The Climb

Noises from the inn filtered through to the stables. Boisterous laughs, sneers and the clang of plates and cups. Mechlen acted like he was casually checking up on his horse. A thing he was known to do. A habit he had cultivated to sometimes leave without people noticing. Likewise Tinien had excused herself early to retire, Anwerp had gone out for a smoke, Bergen had not reappeared after going out to take a leak and Anwerp had just slipped away, his presence hardly ever something people noticed. 
The five met up at the stables and made a stealthy getaway on their horses. They took roughly the same route as Aliani's group, but headed for the vertical cliff wall of the mountain. Whatever had caused the mountain to crumble on that side, it had done a good job. But not a perfect one, meaning that climbing it was possible. Trying to climb it at night was risky though. They all knew it. But nobody was going to shy away from the mission. The last years they had carefully worked their way up into Lord Stannon's graces, only to be able to drive a stake through his heart. They probably wouldn't be the ones to deal the final blow, but the plan of tonight would set it all in motion. 
"Remember the plan." Hegouw told the rest, "Don't forget to switch safety lines and look for the right spots to connect them."
Though Hegouw wasn't the most experienced climber, he had created a saftey system that he was confident in. Mechlen and Bergen would be the first to start, being the strongest of the group. Anwerp and Hegouw, being the lightest, would follow behind. Anwerp had pretty nimble fingers, but he too wasn't used to climbing. Both of them might need some occasional help. Being shorter than the first two also meant that they had to take into account that they couldn't use their whole reach to climb. Tinien had volunteered to take the rear, gathering up the anchors after they'd served their purpose and placing the signal flares that would light up the mountain right before dawn. 
There was no use in postponing any longer and the crew started to climb. They advanced at a good pace, but the closer they were getting to the top, the more they would need to slow down. And there was a lot of cliff to cover until they were at the top. Hegouw tried not to think too much about that. Instead he focused on evaluating how his equipment worked, keeping his mind away from the daunting task.
Mechlen and Bergen meanwhile were discussing the best way to go up without needing to backtrack to help the others as that would save time. They dared to speak a little louder as they saw the signs Aliani's team had left them. With any luck, those three would already be halfway up the mountain and would be waiting for them when they reached the plateau. 


Near-Dead Experience

Tinien unclipped one of the anchors that Hegouw had created. She would have to leave the nail into the wall, but the clips were far more precious and they'd need them later. They had just crossed the halfway point and soon they would take a break on a ledge. Tinien felt her muscles gripe about the continued exertion, but allowing them to relax would only lead to her downfall so she ignored the nagging pains. Above her, Anwerp was clenching his buttocks as he pushed his legs and scrambled up on the ledge. Bergen was pulling Hegouw up at the same time. It seemed her muscles would not need to wait much longer. 
"Halfway there." Anwerp griped, sounding pretty miserable.
"I thought your fingers were stronger than all of ours." Bergen taunted.
"My fingers yes, it's my biceps that aren't up for the task!" Anwerp returned.
Next to him, Hegouw just breathed heavily. The mechanic was probably regretting not having asked to be on Aliani's team. But Tinien had to admit that having him here had meant that things had gone smoother. Though the clips looked simple, there was more to them than met the eye. 
Mechlen looked up and surveyed the sky. Clouds blotted out the stars and moon, making the night even darker than normal. But luckily there was no rain to make the cliff slippery. Only the cold was a serious problem. Already the observant blond mercenary could feel it invade his body and that meant he'd need to keep a close eye on Anwerp and Hegouw. They looked warm from the unfamiliar exercise, but that could soon turn to hypothermia if they weren't careful. The wind howling around them was all too keen to steal that warmth from them. 
"Cover up." Mechelen told the others and then added: "15 more minutes of rest."
Grumbled replies sounded but the crew knew that the longer they waited, the more difficult it would be to start over. Mechlen munched on some salty snack of unknown origin and passed it on to the others. It wasn't particularly tasty but it worked. Next a bottle of water was handed down the line and returned. 
Bergen turned to Mechlen and started to discuss their strategy for the next part. They would need to keep going at a steady, but manageable pace but they also needed to keep in mind where they were headed. 
"Is that the ledge we agreed on?" Bergen asked, pointing up.
"It is." Mechlen nodded.
"That won't work." Bergen declared.
"You've seen it too." Mechlen nodded.
Maybe the recent rainfall or just natural wear had broken off another piece of the mountain and a long scar traversed the route they'd been planning. The crevice would provide decent holds, but it could also crumble under their weight and drop them down. The other possible route led them far from the ledge right below the plateau. 
"No guts, no glory." Bergen grinned.
Mechlen scowled, the rowdy bear of a man might be right, but he didn't need to like it.
"Hegouw?" he called, "Can we add in an extra safety rope?"
"We can." Hegouw agreed as he'd prepared an extra for should one of the original ones break. Tinien had been able to recover all the clips too which meant they would have enough to go on.
The group got ready to head on. Tinien had left her line clipped to the previous anchor point while they rested. She would have to remove it in just a couple of minutes, but she'd preferred to be secure at all times. Anwerp had not felt the need, the retired thief was proud of his balance. But the ledge was narrow and the five people perched upon it made for cramped seating. He got up with a flourish and got caught against Mechlen who pressed himself back to the wall. In reaction, Anwerp's body tipped forward and he fell.
Tinien moved without thinking and grabbed Anwerp's arm. The thin man's drop was halted but his weight nearly pulled Tinien down herself. She didn't know whether or not Hegouw's clip and the nail would hold their combined weight so she scrambled to keep her own balance.
Bergen and Mechlen reacted just a fraction of a second later and braced her against the wall.
Anwerp trembled as he was pulled back up and he sank to his arse, not trusting his legs to be able to carry his weight yet. Adrenaline surged through his body and his heart was beating like crazy.
"Thanks." he said to Tinien.
The dark-skinned woman smirked and remarked: "Thank your lucky stars."


Something's WRONG

As the team got climbing again, all members paid extra attention to their safety lines. The crevice did provide them with an easier way up, but they checked the stability so often that it did slow them down considerably. The sky grew a bit lighter as the clouds were blown open. The moon had already set so they were still pretty hidden against the cliff.  
Bergen pulled up Hegouw, the mechanic quickly losing strength as he'd hit his limit. Bergen felt that he would soon be cramping up as well. It was mostly his will and bravado keeping him moving. His eyes kept looking at the ledge straight above them. They were close. Maybe two more movements. Just then a bright flash nearly blinded him.
Bergen turned his eyes to the cliff face and waited. The light lessened somewhat but remained. 
"Someone lighted the flares." Mechlen said, the wind whipping away part of his words.
Seconds later, sounds of a scuffle reached them and then voices though it was hard to make out what was being said. Dread weighed them down as each member of the climbing team realised that something unforeseen had happened. Despite their best efforts to keep their plans secret, something must have given them away. They were playing against people who didn't stick to playing nice after all. 
"What do we do?" Bergen asked, looking to Mechlen for guidance.
"We set of our flares." Tinien said, her face more grim than usual.
"We give them hell." Anwerp added.
Bergen grinned and added: "I like that plan. Bold and reckless."
"There's no going back." Mechlen agreed.
Tinien lighted the fuse that set of the small torches they'd left behind during their climb. She unclipped her safety line and scrambled the rest of the way up, pulling herself up on the plateau while Bergen and Mechlen followed her a little slower. She drew her daggers and took stock of the situation. 


The Cold of First Light

Bergen heaved himself and Hegouw onto the plateau, Mechlen doing the same with Anwerp right beside him. Tinien was already up, letting her daggers catch the cold light of morning, making them gleam dangerously. In the middle of the plateau, Aliani, Oud've and Tongren sat bound and gagged. The lord's second in command, Constable Credz, circling them. The guy was even worse than Lord Stannon, if that was even possible. He relished in the hurt and suffering of others and they all knew how cruel he could be.
Bergen loathed the man with all his being and would relish crushing him if it was the last he'd do. He was by no means a man who coloured inside the lines, but he was someone who felt that no others should be harmed unless they asked for it. As a strong man, you needed to keep yourself in check so nothing happened that could not be undone by time and healing. The man in front of them was a stone-cold killer. Seeing red, Bergen was ready to charge, but Hegouw pulled on his arm and held him back.
"Get them!" the constable ordered.
"You're too late!" Bergen called back.
"The signal has been given." Anwerp added.
At that moment, Alden burst out of the forest and appeared on the far side of the plateau. He looked a bit worse for wear, with some tears in his cap and branches in his long hair. Mechlen had never understood why his brother insisted on the unpractical outfit and hairdo. His leather jacket and short, cropped hair was a stark contrast to his brother's looks. 
"Get away from them, Crazy." Alden called, using their nickname for the constable.
Constable Credz turned around, not in the least worried about the five armed mercenaries at the edge of the plateau, he still held the upper hand after all, and called out:
"How good of you to join us. So you did want to see your friends' demise? Even if you betrayed them for a measly sum of money and a title." the constable sneered in a loud voice.
"Your plot isn't working!" Alden called back. 
Mechlen never doubted his brother was telling the truth. Alden would not betray them, he'd rather die. As Anwerp had said, the rebellion was starting, nothing could halt the people now that the signal had been given. Making use of Alden's distraction, Mechlen shuffled closer to the center of the plateau. The others in his party followed. 
Shadows obscured the sight as if the plateau was suddenly shrouded in mist. They seemed to condense and suddenly a maelstrom of darkness swirled at the edge of the plateau. Alden pushed through Credz' guards and rushed toward the vortex that seemed to have a gravitational pull. Aliani and Oud've managed to jump up despite the ropes binding them and headed right after Alden, pulling Tongren with them.
"Hurry! Catch them!" Constable Credz called, recovering his voice.
Mechlen doesn't need to count to know that they're outnumbered probably three to one and with the harsh climb behind him there is little chance to get out of here alive if they don't take the way out his brother has offered them.
"Retreat!" he called, racing to the vortex of shadows, a struggling Anwerp in tow, still attached to the safety cord.
Bergen grabbed hold of Hegouw and pushed the man through before jumping right behind. Tinien was the last to reach the portal. Turning around, she spat the soldiers in the face before performing a backflip and entrusting her life to their boss. 

Stats and Dragons
-*- [TINIEN] -*- [ANWERP] -*- [BERGEN] -*- [HEGOUW]


Lantessama Isle

Credits: Background from
Fonts used are called Castellar and Lydian