Haven; Sneak Peak 2

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The faint twang of my bow string was all the warning they’d receive in the dark, before I’d hear the even fainter thump of my arrow finding its mark, and the dull thud as they’d fall to the ground. Notch, draw, thump, thud; notch, draw, thump, thud; notch-- “Who’s there?!”

‘Damn it!’ I thought to myself, retreating further into the shadows as the alerted guard started heading to my general direction, ‘“Don’t get caught, Rain.”’ I thought mockingly to myself as I pulled my string tight. Thump, thud. The alerted guard was down, but it was hard to say if he’d attracted the attention of any of his friends. I paused, waiting for any other reaction, my heart pounding in my chest as I squinted at the camp in the darkness.

“All clear.” I heard the call to my right and let out my breath that I didn’t know I was holding. But the mission wasn’t over yet. I notched another arrow, in case we had missed any of the guards, and moved into the camp. Four of my companions tossed globes full of sleeping gas into the tents as we advanced, to ensure that those inside were out cold. The goal tonight was to save lives, not to take them.

We crept through the camp until we saw them, the ugly things. Three iron cages, with crossing bars so that no more than an arm could be stuck out (if you were willing to get close enough to the spikes that jutted into the cage, anyway). All three were packed to the brim with people; not just our people, close to a hundred others were in there, too. Some still had the paint of their tribes on their faces. What they were planning on doing with them all made me sick to think about, but I pushed that aside for now. Most of the occupants were asleep, snoring softly; some were even doing so standing up, leaning against each other to avoid the spikes of the walls. There was no way we were only going to rescue our own.

It didn’t matter though. For now, we needed to get these people out of here; if the others came with them, fine, as long as they didn’t get us caught. The three that were the best at doing so, worked on picking the locks, while four others watched the camp for any signs of movement. I went around the cages and started to wake those who were sleeping. “Shh,” I whispered to the first, someone who’s war paint matched my own, “We’re getting you out of here. Wake those around you, but keep them quiet. Get ready to run.” The man nodded, and silently started rousing those near him. I moved to the second cage and roused someone else I counted as mine. I needed them to trust me.

As I woke a captive in the final cage, I heard three quiet clicks, almost simultaneously. The cage doors were swung open with a low rumble, just barely wide enough to squeeze out. “We need to move.” came the order, whispered to everyone as people started to escape the cages, “we head out the way we came in; if we get separated, rendezvous on the hill.” The leader of my team looked over at the members of the other Tribes we’d freed, huddling together in the dim light. “You don’t know me or trust me, so you are free to go as soon as we are a mile free of this camp; until then, follow us.”

Slowly and quietly, the massive group made their way out of the camp, past the tents and dead guards. As soon as they were free from the fabric walls, everyone started to run; I didn’t blame them. We headed east, back towards our home, but away from the homes of most of the captives. It wasn’t until the sun started to rise that we stopped to rest; we had several hours head start on anyone who’d be pursuing us, but we still weren’t in the clear yet. It didn’t matter though; everyone was tired, and if we pushed ourselves we’d be in no shape to fight them if they caught us.

Our resting place was by a steam; our scouts set up a perimeter, while the rest of us ate. It was obvious from the way that some of the prisoners tore into the food that they hadn’t eaten in a long while, and I found some relief in that. They were probably taken as slaves, then, instead of... Well, hopefully those tales were just rumours.

“Where are we going?” one asked me, snapping me out of my thoughts. He was an older man, a Biata, with fading feathers and slight lines on his face; it was possible, with how long they lived, that he was someone from before the world went to ruin, but I didn’t ask. He looked at me with distrust and I didn’t blame him. My colours weren’t his colours, and I wore the paint of those who, not fifty years previously, had gone to war against his Tribe.

“To someplace safe.” I replied.

“Safe?” he retorted, spitting on the ground, “No place is safe in this world, girl.”

“One place is safe,” came the voice of a young Human man, sitting nearby, “Haven. The Shiny City. Everyone knows that it's safe there.”

“Haven is a pipe dream, boy,” the Biata snarled, “Sure, those who are tucked safely behind those walls are safe from what we have to live with every day, but they are no safer than a child hiding behind their mother’s skirts. And even if it was safe, how do you expect to get in? Didn’t think about that, did ya? No, boy, it’s best to think about what is in front of you, instead of keeping your head in the clouds.”

“But I heard them, back at the camp.” the boy said eagerly, “Haven is going to start letting people in soon, they are devising a test to let people in. They called it ‘The Gauntlet’.” It was clear to see that, in his mind, he had already passed this ‘Gauntlet’, and was living in a life of leisure behind the impregnable walls of Haven.

The leader of my liberation team came up behind them, and cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. Ararnus Ashhide was an older dwarf, and an imposing figure; his voice boomed loud enough for the entire group to hear. “We are taking you someplace safe, but not to Haven. If you want to know more than that, you will continue to come with us. If not, you are welcome to go and find your own way home. If you are lucky, you will be killed when they try and recapture you. If you are extremely lucky you will make it back into the lands of your tribes. But you aren’t prisoners any more and are free to do what you wish. We are moving out.”

I held out my hand, and pulled the old Biata to his feet. “You really should come with us,” I told him, “But he’s right. You have to decide this for yourself.” I moved on to help the others to their feet, starting with an elderly Human woman, patted my hand and told me I was a good girl. I felt something prick at my heart, but pushed it aside.

Somewhat surprisingly, no one left us as we moved on ahead. We were slow, but steady, and soon we were outside of the territory of those… people. We were near Haven, about half a day’s walk south of us, but we kept our distance and turned north; by nightfall, we were in the foothills of the mountains, and took refuge for the night in a cave. Ararnus directed the scouts to light the torches in the brackets, and began his own job of handing out blankets and rations from the crates that waited inside the cave. Once the last person entered the cave, the scouts sealed the entrance.

“Rest, eat, and relax” Ararnus said to the group. It was obvious that the group was weary; we had been traveling since before dawn, likely 18 or 20 hours total. Many fell asleep as soon as their bellies were full. We were almost safe and my bed was close. So close, I could feel it. Part of me wanted to leave the group, to trudge the rest of the way and spend the night in my own bed, but my feet protested with pain and my eyes protested with drooping lids. I took an offered blanket and found a spot near the entrance to settle down for the night.

The sound of shouting awoke me; in a panic, I scrambled for my bow before I realized that the yelling was coming from the disgruntled Biata from the rest stop. He was yelling at Ararnus, who just stood there with his arms crossed, waiting for him to finish his tirade.

“Listen here,” the Biata snarled, “You tell us that we aren’t your prisoners and that we can go when we please, but then you seal the entrance behind us!”

“Of course we did; we needed to make sure that if we were followed that we would be safe through the night. Besides, you know as well as I do that other people aren’t the most dangerous thing that wants to hunt you out there. Best to keep everyone safe and tucked in.” It looked like the Biata was about to start yelling again, but Ararnus put a heavy hand onto his shoulder and looked him in the eye. “Look, I understand; I’ve been running for a long time, too. Not trusting anyone, just concerned about making it through to the next day, trying to make sure that those who I care about make it to the next day, too. It's too hard to live that way for too long. It wasn’t that long ago I was just like you, fighting and killing anyone who wore colours that weren’t mine. I’ve changed. I’m just asking that you take that chance and to make things different for yourself. Look around you; we were all part of different Tribes but here we are, and not a single person has tried to kill someone else yet. The world is changing. It's time to change with it.”

The Biata’s shoulders sagged and it was obvious that the fight had left him for a moment. Around the cave, others were listening to the speech. The young man who dreamed of Haven, a young Elven girl bandaging up the wounds of her companion, an ageless barkskin Dryad sitting conspicuously with a group of Selunari, a tired-looking Orc; they were all listening to the Dwarf, and the atmosphere in the cave changed as a new fire was lit in all of their eyes. I looked at the Biata, who looked around their makeshift camp and the newfound spark of community, and it was obvious it was ignited in him, as well. He looked back at the Dwarf, with a determination in his eyes I hadn’t seen before. “What do I need to do?” he asked.

Ararnus’s reply was simple: “Be a hero of old.”


((OOC/OOG: Where is the first sneak peak?))
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