Sir Frederic led Burns and Llorente towards his home village. It was so much easier now with the portals collapsed; following a monster had led him into danger and the company of new friends and even stranger allies. What his father and the rest of his brother Knights would have to say about this was hard to predict, yet from Llorente’s comments Sir Frederic’s people had already been exposed to Mammon and his depravations, so they should be open to stories of demons walking the land.
Rain hammered down onto the forest canopy, soaking them intermittently as the thick leaves of the tree tops created crazy pathways for the water. It did not seem to be able to dampen Sir Frederic’s enthusiasm and he chattered away describing what they should expect to see.
Sir Frederic told them that forest opened out into a wide pasture in which a road snaked down towards the river and his father’s lands. Their family’s fortified mansion stood guard over a bridge, with travellers needing to pass through the mansion’s walls and archway in order to gain access to the village beyond. The walls continued around the village outskirts and were manned by regular patrols which safeguarded the dwellings within. It had always been enough to dissuade bandits or the occasional marauding monster.
“Once over this dip,” he commented to Burns, “we should clear the forest fully and you will have your first glimpse of safety, a warm bed and a hearty meal. Not, of course, necessarily in that order.”
Burns grinned at the excited Knight; once in familiar territory he shed the perpetual air of worry and became a more congenial companion. They could use a rest from the Taurans, Demons, Ambryn and whatever other nasties they had yet to meet. It would be the first time in a long time. He shrugged off the thought of Llorente’s comments about the land and its people and concentrated solely on the meal and warm bed. It was then he noticed the change in Sir Frederic.
The Knight had moved slightly ahead of them and was the first to crest the rise. It was not the most welcoming of sights nor did it fight exactly the description he had given them of his lands. The bridge still stood, yet the archway was shattered and the village walls breached in numerous positions. Burns’ trained eye recognised plasma blasts even from this distance. This had not just happened, although the changing wind brought the smell of burnt wood telling him that it was recent.
“Wait,” ordered Burns unslinging his rifle and stopping Sir Frederic’s threatened mad charge, “we do not know who is still around.”
Sir Frederic nodded, unslinging the auto-rifle he now carried, instead of his sword. He would wait, but not for long.
Burns pulled them back to cover and knelt, bringing the scope of his rifle to his eyes. He changed his position until he could get a good view of the village center, the breached walls making his efforts easier. The weapon’s magnification was more than enough to show him what had happened to the village and tell him who the recent visitors had been. Two large wheels supported on a robust and out of place metal structure took centre stage. Fastened to these wheels were the remains of two villagers with a haphazard pile of bodies below testament to the fact that these were only the last of a large number of sacrifices. Zooming in on the suspended corpses he saw bloody symbols cut into their naked chests and knew that the Taurans were the culprits.
“I am not sure whether you will want to see this,” he whispered to Sir Frederic who had joined him, and nodded towards the village, “it certainly is not the recommended way to remember them.”
“Yet I must go down,” said Sir Frederic, “even if it is only to give them a decent burial.”
The Knight stood, shouldering his rifle and now drawing his sword, “If I am really lucky, they may have left an ambush for me.”
Burns winced, yet rose to join his companion, Llorente in tow, “”Very well, but we’ll do this my way, no running off to die an honourable death. If it’s revenge you want, we know where we can find some Taurans, even if they are not the right ones.”