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This would be such a simple operation if he had his old team. Stanley's sharp eyes would pick out the guard with the keys to the captive's chains. Lara would infiltrate the camp unnoticed and steal the keys. Eryne would torch a far corner of the camp as a distraction. Then Stanley and himself would charge in for melee while Eryne provided support and Lara freed the captives. It would be a quick and clean strike.

With two of his team dead and one a traitor, Wraith found himself having bit off far more than he could hope to chew. A frontal assault on these slavers was tantamount to suicide-- no matter how good Rosewood professed to be. Subterfuge was the only measure he found halfway workable.

Subterfuge also required a fair amount of time and planning, two items of which Rosewood was not inclined to give him.

“The only exploitable flaw that I can see,” Wraith said to Rosewood, more to forestall any impatience on her part than for simple conversation. “is the way they've got the beast-kin restrained.”

The bear stared at her captive people for a long moment. Then, she spoke: “I don't follow.”

“The beast-kin are held huddled together by one long chain.” Wraith pointed to each object in turn. “Each beast is collared and that collar is connected to the chain. But the collars aren't locked to the chain. They're simply fed through a loop.”

Understanding dawned on Rosewood. Excitement took hold and she finished the sentence: “Which means that if either end of the chain comes undone, my people can slide right off that chain and be free as a bird.”

“Right.”

A few good blows could probably shatter the chain, Wraith decided. If he had had his axe, then the task would be simple. But he didn't. All he had at his disposal was the bow and short sword left to him by Catherine. Neither would suffice for this operation.

“We should be able to infiltrate the camp when dusk arrives.” Wraith continued. “There are human and beast-kin guards. We'll blend right in with the guards. We find the key, unlock the chain, and get them out of there.”

“Just sayin', that last bit probably won't go over too well.” Rosewood shrugged. “If'n I were suddenly freed from slavery, I'd be out for some revenge. We're beast-kin. You free 'em; we'll take care of the rest.”

Wraith gave her a flat look. “This is a rescue operation, not some pitched battle. What happens to those men is up to the proper authorities--”

Rosewood gave him a flat glare. “Yeah, your platitudes may sound good in some cozy castle confines, but not out here in reality. I don't know why you're always actin' like some outside force should do the fightin'. There's nothin' special about any city watch, guard or army. They're just like we are: a bunch of beasts with pointy sticks and a problem to solve. I can stab a slaver as well as they can.”

Wraith sighed heavily. Part of him wondered what kind of past Rosewood must have had to leave her so jaded about going through the proper authorities-- or, for that matter, so averse to following the rule of law. It was that rule of law that defined what was appropriate and what was not. Without it's authority behind his actions, he was acting as a free agent attempting to right a wrong. That put him squarely in a very morally gray area.

“What happens after the beast-kin are freed is not my responsibility.” He said at length. It was the best compromise that he could find at the moment; arguing over the situation wouldn't help anyone at this juncture.

“Fair 'nough. Now, about-- aw, dragonsquat.” As the expletive left her lips, Rosewood snatched Wraith's arm with one hand. Her free hand snapped upward to point at the far corner of the camp. “Look!”

Wraith turned his head and squinted into the distance. His heart dropped. A dull-colored frog, beast-kin, of course, was emerging from the treeline. The frog was staying low to the ground and crawling with loud, jerky movements.

Rosewood's voice brushed his ear: “Glibtongue, you twerp.”

“Friend of yours?”

“I met him briefly. Don't know much about him other than the fact that he lost his parents somehow and has a chip on his shoulder the size of SerpentFang.”

Wraith studied her blankly for a moment. It was beginning to become a habit. “What?”

“SerpentFang. M'sword.” Rosewood clarified with a grin. She released her grip on his arm in order to pat the massive blade affectionately. “A gal couldn't ask for a better friend.”

“... Right.”

He then turned back to watch the unfolding disaster. It didn't take much to see that Glibtongue was attempting a rescue mission, and going about it in entirely the wrong way. The frog was skulking around the corners of tents and darting between rows of goods and supplies. Anyone who happened to chance a glance at him would know immediately that there was an intruder. His capture was all but certain.

His mind spun. Their already precarious situation had just become even more precarious.

“We have to work fast.” He said. “Here's the plan.”

---

The actions were mechanical, calculated and born of necessity. With a single bound, Wraith launched himself skyward. His left hand snagged onto a protruding pine branch; his teeth ground together as a set of green needles dug into the skin of his palms. He ignored the pain and hauled himself atop the branch.

A glance over his shoulder told him that they were running out of time. Glibtongue's rescue had gone about as well as suspected. The boy had been caught in short order. Right now he was lying face-down in front of the captive beast-kin. The bandit leader stood over the young frog-- his boot was firmly planted on the boy's back and the man's sword lay against the scruff of the frog's neck. A ring of slavers surrounded the display.

He squinted. Their lips were moving. That was good. Every word that passed through their lips was another moment available for him to get into position. Wraith grabbed onto another branch and hauled himself skyward another few feet. Again, he grabbed and climbed. Grabbed and climbed. Up and over, he found a nice perch and settled himself into it.

Wraith studied the situation. The lead slaver was taunting the captured beast-kin. So far, so good. He took his bow in hand and fit an arrow to the string. Back muscles tightening, he drew the bowstring until it brushed against his ear. He sighted down the length of the shaft.

The bandit leader was finished crowing. He hefted his blade skyward, preparing to make the lethal stab and slay the young frog.

Wraith took careful aim, exhaled, and then released the string.

It was a clean shot. The arrow punched the villain square in the chest. The force of impact knocked the man backward. He stumbled and went to one knee.

Another arrow was fit to the string. The bowstring was drawn. Wraith sighted and fired. Another arrow stabbed into the bandit leader.

The surrounding slavers were thrown into disarray. Their confusion was increased as two more arrows were planted into two more men and a sharp scream split the air. The arrows came from Wraith. The scream came from Rosewood.

The bearess was charging into the clearing, her sword hefted and at the ready. Wraith paused his assault to marvel at her speed. She was across the camp in an instant. Without breaking stride, she lashed out with her blade.

SerpentFang bit into neither skin nor armor. The blade crashed into the chain holding the slaves captive and sundered it like a knife through warm butter.

“Beast-kin,” Rosewood shouted. “to vengeance!”

The responded instantly. Wraith grit his teeth and prepared to take another shot. He had a very bad feeling about all of this.
Word Count: 1346

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February 2, 2014
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