Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Agents, pt. 5

     Four miles out of town, I crouched in a thicket next to Tytus. I held a spear and Tytus had an arrow on the string of his longbow.

     We were both watching the road ahead of us. It was semi-wide pathway that spiraled around the mountain and dropped off suddenly to a forest of pines far below. A few trees grew on the edge, where Mentus and Jedstaff were lying concealed. Looking back to the road I couldn't believe that it had only been two nights ago when I'd come up that road carrying a letter for the Agents of the Night. Now I was waiting anxiously for the Beast to round the bend and spring our trap.

     "How much longer?" I asked Tytus impatiently.

     "Hush!" he replied sharply. "It could be any moment now. Or we could be waiting until nightfall. The Beast moves sporadically. It trots for a day, sprints for two hours, trots again for several minutes, then sprints again. Its uh, mistress likes to keep it that way so it's unpredictable. We'll see."

     "Yeah, um, about that," I started. "Who is this 'mistress' person? She controls the Beast?"

     "No one controls the Beast," he answered roughly. "But she... handles it, keeps it going in the direction she wants."

     "How do you know so much about her? Do the Agents--"


     Despite my impatience, our trap continued to wait for hours until dusk evaporated into the darkness of night. Then the waiting became torturous as we stared blankly out into the pale light of a crescent moon.

     After what seemed ages, a sharp snort rent the air, followed by the sound of hooves shuffling across the snowy path. I caught my breath, while Tytus slowly and quietly extricated himself from the thicket. I followed, still trying to watch the road to see when the Beast came in sight. Once out, I laid down my spear and Tytus handed me a piece of flint and steel. He picked up his bow and drew it, watching the road. I knelt by the thicket, ready to strike the steel.

    As we listened, we could hear the hoof steps getting closer, and the harsh breathing of the wretched creature get louder. My hands shook. Though I couldn't see or hear them, I knew that Mentus and Jedstaff were getting into position too. Suddenly, the steps stopped.

     "Now!" Tytus hissed. I struck the steel, sending a shower of sparks forward into the thicket. Flames shot up. I moved over, closer to the middle of the road, and struck the steel again, lighting a pile of timber that we'd placed earlier to look like debris in the road. On the other side of the path, Jedstaff was doing the same thing.

     In a few seconds, we had a wall of fire across the path. I jumped back into the shadows where the others were concealed. As I looked up, I got my first look at the Beast.

     It was a huge, hairy creature, with a great arching back and sharp cloven hooves. Its head was like that of a giant pig--whether boar or sow I couldn't tell. Its eyes were wild and flashed with hatred, and its teeth and jaws bore flecks of red. Upon its back sat a wiry young woman holding a javelin. She wore a mail coat and her wild eyes and blond hair rivaled that of the Beast. As I watched, she looked past the flames and spoke.

     "Who goes there to welcome me and my beast to this town?" she said, in a cold, but clear voice.

     Mentus and Tytus replied in unison. "You may not pass. You and your beast are a threat to the lives and well being of innocent people. We are here to extinguish that threat."

     The woman inclined her head for a moment, thinking, then said, "Is that Tytus' voice I hear? Surely you wouldn't kill an old friend of yours."

     I looked at Tytus in disbelief. By the light of the fire I could barely see him standing with his bow drawn. But I did hear what he said: "I am not your friend."

     That's when our plan unraveled. At that moment, Jedstaff fired a crossbow bolt at the Beast. The giant creature bellowed and reared in pain. Tytus released his arrow, which was no doubt aimed at the mistress, but instead struck the Beast in the leathery flesh of its throat. Mentus fired with his precision accuracy and split Tytus' arrow. As the Beast reared again, the evil woman leapt from the saddle and landed on the other side of our flaming wall. She swung her hand as if throwing something and I saw metal flash in the firelight. Tytus grunted in pain. Mentus dropped his bow and drew his sword, jumping to engage the woman.

     Meanwhile, Jedstaff jumped over the fire and hurled his javelin at the Beast. It roared again as the weapon stabbed into its neck. The Beast swung its head back and forth, looking for its attacker. Jedstaff jumped out of its field of view. Seeing its mistress fighting with Mentus and Tytus, who had also drawn his sword, the Beast hurled itself over the fire and landed directly in front of me.

     Filled with fear, I lowered my spear and brandished it, but the point wavered like a tree branch in the wind. The Beast advanced on me slowly, steam billowing from its nostrils. I tried to hold my ground, keeping the spear's tip in the general area of the Beast's head.

     Tytus and Mentus were both fighting the mistress, who was keeping them occupied with a dagger in her right hand and a hand axe in her left. They were both focused on the battle before them, and neither could help me. Jedstaff was back where his crossbow lay, trying to reload the weapon. There wouldn't be time for him to load it and fire before the Beast made mincemeat of me.

     The wretched creature continued advancing, knocking my spear aside with its head when it got close. I let the weapon drop from my shaking hands. The Beast fixed me in its burning eyes, and prepared to leap on top of me. Without thinking, my hand went to the back of my belt where my knife was. It came out as the Beast jumped forward. My hand went out. The Beast's jaws filled my vision. Then everything became a blur that dissolved into darkness.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Agents, pt. 4

     We arrived upstairs simultaneously. The living room and front hall were in flames. Standing in the doorway was a tall, rough man in a brown habit and hood. He was holding a torch.

     "You have been charged with crimes against our Order," he said in a deep, gravelly voice. "Your punishment is death by flame."

     At that moment several things happened at once. Tytus and Mentus both had bows drawn, and Mentus loosed an arrow. The man in the doorway dropped the torch, and a split second later Mentus' arrow struck him in the shoulder. The man cried out and stepped out of the house. Two sharp twangs came from outside the house, followed by explosions on either side. Flames leapt up in the room.

     Tytus turned back. "We've got to get out of here," he said.

     Jedstaff nodded. "Follow me. There's a tunnel in the basement."

     We hurried after him, more explosions sounding, accompanied by fires breaking out throughout the house.

     "Blast powder!" cried Jedstaff. "My own favorite weapon!"

     We got to the basement as most of the house collapsed at our backs. Jedstaff ran to the far end of the room and opened to door to the tunnel. I followed Tytus and Mentus to it, but the odd man held back.

     "One minute," he said. "I've got to get something."

     "There's not time!" Mentus shouted. He was right; barrels of blast powder in the basement had caught fire and were about to blow.

     "Hold on!" Jedstaff hastily surveyed his weapon racks. Glancing back at the burning barrels, he sighed and grabbed a sword and spear from the rack and charged toward the tunnel door. We turned and ran, throwing ourselves to the ground as we reached the end of the tunnel.

     The barrels of powder exploded, sending a great fireball in all directions. I felt the heat on my back and back of my head. When the blaze subsided, Jedstaff stood, the tips of his wild hair smoldering.

     The tunnel led out into the snowy forest. We climbed out and looked around cautiously. Tytus spotted the men who'd burned the house walking away. The leader in the habit was still alive, leaning on one of the others for support.

     Jedstaff was thoroughly upset. "Flaming arrows and blast power!" he exclaimed. "That's all it took to bring me down! I can't believe it. I'm not even sure I salvaged the right spear!"

     "What was that?" I asked of anyone listening.

     "I'm afraid," Mentus said, "one of the low level monks or a 'conscientous' villager saw us going to Jedstaff's house. Either way, they sent these... assassins to take care of a possible conspiracy against the Order."

     "What now?" I asked Tytus.

     "We're still on the same mission," he replied. "And with the proper weapons, now we can set up our offensive."

     "Right," Mentus agreed. "So we'd better find an informant to tell us where the Beast is."

     "I'm coming with you," Jedstaff announced. "I've got little else to do now."

     Mentus made no argument, but shrugged and said, "Well, let's go."

     The three of us started off, Jedstaff following close behind, muttering to himself. After a moment, he looked up and said, "But I reserve the right to trade spears with anyone if I see the need."

     I caught one of Tytus' rare, brief smiles.

     Four hours later, our trap was set.