Chapter 100 = Planning Ahead
Disclaimer: All characters here are of my own invention, but the original idea of Yoshies, Birdos, etcetera, are copyright of Nintendo, and I make no money from writing this.
33rd of Eira, CD 2156; Somewhere in the Crelata Forests
As light poured in through the tent flap, which had been left open, Darkmark roused from his slumber and smiled slightly as the memories of the previous night came back, the feral still asleep on his chest. He lay there for a few minutes, just basking in the warmth of her presence and reliving the memories in his mind before finally nudging her, waking her up after a few gentle shakes.
“Morning…” she mumbled sleepily, stirring slowly.
“Good morning.” He replied, pulling himself out from under her. She stretched a little and yawned, sitting up as Darkmark stood.
“You know, I… I never caught your name.” Darkmark said embarrassedly, offering a hand to help her up.
“Setskitina.” She answered, pulling herself to her feet. “And you are…?”
“Darkmark to most.” He replied with a sly smile. “But you… you can call me Marcus.”
“Well, Marcus…” She said, putting her arms around him, “…are you leaving today?”
The brown Yoshi gave a nod. “I’m going to get my bearings and maybe find some food first, but yes…”
“I know I can’t stop you.” She whispered, pressing her tanned orange chest against his pure-white one. “But… promise me something.”
He put an arm around her and held her gently. “That I’ll come back?”
“Yes, Marcus… please, come back to me. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… but some day, please come back.”
“Setskitina… I don’t know what the future holds. My journey will be dangerous, long, and hard. I am thankful that I was able to enjoy your company, and I will return if I can, but… I cannot promise I will return. I don’t know that I will live.”
Nodding, she said, “Then I just ask that you try. If you live, then come back… I’ll be waiting.”
“If I live.” Darkmark repeated, hugging her tightly, “I’ll come back.”
“You… you will?”
“I don’t have anywhere else.” Darkmark murmured. “My family, my friends, they are all dead. My home is just a ruin, a pile of ash on barren land. Nobody knows me… but, if you would be my new family, if the other ferals my new friends, this place my new home… I’ll come back.”
“Don’t.” Darkmark replied curtly, standing back a little. “I can’t… I can’t stay here, not yet. First I… I have to leave and protect it. I have to protect this place and all the others from any who would seek to destroy them…”
His gaze cast over her, the one he just vowed to return to. “I’ve already lost so much… this time, I won’t let it happen. I will not. I… I don’t know how, but I’m going to stop it from happening… but at least… I have found what I am fighting for.”
“A messenger has arrived.” A soldier reported, as ever leaving off the ‘sir’.
Mikhail looked up from the reports on his desk. They wanted him to save money even when he was about to try and defend against a large-scale attack and it boggled his mind. “Where from?” he asked, glad for a distraction.
“Sent from the capital to Lince, he’s returned from there and wants to ask you something.”
“Send him in.” Mikhail ordered, and a rather tired-looking and scruffy messenger was brought in. He stared at Mikhail for a moment before inquiring incredulously, “Are you the Captain of the Guard?”
Mikhail narrowed his gaze. “Yes. What do you want?”
Needing a favour, the messenger held his tongue against any comment he might normally have made. “I need a fresh horse. A fast one. I was supposed to be back in the capital by now.”
“Messengers are supposed to have horses when they’re dispatched.”
“I did! But they took it from me.”
“Isn’t that a result of your own incompetence?”
“They teleported it! How am I supposed to expect that?”
“Fine, just give me your name so I can forward the appropriate bill…”
The messenger slammed his palm on the desk, sending loose sheets of paper into Mikhail’s lap. “Damnit! I need a horse. This is official business from the capital itself! The more you delay me the more you put the entire kingdom in jeopardy!”
“Very well, very well.” Mikhail said calmly, putting the papers back on his desk and nodding to the guard in his office. “Give the messenger a horse.”
“A fast horse.”
“…a fast horse.”
The guard gave a brisk nod and led the messenger out, as Mikhail went back to attempting to do accounting when he barely knew math, much less long division. Official capital business… did they incite the attack I’m supposed to be expecting? Am I just being used as bait? Is this city a deliberate target?
He took a quill from an inkwell and signed one of the forms. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see… regardless, I’d better do my best anyway. If I hold them off I’ll surely get noticed, in a good way for once.
“As I suspected.” Tsi-Lau said, moving from her teleport point and over to the cushion Skafria was resting on. “We lost most of the low-level assassins. Fewer higher-levelled ones left, but we don’t have anyone under fourth any more. The lower assassins lack the loyalty and discipline of those who have been around longer and survived more trials.”
“Better than the other way around.” Skafria mused, handing her the egg and standing up. “I’m going out for a little while.”
“Feeding?” Tsi-Lau asked, running her hands over one of the larger pinkish-purple spots.
“That too… but I want to find a book of magic. I need to learn some so I’ll actually be of some use.”
“I have no intentions of getting us involved in the conflict.”
“Me neither… but fortune favours the prepared.” Skafria quipped, before heading out the door with a wave.
Tsi-Lau watched him go, looking around before lying on her side and curling up around the egg. It was warm to the touch and every so often seemed to move slightly, bringing a smile to the assassin’s face. Only here, alone in the privacy of her back room, could she bring herself to show affection for her child… did it have to be that way? As long as she was the head of the Guild, presumably… but at least she could treasure every moment she could spend with the egg, daydreaming like any other prospective parent about what it would become.
“I only want one thing from you…” She whispered to the egg. “…don’t take the path I took. Be happy with your life…”
Somewhere east of Corvan
“My lord, we’ll be able to reach the city sometime late tomorrow.”
“Good.” The baron replied, marching without slowing down at all. “Once we get there we’ll set up camp outside the city. I want some spies sent in; if we can just move into the city, fine, but otherwise we’ll need to plan an attack, just in case.”
“Just in case what, if I may ask?”
“Most likely, if they’re preparing for an attack, there will be resistance groups. We can probably try and incite them to rise up and capture the city, or at least just let us in, but I’d really rather prefer it if we could just march in and fortify ourselves.”
“Not going to happen, my lord.” One of the advisors accompanying the baron interjected. “If they expected us to come this way they’ll have put up defences. Even if they didn’t, the messenger will surely have gotten there by now.”
“Yes, we slowed him down, but he’ll get a new horse in the city, I’m sure. If we do start an attack we can’t besiege the city or they’ll get reinforced before we can capture it. We need to pour in and take it over, however we can… with a minimum number of casualties, if possible.”
“But won’t they see that as an act of aggression?”
“Yes…” The baron mused, rubbing the underside of his nose thoughtfully. “But to be honest, I think they’d see us not surrendering as an act of aggression.”
“I’m afraid I concur, my lord.”
“So therefore,” the red-skinned Yoshi concluded, “Our best course of action is to take the city, defensible as it is, and hold it against attack.”
“Not to advance?”
“We shall see how many recruits we can gain from the city, and what the Kingdom does. We can’t plan too far ahead in these matters…”
To be continued…