Hunting the Hunter Ch. 08byEnithermon©
Or those of you who yet remain, however few of you there are. I apologize for the dreadful wait, but here, finally, is the next installment of our story. It's been a rough year, so opportunities for indulging my authorial habit have been few and far between.
However, I have already begun to continue, and intend to eventually finish the story, I just can't promise how long it will take. I'm sorry for that, but there's really nothing for it.
That said, if you're still around and enjoying the story, then I'm more pleased than you can know to have given you some moment of pleasure, however brief.
Normally, she would never complain.
Normally, she would preen and crow— gleefully skipping off to find someone's face to rub it in.
But sometimes not. Sometimes it just sucked to be right. Sometimes it sucked hard.
She said they should expect an attack. She said there was a good chance that they were going to triangulate in on their location. That it was going to be sooner rather than later. And voila! That's what they got.
Once Feric had taken Mirisa, Owyn, and Cyrus to check out the new headquarters for the hunters it hadn't taken the bastards long to make their move. N'chow s'wit fetchers!
Lucas had spotted movement, then come in to warn Bella. Moments later they were officially under siege.
Now they had to find some way to be 'not' under siege. Unfortunately it didn't look like simply pummeling them into submission was going to be one of those ways today. The halls were narrow and there was a chance one or two of the little fuzzballs might get underfoot in the process. Ambrose was the only one with enough good sense to run for it.
Too much was at risk.
Inanna growled as she shoved what she could in her pack and slung it across her shoulder, letting it bump lightly against her hip. Thank Azura for feathering spells. She also found the sword she'd stolen for Feric and tucked it awkwardly behind her quiver as well. She wasn't about to lose it to the likes of them.
She heard a distant shout echo in the halls and knew the place had been breached. Well, the seal she'd activated on the front door could only last so long...of course it didn't last long at all...which meant they had a magic user with them. She cursed as she skidded into the hall. Aina was already standing with the cubs at the far end, one of the fair haired twins in her arms, the other twin in Ambrose's. Mori and Talon were already in cat form and lurking behind the others.
"Good. Go!" She hissed, pointing to the hall behind them, and in the direction of the gate to the lower levels. Aina only nodded and the others followed her without looking back.
Where the hell were Lucas and Bella? A snarl coming from another hall answered that question for her. She headed toward it, trusting that Aina was doing the smart thing and leading the little ones in the opposite direction.
She pulled an arrow and readied it, nocking and releasing it as she rounded the corner. It slammed into a hunter's shoulder. Lucas used his opponent's moment of pain and distraction to go for his legs. The man was wearing leather, so the cracking sound which filed the hall was probably the man's shin splintering into itty bitty pieces.
Of course it was hard to hear over the screaming. Lucas twisted his head, still holding what was left of the leg and threw the slim man against the wall, knocking him out. Or killing him. She couldn't tell.
"Effective. But a little...ew." She muttered as she stepped over the crumpled figure. She slipped another arrow into her bow and aimed it down the hall. There was a flicker of movement, but whoever was down there was lingering around the next bend. She eyed the wall and tipped her head at Lucas. "Get going. Protect Aina. She's got her hands full and needs her back covered."
He hesitated, no doubt torn between the urge to fight—and more likely to resist any command Inanna gave— and the powerful urge to actually go and look after his girl. There was a reason she'd worded it like that instead of 'quick, run away!'
She was many things. But stupid? Not on your sweet life.
She shot him a quick look, "If you don't protect what's yours who will, Shadow?"
That seemed to be all the push he needed, and after what she imagined was a final twinge of resistance, he was off.
She turned her attention back toward whoever was lurking down the hall, grinding her teeth in annoyance. In the narrow and winding halls of the ruin it was impossible to tell how many there were. And since she didn't know where Bellane was, she couldn't exactly let loose with the crazy just yet. She crept slowly forward and cast a life-detecting spell and narrowed her eyes as two glowing spots appeared ahead and to the right.
There was a trap in the hall that Des had set up...a sort of shielding spell which could block physical matter as well as magica and keep them trapped where they were. But once again, she didn't know where Bellane was.
Or did she? She saw another light appear ahead, from farther away. A startled shout confirmed it for her, and she ran ahead, no longer bothering with caution. Well, not too much caution at least.
She still led with the point of her arrow as she rounded the corner, her back pressed against the wall.
The two hunters really weren't paying her much mind, however, as there was a good sized lion skillfully holding their attention. The hunter closest to Bella was swinging a sword at the lioness to keep her at bay, while the second was drawing an arrow and taking aim. She didn't wait any longer than it took to register who was who and doing what. Her long-readied arrow nested itself deeply in the archer's back. Their own shot went off wildly down the hall as they dropped to their knees with a feminine cry of surprise and pain. A second shot finished the job.
The other hunter was better armored, and their back gave an archer little to work with. Thankfully, the fighter was still preoccupied with the lion and had barely flinched when their partner went down. Inanna docked her bow quickly and drew a dagger as she sidled carefully toward the man-shaped tin can.
Her caution paid off and she wasn't caught completely off guard when the hunter wheeled on her as well, cutting through the air between them. Unfortunately he had a height advantage, and was lanky enough to make getting in close with a knife almost impossible, especially with the long blade he was wielding. What's more the confines of these halls meant she wasn't going to be able to use her speed to much advantage either. Where was she to go after all?
The one advantage they did have was numbers. He was obliged to keep two of them at bay...but this was an advantage which wouldn't last long if another hunter showed up. She cursed and pulled up her fire, wishing, and not for the first time, that she was better at distance magic. She worked up as much as she thought she could control, and hurled it toward him.
It hit weakly and did little damage. However, he stumbled, and the arch of his sword went wide, allowing Bellane to lunge. He recovered and swung again...but between the stumble and the second swing Ina had bridged the distance, and while the cat dodged the heavy blade, a much smaller blade managed to wedge its tip into the gap between his helm and cuirass.
A well placed kick sent him to his knees allowing Bellane to join her on the safer side of the hall. And not a moment too soon. The life detection had worn off, but she didn't need it to hear they had more company closing in.
They retreated, though pausing to activate the shielding spell. It was then that Ina noticed the blood on her fellow's flank. "Bella, can you heal that?"
Bellane shifted and clutched her bloodied side, using the wall to hold herself up. "It might take too long."
"Nah...this will hold. And I can supplement it while we're here. Go for it." She placed her hand over the inscription and focused her energy, letting it spill over and into the enchantment. She felt the surge of energy in the shield and it made her skin prickle as her magica fused with Des's. It wasn't a totally unfamiliar sensation.
She sighed. Mysticism did have its upsides occasionally. Messing with other people's spells and energy wasn't easy. For many it wasn't even possible.
Inanna watched the hall and focused on pouring more juice into the enchantment. She could hear them approaching and smirked when two more hunters came around the corner. The lanky hunter they'd escaped wasn't with them and she wondered just how much damage she'd done.
They shouted out to the others that they'd "found them," and Inanna flinched as a spell crashed against the barrier between them.
"You sure it's going to hold?" Bellane asked anxiously from behind her right shoulder.
"No worries Bella. I've got it." Well, there was some worry since they had a magic user with them, but now wasn't the time to be thinking about that. "As soon as you're good, go after the others. I've got something going, but I don't want you to accidentally get caught in it." She was about to elaborate, but there was now a small group of hunters drawing slowly nearer and she didn't want to ruin the surprise.
The magic user, a Breton male from the looks of him was giving her dark look as he sent another spell hurtling toward her. She didn't like the feel of it. It felt like a dispel, and a decently strong one at that. If there weren't already two spells at play, it might have done a number on it.
A moment later Ina sensed a familiar tingle of magica and knew that Bella had shifted. The expressions on the faces she could see confirmed it for her. Another moment later and she knew she was alone in the hall with the hunters.
She grinned maliciously at the Breton who was still pounding away with his spells, alternating between destruction and dispel magic. She grinned because she knew something he didn't. Unless he was a very subtle and clever practitioner, he was probably thinking that she was using some sort of alteration magic and was simply renewing the same spell over and over....creating new shields to replace the ones he was battering. Of course the fact that he was just 'throwing' spells at her, as if trying to break a window with a rock, indicated that he wasn't all that subtle. If he stopped to figure it out he might see what was going on, but from that distance how could he? How could he know that she was actually absorbing his own spells and using them to recharge the shield he was trying to destroy. Again, she wasn't about to start lauding mysticism, but she could admit it did have its rare moments...when one knew how to use it.
Of course she couldn't keep it up forever. Channeling the offensive spells into the shield was still using up her own resources, even if it took longer. When she was confident Bella was well out of range she released her contact with the spell and slouched...just a little, and pulled out an arrow while backing away slowly.
The Breton took heart and began a fresh attack. The barrier came down three spells later.
Inanna loosed her arrow toward him and he parried it easily with a shielding spell of his own. The others began to close in as she drew another arrow. The second was blocked with a shield from one of the more combat ready hunters who closed in while the mage fell back in order to protect his delicate, unarmored hide.
It was a good thing he did. If he hadn't he might have noticed the way her lips were moving and might have been able to throw up a shield to protect his comrades as they closed in for the kill. One Redguard woman did get a flash of something like awareness in her eyes, but never had the chance to call out. Or at least, Ina hadn't heard her if she did. The roaring in her ears might have blotted it out.
Inanna shuddered as the growing ball of searing heat in her core grew to almost unbearable heights, condensing and tightening for a tense moment before exploding outward. It licked across her skin, along her limbs, and finally out and away, turning the space around her into a roaring inferno.
She fought to control the blinding flames this time, not wanting to empty herself completely since there was still an escape to make...but she was no proper mage, and it was a difficult spell to get a handle on once released. There was a reason its inventor had named it Wild Fire.
Finally she managed to get some kind of control over it...pulling it back inside of her a little at a time. She tried to blink the dry heat from her eyes and stumbled back against the wall, forcing her senses back to work. She could see the writhing bodies on the ground...heard them groaning...one was still up— the mage. She tensed and reached for an arrow, but realized a moment later that he was shaken and cringing...still hiding behind a protective spell with his arms thrust over his head in an instinctive protective gesture.
Good enough, she decided, and took off as fast as her rubbery legs would carry her. She felt drained, and her body ached from the abuse, but at least it wasn't desperate like the last time she'd used the spell. As such it was uncomfortable, and she was slower than normal, but it wasn't hard to get herself down the hall.
She veered left down a side hall and up a set of stairs, dodging a trap on her way, one which sensed motion at shoulder height, or head height on her—something easily avoided by cats and those who knew where to duck. She cursed, however, as new noises indicated hunters on the move behind her.
She was able to get to the push block to open the gate, but dropping to the ground below was a challenge...what with an archer trying to aerate her on the way down. She dropped into a crouch and dive-rolled into the hall. The timed gate didn't come down as quick as she'd have liked so she decided not to wait for one of the morons trailing her to set off the traps on their own.
She only hopped that a well placed arrow would create the movement necessary to set off the trap.
Turns out it wasn't. She swore again as a hunter caught up to her just as the gate was coming down. He was a sturdy fellow and alarmed her to no end by grabbing the bottom of the gate.
She felt her eyes go wide. His face broke into a fearsome grin as he stilled the gate and began lifting it.
Screw that noise. She curled her lip into a sneer as her hand curled into a ball and lashed out through the bars of the gate—bars set wide enough apart to accommodate her small, but very fast and very accurate fist.
There's nothing like a broken nose to shatter someones concentration. The gate came down with a crash and she took off down the hall...though not so carelessly as to set off the older Ayleid traps Des had reset for them. Of course they probably weren't going to be necessary anyway, she mused, as a telling rumble and vibration in the floor and walls let her know that the trap she had failed to set off was finally seeing action.
She wasn't in perfect shape by the time she caught up with everyone else, but she was certainly functional and bore nothing more than a few scuffs and bruises for her efforts.
Once they were together, she and Lucas led the way through the ruin, scouting ahead to make sure the route hadn't been breached. It hadn't.
There was one hunter guarding the inside of the door but he went down quickly underneath a well placed kick from above. A quick check showed a clear coast...clear enough to slip out and into the woods at least. Bella led them off, letting Inanna take the rear with her bow.
Bella shifted once they were hidden and it was safe to pause for breath. She cast a furtive glance around them and ran an anxious hand through her light brown hair. "You were right."
Inanna snorted. "Don't remind me. Now what?"
It was a good question. They were on their own, with their biggest and strongest too far to be reached.
The Imperials had a saying: Divide and conquer. Divide your enemy in order to weaken them and wipe them out. Well, they were divided. But like hell they were getting conquered. Not if she had anything to do with it. Besides, there was another method of dividing and conquering. It's called flanking.
They could hide the cubs and split up...come at them from the sides...Lucas could help...and Aina for that matter. Maybe they could lead them to that clearing where she and Lucas practiced archery so often and take pot shots at them for a while...
"Take them, and go."
Inanna blinked at the woman. "Wait...what?!"
"We might not get away with so many cubs. We should split up. I can lead them away and buy you time."
"Ok....sure, but shouldn't it be the other way around? I can lead them off..."
"No. Go! You have to protect them."
"I-ah, Bella, aren't you better equipped to look after them? I'm not really the mommy type, and" she dropped her voice, "if something were to happen to you...it's just better if I go. They need you, they can't lose you."
Bella reached out and gripped her shoulder hard. "Where would I take them, Inanna? I know no one, I don't know where it's safe."
Inanna opened her mouth to argue, but nothing came out. She had a point. Dammit...this was too much...too much, too fast. Bullshit from her ancestors...this crap about mating...ambush...and now Bella. What if she...no, she wasn't going to go there. Survive first, then freak out. That's how this shit worked, right?
"Ok," she conceded with a sigh, "meet us at the house...but approach with extreme caution. If it looks like it might have been compromised, even just a bad feeling, head to Chorrol instead. Go to the fighters guild. Tell the guild head, Modryn, that you're a friend of mine and Feric's. He'll understand." She took a deep settling breath. "Are you absolutely sure about this?"
"Yes. Just..." she didn't finish, but her thoughts were writ large in her expression.
"Don't worry, I will. Like they're my own."
"Thank you...now go...we won't have long."
Inanna turned and looked over the several sets of wide shining eyes that looked back up at her. She was filled with a rare dread and uncertainty, and it made her broad grin feel oddly tight. "Ok kiddies, adventure time!"
If the hunters had indeed followed them, then Inanna and the cubs led them on a merry chase. She sent both Aina and Lucas off, fanning out as they moved. If they were being approached from either direction they would be able to guard their flanks.
It seemed to be unnecessary, however, and after taking the scenic route they finally found themselves crouching along the North side of the city walls. The sun had been down for some time, and the moonless night gave them wonderful cover. Inanna slung off her pack and gestured for the others to come in close.
Like all the houses she lived in, the city itself had a secret back door. Most people, even those who live there didn't know about it. She didn't know why it was there or who put it there...but it was well shielded. It was the shielding spell she'd felt which had tipped her off when she was out running in the woods one night. She'd caught a tingle from the spell and had returned to investigate. Of course the shield kept the entrance, a small hole in the wall invisible, but it also kept physical matter from passing through.
She pushed the additional brush out of the way to expose the gap...barely large enough for most to crawl through, but Lucas was the biggest of them and he was slim enough in build to get through...if tightly. She knelt next to it, holding her hands out in front of the invisible gap, just inches away, until she felt the buzz of energy against the palms of her hands.
"I'm going to open it...be quick...I don't know how long I can hold it. Stay where you are once you're through. If I don't make it, I'll come get you."