16. Light In the Dark
Wait.” The Taverness pulled a tinted bottle from under the bar and went to the fireplace. She took two long pieces of wood, doused them in some booze, and caught them on fire. “Take these.”
The Constable grabbed the torch in one hand and the bottle in the other. “Much obliged.”
“How are we to set a ring of fire in all that snow?” The Cleric took his pick and set her hood on her head.
The Innkeeper poked a thumb at the back wall. “Gather some wood from my pile out back. Wet it with the spirits and set it off.”
The Vicar nodded. “Just keep it healthy until the next pair relieves you.”
The Cleric gave him an apprehensive grin before following the lawman out into the twilight.
The Constable jabbed his torch into the putrid face of a creature, sending a shower of molten spores onto its chest. The thing shrieked and burst into flames where it stood, arms flailing.
“Stand back,” he said, catching the hand of his pick.
The blade of the Cleric’s short sword had done its duty, cleaving the creature’s sizzling skull from its neck. Others cowered from the burning mass.
She shrugged. “Less firewood, I guess.”
The Constable chased several other monsters, sending them up in flames. As soon as he did, the Cleric dropped them where they stood. In no time, they had made a ring of fire around the inn with which to feed the wood.
The Constable trailed behind the healer as they patrolled their perimeter. “Quite handy with that sword, aren’t you?”
Her keen eyes never left the minions just beyond the flames.
“Almost as if you were someone else in a former life.”
“As were you,” she said.
The Constable’s face flushed. “What do you mean?”
“The body.” Her glare found his. “How long has it been up there?”
He twitched his head wearing a frown. Her narrowed glare cut through his bluff. “Not long enough.”
“What was it over?” She grabbed a log from the woodpile as they passed it and tossed it onto the burning ring. “Gems? Gold? Magic?”
He spat into the melting snow. “And you? You have the precision of a trained assassin.”
The Cleric threw another log onto the fire. “I was once---and a damn good one.”
“And, you came way up here?”
She kicked some sparks at one of them that flirted too much with the fire line. “I needed to lay low for a while.”
The lawman severed the head off another creature as it attempted to advance over the fire. “Still within eyesight of the capitol.”
She rolled the thought around in her mind. “On a clear day, maybe.”
He stroked his mouth. “Close to the imperials. Wasn’t that long ago that a stranger tried to kill them in plain sight while they took holiday.”
She licked her chapped lips. “That’s the rumor.”
He grinned and drew a rolled smoke from the inside pocket of his long coat.
“Who’s to say that you weren’t behind all this?”
The Constable stopped, glared at her, and lit his smoke. “What business would I have with such beings?”
The Cleric plucked the tobacco from the corner of his mouth and took a draw from it. “A rare gem with that kind of power,” she blew a plume of fragrant smoke into the stars, “would make a fine prize for a miner like yourself.”
He drew a long breath off his tobacco. “And, what of you?”
“What of me?”
He headed back on their rounds. “Mighty convenient to summon a horde in the capitol to do your dirty work for you.” He put the tip of his boot into some smoldering coals, sending up a shower of sparks. “They clear out the guard, leaving you to slip in for the imperials.”
The Cleric chuckled. “Too much of a mess. Anyone worth their salt would prefer to take out the contract clean and silent.”
She grabbed his forearm, halting his retort. “Did you feel that?” She knelt to the snow and set a hand to the ground.
Their eyes locked as a more powerful thud rattled the terrain.
“What do you suppose?” A cluster of heavy quakes severed the lawman’s thought.
She rose and stared off over the lapping fire. “Something’s out there.”
He glanced around. “They’ve retreated.”
“Or made way for their masters.”
Two pairs of towering limbs stopped just beyond the flame’s light. Twice as high as the tallest town structure, their long black fur fluttered in the gentle winds.