Charge of the Lyte Brigade: Chapter 9

Chapter 9

By sunset, the Lyte Brigade is within sight of the ruins taken over by the bandits. They decide to make camp on top of a hill, hopefully out of sight under the cover of the greenery growing on the hilltop.

“This is good,” Falcata declares. “We have the high ground, and we have plenty of cover.”

“Can they see us?” Matilda asks.

Falcata shakes her head. “I doubt it. It’s dark, we’re hidden by trees and shrubs, and I do not think the bandits have any reason to look up here in the first place,” she explains.

“And just think how dashing we’ll look charging down this hill at the bandits!” Tancred offers.

“Not if one of us trips,” Matilda counters.

“Ah,” Tancred mutters. “Yes. I hadn’t thought of that. Well, we’ll only be a little less dashing while we carefully charge down the hill.”

Nolan turns to Melisa. “What now?” he asks.

“I’m going to take a closer look,” Melisa says. “See just what we’re up against.”

“Alone? Isn’t that dangerous?” Nolan asks.

“Maybe,” Melisa concedes. “But I can move faster on my own. Especially once I go full badger.”

Full badger?” Matilda repeats.

“How much do you know about Wilderlings?” she asks.

“Not much,” Matilda admits.

“They say our ancestors were shapeshifters,” Melisa begins. “They learned how to turn into animals. Over time, they permanently became more and more like animals.” She points to her ears and tail. “That’s how we ended up with these. But we can still shapeshift like our ancestors did. Watch.”

There’s a flash of light. Matilda blinks, rubs her eyes, and finds herself looking at a person-sized badger.

“See?” the Melisa-badger says. “Full badger.

“And that will help?” Matilda asks.

“I’m lower to the ground this way,” Melisa says. “Should make it easier to sneak around. And my ears and nose are better when I’m like this. And, worst case scenario, I can just try to pass for a regular badger.”

“I still don’t like the idea of letting you go alone,” Nolan says.

“Well, I suppose I could borrow Pela,” the Melisa says.

Me? Why?” Pela asks.

Melisa sheepishly scratches behind one of her ears with a paw. “You’re the only one small enough to ride on my back,” she mutters.

“Oh,” Pela answers. “Thanks?”

Changing the subject, Melisa points with her snout towards Pela’s crossbow. “Are you any good with that thing?”

“Let’s see. So far, I’ve shot, um… Matilda,” Pela answers.

Pela is scared.

She’s never ridden a badger before. She’s never scouted out a bandit camp before. She’s never been this far out of her element before. As Melisa races down the hill in badger-form, Pela hangs on for dear life, her eyes clamped shut in the face of what she can only assume is her onrushing doom.

“You’re pulling out my fur,” Melisa tells her.

“Sorry,” Pela says, her eyes still clamped shut.

Pela risks opening her eyes as Melisa slows down at the base of the hill. The sun is setting quickly as Melisa creeps towards the edge of the bandits’ camp. In the growing darkness, the sight of a badger with a Goblin clinging to her back becomes just an indistinct shape amid the shadows.

Melisa raises her muzzle and sniffs the air. “I’m getting a lot of smells,” she tells Pela.

“I’d say there’s at least six of them, but I can’t be sure.”

“I’m seeing four tents,” Pela offers. “That big one is probably where they’re keeping whatever they’ve dug up, right?”

“That’s a good guess,” Melisa answers. “Let’s check it out.”

“Anything out there?” she hears one of the bandits ask as he walks into view.

Pela and Melisa freeze as a second bandit approaches and peers into the gloom towards them. Pela tries to hide in Melisa’s fur. Melisa tries to act like she’s just a regular badger.

“Just a raccoon,” the second bandit calls back to his companion.

Pela hears a long, low growl emerge from the very core of Melisa’s badger-form.

“Well, don’t get too close,” the first bandit says. “It’s probably been eating people’s garbage all day.”

That elicits another growl. Teeth bared, Melisa begins to pad forward.

“Shouldn’t we go kick it, or something?” the second bandit asks. “What if it gets into the food? The Boss isn’t going to like that.”

Pela reaches for her crossbow. She fires a bolt at what she hopes is a nearby tree. The bolt strikes with a loud thud that makes the bandits jump with surprise.

“What was that?” the first bandit gasps.

“Maybe there’s more of them,” the second notes. “Maybe it’s a raccoon invasion!”

“I swear, if they get into the smoked ham…” the first bandit mutters, stalking away from where Pela and Melisa remain rooted to the ground.

“Go!” Pela tells Melisa in a desperate whisper.

“Yeah,” Melisa answers. “Hold on.”

With Melisa moving carefully and keeping her four-legged form close to the ground, and Pela once again clinging on for dear life, they dip out of sight around the corner, hiding on the far side of the largest tent.

“What now?” Pela asks. “Whoa—”

She yelps as Melisa goes to her hind legs. She uses her foreclaws to tear a long, ragged opening in the fabric of the tent.

“You can get off now,” she tells Pela.

Pela nods and steps down from Melisa’s back. Her legs are wobbly and unsteady. As she steadies herself, she sees that flash of light again. She worries it is very bright in the gloom.

Back in her human form, Melisa peers into the tent and steps in through the hole.

“They have been busy,” she mutters, surveying the collection of artifacts laid out across the table in the middle of the tent.

She looks over her shoulder. “

You still got your backpack?” she asks Pela.

Pela nods and hands her pack up to Melisa.

“We can’t carry all of these artifacts, but we can at least make sure we save some of them,” Melisa says, gingerly picking up several pieces from the table and gently placing them in Pela’s backpack.

“I hear somebody coming,” Pela cautions.

“I swear, these raccoons are a real nuisance,” a familiar voice is saying as two shadowy shapes pass by the front flap of the tent.

“We should start setting up traps, or something.”

“I’ve heard raccoon is good eating.”

Really? Gross.”

Idiots,” Melisa mutters, burying her face in her clawed hand.

“They’re leaving,” Pela notes as the shapes of the two bandits disappear into the gloom.

“Let’s go,” Melisa says.

She steps towards the hole in the tent and Pela follows close behind.

“Really?” Melisa exclaims, stopped mid-stride by an unexpected sight.

Pinned to the post supporting the tent’s roof is a poster with a picture of a bull, a cliff, and some ocean waves bearing the words Universitas Oxfiordi. Melisa scoffs at the sight of the poster and tears it down with a clawed hand. Pela looks up at her sceptically.

“I graduated from the University of Porthaven,” Melisa explains. “We’ve kind of got a thing going on with Oxfjord.”

“Ah,” Pela says, still not really understanding.

“Now, let’s get out of here,” Melisa says, stepping through the hole Melisa tore in the back of the tent.

Chapter 8
Chapter 10

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