Chapter 13: Blood

Karin was thankful that her horse had been taken care of, but a month without riding meant her rear got sore almost immediately. She sighed and adjusted her position.

“You seem sad. Did you have fun?”

Karin nodded. “Probably the best in my life, Old Man.”

“Then why were you in a hurry to leave. Lover’s spat?”

“No… I didn’t want to.”

Roal only grunted. He pointed to an intersection of two roads that met in the center of the village then slid his finger to the east. “We’re heading that way.”

“Got it.”

They rose in silence through town. The villages that saw her looked sad and she had to look away to avoid cutting her heart. Why was she leaving? Why couldn’t she just accept that Suras would love her?

But the doubt remained, would it last? Was it just going to be a flash in the pan, a love that burned almost instantly? She hated herself for fleeing.

Roal stopped his horse.

Karin looked in surprise. When she managed to rear her mount, she had to back up to meet him. “What wrong?”

He frowned and then grabbed his ax. “I’m being pulled.” It was his term for his talent, the ability to show up where he was needed. It usually meant a hunt.

“I swear, if this is just an excuse to bring me back to the inn.”

Roal held up his hand. Then his eyes widened. “Shit on the gods!” He reared his horse and kicked it into motion. Coming around, he spurred the stallion into a gallop.

Swearing, Karin charged after him.

They raced through the center of town and headed straight west. She didn’t know the path but they were coming closer to the distillery and the farms that surrounded it.

With every pound of hooves against the ground, the feeling of danger rushed faster through her veins. Karin patted the knife on her saddle, making sure it was ready if she needed it.

When they galloped past the sign leading to the Barnsveld Distillery, she breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t want danger to take the city.

She relaxed too soon. Only a few leagues past the distillery, Roal cut across the corner of a field and raced down toward one of the outlying farms.

Then she heard the screaming.

“Ready weapons!” bellowed Roal. He slowed minutely and Karin came up next to him.

Reaching over, Karin pressed her hand against the side of his balance. The edge shone with light as she fixed the burrs and imperfections, bringing into a killing sharpness that could slice through anything.

She pulled her hand back and unsheathed her own sword, doing the same.

They hit the center of the farm where the buildings gathered around an empty area. There was blood and bodies everywhere. She saw a man kneeling over Maldir’s body screaming out in horror. She almost stopped for him but a flurry of movement caught her attention. Two teenage girls were trying to beat away a beast with only a pair of rakes.

The creature was about the side of a dog but with its long, blade-like legs, it looked larger than a cow. A massive mouth, easily twice as wide as its chest, opened up and thick ropes of drool splattered everywhere in flecks of red foam.

A slather.

“Barn on right, two inside!” bellow Roal. He threw himself from the horse and charge into the open door where a severed arm hung from a hook where a crossbeam would be used to bar it shut.

“I’m center then after you,” yelled Karin back. She launched herself from her horse. The impact with the ground shook her bones but she tucked into a roll that brought herself up between the two girls trying to save themselves. Shouldering one aside, she brought her sword up and cut the slather in half.

With his head sliced in half, all of its limbs began to thrash out violently without any sense of control or purpose. A cut caught her hip but she knew she couldn’t stop. Dropping her sword, she grabbed both of the girls and threw them back with all her might.

The slather’s legs lashed out again. Its death throes were deadly, the limbs became a whirlwind of death as it bounced and jerked in all directions. That was one reason they had to be dealt with quickly, they also bred quickly.

Panting, Karin grabbed one of the rakes. Her magic flowed through the metal to sharpen the points. Swinging it around, she slammed the points into the side of the beast. The points punctured into flesh and snapped bone. The impact shook both of them as Karin used it to throw the slather to the side to clear her sword.

She snatched up her weapon and spun around looking for the next target. There was a main house that had blood on the door, three barns, some chicken coups soaked in crimson, and a smaller shed.

One of the field hands pointed toward the main house. “I-In there! It attacked Mal—”

“Stay away then!” she bellowed. She rushed over to the shed and yanked it open. It was a tiny space but she didn’t spot any killing beast. She grabbed a few of the tools and tossed them out. Turning on her heels, she gestured. “In there! Hurry! Bring Mal!”

As the farmers crowded inside, Karin helped drag Mal. “It will be cramped but you should be safe,” she panted. She knew that Roal was in danger, but saving non-hunters was one of their priorities.

“T-Thank you,” gasped Mal. He coughed up blood. There was more from where the slather had cut open his belly and down one leg. He wouldn’t be having children ever again, if he survived.

The other farmer grabbed Karin. “He needs a healer.”

Her face hardened. “These things hunt in packs. If they catch you in the field, you will both die. Trust me, you need to be safe until we can clear the nest.”

As soon as she was sure they were safe in the shed, she dragged a wagon in front of it to block the door. There were too many places for danger and slathers were smart enough to flank but she needed to help Roal first. One of them couldn’t take on a nest by themselves.

“Roal, incoming, main door!” she yelled as she dove into danger.