The AttackMature

The rain roared down upon the army, driven by an incessant wind. The Captain huddled with a handful of other officers under the dubious cover of a tent that constantly seemed on the verge of blowing away. Maps decorated the table they all stood around, weighed securely down by whatever heavy objects had been easily at hand. 

The heavy splashing of a horse plowing it's way through the mud reached their ears. He looked up to see one of his Watchmen dismounting just outside the tent, an oiled cloak wrapped tightly about his frame. "Sirs," the Watchmen saluted as they made way for him underneath their small shelter.

"Galin," The Captain greeted him. "I'm glad you're back, I was starting to worry. What's the news?"

"Storm lets up a few hours from here, thank the gods." Galin reported, shuffling over to the map and tapping it with the driest finger he could find. "We made it to this farm here with no sign of enemy activity. Thought about going further, but decided not to press our luck."

 "That matches with what the other scouts have been saying," General Wellesley mused. "Can they really not know we're coming?"

"They'll know soon enough," Howe told him. "There aren't any approaches to Marsten that will hide an army this big."

"I'm afraid it means they know exactly what's coming," The Captain told them. "Not that it matters. We can't exactly pull back now."

"Double the number of scouts," Wellesley decided. "If there's a surprise waiting for us I want to know about it. This whole thing only works if we make it to the city and engage the main horde before we get cut to pieces."

"Agreed," The Captain nodded.

"We should get moving again," Howe added. "Resting here isn't much of a rest at all. If the storm lets up nearby I say we try to break through the edge and get our wits about us before the final push."

"It has the advantage of hiding us," The Captain said. "Provided they don't already know we're here, the longer we can hide our advance the better. Moving out of the storm and then resting risks us being discovered."

"I understand your reasoning," Wellesley assured him, "But I have to agree with Howe. The men are already threadbare from marching so hard to get as far as we have as fast as we have. They need a rest before we attack, and resting here isn't doing us any favors."

The meeting broke up and the officers went to rouse their men into motion. The Captain struggled through the ankle deep mud to the section of camp occupied by The Watch. As their commander he was privileged enough to have his own tent as protection against the storm, though in truth it's main advantage was that of privacy and not protection from the elements. The muddy water constantly contrived to wander inside despite his best attempts to ward it off. He pushed aside the flap and sloshed his way in to find Her Ladyship sitting on a camp stool. 

"Wishing you hadn't come along yet?" he asked her, putting aside for the moment the question of why she was there.

"Wishing my carriage hadn't gotten stuck in the mud back at the storm's front edge," she  countered.

"I see they found some trousers in your size," he observed. When the Prince's carriage had gotten stuck in the mud so too had her change of clothes. Riding through torrential rain had been less than kind to her outfit, and lacking spares they'd been forced to improvise. 

"And a shirt. The young man they belong to drove a hard bargain. He wouldn't part with them for anything less than an extra month's salary, to be paid to his sister should he not survive. Very shrewd young man." 

"We could have just ordered him to give them up. I can do that, you know." 

"Hardly worth it," she told him. "I have dresses that cost more. Besides, I felt like rewarding his entrepreneurspirit."

"And the vest?"

"One of the officers was kind enough to loan it to me," she said with a hint of a smile.

"One of the officers, hmm? Which one?"

"One of the captains," she said innocently.

"I thought that looked familiar," he said dryly.

"Would you like it back?" The question was presented so candidly that for a moment his breath caught.

"No, no," he assured her, "That's quite all right. No time, anyway, we'll be leaving-"

"Wait," Her Ladyship hushed him, holding up a hand and frowning. He green eyes looked past him, peering through the tent flap and out into the grey rainy beyond. "Did you hear that?"

 "Hear what?" he asked, turning back towards the entrance. He focused his attention on the sound coming in from outside. He heard only the rain and the muffled howl of the wind. He was about to turn away when something caught his eye. It was only the briefest of movements, a flitting shadow and a flash of green...

His sword was just clearing its scabbard as the demon burst into the tent and leapt. For a second he feared that it was over, that he would die. But despite the years spent behind a desk his muscles remembered days of action, and while his mind froze they reacted. As it came towards him he drew his right foot behind, pivoted on the left, and arched backward with more flexibility than he would have otherwise thought possible. The movement turned into a spin that brought him around to face the creature as it landed just past him, his sword pointed at the creature as he adopted a fencer's pose. 

Having missed it's target the demon snarled at Her Ladyship as she hastily retreated to the back of the tent. It was easily twice the size of a dog, covered in pebbly black skin that seemed to be stretched over naught but bones. "Hey!" he shouted, lunging forward and stabbing at the creature's hindquarters to get its attention. The ploy worked, and as the demon wheeled around to lunge at him again he spared just enough to his concentration to shout, "Vanora, get out!" 

Then there was nothing but the demon and his sword. For the first few seconds the mud was all that saved him. The demon slipped along the ground, not finding enough purchase to launch a solid attack, giving him just enough time to get out of the way or slap it's face aside with his blade. But it was faster than he was, and despite his initial reaction he wasn't nearly as young as he once was. He found himself tiring quickly from the constant evasions, his counterattacks slowing dangerously. It was only a matter of time before-

The point of his sword missed its mark. The demon's jaws darted in past his defenses and bit down hard on his left thigh. He brought the pommel of his sword down hard on it's head and the demon released it's grip on him. His leg buckled immediately,the pain of the injury momentarily blinding him. He shouted something - he wasn't sure what, but he was fairly certain it was profoundly vulgar. Better to get it out now, before the beast tore into his throat. He steeled himself for that final blow, but somehow his arm got in the way. The demon bit down hard and another wave of searing pain accompanied the sound of splintering bone. His vision cleared and there was a second of stunning clarity as he stared eye to eye with the demon, it's jaws wrapped around his forearm.

The demon burst into flame. It released his arm and retreated in panic. He didn't know what had happened but he knew an advantage when he saw one. His good hand searched the mud for his sword. It was gone, having somehow found it's way into Her Ladyship's hands. She leveled the blade at the demon as it writhed around on the ground, dousing the flames in mud. When it rose again it shrieked its displeasure with ear piercing volume. 

"No," Her Ladyship told it. To his surprise, it hesitated, glancing back at the entrance before looking back at her.

"Vanora!" he shouted. The demon leapt, slammed heavily into the Prince, and they both collapsed in a heap on the muddy ground. Her Ladyship's cry of defiance mingled with another of the demon's shrieks as they went down, and then all was silence. He watched wide eyed for what seemed like forever, and neither moved. "Vanora!" he tried again, pushing himself along the ground as best he could with his uninjured limbs. 

As he neared them the demon stirred. Suddenly going towards it didn't seem like the best of ideas, but he was hardly in a position to run either. It stirred again, and this time it flopped over onto one side. Her Ladyship lay in the mud underneath it, and now he could see it wasn't the spark of life he'd seen in the demon, just Her Ladyship's efforts to get it off of her. The hilt of his sword was in her hand still, but part of the blade was gone, broken off in the demon's mouth where it had penetrated the skull. 

There was a commotion at the front of the tent, Watchmen rushing inside and shouts of alarm.

"A demon!"

"It's dead, I think."

"Gods above, somebody get the healers!"

"Another one? How many more are there?"

"Sir? Captain? Captain!"

"Hmm? What?" The Captain asked, opening eyes that he thought he'd only closed for a second. A Watchman knelt on one side of him, looking concerned. Her Ladyship, covered in mud and black icor, had pulled herself to her knees on the other side. "You," he fixed her with a fierce look. "Are you barking mad?"

"Just a little irritated," she told him. "You don't want to see me when I'm mad. You're welcome, by the way."

"It could have killed you!" he protested. "Are you hurt?"

"Just a scratch," she shrugged. "I'll be fine. Let's argue about what might have happened later, hmm?"

"Fine," he agreed, and turned at last to the Watchman. "Did I hear you say something about more demons?"

"That's right," the man acknowledged. "Looks like they're running loose and attacking at random. No idea how they got into camp without us noticing, but the alarm's been raised." 

"Looks like I was right," he sighed. "They definitely know we're coming." He found it harder and harder to focus, despite the Watchman's insistence that he stay awake and the reassurance that the healers were coming. As everything began to fade away he focused on Her Ladyship's eyes, until when he blacked out at last all he could see were those bright, emerald green eyes.

The End

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