"Mmm, there is no wind today for once!" Quinya said, closing her eyes and raising her face to the gray heavens. Gentle snow flurries drifted down, caressing her cheeks which set her to giggling. The towering pines guided their footsteps, flanking the path like an honor guard and filling the chilly air with their pleasant aroma. The soothing crunch of the snow beneath the hoofs of her steed soothed her soul. Patriva eyed her critically. "Yes, I think you're all better from your wounds," she declared, referring to the injuries Quinya had received while aiding the Royal Britannian Guard. "It will be good to have your axe in battle again." Quinya made a face. "Would that we could enjoy this sort of peace and serenity forever," she said. Patriva shrugged. "There will always be someone who covets what you have and thinks they're strong enough to take it by force." She gave her axe a mighty shake. "Of course, then you just prove them wrong!" "I almost think you love battle," Quinya observed. Patriva was silent for a moment. "It's true, I enjoy the rush of battle," she admitted. "I've never felt so alive as when I'm fighting for my life." "Despite the horrendous wounds you have received?" Quinya queried. Patriva nodded, though more slowly now, her demeanor pensive. "Despite the wounds of your friends?" Quinya added. At this, Patriva met Quinya's gaze and she had no answer. The silence hung between them for several moments before it was broken by distant screams. "What in the blazes?" Patriva swore. They gazed up the trail to where it opened up on Elderstone and they saw the tiny figures of villages fleeing. Some fled down the path and Quinya and Patriva spurred their mounts into a gallop to learn what was amiss. They reigned in as they reached the lead villager, a youth running in a panicked, stumbling haste. A crowd of villagers followed. "What is wrong, boy?" Patriva demanded. "It's a raid!" the youth shouted, panting. "The Despised folk have come down out of the mountains! I'm going to get the lumberjacks!" "They're at the camp! Hurry!" Patriva shouted, before spurring Gale, her horse, on. Quinya followed in her wake. They emerged from the path into the edge of the village and found it under attack by a motley band of raiders. Trolls, ogres, and headlesses were charging down from the heights while harpies circling in the sky, swooping down on fleeing villagers, their razor sharp talons extended for the kill. Patriva immediately spurred her mount into plain view, screaming, "Hey buzzards, try me!" One of the harpies broke off chasing a villager, turning fierce eyes on Patriva who reigned Gale to a stop. "My axe is waiting for you," she muttered under her breath as the harpy swooped in. She kicked Gale into action at the last minute, ducking under the harpy's outstretched claws and swinging a powerful overhand strike with her battle axe. The blade bit deep and the harpy let out a scream. It fluttered painfully to the ground, bleeding heavily and Patriva wheeled Gale, riding down the harpy and finishing it off. Quinya, meanwhile, surveyed the scene more cautiously, picking her foes ahead of time to give her the best odds of surviving. She rode down a headless, nearly cleaving it in two with her double axe. <center></center> She continued on towards the back of an ogre who was facing a brave, but overmatched member of the Elderstone Militia. Quinya struck a hefty blow to the creature's left ribs, hearing several ribs crack and feeling the blade of her axe tear through it's flesh. Her arm swept across her body and as her horse rode past the creature, she swung backhand with the opposite blade, catching it squarely in the chest. The ogre staggered backwards, falling to one knee, propping itself up with its club. Quinya reigned in her horse, Snow, turning to finish the creature off, but the ogre gained it's feet. It's movements were slow and labored now, however, giving her a great advantage. It swung it's club in a wide arc and Quinya met it with a chop of her axe. Her axe cut cleanly through the club, smashing it into splinters. She was buffeted by the splinters and the follow through of the ogre's swing, but she was able to bowl Snow into the creature, knocking it off balance. As it staggered, she clove its head in. She turned to see how Patriva was doing and found her nearby, giving ground to a giant spider while a harpy swooped in on her. <center></center> Quinya suppressed a shiver at the spider's spindly, hairy legs and she charged into the fray. Patriva was slashing wildly to keep them both at bay, trying to gain time to seek an opening. Quinya quickly urged Snow into a leap and her horse's forehooves came down in the middle of the spider, smashing it into the earth. She leaned over her saddle and chopped down at the bloated abdomen, cutting it open to ensure the creature would die. Snow screamed as it galloped on, apparently sharing the same aversion to giant spiders that Quinya did. Patriva, now free to deal with the harpy, knocked it out of the air with a mighty swing of her battle axe. As it crashed to the ground, she dealt a concussive blow to the head which ended its life. Gale let out a whinnie for two ogres and a troll were closing in. Patriva let out a wild battle cry and charged into battle again. She struck the first ogre a long, wicked cut which bled profusely. The brute was far too slow to retaliate and Patriva rode on, charging the troll. The troll, however, aimed a kick at Gale, who tumbled to the ground, throwing Patriva. She landed hard, but maintained her grip on her axe. Although dazed by the fall, she struggled to her feet, swing her axe in a wide arc. The troll had ventured too close and the axe bit into its thigh, making it howl. Still, the other ogre lumbered up while the wounded ogre approached at her back. Quinya cursed and spurred Snow into their midst to protect Patriva. She rode Snow in a tight circle around Patriva, her double axe singing as she hacked at the ogres and troll. She was like a whirlwind in their midst, administering many telling blows in the defense of her friend. Patriva's senses cleared and she rejoined the battle. With the attention of the creatures on Quinya, Patriva was able to dart out and plant her axe in the groin of the troll. It toppled over quickly and she lopped its head off to finish it off. The two ogres close in on Quinya, but she reigned Snow in, urging him to spin in place. She slashed with her axe fully extended, her blade aimed at the necks of the overeager ogres who were too hasty for the kill. Both of them fell away, their blood pouring from their wounds. Quinya and Pativa were on them immediately, ending their pain and the danger they posed. Quinya rose, wary for new danger but the militiamen and Royal Guardsmen had beaten back the rest of the raid. She exhaled heavily, her battle ardor now cooling as the adrenaline faded. Her breath rose into the air in great gouts of steam. Patriva climbed painfully to her feet, leaning on her axe for support, yet she fixed Quinya with a wide, though tired grin. "See, you're quite the battlefield!" she drawled. Quinya's face screwed up in a mask for fury. "You could've been killed!" "But I wasn't and what's more important, no more villagers were slain," Patriva readily answered, as she went to check on Gale. The horse was bruised, but would survive. "It is all about the virtue of sacrifice," she continued. "I'll take a few bruises and scratches if lives are saved." Quinya gave up, though she grudgingly admitted Patriva's actions probably did save the lives of many. She turned away, gazing quietly at the darkening clouds overhead, dealing with the sliver of fear which still pierced her heart at the thought of Patriva dying. "A storm is coming," she intoned. "Winter will clutch its grip all the tighter now. It will be a hard season," she added sorrowfully.