidnapped by the Centaurs. She was so beside herself that she didn't even give an earful to her brother. Not that it mattered, her Lord father and Lady mother had enough words for the little troublemaker.

First, Lady Carol and now Sir Pat. The New Church had grown from a mere nuisance to a downright menace. And traitors within the ranks of Royal Ranger Corps? She had never seen her father so furious. On top of all that, the traitor Arkanis had somehow fled his confinement. The absence of his apprentice Fredrick pointed to a possible explanation for the escape, but that news did little to abate her worries.

All her life, she wanted to do something. She had grown up believing herself to be the lynchpin in clan Lohengramm's survival. But here she was, back to sulking in her room. Had her turn come and gone? Had she messed up everything? Had she doomed her clan?

No. She shook herself from that spiral. She had had enough self-deprecating talk over the week since she parted with Pat.

Pat. She thought. Not Sir. Not Hero. Pat. When had she started thinking of him like that?

Her Lord father had asked her to not accompany him on their rescue mission. He had a long talk with her over their future approach. Apparently, simply sticking close to the Hero was not working out in their favor. She chuckled as she imagined that it had somehow worked on her, perhaps.

"Something wrong milady?" Her maid queried from behind. No, not her maid. This one was Pat's maid. She saved his life. After planning to take it. Francisa wasn't sure how to consolidate those two facts. But when she realized it was for the sake of her little girl, Francisa's heart softened.

After the talk with her father, she also realized that all they had done was think of how to make use of Heroes for their cause. After plucking the Heroes from their home, and expecting them to save the world not their own then hoping to engage them in their clan troubles. Had anyone cared what the Heroes desired? Had she ever asked what Pat wanted?

"Nothing such, Elise. The stew is well-made." Francisa replied, putting the well-tread trail of thought behind her. What is done is done. She glanced at the maid instead. Elise had changed in a way she couldn't quite put her finger on. Sure, Elise smiled more openly after Lady Arya had gone all the way to the edge of their territory to heal her daughter, but it wasn't just that. "I wonder what the Heroes are up to," Francisa muttered, giving the maid an opening.

"Oh!" the maid smiled wider than possible. "Milady Arya spoke of finally reaching level 25. Ah, what new Class she had I wonder. She was already so strong as a healer." And there it was. An almost fanatical adoration of the Heroes, especially Lady Arya.

Francisa supposed it was to be expected. The Heroes were here to save their world after all. And as they grew in power, so would their followers. A few fanatics were par for the course.

"And I'm so glad Sire Pat is safe as well. The New Church can burn in hell-fire for all they did." Elise continued. Somehow, she seemed more... there. Earlier, she used to blend in with the scenery. Appeared when you needed her. Now she stood out. Right, Francisa concluded, she has more of a presence than before.

"I hope they catch the fat lard and skin some layers off." Her maid hadn't stopped talking. "Ah, pardon my crude words milady." And she didn't hold her words back anymore. Does a stint in prison change a person to such a degree? Or was it the recovery of her only child? Francisa didn't know. It was amusing if nothing else.

"I understand the sentiment." Francisa smiled. She dropped the spoon back into the half-filled bowl. The major problem remained. Pat showed not a slight bit of interest in her. And she didn't know if she wanted to simply seduce him for their clan purpose anymore. A part of her recalled the face Lady Arya made when news of Pat was announced in the hall. Had Francisa made a similar face? She dare not imagine where that trail of thought led.

For now, she would redirect all her efforts into the New Church debacle. If Fredrick was involved, that gave her some leads to follow. She would rally Hamilton, Lady Arya, and Lady Carol to the cause. She would also "requisition" some spells stored deep in the Mage Tower for Pat. Neysaa wouldn't mind. She would bring Neysaa into the fold too. Clan Lohengramm had stood placid in face of their foe for too long. Francisa herself had dithered enough.

It was time to bring the fight to their enemy.

Chapter 49 - Delusions of Reality
Chapter 50 - Area of Effect