“Holy Sprite!” murmured Billy as he gazed at the blood soaked woman.
She wore a knee length yellow skirt, knee high socks of pink and white stripes, a white tank top and steel vambraces etched with rabbits. Her purple hair hung down her back in a ponytail. In her left hand was a chakram in the design of a deadly periwinkle flower. Another identical one hung at the right hand side of her waist. Her eyes were a fluorescent blue and she had a maniacal smile.
“So, you wanna die?” she giggled.
“Not really,” began Trey but he was interrupted by Zak.
“Bring it on!” he shouted as he readied his axe with an equally insane grin.
“Zak calm down. We’re not here to fight, let alone with a person who killed that thing,” Trey said as he motioned to the Forukk at her feet.
“What do you mean you’re not here to fight? Everyone is here to fight. Fighting is what everyone does. If you’re not here to fight then why are you here?” said the women at twice the speed normal people spoke.
“Why should we tell you?” said Billy.
“‘Cos’ I’m gonna beat you if you don’t tell me,” snickered the woman.
“It’s five against one, we have the advantage,” stated Dawn in her best attempt at calm diplomacy.
“That’s what the Zelo Empire said: ‘It’s one against ten thousand, we have the advantage.’ It never did them any good,” said the woman with a laugh.
“We’re heading to Lanstiro to free the people of Pastrino. If you want to try and stop us, we will fight you and we will win,” said Trey.
“Invading the fortress of an army of Forukks with only five kids? You’re my kind of people. That sort of battle might be fun. I’m Lily by the way,” said the woman as she attached the chakram back onto her belt.
“We don’t want to get into a fight. We’re getting in, finding the slaves and getting them out,” Dawn explained tensely. The woman seemed to be getting to Dawn in some way.
Lily laughed hard holding her ribs. “You expect to sneak into the enemy main base, find every slave in a huge area that’s crawling with Forukks, then have a mass exodus back out again, all without being noticed?”
“Pretty much,” smiled Zak.
“Sounds fun. I still prefer a frontal assault though,” said Lily as she began to skip down the hill, heading south. “C’mon. You’ve gotta meet Htaed.”
“Do we follow?” asked Dawn.
“She is strong,” commented Liam. “She’ll be a big help in enemy territory.”
“Agreed,” said Trey.
They followed her along the cliff for ten minutes when she suddenly hopped off the edge. As the group rushed over to the side they were relieved to hear her shout up for them to join her. Peering over the edge they saw a large ledge ten foot below with a small house perched at the right hand side. Grass covered the ledge giving it a peaceful feel.
As they climbed down to the platform, the idyllic scene around them was shattered as they noticed that what they thought had been a fence was really hundreds of pikes circling the lawn, impaled Forukk heads festering at the tips.
“Wait here while I get Htaed,” called the woman as she bounded into the cottage. It was a simple building of carved stone blocks and thin wooden planks covered in a layer of a pale, clay like substance.
A few moments later she jumped back out dragging a giant of a man behind her. His matted black hair rested across his broad shoulders, baggy trousers swayed around his legs in the wind and he wore a torn coat over his bare chest. He had no shoes. In each hand he held a great sword as tall and wide as Trey. His face was hard and scars crisscrossed all of his visible skin.
“What brings such young people out into these forsaken lands?” spoke the man in a soft voice that contrasted with his brutal appearance. No one seemed able to respond. He looked far scarier than the Forukks and his very presence spoke of death and destruction. His calm demeanour and soft voice just added confusion.
Liam finally answered his question. “We go to free the slaves that the Forukks are holding captive.”
Htaed cocked an eyebrow, whether in suspicion or amusement no one could tell. “Come inside to eat and rest. You will not get another chance after this point.” All five teens made no move to go inside the house. They were with two complete strangers who seemed far from normal and were very powerful. Any number of traps could be inside the cottage.
Lily scoffed at the group for their suspicion. “You’re underestimating us. I hate it when people do that. We hate those Forukks so we obviously won’t be working with them and if we wanted you dead you’d be dead by now. We don’t use traps and deception like cowards.”
The group was not particularly reassured but the woman was right, they could have killed them whenever they felt like it and they certainly did not like the Forukks, the skewered heads were a testament to that. Cautiously Trey took the first step over the threshold and looked around.
The whole inside was just one large room. A hammock hung at either end of the room and a plain wooden table sat at the centre between the two. A small fire flickered in the fireplace behind the table, opposite from the door. Other than two old chairs and a cupboard there was nothing else in the house. Once everyone was inside the house became rather crowded. Htaed offered Dawn a seat and Lily took the other leaving all the men to stand.
“I believe we have a lot to discuss,” said Htaed. “We must be quick with words though as within the next few days the slaves will be spread so thin throughout enemy territory that it will be impossible to find them all.”
“What’s to discuss?” asked Billy. “We know what we are doing. The only question is will you help us and that only needs a one word answer.”
“If you think it is that simple then you really will need help. Five children cannot invade an enemy fortress and hope to survive.”
“We aren’t children, we’re young adults,” stated Zak. “Anyway, Lily looks only a few years older than us and if what she says is true, she can survive anywhere.”
Htaed looked thoughtful for a moment. “Lily is… special. She is a lot older than she looks.”
“Whatever. We’re still going whether we stand a chance or not,” Trey concluded.
“We aren’t going to stop you. We are just saying that you need a distraction while you sneak around,” Htaed said.
“Yep! Me and Htaed are gonna kick some Forukk butt while you lot scurry around like mice,” chirped Lily, barely containing her excitement.
“Anyway, eat up and rest for the remainder of the day. Once the morning comes we will set off. Lily and I will knock on their front door while you go around the back.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Trey as he held out his hand to the warrior.
Htaed shook his hand, the coarse appendage fully encasing Trey’s, then they began to eat the strange food that had been placed upon the table while they had been talking. As they rested, Htaed filled them in on his plan and discussed all that he knew of the Forukks and of the city itself.