Running From Danger
He raced along, noting nothing about him, ignoring the branches that scratched against his face as he galloped along the forest on his faithful mare. He was outrunning danger and his horse seemed to sense it, pushing herself as fast as she was able - a black bullet speeding along in the beautiful valley.
As his horse sped along, he dared a glance back. Briganders. They were even uglier than he remembered. He hadn’t seen any since he left his home a month ago. He thought perhaps they couldn’t survive outside of their natural habitat, but he had been wrong. He was nearing a new town, close to his destination, he sensed, when out of no where, they showed up on their ugly beasts, taking chase and not letting up.
The beasts they rode were quite fast for their size. They resembled large hippos with the haunches of a lizard and the muzzle of a fierce, horned, dinosaur. They were created by the Briganders, who were, in turn, created by the evil witch, Odora, who had no love for living things. In fact, it was her desire to enslave all the world’s inhabitants for her own evil purposes, and it was evident what the poor souls would become if one just looked at the slaves she already had. Filthy and disgusting, the Briganders were pig-like men who all wore the same uniform, marking their rank and their service to Odora. They were cruel and ignorant men, their dirty faces fierce and scowling from within the shadows of their helmets.
Their hate for humans did not prove false in this mission, the man noted as he turned away from those trailing him. He could see the hunger in their eyes as they bored down upon him. They couldn’t wait to catch him and drive their ugly clawed fingers into him. He was one man Odora didn’t want left alive, and they knew it. They couldn’t wait to satisfy themselves with his death. And it would certainly satisfy, for he was of a race of people whom the Briganders hated more than any other.
He was Androwsii, a man from the secret country of Arenaria, a man with a mission that would mean the end for all of Arenaria’s inhabitants if he failed. The mark on his saddle proved that. It was the Arenarian Mark. The mark of light. But he could not be troubled by such thoughts as failing his mission. The Briganders were gaining speed and he must come up with a way to outrun them. His peaceful search had come to an end.
He glanced to his right, at the forest as it whizzed by in a flash of green hues. A thought came to him, and with it, a sly grin. Outrun them... Or loose them. He leaned around the side of his brave mare, Cakile, so that she could see his face. His smile seemed to encourage her, just as he knew it would. He whispered something to her and sat up straight again, glancing once more over his shoulder at the Briganders, no longer with fear, but rather with excitement, a wide grin lighting up his eager face.
Cakile darted suddenly right and disappeared into the thick forest, heading down a trail that should have been missed at the fast speed they were traveling.
The Briganders pulled their mounts to a stop, angry and upset, glaring after the man they could no longer follow. Their beasts were too large to follow the smaller horse, but they wouldn’t be giving up so easily. To the left of all the others, a Brigander marked as a commander turned from the forest to a distant town, his angry scowl never leaving his evil face. He knew where his prey was heading, and he wasn’t about to return to Odora empty handed.
Solidago Altissima. A beautiful valley of field and forest, the darker greens of the forests mixing with the lighter greens and yellows of the fields in a complimentary patchwork that lit up the land under the gorgeous, cloud-filled sky. The landscape marked Altissima for all that it was. Anyone looking on it could easily guess what they would find there. It was a pleasant valley with pleasant people. Seldom had it known violence or war, or anything unfortunate, for that matter. It contained a single town in which most of its inhabitants lived. Those who did not lived in outlying houses, but were most always found in town, for it was there in town that all the important activities took place. It was the center of Solidago Alitssima.
Everyone in town knew everyone else by name and they were all bonded together by something more than their love for the valley. It was something much deeper - the fact that they were all born and raised there.
They had all grown up together in this town that their grandparents or great-grandparents had founded when they followed a man by the name of Solidago out of their homes in the north to find a better place to live. They had come upon the valley and knew that they had found what they were looking for - a place of peace and prosperity. And it had certainly prospered. They had founded their town and made friends with their neighbors in the surrounding valleys. Everything had gone quite smoothly and everyone did, indeed, live in peace.
Not much was remembered from those early days, however, except the fact that their ancestors had made a long and hard journey to find a place of peace. Perhaps that’s why the valley remained in peace, for no one would ever forget how and why it was founded. Of those that had actually made the laborious journey, only one remained, one who had no children of her own, but who treated everyone in the valley as her child.
It may have been for both of these reasons that she was chosen by the people to be their leader, to rally them together in times of trouble, and though those times were seldom, the people of the valley had no hard time coming together, for they were bonded by that remembrance of the journey of their ancestors long ago. And so, the valley and its town remained ever peaceful.
It was in this town that Androwsii found himself. He entered cautiously on Cakile, knowing that the Briganders would not give up on him quickly. He made his way through the town, looking for a place to stay. Now that the excitement of the chase had died down, he could feel how exhausted he truly was. He and Cakile needed a rest, and knowing the valley for what it was, he knew he would find help and protection in this town.
It wasn’t long before he found what he was looking for. He moved Cakile up to an inn and looked to the sign above the door. “The Pinnata Inn,” it read. He stopped before the open door as several figures came out to greet him. The first was an older man, followed by a woman, who was probably his wife. Both were in their early forties. Last came two younger men who looked so like the man with their dark eyes and strong jaw line that they were probably his sons. The older of the two looked to be twenty-two, the younger, nineteen. Androwsii glanced at the sign above the door again, thinking. Pinnata. Probably their last name and no doubt a family-run business.
He was quick to pick things up, which was probably why he was chosen for this mission. He wasn’t the first, he knew, but he would be the last, and everyone depending on him knew that he would not return home without fulfilling his mission, and that his quick eye was bound to pick up something the others had missed. Tearing himself from his thoughts, he looked back to those before him. It was the woman who spoke first, and by what she said, Androwsii guessed he must look just as awful as he felt.
“Are you alright?” She asked in a worried tone.
Androwsii smiled politely at her. “Yes, Ma’am, I’m fine. Just looking for a place to stay and stable my horse.”
The woman nodded, hurriedly, obviously worried. “Oh, yes, come right in. We’ve got plenty of room, and we’ve got a stable in town where we can house your horse.”
“Thank you, Ma’am, it’s greatly appreciated.” As he spoke, Androwsii noticed a young girl in her teens coming from inside the inn and pushing her way between the two young men, excitedly, seeming to wonder what was going on. She had long black hair and curious brown eyes. As she got closer, Androwsii made a quick guess that she was probably around seventeen. She wore the same clothing as those around her - trousers, a blouse, and a tunic, though her feet lacked stockings and shoes. The only one not wearing this attire was the older woman, who wore a dress with an apron over-top. This, and the fact that the girl also wore a cloak when no one else did, added to his assumption that the young girl desired adventure, not wearing the motherly, stay-at-home dresses of the other females of the town.
She watched him in great excitement as he dismounted his horse, but then she was lost from his view as pain surged through him and he doubled over. Darn. Must have been hit when they first spotted me and started shooting, he thought, criticizing himself for his carelessness and for not noticing sooner. He was loosing focus, knowing he would soon loose consciousness.
“Acanthus, Rhondale, get him inside, quick!” He heard the women shout, quickly taking action.
The last thing he saw were the two young men, obviously Acanthus and Rhondale, move to his sides to support him. The older of the two looked to him, concern in his eyes.
“Hold on,” the young man whispered just before he lost focus and was gone, lost to complete darkness.
Peter Pinnata, the owner of the only inn in town, watched as his sons dragged the now unconscious man through the open door and into the building. He was concerned for the man, sure, but something seemed different about him. Then his eyes caught on the man’s side and the reason for his pain. It was small, and hardly noticeable, but it was there all the same. The man’s clothes were burned away from his skin and the skin was puffy and red, evidence that it, too, was burnt. In the midst of the burnt area was a small hole where a bullet was driven into the man’s skin. This sort of bullet was unknown to Altissima, but Peter knew what it was. He scowled as he thought about it.
“Lathyrus,” he whispered to himself, angrily, than followed the man and his sons inside. He was followed by his wife and daughter.
Inside, Peter followed his sons down the main hall, moving into the sitting room of the inn, off to the right. As his daughter moved to follow him into the room, he heard his wife, Inula, call to her.
“Lakita! Get the doctor!”
Lakita was an average teenage girl, but rather than desiring to settle down and start a family of her own, she was anxious for excitement and adventure. Having a visitor in town, and what’s more, one that was wounded and in her family’s inn, she was high on excitement. She had to force herself to concentrate as she ran down the planked walkway outside of the inn and neighboring shops. She needed to get to Doc’s, that’s what her mother had said, but in her excitement, she couldn’t recall where Doc’s shop was. She stopped to think. That’s right. It’s across the street.
She turned to move across the street when she was stopped short. Several ugly men on just as ugly beasts charged down the street past her, nearly running her over. Leaping back, Lakita fell to the planked walkway in shock.
“I guess that’s why mother always says to look both ways before crossing the street.” Upset, she looked down the street after the newcomers. Her anger gave way to sudden horror. The newcomers had stopped outside the inn and were moving in on the visitor’s horse. The horse shied away from the ugly beasts and their riders, frightened, but that didn’t stop the men from surrounding it and grabbing the saddle on its back.
Back in the inn, the sitting room was empty of guests. Only Peter, his wife and sons, and the unconscious visitor, lying comfortably on a couch, were in the room. Peter was searching quickly through a book while the others went about caring for the visitor, waiting for Lakita to get back with the doctor.
“I knew it!” Peter’s shout broke the uneasy silence of the room, causing the others to look to him, curiously. He pointed to a picture on a page of the book before him. “Lathyrus.”
The picture was that of a weapon. It was a Brigander weapon shaped like a normal gun, but much deadlier. Unlike the bullets of a normal gun, a lathyrus shot bullets made of energy, bursting into flame upon contact, then burying deep into its victim’s skin as it burned it away. Unnoticeable when one struck you, the bullet would remain for weeks, soon causing infection, and by then it was too late.
Peter wondered now how long ago this man had been shot by this deadly bullet. Pulling himself from his thoughts, he quickly explained to his family what he knew. “Briganders! They’re the only ones who carry such weapons!”
His sons, Rhondale and Acanthus, stared at him, their eyes growing wide in shock.
“Briganders?! I thought they were only a myth,” Rhondale, the younger of the two, said in disbelief. Acanthus looked to him and nodded his agreement. Peter watched them both, closing the book.
“Myth or not, they seem to be after our guest,” he said to them, his eyes coming to rest on the visitor. All his thoughts and fears from earlier came suddenly back to him. If this was a fresh wound, it wouldn’t be long before the Briganders showed up.
Sensing his fear, everyone else looked to the visitor as well, worry and fear soon taking over their thoughts as well, filling the room with an ominous dread.
On the walkway, Lakita got to her feet, still watching the Briganders, worried. They had searched the visitor’s saddle and now, not finding what they had wanted, they moved to the door of the inn. It was too much. Lakita knew she had to do something. These men couldn’t be friendly and her family was in that inn. Without thinking, she quickly made her way to a side street just ahead, turned down it, and soon came to the backs of the shops and businesses on the main street. She took off at a full run then, heading toward the inn, worried, dodging crates and barrels as she tried desperately to outrun the men at the inn door.
Peter continued to watch the visitor on the couch, concerned, thinking of what he should do. He ran his hands through his short black hair, willing himself to think faster. Inula and the boys worked to keep the unconscious man comfortable. Their normally smiling faces were clouded by worry. Peter’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by hard knocks at the front door. Inula, who had been kneeling by the couch, got to her feet, inquisitively. Acanthus quickly took her place in placing a cool cloth on the visitor’s forehead.
“Now who could that be? I always leave the door open.” Inula said aloud as she moved toward the door.
She moved out into the hall and her long, braided brown hair was lost from sight. Peter kept a wary eye on the doorway through which she left. Acanthus and Rhondale shared a look of question, and all at once Peter’s fears were realized. Lakita burst through a back door into the room, the worry evident on her face.
“Wait!” She breathed, clearly out of breathe.
All eyes were on her immediately. “Lakita, what is it?” Peter asked, hoping beyond hope it wasn’t what he suspected, yet knowing it probably was.
“Briganders! They’re at the front door!” She pointed toward the front of the inn in horror. Without waiting to find out how she knew, Peter darted into the hall.
“Inula,” he breathed in fear for his wife as he left his three children in dead, painstakingly long, silence.
The three of them stared at the door through which both of their parents had left in anxious, nervous worry. It seemed an eternity before their father returned, thrusting their mother into the room before him. There was a collective sigh of relief, but the relief didn’t last long as Peter began giving orders quickly.
“Lakita, get to Teasel’s as quickly as you can! Do you hear?!”
Lakita nodded in response to his question, but glanced in concern at the visitor still lying unconscious on the couch. “Yes, father, but what about him?”
All eyes fell on the visitor as Peter considered what to do with him. He soon came up with an answer.
“Rhondale, help your mother get him to Doc’s.”
Rhondale was reluctant to agree. “But father...” he protested.
Peter would have none of it, however. It was urgent that he get his family out of harm’s way, and quick. “No buts, boy, go!”
He didn’t wait for Rhondale to say more, moving quickly to grab a rifle from over the hearth, relieved that the inn was void of guests. Taking his cue, Acanthus quickly moved to grab a gun of his own.
“Out the back, all of you!” Peter shouted, hurriedly.
Sighing in defeat, Rhondale moved with his mother to lift the visitor from the couch and together they maneuvered toward the open back door. There was no missing the look of concern in Inula’s dark eyes as she glanced at him, but Peter couldn’t let it deter him. He quickly looked away from her, avoiding the subject of dissuasion.
It wasn’t long before Inula, Rhondale, and the visitor disappeared out the back door. Lakita, however, hung back for a short time, watching him as he moved to the hall doorway with Acanthus, ready to fire against the Briganders who would soon be coming. Worried, and obviously finding nothing she could do to stop what was coming, Lakita finally ducked out the back door, leaving Peter to watch and wait.
At the front of the inn, he could hear the Briganders pounding against the door in anger and impatience. The pounding soon stopped, however, and Peter waited, hoping maybe they had moved on. His hope was short lived and he returned to his earlier fears as a loud thud marked the fierce men kicking down the front door of the inn. He closed his eyes and listened, anticipating the Briganders’ arrival. They would be moving down the hall now, searching for what they were after.
As if sensing their presence, Peter’s eyes snapped open and he lifted his gun. He fired a shot just as the first of the Briganders moved past the open doorway. Acanthus followed suit and soon the entire place was ringing with shots as the Briganders realized what was happening and pulled out their own weapons.