I had spent my life encountering and trying not to encounter hunters. Our paths seemed to be destined to cross. Now, my little band was on their trail. It seemed the best way of avoiding them.
None of us spoke as we launched into the greyness of the world. The city was enveloping us, the buildings growing in number and in size whilst the growth of trees and bushes was becoming less apparent. This added danger to our trek. My senses were not adapted to this, but something was whispering that something was following us.
We had been walking for some short time when the unmistakeable smell of hunters sat in the air. They had been here not so long before. From what I could see there had been a largish group, probably about ten. They were also carrying prisoners. The slightly indented footprints on still wet soil gave that away. The probability was that these were part of the bigger group who had been tracking us. We had taken our time to conceal ourselves and now found that we were behind them. The advantage of surprise had fallen towards us and I wished to make the mist of it.
Musa had made some recovery but she was not fully back to what we needed. Kate scented what I was intended and indicated that she too would relish the opportunity to join the fight.
“Musa, it’s best that you wait here. We need to scout them out.” Musa nodded in acceptance.
After leaving her in a concealed entrance to a building, one with plenty of shadow and an escape route, we set off in search of our prey. They were confident, as all of them had been to date, and we found no difficulty in tracking them down. There was just one other thing that would not leave me and that was the crystal belief that there was that other still tracking us. I had no explanation as to who shot the arrow that killed Musa’s attacker. I did not know if it was a friend or a deadly foe. I did know that it had not revealed itself and that could mean that it was some other type of hunter, biding its time, waiting for its own moment to strike. Leaving Musa away from danger could prove to be the worst decision of my short time with these people.
The hunters’ path was far from difficult to follow. The mud showed the signs of somebody who had fallen and who had been dragged along for a while. Footmarks around the form, it was slight, drew a picture of collective attacks. I saw the event replaying and it was of an innocent girl, or child, too young to keep up the pace, who had dropped though exhaustion and been beaten back to its feet. I could hear the jeering satisfaction, the goading of the strong upon the weak, the silent sobbing of ultimate surrender. This is what they did to their victims, not just death, not a quick kill, but a prolonged taunting of those destined to die, slowly. I had more than enough within me to pay them back for all the souls they had forced to suffer, And I would. The only thing that checked my progress to revenge was the thought of the thing that was trailing us, and how I could deal with that whilst dealing death to the others.
“Evie,” a whisper alerted me. “There.”
Kate was pointing to a gap between two buildings in which there was movement. The movement was slight, slightly more than shifting shadows, but it was there. Kate had spotted the group at rest and I was impressed with her skills. Between us we waited, counting the pack, attempting to identify places for lookouts. After a while, we concluded that there were none. This little group was on home territory and they believed that they had nothing to fear. They believed wrong.
“It would be foolish to try anything now.”
We all spun around, weapons readied, and faced the speaker.
“Easy,” he said. His voice was calm and unhurried. “If I had wanted, I could have killed you all. I have not come for that. Indeed, I have come to save you.”
The speaker was an older man, assured of his advantage. Slung around his back was a long bow and in his hand was a quiver of arrows. In his belt was fairly impressive knife. We could rush him but there was nothing that suggested that he had not considered this, and discounted.
“Are you the one who killed the hunter back there?”
“It seemed that you needed a little help. I had been tracking them and I saw the little struggle that you were engaged in. I thought that I might be of assistance. That’s not to say that I was not impressed with your fighting skills, all of you. To take down a hunter, as big and as young as that one, was no mean feat. He was to be their next clan leader and you were to be his ticket to that. It is good to see that the little one has recovered.”
I had never seen one like this before. He was not a hunter and yet he could obviously hunt. He didn’t reek. His face was without matted beard and his hair was short. He was dressed in clothes that had been made for a purpose rather than thrown together. I could imagine that one with such skills could disappear in most surroundings. My pride had been pricked as I was accustomed to being outwitted. Here, I had to concede that he was my better, whoever he was.
“My name’s Peter. I’m an old friend of Mother.”
I would come to know Peter like a father. But, at that time, he was a thing that I had never encountered before. He was a grown boy, man in the Bible, and he could be dangerous.
“Why are you helping us?”
He smiled, his eyes becoming an answer.
“Because, if I don’t, you will not survive. And something tells me that you are meant to survive.”
It was the sort of thing that Mother would have said and a way in which she would have said it. He wasn’t trying to force his aid upon us but he was making it evident that without it we would probably suffer at the hands of the hunters. I had become overconfident in my abilities, anger had ruled my decision-making and i had raced headlong into something that was a definite trap. He had stopped us at the moment when we would have acted.
“So, what’s out there?”
Again, that smile, a good smile.
“You spotted them over there between the two buildings. That’s what they wanted you to do. They have known that you have been trailing them for some miles now. One of their number escaped your detection back there and reported back to the main group. You move well and you managed to lose them, but one hunter ran ahead and told the rest that you are coming. The reason why they stopped there, hidden in plain sight, was to force your hand. Once you began your assault, the rest would close the trap; catch you between a rock and an even harder place. You would have stood no chance. Now, we have a chance. We wait and let the hunters come for the hunted.”
He was making sense, the type of sense that I would have made if my heart had allowed it. This is what I would have done and now that we had another in our ranks, one who was adept with a bow, i felt that we could succeed, whatever success was in this world.