I had finally made it to the top of the mountain, but this didn’t mean I knew where I was going. The peek was huge, but it didn’t take to look for the billowing smoke and the glowing fires to give their position away.

Soon it was Ethan’s manic cries that were drawing me toward where I unfortunately needed to be.

Peering around a large collection of boulders, I was not pleased with what I saw. Huts and primitive cabins circled a series of smoky fires. They must have been burning leaves or mulch, because the grey plumes were nearly enough to obfuscate the area.

The Glooms themselves were ragged filthy things. They were so distorted and foul that it was hard to believe that they might have once been human. They each swayed like drunken dancers. Their tall bodies created wisps of sick fog which did little to conceal their wild glowing red eyes.

Ethan’s shouting form was held in a rusty iron cage, but far more alarming was the sight of Hannah bound and unconscious in the center of the cluttered circle. Even as I watched, the Xemmoni were chanting some horrid Bestow while they readied their sickles. It didn’t take a genius to guess my babe was about to be sacrificed to help increase these bastard’s power.

I was glad I had brought along my giant war hammer, despite the difficult climb. But still, these were the real deal, high powered warlocks. Their Flesh to Mists bestows alone could have me dissipating into the wind. My usual ‘run at them with weapons flying’ would not work this time. Even if I could get Ethan loose, it might still not be enough.

I cursed under my breath. Hannah was running out of time!

I looked around the rough circle and then looked again. Ideas entered and then spilled out of my head just as quickly. There had to be a way or at least an angle that could help me.

 Then I spied what I had been looking for. On the southern side of the circle was a cluster of what could be jumbled rocks. There was no guarantee they would be loose enough to send at my enemies, but one could only try. It might be our only chance.

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The going was rough. I considered myself to be in damn good shape, but as I climbed above 10,000 feet, my breath came in gasps. I had managed to find ways up the mountain, which were safer that the sheer cliff faces, but these still left me scrambling up steep areas covered with loose rocks. One wrong step and I’d be having a much faster descent.

My fingers were quickly worn raw and my legs felt like they were filled with lead, but I still pushed on. I couldn’t let my friends down. That was the important thing, but these days I was so pissed off that I would have probably killed these screwballs on principle. Damn Glooms.

I had perhaps made it halfway of the rocky peek of the mountain when I felt more than saw something move near me. I was glad I paid attention for that was the only warning I got. Six glowing grey shapes were circling me, getting into position. I only had seconds before the ragged birds of prey started to dive bomb me.

Their wing spans must have been nearly six feet and their talons were the size of my fingers. I could tell because they were inches away from my face trying to claw out my eyes. Yet, instead of attacking in a swarm, they were taking turns dive bombing me and then returning to the circling position until they could get their next chance.

That they were some type of corrupted owl was not hard to perceive. Their large red eyes burned hate at me each time they attacked. So far I had just been using my arms and stray rocks to keep the bird things at bay, but my hands and face were already criss-crossed with spider webs of gashes and seeping wounds.

My hammer would be too awkward, so I grabbed up my new hand axe. The first one exploded in a storm of feathers. The others drew back hissing as their glowing red eyes glared at me.

“Come on you pukes! Is it not any fun now that you know I can fight back?”

They came two at a time now. I dropped another, but the second scored a long scratch along the side of my neck. Two more dropped at me and I lanced forward taking out my third bird, but its partner slammed into me. I lost my balance and fell forward onto the loose stones. At once, I started to slide down the side of the mountain. Forty feet below me was a cliff that would mean my doom, if I couldn’t stop myself in time.

As I continued to slide to my destruction, the darkened owls crawled at my back and head. With a growl I hooked my axe on a rock, but it pulled away from the ground. My axe was scrapping over the rocks and slowing me down. I let a dagger fill my left hand and I stabbed it into a section of earth. It held long enough for my axe to anchor me and for a moment I just breathed.

But it’s hard to relax with owls crawling at your flesh. So I rolled over onto my back with a shout and literally axed one. Another came at me and I batted him featherless. 

The last turned to escape, but I let my dagger fly. It took him in the wing. He tried to stay airborne, but after fifteen seconds plummeted to its death half a mile below. “Good, for once my enemy won’t be warned.” I gasped out, but then saved my breath from climbing.

I still had a long way to go.

 

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Dick was trying to maintain a stumbling half jog, while he clutched his broken arm to his chest. This didn’t keep him from complaining. “Why are you taking me? Every step jars my blasted arm and how can you expect me to keep running when you stabbed my leg with your axe?”

“You’re right. I should probably just kill you.”

“No, I’m cool,” he said, looking back over his shoulder. “I can make it.”

Although he had never mentioned it, I saw Dick was avoiding certain trails, which I figured were trapped. One time he took me down a wide path and stepped over a trip wire. But I had spotted it and followed suit. From the looks he flashed me, he was clearly disappointed.

Night had completely claimed the land, by this point, and I slowed the Gloom down. I had also noted that we were about to climb above the tree line. The area was moving from sparse trees to boulders fields, but would be quickly becoming a difficult near vertical climb.

“I guess I can see why they use brooms,” I said, while looking up the side of what had to be at least a fourteen thousander. “I don’t suppose there’s a trail?”

“They don’t want us up there. The Bitters come to our cabin when they need something from us.”

“So what, you’re their piss-ants. Do you hope one day to be given your own broom or something.”

I must have struck a nerve, because he leaned against the side of a boulder and sulked. I again looked up the mountain. There were ways easier than others and I could probably make the climb as long as freaks riding broomsticks didn’t attempt to knock me off.

As I gazed at the mountain, I thought I saw colors. Sharp reds and jagged black bolts began to curl into the air near the peak. “Oh, that can’t be good. I guess I’d better quit screwing around. I suppose I can only hope that they’ll be distracted enough to not see me heading toward them.”

“What about me?”

“I’m sure I can trust you not to give me away right?” I said and then broke out laughing.

“But you can’t just kill me. I was helping you.” 

“And I might need some additional help, sooo…” I pushed him back into a tree as we talked. These were healthy uncorrupted pines and the tree encased the Xemmoni in a dozen strong limbs. After stuffing a rag cut from Dick’s own cloak and securing it into his mouth, I set off.

This was going to suck.

 

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