Chapter 43:

Red Wolves' Might

Sword Quest

By the time Mel, Farum, and Berd arrived on the scene, chaos had already erupted in the treeless flat surrounding the volcano. In front of them, the scuffle between invading groups had re-kindled, while the two female bandits stood just outside the volcano’s former entrance.

The two girls stood guard in front of the pile of rocks, dust scattering around the rubble. Mel gave them a short nod of recognition and ushered the two boys alongside him—moving to circle around the significantly spread-out skirmish’s left flank.

The Red Wolves had been attempting to take advantage of their numbers by isolating the Shlanks. However, the red and brown-clad Shlanks were holding their ground, using their spears to establish range control. Despite their smaller numbers, they were the ones holding the Red Wolves back, preventing them from approaching the collapsed entrance to the volcano.

“They’re maintaining defense using their spears, just like Quentle does,” Mel remarked as the boys trotted toward the entrance.

“But why would they?” Farum asked slowly.

“They’re pinning their hopes on their leader, who chased after Quentle,” Berd answered while holding his spectacles firm.

“That’s probably it,” Mel followed, glancing upward at the volcano’s western side—a rugged and multi-layered slope that could be followed to another entrance near its peak. Despite the dark, the moonlight was shining strongly through the dome. Therefore, he could tell there was no sign of Quentle and the others yet.

“I’m willing to bet that’s where you’ll take them, Quentle,” he muttered, rounding the corner to where the girls were waiting. As they approached the girls, Mel caught the glance of the Red Wolves’ captain, whom he’d just spoken with in the forest. At the rear of the scuffle, he watched the boys with menacing eyes.

“About time you got here,” the livelier twin jabbed. “Thanks to the Shlanks, we haven’t had to do anything but guard the rubble, though.”

“Seems you bandits have done your part so far,” Mel responded with a nod as he readied an arrow into his bow. The other two boys joined alongside him, baring their daggers hesitantly. “We just have to defend this entrance and bet everything on Hastor. It seems the Shlanks are doing the same, thinking that if they stop the Red Wolves, their leader who chased after Quentle will be the one to come out with the sword.”

“So where does that leave the Red Wolves as far as we’re concerned?” Berd asked with a furrowed brow.

“You catch on quick, Berd,” Mel said. “Their captain over there is long past keeping his patience with us, so I don’t think they’ll keep their promise not to harm Cedric or any of us.”

“But will they wait like the Shlanks, or should we worry about them making a break for this entrance?” Berd asked.

“It’s possible they’ll wait for Cedric to potentially exit at the top, which is perfect for us in the case that Hastor wins out, but I don’t think I can even attempt to negotiate that with them at this point,” Mel responded, glancing at the tall Red Wolf leader.

“Because we sealed the entrance, effectively forcing them to comply with us,” Berd responded with a grimace.”

“Exactly right… I got a little greedy,” Mel said in a low tone. “But that just means we have to defend this entrance, like I said. They won’t complain once they have the sword.”

As he said this, the Shlanks were pushed backward by the unrelenting Red Wolves. The smoke and dust began to clear, revealing several holes in the sloped rubble.

“Higher ground is better,” the quieter of the twins mumbled, hopping gracefully up the rocks to a spot above the original entrance.

“Good idea,” Mel responded with a nod as he led the boys onto different patches of rubble. All three of them stood in front of holes in the pile that would allow passage. The other twin perched herself near her sister, the two of them tying their ropes to the butts of their daggers.

The Red Wolves had taken out one Shlank, allowing them to further outnumber several Shlanks who were already beginning to struggle against their attackers.

“Hey… so… if they do wait and Cedric comes out of the entrance up on the side over there...” Farum nervously said, “will we have to fight them off from pursuing him up the side?”

“Assuming he still wants to fight, yeah,” Mel responded, biting his lip. “It seems you two understand, but the best option for Cedric to live is to give up the sword. If he won’t, we need to take it from him ourselves, because the Red Wolves aren’t going to hold back from charging him…”

Farum and Berd both nodded before looking down to ensure their footing was secure. Mel stood tall in between them, tapping the head of his readied arrow. His immediate concern lay not with what was happening inside the volcano, but with what was going to happen here—whether or not the Red Wolves would attack them.

It was not long before an answer came.

“Get ready!” Mel barked, his face wound tight. Two Red Wolves had suddenly broken away from the Shlank defense and were running directly toward them. Mel noticed Berd and Farum’s faces tensing up, their hands shaking.

“Remember, all we have to do is defend!” he shouted, fighting his own fear. The two glanced at him, wide-eyed, before focusing on the attackers.

“Don’t worry about fighting back, just protect yourselves! The girls will have their shot at them if they engage with us, so it’s okay even if they get inside!”

Sensing the boys’ hesitance, Mel gnashed his teeth before continuing.

“There is no reason to falter now! We are top-ranked students of Takanova, and these men are worn down from fighting all night. Look, these bandits here are raring to go… are we going to allow them to look down on us as Teutons?”

The boys looked in the girls’ direction, before locking eyes themselves.

“We can do this!”


As the two men approached, rearing their short swords back, the two boys lunged out of the way, raising their daggers in defense. The blades clashed, but the men’s charge was not disturbed, only distracted. While they lunged toward the gaps in the rocks, the girls flung their ropes toward them.

Mel watched carefully in the middle, ready to fire on the men if they focused their attacks on the boys. To his surprise, bare ropes snatched ahold of their blades. He’d seen them readying ropes to their daggers but had no idea they were hiding yet more rope.

The men dove into the holes, bypassing them. As a result, they lost their blades. Mel watched carefully, but once they had disappeared inside the entrance, they did not come back out.

“Go on, take their blades, you two,” Mel directed with a nod.

“Oh, yeah,” Farum responded, a bit calmer, as the two boys retrieved the loose blades.

“You both did well,” Mel exclaimed, his hand trembling both from the strain of the drawn bow and the excitement of the scene.

“It seems like they were told not to go for the kill,” Berd responded, wiping sweaty hair away from his brow.

“I think so,” Mel answered. “At least, as long as we do the same.” He looked back to the girls. “Good call, you two. I was too unsure to make the decision, but I’m glad you kept from initiating the first fatal blow.”

The girls simply nodded, looking to the skirmish in front of them. Another Red Wolf had broken loose toward them. Just meters away, Mel fired his arrow at the ground in front of the man’s feet, forcing him to stagger wildly. Farum and Berd lunged at him as he reeled, forced to raise his short sword in a sloppy defense.

The girls took advantage of the distraction once more, latching onto the man’s blade with their ropes and sending it twirling across the dirt. The fallen blade landed just in front of Mel, who’d already nocked and drawn another arrow.

The man stumbled before turning back and retreating back to join his allies. Mel, beginning to sense an aura of confidence rising from the group of five, smirked.

“As long as we can keep this up, we’ll be fine,” he remarked.

“Yeah, but I wonder how—ah, there they are!”

Berd had spotted them just before Mel. The group of four emerged from the woods, making their way up the side of the volcano with two Shlanks and some ten Red Wolves in tow. As he realized his close friend was leading the way, Mel’s gaze narrowed, and his smirk spread wider.

“Now let’s see what you’ve got, Quentle.”