Stamping hooves. Heavy things clomped up the path to the right. Grunters.
The boat was slowly wending its way through the maze of decaying and defunct boats in the cove.
There were still two Grunters on the pathway to the left. They would have the high ground and a clear shot at Bujilli and his companions if they ran headlong down the center path. The one that led to the boat. the boat that carried Bortho's mate.
"We did come her to hunt." He looked at Leeja. She smiled sweetly, almost innocently.
"But of course." She purred.
"You go left. I go right. Eliminate these scouts. We can't leave them behind us. Then we go after the boat--"
"Bortho see. Go Boat. Now." And he was off and running full-tilt down the ramp-like roadway to the fleeing boat.
Leeja struggled to suppress her laughter as she jammed her crystal torch into the sandy gravel of the road. She wouldn't need it where she was going. She turned and ran along the left-hand road. Her talons gleamed in the gloom. Bujilli watched her go for a moment. Sleek. Graceful. Deadly. There was something elemental about his partner.
Still smiling, Bujilli readied his hand-axe and tulwar, then he too ran to meet his opponents.
They were far closer than he'd expected.
SLASH! chop. HaCK! Sand flew from where battle-axes chunked into the road surface.
He struck one along it's jowls with the tulwar. Blocked a follow-up blow with his hand-axe. Whirled. slammed the point of his tulwar into the throat of the second Grunter.
Then a heavy, tearing pain flared through his back.
The breath went out of him.
He hit the road. Hard.
His tulwar slipped from his hand.
There was blood in his mouth from where he'd bit his lip.
He had to move. Now.
Cruel laughter. The Grunter hefted his heavy axe for the finishing blow.
Bujilli rolled. Swung wildly. His arm stopped abruptly. Jarring. Painful.
The Grunter squealed in pain. Collapsed to it's knees in the gravel.
Bujilli lay there. Panting. So hard to move.
He used his hand-axe to leverage himself upright.
His back was a stiffening mass of pain.
He couldn't bend enough to retrieve his tulwar.
So he used the hand-axe.
Hot blood gushed over his hand. It was stuck. The Grunter slumped forwards.
Bujilli started to sit down. He woke up sprawled on the sand. His back was terribly bruised.
He tried to sit up.
It took four tries.
He could hear the snap and rustle of the bamboo and bone slats reinforcing his armor as they shifted improperly. His armor was ruined. But it had protected his spine from the Grunter's axe. He was lucky to be alive, let alone not crippled.
Thankfully the Grunter's axe was dull. Bujilli looked the weapon lying next to him. The blade was flattened, split, curled back in places as if it had been used as a make-shift hammer or maul. It was an awkward club now, due to this heavy mis-use. He wondered what the Grunters had been up to that they would abuse their weapons so badly.
But there wasn't time for such idle speculation.
Bujilli shifted himself around until he was kneeling on the gravel. He moved his arms, flexed his back. As far as he could tell his armor would work for now, at least until he found some suitable replacement. There didn't seem to be any bleeding. Just one massive bruised spot. He considered the armor that the Grunters wore. Some kind of chain-mail over stout leather. Bulky. Far too big around the torso for him. It might as well be made of solid gold; it was too big, too heavy, too clunky: it'd do him no good.
He got up. Picked up his tulwar. Took another look at the Grunters. They were brutish, short but wide and stocky humanoids. Thick-skinned, yet clearly marked by traces of several different exotic poxes their bodies had eventually shrugged off. Heavily hooved. Severely snouted. Bestial things that only walked upright so they could wield weapons. He'd seen these piggish things before. Kalkendru. The Blade Maze. DuKushKa. He spat in disgust at the memory of the sorceress who'd nearly enslaved him.
His back hurt badly.
Made it difficult to brood on the dead past.
He made sure both Grunters were dead. Uninfected by spores. One had been carrying a pouch of dried jerky and tubers. The other had a dented canteen of stale, flat beer. It smelled skunky. He left it behind.
Leeja limped up to meet him. She was carrying two Grunter heads.
"We need to catch up to Bortho--"
She was off and running.
Shaking his head, Bujilli followed. A bit more slowly. He put away the tulwar and slid the hand-axe back onto his belt. this seemed like a good time to try out his new-found short-bow. He pulled it free and restrung it as he walked along the ramp-like road. He knocked an arrow. Tested the pull. It felt good. A decent weapon.
He picked up his pace.
The boat was stopped short of the entrance to the cove.
He couldn't see Bortho.
Leeja was jumping from boat to boat. She was laughing.
A lurid violet flash.
The boat exploded...