Wolf by Nici Bueckert
Please visit the Sinner Page to read the story in sequence.
The others were already up. Tinker fed some more wood onto the fire, his rune staff at his side. Kara held one of her axes in her lap. She looked nervous.
“What is it?” asked Sinner, as he rubbed the residual sleep from his eyes.
Rayn looked up from where he had started stringing his bow. “I don’t know, but there’s more than one, and they have Wolf on edge.” He indicated the wolf prowling the edge of the light cast by the fire. A low growl emanating from his throat.
Suddenly, a series of spine chilling wails arose from all directions around their tiny camp. Sinner’s heart thumped in his chest. He fumbled for his staff, clutching it tightly as he rolled into a crouch, putting his back to the fire.
The wailing continued and intensified. An unnatural sense of dread threatened to take hold of Sinner. His eyes searched wildly into the dark to discover the threat.
Rayn, to his left, had nocked an arrow and was doing likewise. Kara, to his right, brandished her axes, Wolf bristling at her side.
Just as abruptly as the wailing began, it stopped. The sudden silence was eerie.
“I’m sorry, young ones.” Sinner spun around to see Tinker sitting calmly with his staff in his hand. The runes on the staff were glowing faintly. “We have been hunted. That was the wail of shadow beasts. I was wrong to think that we might be safe in the mountains.”
Sinner, heart still racing and drenched in sweat, looked at Tinker.
“Whatever happens, you must reach the other side of the mountains. It is your only hope now. Do not return to Sinland,” said Tinker, in a low voice. “I will join you if I can.”
Rayn relaxed the draw on his bow but still kept the arrow nocked. “What do you mean you will join us…”
“We have a visitor,” Tinker interrupted.
A tall, lean figure materialized out of the darkness. He wore a hooded cloak and carried a spear in his right hand. The spear had an intricate series of runes carved into its shaft, but unlike the smooth, flowing runes on Tinker’s staff, these runes were harsh and jagged.
All the companions prepared to fight, except for Tinker who continued to sit still.
Slowly, the intruder lowered his spear to the ground, arose, and flipped back the hood of his cloak. Black dreadlocks spilled out.
Sinner recoiled. He had expected a man. What he saw was a monster. His face wasn’t right. No nose, only two slits. The creature smiled. Or, at least what Sinner took for a smile. He displayed a mouthful of pointed teeth that made him look every bit the predator. His skin was a lifeless, pasty white. His fingers curled into what looked more like claws than hands.
Rayn gave Tinker an uncertain glance and drew back on his bow.
The creature spoke. “That would be unwise, young one. Would you attack an unarmed guest? Surely, your elder taught you better manners, yes? ”
“Who or what are you?” asked Rayn. “What do you know of the beasts that cry all around us?”
The creature took a step forward. “Ah, I am no man, tis true. Your elder knows who I am. I’m surprised he hasn’t told you. Then again, I wonder what other secrets he keeps from you. Do you even realize who it is that guides you?”
Rayn glanced uncertainly at Tinker.
Tinker gave Rayn a pained expression before turning his eyes to the creature. “I know what you are, creature of death. You will not find us easy prey.”
The creature opened his arms in a wide gesture. “These young ones know nothing. Is that how you train them these days? They know not what they have stumbled upon.” He turned to Sinner and gave him an appraising look.
The creature’s eyes held Sinner’s gaze. Sinner broke out in a cold sweat looking into those black, depthless eyes. He involuntarily thought of the orbs tied to his side. His thoughts became jumbled and confused. He tore his eyes away. Immediately, his mental state improved.
The creature smiled again as if understanding something. He looked at Tinker. “What a failure you are, old man. The darkness is already in your midst. It is a shame the hunt is over. I expected more from you. Pity really. That one had promise, didn’t he.”
Darkness in their midst? Was he talking about me, Sinner thought.
The creature turned and looked at Rayn and Kara with the same look with which he had appraised Sinner.
Rayn didn’t flinch.
Kara raised her axes in a warning gesture. “You are a vile and evil creature. I will not be taken by your lies.”
The creature took another step forward. “Yes, the woodsman’s girl you are. It seems your uncle trained you somewhat better than the old man did his boys. Nevertheless, he’s not here, is he? Have you not wondered why he stayed behind at the village? What his role is in all of this. It must be maddening trying to fit the pieces together. You might not like what you see when it all fits together.” The creature’s eyes narrowed.
Kara faltered. Her axes lowered slightly.
“Enough!” Tinker stood and gestured toward the creature with his staff. The creature took a step back. “Be gone, foul denizen of evil. The young ones may surprise you before this is over. I will defend them with my life.”
“It will cost you nothing less,” said the creature, with a wicked grin. “Perhaps, they don’t all want saving. Have you thought about that, old man?” The creature looked at Sinner again as he backed away. He was now back where he had laid his spear down.
Sinner gripped his staff with both hands. If he so much as reaches for his spear.
But the creature made no such move. “Many know me as the black death. But know this: I am the Huntsman. You should know that before you die.”
With that the Huntsman’s spear leaped from the ground into his claw-like hand and he vanished into the darkness beyond the fire. It all happened so fast. The Huntsman was gone. Then the wailing resumed.
To be continued…
© Peter Wiebe 2013