The Hall of the Wood: Excerpt 2

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Jerrick has reached the Simarron Hall of the Wood. Supposedly, the Hall was abandoned. Jerrick finds this is not entirely true.

Just ahead, cloaked in murky shadows offset by dim light from several windows, Jerrick heard Ash launch into a furious torrent of barking. Then, he heard a yelp and all went silent. Beads of sweat fell from his forehead as he steadied his bow. He stood transfixed as the hazy shadows before him coalesced into a black cloud of darkness. He blinked hard, thinking it a trick of his mind, but the effect remained. The floor beneath him started to tremble. Something was coming. Drawing his bowstring back, Jerrick waited. Then, the shadows swirled like smoke curling from a fire and the thing appeared from the dark. There was a glimpse of wild hair and yellow, baleful eyes, and then Jerrick's arrow flew. Though he saw the missile strike home, it did nothing to stop the watcher's forward momentum. Jerrick threw his bow aside and was just reaching for the hilt of his sword when it plowed into him.

There was a flash, as all the stars in the heavens danced across his vision, right before he was propelled backward through the air. He came down hard, landing flat on his back, and the air was forced from his lungs. Struggling to breathe, the patroller caught a glimpse of metal rising above him. His eyes went wide as he recognized the wedge end of an axe.

Jerrick pushed to one side, feeling a whoosh of air and hearing a hard thunk as the weapon embedded itself in the floor where his head had just been. He tried to rise, but was shoved back down hard enough to knock the wind from him again. Hot, fetid breath caressed his cheek, and he lashed out with his elbow, hitting nothing. There was a grunt as Jerrick heard the axe come loose from the floor. He knew what came next. But then a flash of gray streaked overhead, and Jerrick felt the thing's presence lifted from him. Rolling to one side, Jerrick used the wall to steady himself as he rose and took in great gulps of air.

The watcher—a dark, hulking thing, manlike but hunched over like some beast—stood between him and Ash, its back facing the patroller. Ash was doing his best to keep the creature occupied, but it wielded its axe with great effect, easily holding the dog at bay.

Jerrick shook the last of the disorientation from his head, then drew his hunting knife. Still a bit unsteady, he spun it about so his fingers held the blade. Then he let out a high-pitched whistle that startled the watcher. It spun around and, for one instant, their eyes met. Jerrick saw wildness and death, and then he let his knife fly. The blade spun end over end, finding its target.

The knife was not enough, as not even a cry of pain escaped the thing's lips. It ripped the blade free, tossed it to the floor, then raised its axe high as it hurled itself at the patroller. It moved with such speed, it was on him in an instant. Jerrick managed to draw his sword, blocking the first of the creature's axe blows as it attacked him in wide, forceful swipes. He had no choice but to waver under that assault. Behind the creature, Jerrick saw Ash, fangs bared as he padded forward, waiting for his opportunity to strike. Jerrick gave it to him. Feigning an attack, he acted as if he meant to lunge blade first at the creature, but instead leaned in, then darted back. The watcher leaned away from his pretended lunge, stepping right into Ash's maw. The dog's teeth sank deep into its leg, and the thing screamed in agony.

Jerrick pressed the advantage. He attacked once, then twice, swiping his blade from side to side in alternating patterns, in order to throw the creature off-balance. Behind it, Ash snapped. The watcher maneuvered itself so both patroller and dog remained in sight. Caught between them, its eyes went wild, for it knew it was trapped.