Where the Wind Blows Wild: Part Nine
Kanrik moved to intercept Masila and her sword – a fencing foil, of all the overly dramatic choices – to allow Kell and Corbin to get around her and follow Marius before he was lost in the darkness and the shifting shadows of the streetlamps. They had decent hunting instincts, and Kanrik doubted that the short, elderly Bruce would be able to put up more of a fight than they could handle.
Masila could. Masila might be able to put up more of a fight than he could handle. Silly that fencing foil might be, but Kanrik had no doubt that it was poisoned, as were the several other weapons that she certainly had hidden under her cloak. He was a better fighter than she – but she only had to get lucky once.
Hannah was a few cautious steps back from them as they crossed swords – Kanrik knew she was smart enough to understand that trying to throw herself into the fight was as likely to hurt him as it was to help him. But she waited with muscles tense and ready and her long knife in her hand, ready to back him up if she saw an opportunity.
Masila sneered at Hannah as she stepped backward from a strike. "Still following him around like a good little Spardel?"
Hannah rolled her eyes, but said nothing. At least she knew better than to let Masila rattle her. Kanrik said, "Trying to provoke someone into a reaction? You're getting sloppy, Masila. That's basic stuff."
Masila merely raised her delicate eyebrows. "It worked well enough on you."
It had, which still burned. Kanrik informed her as he dodged a Cobrall-quick strike, "Once. Once, and never again." If she wanted to taunt, two could play at that game – he was happy to oblige, and capable of keeping his own focus. "You're getting desperate, too. Does it gall you to know that everyone calls you the Mistress of the Double-Cross now? That every last man, woman, and child in Neopia knows that you're not to be trusted?"
Kanrik didn't quite see the flick of the foil that she used, but she came perilously close to knocking his sword out of his hand. He attacked back, trying to land a heavy strike with his stronger sword that might break Masila's delicate blade.
He wouldn't admit it to her, but he was rather impressed – she'd clearly been practicing, even though she'd been fond of telling him that any time you got into a physical fight you'd already lost. But he had always thought she'd be a good fighter. She'd always been quick-moving and quick-thinking. He'd admired that, never realizing how easily it could be turned against him.
Now, those attributes made her a threat.
Kanrik decided it would be best to draw her away from the main body of the fight, to keep any bandits from coming to her aid – she'd stabbed him in the back before, figuratively, and he didn't put it past her to do it literally if he was distracted by fighting someone else.
Hannah kept pace with them as they moved back and forth – Kanrik tried to keep himself between her and Masila as much as he could. He wished he had Mortman and Paselle here. His ideal plan for handling Masila would be herding her into a trap, trussing her up like a Day of Giving turkey, and leaving her on the doorstep of the Defenders of Neopia with her wanted poster pinned to her cloak.
Kanrik realized that Masila was giving up too much ground. They were in an alley, it was dark and hard to see the further they got from the main road and its lamps. He didn't know where this alley led, and she was giving up ground far too easily for someone being herded further away from help.
Except if she wasn't.
As soon as he thought that, two more bandits jumped down from the nearest rooftop. They were hooded, and it was far too dark to see their features, though by the ears one was a Lupe. They were both tall, likely broader across the shoulders than Kanrik, and likely heavily armed. Kanrik decided in a heartbeat that he didn't like those odds. They were too much bigger than Hannah for her to handle two at once – and someone needed to handle both of them at once so one person could focus on Masila. He could have taken them both, but Masila was too nasty, and Hannah was more a scrapper than a real swordswoman – she wouldn't be able to fight Masila by herself, either. "Hannah, run!"
"Not without you!"
"Trust me, I'm coming!" This was a fight they couldn't win. Kanrik told himself that they'd done their job – the Monster Hunters had gotten the chance to track down Marius. He was the key to this – he was the one who had enough authority for tales of the Stone Shepherds to be more than the ravings of a madman. He was the link to Masila's power in this place – no one would give her power in her own name, not after the Ice Caves. It would have to be enough. Kanrik wasn't willing to engage in senseless heroics.
He sped out of the alley, and Hannah dashed alongside him. He only had a second to decide – go toward the fight in the town square, which would even out the odds but bring Masila back to her troops, or away, which would leave the odds in their current mess but keep Masila away from everyone else?
Hannah turned away, speeding toward the outskirts. Of course. She was still a good citizen by inclination, even if she occasionally helped him with his thieving. She asked, "Are they still following?"
Kanrik chanced a glance behind, even though they knew the answer. "Yes. And Masila will until we can give her a good reason not to!"
"Do you have a plan?"
Kanrik found the breath to say indignantly, "You're the one who decided to run this way – you come up with a plan!"
Hannah panted quietly, "There's that scholar lady's house, there's the caravan... hey, do you think there might still be reinforcements at the caravan?"
That was a good point – Grig wouldn't have left that much gold without guards, even if some of the men-at-arms had gone to help out in Brilforge. "Worth a try. We could try the crazy Kougra's house if that fails – she might have something valuable that'll distract them."
Hannah frowned. "Can't say those two thugs look like readers."
Kanrik grinned at her as they rounded a corner. "Probably not."
They were keeping a pretty good lead on Masila and her two thieves – there was nothing like being chased by a sworn enemy bent on mayhem to help someone find a little extra speed. But Masila hadn't been hauling a heavy pack most of the day, and Kanrik knew that adrenaline would only keep Hannah and him going for a little while longer.
They sped down the street and over the stringy, worn patch of fallow ground, through the scraggly trees and to the campsite. There were only about six Neopians there that Kanrik could see, including Grig, but they all had weapons. Kanrik panted, "Being chased – Masila – their leader – she's with them..."
He turned, in just enough time to see Masila and her two cronies stop dead. Grig snarled, "We've six haulers wounded, and seven of the Uni team – we've lost more time for this night than anything else that could have happened. Go get 'em! We'll make up the profit from the bounty the Defenders have on her head!"
Heh. Nothing like a skinflint caravan runner. The fighters leaped to their feet, and Masila gracefully turned on her heel and started dashing the other way. Kanrik had only gotten a second to catch his breath, but he broke into a run himself to follow her – he wasn't sure how long he'd be able to keep up, but he could hope that it would be long enough to make sure she wasn't running toward her next nasty little contingency plan. He wanted her separated from what she'd built here, forced to start over – so he'd have time to prepare for whatever she tried next.
She wouldn't stop. He knew that. But here, tonight, he could delay her, buy a few months or a few years of peace where he wouldn't worry about whether she was lurking in the shadows with a vial of poison or a knife.
His sides ached sharply, and he wished he could slow, but he couldn't without losing her – the same adrenaline that had helped him earlier helped her now. He could hear Hannah plugging along behind him, but her steps were starting to drag. Grig had caught up to one of Masila's flunkies, and Pyotr and Ivanya had caught the other, but those fights passed to the side and out of Kanrik's narrowed vision as he continued chasing Masila.
She turned toward the main road, and started running down it, the downhill slope lending speed to her feet. Kanrik slowed, then – he was too tired to try running downhill in the dark. He'd fall and break something. With any luck, Masila would, too.
Hannah panted, stopping next to him, "Why'd you stop? She's getting away!"
Kanrik nodded. "Nice and far away. Far enough that she won't play a role in what happens here tonight. Far enough that if we get out of here first thing in the morning, we shouldn't have to worry about her catching us." He added more seriously, "We weren't going to take her out this time. Not caught unprepared. That'll be a fight for another day – when we've got every fighter that we can buy, borrow, or steal."
Hannah smirked. "Knowing you, mostly steal."
Kanrik gave her a mocking little bow, then took her hand. "You're not hurt?"
She shook her head. "A few bruises from the first fight by the caravan, but that's all. You?"
He shook his head as well. Then Hannah asked, "Should we see what's happened? Kell and Corbin might need help catching Marius."
Kanrik sighed. "I couldn't catch a Slorg right now." The running and the adrenaline were catching up with him – his legs felt like lead.
Hannah sighed. "I'm tired, too. But you know you want to see how this all turns out."
Kanrik muttered, "Curious little Kadoatie, aren't you?"
Hannah elbowed him. "First a Spardel, then a Kadoatie – I'm a Usul, Fyora blast it!"
Kanrik snorted. "Pay no mind to anything Masila says to you. She's just jealous. And bitter. And she lost tonight."
Hannah nodded once, the set of her mouth stubborn. "And she'll keep losing."
And they started back up the road to see what had become of the Monster Hunters and the treacherous mayor.
To be continued...