Chapter 35:

Standoff III

Sword Quest

Steeling himself, he ran on through the forest’s steep terrain, until he reached his destination: a three-sided bluff no smaller than the castle. It was surrounded by a series of high, forested cliffs that led to the northwestern mountains and northeastern wall, where the sound of battle could be heard. The bluff’s sloped sides were covered in mounds of dirt and moss, as was its flat, weathered point. Eyeing the small cave-like opening at its base, he gripped the glowing sword.

“My first time here…it’s as creepy as I imagined…”


The white smoke shrouded over the frantic boys as they sat Quentle down in the grass, the sound of clashing swords echoing from the edge of the lake.

“Oy, what do you say we work together starting from here?” Mel’s cold voice emerged as he came into view, prompting the boys to open a path from him to Quentle, who glared at him in silence while bandaging his legs by himself.

“Come on, Quentle. The only way Cedric gets out of this alive is with our cooperation. I’m not sure I can keep the Red Wolves from aiming to kill at this point, and the Shlanks being here is completely unexpected. The only way to buy us and Cedric some time is to speed the plan up, pitting them against each other here and now. We can only do that with all of our numbers here, I think.”

As the boys looked confusedly back and forth from Mel to Quentle, the bandits appeared at his side.

“Your goal is still the sword, and none of us are going to go along with that,” Quentle answered through grit teeth, trying to remain calm.

“Yes, that’s correct. But whether we get it or not, the fact is that Cedric is in danger. Even with the sword, only a war hero could stand against this many. He isn’t Garik or Velagoras.” Mel’s tone grew louder and sterner as he took another step toward his friend.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Quentle answered with a bitter grimace. “Well, only thing we’ll agree to will be fighting on Cedric’s side. As long as that remains the priority, I’ll cooperate. Sorry guys, we can’t really explain this, just…if you want to help Cedric out, come with me. I’ll understand if you want to turn back.”

The boys nodded hesitantly, one after another. With a pained chuckle, Quentle stood to his feet. “Alright then…”

“We don’t have much time before the confusion fades and they realize he’s already gone,” Mel hurriedly announced. “We should split up, sending a decoy party and a defense party. He’s headed straight for the volcano, so we should try to reconvene there.”

After a brief explanation, the bandits equipped all the boys with good-sized daggers, and Quentle raced out to the right side of the lake, opposite the side Cedric had escaped to. Alongside him were Geraint, Jorge, and Kaolo. The four ran along the forest’s edge, until they reached the opposite side of the circular lake.

“Should we really just run off into the woods?” Kaolo asked dubiously, trailing the group as they ran up the slanted terrain.

“Nope,” Quentle responded sharply, already breathing heavily. “We’ll go around the side and climb up the volcano. That way, if he comes out at the top, we can help him there.”

“But if we do manage to lure some enemies out to follow us, won’t we just be leading them to him?” Geraint asked, running smoothly as he set the pace for the group.

“Yeah, so we’ll make a stand if we need to,” Quentle responded confidently.

“A-ah, aren’t you worried at all, Quentle?” Jorge followed, having no trouble keeping up with his brother. “We’re up against real live soldiers, here.”

The three boys collectively gulped, but Quentle gave a scoffing laugh. “Of course, I’m not worried! Those guys have probably been fighting all night, and we’re fresh and ready to go. No matter how it shakes down, we just have each other’s backs and we’ll be fine!”

The boys looked on as Quentle fought to keep his bloodied legs moving as fast as theirs, before releasing apprehensive sighs. Kaolo, still in the back of the group, looked back as the smoke begin to clear.


“Stop fighting! Stop fighting! We need to regroup!”

“Pay attention to your surroundings!”

“The boy took off with the sword already!”

As the fog began to clear, some of the soldiers worked to cease the chaotic scuffle that had developed within the smoke.

“Separate yourselves!”

“Backup, Shlanks! You’re outnumbered here, anyway!”

As the two groups began to separate within the light smoke, the young Shlank pulled his comrades in.

“Did any of you see which way he went?”

“Sir, I think I saw him take off in the direction we came.”

“But, I believe I saw someone heading into the forest in the opposite direction.”

“Tch..” The young man looked around, his wild black hair whipping about.

“I’ll go around the long side, then. The rest of you go back the way we came.”

“What? Young master, I cannot allow that! I will go with you!” The older man cried out.

“Whatever, just try to keep up!”

With that, he took off past the recovering Red Wolves, garnering their frantic looks.

“Eh? Did the kid go that way?”

“I dunno, I didn’t see. Did anyone?”

“I thought he went the other way.”

“Look, the rest of the Shlanks are going the other way, too!”

“Let’s follow them!”

“Wait a moment and calm down, fools,” a stern voice sounded from within the group, ceasing their momentary panic.

“You ten go after the young-looking Shlank. The other twenty, follow the rest of them.”

“Got it!”

The man saw the others off, leaving only him and the remaining six Teutons. The smoke cleared as he approached them.

Mel stepped in front of the trembling Farum and Berd, while the bandits stood on either side of him, gripping their daggers.

“I take it you’re the contact… Eraldin, was it?” The tall man inquired, showing neither caution nor hostility in front of the group of six.

“That’s correct,” Mel responded in a low voice.

“Well, I wouldn’t say the mission has failed quite yet, but if we are somehow unable to recover the target, then you may consider yourself the new target, boy. That kid already killed one of my men, and I lost two in the scuffle just then, so you’d better hope I don’t lose any more.”

“Fine with me,” Mel replied. “Just keep to the agreement that you won’t aim to kill him, or any other Teutons, as your superiors should have told you.”

“Hah, how demanding you are, considering your position,” the man grumbled as he took a step forward slowly. As quickly as he had moved, Hastor was in front of him, smiling.

“Now, now… we should just hurry and capture the brat and get this over with, so that it doesn’t have to get too ugly…don’t ya think?”

The man glared at Hastor, whose wide-eyed smile bore a certain menace to it as he looked into his eyes before laughing through his nose.

“Lieutenant Suguile, are you coming?” A Red Wolf shouted from ahead. The man turned and trotted after him, never removing his hand from his sheathed sword.

Mel patted the backs of the shaking Farum and Berd. “Come on, let’s go.”

“O-okay,” Farum answered with a look of hesitance.

“Yeah, let’s...go.” Berd followed, clinching his trembling fists.

“Hastor, you go on ahead, please. If he did go to that place, I’d like you to seal the entrance for me.”

“Roger that, partner,” Hastor responded without a care. The three shot into the forest and disappearing from sight. After Mel equipped the bow and quiver Farum had brought, the three boys began their own run, following behind the group of Red Wolves.

As they passed by the forest on the left side of the lake, Mel looked into a certain patch of trees. When he spotted a small white smudge of powder smeared across the base of one the trees, he looked down and let out a long sigh.