Last week, the exciting middle of a fight scene.
This week, the exciting conclusion.
Plus, a unicorn.
Copyright J.B. Norman
Once again, Wulfbert the Handsome, the fiercest and best-looking bandit in not just all Realmgard, but the whole wide world of Terrace, is not in a good mood.
Glancing around the battlefield, he finds his bandits have proven themselves utterly unsuited to a task as simple as fending off a group of teenagers. What is he even paying them for? Clearly, they’ve gotten lazy. Have they really forgotten how to fight?
As for himself, he’s locking swords with a little punk who doesn’t have the simple decency to just let Wulfbert beat him to a pulp. And he’s got a raccoon gnawing on his leg.
“Get off me!” he growls, trying to kick Melisa off him. “Ugh. You stupid raccoon!”
“I’m. A. Badger!” Melisa reminds him, biting down on his leg even harder.
He manages to slip out of the grip of Melisa’s jaws and strike at Nolan, staggering him long enough to put some distance between them.
“You’re just a bully,” Nolan tells him, pressing forward. “And now you’re losing because you’re up against somebody who can finally bully back!”
Wulfbert glowers down at him.
“Who? You? You’re just a kid! With a pet raccoon!”
“Actually,” Matilda calls to him. “He’s six kids! We’re all in this together!”
Wulfbert soon finds Nolan backed up by the other members of the Lyte Brigade, making it a seven-to-one fight.
As far as Wulfbert is concerned, that means his odds are just about even.
“Come at me one at a time or all at once,” Wulfbert shouts back. “It won’t make a difference.” He glares at Nolan and hefts his sword. “Maybe I am just a bully, but I’m only getting started bullying you.”
“I’m not scared of you,” Nolan replies.
Wulfbert smirks. “Is that why you’re hiding behind that stupid shield?” he asks. “What’s the L for? ‘Loser’? ‘Little girl’?”
As the Lyte Brigade advances cautiously, Wulfbert charges. He ducks one of Pela’s crossbow bolts, deflects Falcata’s spear, kicks Tancred’s leg out from under him, shoulder-tackles Matilda, then grabs Amara by the hair and flings her at Nolan, sending them both sprawling to the ground.
With a triumphant grin, Wulfbert raises his sword and looms over the two fallen adventurers.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” he tells Nolan. His grin widens as he catches sight of Amara’s emerald necklace. “I’m going to stomp you,” he informs Nolan. “And then I’m going to steal your girlfriend’s necklace.”
“Try it,” Nolan dares him, his words muffled by a mouthful of Amara’s hair as she lies groaning in a heap top of him.
“Okay,” Wulfbert says.
Nolan gently pushes Amara aside, rolls to his right, positions himself between Wulfbert and Amara and pushes himself to his knees. As Wulfbert approaches with sword raised, he brings the rim of his shield down onto Wulfbert’s foot.
“Gah!” Wulfbert bellows “Ow!”
Nolan is grinning smugly up at him.
“Wulfbert!” he hears his sister call. “Forget about them! Let’s go!”
“Just do it!”
“I’ve got them beat!” Wulfbert insists. “Just give me a minute!”
“It’s not worth it,” Wulfhild shouts back. “Trust me!”
Wulfbert groans and glances uncertainly between his sister and the Lyte Brigade. He isn’t usually the sort to run from a fight. And he just knows he’s going to lose sleep about running from a fight with a bunch of teenagers and a woodland animal.
But, he reminds himself, good bandits stick together. And family especially sticks together. He decides to trust his sister. Besides, if she’s going on the lam, Wulfhild is going to need somebody watching her back.
He doesn’t like it, but Wulfbert knows what he has to do. He digs the toe of his boot into the dirt, then kicks up a large cloud of dust in the faces of his young adversaries to cover his escape.
“This isn’t over,” the assures them. “I’m going to find you one day. And I’m going to stomp you. And then I’m going to stack you all up on top of each other, so it’ll be easier when I stomp you again!”
Amara rolls her eyes at him. “Oh, please. Dirk Broadsword was a better bandit than you!”
With a final growl at his adversaries, Wulfbert runs after his sister.
“Let them have the ruins,” she tells him. She pats the bag slung over her shoulder. “I managed to scoop up everything I could fit in here. It’ll still be enough to make us rich.
But we can’t do that if we end up in jail!”
“Right,” Wulfbert says. He still isn’t thrilled to be running away, but his sister’s words do offer him a little bit of solace.
“Come on!” she says. “They’re gaining on us.”
Wulfbert and Wulfhild break into an open sprint as the other battered bandits limp after them.
“They’re getting away,” Nolan says. “Should we go after them?”
“Let them go,” Melisa says as she shifts back to her human form. “We’re here to protect the ruins. And we did that. We’re not really equipped to arrest a bunch of bandits and drag them back to Porthaven.” She frowns. “Still, I hate to just let them get away with a bag of stolen artifacts.”
“I think I can help with that,” Pela says.
She raises her crossbow and takes aim. She sends a bolt speeding after the bandit siblings. It catches the strap of Wulfhild’s bag, tearing through the material and causing the bag to tumble to the ground.
Wulfhild stumbles to a stop, glances over her shoulder and hesitates as she debates whether she’ll have the chance to reclaim her loot. The matter is settled by another crossbow bolt sailing past her. She shoots back a venomous look at the Lyte Brigade before turning away and running off after her brother.
“Nice shot, Pela!” Nolan exclaims.
Pela chuckles nervously. “Actually, I, uh, I was aiming at her,” she mutters.
The group stays at the ruins for a few more days, helping Melisa clean up the dig site and catalogue the recovered artifacts. Soon, a full archaeological team comes from the Ministry of Antiquities to take over, with a contingent from the Musketeer Guard to take care of any more bandits who might come by.
Melisa stays behind to oversee the excavation and bids farewell to the Lyte Brigade, but not before giving them their payment, a bag of coins that’s almost the size of Pela’s head.
Nolan accepts the money with trembling hands. Getting paid is still a novel experience. He’s spent so long as a struggling adventurer that he doesn’t quite know what to make of success.
“Good work, everybody,” he tells the others with a wide grin. “We just completed our first assignment as an adventuring guild!”
Pela hums a victorious little fanfare.
“Huzzah!” Tancred exclaims. “Three cheers for the Lyte Brigade!”
“No,” Matilda says.
The journey back to Porthaven starts off uneventfully. The six members of the Lyte Brigade follow the same road through the same forest that brought them to the ruins. With their adventure complete, they are in no hurry to get back, though they are eager to spend the money from their first job. Particularly Pela, who plans to broach the subject of buying either a horse or a cart with Nolan again. For his part, Nolan is eager to put the money safely away in the bank.
The Lyte Brigade turns towards the sound of a familiar rustling among the familiar boughs. Once again, the six young adventurers find themselves crossing paths with a unicorn. They have no doubt that this is the same unicorn from the previous encounter. Its blue coat and purple mane are unmistakeable. The unicorn seems to recognise them as well, stepping out into the middle of road and approaching them slowly.
While the creature affectionately nuzzles Nolan, Matilda, Falcata, and Tancred, it gives Amara no more than a brief glance before snubbing her, giving her a deliberately wide berth as it cozies up to the others.
“I see your attitude hasn’t improved,” Amara mutters.
Pela takes a step forward. “Hey, you pointy jerk!” she calls to the unicorn. “You owe me!”
The unicorn quizzically cocks its head at her.
“Don’t act like you don’t remember! You tried to eat my hair!” Pela continues.
Matilda turns to Nolan. “Should we help her?” she whispers to her brother. “Is she about to get beat up by a horse?”
The unicorn turns towards Pela. She shrinks back as it takes a step towards her.
“Don’t you dare!” she warns it.
Instead, the unicorn stops a few paces in front of her, before lowering itself to the ground. It looks at Pela, before nodding towards its back.
“You’re going to let me ride you?” Pela asks. “Is this your way of making it up to me?’
The unicorn nods.
Pela climbs onto the unicorn’s back and settles into position. The unicorn stands back up. Pela sways precariously, but manages to right herself. The unicorn trots happily beside the Lyte Brigade on the journey back to Porthaven.
“I’m glad you’ve learned some manners,” Amara tells the unicorn.
The unicorn responds by snorting at her, flipping its mane, and kicking up a clod of dirt in her direction.
“Clearly, I spoke too soon.”
The unicorn snorts again. Amara snorts right back.
“This is awesome!” Pela exclaims from the unicorn’s back. She turns to Nolan. “Can we keep him?”
Oh, unicorns, never change.
FYI: folkloric unicorns actually are jerks.
Come back next week for the last chapter of Charge of the Lyte Brigade.
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