22. The Battle

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Without back packs, Fisher and the men with him made fast time. By noon, they had reached the site where he and Sandy had camped, and stopped to rest. Sitting by the ring of rocks he had stacked together to make a fireplace, Fisher felt a twinge of pain. He and Sandy had vowed to follow this call together, and already less than two days later, they were separated and quite possibly in grave danger. He still had no intention of letting these men bring Lisa back so that she could be sacrificed to the Evil Man, but how could he rescue Sandy and the grandparents? His thoughts troubled him as he stared into the ashes of what had been their fire two nights ago.

Then his eyes focused on the ashes. Why was he seeing them? He and Sandy had very carefully extinguished their fire and covered the ashes with dirt before leaving. Now they were scattered all around the camp. Ken noticed his concern and asked, “What are you doing?”

“This camp has been ransacked since we were here.”

There in the thin layer of ash was a clearly defined footprint: bare and huge. “They were here last night,” Fisher said. “They checked out everything, probably picked up our trail, but didn’t follow us since we were going into the valley.”

One of the men moved even closer and whispered, “But now we’re going the other way.”

“That’s right,” Fisher finished his thought. “And they won’t like that.”

Ken straightened up and spoke in a normal tone of voice, demonstrating more bravado than he felt. “But like I said, as long as they know we’re going to get the girl, they’ll let us pass. We’ll be all right.”

“I’m not sure I’d give them that much credit,” said Fisher. “Unlike the Evil Man, demonic warriors don’t seem especially bright. They’re all muscle and very little brain. I think their orders are pretty simple: moving this way,” he pointed back in the direction they had come, “okay. Moving that way, toward the trail, not okay.”

Fisher could see the rising panic in the men’s eyes and added, “But listen to me: they’re not very fast, and their tactics are predictable. If you’ll just watch how they move, you’ll be able to get out of the way and get in a few licks of your own before they have a chance to react. Whatever you do, stay together. Don’t let them separate and surround you. Cover each other’s backs. Once we get to Rendezvous, there will be others who will help us, so keep moving into this valley. At the bottom, there’s a trail. If you get there before I do, turn right and keep going until you find other men.”

“What’s ‘Rendezvous’?” another man asked.

Fisher smiled. “It’s where Lisa is. Let’s get moving.”

They continued for about half an hour when Fisher stopped. Something was out of place. There. About fifty yards ahead, was a spot of red. It seemed to be a piece of cloth, hanging from a tree limb. Cautiously, he moved forward a few paces, listening in every direction. It was cloth, all right, maybe a piece of someone’s shirt. On the ground nearby was something white. A step closer, and he could see that it was bone.

Fisher looked around the area and realized with horror that he had come to the same clearing as before. A pack of wolves had been here then, finishing what was left of the carnage left by the demons. They had done their job well: all that remained were a few scraps of cloth and bone. And something metallic. Ken stepped closer and picked it up.  A shovel. Except that it had been ground down to a sharp point, like a heavy spear. The point was bent backwards, as if someone had tried to thrust it into solid rock. The handle had snapped halfway down the shaft.

“That’s Brian’s shovel,” one of the men whispered. “I saw him grinding on it one day. He said he was trying to make a prod; something to use for snakes. I told him it was a crazy thing to do with a perfectly good shovel, but he just said, ‘Different jobs, different tools,’ and kept on grinding.”

One of the other men spoke up, his voice cracking as he tried to control his terror. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going back.”

The man next to him said, “I’m with you, Seth. Let’s get out of here.” The two of them turned and started back up the hill, soon disappearing into the undergtowth. Ken started to call out, but was interrupted by a roar which shook the ground around them, followed immediately by screams. Fisher shouted to the group, “Stay together! Don’t let them separate us. Keep moving down the hill!”

Turning to run, he caught a glimpse of gray moving through the trees immediately to his left. A beast was trying to get below them, to ambush them as they ran down the hill. Best defense is a good offense, thought Fisher, and ran toward the movement, sword in hand. Following the creature was no problem; his size created a path in the undergrowth big enough to drive a truck through. In just a few seconds, he had caught up with it. Obviously thinking that it was now far enough below the fleeing men, it slowed and turned to the right, to attack them as they ran toward him. It was at that moment that his peripheral vision caught the sight of Fisher bearing down on him. He began swinging around to face him, massive club high overhead, but it was too late. Fisher’s momentum and the beast’s exposed side played against him. A sword thrust just under his arm found the space between the ribs and made its way directly to the heart. The beast fell like an oak, taking down several small trees in the process.

Fisher looked back to see the rest of the men close behind.  Not ten yards behind them was another demon, steadily gaining, club at the ready. They wouldn’t be outrunning this one.

“Everyone! Stop and turn,” he shouted. “Go for that one all together.” Whether it was the authority in Fisher’s voice or the sight of the fallen beast behind him, the men came to a stop as commanded, and turned to face the charging warrior. This was the one thing it had not expected, and began trying to check its forward momentum. Instead, his mass carried him directly onto the scythes, axes and pruning hooks of the waiting line, without even a chance of bringing his club to bear. By the time it fell, its body lay next to the first one. As all the men stood in amazement and gasping for breath, Fisher said, “Well, either this will make the others pause for a moment, or else it’ll make them really mad. Either way, we’d best keep moving. The trail’s not much farther. Let’s go!”

The men needed no more urging, and leapt as one through the undergrowth and on down the hill. A few seconds later, the sound of an ear splitting roar could be heard, coming from the spot they had just left. Fisher glanced back, then shouted to Ken, who was running alongside, “My guess is it was the ‘mad’ option. Faster!”

A hundred yards later, the group broke out of the trees and into a field of low growing weeds. Farther on, Fisher could see the trail, winding through the valley floor. It occurred to him that he didn’t know now why they were so desperate to get to the trail, except perhaps to allow them more room to maneuver. Looking again over to Ken, he shouted, “When we get down to the trail, stop and form a perimeter. We’ll make our stand there!”

Comments are closed.