[The Drain – 02] Escape

by The Atlean WordSmith

A series of glows in the small of his back jolted Ulric into consciousness. He hurt as though he’d been thrown into a brick wall. He vaguely remembered something hitting him in the chest and knocking him off his horse. Another blow landed on the small of his back, disrupting his concentration.

“All right! I’m awake.”

He tried to stand up, but only succeeded in rolling over onto his stomach. His wrists were bound behind his back, and someone had tied his ankles, too. He craned his neck and his eyes settled on the girl. She sat with her back to the wall, arms and legs bound like his own. She’d kicked him awake because she couldn’t speak around her gag.

Ignoring his pain, Ulric worked his way upright, took stock of his surroundings, and realized he was in an open horse stall at the back of a barn. He could see a faint glow and hear conversation and laughter from the entrance. Some sort of guard, no doubt, but he was certain he’d escaped worse. With some patience, some effort, and a few false starts, he managed to get his hands in front of him by looping them under his feet. The girl looked impressed.

“Can I trust you not to run away this time?”

Moments later, they were both free of their bonds and Ulric was standing over two limp bodies with an axe handle in his hand. It probably wouldn’t be much of a consolation for the young men when they woke up, but they were still alive.

“Well, now we know who the soldier hunters are,” Ulric said as he untied Hrothgar, “Bunch of senseless cowards, tied a rope across the road to knock us off our horses.”

“We used to do that all the time.”

“Yes, but we weren’t trying to take anyone’s head off! You string it low so that it trips up the horse!”

“I don’t think they were trying to trip us up. They wanted us to hurt.”

True to her word, the girl hadn’t run. She kept her distance from them, as if she didn’t want to get too close, but didn’t want to leave them, either.

“We aren’t going to hurt you. We aren’t, Hrothgar.”

“We don’t mind doing it for you,” said a new voice, and the girl shrank back as a lone man entered the barn. Ulric and Hrothgar maneuvered themselves to protect her. The stranger dropped his hood and uncovered his face, revealing strong features and a meticulously shaven head.

“Nasty little thief, this one. We’ve been tracking her for days.”

Ulric hesitated.

“Stole something from you, did she?”

“Well, yes.”

“And what was it?”

“Does it matter?”

“I think so, yes.”

The stranger shrugged and gestured vaguely. Three more men entered the barn, and it didn’t take long for Ulric to do the math. He and Hrothgar, already hurting and unarmed, didn’t stand a chance against four armed men, even taking into account the time they’d take to draw their swords.

“Let’s be reasonable,” the stranger said, “It’s been a long night.”

Ulric opened his mouth to speak. Four separate hands fell to rest on four separate hilts, then the world exploded outward. Four separate bodies hit the ground.

“Let’s go!”

The girl ran past them, out into the open air. Ulric ran after her, but she hadn’t gotten far. she stood silently, watching as the newcomers’ horses fled into the night. Something clicked in Ulric’s mind, and he caught her before she dropped. Hrothgar found two horses tied around the side of the barn. Ulric hoisted the girl up onto one of them, then climbed up behind her, and they fled toward Litenstad.

They blew past lightly guarded gates and through empty streets, and they were well beyond the town by the first light of dawn. Ulric exchanged a glance with Hrothgar, then looked down at the girl, who hadn’t stirred. He didn’t have much experience with mages, but it was common knowledge that performing magic fatigued them. She was still alive, though. He could see the rise and fall of her chest under her grubby cassock.

“Nothing between us and Ytaanhald now,” he said, “If we can get to Atertag, we’re safe.”

“How far, do you think?”

“Shouldn’t be far, now.”

“Do you think they’ll catch up with us?”

“Eventually. Better to be on friendly ground when they do.”