Alixia pulled Etsuko closer to her, holding her body as it shook with sobs.
“It’ll be okay,” Alixia said soothingly.
“How will it be okay? They’re destroying everything, and there is nothing we can do to stop them.”
Alixia didn’t have an answer for that, so they sat quietly. Etsuko stopped sobbing, and the only sound was the crackle of the campfire.
“Maybe we’ll just leave the kingdom,” Alixia said, “We can go far away and settle down someplace where they’ve never heard of vampires.”
Etsuko turned to look Alixia in the eyes, “Where could we go? We’ve got reports that the Kingdom of Antalia is also overrun, and we’ve had no word from Parsinar for several weeks.”
Alixia shrugged, “Maybe we could sail over the Silver Sea.”
Etsuko’s eyes widened in surprise, “You think we’d be safer in uncharted lands?”
Again, Alixia didn’t have an answer for her partner. “Regardless, we still need to deliver our message to the capital.”
Etsuko sat up straight and squared her shoulders, speaking in an official-sounding voice, “General, we just returned from the College of Wizardry as ordered. They examined the body of the only vampire we’ve managed to kill, and they could find no weakness. Their protective aura turns away all metal so that even volleys of arrows don’t touch them. Their skin is hard enough that clubbing them to death won’t work, and none of our magic seems to affect them at all. So not only are they systematically butchering our people, but they are invincible, and we’re screwed. Yeah, I can’t wait to deliver that message.”
“They aren’t invincible,” Alixia replied, “after all, the one whose body we delivered to the College of Wizardry was dead.”
Etsuko snorted, “Only because he attacked a lumber camp and a tree fell on him. Maybe we should plan some more ambushes around nearly cut down trees?”
They sat in silence again. Alixia motioned to their small tent and said, “Maybe we should get some sleep? We should arrive at the capital around midday tomorrow if we get an early start.”
Etsuko shook her head, “You go ahead, I can’t sleep.”
Alixia got into the tent and pulled a blanket over herself. She looked out and saw Etsuko sitting there quietly, just staring into the fire. Alixia turned onto her side to try to sleep but was startled by the sound of Etsuko’s war cry. She jumped up and looked around, assessing the situation. Etsuko had both of her swords drawn and confronting a tall, pale figure who was laughing at her.
“I heard your conversation. You know those swords cannot touch me.”
“What do you want?” Etsuko asked, her swords still raised.
“I was ordered to follow you. Some of us were concerned because we didn’t know how your kind had managed to kill Istvan.” He threw back his head and laughed, “I admit, it never occurred to us that you might have dropped a tree on him.”
“Alixia, run. I’ll hold him off,” Etsuko said in a voice that was far too calm.
The vampire laughed again and then lunged straight towards Etsuko’s swords. The swords were pushed aside as if by magic, and he backhanded the woman. Before she could stand up, he had crossed the distance to Alixia and grabbed her by the throat.
“Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t see any reason to let you report back. Let your people think they should keep fighting us. False hope will drive your people right into our arms.”
Alixia struggled and tried not to panic.. The vampire’s grip was as solid as iron. Alixia couldn’t even budge her neck. Etsuko got up and jumped onto the vampire’s back, punching him in the side of the head, but it didn’t seem to have any effect. As she was being strangled, Alixia’s hands sought desperately for anything she could use to defend herself. She managed to grab hold of something and stabbed out at the vampire with it.
The vampire let go of Alixia’s throat, a shocked look crossing his face for a brief moment before his body turned to dust.
Etsuko fell into the pile of dust that was all that remained of their attacker. “How did you do that?” she asked, her voice shaking.
Alixia shook her head, unsure of the answer herself. She held up what was in her hand and said, “I just stabbed him with whatever I could grab.”
The two of them looked at the wooden tent peg in astonishment. “His aura protects him from metal, but you were able to stab him through the heart with the wooden tent peg!” Etsuko exclaimed.
“Let’s not wait for morning,” Alixia said, “now that we actually have vital information to deliver.”
The two women broke camp quickly and set out for the capital. They told an astonished general their story, and she immediately took action.
“Gather up all of the tent pegs you can find and pass them out to the soldiers.”
“Actually,” Alixia said, “I think any wooden stake would probably work ma’am.”
The general nodded and turned back to her aide, “Make sure all of the troops have wooden stakes.”
Her aide nodded, and said to himself as he left the room, “Wooden stakes, who would have imagined?”