Redshaft - Chapter 3

Fiction By Stephan // 2/17/2010

REDSHAFT

CHAPTER III

The unexpected sight of Durnon's empty bed the next morning was disorienting.
I sat up quickly, looking around, expecting the worst; perhaps some starved troll had ventured on a dinner hunt and taken him.
I instinctively looked around for tracks, thankfully seeing no such heavy foot prints. I did see Durnon's small tracks which revealed that he had risen from his bed, and after ruffling through his bag, perhaps to light his pipe, he had then stopped for some reason. He had stood where he was for a while before abruptly hurrying off, leaving deeper, more spaced tracks. It was interesting to note that when he rushed away, he was predominantly on his tip-toes. He was being stealthy, for a reason I could not conjure. What urgency had snatched his attention and hailed him away in silence enough to keep me from waking?
Rising quietly, I followed his tracks over the dew-wettened grass.
The morning was chilly, with a lightly overcast sky warning the land of an approaching rainfall. It was rather a gloomy day compared to the usual, perhaps it was some sort of omen from the gods. If there were any gods, and if they had any omens to give.
Following the dwarf prints around the rocks, I soon began hearing a muffled struggle. I sped up my pace so I could quicker define what I was hearing; the rocks irritatingly stifling all sounds.
Coming around the a corner, I froze behind a boulder as I saw a tall man clad in rags holding a richly clothed girl by her arm, her wrist reddened and bruised from his forceful grasp. The man looked furious and wild, unshaven and quite obviously unwashed for a while. He had long shaggy hair, and was built so heavily I may have mistaken him for a young orc. He was breathing heavily as he glared at none other than Durnon, who was crumpled against the ground a few yards away, recovering from being thrown as an unwanted bag. I was surprised; dwarves were no lightweight object to be cast around single-handedly. Who was this man?
I looked around to see if there was anyone else, particularly looking for who had previously accompanied the young lady, for her clothes were only recently muddied; she had evidently been only just apprehended by this hoodlum, and could not be in this wilderness alone. But there was just the three of them. Her face was pale in fear but her cheeks reddened with exertion, her long hazel hair falling in dishevelled tresses around her eyes. She wore belts and bracelets of gold over a slender waist and wrists, all which only increased her look of frailty. Her rich purple dress was stained with blood; my heart abruptly jumped at seeing this, for due to the amount of blood lost she would be undoubtedly dying from such a huge wound.
"Let her be," hollered Durnon at the tall aggressor, staggering to his feet. "Or, by the heavens..."
"Go away while you still can," said the man angrily. "It is no business of yours."
"She is royalty...of course it is my concern," Durnon said, steadying himself against a rock, panting heavily. "As it would be for anyone with a head on his shoulders."
I was surprised that this young lady was of noble blood, wondering what brought her out here.
I admired Durnon's response, deciding I had lingered too long. I moved out into the gray morning light.
"Release her," I stated firmly. "Or you will suffer both of our efforts to tear you apart."
"It is my right!" the man bellowed, his eyes glazed over in tears of fury. "She should have never been taken from me!"
This took me, for one, by surprise. "Is she your wife?" I asked in shock.
"No, but she should have been!" he roared. Personally, I found it evident why she had declined an offer of marriage from this man, if she had. He jerked her closer to himself, but she was becoming increasingly limp. "It is no matter of yours or the dwarf."
"Eh, look here," I said adamantly. "She is losing blood heavily, and could be on the brink of death. She needs help, and we have provisions that could perchance be of assistance."
The man turned to her in sudden anxiety, seeing the deep bloodstains on her dress. He obviously hadn't noticed this before, which was odd to say the least.
Grabbing this oppurtinity I jumped at the man, shoving him aside with my shoulder and smoothly snatching her from his grip. It felt like shoving a big barrel of ale, so knowing that he was hardly affected, I swapped holding her to the other hand and spun in a side circle, throwing out a kick that smacked him up along the jaw. The man gave a gargled shout of pain and stumbled back, tripping over a rock onto the ground.
I snatched the girl into my arms -- she was light as a child -- and ran towards the rocks to seek refuge in the maze of stone.
The man growled and slowly rose to his feet, then commencing a heated pursuit. I turned to see Durnon was gone, nowhere around. So much for fighting together.
Racing through the stones as fast as I could, I moved up one of my hands to the side of her face to stop her head from bumping against my shoulder. Her eyes were closed and her face cold as if she were in a deep sleep. The horrible fright of having a veritably dying young lady in my arms made me increase my speed as hard as I could.
Turning around a boulder, I could hear the man coming after me, wheezing loudly. His breathing was heavy, ragged, and undeniably disturbing. He must have been deranged.
"Hurry Talegan!" I turned up to see Durnon running along the top of one of the walls of rock. "Turn left."
"What is to the left?" I shouted.
"Just go." he said, vanishing.
This treatment was enfuriating given the desperate circumstances, but I had little choice but to submit to his discernment.
Almost tripping over a pile of pebbles in the centre of my path, I saw a narrow gap to my left and rushed into it immediately. An disconcerting roar of anger sounded behind me as I heard the man stopped at the turn, hesitating before moving in.
I ran quickly through the rather incapacious little gorge and found myself approaching something very similar to a T-junction. The hoodlum wouldn't have been able to see it, having me blocking his line of sight, but he was gaining on me, and rapidly so. Bounding faster across the ground, I could hear Durnon approaching from the right of the junction.
"Pass the lady, take the sword!" he whispered, knowing I alone could easily hear him.
Not knowing what exactly he meant to do, I just waited till we crossed to understand. Durnon held a brass-handled sword which was evidently not his due to its being too huge for him, and my never seeing him pack it with his belongings at Iliden. Slowing down slightly I slipped the girl into his arms as he passed and he raced on away to my left as I found myself holding the blade as I ran. Soon to run into the rock face unless I did something, I ran over in my mind what I could do to evade being forced up against the stone wall and torn apart by the man behind me.
Nothing came to mind but upon reaching the rock, my training kicked in and I ran up the rock face, turning around and propelling myself off it. Flying through the air at the oncoming hoodlum with the massive down-pointed sword I fell upon him, sinking the blade straight through his chest with a sickening crunch. We collapsed in a muddled heap on the ground, and in case he was still able to move, I rolled away immediately.
Taking a moment to regain my breath, I moved to my feet, turning to see him lying limp on the ground, his blood soaking the grass.
Wrenching out the sword I turned away, walking down the path Durnon had taken, using the rock wall as support as I went. Listening for him, I soon picked up his breathing, and followed the noise till I reached a ragged rock hill. I exhaled, then began scaling the steep hill, reaching the top where he had laid the girl against a mossy rock. Now that I was above, I noted moss cloaked the tops of all the rocks in this place, and happy to relax on something so smooth, I knelt down beside them. He turned to me, his dark eyes anxious.
I nodded to spare him having to inquire; "He is dead," I said, tapping my chest where was the death wound. "He must have died instantly."
A consoled smile spread across my friend's cheeks, his eyes allowing a little sparkle of gratitude before he returned to the senseless girl, smoothing her hair out of her face. He rewettened a piece of cloth, mopping her brow tentatively.
"Do you know her?" I asked quietly.
"No I do not," he said, keeping his attention on her face. He was obviously hoping for the smallest sign of life, even the flutter of an eyelash, for he knelt there begging reassurance that she had not passed away.
I did not understand. "You seem very attentive," I commented carefully. "She is hurt, but still a stranger. You are more than typically concerned."
"She is of noble blood," he said, with such sudden reverance that surprised me.
I was then going to ask what was she to him other than being royal, but decided that may simply make him irate.
His answers were unusually short; he seemed very engrossed with her situation. I surmised he wanted to have his mouth empty of words were she to awake, so he could inquire as to her health without delay.
I waited too, though I still didn't quite follow his train of thinking. What was nobility more than a family charged with governing the people? It occured to me for a moment that she may be of his race, thus explaining this devotion. But it took little scrutiny to ascertain her features were far too fine, the edges of her face too delicate, namely her unusually sharp nose. I reached out slowly, so not to alert him, and moved aside her hair, seeing her ears were long and pointed, even more pointed than her nose. She was unmistakably a nymph.
The young lady suddenly stirred. We almost thought she had awakened, but though she murmured audibly, her eyes did not open. "Do not take me away...please! It is not the same any more...not for us!"
Durnon spoke softly to her, trying to calm her down, and she gradually stayed still.
Upon her being still, I inspected her clothes from where I knelt. "At least she is not critically wounded, if wounded at all." I ventured.
Durnon turned to me, "What did you say?"
I motioned to the blood stains on her dress. "Those are no blood splotches, but spatters. It is the blood of other people."
"My men, my faithful soldiers...torn to pieces," she murmured.
We both turned to her in the sudden speech, but she seemed just as still as before. I bent close to her face.
"Can you hear us?" I said.
"You sound very far away," she said slowly. "Am I still dreaming? I cannot move...my eyes...help me..."
I glanced at Durnon, who shrugged helplessly. I turned back to her, considering what could be the cause of her body's responsiveness; "You are not fully conscious," I said gently. "You are equally suffering from concussion. Tell us, do you have any cuts or wounds?"
"No," she said softly. "No, he would never hurt me..."
"Who?" Durnon had to ask. "Who would never hurt you?"
"But he would kill...everyone else." her words were hesitant, filled with a guilty remorse. "...What have I done?"
"For a start, do not blame yourself," Durnon said firmly. "Thank the heavens, we survived that foul fiend and now through death he will no more be of harm to others. You could hardly be at fault considering how you were being treated by him."
After a moment, he turned to me and sighed. "Not too far into the woods from where I confronted that man, there was a palanquin, with a group of men-at-arms around it. All were torn to pieces by some insane creature, I surmise a bear. By the state of the blood and the surrounding foliage, it all occured many hours ago, probably early this morning before the sun rose. I saw it from a hilltop when I approached the princess' scene, hearing them by pure chance. I am glad you came when you did, a little longer and he may have finished me." he nodded at the sword I held. "In case you are wondering, your new sword belonged to one of them; he was clawed dead among the boulders on my route to finding you."
"It seems rather convenient that mad man was unaffected by the nearby beast," I said, naturally looking around me in case it were near. "He caught up with her in the morning, maybe he was waiting for the light to see her."
"And risked the bear -- or whatever it was -- killing her?" Durnon said. "I believe he may have been controlling it."
"He was hardly in a condition to have such a ferocious pet."
"He...he was very capable..." the nymph stammered. She seemed to be talking through a sore throat, her voice was so weak. "...And he wasn't alone, no...others..."
"I could imagine a group chaining up a bear," I said. "I have known hags to do that to a gryffon or sprites imprison an orc."
"He...he..." she began slowly, but Durnon brushed what she said aside by patting her hand, saying quickly,
"Whatever the case, do not venture to speak until you feel recovered. Please take all measures to relax, my lady; you are safe, he is dead, and we are at your disposal."
I decided not to object to this clearly exaggerated generosity. For all we knew, she could have prompted the whole situation with the mad man or was even currently on the run from the law, perhaps eloping and then caught by this former acquaintance whom she it seems she had led to believe she loved. Whatever she had done though, Durnon was unquestionably giving her the benefit of the doubt. I wondered if he was foolhardy in his over-trusting approach.
"Are you sure waiting around with her here is wise?" I asked.
I despised myself for doing this, for it just opened to him without the reality of my every sentiment towards the situation. He turned to me darkly.
"You do not seem well-acquainted with assisting the paths of others," he said grimly.
"Not when it so directly impedes my own," I justified. "We do not even know who she is or where she is from."
"I am not sure about you, but that hardly crossed my mind." he said. "At least not as an obstacle to my helping her. Not only is she nobility, but a lady. Other matters may wait for now."
I stood up and walked off for some fresh air, air which was empty of such side concerns. Were we not focused on the mission for the King? How were we to accomplish it and manage the benefits of it if we were worrying about all different possible oppurtunities for goodwill? Of course the assistance of this unfortunate princess is quite commendable but as she is neither wounded nor suffering current pursuit, we need to part paths. We are all at danger in the wild.
"You need to give more," Durnon said aloud. "What made you so reluctant for others?"
"People may ask for your help one minute," I said, looking out over the foggy terrain that stretched away into rocky hills, then into woodlands. "Then they attack you when they find it then to their benefit. The world is a den where all fight for themselves."
"If such a perspective as this is promoted, I couldn't see the possibility of amelioration of such circumstances." Durnon muttered. "If you are so priviliged with this insight, then you should be among the first to leap to the aid of others, and not encourage said stagnant amorality."
I shook my head at this naivete. Evidently my little friend had not seen much of the darker side of the world. I was a Tracker, having gone to multiple places all over the land, I had a real taste of different sorts of people in different sorts of places, and they all had a connecting thread of selfishness. I was not equally selfish, I considered myself rather to be cautious, to be cognisant, of the way the world runs.
As my eyes scanned the misty panorama, I could see the broken palaquin the young noble lady had ridden in, just on the edge of the forest. Around it were her dead escorts, all of them clad in burgundy-coloured leather padding armour, with simple metal helmets. Where were they off to, I wondered.
I noted sudden movement from the trees and thence emerged several heavy-set men, all looking equally wild as the first, the unfortunate who had taken a liking to our refugee. My blood being hot and my head full of boisterous and fearless thoughts concocted from a mixture of anger, self-disappointment and resentment, I leapt from rock to rock to confront these savages and give them a taste of what fist-to-fist combat with a Tracker was like. I wouldn't have to worry about saving a second person, so being clear of disadvantages I could just release my energy into beating them.
As I approached though, they looked around, spoke to each other hurriedly and returned to the forest.
I stopped in my tracks, my fists clenched.
I stared after them for a while before breathing a snort of disgust. I returned to my friend.
Upon return, I found that the girl had not stirred; I asked Durnon what we were to do with her, where to take her, and he confessed he had no idea.
I glanced tentatively at him, then prodded her gently. "Where were you going?" I asked.
She at first did not say anything, but then her parched little lips moved, "Please...I'm thirsty..."
I pulled out my water gourd and put it to her mouth, letting her have a sip. She breathed heavily like someone had thrust air into her lungs again after a long period of asphyxiation.
"We must continue," she said vaguely. "Go ahead to the lodge. Mirrian is waiting."
"What lodge?" asked Durnon. He held her shoulder, saying more loudly, "Were you headed to a place in the woods, or another town?"
"Just a stroll, mere hours more, up along the woods," she smiled distantly. "We must hurry, you silly. The sun is setting, time is precious, and Mirrian is waiting."
"Who is this Mirrian?" I had to ask, though I knew she was not conscious enough to respond, nor would Durnon know the answer.
"I fear she is delirious," said Durnon. "I don't even know how many of her words are in truth."
I thought it over.
"It would not hurt us nor her to continue up north along the woods," I said. "She said her destination is a few hours ahead, and if she is right, we'll come across it by evening."
"That sounds like a plan," Durnon agreed, and as I picked her up, he led the way to the ashes of our last evening's fire. I set her down comfortably on some thick grass as we gathered up the camp.
I was of course the one who was to hold the limp body on the journey along the treeline. It was not a large issue, for she was not heavy at all, lighter than a child, but the more I thought on the issue of how much care we were taking for this girl, it irritated me. Hence I decided not to contemplate it, but bear through it until it was soon over, then move on. I kept a constant eye on the woods to ensure that band of hooligans never turned up; thankfully there was not a sign of them.
The sun was setting by the time we saw smoke rising from a distant part of the forest. I turned to Durnan and he agreed to set camp until the next day, where we would subseuqently take her to her 'lodge' the next morning before we continued our journey.
The clouds overhead had dissipated to give the setting sun a last bit of glory before the moon begun it's dominion over the world; the golden twilight making the green grass glow around us. We were contentedly sitting down, roasting a sausage patty each when the young lady stirred, perhaps from the enciting aroma. She seemed to have been gathering her senses, and looked meaningfully at us with an intelligent gaze.
I had thought of her as quite beautious before -- perhaps a little too ethereal for my taste -- but I had no idea how much her looks would improve upon her using her dark eyes to convey thoughts. Her dark hair fell about her face in ringlets, contrasting against the soft paleness of her skin. She looked around, motioning around her in request as to where she was.
Durnon briefly explained the course of events of that day, a summary of what he knew, until their current conversation.
The recounting of her assailant made her shiver and she closed her tired eyes, lying against a mound of grassy earth.
"He will come back soon," she said after quiet thought.
"Who?" I asked, leaning in. "With all due respect to you, he is veritably dead."
Durnon changed the subject to allievate her mind as she lay quietly, speaking of his experience with the nymphs and their customs and how he admired the many outstanding cities they had made merely to enhance and promote nature, finding the most lovely ways to organise living quarters while causing as little disturbance to their surroundings as possible.
As he chatted on, the sun vanished over the horizon, slowly replacing the glowing twilight with the cool silvery blue of the moonlight rays.
It was then when I alone noted a crackling of the ground far behind me. The rosy evening sunlight cast long shadows across the ground when I looked back, making my sight difficult. Durnon and the princess remained oblivious.
I soon made out the figure of an oncoming man, and by then could hear his every footstep.
As far as I could make of the rythym of the man's footsteps, he was being careful, but was very confident he would be able to pounce on me. Well, I intended to disappoint him; and thoroughly so.
As he entered a distance of but a few yards of me, I thrust myself back into a sudden roll, colliding straight into him. It was painful as rolling into tree roots, but then I shoved my feet out as hard as I could. My boots made contact with his ribs and sent him flying back heavily. It was undoubtedly another of the huge men from the forest. I leapt to my feet and jumped on him, not stopping for a second's breath as I lay two thousand punches into his face.
After doing this and feeling both the light of the fire and the regards of the highly-impressed young lady warm on my back, I turned back, dragging the unconscious, beaten body behind me.
As I tied a measure of rope around the body and deposited it up against a nearby tree so I may find some sort of identification on him to reveal his origin, I came across something that made me jump. Upon his chest was a big scar, undoubtedly in the same place where I had plunged the sword through that mad man back at the rocks.
Could this man be the same person? And why was he not dead?
"I believe she was right," I said to Durnon, not looking away from the scar.
Durnon turned to me with a yawn, "Forgive me?"
"He did come back," And to Durnon's request of to whom I was referring, I motioned to the unmoving body. "Behold her aggressor."
"I thought you ran him through the breast!" said Durnon in concern.
"I did," I affirmed. "He even has the wound...well, it is now little more than a welt."
"You cannot use mere weapons," said the nymph mournfully, feeling glued to her seat in fear. "Not any more. There was a time when you could; at that time he had asked me for my hand. With many kisses and flowers did he promise me happiness. Alas, if only I had not accepted him!"
"What altered circumstances?" I asked quietly, hoping not excite any negative sentiments in her; thankfully she remained considerably calm.
"Rumours spread of him," she explained. "Upon his refusing to doubt them, I had no other choice but to cancel our engagement."
"What rumours?" I asked.
She didn't reply, but looked at the man with such a mixture of pity and contempt that Durnon and I followed her gaze, taking in the ragged appearance of what appeared to be the man of suffering under the most unfortunate conditions possible.
"I confess he does look very pathetic," Durnon said slowly. "I must admit that as not only my eyes right now, but bruises still painful on me can attest, he is unusally strongly built. And I noted his bearing was the remnant of that of a noble; some things never fade nor go unnoticed. I wonder what drove such a great man to such a barbaric entity."
"What drives us all," said the young lady. "Love. Devotion."
"But a noble could never permit himself reduced to such a lack of humanity."
"Unless he no longer was counted among the human." she responded; I wasn't sure whether her voice sincerely grave or sarcastically derisive.
The man lolled his head up at them with a deep breath, mainifesting a profound lack of comfort. He glared at everyone as if done a severe and humilating injustice, and struggled angrily against his ropes. "But I say," the princess had to look away from him, and she tried to aound affected as she rubbed her arms. "Your cave is rather chilly. Why do not you let in some daylight?"
We all exchanged looks of hesitation and confusion, before Durnon ever so politely said,
"My lady, we are not in a cave, but outside. It is dark because the moon has just made its arrival."
"By all the waters!" she almost squealed, stumbling to her feet and pointing in dread at the tightly bound man. "Get him out of here!"
Durnon entreated her to please calm down, but she was too frantic, staggering to her feet so she could leave.
"What is wrong?" I shouted, to get her attention above the noise of the crackling fire, the man's furious and unintelligable curses, her hysteria and Durnon's implorations. "How did he survive my blade strike so well? Why are you afraid of him only now?"
She turned to me, her eyes full of uncontainable horror. "The moon is here, day is no more!"
I still awaited the part in which it would make sense.
"Don't you understand?" she cried. "He is a werewolf!"
I jumped to my feet as her sweet lips exploded this horrid word, noting that the man had knawed through one of the cords with which I had bound him. Now I knew the explaination for his unusual strength and size.
He looked up at us, his eyes blazing with hatred.
His eyes were gradually becoming completely black and before we could do anything, his physique expanded, brown and gray-lined fur bristling over him. He buckled and cringed with a snarl, as his muscles swelling and his his back arching, his neck widening and stretching until there before us stood a wolf-man.
As the horrifying transition occured, I looked around for something to use against it. I knew we we were moments away from being its dinner. Night had just started; it was now the werewolf's domain, a realm in which we were now the intruders.
The beast wriggled its thick neck, stretching its legs as if it felt good to be so powerful again.
I felt the blood draining from my face as helpless fear began choking my mind, depleting my instincts, reflexes and basic common sense.
The werewolf glanced at around, then turning to me with a snarl it lunged.
 

Comments

Chilling and entrancing. I

Chilling and entrancing. I anticipate the rest!

Anna | Wed, 02/24/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

A werewolf, eh?

I wonder how Talegan's going to deal with it now.  It's got sharper teeth now, but on the flip side the creature now lacks opposable thumbs, right?

James | Tue, 03/02/2010

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

*grin*

Way to look on the bright side, James.

Anna | Wed, 03/03/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief