Chapter 32: Melée

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"How long do you think it'll be before the Eor Sylvans arrive?" Katari asked. "We all know it's a matter of time. The suspense is driving me batty!"

"I dunno," Shanku shrugged. "Just 'cause my grandsire is on the council doesn't mean I'm privy to formal speculations."

"I'd settle for informal speculations," Katari grumbled.

"Well, I know it took me a few months to make the flight across the plains, and I was coming from Austmont territory," Shanku said thoughtfully and rubbed her chin. "Waebre is the closest, so probably less than a month for them to get to the Nyre. So maybe two months for all of the Eor to hit the Nyre?"

"The Fernwick has been taken for about two months now," Katari shook his head. "So it could be any day now."

"I guess so. I don't know how long it takes for them to gather everybody up. They are all mostly raiders, from what I hear. They're probably used to getting up and moving pretty fast," Shanku shuddered. "Huata would sometimes tell me tales of villages that got hit by the Falnor. Not pretty."

"Did Huata mention anything else helpful?"

"...No, but her sister did. During this time of year are the White Nights of summer. The sun never sets. The raiders don't come. They are all going to be available," Shanku said as she suddenly remembered Yakone's gloating. "I gotta go find Grandsire Bibot!"

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Indeed, during the infamous polar White Nights, the Eor Sylvans had been resting at home and preparing for the first grand raid of late summer when news reached them of the situation in the Nyre.

The Falnor, intrigued but furious, redirected their plans to the south rather than the north, and called for the other Eor Imperials to join them. The Sushaw were also glad of a break from dueling with the Prairie clans and eagerly joined the Falnor. Waebre was a bit reluctant, but gathered their wings in a timely manner. The Austmont declined, preferring not to travel such a great distance, when they themselves were having a bit of trouble with the Tundra Highlands.

Thus began the great flight from the Eor to the northern tip of the Nyre. Long shadows were cast on the ground as the great flock of Kurach made their way southwest to aid their Fernwick brethern against the rebellious Imperials the barbaric Ferals had no doubt misguided and lead down such a primitive path. Perhaps it was time the Imperials established a stronger presence in the Nyre? One without Ferals dragging them back down to the dark ages. They would certainly be a stronger people without them. And the resources of the Nyre would be a great boon in their retaking of L'aernth. Yes, it was time to turn their attention to the neglected Nyre and the land of their forefathers.

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After arriving back to the Scissortail den, Shanku quickly sought out her grandfather to inform him of the bit of information she recently remembered about the raiding clans.

Bibot agreed it was something they should take into consideration and dismissed her.

"How'd it go?" Katari asked her.

"...Good? His eyebrows did a little dance, so I'm guessing I did the right thing," Shanku scratched her head in confusion.

"It couldn't hurt, at any rate," Katari shrugged. "Come on, let's go get that deer dressed. My sister need a new blanket and this is a pretty good size for her."

Shanku nodded and followed behind him.

Of course, sending such a great flock out hardly went unnoticed. Between those of the plains ever-watching the skies and the newly made alliance within the forest between the Kurach and gryphons, there wasn't a chance for the Imperials to sneak over.

The little messenger gryphons out on the plains easily out-paced the lumbering wings above and word soon spread of how many Imperials were on the way and where they had made it to.

The Sylvans, rebels, and Prairie began to set out their counter measures.

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The Imperial raiders had made it about halfway to the Nyre and the first counterstrike took them quite by surprise. They were met not by savage Red Wings or vicious Ferals, but by a few flocks of enraged gryphons!

Just as many gryphons went to targeting sleeping raiders as they did to extinguishing the dying campfires. Abruptly woken by the angry shrieks of attacking nightwing gryphons and with little more than a sliver of a moon, the raiders couldn't do much than clumsily defend themselves until dawn.

A few nightwings had fallen in the strike and the remainder took off during false dawn to return to their roosts, where they would be well fed by Sylvans.

The commanders were not very happy the following morning. The guards on the nightwatch were all questioned thoroughly about what they saw and heard prior to the attack, and next the scouts were brought forward to determine if they had negligently lead them into a nest or hunting ground.

Despite their frustrations, they found no satisfactory explanation. The gryphons back in the Eor forest left them alone and understood to keep their distance. The raiders then began to suspect perhaps the Fernwick clan fell due to neglecting to maintain their position properly.

Undeterred, they buried their dead and prepared to defend themselves better the following night.

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The nightwing gryphons attacked every three nights for two weeks and then stopped. Five Kurach had fell for every one gryphon they managed to kill. While death in battle was lauded among the Imperials, taking a very long time to reach their destination was not.

They had a week of rest to travel further south. Then came a clear-skied morning that strangely rumbled like thunder. A scout took wing to see what an ominous cloud of dust on the distance foretold. What he came back to tell his fellow raiders was not something they were prepared to hear.

A stampede of the great minocentaur of the plains. Rode by Prairie Kurach.

Many raiders fell that day. Even if they took to the air to be free from the bison minocentaur, the Prairie had greater stamina and could remain aloft much longer.

At dusk, the minocentaur and Prairie retreated, taking what dead and wounded of their ranks they could. Like shadows before the rain, the stampede and the riders then vanished and left the raiders alone.

By this point, the raiders were more than a little concerned. Four nights with the gryphons followed by a day against a stampede and fellow warriors had left a noticable gap in their numbers.

A bit uneasy, the raiders continued on. They moved often and rested little, on high alert for another unusual attack.

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Without further incident, the raiders arrived at the Nyre. However, a scout informed them of a long line of bison minocentaur and Prairie Kurach far behind them, simply standing guard and not advancing. It was quite clear they were not welcome back in the open grass any time soon.

The initial journey into the Nyre was eerily calm. While they didn't see signs of other Kurach, they also didn't see signs of wildlife or birds. Just the pesky gnats and parasitic insects that plague all forests. A few scouts were sent out to find some kind of game, as their rations were running low, and the raiders settled down to rest for the first time in a few weeks.

The scouts returned with a few deer and hogs they managed to find a long distance from the raider camp. It wasn't much, but between that and what little they managed to gather nearby, the raiders were able to keep themselves fed as they rested and planned their march through the Nyre.

The night before they were to resume their conquest, they were visited by the deep cave hounds. The raiders had kept their campfires well maintained in preparation for a gryphon attack, but were not prepared for the blue-black scales of the yamaer, or their venom. Even though the raiders successfully drove off the yamaer, those who had been bitten or scratched fell severely ill within a few hours.

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A third of the raiders had now fallen just in trying to reach the Fernwick clan. The leaders of the various parties began to wonder if perhaps why the Fernwick fell was due to distance from the other Imperials rather than slovenly rule.

They came across a few abandoned villages as they made their cautious march toward the Fernwick capital. Finally, the raiders came across the central grove where they was sure to be other Imperials.

Indeed, they did. It was the rebels who had overthrown the fundamentalists. Among their ranks stood warriors from the Blade, Weolcen, and Scissortail clans.

One of the rebels strode out a few paces to face the raiders.

"Where are the Fernwick elders?" asked one of the Falnor.

"Safe. Unharmed beyond bruised egos," replied the Fernwick rebel.

"What do you hope to accomplish by all this?" the Falnore gestured to the Ferals. "Siding with these... Kurach."

"To survive," the rebel said flatly. "It's working so far. Gryphons and hounds haven't really bothered us in a few months."

"You expect this fleeting freedom to be permanent?" the Falnor narrowed his eyes.

"It could be for all of us, if you join us," the rebel offered. "This could be ended quickly."

"Unlike you," the Falnor glared, "we do not cower before our enemies."

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"Instead, you fall before them," the rebel glared.

"You will be the one to fall at dawn tomorrow," the Falnor responded curtly and the raiders began to recess into the forest for the next day's battle.

With a resigned sigh, the rebel turned to his new allies. "Tomorrow, then."

"We'll send the message," a Blade warrior nodded.

The Ferals and rebels returned to their camps to wait for dawn.

War drums beat steadily through the night and the surrounding inhabitants who hadn't already fled began to leave the area for fear of being caught up in the Sylvan struggle for dominance.

The restless Sylvans began to stir before dawn broke and were waiting for each other at the Fernwick capital when the first strains of light began to filter through the leaves.

From the Eor stood the Falnor, Waebre, and Sushaw warriors, five thousand strong.

From the Nyre stood the Fernwick rebels, Blade, Weolcen, and Scissortail warriors, along with the few from the Willow and Peridæ clans who did not wish to see the raiders come to control the Nyre. Seven thousand in all.

Not one to be intimidated by any odds, the raiders launched the first strike in full Feral form, and began the long, bloody day that lay ahead of them all.

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"Ma? Are you alright?" Shanku asked worriedly.

"Your father is out there," Nari replied sadly.

"Up in Fernwick in the skirmishes?"

"Yes. The last messenger said it was about time for the Imperials to arrive," Nari sighed.

"Maybe he'll be alright. Our family tends to survive some pretty rough stuff," Shanku smiled weakly.

"And you wanted to be in the thick of it?" Nari shook her head in disbelief. "I don't see why."

"I don't like being blamed for something I didn't do," Shanku growled. "I'd love to personally snap at the raiders."

"Try not to take it personally. The Arctic were probably just lashing out in frustration," Nari suggested.

"That doesn't make it right to direct it at me," Shanku said flatly.

"It doesn't, but stress clouds judgment."

"How come they get to be stressed and I have to be understanding?" Shanku grumbled.

"Because an understanding person understands the best way to right a wrong," Nari replied with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "Sometimes an indirect approach is best."

"The most 'indirect' I'm capable of is not directly knocking sense into somebody."

"It'll come with age," Nari nodded. "And a little guidance. I have a lot of time to make up with you."

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"Is that why I've been shelling beans almost nonstop for a week now?" Shanku asked grumpily.

"That would need to be done regardless," Nari chuckled. "What's a soup without beans?"

"Stew," Shanku said flatly.

"I must have Mama fix her venison bean stew for you sometime then," Nari nodded.

"As long as it smells better than those poultices she always slathered us with," Shanku shuddered. "That was one thing I didn't miss while I was gone!"

"It got the job done, didn't it?"

Shanku shook her head and went back to shelling the neverending supply of beans, and thinking of Templeton and his potatoes.

We're waiting impatiently at home for any news from the front. I saw warriors from the lower clans pass through a few weeks back and it has me worried. Yakone and Huata had some unsettling tales on the aggresiveness and magnitude some of the Imperial raids had.

Nonetheless, I'd still like very much to have a good row with the knucklehead that thinks that's a good idea.

~ Shanku Ravenwing

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