Robert wastes no time. He reaches the village north of Hvalgarr Mount, fetches his trusty steed Paeldagrin and in no time is riding in moderate speed on the main road from Regia to Valanis. In four days’ time – it seems he is in no hurry at all – Robert reaches the border of Terranova, the realm of the night elves.
The truce between Vadis’ supporters in Valanis and Adair’s children in Terranova grants passage to every pilgrim to the holy nation. The passage is free, of course. But safe? Well, maybe, if no monster or bandit is on the way.
So, in Robert’s case, he must remain alert and ready for surprises. He keeps his father’s kiliji on his back and puts his new saber Grimlock in a safe yet reachable place on Paeldagrin’s saddle. As he enters the dense Natahir Forest in Terranova through a path, Robert finds a situation similar to Yggdrasil Forest in Thyrine: dense and rather dark. The only difference is, from experience, the natural ranger feels that he is being watched all the time – but not in an unfriendly way.
The trees there are mainly common oaks, beeches and mahogany, but most of them have shapes like humans, and even the wood lines on their trunks also like human faces. The tree trunks there seem black like charcoal, and altogether they make the forest blacker and darker even in daytime like this.
Robert rides on, being extra careful of his surroundings.
Ah, this place is real strange. But it feels somewhat... magical. I never felt this much... life before, and I’m not alone. Somebody, or something is watching my every move, every breath. Maybe it’s the forest imp? Or is it something else? Well, at least I don’t sense any hostility in the air, but better don’t sleep here, or even blink.
Paeldagrin, however, doesn’t share Robert’s calmness. It neighs in discomfort and fear. Robert pats its neck, trying to calm the stallion down.
‘Shh... shhh... easy, Paeldagrin, easy. We’re only being watched, that’s all. No harm will befall us if we mean them no harm.’
Robert’s soothing voice and calmness in his actions make Paeldagrin a bit sober, and they continue trekking south, still with extreme caution.
Suddenly, a strong wind sweeps above Robert’s head. Robert reacts intuitively by resting his head low on Paeldagrin’s mane. Robert’s timely dodge indeed saves his own neck, as on that very moment a big, birdlike creature swoops down in an extraordinary speed. Tips of its talons scratch on Robert’s back, barely leaving a mark on his studded leather armor.
Robert quickly draws his kiliji, but he doesn’t turn around. He’s anticipating more air raiders coming his way. The second attacker comes. Robert rolls over along Paeldagrin’s body, and clutches on the horse’s side, avoiding a closer shave. This time Robert uses his time to observe his attackers.
Harpies! And more of them incoming!
A harpy is a beastly woman with enormous wings as hands. Its lower body is covered with fur and comprises of a pair of bird talons and feet and a bird tail. Its face is beautiful or birdlike – downright hag-like – and its skin is colored, either in red, green, black or brown. Its hair can be short or long, and most commonly very untidy like thorns or spikes. A harpy, though human-sized, can fly very fast, and its common attack is scratching and stabbing using its talons.
As the third harpy sweeps down to attack Robert on his present position, Robert quickly gets aloft Paeldagrin’s back and swipes his kiliji towards the attacker that comes from his side, using his newly improved technique, the Rising Dragon Uppercut Slash.
The firepower generated on his kiliji is not much compared to his Grimlock, but it’s more than enough to sever the harpy’s left wing. The half-bird, half-woman monster loses its balance and falls crashing to the ground.
Furious upon their sister’s fall, the harpies attack Robert almost simultaneously. There are actually six of them, all diving in high speed in a loose formation.
There’s no room for Robert and Paeldagrin to escape, but Robert immediately comes into a quick action. He leaps from his saddle, jumps high using Paeldagrin’s back, and slashes with his kiliji.
Pillars of fire spread upwards like dancing dragons: Dances of Myriad Dragons.
Robert’s counter-slashes kill one harpy and injure three more. The unlucky monster came too close and too direct to the fire pillars, and its limbs are severed and scattered, and the deep cuts on its body make a blood rain falling upon Robert.
Only one of the injured harpies is badly hurt so it can’t attack anymore, so there are four left. They are now really mad, making continuous and speedy dives to make Robert pay for their dead sister.
As Robert dodges a harpy’s attack, another harpy dives and carves a big cut on Robert’s uncovered right arm. He almost loses his grip on his kiliji, but quickly regains his concentration as he remembers Algaban’s advice:
Mind the fight. Mind your surroundings. Don’t let anything else distract you.
The attacks come on and on, each faster than the last. Robert gets slight grazes on his leg and armor, and Paeldagrin gets hurt too. Luckily their wounds are not serious, thanks to Paeldagrin’s agility. But if things keep going on like this, they won’t reach the southern edge of Natahir Forest alive.
Paeldagrin jumps over a large log blocking their way, and Robert uses this momentum to draw his new sword Grimlock. Seeing a harpy diving rapidly, Robert does a Crossfire Slash with his two swords to strike it down.
The harpy tries to dodge the cross-shaped firebolt, but Robert’s attack is a little too fast for it. The lines of fire go through its body, splitting it into four parts. But it doesn’t stop there. The fire goes on and cuts a hole on a beech tree trunk.
The moment Robert finishes his attack a harpy catches him by the shoulders. Its talons go deep, making a hole on Rob’s shoulder pad, grappling him firmly. It tries to take Robert up in the air. The ranger cleverly hooks his leg on his horse saddle. He can’t lift his arms to cut the harpy with his swords. The monster’s grip has weakened his shoulders and arms.
But Robert never runs out of ideas. He shouts at the top of his voice, but it’s more like a Blue Dragon’s Roar of Pain. Generated by the aura, the energy from the shout knocks the harpy like a two-hundred-pound sledge hammer. The harpy gets the most awful dizziness and pain through its ears, damaging its internal organs. It doesn’t let go of its grip but the grip is considerably weakened.
As Robert is going to shake himself free, another harpy flies right in front of him with its talons lifted straight towards Robert’s face to put an end to Robert and all the things he just learned from his scaly teacher, Algaban. Robert sees it with terror in his face, but he is not going to lose without a fight, no matter how desperate his action will be.
Suddenly the ground shakes. Robert and Paeldagrin are trembling, and the horse begins to panic again. The harpy attacking Robert from the front feels a worst thing’s coming and suddenly changes its course, fleeing. The second harpy is too weak to fly, so it still grips Robert’s shoulders. If it’s about to die, it’ll die with its victim along with it.
‘BUU-RA-RUUM!!! YOU... HURT... OUR... FRIENDDD!!!’
The loud, rumbling voice speaks very slowly. The ground is still shaking and the sound of moving roots and twigs are heard all around Robert. Paeldagrin runs as fast as it can forward, out of control, and Robert is struggling to lift his arms with the harpy still on his shoulders and keep himself seated on his steed. The harpy tries to lower its head to bite Robert but fails repeatedly – Paeldagrin is running like mad.
‘YOOUUU... MUSTTT... PAAAYY!!!’
Soon enough, Robert sees the trees around him moving. Though very slowly, the movements of roots and branches are indeed most threatening. It’s obvious, the trees are walking! The face-like lines on their trunks look angry, and that proves Robert’s hunch that these are the ancient beings which reside in this forest for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.
‘FEEEL... THE... ENTS’... WRATH!!!’
Yup, there’s no mistaking it. They’re treants or tree-folks, or ents as they call themselves, and they are awakened in anger. As Robert doesn’t have time to find out why and the ents don’t need many words to explain why they’re punishing him, we can assume that Robert’s Crossfire Slash on one of the trees there stirred their hostility up – although they reacted most slowly.
Their slowness gives the agile Paeldagrin chance to run and evade their attacks, but now that they are surrounded, a single direct hit on the horse or his master will put them into a dreadful end. Robert sees some possible openings he can go through, but now with Paeldagrin out of control and a harpy on his shoulder, his chance to survive is near to naught.
Interview with Craig Schaefer (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo) - *Official Author Website * *Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down * *Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score * *Read Fan...
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