Arrows in the dark

Two o'clock

The wind blew hard and cold across the outlying hills between the Trollish Mountains and the Whispering Oak forest. The runners could smell the fowl odor of the nearby orcs. Their trail had been going on for more than thirty minutes and already they felt the tension of the upcoming events. Their muscle tightened and relaxed after each stride, the air circulating methodically in and out of their lungs. Their master had taught them to always breathe less than necessary, thus enhancing their adrenaline and speed. Slowly their heartbeats would accelerate in a growing crescendo. They never ran at one pace, it usually varied from the mood or importance of their assignment. This night they were pushing themselves far beyond their limits. They couldn't disappoint master, nor would they. Then his pace slowed and the crescendo decreased slowly. All they saw was the upcoming hill, it was a steep and rocky climb but they would manage.

The teacher ran proudly, his stamina doubled by the feat of his pupils. Never before had he pushed them so hard and never before had they moved so flawlessly. They were but shadows in this lightless night. Not a sound, not an error in their steps. Their tempo was perfect, matching the heartbeat of the night. Their heels seldom touched the ground and their breathing slow and calculated. He loved the race and loved the wind. His long gray hair flew backwards, flowing easily into the night sky. Matching his boots was his brown cloak indispensable for a ranger. Two daggers lay stiff on his leather belt along with his running mask and versatile potions and herbs. His dark grey eyes were covered by his unusual set of goggles he always wore when swiftly running across the hills. Then suddenly his nose started to bleed.

'Damn this age!' thought Valder

Swiftly reaching for a piece of cloth on his belt, he tied it around his long, pointy nose and his dry lips while still running. His body wasn't what it was a decade ago anymore. Alas, that is the predicament of a young soul trapped in a mortal body. Concentrating again on running, he wiped the splattered drops of blood off his goggles and focused. Valder was once a handsome man yet time all things consumes. His face and body was living proof of the many wars he had fought. Many scars and wrinkles engulfed Valder in a mask of suffering and age. A mask he would sacrifice anything to be lifted off his soul. But he had more pressing matters at hand and also more realistic ones.

The forest's edge lied just ahead of them now and so did their destiny. Valder accelerated his pace and his rangers followed suit. Nimbly sidestepping a low lying branch he penetrated into the cover of the trees. Dodging left, right, left again and then right. The trees were tightly positioned, leaving small room for movement especially high-speed ones. Minutes dragged on and still the untiring rangers ran.

"Rest is a privilege I cannot reserve upon mind or body," muttered a young ranger under his breath. This phrase was the masters' motto and everyone abided to it.

On and on they ran; nothing halted their advance. They had to reach the elves, they had to warn them! Valder began to feel the burden of exhaustion; they had been running at full sprint for over an hour and still no sign of the elves. Hopefully, the trail became more spaced out and they had more free ground to run on. Then Valder whistled a halt. He thought he had glimpsed a flicker of red lights towards the west.

With a silent hand signal he motioned his men to follow him. Leaping from shadows to shadows the numerous rangers made their way furtively through the underbrush. As they covered more and more ground to the west, loud shrieks and screams were heard by the rangers. Closer and closer they crept until they came to the conclusion that a battle or some sort of fight was being fought. Then an abominable cry tore the dead silence of the night. At that moment they knew the battle came from the nearby prairie. Motioning for his men to stay put, Valder dragged himself closer to the prairie. What he saw awakened in him a sense of pride and honor he hadn't felt in a long time. His first instincts were to charge and help his future allies against their overwhelming foes. But Valder had been in many wars and knew the price of careless acts of courage. Cooling off was the first step for a good fight and planning. He slowly reached for his green crystal on his leather gauntlet. Somehow, touching it always offered a sense of peace and harmony. Carefully observing the battle he evaluated its pros and cons. Three elves stood fighting hundreds of charging orcs. Piles of orcs were seen around their area and even an ogre stood beheaded. One of the elves wielded a crystal sword, another elf wielded a spear and the third and most daring one, brandished a short sword and some sort of spiked gauntlet.. Valder quickly reacted after having analyzed the situation. His conclusion was quite simple: Three elves were about to be annihilated by orcs and he wasn't to stand by as the orcs butchered them one by one.

Whistling softly, he called for his men. He carefully instructed them to surround the prairie and be ready to shoot down all the nearby orcs. The signal to attack would be heard when time was right. After minutes of tireless hide and seek maneuvers the rangers set up their perimeter.

Valder bid his time wisely; he needed to give time for his pupils to set up. While waiting, he slowly climbed a tree. As nimbly as a fox, he perched himself onto a branch. This peculiar branch was the closest one to the orcs as possible. He felt that the timing was right. Now, it was the adrenalines' turn to do the work. Suddenly he let go of his branch and started to fall downward foot first. A huge orc stood disoriented when he noticed two legs had wrapped around his neck and started tightening their grip. Then two daggers plunged into the wretch's chest. As the orc gasped and tried to reach for his opponent, the legs had already vanished. The last thing the orc felt was two legs propelling him from the back towards a spear-tip that penetrated his abdomen and one of his fellow companions groaning for air as he fell upon him. Propelling the orc had taken a full jump kick that had made Valder land on his butt. Swiftly jumping up from his sitting position he threw a sly wink to the astounded elves and whistled a signal.

Arrows were shot in all direction and all the orcs were felled. After a minute of quiet, Valder broke in a cheerful laughter. What were the odds of 150 rangers catching a 150 orcs and killing them, thought the old man. The battle was over and he now turned to face the elves. The three elves had their mouths gaping wide at the old general.

"I am Valder, leader of the Rangers of Oakens," stated Valder shortly

The elf bearing the crystal sword quickly sheathed his weapon and bowed to Valder.

"I recognized you, ranger. I am Heathir, general of the elf army of the forest." responded the robust elf. A long silence ensued. The elf seemed to assess his savior. Slowly nodding approval, he spoke again. "On behalf of all the elves of this forest, I thank and welcome you!"

The elf behind Heathir grunted and rudely interrupted Valder as he was about to speak.

"I am Galreth of the Knooks and no elf can thank you on my behalf, even if that elf is a General," snarled the elf wearing the bladed gauntlet.