Tilwin and his marines ran through the jungle. They were almost to the gateway when Geyor held up his hand again. The thirteen of them stopped on the edge of a large clearing. Rocks and dirt were piled up, and every single tree was knocked over. The clearing was three or four times the length of The Windlass. Finally out of the canopy, Tilwin looked up. High in the sky, he could see the floating island, the home of the brotherhood of Mages glinting in the moon light.
Tilwin looked around the clearing, and then up at the school. He whispered to Geyor, “Think they dropped something?”
“Maybe, but what?”
“I don’t know. Has to be something magic. We shouldn’t stick around here too long,” Tilwin replied. “They might drop another one, and I don’t want to be anywhere near when that happens.”
“How do we… fight this? Even Mooredand gave up against them,” Geyor said. He was a hard man, he and Tilwin had boarded dozens of ships together, side by side. The pair had waded into battle onto enemy ships. It was the first time either of them had seen the other afraid.
Tilwin steeled himself, “We’re not fighting this. We’re not fighting the entire brotherhood. We just need to get to the gateway, find the idol, and get out. This is a stealth mission, not an assault. We stay quiet, we stay fast, we stay alert, and we stay alive.”
“Yes Sir,” the marine replied. “Move out. Stay quiet. We’re close.”
The deadly men took off, following the trail Gorim had followed the night before. When the lights of the village came into view, Geyor once again halted the men. “We’re here. Sir, it’s your show now.”
Tilwin shrugged his pack off his shoulders and opened it. He dug around and pulled out a roll of fabric. Inside was a large glass vial, stoppered at one end with a cork, and filled with a thick, milky substance. He held it up to the men. “It’s called Obeus Coat your spears. It doesn’t take much, a single nick should make them unable to do magic of any kind.”
One of the men took the vial, and poured a little of the waxy substance on the long, narrow blade of his spear. “Have you tested this, Sir?” he asked.
The captain looked at him and arched an eyebrow. “Have you ever met a mage? Has anyone ever met a mage and lived to tell about it? No, I haven’t tested it. My man in Mooredand says this is what all of their soldiers use on their weapons, and they’ve been fighting the Shindow for thousands of years.”
“No offense meant, Captain,” said Greyson. “We’re all a little nervous heading into our first fight with these things.”
“They’re not things, Marines. They’re men. Just like us. They have some special abilities, but they’re just men. They can be killed just like we can. They have tools we don’t, that’s true. But we have the advantage. We have surprise. We have this Obeus, and we have training. They practice wiggling their fingers every day. We practice fighting.”
“Tilwin, Tilwin, Tilwin!” chanted the men, quietly, readying themselves for the fight.
“Move out! Remember, just a nick stops them from using their magic. The more of them you kill the more likely we are to face retaliation.”
The men approached the village around the gateway silently, slinking up through the jungle. There was no wall, just a couple of small houses made of some kind of thin, straight trees with joints ever six or eight inches. The roofs were made of the leaves of the local trees, long, slender leaves that fanned out like a hand with thirty fingers. In the center of the village was a large stone archway, easily three times taller than Tilwin, and wide enough for four men to pass through. A single road passed through the center from the north east, widening out at the archway, before heading out of the little settlement to the west.
Tilwin stood up from the edge of the village. “I’m so happy to see someone! Our ship wrecked off the coast,” he said, approaching the guard. “My men and I nearly drowned swimming ashore, and then we were attacked by some huge cat. We need water, and safety for the night, and then we’ll move on in the morning.” Tilwin studied the man as he approached, trying to gauge the reaction to his ruse. He was wearing a long, brown dress with no sleeves. It was tight fitting at his chest, and then flared slightly at the waist. Large gold buttons ran in a straight line from the neck to just below the waist. Over the dress, he was wearing a leather harness. “Probably holding a weapon of some sort to his back,” Tilwin thought.
“That’s close enough,” the guard said. “I’ll have to get my superiors. How many are you? Tell your men to come out of hiding.”
“There are six of us, myself included,” Tilwin said, still moving forward slowly. “Come on out, lads.”
“I said, that’s close enough!” the guard ordered.
“No, it’s not,” Tilwin said, lunging forward. As he did, he drew his sword and slashed the man’s upper arm. Not deep enough to do any damage, he would heal in a couple of days. It was just enough to introduce some of the toxin into his blood.
The guard cried out, “Guards! Attack!” and then clapped his hand over his arm. “What have you done! You’ve cauterized me!” He fell to the ground screaming and writhing.
Tilwin was on him in a second, hand covering his mouth. “Shut up, boy. It’s just a scratch. The effects will wear off in a few hours. We don’t want to kill you.”
“It’s burning me!!” he screamed under Tilwin’s hand.
He kicked and screamed as three guards approached from one of the huts. They were all wearing identical dresses, and running. “Stop!” One of them ordered.
Tilwin felt the medallion around his neck grow cold. One of the mages was staring at him with a puzzled look on his face. After a second, he yelled, “He’s warded,” as he pointed at Tilwin.
The captain looked around, five of his men were all struggling, being held several feet off the ground by some invisible force. His other men, seeing this advanced from the jungle, surrounding the three remaining mages. Tilwin lunged with his sword, poking the one who’d shouted at him in the thigh. In seconds he too was writhing on the ground screaming about being cauterized.
The original guard started to get to his feet. He pulled two sticks from the harness on his back, and advanced, holding them. Tilwin’s men were choking as they struggled against the invisible bonds created by one of the remaining mages. He lunged at the next one. His sword cuts were confusing to the men, they’d never fought against an opponent who was only trying to wound them. His moves didn’t make sense. He nicked the third man, as Geyor ran the last mage through with his spear.
“Sorry, Sir,” he said pushing the dead mage off the end of his spear with his foot. The suspended marines fell to the ground. Two of them didn’t get up.
The original guard seemed to be over the pain of the poison, and was closing slowly. The captain and the guard circled each other. “Bind the others,” Tilwin ordered.
The brother closed on Tilwin. His two sticks were a blur. The captain deflected several blows with his sword, waiting for his opportunity. He watched and waited, dodging and feinting. The guard was just barely past being a boy. He had some training with the sticks, but he was not experienced. The pirate lord, on the other hand had fought dozens of men who fought in the same style, but with two swords.
“I don’t want to kill you, lad. I just need something from the village, and then I’ll be on my way. Submit, you’ll be bound. Your ability to use magic will return in a couple of hours and you can free yourself. I don’t need the entire brotherhood chasing me.”
“You killed Brother Fonsa. Now I will kill you,” he said. As he spoke, he launched a series of strikes with the eskrima sticks. Tilwin parried them, but the mage continued his attacks. The captain pressed his advantage, counter striking, aiming mostly for the sticks. He would kill the boy if he had to.
“You are outmatched, surrounded, and cannot use your magic. Yield or you will die.”
“I will not yield!” he cried, bending low to sweep Tilwin’s legs. Arian parried the blow, and sunk his sword deep in the brother’s chest. Tilwin’s sword pierced the boys heart, killing him instantly.
“Damnit! Why didn’t you yield!” Arian was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of men. Adding one more to the list carried little weight in his conscience. Needlessly angering the brotherhood of Shindow mages, however, was trouble. “We have to move, marines. We’re looking for an idol. It’s stone, about eight inches high, it’s a bust of a bald man. My intelligence said it was somewhere in this village.”
Two marines stayed behind tending to the injured. The other eight marines and Tilwin fanned out, searching the village, two marines per house. Tilwin went from house to house on his own, looking through the possessions of the guards. Over the course of the next hour, they turned over every stone, searched every inch of the village, but there was no sign of an idol anywhere.
“Marines, we are leaving!” Tilwin shouted at last. He picked up one of the marines and threw the body over his shoulder. His dead marine was Lykos, a fair skinned man, slight of frame, but full of life. Lykos had a wife and four children back on the island, and Tilwin wasn’t going to leave his body behind. The other collapsed marine was recovering, he’d passed out from the lack of oxygen. If Geyor hand’t acted, he would probably be dead too.
They followed the road north. Tilwin thought about his next move, as he carried the corpse of his friend. They had to get to Genku port. His ship would meet them there in a little less than twenty-four hours. The raid had been a complete failure. He’d lost one man so far, and they still had miles of jungle and a small city to get through. He’d been to Genku a number of times. It wasn’t a huge place, but it was walled, and had a guard. Tilwin and his men stood out like sore thumbs, being taller and having ligher skin than the Shindow. Carrying a dead marine would be problematic too.
“We’re abandoning the plan. We’re going to have to steal a boat and row out to the ship,” Tilwin panted as he ran.
Geyor thought for a moment before agreeing, “Good call, Sir. We need to get off this road and head up the coast. We’d all feel safer on the water, and I think we can make better time rowing than we can through the jungle.”
Tilwin took the first path they passed on the left, heading for the coast. A path meant people traveled there, and that probably meant a fisherman on the coast. The squad ran on. Tilwin was exhausted. Every step bounced Lykos on his shoulder and shot pain down his legs. His feet were raw and bleeding in his boots, and his muscles were nearing exhaustion. But he pressed on, trying to save his men.
After another hour and a half, they stopped in front of a house that was much bigger than the ones they saw in the village. This one was made of sawed lumber, and had two stories. They stayed in the shadows, and crept around towards the ocean. A long pear stuck out into the ocean, and at the end, a small, single sail fishing sloop was tied to the dock.
“We have an hour until daylight. I expect us to be sailing before the sun peeks over the strait.”
“Yes, Sir!” the men called. Rather than run down the pier, they swam out to the sloop. Walking on the pier would have outlined them perfectly. Tilwin inflated Lykos’ sea pack and floated him beside him as he paddled out towards the sloop. They’d meet The Windlass just above Genku and tow the sloop back to Rock Tail Keep. At least he picked up another ship. With slight modification it could carry enough sail to cross the lee current.