It was the rhythmic jolting of her sore muscles that finally woke her. Awareness came back to her slowly; first there was the scratchiness of hair on her arms and legs and the realization she was lying across something, and suddenly the frigid cold hit her. Sounds came last. The sounds of hooves clopping on a dirt road, the sound of rustling fabric and heavy breathing, but mostly it was the strange dialect she began to overhear that she couldn’t quite place. It was heavy and sharp sounding, and sent shivers through her body that she was sure weren’t caused by the bitter chill in the air. When she finally opened her eyes, she did so cautiously only to find she was staring at her own hands firmly bound with rope. Past that was the ever moving ground and of course the hooves that were the source of the clopping noise. She suddenly felt very tired and her body was screaming in protest at every jolt that the bumpy ride was incurring. Thoughts began to race through her head as she realized the last memory she had didn’t fit with the events now found taking place. Why was it so cold? Why was she bound? Who were her captors? Where was she being taken? And most important of all, how had she gone from falling in a cave, to this, lying face down across a horse in front of an unknown captor?
She realized that the only way for her to get answers to her questions was for her to find a way out of this rather awkward situation. She hesitated, listening to the deep voices talking around her until the man above her began speaking. While he was preoccupied she cast a furtive glance in his direction. Her control nearly left her as she realized that her situation was much more bizarre than she ever thought it could be.
Dealing with men would have been bad in itself. However, when she glanced up at the face of her captor, she realized she was dealing with no mere man. The creature before her was mostly hidden under drapes of heavy fabrics, all dark grays and blacks, ragged from years of abuse. The face was foreign to her. It was reptilian, and was a striking lime green. It had a boxy jaw, a flat mouth, and yellow catlike eyes. Still, the most striking feature of the creature’s face were the bone-like protrusions that stuck out like claws starting just above its eyes and extending toward its cheekbones. They were covered in pliant scales like that which covered the rest of its face. Extruding from each tip was the gray-white of bone like a fingernail. Although most of these bones were straight, some were twisted and one was even missing its tip. Behind this bone crown was the rest of the creature’s skull which had plated scales on it, more like a helmet than skin, with small bones running down the centre to its back.
Reniko realized was holding her breath in fear and she released it slowly, trying to ease the trembling that she felt starting. Get control of yourself, she thought as she took slow even breaths. When I’m back in control I can worry about what my eyes have seen. Steadying herself, she took a quick glance around to see what items were at her disposal. The creatures seemed to be preoccupied, obviously jovial about Reniko’s capture, and glad to be headed to their current destination. Feeling secure in the fact that Reniko was unconscious and her hands were bound, they were paying little attention to her. She glanced at the rider in front of her. He was a darker green, more a forest colour than lime and the creature’s bone crown seemed to be more bent and broken than that of the other. She noticed that the creatures had physiques close to that of a human though below their knee joint there was another joint that twisted the leg back more like the hind leg of a dog. Their legs ended in three toed feet with a raptor-like claw on the back. As Reniko looked more closely she noticed an oblong hole through the creature’s leg that extended from the top of their foot to the first knee joint. The third rider was out of Reniko’s direct view, hidden behind the lime creature’s horse.
Reniko once more shook her thoughts away from the odd appearance of her captors and back into finding a way to free herself from her bonds. She found the instrument of her freedom moments later as she noticed a large dagger hanging loosely amongst the folds of fabric of the rider’s cloak. Moving slowly, and watching both the lime and the other in her line of sight, she slowly unsheathed the dagger and began gently tearing at her bonds. When she cut through the last coil she watched the rope slip from her wrist and land with a soft thunk on the ground. She held her breath until she was sure the creatures had not heard and decided she better make her move. She was lying across a Clydesdale horse. All she needed to do was lean her weight onto her lower body and she would slip from the horse’s back. However, as soon as she did this, she would have to be prepared to face her captors, possibly in battle, and a dagger would hardly stand up to the giant beasts. To give herself a slight advantage, as she slid from the horse she dragged the dagger across the thigh of the lime. He roared in rage. Reniko was already running blindly into the foliage that surrounded the road before any of the three creatures could pursue.
Much too soon, she heard the heavy footsteps of the Clydesdales behind her and she stood ready to attack. She knew she had a better chance of beating them if they didn’t run her down. This sudden change of tactic startled her three pursuers who in turn halted in their tracks. The lime one grinned with satisfaction.
“Rokk gol kog gakk,” his words were sharp and jarring.
Reniko stood her ground unable to understand what the creature was saying. Limey grinned and gestured for his two forest green companions to dismount, which they proceeded to do. Reniko tossed the dagger to her right hand and holding it ready for battle. Both creatures daunted her in size, their height no less than eight feet. Reniko shifted uneasily. These creatures had strength on their side; they could overpower her in an instant and they knew this. On the other hand, Reniko had her speed. She also felt that these creatures did not think Reniko capable of fighting back. Her many years of training were all in preparation for just such a moment. Picking a target, she ran at it, surprising all three creatures. They misjudged the threat she posed and this gave Reniko a slight advantage. She had chosen the target on the left, since as she could see he carried a thinner and lighter sword than the other, which she felt she could handle better than the broadsword the other creature had sheathed. She was beside her target just as he drew his sword and with an upward thrust she slashed at his forearm cutting the tendons and leaving the creature’s hand limp. She picked up the sword as she rolled away from her target. As she stood she hid the dagger in the belt on her shorts and extended the sword forward.
“Didn’t see that coming did you?” she was feeling more confident.
Limey glanced at his remaining companion in an exchange of fury and confusion. The one Reniko had attacked was roaring in pain and tending to his now useless arm. The remaining subordinate unsheathed his sword and came at her with smoldering rage.
Reniko was now in her element. She had speed, reach, and talent and she put them to work. The showdown between her and Limey’s subordinate was quick. The creatures may have been large and powerful but their bodies were still frail. It took only a few contact points for her to incapacitate it. She was running on adrenaline now and as Limey stepped from his Clydesdale and took up his sword she was more than ready for him. After having watched her fight with a dagger, and also with a sword, Limey felt ready for her as well. He did, after all, have his immense strength. He came in strong, slashing at her with his overwhelming power, but slow enough that she could deflect his blade. She was knocked off balance, her arms ringing with pain from the rattling blow. As she found her footing again, she felt the wind current change slightly and swerved to avoid Limey’s oncoming attack. She sidestepped and thrust her blade up in defense coming to a stop behind him. With a speed Reniko hadn’t expected, Limey turned and began sparring with her. The force behind each blow made her arms shoot with pain. She had to end this and fast, before her body gave out. In an attempt to end the battle, Reniko fell back, pushed forward, and fell back again, leaving Limey having to reach out for her and overextend his sword. Then it came. Limey wavered, his body off balance and with this slight turn in the fight she leapt in and delivered the fatal blow. The creature’s body fell lifelessly to the ground. She looked at him in disbelief and exhaustion.
“What have I done?” she whispered, looking at the lifeless body at her feet. She’d killed it. Though it was not human, it had been intelligent and she had killed it. She had never killed anything in her life and now that she had it filled her with emptiness, fear, and disgust at her actions.
A rustling from behind woke her from her hollow victory and she turned, sword outstretched, to face her new attacker. Instead she came face to face with a man, his eyes firmly fixed on the tip of Reniko’s blade, which was touching the skin of his exposed neck.
“Who are you?” Reniko asked, fierce and distrustful.
“Lesh nah veye, noko vete loah mann noh,” he spoke. His words were as unfamiliar as the creatures’ had been before.
“I can’t understand, though I gather the same is true for you,” Reniko said, not lowering the sword but backing up so that it was no longer touching his throat. She examined the man. He was tall, taller than she was, and clothed in a fashion that was common in the Middle Ages: loose trousers, tall soft leather boots, and a loose tunic, covered with a heavy cloak. His face showed wisdom and was heavy with travel – though he could hardly be Reniko’s senior – his voice was deep and soothing like a waterfall, powerful yet beautiful. He had rich golden eyes surrounded by a fall of chestnut hair. He didn’t seem threatening, but Reniko hardly knew what to make of anything she was seeing.
“This is all a dream,” she said to herself getting a puzzled look from the man. She wished it was a dream, but it was all too vivid to be one. The adrenaline that had motivated her during the fight was wearing off and she was feeling the fatigue of let-down. She was trying to keep from shaking. She could feel the onset of shock approaching but she couldn’t afford that right now. She needed to find out what was going on first.
“Orric ri keffa, le ma arri vah esha ra bae ma. Esha orra arri leesta nie,” the man tried once more, this time looking past her. Reniko looked at the man questioningly and followed his gaze behind her, regretting doing so instantly. Its breath was hot, and it looked a lot like a dragon. Reniko dropped her sword and finally overwhelmed, collapsed, leaving the man to deal with the new threat.
“That was not what I was expecting to happen,” the man said in the strange dialect to the dragon.
“It could have been worse,” the dragon said.
“How, pray-tell could it have possibly been worse?” the man asked as he looked down at the girl’s body. This was the latest in a string of bizarre events and it gave him an uneasy feeling.
“She could have killed you.”
The man raised a brow and sat down beside the girl’s unconscious frame. “That’s true. She sure had the skill for it. I’ve never seen anyone take on a Rük before, let alone three at the same time.” The man gave a sigh. “Well, help me with her, Orric. We’re taking her back to camp. Maybe there I can get her to calm down a bit. I wonder where she came from. Such strange clothes…” the man mumbled as Orric placed his weight on his hind legs and gently picked her up and cradled her in his arms. The man was hoping that in a calmer situation he would be able to get answers from this girl. Like what she was doing alone in the woods? And where she had learned to fight like she did? He had a feeling this was going to cause a lot of trouble with the Rük and that did not bode well with him.
The man stumbled back into the small clearing where the battle had taken place and where he had dispatched the two Rük that the girl had not killed. He picked up a strange bag that was saddled to one of the Clydesdales. Seeing that Orric was leaving him behind, he ran after his draconic friend and away from the strange encounter that he had stumbled upon.