Interlude: Another severed rope
With back resting against a hilltop tor of granite, Raian confronted a fresh obstacle as though most other roadblocks in his short life. Through quiet and the peace of a nap. The young man enjoyed some temporary shade and contemplated the bridge now gone, considering the long way around, the tiring walk to backtrack and the ankle-jarring descent down hard, potentially leg-breaking scree.
The winds were picking up, almost shoving like a hand determined to stir the boy from slumber. Opening his eyes, it was time to accept that none of the predicament had changed. The last day’s travel had been little more than wasted time and a reduction in limited rations. The time had come to make a choice. Turn back now, and meet the river’s edge by nightfall, or wait here and attempt the sweaty descent in the relative cool of morn.
The sound of a stone skipping upon the track. The crunching of loose dirt underfoot. Someone was coming, and swiftly! He jolted upright, grabbing the strap of his leather satchel, peering towards the way from which he’d arrived.
Like a wild hare she ran, no, this woman had the smooth swaying motion of a serpent and the speed of waterfall’s drop. An angel? Probably not. Angel’s didn’t wear the deep reds of ironstone and carnelian, as far as he knew.
Raian was stunned for a long moment. He was only a man after all. Her features carved at his young mind like a flame-licked lustful knife. Eyes of deepest brown. Long waves of hair in charcoal’s shade. A fine, pale-skinned form of slender limb and ample bosom, half-concealed beneath a well-cut flowing dress, the color of firey scorched earth.
“Hey,” he called out. “Slow up! The bridge aint there!.”
Their eyes met. She showed neither alarm nor emotion as she quickly regarded him, before letting a knee drop a touch, gaining purchase to jump and lift her weight upwards.
Raian’s jaw dropped. Who was he, to behold such a beautiful dance? She twisted in the air, the hem of her dress curling to follow as she twisted to face away from him, back down the track. From nowhere, sunlight glinted off short-edged steel now held in both hands.
It began to make sense.
The sunlight illuminated more than just a lady. He watched in outright shock as a pincer snapped at where her leg had been, less than a moment ago. A beast! No wonder she had been sprinting upon the track! She was… pursued. Pretty, but prey. And this was no wild arachnid. Darting backwards, upon six legs the height of a child, the sandsborn savage was of size comparable to boar, and uglier than any excrement-encrusted pig.
He could only watch, as with blade pointed downwards the woman landed. A crack, as thick shell-like exoskeleton was split. A squelch, as metal slid within the soft meat below.
“Run!” She called to him in a voice unusually calm and clear, given the situation.
A look to the left. A few yards of hill’s edge and a steep drop. A look the the right. Granite. Tors. He might be able to climb. Raian took a few steps back, a final glance towards the woman, and then took a run-up. Boots and hands scraping against rough stone, he attempted to free-climb. Not so difficult at first, with a little momentum, but once that was spent it came down to weight, skill, the grip of one’s boots, and how much blood was on offer, a sacrifice from one’s palms to the stoney gods of old.
Now, Raian was a small man and rather slim, so that was on his side at least. His boots? Hardly new by any standards, but good enough, and his hands? Well… grazed skin sounded a lot better than a scorpion’s barb. Behind him, he heard a “yah!” as he scampered upwards. Hopefully that meant another hostile had met its match!
Two feet from the top of the first tor, and he heard a hiss.
He looked upwards. Something was waiting.