A soft crunch of twigs and a sharp drawing of a blade woke Katie as if someone had dumped a bucket of freezing water on her face. The two sounds came from right next to her, loud as if someone had shout in her ears. In her groggy mind, she thought that it was Richard next to her, but she knew that he taking his watch still. She couldn't have been asleep very long.
The tiny hairs on the back of her neck rose, making a shiver run down her spine and bringing her wide awake in an instant. Something was wrong; she could sense it. Her eyes flew open as she shifted her body to the left and rolled.
A sharp blade ate earth and blanket right where she had been not a moment ago. The sound of the blade had brought everyone awake, and disoriented heads were popping up, looking for the source. Another blade left its sheath and heavy footsteps rose into the quiet night, making sleepers jump to their feet in alarm.
Katie was up and on her feet, pulling her sword out as she went, which had been next to her while she slept. She looked up at the sword quivering in her blankets where she had been only a few seconds ago. A powerfully built creature jumped at her.
She had never seen a creature such as this one. It had the torso of a man, just like the centaurs she had seen earlier that day, but the rest of its body was very different. It had two legs that looked exactly like those of a goat or sheep.
A strike on her sword sent tingles up her arms, causing her to cry out in startling pain that seemed worse than usual because she had just awoke. She found herself on her bottom, unsure how she got there. The creature’s blade came down upon her right shoulder before she had been able to bring up her own. She cringed as she felt it deflect off bone.
“Get away from her!” a voice shouted from a fairly far distance away. Hope flared because that voice belonged to Richard, her savior.
Two other swords rang into the night as Brianna and Ridley came at a charge. They were all too far away from her and the creature was too strong, too fast for her. Its laugh rang out in the silence, making another shiver run along her back. Three pairs of feet ran at her and the intruder with loud echoing noises. No matter, they were too far away from her.
The vile creature swung his sword around and under hers and jerked it to her right, making her arm fly to the side. She gripped the sword with all her might, afraid of what would happen were she to let go. She tried to ignore the burning pain in it, but inhaled in a gasp as it stung.
A hand powerfully backhanded her across the face and she fell to the side. Little white lights flashed in her eyes and a few drops of blood ran down her chin. She flipped back on her back and brought her sword up again.
The strike of the creature’s sword pushed her sword down upon her. She gripped her hilt with two hands and pushed against his. Her wound sheared with startling pain. Gritting her teeth, she knew that it was a losing battle. The creature was too strong for her; the blade made a quick descend towards her unguarded throat.
Three pairs of footsteps grew louder, but they were still too far to help her. By the time they finally reached her, she would be dead. She wished that she were stronger. After a moment, she stopped thinking about being stronger and thought about Richard. She opened her mouth to shout to him that she loved him.
Instead, a small cry escaped her throat as she felt the blade cut into her skin. She couldn’t get any words out. She tried desperately to say something, but only a whine would come out. She felt a warm drop of blood roll down her neck. She pushed against the creature’s sword as hard as she could, but he was much too strong for her.
A wicked smile shone above her as the creature bent down towards her. He whispered to her as he grinned at her death.
“No one who comes into my home has ever left unharmed,” it said.
A loud bang rang through the night and lights sparkled in her vision. The creature had done it, he killed her. She knew that the last sound had heard was his sword making contact with her throat, carrying out his mission to kill her.
Her vision cleared and she saw that she was still alive and breathing. Richard was there, standing in front of her, between her and the creature. She was lying on the ground, shivering as if she were cold. Her strength was gone; her left shoulder and wound on her arm throbbed.
Ridley and Brianna were at her side, holding their swords up, ready for action. They would have been too late, were it not for the mysterious bang and dazzling light. She wondered if she had called forth her magic without meaning to. She didn’t feel calm when she had heard the bang.
Katie pulled herself up into a sitting position with her uninjured arm, looking around. A throb deep in her shoulder made her bite her lip to keep from crying out. She didn’t want to cry out anymore. It was enough when the creature had tried to kill her; when he had hammered his sword on her shoulder.
“What happened?” she asked Richard.
“Brianna,” he said simply. Katie looked over and saw that Brianna looked terrified.
“Leave us,” Ridley said to the creature. The creature leered at them for a moment before turning and running into the trees.
Katie felt a small cry escape her lips.
“Are you okay?” Ridley asked her.
“Of coarse she’s not okay!” Richard roared at Ridley. “Look at her!”
“Don’t yell at me for this,” Ridley said. He quickly retrieved his pack and brought it over to Katie. He pulled it open and rummaged through it. He pulled out the bottle he had yesterday and a few strips of cloth.
“Are you saying this is my fault?” Richard asked angrily.
“If you hadn’t fallen asleep, then this wouldn’t have happened,” Ridley said calmly. “When you started to get tired, you should have came and woke me up.”
“How long until daybreak?” Brianna quickly asked as Richard opened his mouth to retort.
“An hour, tops,” Ridley said. Brianna nodded.
“Maybe we should stay awake,” Katie whispered through gritted teeth. She was furious that Richard had fallen asleep, but she couldn’t blame him. They were all tired. It happens.
“Yes,” Ridley said, nodding. He carefully wiped her wound clean. Katie bit her lip as she concentrated on the surrounding area. She tried to ignore the throb in her shoulder as Ridley tied the cloth around the wound. Now both arms were injured.
“This won’t stay very long,” he said. “We have to get you to a healer.”
“And where are we going to find a healer around here?” Richard shouted.
“At the Palace of the Lady,” Ridley replied. “And I would appreciate it if you would stop shouting. You are likely to bring soldiers over if they hear you.” Richard opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it and closed it again.
“How long until we get to the Palace of the Lady?” Brianna asked. Katie’s whole right arm was going numb.
“Probably three hours,” Ridley said.
“We should go,” Richard said.
“I think we should wait until dawn,” Ridley said.
“Why?” Richard asked angrily, trying but failing to keep his voice low.
“Because we could be ambushed in the forest,” Ridley said calmly. “We have about an hour left to travel through the forest and then two hours through the rest of the plains.” Richard looked away, seething. Katie laid her head back onto the ground, taking deep breaths.
Brianna placed her hand on Richard’s shoulder for a moment before turning to Ridley.
“Ridley, explain to us everything about the truce being broken,” she inquired. Ridley nodded.
“Recently, Emperor Astroth obtained magic from his wizard, Lord Zarha. With the new rising of magic, Astroth has more power than the Queen of Serdio. Such an imbalance is bound to cause a war. It was only a matter of times before the truce broke and Astroth started his raid for power.
“Magical creatures, such as dragons, have been favored by Astroth. When the use of magical creatures is added to warfare, a large imbalance of power takes place. All of this is added to the already messed up ruling power.
“In the end, magic is the main reason why the truce was broken. Were it not for Astroth’s use of so much magic, then there wouldn’t be a problem. But since he has more control over things, he has more of a lead in the coming battle.”
“What of the Queen’s magic?” Richard asked.
“She does have control over magic, but not in the same way as Astroth does. Astroth seems to have a lot more control over magic and magical creatures. We aren’t sure why it is that way, but we know that Astroth has tremendous power over magic.
“We hazard a guess that Zarha, being a powerful wizard, gave Astroth his powers. There is no other fathomable reason why he would have as much power as he does,” Ridley said.
“So is there a way for the Queen to even out the control over magic?” Brianna asked, standing near Richard.
“Yes,” Ridley said. “Only one thing can even out the power.”
“And what would that be?” Richard pressed.
“The man named by prophecy,” Ridley said simply.
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