Monday, May 26, 2014

Orders, Whispers, and a Prayer

"Keep up, boy!" Master Lewell snapped at Mif, despite the fact the two of them were side by side. It was the rest of the bounty hunters who had pulled ahead, eager to reach the edge of trees and begin their task. Mif had slowed his pace a bit so that his master wouldn't be the very last one.
It was little things like that that would keep fresh bruises from being delivered on his already bent shoulders.
When the mismatched pair finally caught up to the others, Edercy the Tracker was giving out commands to all the hunters.
"... Miskel will lead you three further north before you start for the deeper interior. Elsa's team will do the same to the south. The first layer of traps are fairly obvious, but beware the shift to the next level. The Bloodfeather knows what she's doing, so don't underestimate what she has set out here. Everyone clear?"
"What would you like me to do, Great Edercy?" Master Lewell called out, and Mif winced when every head turned towards them, and none bothered to hide their snickers or glares.
"You will guard the rear of my group." Edercy the Tracker said, with no change of expression. Then he simply nodded to the leaders of the other groups and turned to step into the forest. Mif trailed after his master, looking back and forth to watch the other groups of hunters depart. Most of them had gone into what he assumed was the early stage of a predator's stance, with their weapons close to hand and grim looks on their faces. A few, though, were still acting like Master Lewell: overconfident and joking around, already thinking about the party after their day's success.
But from what Mif had heard about the Bloodfeather in the logger's camp last night, it would be a lot harder than what those laughing hunters were expecting.
Some of the workers had said she was a sorceress who never even had to leave the center of the forest for her magic bow to shoot a man dead. Others claimed she was a demon, who just walked up to her petrified victims and stabbed them through the heart with her arrows, letting the fresh blood stain them crimson. A few even went so far as to whisper she was the spawn some unholy monster had left on a farmer's daughter, and that the half breed babe had been thrown into a river, only to clamber out fully grown and with a taste for human suffering.
Mif wasn't sure he believed any of those tales, but one thing was for certain: the Bloodfeather was dangerous, and she didn't like people messing with this forest. People like his master, and the loggers, and Edercy the Tracker, who was bringing them all deeper into the shadows of the trees.
The boy just held on tighter to the straps that went around his shoulders and kept all of Master Lewell's food and other supplies on his back. Back at the orphan house in the city, a cleric would come down once a week to teach all the children about the Gods Above and their work to keep people safe and prosperous. Those gods had never answered any of Mif's prayers, especially when the bounty hunter Lewell Muscle-Hands had come looking for a servant, so he'd never bothered to say anything to them since. But now, as the daylight was lost behind him, the boy muttered a quick phrase he'd heard travelers say often enough:
"Ancients guide me." A breeze rustled through the trees and made his tangled, brown curls flutter, lifting Mif's spirit for a trace of a second. Then Master Lewell yelled for him to keep up, and the moment was gone.
In the foliage above him, dark green eyes watched the boy quizzically, then lifted to observe Edercy at the head of the line. They darkened with anger, and a slim form took off through the treetops.

Heh heh. I love the progression this story is making, as I wasn't sure how we'd wind up at the points I've actually planned. Any comments or questions so far?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Second Try for the Tracker

It had taken me two weeks to restore my weapons and supplies, during which I'd been constantly calculating ways to take down my estranged pupil, Aylon. Now, I was heading back into the forest she'd fortified, accompanied by some of the best bounty hunters in the land. None were as good as me, of course, and even the best of them would be hard pressed to beat Aylon the Bloodfeather in a fight.
They were a tough, grizzled lot, bearing weapons familiar and exotic, all eager to earn some gold and fame for their names. There was Miskel Hound-man, who'd earned a solid reputation after trailing one quarry for nearly two months across a continent. Elsa the Flaming Fury, an alchemist as well as a hunter, famous for her acids and explosives. Als Coonhert, a newcomer to this business with almost as many successful kills as myself. Others of slightly less fearsome reputations were with us as well, making our number eleven in all. The ones who had come on their own were all good fighters with enough greed for the gold I'd offered to stick around, even when things would get difficult.
Then there was Lewell Muscle-hands, or Meathead as the others had taken to calling him. The short man was indeed muscular, but he relied too much on his crossbows, and had accumulated a fair amount of fat around his edges. Lewell was a paltry bounty hunter by the best of standards, the sort of pretender I normally kill for his diminishing of our kind's reputation as a whole. Yet here he was, this overweight man already covered in sweat and breathing heavily, trailing along towards the rear of our group, determined to remain with us - all because of the personal invitation I'd sent him.
For while Lewell Muscle-hands was worthless to me, except as a shield perhaps, it was the scrawny ten year old who stayed in his shadow that I was interested in. Mif, the orphan was called, and Lewell had picked him up a couple years past to serve as a beast of burden. Even now, the kid was bowed over due to the weight of the extra bags piled on his back, though he was easily able to keep up with our pace.
Keeping young servants isn't unusual for bounty hunters - that's how a lot of our apprentices start out. Lewell was convinced he was truly something special to have been called upon by me, Edercy the Tracker, but I only needed his boy.
Who was the only person in this group I knew Aylon would avoid killing.
When you raise someone from a small child to an adult, you learn to understand how they think. Somehow, my old student had picked up a sense of honor in the years before I'd rescued her, but while I didn't understand it, I could work with it. And no matter how ruthless Aylon may be with the hunters I was bringing to her threshold, she'd ignore this boy until the last possible second. The memory of her mother's murder would see to that.

Edercy is stepping up his game. Won't be long before the next installment of this story, and Mif's proper introduction! Until then,