As the night closed and the sun drew in the morning sky, Ezekiel cast his gaze to the sky looking to the smoldering pit that the fire that had burned out in the night. He shifted back into his human form learning many years ago it was much easier to sleep in his wolf form especially on cold winter nights. Pulling on his clothes quickly hopping from one foot to another before letting out the steam of his breath meeting the cold air. Town wasn’t far from where he had camped, he was rather sure he could find some work there. His funds were slowly depleting on his search for answers for his wife. Tossing the small coin bag in his hand for a moment before tucking it against his chest picking up his bag before starting the short trek that was in front of him.
Whistling a tone as he walked he caught a scent in the air, one of blood but it didn’t seem to be a large amount. Shifting from one foot to another slowly he made his way towards the scent. Pushing his large frame against a thick tree to peak around he found a cart that seemed to have been shattered and horseless. He had seen this set up before many bandits used this set up, was that the case for this cart. Slowly he moved trying to be as stealthily as he could as he came to the cart. Smelling the blood that was trailing away from the cart, raising a brow he peaked in the cart seeing various size boxes. “Just move on Zeke.” He muttered to himself, moving to take a step away from the blood trail before pausing in his tracks.
Tapping his foot in the snow that was beginning to fall and he let out a growl. What if it was someone who was hurt and truly needed help. He turned on his heel and started to follow the blood trail as the drops seemed to be sporadic, slowly gaining more the further the person moved from the cart. As he came upon the curled up from wrapped in a large cloak. He took a step closer but kept the space between them enough as he cleared his throat. “Oy are you hurt? Or are you going to rob me if I try and help you?” He made sure his voice held the tone of don’t fuck me.
“Let me go!!” Her cries rang out into the forest which seemed to echo off the trees, making her feel even more alone and helpless. Moments ago she and Mr. O’Donnell had been attacked on the road by hidden bandits while transporting his fruits and vegetables by horse drawn cart from the market. It seemed they had no intentions of letting the pair survive the encounter as they swarmed from every direction.
Currently she was in a fight for her life. The man above her weighed at least twice her own and was crushing her from that alone. He was working to grab a hold of her much smaller wrists, but she was flailing in an attempt to escape. Spittle ran down his chin and through his beard, landing on her cheek in his efforts to hold her still. Then, a backhand across the face made Aislinge see spots and all the fight in her left.
Everything else became a blur, but mostly she was feeling the pain in her head along with the deep gash across her lower left leg which the bandit had caused while chasing her through the woods before. Ash had gained a fair bit of distance as his endurance was waning which he quickly evened the odds by pulling his sword and cutting through her flesh. She had fallen into the snow moments later which led to the struggle now.
His heavy panting was resounding in her ear while he leaned down above her. Aislinge felt the man trying to press himself between her legs which made her fight uselessly in her half dazed state. There was a dull thud then and the bandit doubled over with more weight than she thought possible as snow splashed across her face. The fuzzy figure of her elderly friend had picked up a nearby fallen branch and hit the man over the head.
The bandit didn’t take too kind to this. A fight ensued then and Mr. O’Donnell was no match. Ash tried to claw her way after, howling in pain from the open wound on her leg. Then the man’s sword appeared and went through her friend, into his chest and out the back.
She screamed though no sound seemed to come as the world slowed. The bandit was on top of her again and pressing himself over her, but all she could see was Mr. O’Donnell’s now lifeless eyes staring at her from the ground, his blood darkening against the pure white snow. Ash scratched at the man’s face which infuriated him more when a flash of metal in the snow caught her eye.
The dagger which had been latched to the bandit’s boot had come undone and landed on the ground. With one last effort, Aislinge grabbed the weapon and plunged it into the man’s neck again and again. The blood shot out and across her face when she yanked the serrated weapon out and the man immediately stumbled off of her and staggered into the woods out of sight. Then there was darkness as Ash’s eyes closed when the exhaustion swept over her body.
She didn’t know how long she’d been unconscious, but the cold on her face was the first thing she noticed. Then, her friend yards away dead in the snow. Ash tried to roll over, but her body rebelled against it. It was then she heard the unfamiliar voice nearby, but the words were lost to the cold air. Her numb fingers wrapped around the hilt of the still bloodied dagger and she lifted it towards the stranger, wincing as she sat up, and feebly pulling herself backwards in the snow. “Stay away from me!!”
Ezekiel had been so caught at the sight of a woman trembling in the snow that he hadn’t noticed the bodies a few yards away from them. As the thin woman held the dagger blade in the air his hands came up. Showing he meant no ill will. This is what being a good samaritan got you nowadays, hell everyday. He let a sharp breath out of his nose before taking a deep whiff in once again. He paused, turning his head to look at the bodies that weren’t far from the blood stained woman.
With a grunt he didn’t move yet, keeping his feet planted in the snow his brain felt as if it was playing out the scene of what had happened. It was clear the man with the sword thrust through him was with the woman and was getting in the way of the plans the man who had deep wounds to his neck had. “Well I can tell that you lost someone you trusted tonight.” It was like a skill of his nose picking up every individual scent making outlines of each person predicting what happened to this very moment with how weak or strong the scents were.
“I would kindly ask you not to stab me while I move over to them.” He pointed to the bodies, moving to take a step closer to the bandits body. Moving to pull open the coat giving a grunt. “Red cap piece of shit.” He said as he moved, taking the coin bags of random people he had got them from. “You are a strong one taking him down. He has claimed about twelve other people's lives this week it seems.” He moved to cut the man's ear off and cut out the symbol of the red caps from inside his coat, wrapping the ears in it before tucking it in his pocket.
He moved over to her friend and pulled the sword from his body and picked him up easy enough. Moving towards the woman but leaving enough space. Placing the man in front of her before taking a step away. “The ground is frozen, so burying him right now isn’t an option. I am also not sure if you wanted anything off him. I can help you get him to the town you guys seem to be heading to if you want my help.”
Noticing the gash deep on her leg a soft frown came to his lips. “I have an herb mix you can pack into that and a wrap on my horse. I can help you but you have to ask for it, and have to put the dagger down enough for me to do so. I wouldn’t ask you to get rid of it. I understand fearing a stranger.” Rubbing his hands together noting he was now covered in blood. “You won’t make it out here through the night. Not with the monsters in the woods.” His eyes moved past her and around her.
Aislinge kept the dagger pointed towards the man and watched his every move. If she were being honest, there was probably not much she could do to fend off whatever attack he might choose to harm her, but she also wasn't going to go down without a fight. She could barely feel the small weapon in her hand at this point as the numbness spread. The only good thing about that was the pain in her leg was being dulled though the blood still dripped from the open wound. It needed to be bandage as quickly as possible, but it would have to wait. She wasn't going to lower the weapon.
She watched the stranger move to the thief who lay motionless in the snow. The crimson of his blood was pooling from his neck. Aislinge's lip quivered then as the flashbacks of their shared encounter played back through her mind. His disgusting breath. The weight of his body. And then... her plunging the knife into his neck. She trembled and nearly lost all her will for a moment in the shock, but swallowed and wrapped her reddened fingers around the hilt of the small weapon again, keeping it pointed towards the man who was now rummaging through the pockets of the corpse.
It was clear he knew who this bastard was. Her brow moved forward slightly as she tried to make sense of it all. Apparently she was lucky to have escaped with her life by having to take his. The pit in her stomach grew and a wave of nausea made her sway slightly as the heaviness of it all began to engulf her senses. It only became worse when she watched this new stranger remove the man's ear as if it was just a normal thing to do as one would cut open an apple. She stiffened her hold on the knife again keeping it trained on him.
Aislinge wanted to yell at him not to touch Mr. O' Donnell, but he moved so quickly to remove the sword that had killed her friend, the words were gone as her head turned away in anguish. She bit her bottom lip while the hot tears began to well in her eyes. They dared to spill over and remove any confidence she had in holding this facade of keeping it together should she have to defend herself from this traveler which she had the feeling could easily remove the knife from her grip if he so wanted. She did stave off one attack didn't she? One that would surely have seen her dead.
The resolve began to crumble however when he brought the body of Mr O' Donnell and laid him in front of her. She clenched her jaw tightly and the quiet tears began to roll down her pale cheeks. Her eyes found his and Aislinge hoped he was a man of honor. Everything he said was correct; she would not survive out here alone and she couldn't very well leave her friend out here like this nor carry him, though she couldn't make out if he actually meant monsters or just more of the kinds of people who did this to her. "I... I need to bring him home," she said softly, lowering the weapon. Her hand reached out and gently touched the elder's with a wave of sorrow.
"Please help me bring him to his family?" Her eyes were pleading and desperate. "They may have left some supplies in the cart and you can take my day's earnings, but I ask you please to leave his for his family." She nearly choked on the last word, imagining the pain his wife and daughter were to endure. They barely had means to survive and now their husband and father were gone.
Finding the will to stand, Aislinge pulled herself up and grimaced from the pain, biting back a cry. She didn't want to attract any more attention if the thieves should return for their friend. Her skirts were stained with blood, but she ignored it to rip off a piece of the bottom of her inner one which was thinner and easily torn to wrap around the wound until they could make it back to the road. Now that she was feeling relatively out of danger's way, her body began to react to the loss of blood and cold as she visibly shivered and looked as if she would pass out. "Your name, sir? Mine is Aislinge. What do you know of these thieves?" Her eyes went to the pocket in which he'd stowed the attacker's ear.
Ezekiel had grown numb since his wife had been taken from him, he had forgotten that most people feel guilt or worse when it came to killing another. He was raised in a dog eat dog world. Not noticing how his words may come off to her. He was more impressed with the fact she managed to overpower someone who would have killed her without a second thought or far worse. He had come across more of their victims in his travels. He had no care for a body of one that had done such dark deeds to innocent travelers. Looting him was second nature to Ezekiel, no use in letting good coin go to waste.
As he tucked the ears in his pocket looking over to the woman he noticed that she looked to take on a pale green color. Realizing that in fact she wasn’t one to see such a gruesome state caused him to clear his throat to explain. “Taking the ears and the insignia get you the money for the bounties they have on their heads. What funds me hunting down guys like this. Figure you may need a little coin. Considering.” His gaze shifted back to Mr. O’Donnel. He was trying his best to be helpful but he couldn’t be overly sure how to go about something like this.
“Forgive me I am used to death so grace is something I am not good at.” He could see the emotions swatting within the woman who wanted to be strong, yet when you lose someone important to you strength isn’t something easy to come by. As the tears rolled down her cheek he patted his pockets to find the cloth that was clean enough to provide to her to dry her tears. “Alright, I can carry him with ease and get him where you need to go. Hopefully it was somewhere safe. The pair of you were venturing to.” He watched her crumble into her sorrow.
A vision of how he once had crumbled at the loss of his wife played out in his mind. Causing his gaze to drift to the snow even though he was no longer seeing the fluffs of white. Yet his ears picked up every word that left her lips. “Yes I can help you get him to his family. Everyone deserves closure.” He said in his gruff tone of voice. “Unless he had friends, which is unlikely, everything should still be there. Though the cart is damaged beyond my skill set. I could make it into a sled though.” He thought aloud for a moment then looked at her with a brow raised.
“I don’t want money. I just don’t want the world so full of darkness anymore. If people helped each other, more shit like this wouldn’t be so common.” He huffed out an argument he had gotten into with many people but let it fade as he was sure that she wasn’t going to disagree with him. “Bounty on the man should help his family. If that brings any solace to your worries.” He could feel each wave of emotion on her rolling off into the air. He felt tense being there while she was going through this, loss was something he wasn’t good at, let alone good enough to help others move through grief. He himself was locked between anger and denial.
As she moved to wrap her leg he thought of stepping closer to offer his aid but with how she had been attacked he thought it best he kept to himself. Reaching for the older man he picked his body up and waited for her to start moving to lead her back to her cart. “Ezekiel.” He said his name in a grunt as he adjusted the weight of the dead body on his shoulder. As they walked he gave a one shoulder shrug. “I have hunted their kind before for money, for answers. They are a thieves guild that sends members out to get more members, or people to sell into slavehood, or to rob innocent people. I have been searching for their leader for some time now.” He admitted as he looked to the body he was holding.
“In hopes to find someone, and maybe end the reign of dead bodies that seem to follow the group.” He slowed his steps to make sure he was only a step ahead of her. “When we get to your cart I can break off what is left on the bottom to make a sled for the horse to pull. Unless there is a reason you want to keep it a hundred percent intact.”
She was barely hearing him as all she was concentrating on now was not falling over into the snow. She felt so incredibly weak in every way one could. It was an effort with every step she took, but as awful as it was, there was nothing for her here in the woods but death. Especially when the rest of these thieves would realize they were missing one of their own after taking what they could from her and Mr. O'Donnell. Mr. O'Donnell...
Aislinge's gaze lifted from the piling snow that she took steps through to the limp body of her friend which lay over this stranger's shoulder. None of this felt real. A wave of sickness began to rise in her again, but she swallowed the bile that tried to escape. She had to keep moving. The numbness was sweeping over her small body and she couldn't feel the forced steps as one foot came down in front of the other. She had no idea how she would even make it back home at this point. One problem at a time and right now, getting to the road again was the first obstacle.
It was incredibly quiet around them. Normally she would find this to be peaceful as snowfall always seemed to silence the world from its striking beauty, but blood from her leg splashed across the ground now ruining the pureness of it. Her tired eyes finally turned away from the crimson drops and towards this man as he revealed he didn't want their coin and would in fact offer the bounty for the killer she'd fended off. It never even occurred to Aislinge that it technically was something she could claim. The sickness in her stomach began to wave about again, but there was a relief in knowing she could offer it to Mrs. O'Donnell for the loss of her husband and so much more.
Ezekiel. Her dark eyes took him in as he led the way to the road. He was gruff. Clearly someone who was constantly on the road and if he was one to seek out thieves, he must handle himself well in a fight. Given he seemed to be an honorable man thus far, Aislinge was thankful it was he who came across them. However, he also seemed like someone who would then attract trouble if his cause was to hunt these men.
The road finally came into view and it made her heart break further. All of their wares had been scattered to the road or at least what was left of them. The cart was leaning to one side as a wheel was missing and the rails of the same side were splintered and broken. Aislinge hobbled closer and began sifting through the items, finding the pouch she'd hidden in a bottle with the coins still inside before moving to the hollowed out book of Mr. O'Donnell's with his earnings hidden away as well. "At least they missed this..." she murmured softly. Fumbling in her attempts to tie the pouches to her belt with numb hands, a noise from behind her suddenly made her freeze.
She scrambled backwards, the dagger she once held having fallen to the side. There was a rustling behind the bushes as the gathered snow from its branches fell softly. Aislinge's heart pounded painfully in her chest thinking it must have been more of the thieves returning, but then a familiar face came into view. "Button?" The dark mare walked over and nudged her gently which made tears well in her eyes. She wrapped her arms around the horse's neck and let the animal lift her to her feet. The horse seemed unharmed by all accounts and it didn't surprise Aislinge that the thieves could not capture her in all the chaos. She was incredibly loyal to her owner who now lay motionless on the ground. "Good girl," she cooed, feeling the warmth of the mare's body as she rested against her powerful frame.
Some time later, Aislinge was now carefully wrapping Mr. O'Donnell in the extra blankets they'd brought with them earlier in the day. Button was tied to the cart they modified and Aislinge was able to finally convince the animal to let Ezekiel ride her. She settled herself into the cart, knowing she wasn't fit to ride and did everything in her power to try and stay awake in order to guide Ezekiel. When the horse jerked ahead, Aislinge placed one arm over her friend and the other to grasp onto the wood of the cart. "You... you said you wanted to find someone?" she called up to him weakly. Their previous conversation was starting to work its way through her mind now that they were somewhat safe and on the path home. She had to stay awake. Stay awake. It did very little as her lids grew heavy and sleep clawed at her consciousness. "Who is it you're looking for? This guild.. they know something?"
Ezekiel knew that he couldn’t say anything to make her feel better. Losing someone in front of you in such a terrible manner stays with you. She would probably have nightmares for these events for months to come. All the Lupine could do was keep moving beside her, close enough that if she started to fall he could catch her. Far enough she didn’t think we were going to attack her like the man they left lying in the snow. He could tell the loss of blood and the injury location was making it hard for her to trek through the snow.
He could feel her eyes on him, it wasn’t an uncommon feeling for him. Eyes were on him when he entered a city he wasn’t known in. It was only when Quinton was with him did people not question his place in the world. He was missing Quinton, Honora, both of them at that moment. They were the people talkers unlike him. He watched his warm breath swirl in the winter hazed filled air. It was a beautiful day even with the blood that had been shed to him. Probably because blood was far too common for the large man compared to her.
As the shambles of the events prior came into full view he found himself letting out a half sigh. Moving towards his horse that stayed in place since his dismounting. He ran his hand along her neck slowly. “Good girl.” he said softly towards the mare. His eyes watched as the woman who was on her last leg searched the scattered contents. Moving over towards the cart he laid the males body in it. Moving to the wheel that was still attached. He gave it a once over, he was certain he could rip the wheel off and turn it into a sled for his horse to pull to the town that wasn’t far away. “I can get the wheel off and turn this into a sled to pull behind Hazel.”
When the sounds came from around the tree, he knew it was another horse. All the smells mingling in the air made it clear that there wasn’t another living soul on the horse. He didn’t think to alert her but after watching the fear rise in her to default into relief when the mare came into view. Watching her cry made him feel as if he should have said something. Yet the wave of relief that came over Aislinge's face made him relax as the comfort the mare seemed to bring to her was refreshing to Zeke. He loved when people loved their animals. He got to work pulling the wheel off as quietly as he could not to upset them. With a quick change using some of the spare leather he had he made the ties to the wagon longer.
Setting off he could tell Buttons was more capable to pull the sled then Hazel was. Strapping Hazel leads to the tail end with the sled in between, they were off after she wrapped the body up. Offering his fur that was on the back of Hazel to her before they set off. Taking off as smoothly as he could, “Sorry.” he muttered towards her knowing the jurking of the movement would cause her discomfort. He let a click out of his mouth to make the horse come to a steady speed following the path Aislinge wanted him too.
He looked over his shoulder to her, with a stoic look before looking back to the path. His eyes are always scanning for more danger. “I’m looking for my wife. Her brother and I were carrying out a mission one night and when we returned she was gone. I am not sure if she is still alive.” He signed out as he rolled his head, the loud popping from the joints of his neck echoed throughout the trees. “All that was there was a trail of blood. Nobody. No closure. I have been hunting down those who sell to slavers ever since. If she was sold I can find her. If she is dead, well I can end them.” He said as if it was no big deal. “They are a well known guild around these parts anyways. Figured it was a good start.” He sighed out. “So yeah there is my sad tale of why I am traveling the woods alone following thieves.”
His eyes caught a bird flying in the distance, “How are you doing back there? You have been through a lot. I am sure you are getting tired back there.”