"My God! Look at that," breathed a young man with raven hair. "How spectacular!"
The clash of armor was barely audible from where the three boys stood. Above them, two great nations tore through each other's armies. Knights adorned in gold and silver rode upon the backs of great winged beasts. Griffons with thick amber manes squealed toward their bat-like enemies. The black, leathery fiends were quick, striking the noble warriors off their saddles.
The raven-haired boy turned his icy- blue gaze from the battle toward his stunned friends and smiled.
"Well, what are you two lazy thugs waiting for?" he shouted. "Edmund! Take the horses to the rocks over there and tie them down out of the way! Red, come with me!"
"Are you nuts!" cried the smaller boy named Red. The first boy was already standing in the field just below the bloody sky. "Damian! This is suicide! And for what? A few gold coins? Edmund"
He called for the third boy but he was already tying the horses down out of earshot. Red rolled his eyes and chased after Damian who had already found treasure in the form of a helmet.
"Look at this!" Damian squealed in excitement as he wrapped one arm around Red's shoulder and raised the helmet to his face. "That's at least twelve gold in my hands right now!"
Red let out a sigh of exasperation.
"Damian, I really don't think" a large thud sounded not five feet from the boys. Both boys turned to see an ax as tall as a man, decorated with a golden vine and ruby encrusted roses on the handle. "Damian, what was that?" Red pouted almost to the point of tears.
"That, my dear friend, is a little over one hundred gold."
Red turned to face the other boy. His eyes opened wide as his jaw dropped to let out a tired squeak of helplessness.
"Well, don't just stand there!" The older boy cheered in delight. "Help me lift the damned thing!"
Red resentfully did as he was told and continued to collect various objects from the ravaged earth. He retrieved several helmets and a steel sword with golden serpents on the handle. Arrows continued to rain down from the tortured heavens, nearly missing the smaller boy.
"Look!" Damian yelled holding a wooden bow with golden accents on the handle and tips. Red shook his head at the boy as another falling arrow whizzed past his head, taking with it a few strands of hair from his flaming red braid. He winced and sniffled.
"We're gonna die," he whimpered. "We're all gonna die."
He bent down and lifted and armored glove. The hand inside slid out with a sickening slurping sound and a thud.
"OH! THAT'S IT! Damian, you can stay out here and kill yourself but I'm going back to the horses!"
"Please, my friend, look!" Damian raised yet another find. "They're leather gloves with little jewels in them!"
"Please, for the love of all that is held sacred in this world, which apparently isn't much, don't tell me you just stole them off that man's body."
"Look! He's got a shiny necklace to match! We can sell them as a set!"
Red groaned and stomped his foot as he looked back to the tortured heavens.
"Damian! Look out!"
Damian jumped back just in time to avoid the meteor that struck the ground where he stood. Only this meteor had wings and left a trail of black scales where its body slid upon impact. Both boys stood in shock at the onyx dragon before them and looked up to the battle once more. They heard the High Dragon's roar that rumbled in the earth beneath them and put the Griffons' shrieks to shame. Behind the great beast, smaller dragons swarmed the enemy encircling the bat-like creatures and tearing them apart leaving wings crashing to the ground.
"Let's go!" Red screamed.
"How much could we get for a dragon?"
Damian looked at Red. "How much?"
"It's not worth our lives!"
"I bet it is!" And with that, he sprung from the ground and pulled at the dragon's tail. Its head snapped back and hissed before leaping back into the air leaving its rider motionless on the ground. Damian hesitated to inspect the rider's antique armor and made his decision as suddenly as the last.
"Help me carry him!"
Red knew there was no time to argue against him and pulled at the knight's legs. Great beasts fell to the ground with thuds and crunches. Pieces of creatures that were once feared plummeted in an eerie spiral and into the path of the two boys. Edmund met them halfway and slung the knight over his shoulder. He managed to keep pace with the smaller boys until they made it safely to the horses.
"Are you mad?!" Red screamed. Damian burst into a shrill of laughter.
"No, not at all. I'm the happiest man in the world," he replied with a smirk. "Boys, with this, we could buy our own farm. We could build an Inn and spend the rest of our lives in a quiet little town."
"I don't believe you know the meaning of the word, 'Quiet,'" Edmund chuckled and dropped the body in the cart. Red looked at the both of them and shook his head
They ran beside the horses and away from the battle field turned graveyard. Damian skipped with a wide grin on his face.
"This is good for us," he called as he picked up a helmet that had fallen off the cart.
"No!" Red screeched. "We have a dead body in our cart and nowhere to go! What were you thinking? How are we getting out of this one?"
Damian said nothing. He just grinned with delight as they vanished into the woods.
Damian strutted out of the blacksmith's store bouncing a small bag in one hand and dragging a large clanging sack in the other.
"Six hundred gold," he shouted, tossing the purse to Edmund. "That's all they had. Got all their money and still haven't made a dent! Just think of how much we'll have when this is over!"
He tossed the sack on the cart next to Red and smiled. Red turned his head away from him and frowned miserably.
"Come on Red, don't be like that." Red huffed and turned his back to Damian. "I'm doing this for us. Don't worry so much." Damian put his hand on Red's shoulder. "We're going to be ok."
"Why does this sound so familiar?" Edmund chimed in. Red smiled.
"It's what he said to Gloria right before she smacked him and left," he giggled.
Damian rolled his eyes. "Look, how about you rummage through the cart and pick out something shiny. Whatever you want."
Red hesitated for a moment and stood up. "Whatever I want?"
"Whatever you want."
"And I can do whatever I want with it?"
"Whatever you want."
"I want to get rid of the body."
Damian's eyes widened for a brief moment before a devilish smirk twisted his lips.
"I said whatever you want. Of course you can get rid of the body."
Red's eyes softened at the older boy.
"Thank you," he breathed softly.
"Just as soon as you strip the priceless armor off his body."
Red's face turned a brilliant crimson. His mouth gaped open but all that could escape his lips was a soft whimper. Tears welled up in his gleaming emerald eyes. He sat up straight and bit his lip to avoid an emotional breakdown.
"Fine!" he shouted. Edmund frowned at Damian as the irritated boy by himself dragged the body from the cart and out of sight.
"That was crossing a line," he grunted. Damian sat down on the cart, looked up at his large muscular friend, and for a moment, his face twisted into a mask of shame.
"He has to learn that life isn't going to just hand him things. He needs to suck it up."
"He's a child."
"A child that could blow your face off."
"Quiet! You don't know who could hear you." Damian rolled his eyes and crossed his arms against his chest.
The boys stared down the path the redhead took as he returned running and stumbling over roots and rocks. Damian leapt from the cart and pulled the shaking boy to his chest. Red clung to Damian for a moment, then pushed his friend back and took a ragged breath.
Edmund dropped down to the boy's level. "What is it, Red? What happened?"
Red raised his head and swallowed his sobs. "It's alive. It's mad. And I think it's female."
Both boys stopped and raised an eyebrow each. Edmund was the first to speak.
"Alive? Are you sure?"
Red nodded his head. The boys looked at each other for a moment.
"Now, wait," Damian chimed in casually. "What do you mean, you think it's female? Does it have boobs?"
"I don't know," Red whined.
"Well, what did it look like?"
"A girl? I don't know!"
"It looks like a girl but doesn't have boobs?"
"I didn't say it doesn't have boobs."
"Well, does it or doesn't it?"
"Damian, that's irrelevant. Leave him alone," Edmund finally spoke.
"Dammit!" Red squeaked. "Are you both going to stand there, or help me with this?"
They sprinted down the path and into the ditch where the body was but found nothing.
Where is it?" Damian asked.
"I don't know!" Red began to shake again as tears threatened to flood his eyes.
"Alright, calm down. We'll find it. We just need to"A loud thud sounded behind them. Edmund and Red turned to face Damian only to find a battered woman in his place. Her hair fell in long blonde curls over her face and her lips twisted in a soft pink frown. Her skin was bruised and her shirt was stained and torn. She held a large stick in her hands and stood hunched over in the coveted antique bronze armor.
Damian groaned on the ground in front of her. Her golden gaze studied the two remaining boys.
"Well, I'm glad somebody finally did it," Edmund said flatly. He stepped over Damian's unconscious body and reached out for the girl's hand. She stood up straight and released her grip on the stick to take his hand in hers. "I'm Edmund. You've met Red. And this is
We'll introduce Damian later."
The girl laughed and frowned again. She looked over her shoulder and out into the distance, then back at Edmund. "My name is Rayne."
Red pulled the coins out of Damian's pocket and stood up. "Nice to meet you. We'll go back into town and find you something to wear."
Rayne smiled again. "Thank you," she whispered.
The fire brightened the camp and lightened up the forest. Damian rubbed his head and glared at Rayne. She raised an eyebrow and smirked. Damian leaned over to Red.
"For future reference, those are boobs," Damian whispered.
Edmund elbowed his ribs and shook his head.
"I figured that one out. Thanks," Red responded.
Rayne smiled awkwardly and took a deep breath.
"He means no harm by it," Red assured her. "He's just not good with girls. Or people. Or any living thing for that matter."
"It's fine. I'm just surprised you didn't kill me to begin with," she smiled.
"In my defense, I thought you were dead to begin with." Her smile snapped back into a frown as Damian's lips curled into spiteful grin.
"Damian! Leave her alone," Red scorned him. "This is all your fault anyways."
"So, where did you come from?" Damian persisted. Red shot him a harsh glance.
"Up the mountains, to the north," she replied smoothly.
"Oh! Near the High King's palace?"
"With the Royal Guard," she snapped.
"Alright, no need to get fussy. Sooo
How old are you?" Damian's smirk never faded.
"Twenty two. And you?"
"In order, Edmund is Twenty four, I'm Twenty one, and Red is somewhere between thirteen and eighteen, depending on the situation."
Rayne raised an eyebrow at Red.
"It's a long story," he said sheepishly.
"Are you going to be traveling with us?" Edmund asked quietly.
"I don't think I have much of a choice right now, do I?"
"Well then, if a guard asks, he's eighteen. If a cute girl asks, he's her age. And if an inn owner asks, he's thirteen," Damian explained.
"So, what's your favorite color?" Damian continued.
"I really don't think any of your questions are relevant," she spat.
"What's your favorite color," Red asked. He tilted his head and widened his emerald eyes in a way that made Rayne doubt he was any older than thirteen.
"Blue," she said with a smile. Red smiled back.
"My favorite color is red." Rayne held in a laugh and looked at Damian. His face was turning pink from silencing his giggle. It wasn't long after that the boys fell asleep with Red's head resting on Rayne's lap. She smiled at the small boy and focused on the other two. When she was sure both were fast asleep she gently lifted Red up and rested him on the soft ground.
She checked her surroundings one last time and tip toed out of sight. When she was sure she couldn't be heard, she ran. She stopped to listen occasionally to be certain that she wasn't being followed. The forest only became thicker and darker until suddenly it opened into a town. She emerged from the dense forest slowly, being cautious of her environment, never trusting a single step. Her path brought her behind the stables. Three horses waited inside. She slipped in as unnoticed as an ant and grabbed the reins off the wall.
"You're really going to steal this poor man's horse?"
Rayne spun around and jumped back with an audible gasp. She shook with her hand on her chest.
"So is this what they teach you in the Royal Guard?"
"Damian!" she whispered harshly. "How did you find me? I made sure"
"You're not as good of a sneak as you think you are." Damian didn't smile now. His silly demeanor diminished in the dark stables. He took a step closer and relieved Rayne of the reins. He seemed taller as he stood over her. "What were you going to do with this?"
Rayne stood up straight and said nothing. Her glare told him everything he needed to know.
"Look, I know you don't know us well, and we don't know much about you, but you need some help. And we could use a woman on our team."
"For what?" she spat.
"I don't know," he smirked. "Laundry, cooking, cleaning, sewing. Usual woman's work."
Rayne pushed him to no effect and he laughed.
"Or maybe you can push our enemies to death!" he joked.
She tried to step past him but he caught her by the arm. "So you have a lot of enemies, huh? I wouldn't have guessed."
"You would make a good distraction." He spoke quietly. "Guards never suspect the weak useless woman. Not to mention, you're alone and an easy target. We're not. It's your choice. We can take you back up north. We're going that way anyways."
She stayed silent for a moment while Damian released his grasp.
"You're criminals," she hissed.
"Like I said, princess, it's your choice," he said and turned out of the stables.
"Don't call me that!" She spat. Rayne took a deep breath and slipped out. Damian was already gone.
She slowly traced her steps back. It wasn't hard to find her path. Her footprints were deep from before. She scowled at the ground and her mistake. It took her much longer to find the camp than it took her to leave it. All three boys were asleep around the dying fire. She found her spot, lifted Red's head, laid it back on her lap, and went to sleep.
Damian jumped through the door of the blacksmith's store. "Seven hundred gold! We're getting somewhere!" Damian shouted. He handed the sack to Edmund. "You guys want breakfast?"
Red looked up at Rayne.
"I'd love something to eat," she said with a smile.
"Where are we going?" Red asked cheerfully.
"Don't know yet. Follow me," Damian directed. He walked down the street, counting the gold in his hands. "Good news," he said as they walked. "They're adding to the Royal Guard."
"Why is that good news," Rayne inquired. "You are criminals. More guards mean more security and more of a chance of getting caught."
"Damian doesn't get caught. It's his only positive attribute," Edmund said. "But more guards means more demand for armor. Which means more gold for what we have."
"Oh," she sighed. "I see."