Central Raurugia, outside the village of Teur
Five bandits faced Ruili Windwolf Ereonis. They were all dressed in black, camouflage against the night’s darkness, black long coats, black tricorns, and black scarves wrapped around the lower parts of their faces. The point of his sword held the first one transfixed, giving the others time to take position and him a few seconds to size them up. None was anywhere near as large as that other fellow, Y’lanna’s friend. Most were shorter and lighter than Ruili himself. He saw short swords and a couple of staffs, and there was probably at least one crossbow in the mix.
He returned his gaze to the man at the end of his sword, to the shadowed eyes glaring back at him along the length of his double-edged blade. He shrugged his left shoulder, the one that was still healing, inside his jacket to loosen it a bit. He smiled at the bandit.
“Shall we dance?” he said.
The man thrust his short sword up at Ruili’s ribs. The Selkie parried with a downward cross-cut that sliced through the bandit’s arm, dropping it to the ground from the elbow down.
The bandit fell to his knees gasping at the blood shooting from his severed limb. His companions stared in shock only a moment.
Two came at him, a staff high and another short sword low to the torso. Ruili threw himself forward, into their attack, ducking under the swinging staff and parrying the sword thrust. His blood raced and his breathing was free and easy. Warmth and energy flooded his body, and the instincts of the warrior brother of the three Lords of Ereon took over. He and his attackers traded positions, and the bandits turned, their weapons coming around in wide arcs. Ruili turned as well, the gleaming sword tracing a trail of light through the air. The staff bounced hard off his side. The short sword missed him entirely. One of the bandits went down with a gash across his upper chest. The shorter bandit went down without his head.
Windwolf turned on the remaining two, but at that moment they were all distracted by an otherworldly shrieking rising over the screams of men and women. The wrecked train behind them burst open, and six creatures somewhat bigger than horses leaped into the air, flapping heavy, dark wings. They flopped down upon the ground, snapping and snarling murderous jaws in all directions.
Ruili froze, all his flow and power stopped dead, as his heart seemed to stop in his chest. Only a second, the break, but it was enough for a flash of steel to get through his defenses. He dodged but caught the fourth bandit’s knife across his right shoulder. It sliced a burning line through his clothes and across his flesh, but his adversary never got to enjoy the touch he’d scored. Ruili’s shining sword pierced his heart.
The man slumped to his knees and off the sword point as he died. The fifth of his fellows had run off. No other bandits were coming, and little wonder. Ruili flicked the blood off his weapon, his eyes fixed on the monsters stalking out among the panicked robbers and passengers, and he felt the throbbing of the Daemon Arcana card, the Ten of Blood, the Dragoness, in its light wrapping in his inner pocket.
“Y’lanna,” he called out to the bushes behind him, “stay hidden. Move deeper into the forest if you must, but stay out of sight until I return for you.”
And with that, he ran towards the train.
— — —
He could not know whether Y’lanna heard him or not, nor that she most likely was dealing with matters of her own. In running into the woods and finding a sturdy growth of shrubbery to hide in, the fresh, new immigrant to Aeldreth had stumbled into a trap.
One step was all it took to trip the snare and set the cobweb nets of the Brownies snapping around her in an entangling mess. The little faeries of these mountains hunted big game, whether it be rich traveler or rich bandit, and tonight they had caught a rare prize indeed. The more she struggled in these barely visible threads, the more bound she would become.
With her protector facing the menace of their prime enemy, the monsters of the Blood cards, the forest full of running and fighting people, and the Brownies probably not far off and waiting for the hub-bub to die down, who could tell how long she would have to figure out this Aeldrethian puzzle?
— — —
Meanwhile, near the rear part of Train No. 47, Ashcat and his gangmen fought their way through a section of the would-be train robbers, and ended in possession of a selection of weapons and four horses. They were about to take off with all possible speed when they heard the screams of the monstrous creatures.
“Do you hear that?” Ashcat snarled in the direction of the sounds.
“Boss, let’s be off,” said Haug Handslayer. The disrupted aura in the air tingled. Even one as unmagical as he could feel it, as could the lunging, frightened horse under him. Something was happening that he wanted no part of.
“It’s those accursed cards,” said Ashcat. “You feel it?” His snarl darkened into a scowl.
Haug knew what it meant. Ashcat was owed money on that job, but things were out of control and these city criminals could barely sit upon their stolen horses as it was.
“Now’s not the time,” he said. “I know this band. They run with Baugl of Caernith. We can buy his help and both be avenged against that shrew’s son of a wizard.”
Glowering, Ashcat nodded agreement. The four turned their horses and galloped into the woods.