10th Chapter
The Astoc Issue

Ever since the stint where Maverick escaped even with such a fresh bandage on his right leg, Ruse and Rebecca were very much squabbling about Taras, until the twin-blade fighter had to retell the whole incident to the blonde hence she could understand the whole situation. She did manage to buy it, but it felt a little lacking of something. No matter, the drifter shrugged it off, knowing that it would be futile to understand further about the matter. But even with that reasoning, the blonde still felt a little regretful of not being able to protect Maverick at the point he needed her.

"I'm still weak," she thought. "I'm still weak in many areas."

Leaving be the duo, Rebecca paced her way out of the duplex, very much staring at the specific spot where she last saw that bandaged man took flight on horseback. A sigh left her mouth, not sure what to do since she had the intention to nurse Maverick till he got better, when the incident occurred.

"I've heard about it, Rebecca," another voice in a form of Hrist rang into her ears before the petite structure came into view when the blonde turned around. "Looks like you're attached to that Maverick person."

Blue eyes looked away, gazing at the view of the vast sea before a faint breeze brushed through her hair, "I'm not sure. After all, he was injured to begin with. How about you, Hrist? Do you have anything that made you feel this way?"

"Very much I have to admit, it is my femininity I abandoned in place for my sword fighting skills, and my drive to hunt down Aesir Frost. There would be times where I wished I could return back to the days where I would be desperate to find a man and get married," the brunette responded with a slight change of tone, too, gazing at the same view of the sea.

"So, you used to be very domestic, hmm?" the drifter assumed, brushing her fringe that got in her view.

"More like a loyal variant of that," Hrist admitted, putting a faint smile before paying attention to another figure clad in red, just a short distance away with the absence of Ruse. "Eh?"

Glazed were Taras's eyes, as if she was in a daze. Her head propped upwards, somehow sensing Hrist looking at her before turning to where the petite brunette was. The woman in purple edged backwards, somehow uncomfortable with Taras's presence, no matter what situation. Her crimson eyes were just too cold, eerie, and even just downright scary. The lass in red paced her way closer to the other two; her hands seemed to be hiding from view-.

"Other than that Aesir you are after, what truly drives you to travel?"

Taras's cold voice rang into Hrist's ears, and so suddenly at that. The 24 year old was still unsure about the said woman's stand; there would be a chance Taras's musket would be aiming right for her face. But even so, Hrist still had to gather up courage to answer the question. Ash grey eyes looked at the crimson variant before her mouth voiced out an answer.

"Very much it is, only one word can explain it all; curiousity. I'm curious how the continent, or even the world, is like. Ever since birth, I was always within the village I reside, Gardia. Never once I stepped out of the place. That was the other reason why I wanted to venture out, though rather aimlessly for the first week of the journey or so. That was when I decided to do odd-jobs, similar to what a drifter would do. That was how I gathered information about Aesir and his whereabouts, though it is a touchy subject everywhere I headed to."

Taras never uttered a word soon after. Instead, it was Rebecca who replied, though it did come off a little odd.

"Very much I'd like to say about Aesir, I know nothing about this person, not even a single hint at all."

"Guess it is best not to know about it, Rebecca. You will always be plagued with this uncertainty about what would happen next. People try to forget it, but they are always on their toes. And I'm sure you're also having the same uneasiness as well, Taras. Eh?" replied Hrist, turning to look at the Cossack, only to see her hiding behind a tree, aiming a finger at the clothesline from another duplex.

"Undergarments! They're the works of the devil!" the woman in red sputtered with her facial expression now anxious instead of her usual serious nature. "Those things will molest you!"

"Geez," the drifter moaned. "Not this again."

"I'm beginning to question Taras's nature; is this normal, or does she have a split personality?" asked Hrist, putting her purple beret on after holding onto it for quite some time.

"Unnaturally normal in some way; and Ruse is away with his odd-job. What do you think we should do for the time being?" went Rebecca, her eyes somehow locked onto the Cossack.

"Your words don't connect to your body. I assume you already know what to do, hmm?" ash grey eyes glanced at the pony-tailed blonde.

"Come back here Taras! You got to wear undergarments, else your-," the drifter started before the targeted woman interrupted.

"I don't want to get raped by undergarments!" was the Cossack's response before taking flight straight into Ruse's duplex.

"Get her!" Hrist exclaimed before a thought ran through her mind. "She's isn't that scary than I thought it would be."

… … …

"This place hasn't changed much, at least the harvest looks to be good this season," commented the halberd wielding warrior as they reached Astoc Village.

"Then I'll be waiting for a freshly baked rye bread or two to commemorate the good yield. You do know I'm more of a bread man instead of the usual meat-eater," Bristol implied, crossing is arms, still on horseback.

"I am a meat-eater, don't you know that?" Scarla glared momentarily before daydreaming about it. "The succulent tenderloin beef with thick gravy, and rye bread. I'm going to head down the tavern later on."

"But I'm afraid I can't tag along tonight; I have to be at Wincheston as soon as possible to see the status of the wolf beasts. It might be their breeding season at this time of the year," the short haired man replied, looking at his counterpart setting her horse running free at the fenced pasture.

"Then you best rush. I don't want this village to get affected by it as well," Scarla answered, though not looking at him.

"Now you know why I'm not a homely man, as what you had said?" Bristol stated while pacing away from the woman on horseback.

"You're going to get it the moment you come back later on."

"Try me."

With the broadsword wielding man on his way to Wincheston, Scarla was very much on her own in the village, though she was welcomed by the caretaker. And of course, the first few words with the bartender were pretty obvious.

"How about tenderloin beef and the local schwarzbier for my return?"

"I knew you were going to say that," the caretaker replied. "Once a meat-eater, always a meat-eater, eh? Though, you might want to have some update on the village. Even though the harvest this year is good, there had been cases where certain areas of the crops had been 'stolen' in some way. Reports say that they saw a lone silhouette of a wolf. Not only that, two of the five patrol guards we have hired from Wincheston during your absence were perished when they went face to face with the animal. The remaining three are still here, but on high alert."

"I expected some problems to arise when I return. When did this occur?"

"About six days ago for the first signs. Recent events took place just yesterday."

"Then hold my celebration. I better deal with this first. You go on ahead and tell the villagers to remain in their houses. After that, go on a patrol in a group of four. If you have the chance to spot the three guards on patrol, tell them to guard the mouth of the village. I'll station myself near the fields on horseback." Scarla replied with her commanding voice.

"Been a while since I last heard that tone," commented the caretaker. "I'll get to it right now."

"So Bristol is going to get it from me after all, even though he had just left for Wincheston," thought the halberd wielding woman. "Unfair, I know, but I insist."

Green eyes then turned to the direction where the rye field was. There was one thing in her mind; she swore to herself that she would protect the village from any harm. But there was doubt; Astoc Village could no longer rely a lot on her. Scarla needed to move on, in search of what she needed to do best. Staying in the cottage, keep guard of the village while teaching the children basic swordsmanship skills was not to her liking after doing the same stint for more than two years. There was this other side of her that wanted to burst out from its slumber, just waiting for the right time to strike and unveil its nature. It was obvious; her warrior's instincts were beginning to kick in after the presence of Hrist Aegis. That petite brunette had somehow managed to drive Scarla back to the time when she was active in Vallachia; she needed the action, the tight-paced lifestyle, and the adrenaline rush that would keep her blood to a boil with excitement.

"Bristol," muttered the former Vallachia warrior, to herself. "You would agree with me, right? Once a warrior, always a warrior; die as a warrior."

Only a cool breeze from the midnight winds brushed against her face before she assumed an answer, "Then I guess I'll unleash who I used to be."

Grasping the mid-section of the halberd with her right hand, she lifted it while turning it in an overhead arc before she loosened the grip on the said weapon. The inertia had the heavier side of the halberd to lunge towards her back before her right hand grasped on the opposite side of the weapon, with her right shoulder as the support. She glanced at her stallion, with thoughts of using it as a quick transport into the fields- she hesitated. She would rather get herself injured than seeing her transport dying before her eyes. Without uttering a word, Scarla ventured towards the rye fields, knowing the danger of getting assaulted by the said 'wolf' at any direction. But a thought did run into her mind regarding this 'wolf'. If it were able to kill off two able bodied guards from Wincheston, then there might be a possibility that it could have been a wolf beast; simply a wolf with gigantism.

"I better be on high alert if this is the case," she muttered- she froze. "Damn."

Rustlings were heard from the distance. With her legs widely spaced apart, the green eyed warrior kept her body low, at least to keep her presence scarce. Pacing closer to the source, she held her weapon with her left hand gripping on the middle section of the pole, while the right at the butt. Using the bladed part of the halberd to shift the rye plants aside in order to have a better view ahead, Scarla's eyes scanned the area within her sight. She froze as her instincts kicked in. She swore she spotted something moving past her, just about a metre away from where she was. Swiftly, she spun around, her halberd aiming at the possible position where the 'wolf' might be initiating its assault. Nothing. A gentle breeze brushed against the swaying rye plants throughout the field, creating a rather similar rustling sound. Not good, she thought. Now she could not differentiate between the two rustling sounds produced; Scarla had to rely a lot on her eyes this time round.

"If I get hurt in some way, Bristol is really going to get it from me, big time," thought the former Vallachia warrior, taking a few steps back in defense. "This is getting seriously dangerous than I thought it would be-."

Without warning, a hard thrust from the back sent the blonde lunging forwards before her footing slipped. That had her stumbling to the ground face first, and her halberd displaced a short distance away. She could have swear under her breath at that point of time, but hearing a deep growl behind had her paused at that moment. Green eyes stared straight front, not moving a muscle. Another growl ensued before a bark rang into her ears, her time to react swiftly. With her right foot, she kicked herself to the left, while grabbing her halberd at that moment. With the little time given for her to regain her footing, and back to her battle stance, Scarla hastily scanned the area in front of her for the damned wolf. There it was, just a short distance away to her left. But even so, there was something about the animal.

"It's at half the height of mine. A lone semi-gigantism wolf, I assume," thought Scarla. "This is a first for Astoc Village; normally it would have been a pack of four or three normal wolves."

Green eyes stared into wild yellow ones as the former warrior sidestepped in a wide arc, waiting for the right time to strike. Scarla lunged forward, not for a strike, but as a feint to get the wolf reacting. Very much to what she had expected, the animal pounced towards her, however with the agility she had never witnessed. The halberd wielding woman kicked herself away to evade the assault; she did managed to do so, but the sudden, powerful speed the beast had literally caused Scarla to lose her footing, though she did recover with a hasty move. She winced the moment it happened; the woman swore she had sprained her right ankle in a way or two. But even so, she had to strike; the animal's insane agility was fearsome. No wonder it was able to perish two guards with ease.

Instincts kicked in as she swung her halberd in a horizontal fashion the second she noticed the wolf charging towards her. Green eyes tried to capture the animal's location when she did so, but the only thing she felt was a hard thrust into her torso by the wolf's snout before its fangs ripped through her clothing at the midriff section barely scraping her abdomen as well. The force had Scarla hitting the soil, displacing a number of rye plants in the process. It had been a while she last inflicted such a hard blow to her midriff, she swore under her breath, not realizing tears running down her face.

"Damn it!" she sputtered at the final moment, still grasping onto her halberd even at such a situation. "Why are my eyes welling up in this point of time?"

The deep growls from the wolf were heard again. Scarla felt a chilly breeze brushing against her face, and for once, cold sweat ran down her face. There was one thing she could not accept it; it was fear. The former Vallachia warrior thought she had rid that feeling ages ago, but right now… With haste, the blonde spun around, at the same time she swung her weapon over her, just to get the wolf retreating by the assault. She had to get up to her feet, and quickly. With her left feet, she balanced herself with it before using her right- she winced again. Not good, she thought. If she were to evaluate her current status, she was at the losing end, just waiting for the time to give in. Frustration kicked for Scarla as she gripped onto the halberd tighter. The wolf was just a distance ahead of her, and already in a position ready to pounce. Scarla had to do something- the animal leaped towards her with a full set of fangs presented, most obviously aimed for her neck. She went on the offensive instead of the defensive, judging by the situation; retracting her halberd at that point of time, she then hurled towards the wolf the moment it was already in mid-air towards her neck. Green eyes narrowed at that point of time, knowing that it would be a decision; either one would have to perish.

The bladed part of the halberd pierced through the snout of the wolf the moment Scarla took notice of it. That had her on the instant advantage; even though she had hurled her weapon, the pole was still within her grasp. Grabbing the halberd right at the butt with her left hand, she pushed it upwards just before her right grasped the same area. That had the bladed section to turn at an angle, most obviously aiming for a harsh downward strike to the wolf's snout. A faint leer formed on her face before she initiated the assault. A hard crunch was heard before a thud overcame it. The animal was still alive, but with its jaws broken, and in a bloodied mess, it was very much given in before Scarla gave the final strike through the neck, ending its misery, and the trouble caused to the village.

The blonde stumbled to the ground soon after, most obviously due to the throbbing pain at her right ankle, though the bruise on her midriff was not much of a threat. It was a close call for Scarla, she admitted. Had she gone for the defensive, she might not have made it; the sturdy wooden pole of her weapon could break, and leave her vulnerable. Her head propped upwards, gazing at the clear night sky before another breeze brushed against her face, and throughout the rye fields.

"Scarla!" a voice was heard; the bartender-cum-caretaker. "Where are you?"

"Right here!" responded the blonde, lifting up the halberd, using the ground as a support to raise it. "My halberd should be in view."

"Ah, saw it," he responded before the said three guards hired from Wincheston appeared first, most probably to see the one that killed two of their fellow friends.

"It's bigger than I thought," one of them commented.

"I'm not too sure whether to refer this one as a normal wolf, or a wolf beast," the blonde replied, rubbing the back of her scalp, a bit in a daze all of a sudden.

"Must be a wolf beast. So long it's bigger than its usual size, it's a beast. It's the standard set by the authorities of Wincheston," a familiar voice rang through Scarla's ears; Bristol.

That had the blonde twisting her body slightly to get a view of the man, who was standing with his arms crossed while rubbing his chin, "I thought you were on your way to Wincheston?"

"I was, but I spotted something foreign moving in the fields. It had me go on a search to know what it was," said Bristol before admitting. "But I ended up getting lost in the long run."

"Your sense of direction really boggles my mind; you got lost in the fields, but you managed to find me after I went through Hell," commented Scarla before cursing. "You little pasty white pig with pineapple hair."

"I could go on and counter your random rambling, but this isn't the best time to do so; your ankle needs treatment, so does that bruise on your midriff," Bristol replied before carrying the woman in his arms. "No complaints."

"Ah, trying to be a romantic all of a sudden, hmm?" the blonde teased.

"What are you talking about? This is probably the best position to transport you back to your cottage with minimal pain inflicted to you," the broadsword wielding man raised an eyebrow, though not annoyed at all.

"Every decision you make always has a detailed explanation to support," said Scarla before ending it with a sigh. "You're just too stiff in one way or another."

"Putting that aside, now I really have to report to Wincheston to see the status. I'm beginning to feel concerned about that town and Astoc Village."

"Best you do so, but," the blonde paused at that moment before resuming; not realizing her flushed red face. "It's getting late."

"What are you implying?" he asked, noticing his partner's queer behaviour all of a sudden.

"For once, I really need your presence through the night. Even though I'm a warrior, it gets pretty lonely if I were to be on my own, in that silent cottage," Scarla replied, most obviously being not herself at that point of time.

"Scarla-."

"I'm cold, Bristol. It's freezing all of a sudden," the green eyed woman chipped in the moment a faint gust of wind blew against her, leaving no time for Bristol to resume his answer.

The duo trudged on into the field till they reached the village. That was when the lady requested.

"Stay with me for now. I know it's selfish, but... I think I need you for tonight."

Silence was what she heard soon after, knowing that Bristol had declined-.

"All right. Only for tonight."

"Thank you."