14. The Gathering
Swords swung in a blind fury. Gray flesh and black blood spilled onto the virgin snows in front of the mine’s entrance.
The Constable plunged his pickaxe deep into the torso of the thing before him. Its wound sizzled and boiled. “Watch your back!”
The Cleric ducked and spun on her heels. The creature’s claw swept through the empty space just missing her head. She swung her mace, carving the thing’s kneecap off in a viscous cloud. With a flick of her hand, the flesh clinging to the morning star fell. It rolled over and lunged for her. The spiked mace split the frigid air and the creature’s skull. Foul black gore pooled in the melting snow at her boots.
She and the lawman joined the Stranger as his adversary collapsed to the frozen ground. His tunic and coat lit up in a bath of pale blue light.
“We need to get back into town.” The Stranger wiped the blade of his dagger on a pant leg as he strode down the mountain trail.
“Wait.” The Cleric jogged after him and grabbed his shoulder. “They’re after you,” her eyes fell to his chest, “your stone.”
He stared at her hand and scowled.
She pulled it away. “Shouldn’t you stay here where it’s safe?”
The Stranger scoffed. “No place is safe around here.” The distant mob advance on the town like a pack of infernal rats. “No. I know them. I’m your best chance at survival.”
The Constable slung the pickaxe over his shoulder. “And the stone?”
The Stranger turned back down the trail. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
The drifts had blown across the trails leading down to the chapel and the Vicar’s cottage. The Constable trudged at the head of their small pack, sword in hand. The distant howls of the horde bounced around inside the dull precipitous void.
The Constable turned to see the Stranger’s extended hand.
The Stranger watched the Cleric venture toward a flickering candle in the cottage window.
“What’s she doing?” The Constable blew a flake from his upper lip.
The Cleric pressed her cupped hands to the frosted pane. “Making sure he’s either alive and well.”
The Stranger swept snow from his brows with the flat side of his blade. “Or dead and gone.” He raised a brow in the Constable’s direction.
“Anything?” The lawman glanced over his shoulder at the unseen growls, ignoring the Stranger’s barb.
The Cleric came back, defeated.
Her neighbor faced the town once more. “Then we move on.”
The Constable strode through the drifts at the front of the group. He slipped down a snow-packed section of the stone pathway that descended toward the main square.
The healer came to his aid, helping him up. “You all right?”
He nodded and dusted the muck from his backside. “Fine, thanks.”
Farther down the main path, things clanged and glass shattered.
“My shop!” The Cleric moved toward the clamor.
“No.” The Stranger grabbed the scruff of her cloak. “It’s too--”
The Inn’s front door burst open. Kannen barreled out into the storm toward them, swords drawn. “I should’ve killed you when I had the chance.” An explosion down the path stalled her assault.
“Another time,” the Stranger said. His unwavering gaze followed the horde’s actions.
The Innkeeper’s head poked out of the crack in her front door. “Get inside---all of you!”