Whiteness glared. Snow kept falling. It was wet, heavy. It also was filling-in his tracks. Even with the bundle of soft pine branches tied behind the travois. That was a good trick. One he'd learned from a fur trapper he'd met in his travels, in another mountain range, on the other side of this world.
Bujilli had the distinct feeling that he was being followed. Probably more Yeren. Out from the woods. Prowling for meat. He knew how they tended to hunt. Knew very well. He used to hunt them. Long ago. When he was younger. Angrier.
He was cold now. Not just from the snow.
His Uncle was like a poisonous tumor. A source of disquiet and turmoil. Always lying. Constantly scheming. Forever placing Bujilli at risk, thrusting him into harm's way, only to satisfy his opaque machinations and crass greed. But the old Almas had been the only family Bujilli had really ever had. His mother, an Almas, one of the not quite humans who dwelt in the high mountains, was killed before he'd got all his first set of teeth. His father...some mysterious human sorcerer from the Low Lands. He didn't know much about his father. Other than it was his father who'd murdered his mother. Or at least that was the story he'd grown up with. The story his Uncle had told him frequently and often.
Bujilli slipped on some ice. Dropped to his knee. Jarring. He looked around. The snow obscured practically everything. He was lucky if he could see ten feet away before the stuff swirled up and hid everything. Perfect Yeren weather.
Bujilli smirked. He would almost have been disappointed if someone, something had not been following him. No scent came to him on the wind. He wasn't sure who, or what, might be out there, but for now they seemed to be keeping their distance. Some caltrops would have been handy. Scattered behind him, anyone following his trail too closely would regret it. But alas, he hadn't brought any along with him. He considered a spell. No sense in wasting time. He grabbed hold of the travois poles and got going again.
The way down the trail from here was slippery. He nearly lost control of the travois twice. Almost dropped his Uncle's sleeping form into a deep ravine. Almost.
He stopped. Smoke. He could smell it whenever the wind shifted. They were close now.
Closer than he'd thought. The wall loomed before him, close enough to reach out and touch. He did. Now all he needed to do was follow it around to the entrance.
Bujilli closed his eyes. Whatever was out there was keeping its distance. Biding its time. Not like a Yeren. They had exceptionally poor impulse control. No attention spans. They just prowled and ran after anything they scared forth, or went looking for likely hiding places from which to drive potential prey. Opportunists. They only rigged-up ambushes down in the dark woods where they lurked. Dead-falls. Pits. Snares. In the woods, Yeren were clever and cruel, away from their chosen ground they were clumsy, less confident.
He jerked the travois back into motion. Headed to the entrance. He hoped his choice of terrain would work to his favor. He knew he'd need any edge he could get. Whatever else might be true, his father was a sorcerer. A person of power. And his Uncle feared him. Wanted him dead, at Bujilli's hand.
His father was largely an unknown to him, but what his Uncle had told him made it clear that whatever his own feelings in the matter, his father very likely saw Bujilli as some sort of threat to his personal safety. After all, his Uncle had summoned him back from Wermspittle, ostensibly to kill his father. That alone made it clear that Bujilli could be used to harm is father. Like a tool. A weapon.
Bujilli spat in disgust. He remembered the sword he'd encountered beneath Zormur's Palace*. The wickedly jewelled and ensorcelled blade that contained a restless spirit that had tried to tempt him into becoming its wielder, its slave. That blade had a will of its own. It served its own agenda. If that cursed thing could claim its own fate and strive towards its own goals, how could he settle for anything less?
The left door was wide open, but the right remained steadfastly in place. Even a pack of Yeren couldn't take those ponderous doors off of their hinges.
He pulled the travois onto the cobbles of the paved area leading into the Monastery and set it down. The walls were intact. As far as he could see. The snow was thinning out. It was getting too cold for the snow. But the clouds still loomed all curdled and tormented overhead.
The scent of smoke was strong now. Pine smoke. Sooty and resinous. There were twigs, branches and needles scattered everywhere around the doors. As though loads of rough-cut wood were dragged into the place.
He drew his hand-axe. Padded softly to the doors. Listened. Then entered.
Someone had piled-up a great mass of logs and brush wood toward the back of the central open space of the Monastery. It still blazed. Sparks drifted on the swirling wind. Smoke billowed upwards. The wall behind it was blackened. Every shutter, every door was hacked to bits and splinters. Blood and filth was splattered across the walls, the columns, the railings. Dead Yeren littered the cobbles. The heat from the fire keeping them free from most of the snow.
A siege. Of sorts. As he had suspected.
He went back and dragged his Uncle in past the big doors. He examined the heavy chains that worked them. Everything was in order. He closed the doors. Dropped the bar.
The snow had stopped falling.
Whomever had been following him was locked outside.
Now he had to decide whether to hunt down whatever Yeren remained in this place...or set his ambush into motion while he still had a slight advantage in terms of timing.
At least he hoped he still had some sort of lead on his father.
But time was running out. Either he secured the area, or he took his chances. Either way, any Yeren left in the place would sense his sorcery and come to investigate...
...and if he hesitated much longer, his father might summon him, just as his uncle had...
*See Series One.