Left to their own devices, the two stragglers wandering aimlessly down the road would have become exactly what fate had intended. One, a thief, might have rose high in the underworld, had he survived long enough in the profession. The other, a farm girl, could have possibly spent the rest of her life cooking, cleaning and knitting for a man her father chose for her. Be that as it may, chance took an awkward turn for both, and fate had very little to do with their current prospects. Chase and Rainé Walters were considered the exception, touched not by fate, rather by humanity’s ability to change the way things were meant to be.
“Did you ever think this is where we’d be 7 years ago?” Rainé asked quietly, her diminutive voice creeping unexpectedly through a heavy wind. “A thief and a farmer’s daughter. It’s something out of a bad romance novel.”
Chase smiled briefly beneath the heavy mask he wore to ward off dirt and dust. “No, I didn’t. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d make it past 21, especially after meeting you and your father.”
Rain laughed from behind her matching mask and moved closer to her husband. “He really doesn’t like you, gods bless him, but I think he’ll get over it. Do you think we should find a place to stop? The wind is really starting to kick now….”
Rainé’s voice trailed off as a figure stepped out of the woods. Cloaked in grey and surrounded by mist, the figure cut an ominous visage across the road. Taking a moment to identify her opponent, she took a step back and moved to Chase’s right hand.
“I guess we didn’t need to go looking for him then,” Chase remarked as he threw his cloak open. Drawing his long sword and placing the runed shield on his arm, he crouched and waited. While not an overly violent person, Chase was fiercely protective and a dangerous adversary. He also needed the money offered to bring down this mage.
“Come on, bastard, show me what you can do,” he muttered under his breath, eyeing the mage carefully before starting the slow walk forward. Each step tested his resolve as the wind around him grew to momentous proportions, pressuring him constantly. He was careful too keep himself between the mage and his wife, as she moved behind him in wait.
A break in the constant barrage made him cautious, and he lifted his shield to block the first of a series of attacks. Air nearby was made solid and visible, striking the shield with devastating force. Each attack made Chase’s arm go numb before he finally began parrying the weapon with his sword. Slowly he made his way forward, fending off the barrage easily now that he realized his opponent was unskilled with his talents. Each strike was similar, with an unending pattern that revealed a man who was not very familiar with martial combat.
When he was within striking distance, Chase lashed out, only to find his weapon stopping short of his target, striking a solid, if invisible, armor. Stepping back, he blocked another attack on his shield and struck out again, in a different place. Again, he found his weapon useless.
The mage smiled at him, and spoke with a deep, thunderous voice, as if from far away. “It’s useless, bounty hunter, you can’t hope to penetrate my defenses, but you will tire, and then you will die.” The mage closed his eyes and his forehead knitted in concentration. Another cudgel of air formed, and suddenly Chase was fighting two weapons without apparent wielders.
Undaunted, Chase again began pressing forward, his jaw clamped tight with an iron determination. When he again reached the mage, he studied him carefully. Beads of sweat were dripping down onto the grey robes and the wizard’s fists were clenched tightly at his sides. Seeking to find an opening, Chase spoke, his voice muffled through the mask he wore. “But how long can you keep this up, mage? Is that sweat I see on your brow?”
As the mage opened his eyes in shock, Chase parried one weapon so violently it was flung backwards. Taking the other weapon on his sword, he spun furiously, raising his shield to his opponent’s head. The make shift bludgeon connected with the shield of air and knocked the mage from his feet. Immediately, the cudgels disappeared and Chase ducked. A flight of darts flew over his head parading into his opponent’s chest.
Even as he looked on, he knew the mage was already dead. Not from the darts, those were simply to incapacitate him, but from the blow to his head. Shaking his head quietly, he muttered a simple prayer. He felt his wife draw near and put his arm around her, holding her to him as he finished sending the mage’s soul to the next life.
“Chase… what happened? We… he wasn’t supposed to die. They were going to do that. We just had to bring him in. Right?” Rain’s voice was shaking, despite the now warm day.
“It… was an accident. I must have broken his neck when I hit him with the shield. I… wasn’t sure how strong his wards were, I was just trying to break his concentration. He’s in a better place now. A place where he’s wanted.” I hope, Chase added silently to himself. Kneeling before the corpse, Chase told his wife to look away, and removed the head. He still needed to get paid.
“Let’s get back. Our job here is finished.”
Placing the head in a bag, he tied it beneath his cloak and turned around, returning to the village he received the proposition.