The Great War
Part I

“The sun’s setting… better get back…”

A young woman strides quietly though the trees of the dimming forest. With a quiver of silver tipped arrows on her back and a bow of fine mahogany, she is no stranger to the woods as each step is as delicate as it is, deliberate. A cloth hood covers her face in shadow, but the light of the moon guides her journey back. Losing her way was not her main concern, but within the darkness grew a creeping danger, her instincts informed.

“Third tree… fourth tree... then the left…” she whispers under her breath.

With her light step and slender form, her feet gently glides without the slightest sound. She recognizes the path she took, each toppled trunk she had delicately hurdled over, every broken branch in its place, until she notices something different. The fourth tree she previously passed now bears a peculiar protruding shape embedded within its trunk. It is inconspicuous, but not hidden from the ranger’s sharp eyes. Stepping closer, she reaches for it but halfway there, her mind already realizes what she has found. Before her hand touches it, multiple eyelids on multiple eyeballs along the shaft of a rod suddenly opens to her.

“Goddamn it."

Without hesitation, her hand quickly rips the pearly-eyed rod from the trunk, then breaks into a sprint past the trees, back down the road she came. On the path ahead of her though, she hears the sound of pacing feet. Clumsy with less finesse, but fast. Someone is already there coming toward her.

“I need another road." Her eyes quickly dart back and forth, but sees only the trees and the single path she took to get here. Meanwhile behind her is a fast consecutive snapping of branches under boot. Another pursuer. Thinking quickly, she draws her bow, pulls back, and releases a power-shot through the dense row of trees ahead of her. The powerful arrow, guided by the strength of the wind, pierces a straight line and destroys the row of trees, clearing a path.

Listening to her pursuers' hastening footsteps, she mutters, “Wonder who our surprise guests are." She begins sprinting down the path through the trees she had just created, dodging a small camp of sleeping satyrs around a small campfire and around more trees back to the path she recognizes.

Listening close, she hears the howl of several wolves, informing her of their distance, and of her pursuers' identity.

“Oh, wolfie. You must be hungry by now.” As she sprints, she looks over her shoulder and catches a quick glimpse of the Werewolf beast, Lycan, and his two wolf familiars no more than ten meters behind her, and gaining quick.

Lycan, a man able to transform into a werewolf at will, is not a foe one should ever face alone. A glimpse of his blood red mane along his back gives her the shivers, and only dwarfed by the crimson glimmer of his eyes; a shine raged on by the innate bloodlust of his canine instincts. The man, now an enormous wolf double her size, has caught her scent and will not relent until her blood is spilled. His two wolf familiars are smaller in size, but holds just as big an appetite as their master. Their fur is the darkest black, nearly blending into the shadows if not for the ranger's acute eyesight. They would be almost invisible if not for the angry red in their eyes.

The sound of their feet grows louder, closer. One of the wolves takes a bite at her feet, the sound of its jaws snapping sharply as if it were beside her ear. She keeps a calm demeanor despite the rapid beating of her heart. Threatened, she summons the power of the wind once more. A strong gust pushes her body forward, nearly lifting her, and her pace rapidly accelerates. Her body is quickly wrapped in a breezing wind as she hurdles over fallen trees and boulders.

Even amid the excitement and the adrenaline pumping through her veins, she is able to hear another set of feet through the trees chasing parallel to her. In her peripheral vision, however, she sees nothing. There are only more trees.

But the sound continues. So loud, so clear to her instincts.

Quickly, she grasps a tree trunk and executes a sharp turn, then hurdles into the nearest bush before drawing her bow. The wolves fail to turn in time and stumbles into one another before the loud snap of the bowstring. Aimed for the biggest wolf, Lycan, a springy rope splits from the tip of the fired arrow and hits the wolf master’s chest, immediately wrapping around his arms. The rope extends to the wolves beside him, wrapping their feet and claws in an orgy of confused, flailing limbs.

“Sorry, but I don't have time to play this time, Lycan.” She quickly returns to the run.

Lycan howls as she sprints out of the forest, and out of his grasp.

She cheers, “The first tower! Oh baby, I missed you."

The light of the tower is even more beautiful than the light of the moon. The tall ivory tower, pristine with the symbol of the Radiant glowing in the night sky, is a beacon of sanctuary at the frontline of the war. Seeing her salvation, the ranger runs a path straight to the gates.

“Wait, wait, wait! What’s the rush?!” says a crunching, low voice emerging behind her.

Appearing along the path in a puff of red smoke is a skeleton. Donning a horned helmet, spiked shoulder guards, and thick gauntlets of fire red, the invisible pursuer reveals himself to be Clinks, the skeleton archer. Deep in his bony rib cage sits a bright, burning stone heart, finally visible in this dark night. No more than a half second after appearing, his readied bow releases multiple flaming arrows sent straight for her head.

With lightning reflexes, she tumbles away to the side and faces him before pulling her own bow. As she releases the string, the powerful breeze forces the arrow forward in a gleam of light toward the skeleton archer. He softly turns his body sideways and watches the arrow narrowly zoom past his rib cage before disappearing into the dark, empty road.

“That’s all?" turning back and drawing his bow again, he adds, "You missed!"

But she has already fled.

“Boots, guide my feet!” Upon her will, her boots glow a dark blue and her rapid pace accelerates even further, her feet moving at an abnormally rapid speed.

The gates of the first tower open and the guards welcome her rushed return. Just meters away, she slides in the remaining distance and her pace gradually returns to a normal walk. Without a doubt, her pursuers would not dare come into range of the first tower without a readied army.

“He disappeared in a mist of smoke, madam,” shouts one of the guards from the high tower.

“Good,” she replies without a glance back as she heads to the main tent.

Inside the encampment, the great high tower stands at the very center. All around are campfires and groups of soldiers resting, eating, and training. Every day is another fight, and every day, the war seems stagnant. Both armies of opposite sides, Radiant and Dire, struggle with equal footing on the battlefield, turning the Great War into a war of attrition. Even then, morale remains steady, and hopes are high.

Bursting into the tent, the ranger shouts as she enters, “Where the hell was Drow!”

The man sitting inside slowly looks up at her. “Drow,” he starts, “was busy fighting another wave of Dire.” The man, whose skin was tanned and darkened by his days in the distant deserts, wears a majestic helmet of embedded jewels and a turban drooping over the sides of his ears. His eyes forever shined gold with tenacity, and his voice powerful with authority. Many even consider him to be the most righteous and loyal soldier within the entire Radiant Empire. Chen, the Holy Knight, is captain of the Northwest First tower.

“I almost died! No thanks to either of you.” She pulls down her hood, and immediately, locks of bright, crisp red hair drops into the open.

“Well, I'm sorry, but her duty is not to scout," he slowly walks around his desk toward her, "There were more raiding parties at the gate, and she needed the bounty. What were you doing out there, may I ask?” His voice is low and commanding, but sincere.

“I was scouting the northern forest, and ‘bumped’ into Lycan. Oh, and Clinks, that damn undead archer. He’s been prowling around up here for the past month and I don’t know why. I’m fine though, mind you. Nice of you to ask.” She starts brushing the dirt and dead leaves from her cloak.

“We know Lycan has been feasting in that forest for the past month now. That is not news. But Clinks? There has not been word from the other towers about his presence.”

“Word is late, I suppose. It was warded by the way, the forest I mean. I managed to get rid of it. Those damn eyeballs nearly stopped my heart. He was practically following me the whole time, that damned skeleton,” she explains, hands unconsciously tightening around her bow.

“I see. Well, you’d better be more cautious next time. Not even the swift Windrunner could escape every encounter.” Chen pauses for a moment, and reiterates, “But again, I must ask. What were you trying to accomplish?”

“Since you’re finally asking nicely,” she takes a breath, “I managed to ward the entire west side of the forest.”

“You mean…”

“Yes,” the Windrunner smiles, “If we want to take down the big, bad Lycan, now is the time.”

To Be Continued.