This was just supposed to be an easy contract. A simple job where the town lords hired him to take care of a problem plaguing their people. With a sigh, Darrius ran his fingers across his scratchy chin, feeling the week-long stubble that had grown in. He’d been tailing this group of goblins for a week now, with the help of fellow huntsmen Trey and Zed. Between the three of them, they’d planned to take on the horde in the morning, but now there was quite the complication that was utterly impossible to ignore. A pretty, blond-haired, blue-eyed concern that made this job a hell of a lot more difficult. Now, instead of an easy hunt and kill job, it was turning into a rescue mission.
This group had been pillaging around the far reaches of Renvale for some time now, leaving outlying houses in piles of smoldering ashes in their wake. They’d killed anyone in their path and the simple folk who lived there were scared. A small group of them had braved the wilderness and begged for help in the king’s court, but the nobles didn’t have any options to deal with the marauders except for sellswords like him. Darrius and his companions had been there at the time and had offered their services, for a price of course. Since then, everything had gone off without a hitch.
Both Trey and Zed were on guard duty, swords at the ready, prepared for anything that might come their way while Darrius used his powers. He was still miles away, using his sight to spy on the goblin camp to gather information that he needed. Darrius wasn’t just simply a mercenary for hire, he was a necromancer. Gifted with magical powers from birth, he’d been feared, yet respected, his entire life. When he walked into a room, people would go silent and give him a wide berth. Despite their fear, Darrius’s gift afforded him freedom that few others had, a life where laws didn’t apply to him.
Necromancers throughout history were regarded as more powerful than kings and queens. If he wished it, he could rule the city of Renvale like a few conjurers of the past, but he didn’t want that. To be honest, it was too much of a hassle. He didn’t want that kind of power or attention.
It was expected that he would take a wife in order to carry on his legacy. It was his duty and also his burden. In fact, if he didn’t carry on his bloodline by a certain point in his life, he wouldn’t have a choice. If he really thought about it, he just wished to be left alone in peace to settle down, take a beautiful wife to love and cherish, and to have a family.
But he knew better. That would never happen for him. Instead, every woman who managed to get within a few feet of him cowered and shook so badly that they couldn’t form words. Their eyes would show blatant fear, terror that he’d use his abilities to hurt them or force them into wedlock. There was no way a woman would yield to his touch, no matter what he did.
He’d given up that dream long ago. Never would a woman tremble beneath him with desire, and he’d accepted that. Given little other choice, he’d become a sellsword, bartering his skills to protect Renvale and its surrounding territories. He made a decent living and enjoyed the work. He’d met Trey and Zed along the way, both big strong men who had never been afraid of him. They got along and worked well together, their skill with a blade unparalleled.
He’d been comfortable, happy with his life… at least until he saw her.
She was tied to a tree in nothing but a nightgown, and the goblins were yammering around her, discussing in explicit detail the best way to cook her for their dinner. One of the ugly beasts was stoking the small flame, throwing enough wood and kindling on it so that it was quickly becoming a bonfire. The beasts were practically salivating over her tender pale flesh and they hadn’t even started to cook her yet.
The poor girl was shivering so badly that her teeth were practically knocking together. Long blond curls surrounded a small round face, smeared with dirt. Blue eyes the color of the ocean watered with tears, looking around with obvious fear and confusion. She wore simply a long white nightgown, or at least it probably used to be white before it was torn and covered with grass stains and streaks of mud. Harsh purple bruises stuck out against her pale skin on her upper arms, evidence of rough treatment at the goblins’ hands. She looked so tiny and frail amongst their oversized bodies and belongings. He knew she wouldn’t survive their cruelty much longer.
With a deep swallow, he came to the realization that the elimination of this particular horde couldn’t wait until morning. The three of them would have to leave at that very moment to rescue the poor, beautiful girl.
With a quick wave of his hand, he dismissed his sight and stood up hastily. He grabbed his sword belt as well as his bow and dagger, strapping them to his waist and over his back before dousing the fire with a nearby bucket of water.
“We have to go now. The bastards have kidnapped a young woman and plan to eat her for their dinner,” he growled, getting angrier by the moment.
“Well, at least it’ll make this night interesting. I was getting bored just being on guard duty all night,” Trey smirked as he sheathed his sword. Trey lived for the hunt. He loved action and adventure, and hated being sedentary, unless it was for food and drink. And he loved women. He’d do anything to get into the arms of some pretty wench whenever they went into the nearby towns.
“The horses are still saddled. Let’s go,” Zed said, his usual no-nonsense demeanor impenetrable. Nothing fazed the man. The only time Darrius had ever seen him smile was in the heat of battle. He never got overexcited nor did he ever panic. He also never said more than needed to be said, silent most of the time. He was the ideal companion.
He couldn’t have chosen two better warriors if he tried.
With quiet determination, Darrius sprinted over to a nearby tree and hastily untied his horse. Quickly, he assured himself that the saddle was still tight, then pulled the reins over his stallion’s snout. Nickering softly, the horse tensed with excitement. He was ready for action. Darrius ran a hand over the black horse’s nose, pressing his forehead to the large beast’s shoulder.
“May my blade be true this night,” he whispered, taking the short moment to calm his body and his mind. He would have to be smart to take the small girl from the hands of these monsters. He couldn’t make any rash decisions. He was going to save that girl, no matter what it took.
He swung up onto the saddle and urged his horse forward. Trey and Zed weren’t far behind, and without delay the sounds of hooves pounded into the night.
Irena struggled to breath, the heat from the fire burning and prickling her skin. The overwhelming smoke choked her lungs and caused her eyes to water. She was terrified. She couldn’t remember how she had gotten into these dark and scary woods, where she came from, or even her last name. Panicked, she didn’t even know what these stupid ugly creatures surrounding her were. Hours ago, she’d woken up in a grassy meadow alone and cold in nothing but the nightgown on her back. Not two minutes later, these tall beasts happened upon her, surrounding her the moment they laid eyes on her. Grayish green in color, they were marred by wrinkles and jagged scars all over their bodies. Long noses and pointed ears reminded her of monsters, but she couldn’t remember what kind. She only knew that she was very scared. She wanted to pinch herself and wake up from this horrifying nightmare.
Shaking like a leaf, she listened as they discussed her fate. One of them was obsessed with frying her brain in a pan, another wanted to grill her innards over the campfire just like a sausage on a stick. Another wanted to suck the marrow from her leg bones. She began to cry. She didn’t want to die and especially didn’t want to be eaten. She tried to wiggle out of the ropes that bound her to the tree, but to no avail. Sobbing even harder, she flinched when they looked back at her, unsympathetic to her struggles. Delighted grins appraised her as if she were a rabbit ripe for slaughter.
One creature moved closer to her, sharpening his dagger with a stone as he stared at her. She felt like a deer about to be pounced on by a wolf. Cowering, she waited for him to slice her throat and for everything to be over.
“I bet her blood will taste delicious. I can’t wait to lick it from her pretty pale skin.”
“The fire is almost ready. We can roast her over it like a stuck pig. I wonder if any parts of her will taste like bacon. Mmhhmm, I can’t wait,” another ugly thing murmured excitedly, rubbing his hands together and licking his lips.
Shivering with terror and disgust, she flinched when one of them licked up the side of her face, his tongue as rough as a cat’s on her sensitive cheek.
“This is going to be such a treat. Her skin is going to be so tasty, salted already with her tears, don’t you think?”
“Please don’t,” she whimpered, a deep dread bubbling up from her toes. Tearfully, she looked around with horror as the group of six advanced on her. Apparently, it was time to cook her. Feeling a scream emerge from her lips, she tried to free herself once again, but it was no use. Wrinkly warm fingers grasped her wrists and ankles as a dagger sawed through the thick scratchy cords. It wouldn’t be long now before they killed her. She struggled the best she could, but she was fighting a losing battle.
All at once, a brilliant white light flashed in the center of the clearing and the monsters stilled. One of them turned back and yelled out.
“What the hell was that?”
The bushes shook around them and a terrible thunder cracked overhead. It felt like the very ground beneath them began to quake with anger. Irena shuddered, having no idea what was happening.
Suddenly, three massive men with long sharp silver swords rushed in from the dark of the trees. On horseback, the men seemed huge and incredibly strong. Hooves pounded on the ground and the monsters moved to scatter, but the big men moved too fast. Swords slashed across a few of the creatures’ throats and black-colored blood spilled onto the dirt underneath. Eyes wide, she watched the men overtake the grisly horde.
Still tied to the tree, she shrieked as one of the ugly fiends grabbed for her. She tried to fight, but there was no way to get away. The monster scrambled on the ground beside her, before grasping her neck. Whimpering, she cried silent tears as the creature desperately pressed a dirty dagger to her throat. She didn’t dare move as the cold steel pinched her delicate skin. She was petrified.
The big men pulled up their reins and their horses came to a halt.
One of them moved forward, his eyes flickering with unbridled tension. Irena studied him a bit further, taken aback for a moment when she realized his irises were yellow, something like a black cat’s. His mouth was tight as he stared down at them with anger and hatred, but not for her. He glanced at her, and she saw his gaze soften slightly until he noticed the blade pressed to her slim throat.
“Don’t you dare move a muscle, you goblin bastard,” he growled. His fist tightened around the handle of his blade, his knuckles white with strength and intensity. He looked like a lion about to pounce on its prey and she didn’t want to be in the way when he did.
The creature holding a knife at her throat snarled with a ferocity like she’d never heard before. She couldn’t help but tremble with fear.
“Stay still, little girl,” the big man growled forcefully, then held his hands out, palms up to the sky. She gasped at what happened next. A strange orange glow began to emit from the skin of his hands.
“I think you’ve done enough damage and your time has come to an end,” the big man said as he raised his palms higher in the air, the aura growing to what looked like a small blaze, mere inches from his flesh. With a flourish, he twirled his wrists so that his hands pushed toward them. The fiery glow grew larger as it flew in their direction and she squeezed her eyes shut, expecting to go up in flame at any second.
She felt the strange heat pass next to her, almost through her, and the goblin behind her screamed with what sounded like fear and agony. The pinch from the dagger suddenly disappeared and she dared to open her eyes just a tiny bit. Crinkling her nose, she recognized the smell of burning flesh, but strong arms enveloped her before she had a chance to scream. The big sturdy man picked her up and practically threw her face down over the horse with him, her bottom high in the air. He firmly grasped her hips and held her so that she felt as though she couldn’t move an inch. The horse jolted forward and she gasped.
The man and the horse carried her safely away from the decimated goblin horde, deep into the trees of the terrifying forest. They rode for some time and she finally found a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, confident that she was finally safe from the goblins that had wanted to eat her for dinner.
Exhausted, she fell asleep moments later, lulled into a sense of relaxation by the gentle cadence of the big stallion beneath her and the warmth of the man behind her.
She was vaguely aware of coming to a stop hours later. The group of three men carried her into some sort of small hut and she was tucked into a bed. Someone took off her nightgown and wrapped her body in warm blankets. Curling up, she cooed with happiness at the fluffy feeling and drifted back to sleep. At that moment, she didn’t care about where she was or who these men were. She’d figure things out tomorrow. Right now, she just wanted to sleep.