The noble term for what they were about to do was disrupting enemy supply lines. What they were actually about to do was kill some people and steal this shit because they happened to be giving those supplies to people other than them. Which was enough of a justification for the nobles to kill people.
Alexios didn't need the comforting lies to kill people, of course, but he supposed it was easier to kill with 'noble blessing' since it was apparently lawful to be a bandit when it was at the behest of a Lord or someone similar. He imagined he could burn down an entire province and it would be cool so long as a Prince ordered it.
Too bad the only Prince he'd ever met was a giant pussy.
The caravan was making it's way down a rather well-trodden road that went through a small wood. Alexios had scouted the area himself and decided it was the best place to hold the ambush. He had expected more of a fight out of the more 'lawful' of the people with him about ambushing people. Some rot about it being dishonorable or whatever - if they had complained he hadn't actually fucking listened and now here they were about to have an ambush.
Eating an apple, Alexios leaned against a tree within the treeline as one of his men acted as the advance scout further up. They'd get a warning before the merchant caravan actually came into place so for now he was relaxing. He looked at the others with him as he bit into the apple.
"... you two always this fucking boring?" he asked them bluntly around a mouthful of apple before swallowing, "Fuck if I wanted this level of conversational skills I'd talk to their scouts again."
One of whom's body he'd taken a piss on not ten minutes ago.
She had longed for the past twenty minutes to put her sword through the belly of this mercenary, but honestly, he'd probably enjoy that way too much. And she wasn't going to talk to him; the talk would fall on deaf ears, and she had tried to talk him into instead simply halting the supply line.
They had some time to kill, after all.
She had not dressed in the armor marking her as a Knight of Ralik; this was unmarked, plain plate, more suited for Abram than her, though the lad was roughly the same height and size she was. She wasn't happy to be here, but in wartime, you couldn't always have the discretion of fighting on a battlefield, with your life on the line and your honor intact.
So here she stood with this smart-mouthed idiot, and another silent companion, her hand on her pommel while she waited.
"Why not go find a tree and run into it," she replied, keeping a weather eye and ear out. Or better yet, a sword to trip into. By Dullias' right arm, but if he ever was quiet I'd assume him dead. Not for the first time, she longed for a proper battle to be fought on proper soil. Not this mercenary work, where you attacked men simply doing as their Lord commanded. She felt ill just thinking about this dirty work.
Kharia had found her patience for cocky bastards with a glib attitude toward killing lacking lately, so she was a bit surprised that she hadn't already killed this guy where he stood. True, she would probably find herself on the Lord of Noria's bad side in doing that, but given how annoying he was, she found it hard to imagine that he hadn't also thought of cutting him loose. Still, the need for soldiers was always high when a war was being waged and, though not as grandiose as some others, this was a war. Kharia had never liked the Varns, she much preferred House Hael on the throne and goodwill with the nobility got you places, so here she was, double-checking her Chokuto and brushing leaves off her shirt while they lay in wait for the caravan. It didn't hurt that she actually liked Silas, or what she had seen anyway, and given her newfound...condition, she had plenty of time to rectify her actions if this turned out to be a mistake.
She still didn't want to think too deeply about that so she looked down at her companion as she broke the silence, eliciting a small chuckle from her. "I think that would be considered a crime against nature, whole land would rather tear itself asunder than listen to him jabber on," She said, slipping down off the branch. "You know Alexios, the big bad mercenary thing would serve you a lot better if you had some people that were still living after you've done your job, why not intimidate the caravan instead of slaughter it? You still get to look good, we still get the supplies, and no one dies needlessly." Truth be told, she wouldn't mind too much either way, she needed blood after all, but it felt like it would be better for everyone if this was done without a slaughter, not to mention it would reflect badly on Silas given all anyone would know was that the caravan was gone and it's people were found butchered by the road.
He had a stuck up bitch who thought her shit didn't stink because she was a noble. Or maybe it was because she was one of those ass-backward fuckwits they called Centurions? Either way, she had a stick up her arse so big she likely didn't need to use her sword to kill anyone, just yank the thing out and brain people with it. The fact that the stick was likely named "Honour" or "Duty" as well just made her one of those special kind of cunts.
Felt like he needed to wash himself in ale and whores after spending time with her.
Then the other one was almost as bad. Some woman playing at being "cool" and "aloof" but instead being the definition of a tryhard. Alexios would be the first to admit that sometimes he acted worse than he was for shits and giggles or for a reason but this one just looked like flash in a pan. All style and no substance; and points off for a stupid looking sword too.
"You think so?" he asked, putting on big wide eyes, "Oh gee golly gosh friend, I never thought about it that way! I bow to your extensive experience in leading mercenaries, scouts and raiding parties, Miss. You're just so cool I can't help it!"
He rolled his eyes, spitting on the ground.
"No." he answered in the end with a grin that looked a little hungry, "We're fighting a despot. A cruel and malicious Asshole who revels in violence and degradation - he doesn't give a fuck if we've got honour or righteousness on our side. But you know what he does understand? He understands fear."
Alexios placed his hands behind his head and rested it against the tree.
"There's a place for people like the Centurio over there; all pride, duty, mercy and honour. I'm sure there's even a place for... whatever the fuck you are... somewhere..." he sniffed, "But my place is in being the Bastard that honourable men need to counter other Assholes. Don't teach me how to suck eggs."
She merely grinned at his rant. So it seemed they also got under his skin... how amusing. She let him rant, merely sitting back until he was done, and then finally responding.
"Good. Be the bastard, then. But I'm not here to teach you to suck eggs, mercenary." Her voice was evident with her smile, one hand still resting on her pommel. "You're here to break them, and take the coin. But there's no pride, glory or honor in war, and those that claim there are, are drunken old fools with more wine than balls between them."
She had spent time with soldiers, with veterans and scum that served Centurions that were once the trash of the streets because they'd rather that than lose their freedom. Hearing him get all fired up over her comment eased some of her tension, and though she wasn't happy with the situation... she could understand it.
He may not have been privy, but she planned this after all. And he was right, in his own way; there was a man, sitting out there, abusing people that were hers, desecrating and destroying what was once good and peaceful. It perhaps might have seemed a noble cause... but she knew it wasn't.
They were here to survive. And she wasn't going to listen to him belly on about how clever he was. She had heard better men speak less, and she wasn't going to give him the pleasure of her ire now. Not when their target was coming close.
Kharia let the merc air his grievances, waiting until he wad one his little speech before letting out a soft sigh. It seemed that he had taken that in the completely wrong direction, maybe he's had this conversation before? "I'm not arguing for righteousness or honor, it's pragmatism, plain and simple," She retorted. "I've done caravan work before, most of the time, the traders and couriers only know their route, destination and who to deliver it to, they're not privy to their client's activities or even their identity most of the time, it's just a job to them. Even if they are, what are they supposed to do? Refuse? Then they get thrown out and they cant provide for themselves." She thought back to some of the jobs she would run to Noria and Ironmere, one job even taking her to the Gemiralth Isles - that was when she decided to build her home there. "Killing them is unnecessary and could reflect badly on you and your employer, not to mention it's more blood to wipe off your sword."
She looked Alexios in the eye, unblinking as she smiled. "I'm not saying don't be a bastard, you bastard...just don't be a bastard to the ones that don't deserve it."
At least the Centurion had balls, even if half of the forces on the continent seemed to be devoid of them. If he were a misogynist he might have made a comment, internally or aloud, about how that spoke ill of the warriors here to be out-manned by a woman. But he was a man of the world himself and he didn't give a fuck if a fighter had a cock or a cunt under their leathers so long as they could go on the battlefield.
She seemed to have the stomach for it at least.
"Glad you understand, Shiny." he nodded to her with a grin, "I appreciate it."
He stared the other woman down for a minute before shaking his head and stepping away from the tree. Drawing his sword, he grinned a little bit as he took a deep breath. A short distance away he could hear either their scout approaching through the undergrowth or an enemy and only visual confirmation would confirm it.
"I'm not here to argue economics or how arse-backwards your feudal system is over here on the continent." he told her bluntly with a grin, "I'm here to skin the guards alive so that when you're done talking the merchants into getting themselves killed at the next town over for supplying us, they get to squeal to the enemy how I made their protection detail scream and scream and scream."
Seeing that it was the scout, he nodded to the man and prepared himself for battle as the caravan approached. In the front would be four spearmen, then the first cart, four infantrymen, another three carts and then another four spearmen bringing up the rear. Alexios' plan was to leave at least half of the protection detail alive after the initial attack so as to properly send his message.
"Everyone deserves to die, because in the end it's what we all do. If they're innocent or worthy they're going to a better place and if they're not then they deserve it. Paradise or damnation - everyone deserves one or the other."
He was a bastard... but at least he wasn't a dumb bastard. He understood what she meant, and that was enough philosophizing for her. She wasn't here to fight a holy war, she was here to earn freedom for her people in a way that meant they could thrive once more, but he was right.
A despot was a despot, no matter how flashy the gear or strong the army. And they were here to tear him down, one food supply at a time.
"There's only one God, in my eyes, that's worthy of speaking to."
She glanced at both of them, withdrawing Ralegna with a smirk, and her shield as well. She would fight as her men did, with no fancy words or overzealous charging horses. But as a woman at arms.
"The God is death, and there is only one thing we say to Death; not today."
And that was all she was going to say. Never mind she prayed to Dullias for her sword arm, or to him for a time of peace; in her heart of hearts there was only one God worth talking of. She didn't hold any thought for an afterlife either, though, if there was...
She hoped her father would be there, and if she died here today... perhaps Marcus, after a long time as well, and Aurelion.
Beyond that, she didn't dwell much on the thought of whether she was a good or bad woman. She was here to serve her people, and serve her people she would die to do proudly. So she waited for their signal... she crouched, hand to the ground.
Once the carts were in range, she would strike. But not yet.
Kharia pursed her lips and looked down as Alexios turned away. She didn't like the thought of sending the merchants to town without their supplies, they would be dead men walking. More than that, she hated that it was intentional, sending them to die just so he could spread the word of the things he would do to them when his Stormborn inevitably marched on Noria. She wouldn't let that happen - his philosophy was nihilistic and cynical and would do more harm than good.
Kharia's ears pricked up at a distant echo rolling toward them. It sounded like hooves, and a fruity scent followed behind in the air. She walked over to Alegna and Alexios, crouching between them as the seconds began to drain away. It was almost time, best to get it done quick and simple, but with this outfit...well, that probably wouldn't happen...
The highest concentration of enemy forces was at the front and the mid-front. There were spearmen bringing up the rear but they were the rearguard and they weren't something of an immediately threat. Instead they needed to take out those at the front and those in the middle before they could come together and form a cohesive response force.
Time to kick things into gear.
Flames appeared on his fist as the the caravan approached and he let the first group of spearmen pass him, he left the first cart pass him... and then he was level with the infantrymen at the middle. Stepping out of their hiding place, he fired off a fireball at the side of the first group of spearmen, a blast of mostly concussive force to send them sprawling rather than set them on fire.
Hey, he was under the man's employ so he might as well use him as the battle cry right? Charging the short distance between himself and the unprepared infantry, he thrust his sword forwards, stabbing it clear through the throat and neck of one of the men before shifting his weight and pulling the blade out to one side, decapitating the guard in the process.
While Alexios attacked the middle guard and thrust the front spear guard away, the front cart had continued rolling, intending to not stop to engage. They were merchants, after all, hardly fighters. But then suddenly, the ground pitched beneath them. The cart shuddered, and the horses screamed.
She exhaled, and a split like a maw opened beneath the cart, its' contents shuddering into the ground below. The men shouted and tried to scramble out in time, but to no avail as it pitched downwards. Only the horses were spared; some of the spearmen had begun to recover from their assault, and attack the newfound foe, but then the ground shook again.
Sweat dotted her brow, her breathing labored as she kept a hand planted into the earth, feeling the vibrations of pounding feet, the shouts, hearing the hiss of fire.
She concentrated, and the split opened wider, swallowing some spearmen with it. But two still remained, and began to attempt to make their way over to Alexios. She managed upright, drawing her sword and shield with a grin.
Dullias, make my steel worthy and my heart one of fire, she prayed, before charging in, lunging after Alexios. Though a couple of the infantrymen had recovered from this initial assault, one prepared to lunge at him with sword drawn, caught with a backwards stagger when Alegna leapt forward, shield in hand to check it away. He lunged again, and again she deflected it, thrusting out with a jab of her own and watching him crumple. For now, the line had been stalled, but in some time perhaps there would be more spearmen to the front, recovered from the concussive blast enough to point spears, but it would take some doing.
She had bought some time, for now, but who knew how long it would be before the merchants would get desperate and attempt to move beyond the road.
Kharia sprinted out of cover alongside Alexios, holding herself in check so as to not appear to be as supernaturally fast as she could be. The rear guard were momentarily stunned by what they were seeing but, to their credit, they adapted quickly. Drawing their spears and swords, they were ready to make for the front to assist their comrades just as Kharia came within striking distance, her thumb flicking against the hilt of her blade and propelling it from its sheath. The first spearman's head fell to the ground, then the next, and the third after him, Kharia ducking and weaving between them in a zig zag pattern as she slashed through their necks with enough strength that it appeared there was next to no resistance from bone against steel.
They were all dead within 30 seconds, the merchants cowering in their carts screaming in fear. Blood had already begun to fill the air, the scent alone washing over Kharia's brain like a euphoric tidal wave. She could feel the need to feed, but she stopped and clenched her fists tightly, inhaling deeply. She couldn't let herself lose control, not again...she was better than that. A scream pulled her from her moment of hesitation, drawing her eyes toward the sinking cart filled with soldiers and merchants. She couldn't speed over immediately, that would expose her, but she could try to get there the normal way. Kharia leapt up onto the cart, leaping to the driver's seat, then the horse's back, then to the next cart and so on, slicing jugulars and arteries of the soldiers as she moved.
Coming to the hole, she noted two of the four merchants still moving and reached down, pulling them out one at a time by their robes. Two dead, the rest alive? Could be worse. SHe could only hope those would be the only unneeded casualties in this battle.
The infantry in the middle were strangely unprepared but what did he care? He lashed out with his sword again, carving a deep carving gouge through the breastplate of one of the men but not actually cutting the man inside. Instead he flared fire around his left fist and menaced the remaining.
"Anyone who steps out of line now gets to know what it feels like when red-hot metal touches skin!" he declared loudly as he men came from the trees on the other side, quickly capturing the spearmen he'd knocked down, "Throw down your weapons."
Two of the remaining infantry did as he asked and his scouts came to bind them with the rest. The final guard charged recklessly at him and Alexios parried his sword to the side with such force the blade fell from the man's grasp. Reaching out, he grabbed the guard by the throat and began to increase the flames around the hand.
"Anyone who tries to run - dies! Anyone who tries to raise the alarm - dies!"
As he was explaining this the guard he had by the throat was flailing his arms around frantically as he gurgled for his life, his throat burnt beyond the ability to speak a short while ago.
"Merchants, present the reigns and your goods - or die. Try to be a hero, or a coward, and flee - you die."
The flailing grew weaker and weaker until Alexios squeezed... and the man's neck exploded apart with the explosive force of the heat he had been producing. He had decapitated a man with his hand. Alexios would be the first to admit that he was a cool bastard.
The man she had blocked was soon speared by her sword and tossed aside; the theatrics of Alexios causing her to scowl slightly beneath her helm. But he was effective... still, did he have to kill the guard that way?
They nodded, all of them, and she eyed the cart in the ground with a sigh. Getting it out would be difficult... but not more difficult, it seemed, than things were already.
Honestly, she would have sent the guards instead of the merchants herself, but it seemed their overzealousness meant the guards were... well, to be frank, thin forces now. Part of her was tempted to take the fallen cart and bring it to one of the local smaller villages; Overtown, she recalled, and a place that was hit pretty hard with the struggle of House Varn.
She would wait to suggest it though, meantime she was anxious to get most of the supplies back to the camp of Silas, where it belonged. She pitied the merchants... but she did not pity their Lord.
Kharia looked over the two surviving merchants of the first cart, examining their wounds with a rag to her mouth. They were practically oozing blood, the scent enflaming her mind with it's sweet sugary taste on her tongue, so the rag helped stifle the temptation somewhat - it would be easy enough to just pass it off as one of the merchants having shit themselves in fear. They would survive, but their legs looked pretty heavily gashed so Kharia tore some of their sleeves, giving them a bemused look when they protested, and she bandaged the worst of it. The second merchant helped the first over to where the others were, arriving just in time to see one of their detail's head getting combusted into mounds of red meat.
Kharia took the rag away and shook her head, wafting the scent away so it lingered in her mind a bit less. There was still work to be done and feeding could come later, the cart needed to be attended to. At least that way she wouldn't need to watch Alexios be a monumental jackass and scare the poor bastards to death. She went over to the submerged cart and slipped down, drawing a small piece of wood that had been broken off the cart and chipping away at the edges of the hole so they had a more sloped appearance. From there, she called over two of the Stormborn who grabbed the remains of the reins and straps that once held the now freed horses. Wiggling under the cart, Kharia took a breath and started to grunt and groan, gently pressing against the cart as she did so it would jostle around a little. Three people moving a cart was feasible, one person, not so much, so this needed to look difficult. After a few seconds, Kharia started to lift the cart against her back, planting a foot against the wall of the hole and pressing lightly. "Heave!!" She bellowed, the Stormborn pulling on the reins with all they had.
SLowly, the cart's wheels began to roll up the slope she had made and Kharia moved forward, holding the underside of the back of the cart and 'throwing' herself forward, giving the last push needed to get the cart out from it's hole. Kharia collapsed to her knee and took a moment, panting heavily as another Stormborn offered a hand out of the hole, which she took happily, crawling out. "Someone needs to get the horses back!" She noted, gazing back toward the display. If any of those damn merchants were dead...