Chapter Three – Tracks in the Snow
Outside the village the snow formed an even thicker layer making it hard for a man to keep a decent stride. For the troll that did not prove any hindrance, his greater bulk working like a snowplough. That alone was reason enough for Karl to lessen his enmity of the nosey troll,
Mikhail did not feel the same way about the gobber though. Even when stealth was required her inane gibbering continued and her tools clankered wildly swinging from her belt.
The groups had left the city in a cross pattern, the two groups of villagepeople going north and south and the foreigners and priest east and west.
The groups going west and north headed into a tundra swept by snowstorms, but the current calm made it accessible apart from huge drifts blocking the way here and there. The troll cursed as any tracks had been swept away by the raging winds.
The southern and easterne groups went into thick pine woods, something that annoyed the gobber no end as she would not be able to get a clear line of sight with her wonderweapon to anything further away than the cone of warm air her breath produced. Secretly this pleased the priest as any way less noise would be produced the faster his headache created by the noisy creature would go away.
A couple of miles away from the city the tundra teams stopped, with the wind gaining speed again and no tracks of the assailant the horn was sounded to return to the safety of the walls and comfort of the heaths.
Just after they heard the horn Banosh began sniffing the air and headed straight in the opposite direction as the village. Karl grabbed his arm but found himself dragged along and resigned to the fate of discovering whatever had caught the attention of his big companion.
”Here,” the troll whispered in a somber bass, ”something unnatural is nearby, a blasphemy to the earthmother.”
Apart from the Earthmother thing Karl felt inclined to agree, there was an eiree silence even for the middle of a stormswept tundra and it felt as if something was watching them with cold eyes, but nothing could be seen even with the vista stretching into the hazy white horizon.
Banosh took a step forward, and suddenly the snow in front of them erupted into the air like the birth of a frozen volcano. And what terrible child it was, an almost white reptile-like creature with great spines protuding from its back. It stood almost twice as tall as the troll and had been hiding inside a small cleft, hidden by the snow.
Large muscles rippled under its scaly skin and it moved with a mix of animal cunning and deliberate action. It quickly grapped the troll in a giant hand, threatning to squeeze all life of the proud and strong warrior, now nothing more than a ragdoll in the hands of a monstrous child.
Karl grabbed his gun, a skill practised countless times on his travels and he fancied himself on par with the best duelists in Llael. Before the monster had a chance to make the troll a lot slimmer he had planted a shot in one of the eyes of the best. Although it did not look much like an eye, just a large fleshy growth on the head of the reptilian creature where the eye should be.
The monster growled and lunged for Karl but before it’s large, meaty fist could connect with his head the snow errupted a second time.
This time however the monster emerging did not seem to want to kill them, instead it’s muzzle tore deep into the neck of the draconic creature. Ths one had fur instead of scales and looked like some sort of gigantic cross between a human and a wolf, although it’s ferocity definitely owed more to the wolf.
Karl and Banosh looked at each other and tumbled away from the battling monstroseties, this chance to get away unharmed was too good to miss.
When they were several hundred meters away they looked at east other and breathed sighs of relief and thanked their respective gods. Where had the second beast come from though?
They reached the trees and saw a slim figure slip between them also trying to get away from the scene. The troll went into a surprisingly unhidred pursuit running through the snow and soon came close to the figure.
It was the young girl from the inn. She was covered in a large fur coat and seemingly had followed them, but her mind seemed absent as if something in another place was occupying it…