More unfinished stuff set in Nullgate setting

May 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

The problem with getting old is that you don’t realize that it happened.

Grimacing, the man in folded plates of metal armor forced himself to ignore the pain in his right shoulder. The bite marks there were shallower than the would have been without the armor, but it still burned. He hoped the damn things didn’t have some kind of venom on those fangs. Without turning his back to any of them, he swung both curved blades in an arc around himself, not trying to make contact. Just to discourage them from getting too close.

Gods I wish I’d been wearing my helmet. Sweat-tangled grey hair hung down, longer than he would have liked it. Around him, the strange whickering, like a horse.

There were four of them, with long lean legs that stood straight below their bodies. They didn’t look at all like predators. If not for the slavering muzzles jammed full of long, narrow teeth, they’d look like lost ponies. Four feet tall at the shoulder, with shaggy fur and black manes that trailed down their backs to become long black tails.

Something out of the Agath forests, he suspected. It didn’t matter, so he didn’t spend time worrying the thought. He kept his left arm out with the blade extended in the classic two-blade style of the Nazreal school he’d learned as a small child. If his teachers could see him sweating and straining, they may well have been ashamed of him.

Around him, the moss beds and ferns presented neither the herd of killers much cover to surprise him again, nor did it give him anywhere to cut off access to his back. As fast as they were, they could lope around him and cut off any retreat. He tested his right arm, fighting back the relief when it responded. He performed the formal guard of the White City defense taught by Alhautzen three centuries before his birth, blades crossed before him. There was stiffness, but the pain was manageable.

Hot breath streamed from their nostrils. He narrowed his eyes, focusing his attention on the one that had bitten him. They had one disadvantage. They had eyes like a horse, too. Eyes on the sides of their heads. They could see him straight on, of course, but their binocular vision was inferior to his. Of course, they could probably kick like horses, too. Getting caught by a hoof would probably be fatal with four of them around.

He smiled, moved ever so slightly to the side. It moved its muzzle to keep him dead center and then he sprang hard and rolled to the left, taking himself out of the overlapping field of its vision. It could still see him, but it couldn’t see him with both eyes, couldn’t judge distance as well. They pivoted in turn, trying to present a united front of teeth and hooves to him, but the leader turned too fast.

Its side was wide open, and he slashed up with both blades right between its ribs, effectively slicing its belly open in vertical gashes. He actually had to wrench his swords back and out as he sprung away, but the other three couldn’t get at him without trampling the lead stallion. It screamed, the strange mixture of a howl and a whinny, and collapsed with its front legs refusing to support it.

Had they been pure predators, they would have attacked again. Had they been real horses, they would have scattered. Caught between extremes, they whined and kicked up their hooves and darted back and forth, hating him with their huge brown eyes. In a better world he’d fed apples to beasts with eyes like those.

That had been a very long time ago.

He took the choice away from them, running forward directly at all three of their narrow heads, flicking blood from the paired swords into their faces. That triggered the horse part of their divided selves, and they turned and ran much faster than he could have followed even if he’d wanted to. Not that he did.

He stood a few moments over the toppled body of the not horse, which was also not yet dead. Looking down at it, at pain and rage in those huge eyes, he tightened his grip on the sword in his left hand. Then he brought it down.

Even with his right arm burning from the bite and exertion he managed to drag the body up the largest tree in the area, a gnarled grey trunk with a few leaves on the branches. Tying it off, he left it to bleed out while he checked his arm. The bite looked nasty, but no signs of unusual inflammation or discoloration. The skin was paler and ruddier than he remembered it, but he didn’t spent a lot of time looking at himself. He washed the wound with water from his travel skin and bound it up as best he could with one of his shirts, then slid the armor – the last reminded of his days in the Legion – over himself with a grunt as the metal contacted the bound flesh. He could still use it. That was all that mattered now.

He considered whether or not the thing was safe to eat. He hadn’t made a kill with his bow in days. In the end, he decided not to take the time to skin and dress it. The local scavengers would decide if it was safe to eat. Without a horse, he had little time to waste.

His hair and beard as grey as the sky lowering over him, he left the scene before the rest of them could decide to come back. He had leagues to cross before he was out of the Marches and into Null. Not that Null was any safer.

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