This is a rather lengthy story for a blog. This is the seventh part out of a total of eleven. I never intended on adding onto it or making into something more. Perhaps your enthusiasm will change my mind.
We retreated. We made our way, as I later found out, back in the direction of the city. We settled in the late afternoon near the mountain we had camped at the previous night. Somehow, even though I knew we were so close to danger, the mountain brought a feeling of peace, and comfort. Benedict tended to Oliver, washing his face with cool water and trying to make him eat. Without food, he would never last out here.
Gregory and I sat around the fire, half watching the dimming woods for threats, and half watching Oliver. Gregory held his sword tight, as he was prepared to strike at any moment. The blade was concealed in the sheath, but I could hear it thumping against the leather as he was trembling. I held Oliver’s sword. The great sword, as I once thought. It was sheathed as well, tucked away, hopefully for the night. I had never used such a large weapon, but Benedict had insisted that I take it, just in case we were attacked.
“What are we doing?” I asked Benedict. “Are we going back?”
“We can’t,” he said softly. “Even though we’re down two hunters, we can still finish our mission.”
“But Oliver isn’t dead,” Gregory commented.
“But he can’t fight, not like this,” Benedict waved his hand over Oliver’s still body. He had been resting quietly all evening. “So, we have to finish the mission. We fight in sickness, and health, my friends. We’re married to this, it is our duty!”
“We,” I said drawing the word out slowly. A sliver of my being knew what Benedict meant. It was obvious what he was saying. It was clear. Then, there were scattered parts of me that cherished the idea that I had heard him wrong. This part of me clung to hope blindly, tossing away the situation. “We?”
“Yeah,” Benedict nodded. “That means you too. You went through training for this.”
“Hardly!” I shouted. “I can block and stab, that’s about it.”
“You’ll do fine, the beasts go down easy, don’t worry about it,” Benedict smiled, then directed his words to Gregory. “Are you up for it soldier?”
“Yeah,” Gregory squeaked.
“What?” Benedict asked sternly.
“Yes sir!” the youngster snapped his words in a crisp fashion.
“Good,” Benedict said looking at both of us. “We go in tomorrow.”
“We’re that close?” Gregory asked, and Benedict smiled in delight.
“Are we?” I added.
“Of course,” Benedict confirmed. “We think they’re up the way we started this morning. We would have been fighting them earlier this afternoon if Oliver hadn’t collapsed.”
“Oh,” I uttered. My stomach dropped with the sudden bombshell. The abrupt knowledge was shocking, as it doused my mind with horrifying images and feelings. The mountain no longer seemed like a safe place to sleep. Nowhere seemed safe, save the middle of the city surrounded by walls and our heavily armed military forces.
I chanced a glance into the thin darkness, as the sun was only setting. I didn’t see any evil spirits or monsters patrolling the woods. I didn’t see anything living, save the trees and plants. My arms were stiff with fear, and my legs were encrusted with fright. My chest and lungs were stoked with a rare, but infectious form of dread. This poison branched out and unraveled within my body. I was going to die.
“Relax, they won’t hit us at night,” Benedict reassured me, tapping my shoulder. “They aren’t like the that. It isn’t in them, unless they’ve really changed.”
“You fought them?” Gregory asked.
“A little, right at the end of our last major offensive. It was one of the bloodiest,” Benedict said shaking his head. “That’s when Oliver here bathed in their blood. He killed dozens of them.”
“He did?” I inquired. Benedict just smiled and nodded.
“What else happened?” Gregory questioned.
“He saved lives,” Benedict continued. “His team cut through their ranks before they could deploy, before that last battle. He was the only one that made it back.”
“He really was a hero,” Gregory said in awe. “I had no idea.”
“A lot of the senior hunters were war heroes,” Benedict nodded. “Their war was never finished. After the walls were completed we hid behind them for years. Our snipers popped the beasts if they saw them, but otherwise, we didn’t venture out here. There wasn’t a reason to come out here.”
“But it’s beautiful,” I commented.
“It is,” Benedict agreed. “But it’s really dangerous out here. The wolves are vicious, and the beasts are cruel. In the winter, it’s almost impossible to survive out here.”
“I can imagine,” I said thinking about the chill and snowfall that sweeps through our lands. The snow got deep sometimes, and the wind could be relentless.
“Ben,” Oliver stirred, reaching for Benedict. I couldn’t recall the last time I heard his voice. It seemed bizarre and distant, like an old friend’s voice that you hadn’t heard in years. “We have to tell them. We have to tell them before we go.”
His voice trailed off as he fell back to sleep. His hand lowered back to his side as he slipped back into a dreamy world.
“Tell us what?” I asked, hoping to cut through any excuses Benedict would conjure.
Benedict looked at Oliver, them back at us. He looked pained, troubled almost, as he thought about what to do.
“What did he mean?” Gregory asked.
“He wants me to tell you the truth about the beasts, and our mission,” Benedict said, his face was contorted in a stoic fashion.
Continue to part eight here.
Go back to part six here