From what the scout said, the marauder camp had to be close by. Apoc was having a hard time sensing their location. Something was interfering with his magic. It was like trying to see someone through a thick cloud of smoke; disorientating and impossible. That was another reason he figured he was in the right place. The rough terrain was perfect for hiding and keeping a low profile. There were crevasses that crisscrossed through the green hills making it impossible to search each and every nook without a whole army. If the bandits found an area large enough they could set up a small camp or even a settlement.
For the last few months a couple of traders went missing or came to the Junction after they had been robbed by highwaymen. It was so far and few between that it seemed random. Like a group of raiders passing by that just happened to come across an easy target of a caravan. It wasn’t uncommon. The lands outside of the cities tended to be wild especially to the west. While the pattern seemed to be random, Apoc decided to keep track of the raiding around his city. There was an area that was constantly plagued by raiding a couple of times a month. He sent a scout to see if there was any validation to his suspicions. The scout came back bloodied and injured he took it upon himself to end the raider threat himself. He wanted to make sure the threat would be ended.
The twins were out there with him. They were searching for most of the night keeping a low profile. The small party of three allowed them to be stealthy.
Apoc sighed as another crevasse he came across was empty. The sun was just below the horizon and would break any minute and their cover of darkness would not last much longer.
“I see camp fires on a landing below me. I think I found them,” Liam’s voice resonated inside of Apoc’s head.. Apoc made his way toward him without making a sound, it was one of the benefits of being an Elf. The starlight above was the only light he needed to navigate the treacherous terrain, his students needed to be more cautious with their footing. Peeking over the edge of the crevasse, Liam and Morgan looked like two small children about to cause some trouble. To Apoc, they were only children, but to a human, they were young adults, and they were definitely going to cause trouble.
Apoc looked down into the crevasse. He could see the people but he could barely sense them. Either there was too much energy coming from the earth or there was something interfering with his magical sense. Either way, it was an issue.
The twins looked up at him and smiled. They seemed proud of their find and were looking for their teacher’s approval. He gave them a nod. They were dressed similarly in leather armor with a bladed shied on their backs. Liam’s short hair was a dark blonde while Morgan’s hair was long and Brown. They shared the same hazel eyes and they were both looking at him with anticipation, awaiting their next orders.
“What have you learned?” Apoc pushed his hair back behind his shoulders.
“The men who are keeping watch have talked little but what they have said is useful. They are talking about whether they should rob another coach tomorrow or to move locations.” Liam’s eyes were searching down below as he talked.
“There are also hostages in the back of a cave. One of the men was talking about having his way with one of the women but then thought against it because their boss would not approve,” Morgan added as she too studied the camp down below.
“The overall theme of this party is that they are all afraid of the boss. But they haven’t said much about him.” Liam looked up at Apoc and then back to the men on watch.
“How big do you think their camp is?” Apoc took a glance of his own and saw at least ten men on watch but no one sleeping. He figured that they must have a decent cave system with a pretty large amount of men.
“No telling. I think that what we see here is only the men on watch and not the ones asleep. There are ten down there right now, and let’s say that they are splitting four shifts a night so everyone can get a good night’s sleep then we are looking at well over forty men who are paranoid. Maybe they came across a big find and are worried that someone might come along to take it. It seems like a lot to have this many men on watch.” He was glad to see them thinking on their own.
“What do you think we should do next?” Apoc asked. His students were doing really well so far.
“I was going to try a sleep spell but something is affecting my magic. I think we might have to use one of us as bait to draw them toward the entrance and then two of us can drop down on them and cut off their route into the caves,” Liam said.
“I’ll be the bait. These kind of men might be more enthusiastic about a woman stumbling into their den rather than a man or an elf.” Before anyone had time to protest she was off toward the entrance.
Apoc let out a heavy sigh as he ran his fingers through his hair. She was always eager to catch men underestimating her. After a few minutes he could hear Morgan over exaggerating her steps to get the men’s attention.
“Please help, I haven’t had water in days.” She stumbled into the light of the torches and you could hear the men’s faces shape into smiles. She held onto the wall for support and waited for them to come to her. All of the Men stood up at the same time and rushed toward her. They wanted to be the first one to get their hands on her. With all of the men stuffed into the narrow ridge, Apoc and Liam jumped down the twenty feet and landed as softly as a feather.
“I have something for you love.” He man reached to grab her but she moved faster than they could think.
“I have something for you too.” The tip of her blade was through his back and he was stunned. He tried to say something but all that could escape his throat was strained grunts and blood. He looked up at her with wide eyes filled with disbelief and fear of death. This bandit never thought that he would lose his life to a woman. She yanked the blade out and the bandit’s limp body hit the ground like a bag of meat.
Before the men knew what was happening she cut down two more, one was decapitated and the other eviscerated. The blood that covered Morgan made her look like a wild woman. The look on her face was steel and could cut down an army. The remaining seven men stopped in their tracks and turned on around only to be face to face with Liam and Apoc. Liam already had his short sword out and cut down the two men that jumped him. The bandits left their weapons behind and only came at them with their belted knives. They were neither fast nor strong enough to ever come close to Liam.
The remaining five men saw that Apoc was unarmed and charged at him with reckless abandoned in an attempted to snake by him. It was the biggest mistake any of those men made that night. Apoc’s long hair hid his pointed ears and he wore the same leather armor as his students. It was rare for an Elf to stray from their people, or even wear vestments that were not made by them. There was no indication from far that he was an Elf so it was understandable that he looked unarmed and an easy target to men like them. They thought to take the chance and charge him, in their minds they were as good as passed him. If he was just any regular unarmed Elf, two of them might have slipped by, but Apoc was a Demi, a God Killer.
Demis are made when an Elf gives birth to twins. Giving birth is one of the most traumatic events for the mother and for the father. When an Elf is born it absorbs a part of the parent’s power and is very painful. If there are two children being born the extraction of power kills the mother and on occasion kills the father. In most cases the second twin dies, but if they survive it creates an opening of power from the world and grants them almost limitless power. Apoc was lucky enough to have his brother and Father live.
To Apoc, the men were moving in slow motion. He had all the time in the world. The first man was charging headlong with a knife in hand. With his hand flat, Apoc struck the man in the throat with his fingertips and crushed the bandit’s windpipe. The man trying to run passed Apoc on his left got a palm onto his side effectively stopping his heart. With his right hand, Apoc jabbed the man to his right in the kidney causing it to explode. The last two men stopped when they saw the first three men drop at the same time. Their shock was enough for Morgan and Liam to get another kill a piece.
“Every time you do that, I barely catch a glimpse of what you’re actually doing,” Morgan whispered.
“I have to do that once and a while. If I try to go to fast I’ll dislocate my shoulders.” It was one of the cons of being a Demi. His power was limitless but his body had its limits. He had to get as close to his limits as possible without passing them to keep in the best of shape. Most Demi died because they exert too much force and end up blowing their bodies apart. It almost happened to Apoc and his brother, Seth, at the end of the last war over a century ago.
He turned toward the caves and stretched his shoulders. He knew he could move faster but not much faster. He saw that there were three cave openings but only two were lit.
“You two go into the dark cave and kill the men sleeping in there. I’ll go and search the other two.” Apoc pointed toward the dark cake where he could hear the men breathing softly.
With a nod, the twins tip toed into the cave with their knives in their hands. Apoc ran into the middle cave. There were torches connected to the cave walls and it reached far back. As far as he could see there was no one there. Down at the end he saw a large metal cage. There was a large padlock on it that prevented the door from being open. Inside he could see men and woman huddled into the back corner. He saw that they were mostly traders and he recognized some of them. He wrapped his hand around the lock and swiftly pulled it off of the cage.
“I need everyone to be very quiet. I’m not here to hurt you,” Apoc said. They remained in the back of the cage, very apprehensive about getting out. The prisoners were looking passed Apoc at something that was behind him. Apoc turned around just in time as a knife was being thrusted in his direction. He turned his body and grabbed on to the arm that was attacking him and threw it at the wall. The person he threw flipped midair and landed feet first on the wall. Apoc knew then that this was more than just a marauder camp. This group was led by an Immortal. A being of magic that was usually revered as a deity. It was dressed in black clothes and its face was shrouded by a shadow that shouldn’t have been there. The knives were crafted in a design that must have taken hundreds of years to accomplish. They were as black as the night and he was certain that they were sharper than any razor.
In a voice that seemed to come from another world it spoke, “These are my charges. I will not allow you to take them from me.” It launched another attack. Apoc knew that his sword would be too slow to face the Immortal so he pulled his belt knives from his back. The knives hissed eagerly as he pulled them from their sheaths. He could feel the designs on the leather and he knew the exquisitely designed blades were equal to the Immortals blades. He parried the incoming blows. They were engaged in combat that was faster than the eye could follow. He locked up with the Immortal and spoke.
“You’re faster than any Immortal I’ve ever faced. Impressive.” Even though Apoc was face to face with it he could only see the shadow.
“Apoc Salamander.” It was a statement rather than a question. The Immortal backed away and sheath its weapons. “I concede. My Name is Mask. My life is forfeit if you will it.” Mask got on his knee and bowed his head.
“I’m not going to kill you. If I do your family would vow revenge for all time. I have enough Immortals trying to kill me already, I don’t want to add another family. Why were you out here taking these people to begin with?”
Mask stood up and removed his hood. His face came into light and he appeared to be a handsome young man. His hair was shoulder length and gold and his eyes were all violet without any whites. “I am one of the Rouge Immortals. I usually help mercenaries and lonesome travelers but I was summoned here and trapped by an Elf.”
Apoc could feel the color drain from his face, “You said there is an Elf here? Where is he?”
“She is in her quarters in the far cave. Her name is Ril, from the looks of her she is from the Northwood.”
“Can you take me to her?”
He could hear Liam and Morgan make their way into the cave. They were covered in more blood than he thought they should have been.
“Is that an Immortal?” Morgan asked.
“An Immortal of Rouges to be exact,” Mask said.
“Sweet,” Liam added, blood dripping from his blade.
“Get these people out of here while I go for their leader.” He ordered sternly. They nodded as they began to escort the prisoners out of the cage and out of the cave.
“This way.” Mask led him into one of the side tunnels and further into the cave. He could see now that there were rooms and that the cave system was more complex than he expected. With his magic senses stifled he still felt disorientated. It wasn’t a feeling he liked to have. He saw that there were more men than he expected. There was practically an army in the caves. The men in front were only there for watches and to raise an alarm if need be. He passed multiple rooms until he came to a wooden door.
“She’s through there.”
Apoc thanked the Immortal and pushed through the door.