Shen and Tiger Palm approached Nechara, an ominous feeling hanging over their heads. It was strange that the pair had seen no travelers on the road to Nechara; as the cart trundled forward, Shen grimly observed that he couldn't even hear the sounds of any local wildlife.
Shen's journey with the old merchant had begun over a month ago. He had heard tell of a Fair Folk noble who wished to negotiate trade; while Shen had never personally dealt with the chaotic outsiders, he was willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt. Tiger Palm, a grizzled Guild merchant, was willing to go along with Shen, and so far, their trip had been uneventful.
Now, however, both travelers were quite uneasy, and the dread hammered its way home when the trade hub was finally within sight. Nechara was in ruins, not a single person to be seen. Shen looked to Tiger Palm, shocked, and then slipped quietly off the cart, one hand at his belt, ready to seize a throwing knife at a moment's notice. His companion followed suit, drawing a short sword.
The town was empty, and as the two explored, they caught sight of the river at the edge of Nechara. The river had been made into a hazard; any ship that tried to go downstream would be rendered a wreck by the rugged rocks that now filled its bed. Suddenly hearing movement, Shen gestured to Tiger Palm just in time; the two looked to the rooftops to see ten beings gathered there.
Coarse red fur covered their bodies, and tipped their long, pointed ears. The barbarians looked down at them with red eyes, their fanged mouths twisted into hostile sneers, gesturing violently with their spears. Tiger Palm's response was a single word, his face blanched with fear.
Shen knew a little of the Arczeckhi - these Wyld barbarians had attacked numerous settlements in the past, but their numbers had been reduced to insignificance hundreds of years ago! What he knew of them, though, was not reassuring; the Arczeckhi only deemed one a person if he could kill one of their number (even their own children were not spared in this regard).
As the largest of their number stepped forward, Shen drew his knife and asked, "Where are the villagers?"
The leader chuckled and rumbled, "They have become food for the Dragon... as will you!"
He gestured for three of his minions to attack, but the prince reacted first; as they dove down to attack, Shen jumped up, nimbly weaving past their spears to deliver a full-bodied kick to the throat of one barbarian. Tiger Palm moved to engage one as Shen handled the others, moving in close to negate the reach of their spears. Pouring Essence into his graceful evasion, Shen's caste mark began to gently shine.
As they fought, the leader gestured to the other barbarians, who drew their bows. Shen continued to nimbly dodge the attacks of his opponents, delivering quick jabs to stun them, and shouted up to the leader, "Call off your attack!"
The Arczeckhi leader laughed. "How can I take you seriously when you won't even kill your enemies?" One of the barbarians' spears suddenly scored a blow against Shen, leaving him bleeding; the wound was not deep, due to the enchanted silk Shen wore.
The prince angrily cried out, "You want death, barbarian? I shall give it to you!" He hurled his throwing knife, and it buried itself to the hilt in the chief's eye socket. Before Shen could say another word, though, the Arczeckhi reacted, springing upon their fallen comrade and tearing at his flesh with their teeth; even the ones on the ground had suddenly turned feral, leaping at the unconcious barbarian at Shen's feet. Shen looked to Tiger Palm, confused, and together, the two ran.