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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 13

The Adventures of an Intllectual Barbarian

“Easy, there.” I extend my palm but I’m not sure why; it’s not as if an untamed wolf would understand my gesture. It’s too dark to tell for sure, but I think I see blood on his fangs. From my knees, I lift one leg to begin the process of standing, but the wolf snarls and flinches at the movement. I freeze, trying to negotiate a balance between needing to flee and not provoking the beast.

“My thanks for your intercession. I’m going to stand now.” I raise my second hand to ward off the wolf and he ceases his vocalizations. Perhaps he does understand me? He stops trembling as well and licks his lips, turning his head back toward the Roaring Bear he’s savaged.

I use the opportunity to rise, looking over the edge of the hill to find two shadowy forms approaching up the slope. One of them has pink hair, which catches the light of the partial moons. Beyond them, men with torches pour forth from the fort at the base of the valley, their burning brands reminiscent of glow worms dancing in the tall grass.

Trying to keep one eye on the wolf and the other on my companions, neither of which is easy in the dark, I give the former a wide birth as I circle back to find my bow. The beast sits, which puts me more at ease as I search the grass for my weapon.

“Brahkis, I have Rhiannon!” the Grackle whisper-shouts up the hill.

“And I’m glad for it,” I reply, assuming he was able to use his magic to incapacitate the Eladrin’s captor after all. “But I have a new friend and I don’t think you want to startle him, so approach with care.”

“What does that mean?” he asks in his normal tone, having drawn near enough that I can see the contrast of his pale face framed by dark, disheveled hair.

His question is answered by the wolf’s startling snarl, and I can’t suppress a smile as the Shaper almost jumps out of his cloak. “Oh, I see.” Once he identifies the animal’s presence, however, he seems at ease. “Is this your handiwork or his?” he asks, glancing at the pair of lifeless bodies, merely shadowed testaments to my victory in the concealment of night.

“A little of both,” I say, and the wolf howls his agreement. “Glad to have you back,” I offer in Rhiannon’s direction. “Probably didn’t think I’d be repaying your favor so soon.”

She gazes at, or maybe through, me – it’s difficult to be sure with those enormous eyes – and then makes a curious hissing sound. I’m not sure how to interpret this, but then I notice movement from the wolf and realize it was meant for him. The wolf extends both front paws in a stretch, then quickly rolls over until he’s back on his feet.

“Did you just teach him a trick?” I ask.

“He did that on his own,” she replies. “I simply announced that I was not his enemy.”

“You can speak with animals?” The possibility is fascinating.

“Well, we all have much to learn about one another, but might I suggest another location for doing so?” The Grackle’s back was to me as he looked out toward the fort. “The torches are drawing closer.”

“Agreed,” I say, now confident that the wolf means us no harm. I would like to know why he showed up when he did and chose to only attack my enemy, but I need to focus on escape. “Should we go to the Spirit Shaman?”

“I can recommend something nearer – my home.”

Rhiannon and I both give the Grackle hard looks, but it’s too dark for interpreting glances, and we’ve run out of time for more discussion. “Lead the way,” I relent. If he intends us harm, it seems unlikely he’d have gone through such trouble to save the fey woman from it.

The Grackle nods and whisks his cloak around him as he trots down the hill. Given the night and his previously dark feathers, I’m thankful he foregoes changing into a bird once again. I look down into the grass once more and spy the glint of my lacquered bow reflecting the moonlight. I scoop it up, sheathe my knife, and chase after Rhiannon, who’s already well ahead of me.

“Are you hurt?” I ask softly as I draw closer, my longer strides doing most of the work. “That clan is known for their savagery – some say they believe they’re animals.”

“True animals would not behave that way,” she snaps as if it’s my fault. I suppose to her, I may as well be one of them.

We maintain a quick pace, heading ever nearer to the northern woods, which gives me a bad feeling. Glancing back, I see the torches at the top of the hill – no doubt the barbarians have found their slain brethren and are taking advantage of the higher ground to look for us. I suppose the cover of the trees is not a bad idea.

The grass shuffles beside me. Startled, I almost trip over my feet while leaping sideways. It is the wolf keeping pace, though this doesn’t put me at ease, remembering the blood on his teeth.

Rhiannon peers over, my erratic behavior no doubt drawing her attention. “Looks like you’ve picked up a new shadow,” she says.

That sounds like a fitting name to me, for the stealthy canine is black and silent. “You wouldn’t jump me from behind now would you, Shadow?” I ask quietly but never stop moving, cognizant of creating separation from our enemies. He stares down my question with wide, amber eyes and raises his noise to sniff the air.

Finally, we’ve reached the trees. “This way,” the Grackle says after I catch up. He ducks under a low limb and enters the woods. “I’ve placed wards around my home, so they shouldn’t give us any trouble.”

“Aren’t we going to have enough trouble finding it in the dark?” I ask. The summer canopy blocks out almost every spare bit of moon and starlight once we’re a few strides into the forest.

“I know my way well enough,” the Grackle answers, but it’s already so black I can no longer see him.

All I can do is focus on the lighter color of Rhiannon’s hair and try to follow without tripping. I stop for a moment to listen back the way we’ve come, but I can’t hear any disturbances over the sloppy breathing of the wolf, who is still following me. His presence is oddly comforting now, but after a few more minutes of stumbling over roots and scraping my arms on unseen branches, I’m ready to complain.

Just as I open my mouth to do so, three globes of differently colored light peek out from the darkness ahead.

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