18 August 2009

Part the Sixteenth: Run Like Hell (Slight Reprise)

Brass and I got while the getting was good. The majority of the Defias were still sniffing around the farmhouse and the edge of the woods where I had given them the slip. They were apparently smart enough not to go running blindly into the trees and undergrowth where they thought an assassin might be lurking.

We were able to circle around the majority of the searchers, quickly heading for where I’d tied my horse. Things were starting to look like we might be able to make a clean getaway. Brass wasn’t exactly stealthy, but he did well enough to not attract attention, which was all he needed to do. I was just able to see the stand of saplings I’d picketed my horse in when things went pear-shaped.

Apparently, the Defias are sneakier than I had given them credit for. While one group of them acted as bush-beaters, moving forward in a line and making plenty of noise while doing so, another group was moving ahead of them, sneaking around through the brush trying to catch sight of a certain assassin fleeing from the search line. Crouched low in a particularly large salal berry bush and doing a very good job of being silent, though looking in the wrong direction, I didn’t notice the Defias until I’d just about tripped over him.

His eyes got big over the trademark red bandanna the Defias wore over their faces. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised, but he was able to shake it off first, making to scramble back and turning to yell at the same time. I wasn’t far behind him in reacting, hammering a two-inch punch into his solar plexus that took the wind from him long enough to strangle his warning in his throat. He had enough presence of mind to grab at my wrists to keep from hitting him again or going for a weapon. Further, he slammed his forehead into my nose, making me reel back and stars of pain flash and pop in front of my eyes.

The last thing I could let happen was for the Defias to call out a warning to the rest of his compatriots. Good as I am, a whole camp full of men is a bit beyond my abilities. That did spawn an idea, but first I had to deal with the scout I was wrestling with.

The thing about wrestling is that it was invented by orcs and to work best with their unique physiology. That is to say, it takes advantage of their superior size and strength. Scouts and assassins, on the other hand, tend to be less on the bulky and more on the leaner end of the morphologic spectrum. As any good wrestler will tell you, the idea is to use your superior size and strength to immobilize and incapacitate a smaller, faster opponent. If both wrestlers are about the same size and neither is clearly stronger than the other, it pretty much just turns in to two men writhing around on the ground holding on to each other.

As ever, all else being equal, skill always decides the day and, unfortunately for me, the Defias scout was better than I was. I had one arm bound up behind me and both legs locked down in a scissor hold, my one free arm could flail helplessly, but that was about it. I at least was able to keep my weight shifted in such a way that he was only able to draw short, shallow breaths and unable to call out to his friends.

Unlike me.

“Any time you wanna jump in here, Brass, feel free,” I grunted. I felt, more than saw, the scout’s head snap over, looking toward where I supposed Brass was.

“Wull, ye looked laik y’were ‘avin’ such fun. Ah didnae wan’te interrupt,” I could hear the smirk in his voice.

“No, no, by all means, interrupt,” I said from clenched teeth. No sooner had I spoken than the scout started struggling more, rolling about and trying to stretch me out even taller and doing a fair job of it. He got his hand wrapped up in my hair at the back of my head and seemed to be trying to wrench my head on all manner of directions it shouldn’t go. It was about then that I heard a decidedly solid crack and all the limbs holding me immobile very suddenly went slack.

I rolled to my feet and looked at Brass and the scout. The dwarf looked rather self-satisfied, the scout was unconscious and his jaw didn’t look like it was on right.

Brass shrugged with a smile and said, “When ever’thin’ in th’ whole o’ th’ world is bigger ‘n ye, ye learn how t’ kick real ‘ard.”

“I can see that. Glad you’re on my side.”

I could hear the beaters approaching quickly; we didn’t have a whole lot of time, certainly not enough to reach the copse of trees where my horse was picketed. I sketched out my plan to Brass as quickly as I could and pointed out where my horse was. He looked at me like I was insane, which I certainly had to be to even consider what I was about to do to be a good plan, but he went along with it, hunkering down in the thick brush near the bole of a tree. Unless they were using dogs, which it didn’t sound like they were, or someone literally tripped over him, the beaters should pass right by him without noticing.

That left my part of the plan, the crazy part. I stood and rolled my shoulders, looking toward the beaters and then in the direction they were heading.

“Good luck, lad,” Brass said quietly from his hiding spot.

“You owe me my body weight in beer when this is over,” I sighed back.

I could hear his grin, “Deal.”

I moved half a dozen yards away from where Brass was hiding and took a deep breath, “He’s here! He’s here! I found him! He’s over here!” I kept hollering at the top of my lungs, even as I took off in the opposite direction. Running through dense underbrush isn’t exactly easy, in fact, it’s damn near impossible, something I was counting on to slow the Defias down and help keep me ahead of them. I bulled through about twenty feet worth of bushes before finding a game trail, which made the going much easier. There was a lot of shouting and crashing coming from behind me and gaining fast. I just had to stay enough ahead of them that they never quite caught sight of me, at least until I go to more open ground, which, if memory served, I should reach any…moment…now!

I burst from the brush into an open space with a few scattered campfires and the dilapidated remains of several wagons and tents. Fifty yards to the right, the gaping maw of an abandoned mine loomed ominously, just as ramshackle as the remains of the wagons and lean-tos.

Oh, and a couple score worgen lazing around the remains of their most recent kills.

Dropping down a short incline from the line of brush into the worgen camp, I hit the ground at a dead sprint, scattering at least one pile of smoldering embers into the fur of the worgen rapidly waking up. I kept hollering and shouting to keep the Defias coming, just about reaching the safety of the brush on the other side of the camp right about the same time the Defias burst forth, stumbling and falling into a whole mess of worgen who were rapidly growing irate at the disturbance of their post-meal nap.

Now, if you’ve never seen a worgen, allow me to explain just why this was both a crazy and brilliant plan. Your basic worgen is essentially a really big wolf. Like, really big. Like seven to eight feet tall kind of big. So you have this huge bloody wolf that stands on its hind legs and is little more than muscle, fur, claws and fangs. To make matters worse, they’re pretty smart on top of being crazy strong. My experience with them puts them right about even with a slow human. So, yeah, big, smart, strong, terrifying. And the Defias were blundering right into a great bloody pack of them.

For my part, I was nearly across the clearing, less than half a dozen strides would see me back into the brush with the triumphant howling of the worgen and the screams of the dying Defias behind me. Just a few more yards and I would be home free.

When I was kid, maybe ten or eleven years old, two of my friends and I were exploring the rooftops of the tenements near Deadman’s Alley. Even back then, you could easily traverse most of the poorer districts in the city by way of rooftops as you could on the streets below. Sometimes more easily, depending on where you were. In this particular instance, my two friends had just crossed a rather dodgy-looking plank bridge from one building to another. The board had creaked and cracked ominously as my friends had crossed, so I was a little nervous about it. Still, I had to show that I was just as brave as they were, creaking and cracking be damned. I got a short run up on the board and made it across in three great strides. We were busy congratulating ourselves when we felt the first stings. Seems there was a wasp nest on the underside of the board. Everything would have been fine had I not crossed, my friends having disturbed the nest, but not so badly as to make the wasps aggressive. No, that had been me and my great galumphing across.

This was pretty much the core of my plan today as I raced across the worgen’s clearing before the abandoned mine. I would pass by so quickly as to be ignored, but the Defias, unaware of what they were getting led into, would catch the full brunt of the worgen’s wrath. As plans go, it wasn’t bad. It almost even worked.

I was just about to clear the last step up a short incline and into the brush, a big triumphant smile on my face. That smile quickly melted away to mounting horror as I felt the iron grip of a worgen paw wrap around my ankle and got to see the ground eagerly rise up to meet me. I rolled to my back and got a good, long look at the hungry malevolence in the pale yellow eyes set above a gore-streaked muzzle.

The worgen leaned back his head and howled in triumph, a spine-chilling sound that even at a distance could loosen a lesser man’s bowels. Hearing that howl up close and personal, I was glad I have had sufficient control of my water not to embarrass myself. When he was done howling, he leveled that unblinking stare on me once more and reared back with his free paw, four-inch long claws shining in the pale light of early morning.

A lot of people in my line of work generally wear a soft, flat-soled shoe or short boot, the kind of footwear that makes it easier to sneak about. The problem with that sort of boot is that it really doesn’t hold up very well when the shit starts flying. I’ve known more thieves and assassins who got caught because they slipped or fell victim to a well-placed sharp object. Personally, I swore off those little moccasin things the first time I had to pick caltrops out of my feet. It took a little while to get used to, and a bit longer to become good at sneaking around in, but a good pair of riding boots with a solid heel are just about the best thing short of actual sabatons when you need to move quickly or fight your way out.

They also make a particularly sickening crunch when you ram the heel into the snout of an angry worgen with all your strength. I had just enough time to scramble to my feet and take two steps into the brush before I heard the sound I will forever remember as The Furious Roar. This was a sound so full of raw, molten fury, of pure, unbridled hatred and of hot, bloody anguish that there was only one reason any living thing would be making it. I risked a glance backward as I darted through the thickening undergrowth to see the biggest, blackest worgen I’d ever seen cradling the whimpering form of the worgen whose muzzle I’d shattered. In that split second, his baleful, glowing green eyes met mine and he extended a single gore-slick claw at me. I knew that look. All too well.

The momentary tableau shattered as soon as I realized he wasn’t just pointing at me, but aiming. I saw the fel energy gathering around his paw a moment before he unleashed it at me. Undergrowth withered and died as the shadowbolt streaked toward me and I swear I heard the tree I dove behind to avoid it groan in pain as the bolt impacted, carving away a gaping, rotting hole in the trunk in seconds. I didn’t wait around for the second or third or however many more shadowbolts the worgen was going to cast at me. I could hear the telltale moan of the shadowbolts streaking around me and I dove and rolled through the brush and brambles.

I was lucky in one respect. If that worgen had ever stopped casting long enough to actually give chase through the woods, I would have been well and proper fucked. There’s no way in all the Twisting Nether I would have been able to outrun a worgen in the woods, doubly so when I finally broke from the brush onto the path to the Tranquil Gardens Cemetery. Fortunately, it seemed that big black worgen wasn’t interested in giving chase today. Oh, joy.

Once I hit the path it didn’t take me long to get to the main road and, shortly after, to Darkshire. An agitated Watchman stopped me at the erstwhile gate to the village. Standing there, my clothes muddy, torn and covered in sticks and twigs and leaves and Light knows whatever else I’d picked up from the woods, and looking haggard and exhausted, I’m sure I presented the very image of respectability and decorum.

“Don’t suppose you know what’s got the worgen so riled up this morning?” the guard slowly drawled. Judging by his laconic speech and general lackadaisical attitude, I suspected he was a conscript from deep Westfall.

I glanced over my shoulder with the feigned attitude of mild surprise and fear, the latter not being hard to fake, “They’ve been like that for some time, no idea what’s set them off.”

The guard rolled his eyes and waved me through, “Uh huh. For your sake, let’s just hope they keep to their part of the woods and don’t come over here thinking that Darkshire is full of tasty people.”

3 comments:

koalabear said...

OMG!!!

That was absolutely fantastic! Well worth the long wait!

Misneach said...

As a certain Rogue posted on a certain Warrior's Raptr page, "It's about damn time."

Well done, my friend. As good as ever.

By the way, "Slight Reprise" in the title was a nice touch :)

Khol Drake said...

Thank you, thank you.

It was the only fitting title I could think of, so I borrowed from music a bit...