Lavos and his Final Night
A Story by Aaron Canton
The plan to deal with the perimeter guards was simple. Ferrik would snipe them one at a time with his crossbow, and Tarkel would keep an invisibility spell on their bodies until an also-invisible Rozzar could rush out, feel around for each corpse, and drag it out of sight. Then Ferrik would take down another guard, and that would continue until all five were down. After that, they could infiltrate the camp and do it again.
Unfortunately, by the third guard, the plan fell apart.
Ferrik had just shot the second in the neck, and Tarkel had cast her invisibility spell on his body, when another guard hurried around the corner of the camp fence at a fast clip. “Yes, commander,” he yelled as he rushed around the fence. “Ten laps, got it!”
“Shoot him!” hissed Illria. “Do it now!”
Ferrik fired, but his shot went wide and struck the fence with a soft thunk. A wail immediately blasted out of the fence post—one of the wards the charmed guard had mentioned, Lavos knew—and the running guard stumbled. His foot caught on the downed guard’s body, and he fell on top of it, breaking the invisibility spell. “Hey!” gasped the guard. “Jael’s dead! Everyone, Jael—”
Ferrik shot him in the throat, but alarms were already sounding from all over the camp. “Let’s go!” yelled Illria. “Before they get ready! Lavos, Rozzar, with me; Tarkel, break the wards and then follow us; Ferrik, cover us and Tarkel. Now!”
She charged forward, and Lavos, feeling more alive than ever before, ran with her.
Tarkel’s magic struck the wards at the nearest opening in the fence just before the lagano reached it, and Lavos saw a few runes spark and fizzle out before he got into the camp proper. A pair of unarmored mercenaries rushed towards them, and he raised his sword. One human struck with a knife, Lavos dodged and stabbed the mercenary in the side, and the man fell, even as Illria decapitated his companion. But now humans were running out of their tents, dozens of them, and some were already starting to put on armor. Other mercenaries, fully armed ones, were charging in from the outer perimeter. Lavos felt a blast of fear and froze.
Then Rozzar charged past him, striking down two enemies with a single axe blow, and laughed. “Is this how you ‘defend your tribe,’ Lavos? Pathetic!”
Lavos growled, but the words struck him, and he knew Rozzar was right—all that mattered now was pushing past his fear and defending his lagano. He turned to the nearest group of humans, saw one collapse with a crossbow bolt in her neck, and charged the rest as Illria matched pace with him. “For our tribe!” he screamed. “Die!”
Illria let out a war whoop, and then the battle was joined.
Swords and spears stabbed at the lagano, but the humans were still bleary from their interrupted sleep, and they had little armor with which to defend themselves. Lavos took a couple light hits but managed to parry most of the blows, and his attacks landed with devastating effect. He struck down one human frantically trying to get his helmet on, then dodged an attack from another and stabbed her in the leg, pinning her until Illria dispatched her opponents and took Lavos’ down as well. Meanwhile, ahead of them, Rozzar plunged into the thick of the lightly armored mercenaries, killing several and even striking down an armored one from the perimeter. “Is that all you can do?” he roared. “Why were we afraid of you?”
“Lizard beasts!” roared a tall mercenary whose armor had glowing runes sketched on the surface. Rozzar struck at the man, but his axe deflected off the armor, and though Illria and Lavos both fought to get closer, there were too many people separating them from Rozzar. The mercenary with the glowing armor smiled. “Fall! And—”
The light on his armor suddenly flickered red as the runes sparked. Lavos glanced behind him to see Tarkel, shaking like a leaf but still chanting and gesturing towards the man. Two mercenaries ran towards her, but both dropped with crossbow bolts in their foreheads. Even as Ferrik ducked behind cover, Tarkel’s staff glowed and fired her spell. The man’s armor suddenly burst into pieces, and Rozzar cut him down moments later.
Lavos grinned as the lagano pressed the fight deeper into the enemy camp. The mercenaries were slowly getting their gear together, and as their enemies equipped their armor and their better weapons, they grew more difficult to take down, but the lagano didn’t flag. Lavos stabbed at any weak spot in his enemies he could find, batting aside opposing blades and shrugging off minor wounds. Illria was by his side, her sword flashing almost faster than Lavos could see, and not only did she take down several human mercenaries who didn’t seem ready for her astounding swordwork, she also deflected a few blows that would have likely claimed Lavos’ life. Tarkel’s spells slammed into the enemy, entangling them in magic vines, stunning them, and even setting them afire, while Ferrik picked off the under-armored enemy mages and defended Tarkel with his crossbow. And then there was Rozzar, blasting through the camp, cutting down even the most heavily armored enemies.
“I think we’ve got them!” yelled Lavos. “I think we’ll—”
Rozzar’s axe thudded against another soldier with magical armor, but this time as he struggled to attack his foe, two more elites jumped on him from both sides. He dodged the first, but not the second, and took a deep slash in his side with a roar. Tarkel’s magic flashed—but another mage, whom Lavos barely saw peeking out of one of the tents, flicked his own staff, and Tarkel’s spell fizzled before it touched the armor. Rozzar screamed as he was forced back on the defensive.
“Toward him!” screamed Lavos, throwing himself at the mercenaries between them like he was possessed. Swords nicked him as he tried to smash his way through, slowly pushing past the humans. One with bright red feathers in his helmet managed to catch his sword and stop him, but Illria slashed him down, and the two had a straight shot to Rozzar. “We’re coming!” Lavos yelled. “Hold on!”
Rozzar roared as a sword took him in the back, but he threw himself on one of the attackers, tackling him to the ground. Lavos screamed and slammed into the second mercenary with magic armor, and Illria leapt at the third, driving her opponent away from the others. Lavos saw a flash of what was probably magic in the corner of his eye, but it fizzled before it reached them when Tarkel cast a counterspell, and he ignored the enemy mage as he jumped off of his enemy and towards Illria’s. Her opponent was parrying her sword, and as Lavos thrust at him, the human raised his shield to block—but then Rozzar was there, stabbing with all his strength and burying his sword deep into the overwhelmed human’s armor.
The man fell, and Lavos turned to Rozzar only to see the lagano sagging as well. His back was bleeding badly, and there was another slash under his neck Lavos hadn’t seen. “Rozzar!” he said. “Are you—?”
“Up to you now,” hissed Rozzar. “You think you’d make a good chief? Show it.” And he collapsed on the ground.
Lavos wanted to scream, but the mercenary he’d shoved was rushing in for another attack, and he didn’t have time. His sword twisted in his hand when he blocked the man’s first blow, and he had to struggle to hold it, but he did manage to push the human’s sword out of position. Illria struck—
And her attack glanced off his armor. She scowled and tried again, but to no avail, and Lavos realized it was hopeless. Rozzar had been strong enough to break through the magical armor; Illria and Lavos were not. “Tarkel!” he yelled. “We need help!”
“The mage,” hissed Illria. “Ferrik! Shoot the mage!”
The snap of a crossbow bolt sounded in the air, and both lagano glanced to the side in time to see the mage slump over. Lavos shot a look behind him to see Tarkel chanting and raising her glowing staff. As it blazed, the armor of the man in front of them shattered. Lavos and Illria took him down together—
And Lavos looked back again to see another soldier in magic armor rushing Ferrik’s position.
Lavos yelled, but too late, and Ferrik barely turned before the human’s sword ran him through. His mouth dropped open like he was about to make one final joke, and then his body sagged. He toppled over seconds later.
Tarkel screamed and raced for Illria and Lavos, who were slowly backing away from the heavily armored soldier Rozzar had tackled. He pushed back to his feet. “You will all die for this,” the man growled. “You and your entire tribe.”
“I’m dying anyway,” snapped Lavos. “And I’m not letting you take my tribe down with me!”
The man roared as he struck out with a huge falchion, and when Lavos blocked his attack, the lagano’s sword shattered under the blow. Illria rushed him, but the man used his heavier mass to slam her aside, leaving Lavos temporarily unguarded. The mercenary’s laughter blasted into Lavos’ ears as he stumbled backwards, certain he was about to die, and then the blade dropped—
To hit Tarkel, who threw herself between the two combatants.
Lavos’ mouth dropped as Tarkel glanced down to see the falchion cutting into her shoulder. Dimly, he was aware of Illria climbing to her feet to take a defensive position against the elite mercenary that had been chasing Tarkel, but he couldn’t focus on that for the moment. He saw Tarkel sagging, her staff drifting down to thump into the mercenary’s armor…
It flashed and disintegrated, destroyed by whatever last spell Tarkel had channeled into her staff. The mercenary gaped as Lavos grabbed a sword someone had dropped, jumped, and cut him down. Then he swiveled to Tarkel in time to see her eyes starting to droop. “Tarkel…” he said desperately. “I… thank you. You did so much, and I… I’m grateful. You were incredible.”
Tarkel smiled slightly as Lavos spoke and then fell dead.
Lavos managed to wrench his gaze away from the lagano’s body and turned to see Illria and the final mercenary with magic armor facing each other down. A handful of other humans had survived, but they were staying back, seeming to sense the lagano were more than a match for them. The elite mercenary, though, didn’t back off at all. “Surrender or die,” he hissed.
Illria looked at Lavos. “We need to get him out of that armor, or we’ll never take him down.”
“One. Cover me.” And then she charged, with Lavos only half a step behind her.
It was the most brutal fight Lavos had ever endured. His stolen sword felt alien in his hands, and though the enemy didn’t sunder his weapon, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Illria attacked too, but found herself knocked away whenever she attacked, resulting in the human focusing more and more on Lavos. Then the tip of his sword stabbed into the lagano’s tail, and Lavos cried out, almost dropping his weapon before catching himself. His lagano needed him, he screamed as he fought to raise the sword again. He couldn’t fail them.
The mercenary seemed to sense his weakness and stepped forward, slamming into the lagano’s sword with his shield and forcing it down. He raised his blade—
Illria sprang from behind him and released the catches on his helmet, sending it tumbling to the grass.
Lavos had just enough time to see the man’s shocked face before he hefted his sword and cut the mercenary’s now-unguarded throat. The mercenary stood for a moment longer, as if he could survive the deathblow through sheer force of will, before finally falling at Lavos’ tail. The lagano turned to face his next enemy…
But there was none. The handful of surviving mercenaries stared at the lizardfolk in horror. One actually dropped his blade.
“Go,” said Lavos, in the voice of a chief that expected to be obeyed. “We leave you your lives, on the condition you never return to Warus. If you do come back, we will find you. And end you.”
The mercenaries rushed for the camp exit, leaving the two surviving lagano alone.
“So,” said Illria at last, after stillness had fallen on the ruined camp. “Was it worth it?”
Lavos felt waves of pain and exhaustion break over him as his adrenaline faded. Half his body hurt, he wanted to collapse… and he was still due to be executed in the morning, mercenaries defeated or no. Though he still felt fear at the thought of his impending death, it wasn’t as much as before. Mostly, he just felt…
He’d defended his lagano. He’d slain the mercenaries that had given the Hillslash tribe their advantage, which meant that in the future his tribe would be able to stand up to their enemies. And he’d done it without giving the Hillslash any means to retaliate. His lagano were safe.
“Let’s get Ferrik, Tarkel, and Rozzar out of here,” said Lavos. “And then… home. To wait for morning.”
Illria was silent for a long moment. “I have to say… if this has to happen… I’m glad I’ll be able to wait with a warrior like you. You would have made a good chief.”
Lavos blinked, and a faint smile crossed his face. “I’m glad to wait with a warrior like you too, Illria.”
The other lagano stared at him for a moment before smiling, and then she knelt with him to start collecting their dead.
* * * * *
A faint wind blew as Lavos and Illria were led to the execution ground, a small clearing just north of their camp. Their elders and their chief were there, though Lavos noted none met his eyes, not even his father. Elders from the Hillslash tribe, noticeably happier than the other lagano in the clearing, were also present.
One of the Hillslash elders read through the short required ritual, but Lavos ignored him. He focused mostly on Illria, who had washed with him when they had finally made it back to the encampment just before dawn. The blood and grime of battle were swept away, their wounds had been concealed as best they could, and every other trace of combat had been erased. And when all that was done, they had talked about the plans they had once made for the future, their memories of the past, and each other.
And near the end, just as dawn broke, they had done more than talk.
“…and so we accept this tribute with the sorrow and gravity their sacrifice deserves,” the Hillslash elder said at last. His shark-like smile belied his words—he and his compatriots clearly didn’t know about the mercenary camp slaughter yet—but Lavos barely noticed the elder as he slipped his hand into Illria’s and the bodyguard squeezed it. They had protected their lagano; that was the important thing. “We pledge that our enmity towards their tribe for its crimes will be buried with the bodies of these two worthy lagano, and from this day on, we will never again speak of any wrongs their tribe may have done.” He nodded. “The sacrifices will now take their positions.”
Lavos stepped towards the block that had been erected for this purpose as calmly as he could and knelt so his head was in the slot. He turned it and saw Illria had done the same thing. “Thank you,” he told his bodyguard and closest friend. “For being the bodyguard I needed… and the best friend I could have.”
“Thank you,” she said. “For being the leader we needed.” She smiled slightly. “And also my best friend, of course.”
Lavos chuckled. Then he settled into his block and waited for the axe to fall, feeling a strange sense of peace as he did so. His tribe’s enemies, he thought, were weakened badly enough that his lagano would likely be able to overpower and destroy them in the near future. No more of his lagano would be killed by Hillslash mercenaries or executed by Hillslash elders. He had saved them, and he had been the leader they needed, if only for a night. That was enough.
As the axe bit into his neck, his last thought was relief that his lagano were safe.