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Sinner crept through the tangle of brush and slipped from tree to tree. He was painfully aware that he lacked Rayn’s stealth with the snap of each twig beneath his leather boots. The wet mist clung heavy on his cloak. Despite the moisture, the air was warmer here—no doubt the heat still coming off the burned out village. He paused and pushed back the hood of his cloak and ran his free hand through his damp shoulder length brown hair.
The mist continued to swirl and shift. Sometimes he could see five to ten paces ahead, sometimes only a few. So intent was he in trying to peer through the fog toward the village that he didn’t see the body until he almost stumbled right over it. The large man lay sprawled on his belly just within the tree line as though fleeing the village. He wore a dark green cloak with a long hunting knife strapped to his side. The knife was still in its sheath. His fractured skull suggested he had been struck down with a blunt weapon from behind, perhaps a mace.
Sinner’s hand tightened on his staff as he warily looked around. No movement, no sound.
The man appeared to have been running from someone and yet had not drawn his long-knife. The man clutched a small leather pouch in his right hand. Curious, Sinner thought, a clue perhaps. He tried to pry the pouch from the man’s hand. He gave it a good tug and his clammy fingers fumbled the pouch as it came loose and several shiny metallic looking orbs rolled out of the leather pouch as the drawstrings pulled open. Sinner quickly scooped up the orbs and dropped them back into the pouch before re-tying it to his own belt.
He was about to move on when he sensed he was not alone. A low growl emanated from the fog directly in front of him. A large gray wolf stepped out of the fog. The wolf’s lips curled back baring his teeth. Another growl. Sinner had no doubt that the warning was for him.
“Easy, boy,” Sinner whispered as he slowly backed away from the body. The wolf hovered protectively over the body as Sinner retreated into the mist. It was not unusual for wolves to be in this part of Sinland. Perhaps the dead man was the wolf’s master. That would explain the wolf’s protective action, but that would be strange indeed. Wolves were wild, not like dogs at all, which could be bonded to a master. He would have to ask Tinker about it later.
He pushed further into the forest skirting around the area where the wolf and the man’s body were before heading back toward the village. Once again, Sinner peered through the mist at the village from the edge of the tree line. He recognized the village Inn and the adjoining stables, or what was left of them. The burnt out husks loomed out of the fog. The smell of burning wood was strong here as tendrils of smoke still curled skyward from the buildings. But once again, silence. Not even the chirping of birds. No sign of life at all, only this damp, mist enshrouded eeriness.
Sinner shuddered involuntarily. His knuckles were starting to ache from the tight grip on his staff. He was tensed like a coiled snake waiting to strike when he felt the brush of cold steel on the back of his neck. A sudden image of the dead man in the trees filled his mind. He was not about to die like that, struck down from behind.
He jerked his head forward, away from the blade, throwing himself onto his right shoulder while sweeping his staff low with his left arm.
His assailant tried to jump out of the way, but Sinner’s staff swept his attacker’s feet out from under him and sent him tumbling away.
In one fluid movement, Sinner was back on his feet. This time facing his opponent who had also recovered quickly and was crouched in a defensive posture several paces away. His attacker’s hood had fallen back onto his shoulders exposing a tangle of long, unruly auburn hair.
It took only a moment for Sinner’s mind to register that his attacker was a girl, and that he recognized her.
“You!” she said accusingly. “I could have killed you. What are you doing sneaking around the village?”
Apparently, she recognized him as well. Sinner ignored her question and assumed what he hoped was a non-threatening pose. “Whoa now, you attacked me. And I think you found out that I was not that easy to kill. I’m only glad that I did not hurt you,” Sinner said smugly.
Her eyes narrowed.
Sinner took on a more conciliatory tone and motioned toward her with his free hand. “Could you please put your weapons down and we’ll talk.”
Her cheeks flushed slightly. It was quite attractive actually, Sinner thought. She slid her long hunting knife back into its sheath on her left hip but hung on to the one handed throwing axe in her other hand. There was a second identical axe hanging from a loop on the belt around her waist. She wore the same type of dark green cloak as the dead man Sinner had come across earlier. Sinner made a mental note to ask her about the man.
She moved toward Sinner and motioned for him to get down. Crouched side by side, they looked back out toward the Inn. She turned and looked at Sinner. He was instantly mesmerized by her large green eyes. “You know,” he said, “the whole tomato thing was just a misunderstanding.”
She gave him a puzzled look.
His face flushed. Oh great, he was babbling now.
“Shhh,” she said putting her finger to her lips, “They’re still here. Look.” She pointed beyond the trees.
That snapped him out of his awkward state. He had seen no sign of life in the village until now. Marching out of the mist around the Inn was the biggest man Sinner had ever seen. He must have been near seven feet tall with equally broad shoulders and massive arms. He was arrayed in a combination of black leather and armour. He carried a mace in one hand and a large shield in the other. A helmet sat on the man’s head with the visor down so that Sinner could not see his face.
The man turned to where Sinner and the girl were concealed by the brush. Surely, he didn’t know that they were there, did he? An uneasy feeling crept up Sinner’s spine. The giant started walking towards them.
Sinner tensed, ready to fight when a sudden flash of grey dashed across the open space and attached itself to the giant’s arm. The wolf from the forest, Sinner thought. The giant knocked the wolf off with relative ease, and he fell into the grass with a whimper.
“Wolf?” the girl said sounding somewhat confused.
“I know. I saw him…”
“No Wolf!” she shouted as she sprang from behind the brush where they were concealed. She took two long strides and hurled the axe in her right hand at the giant. Before it even hit, the next axe was in her hand.
The giant, alerted by her shout, turned and deflected the incoming axe with his shield. The axe clattered harmlessly off his shield and fell to the ground with a dull thud.
Sinner had seen enough. He wasn’t about to miss a good fight. Plus, he had a girl to rescue. He leaped into the open and charged.
The girl skidded to a stop brandishing her remaining axe at the giant. The wolf had recovered and was snarling at her side. They faced off with the giant, careful to stay beyond the reach of his mace.
Not Sinner. He barrelled past the two and dropped into a slide, feet first, just as the giant swung his mace. He heard a swish as the weapon flew by just inches above his left ear. He slid just past the giant, dug his boots into the ground, and let his momentum carry him back to his feet. He plunged the end of his staff into the back of the giant’s knee.
The giant’s knee buckled. In one fluid motion, Sinner swung his staff around in a wide arc with all of his might and felt the shock roll into his arms as he connected with the giant’s helmet. The force of the blow knocked the helmet from the man’s head and should have dropped him, but the giant was no man. Sinner saw that as the giant regained his feet and turned. The face was not the face of a man.
Shocked, Sinner stumbled backwards into a defensive posture. He kept backing up as the creature advanced. He could see both the girl and the wolf behind the creature keep pace.
Then the wolf and the girl attacked. The creature shrugged them off as if they were insignificant, then rushed Sinner and slammed him to the ground with his shield. The creature lifted his mace overhead. Sinner was about to roll out of the way when the point of an arrow emerged from the creatures throat.
Rayn! Sinner thought.
The creature lowered his arm and the weapon fell from his hand. He sank to his knees and fell to one side.
Sinner scrambled to his feet just as Rayn walked over, another arrow knocked in his bow, and nudged the beast with his foot. The girl was kneeling and stroking the wolf’s neck, checking him for injuries.
“A tame wolf?” Sinner asked.
“Not exactly tame, but he is my protector,” the girl said.
“Rayn,” Sinner said, “Am I glad to see you. I’d like you to meet…”
“Kara,” the girl said. “And this is Wolf.”
Rayn nodded. “Kara, do you know what manner of beast this is?” He prodded the creature again with his boot. “And what happened here?”
Kara stepped toward the beast. “It’s a Tia’h, and as to what happened here, I…”
They were interrupted by several flashes of light in the mist just beyond their vision and the sound of weapons clashing. The silhouette of a man emerged from the mist, running toward them. Then another, much larger shape, appeared right behind him.
“Tinker?” Sinner said to no one in particular.
It was Tinker and another one of the brutes right behind him. Suddenly, Tinker swiveled and viciously attacked the beast with his rune-carved staff. The beast barely got his shield up in time, but to no avail. The staff flared to life as it connected with the shield. The shield split in two and the beast staggered under the blow and dropped to one knee.
Tinker turned, ignoring the vulnerable beast, and resumed sprinting toward them. “To the trees! Run!”
Behind him, more of the large shadows loomed out of the mist—at least half a dozen or more.
To be continued…
©Peter Wiebe 2012