Traveller’s Tales – Earkran

2

Milo’s face scrunches as the neckbone beneath her foot gives way. It’s like stepping on a snail’s shell, but surrounded by muscle and tissue, giving way with a soft, satisfying crunch. The scout that the neck belonged to goes limp, their hand desperately grabbing at Milo’s belt falling to their side. She steps back, removing her foot from the mess of blood and bone it created and shaking it off into the snow. The gore is fine – she’s seen more than enough of that. It’s the eyes. They are the only part of the face she can see, underneath the bandages that wrap their body, and they look young. Too young for what she just did to their owner.

A shiver fights its way up her spine.

‘Fuck it’, she mutters, and turns away.

This scout – this child – was one of three. The other two bodies lay a few feet behind Milo, one resting up against a tree trunk with a singed cavity in their chest, the other in two halves about a metre apart on the path. She doesn’t need the eyes of the other two to know they were just as young. That’s why she’s here – why this mission was worth taking in the first place. Get inside their rituals. Figure out why their new converts are all so young. Return with the answer, or whatever else she finds.

Well, she definitely found something.

This was not a difficult fight, though she rarely comes across those anymore. She picks her battles when she can – and Chaos carries her through the occasional misjudgement – but this didn’t even raise her heartrate. Her shoulders slump – where was the buzz? That energy she so longed for, the coursing adrenaline. Granted, these were children, but –

She reaches up to touch her forehead, slipping her fingers under the top of her balaclava. Didn’t even break a sweat.

In this dead forest, the trees surrounding her all bare and still despite the wind, her breath is the same slow and steady draw as before the fighting began. It’s still early; the path ahead is layered with a few inches of snow, which fell overnight and has yet to be disturbed. If there are no tracks to speak of, scouts like these are of greater concern right now than the local fauna – although, that won’t be true forever. Milo checks around her once more, but apart from the late kids, she is alone.

Are they losing her scent, finally? She’s infiltrated temples before, but it’s been far harder to shake them this time, even after the days of travel it’s taken to get across their territory. The death of Craven is not an issue for her, morally, but the more of a mess she makes now, the more she will have to reckon with upon her inevitable return.

After a moment, she shrugs, not one to question Fate or its choices, and begins to pad along the foot-worn road. She throws her blade down to one side of the path and it thuds into the snow, dissolving into nothing but whisps of white smoke.

Craven territory is nestled into the north-eastern shores of Earkran, where ice caps out to sea blow frigid winds inland, earning the area the nickname of ‘The Frosts’. Milo has always appreciated the freshness here, even if it comes attached to dangerous terrain. As she walks along, she takes a deep breath of frozen air, clearing her sinuses of the stench of blood.

She needs to focus on the path, on getting out of their territory alive. The temple she targeted lies to the north, the closest one to a safe exit route that also had recently sighted activity. However, that still leaves hundreds of miles of wasteland and their capital city, all teeming with threats. It’s dull scenery, but vicious, especially when it would only take one effective sorcerer to cause her a real problem. Better yet, one who can’t control their ungodly powers could wipe her out, along with everyone for a mile around her.

Her footsteps crunch, the snow softly compacting under her boots with each step and leaving small, shallow tracks behind her. Her gear for this mission is all about speed and stealth, layers of lightweight armour over a fabric bodysuit, but she’d stowed away a heavy overcoat in a treetop before entering the temple. Retrieving it as she left, she’s managed to keep out the worst of the cold from her body, while the balaclava keeps all but her silver eyes covered.

She needs to get beyond the Ridge. It takes her out of Craven influence, and on the way over she can stop off at Val’s Cabin for supplies. She picks up the pace, despite the risk of attracting more attention. If there are any more scouts, they should be young like the last. 

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