2nd of Saun, 716
They met up with him just as the border between the regions came close. The first thing they did was show him the scroll, the signature, the wax seal. Afterwards they explained it all: the intelligence, the precedent, and the consequences. The orders were clear, rushed and paranoid. Orders were orders, though Peake, as he complied with the wishes of the King. Peake’s horse was stripped of provisions, left on the side of the road to be retrieved by scavengers or the wilderness. A pat in its back and a tug of the reigns set them all in motion, riding north in the dusk. Nobody spoke, as there was nothing to say. Riches and fame were already cashed in by every present soldier, in the form of their elegant armors and prestigious workplace. Instead, it was their stomachs the ones that spoke, grunting and protesting, twisting and turning under the pressure of the looming destiny.
The horses whined as the marched continued without any sort of halt, without rest and without hesitations. None of the riders wanted to stretch this further, not more than it was necessary. Peake himself could not forgive himself for not being there, for not advising against such actions. It was too late now. A light tremor spread through his limbs, the need for alcohol striking him prematurely, unable to do anything else but to dig into a small pouch and extract another of those damned pills. A dry swallow sent the drug in his stomach, where it burned for the rest of the journey. The sweat almost poured from his forehead, damping him below the armor and making him smell like a dog. Tonight, all of them were dogs.
It wasn’t until midnight, when the moon was their only illumination that they did find what they were looking for. The pace had grown calmer, much calmer, now that they threaded in the darkness without any sort of guide but the clacking of the horseshoes on the cobblestone path. The silence was not only shattered under the horse’s hooves or the clicking of armors and weapons, but also by distant howls by the beasts that lurked in the shadows. Perhaps those howls came from inside the armor of every Ouroboro guard, the beast within crying out as it slowly took over each men, as the lust for blood was forcibly awakened. The wind whispered tales of lives, of distant memories that would soon be nothing – not history, not memories, but mere events in a life so big that nobody would ever remember them.
Peake prayed to the Seven for them to find nothing, to lose themselves in the road and appear somewhere else, somewhere away from the distant fire they eventually spotted. There was nothing to be done now. Not by the five horsemen, anyway. The dubious silhouettes of carts combined with the whine of horses confirmed the objective. Orders were exchanged, the tactics for the massacre being unnecessarily repeated to further increase the muscle memory of the men. Those religious took a moment to pray, while those realists honed their blades. Peake did neither, instead finding comfort in a playful rhythm discovered by poking his greave with a digit’s nail. It was when everyone was prepared that he rose his head, finding every man’s stares piercing through him, demanding from him the order once and for all.
And so the horses broke the silence of the night. The whines of the animals and the sounds of their hooves thundering in an approach provoked panic in the small group that gathered by the bonfire. The closer the guards were to the encampment, the easier it was to distinguish their bodies, their features, and their fear. Some grabbed weapons, while others tried to run through the dense darkness. The cavalry was obviously faster. Drawing his sword and rising in his stirrups, the blade gleamed with the shine of death just before it cleaved through the back of the male. His scream was not as terrifying as was the sound of the cut, the sound of the blade being removed from the flesh. Said sound remained in Peake’s ears as he maneuvered his mount to do a second sweep. So focused he was in the sound, in fact, that his eyes did not register the second time the sound was heard, nor the third, nor the fourth. His eyes did not register how the bodies fell to the soil like messy, hot stumps.
His second sweep was unsuccessful, as his blade found no victims to claim. Peake looked around him, and the only thing he was was the same predatory gaze in his partners, looking for a victim that was not here.
“Check the surroundings.” Peake ordered.
A quick dismount, and he was on the ground. It had been so long since he had stepped on firm ground that it seemed unnatural. All this riding, day and night, traveling from Andaris to Venora and now Venora to Andaris, had disrupted his body’s demands to walk. Glancing here and there, below the carts and amongst the horses, and he found nothing. Nobody was left to count. Those on the ground that still moved – or more commonly, grunted and cried in pain – were terminated with a quick thrust in the upper spine. The few armored horsemen that were missing finally returned, dragging one body behind them. Everyone knew their functions, and so everyone did their job. The few carts and wagons were checked, the foreign horses were executed with a bolt to the head, and the bodies were piled up in the bonfire.
The fire that had been cooking their meal now served to incinerate the dead, family and friends of someone far away, of some sort of important man that had joined the wrong side of a war nobody had asked for. The charred bodies, their smoke, and their smell, mixed with the crackling of the wood as they burned, as whatever evidence of their life was erased with the rocking of the wind’s direction. The blades were cleaned to hide the stains of a job well done, and once only the charred skeletons gaped to the dark skies of the night from the middle of the fire, even the fire was put out with some dirt. Only one of its embers remained alive, serving to light a single torch for the group to use in their return home. Everyone mounted and rode south-east towards their city and their King, ready to report whatever it was they had to do was done perfectly.
Thanks to Lazuli for this amazing template!