The teens’ progress was somewhat slowed, considering the night they had and Va’il’s exhaustion. Va’il had packed some provisions, but he had still mostly resorted to hunting when following after Ruby. He returned to her the money pouch that had been left in the room before, though they didn’t find a place to purchase anything new. In fact, in their haze, they hadn’t really paid attention to their exact direction since their escape either. They had been going in a westerly direction, still, but not perfectly west, as would soon become clear.
The next day arrived, and the teens were feeling freed from the previous anxiety regarding the sudden departure from Ruby’s captors. It was still in their minds that they were probably being pursued in some fashion, but it was a worry without backing at the moment. It also had something to do with how far west they were, finally. Grip’s influence was far-reaching, but they had already gone past the edge of that sphere of influence. Though, it was still time for them to run into another group of people. They had to, considering how much longer their scant provisions and water would last. It was unfortunate that Va’il hadn’t been able to bring everything they previously had purchased, but it was to be expected considering the circumstances.
“There’s a sound,” Va’il said.
“Over that far hill. There’s the sound of yells, metal, and more. And there’s a smell. The smell of blood. Human,” Va’il said.
“A battle?” Ruby asked.
“I think so. We shouldn’t go that way.”
“A battle? Out here? Where are we? Wait. Human blood? Are you sure? Just human or anything else?” Ruby asked.
“Just human. We’re pretty close. I mean, unless it was a completely one-sided fight. No, that wouldn’t matter. There’d be more in the air than just blood. It’s humans, all of them,” Va’il said. He wasn’t looking too well, he didn’t care for thought of all the death near them. Ruby understood that, and she didn’t want to deal with it either, but there was a suspicion she had.
“We should go, Va’il. Please,” Ruby said.
“Okay. Are you sure? It’s not going to be pretty. It’ll be much worse than anything you’ve been near before, hand-breaking swordswoman or not,” Va’il said.
“I understand. But we should go there. I’m pretty sure I know where we are. Or, at least, I hope I’m right. If we are, then we should go. If I figure out we’re not, we’ll have to run,” Ruby said.
“All right, if you say so. I’ll be ready to run. Let’s go.”
They gradually got closer to the hill, and the sounds of battle become clearer. Finally, they arrived at the top of the hill, overlooking a battle far below them, with two human groups fighting. The fight hadn’t been going on for too long, but the sights and sounds were still the ghastly markings of a vicious fight.
Ruby steadied herself as she looked at the battle below her. She smiled for the briefest moment when she realized something, before returning to her feelings of sickened shock.
“This has to stop,” Ruby said.
“Yes. But it’s a battle. It’ll only stop when both sides either decide to quit, truce, or one side loses,” Va’il said. He was annoyed, more than anything else, at the sight of people fighting one another. If he didn’t stay annoyed, he knew he’d give way to tears, and right now he needed to support whatever decision Ruby was about to make.
“Va’il, I’m going to ask something strange of you. Do it, and we’ll stop the battle. And more. You’ll see after that. And, first off, be rough about it. It’ll have to look real until she realizes,” Ruby said.
“Just, don’t really hurt me. Though, if you draw some blood, it’s fine.”
“Okay, here’s what you’ll have to do and say.”
The battle was between two groups of humans. One side had a red banner with a diamond in the middle, and the other side had a purple banner with a tree in the middle. The commanders of each camp were soon greeted with some dire news.
In the commander’s tent for the purple-bannered side sat a woman. She was conversing with her strategists with a map and several texts laid out on a table in front of her. She was a good-looking woman with darkish hair, and was well-adorned with jewelry and fancy regal clothing. In the middle of her conversation a man burst into the tent.
“It’s urgent, Lady Murasaki!”
“What’s going on? Our line is fine, is it not?”
“It was, but we’ve had to order a stop to the fighting,” the messenger said.
“What? That’s ridiculous! And do we just roll over while they annihilate our army?” Murasaki asked.
“No Lady, they have stopped too! There’s a matter for both you and the commander of the reds to attend to that has appeared,” the messenger said.
“What could possibly warrant the halt of a battle as important as this?” Murasaki asked, gradually becoming more and more incensed.
“Most gracious Lady, there appears to be a hostage situation. A noble girl has been taken by some mercenary of some sort. A non-human one!”
“What? Which noble house?”
“We’re not sure. It could be one of the reds’ girls, actually! But no one on hand could tell which she belonged to, and the lupus won’t let us get too close. One false move and he’d rip out her throat, he said! He demanded a stop to the battle and for the commanders to come and claim her, he’ll make his demands then,” the messenger said.
“Sounds like a tactic the reds may use. A noble girl? Which house, I wonder? Then again, I can think of a few stupid girls who’d get themselves captured. But if it’s a red girl, that’d be interesting. Wait, how can we be sure it’s a noble girl, and not some random peasant?” Murasaki asked.
“She has a golden signet, though no one could get close enough to make out any detail on it. The lupus has us staying rather far away. And the girl looks like she’s been dirtied, her features are slightly obscured from that distance.”
“A signet. Well, even if it is a trap, the reds will probably have their commander go as well. He’s not one to know all their nobles either. I’ll go. Ready the men and horses!”
Murasaki stood and removed a couple layers of regal clothing that were useless to her. She donned her armor and long, thin sword, and then met with her sub-commanders. A group of about twenty, about the same size as the opposition, rode out towards a hill in a distance. There, at the top, were two teenage people, a human girl and male lupus. No one was within one hundred meters of them, and the lupus had the girl firmly in hand, with one hand gripping her throat, his claws resting on her skin. He wore a fierce expression and bared his fangs. The girl appeared to struggle a bit, but the lupus had forced one arm behind her back.