The fire spat sparks into the crisp night air, barely lighting the outlines of the four sitting around. A silent Oocus crouched close, roasting neat slabs of meat over hot coals.
“This stuff tastes pretty good, actually. Thanks, Oocus.” La said, tearing hungrily into a charred hunk of giant bird-flesh. Raul nodded in agreement. Oocus offered a piece to the Candy Knight but he hastily waved it away. Raul looked skeptically across the fire at the knight.
“Are you not going to eat?”
“I eat only candy.” The warrior stated flatly. The light from the fire glowed dully off of his plate armor as he rummaged through his pack and retrieved a large hunk of purple material. He lifted his helm in the darkness and took a painful-sounding bite from the rock.
La sighed exasperatedly. “Candy-folk.” She stood and yawned dramatically.
“Alright everyone, we’ll rest here and take off first thing in the morning, toward the squiggly thing on Oocus’ map. We’re going to need to take shifts, and Raul will go first, since he’s Venivian.”
“Relax, Raul, I’m just messing around.” La laughed sharply.
The Candy Knight spoke up. “I’ll take the first shift.”
“All settled then, goodnight.” The Fifth Retainer unrolled her bed and was asleep in minutes.
La woke up to Raul shaking her harshly. “Your shift, boss.”
She groaned and rolled sleepily away from him. “Get Oocus to do it.”
“He already had his shift, La. It’s your turn. I’m going to sleep now, so you can either get up or let us all be eaten by giant birds or something.”
La sighed as she listened to his footsteps pad away and finally stop. She pulled herself from her bed of fur and trudged over to the high point of their camp, thumping gracelessly into the grass.
The soft snoring of Raul and Oocus accompanied the muted whistle of wind through grass in the otherwise silent night air. La looked across the moonlit horizon, the distant expanse of the Wall barely visible to one side and the unbridled hills of the mysterious badlands rolling off into the other side. Somewhere amongst the rolling hills, the rocky crags, the thick forests beyond the Wall lay boundless treasure, rich for the taking. Her father had told her all about it when she was a young child; countless stories of his exploits flitted through her mind now as she sat sucking in the crisp dark air of the very land her father once ventured. Her father was dead now, but one as legendary as him never really dies in the conventional sense. It was said by all who witnessed it that he vanished suddenly in a sudden, powerful whirlwind, wreathed in lightning one night in some unnamed stretch of wilderness beyond the Wall.
La sighed. Such was the life of a Retainer of Tchershich. She noticed the world around her brightening. The imposing line of the far-off Wall was burned into sudden contrast as the sun peaked up behind it. She looked over at her sleeping group members. They weren’t the greatest bunch: she had a sneaking suspicion that Raul was expelled from the Venivian College of Sorcery. And Oocus had barely spoken a word to her since they had met three days ago. She figured it had something to do with being a Beyondman. And the Candy Knight she had just met, though he seemed trustworthy enough. She figured there were worse lots to be found in the cesspool of sellswords and mercenaries by the Gate.
“Alright everyone, time to get up!”
After a light breakfast of bird meat and candy the group quickly set off, with La leading the way, map in one hand and staff in the other. Her fur boots plodded heavily over the grassland, followed by the light footfalls of Raul’s old state-issued black leather boots, followed by the quiet padding of Oocus’ worn leather shoes, followed by the crashing thumps of the Candy Knight’s armored shoe. The sun climbed slowly up the sky as they trudged onwards, the great Wall long replaced by rolling hills in either direction.
“I didn’t think the Beyond would be so boring.” Raul eventually complained, looking at the hills surrounding them. The only thing in sight was a herd of bison grazing about in the distance.
“Well, the Hakian Empire has been sending troops in to clear the grasslands of… what was it they called them? Hindrances,” La laughed, “you should have seen this place a couple of years ago. Total no-man’s land. Now all you see is the odd predatory bird here.”
She looked back and gave Raul a serious look. “But don’t worry. You’ll see some beasties soon enough.”
Oocus nodded grimly, seen only by the Candy Knight behind him.