A strong feeling of something wrong or even danger woke me with a jolt from my sleep. It was evening, a darkness was settling on the forest. The fire that I had slept next to was now just a bed of coals. I looked around to see what had woken me. The horse was still tethered to the tree, but was acting skittish. It eyes were wide, it was stamping and tugging on the rope that held it to the tree.
“Raziel?” I whispered his name seeing that he wasn’t at the camp with me or if he was using his shadow hood I’d not be able to see him in the lengthening shadows. I moved to the horse, and tried to calm it. It obviously didn’t like me, but whatever it was afraid of was worse than my presence.
I could hear the cracking of twigs and soft crunch of the needles as something moved over them towards us. I only left the horse for a second to pick up Grandmother’s walking stick. If I had to I would defend myself and the horse against whatever was coming. Dammit Raziel! Where are you?
A low hissing sound came from the darkness, and I could see movement around the base of the trees. I had never seen the type of creature that entered the small clearing of trees we’d camped under. It was best described as a winged serpent with arms and hands, fingers that ended in long black claws. It was a blotchy green/yellow color, with yellow slitted eyes, the head was very much like a snake, its forked tongue whipping in and out of its mouth. The horse panicked when it saw the winged serpent. It reared up, kicking out with its front hooves, snapping the rope it was tethered to the tree with, and one of its hooves giving me a glancing blow across the brow. Blackness burst through my vision as unconsciousness overtook me.
ITS GONNA EAT ME! Was the first thought through my mind as I struggled through the murky depths to wakefulness and realized that I was wrestling with someone.
“Calm down, it’s gone,” came the deep commanding voice of Raziel. I realized that it was with him I was grappling, and thoroughly losing. He held both of my thin wrists in one hand, while the other had one my calves, apparently he’d blocked a kick. I relaxed slightly and he released me.
“You left me alone! Where were you? That thing could’ve killed me!” I was angry and dear Earth Mother my head was pounding. It actually hurt to shout at him.
“You were never in any danger,” he replied quietly. He gotten up and walked towards the camp where he was checking the contents of the saddle bags. I realized the horse was gone. Where the horse had been was the winged serpent. I gasped at the sight of it but realized that the head was much further away from the body that it was meant to be.
“You used me as bait?” Why on earth had I decided to go with Raziel? What was I thinking?
“Would you stop shouting if I told you I was using the horse as bait?”
“Would you be lying?” I asked and he shrugged. “Where is the horse?” I had calmed again.
“Did the… um…” I pointed to the serpent. Raziel shook his head, he tossed the saddle bags over one of his massive shoulders.
“We’re near the town of Dragban, I wasn’t aware they had booby trapped the woods. I guess it was how they planned to deal with the sudden appearance of dangerous wildlife. They dug a pit, put spikes in, and covered it. So watch where you step.” He handed me my satchel. I was horrified at the mental imagery of the horse falling to its death being impaled.
“That is terrible! I was just gonna create some protective wards for my village, none need be hurt,” I suddenly felt the need to defend myself, even though I doubted Raziel was aware of what I was working on before he arrived with Ezekiel.
“I don’t know what kind of soft fantasy you’ve been raised in, but the world is more of a kill or be killed kind of place now.”
“I could never kill anyone,” I responded.
“Well you won’t live long then, maybe the dragon will eat you and end your flailing about in life,” he had started walking away from me and I just knew I should run away from him. Raziel was a cruel, hateful man, he deserved the curse I’d given him, but I sighed. He was the one I cursed, but in truth, the curse had hurt kind Ezekiel and noble Hammael. If I could take it back I would.