He immediately shoved Isadora back, yanking his sword free as the rest of the riders rushed forward or leapt off their mounts.
The one at the head of the charge went right for Margaretta, leaning around his mare’s neck to slash at her. He caught of glimpse of her sneering and swinging up at him in retaliation.
“Mishal,” Isadora hissed behind him.
He turned to find one of the riders leaping from their horse and yanking a battle axe free from a back holster. The horse staggered backwards, spun around, and then took off the second the rider had let the horse go.
This man did not remove his scarf, but from his eyes, Mishal could make out the malice, as well as a misplaced excitement that made him uneasy. The man with the scarf charged forward and brought his axe in an arc towards Mishal.
He stepped out of the way rather than trying to catch the blow. He was using a sword and not even a broad one at that. This man had a battle axe he was throwing his weight behind with two hands.
His palms prickled and he readjusted his grip on the sword. He’d never done training with or against an axe before.
Focus. Focus. Focus.
The man pulled back to right himself from his swing. Mishal lunged forward in a decisive slash. The axe-wielder leaned back, but the blow caught him on the collarbone. A thin trail of blood welled in its place, but it was hardly a significant wound. The man snarled at him.
He’d hurt someone. He had acted with intention to hurt, and he had hurt someone. He stepped back again, beginning to shake. He hoped it was adrenaline and he’d get lost in the motion of combat.
The axe-wielder hovered for a moment and then bounced forward, flicking his wrists enough to fake the beginning of a swing. He sucked in a breath, twitching, and the man laughed.
Then he lunged forward, for real, and tried to bring the axe down like he was trying to cleave Mishal straight in half.
He moved deftly to the side, sweat beginning to form on his brow. In the same movement, he threw his weight into shouldering the man hard. A heavy grunt followed as the man was imbalanced. Mishal went for his calves with his sword and slashed along the backside of his right before the man went down, cursing filthily.
“Stormy! Behind!” Isadora called from… somewhere.
He whirled in time to find another assailant, this one wielding a sword much like his own. He quickly twisted his blade to catch this new attacker’s swing before he could lose his arm and threw off the blade with a horrible metal grinding noise.
Then he was kicked in the back of the legs and he barely managed to avoid falling into his second attacker. His sword clattered to the ground as he reached out to catch his fall and glanced over his shoulder to see the axe-wielder rolling away to collect his fallen axe.
The second assailant went for his blade but aborted the motion less that halfway to dodge out of the way of a moderately sized log that had made for his head. Isadora nearly fell over as she missed her target, but quickly steadied herself, log in hand.
She shouldn’t be here, not in the middle of combat, but he… he… Focus.
Somewhere in the distance, he heard a few strings of music notes.
He lunged for his blade and wrapped his fingers around the hilt. Bracing himself with his knuckles, he pushed himself back to his feet and turned back to the axe-wielder. His opponent was reclaiming his axe and pulling himself to his feet.
From his periphery vision, he watched Isadora dodge a strike from the second assailant. Then she kicked out, brought her log up, and swung it right at the attacker’s head.
He turned and leapt at his opponent right as he heard a sickening crunch from behind him, followed by sound of a thud against the ground. The axe-wielder had gotten back up, but he was unprepared.
Mishal caught his arm in a downward motion and, for a moment, he dropped a hand of the axe with a howl of pain. Blood began to flow freely down the long gash down his arm.
Quickly, the axe-wielder grabbed onto the axe again, and with power born of fury, swung incredibly wildly towards him. It was such an erratic blow he had little trouble dodging it, but his eyes kept returning to the blood gushing down his arm.
He had never, never, aimed to hurt anyone like that.
There was a clear opportunity as the man fumbled so badly, but he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t bring himself to lift his sword again out of a readied stance. Tremors ran through him, upsetting his grip on the blade and the food he’d just eaten.
The axe-wielder raised himself again, but Isadora had snuck around him. She used an end of the log to jam into his back, hitting him between the shoulder blades. The man shouted in pain and swung around, axe loose now in his grip. Isadora quickly moved back, but the tear of fabric and her stifled gasp told that she hadn’t gotten away unharmed.
Instead of turning again to swing at them, the man whirled and fled.
Then he realised many of their attackers were fleeing. He surveyed the area quickly to find Margaretta, still relatively close, with Gracia and Kizia near her. Margaretta was breathing heavily, blood trickling down the side of her face and staining her tawny hair. On the ground in front of her was a figure, lying still. Her sword was caked in blood.
He heard the whistle of wind before he felt the arrow, but he staggered back from the sudden impact. He glanced down as the pain began to flare in his leg, and then reached down to grip where the shaft of the arrow was stuck right above his knee. He opened his mouth, exhaled sharply, and then shut in again and dug his fingers hard into his flesh.
Then he glanced up. The axe-wielder was nodding to an archer, watching from afar with little more than some dirt on her face, lowering her bow. Then they both turned and took off.
When he glanced back down at the arrow, he tried to even out his breaths. It didn’t hurt nearly as much as he’d ever imagined arrows hurting, but there was pain.
Ah, damn, it was probably the adrenaline mollifying it.
“Ok,” he said, under his breath, and sat heavily onto the ground.
The noise caught Isadora’s attention, who’d been watching Margaretta. She put her hand over her mouth and sucked in a breath. There was a tear in her clothes, on her shoulder, and a mild cut that only trickled behind that. “Stormy, your leg.”
He nodded. “Mmhmm. Yeah.” He kept it straight in front of him and bent the other one to lean into. He buried both hands into his hair to take a few breaths. His heart was pounding, and his entire chest hurt like it was too small to compensate for this vital motion. “Ok. Ok.”
His first real fight. That was his first real battle, where people were trying to hurt him and he was trying to hurt people. He had hurt people. He’d been shot by an arrow.
A cry broke the stillness that their assailants left behind. He raised his head to see Gracia catch Kizia as she crumpled towards the ground, head lolling. Margaretta was still standing, although looked as though she could be knocked over with a feather and approached the two of them.
The music notes. Kizia’s magic tell was music. Why would she be using unpredictable, uncontrollable healing magic in the middle of combat?
Isadora stepped forward as if to move towards them, and them stopped, glancing around. Her expression fell.
“Mishal,” she said, her voice soft.
He glanced around, fully absorbing his surroundings now. The expedition was all scattered, some still crouched near the two walking carriages as if they would offer enough protection to save them. Some were wielding weapons still, as if ready for further attacks. Among them, he spotted Forestter, Thom, and Gillian, a hunter from the village who was built as though she could be take out two men with both her fists in a single hit.
And there were some that lay on the ground and were not moving. Only three, aside from the one behind him that Isadora had knocked out, were wearing the navy scarves.
So much for being safe on the industrial roads.
When the adrenaline wore off, his leg hurt like absolute hellfire, and the sour taste of iron and death wouldn’t leave his mouth.