Orten had found the Sentinels just outside the reach of the storm’s edge. The smooth marble pillars hovered above the tree tops and stood silent, uncaring of his approach. Each was evenly spaced from the next one in a line as far as the eye could see, a visible barrier to the lands of Reichland to the south. He knew he was at the right location when he saw the jagged stones that criss-crossed the top of the hill. A single Sentinel pillar popped over the tree tops and overshadowed the area. The sudden realization that it had been almost twenty years since his last visit hit Orten with a saddening relief.
The ride through the storm had worn on Orten and as he dismounted the signs of exhaustion draped him like a cloak. A crackling sounded as he stepped through the dry leaves and tied his massive mount to a nearby tree. The beast stood eerily silent. He propped himself against a nearby stone and eased himself down. Streams of water cascaded off his outer clothing as he removed it. The hiss of steam could be heard escaping into the air as his rear settled neatly into a newly created puddle that had taken resident in a crevice between two stones. Orten knew the farther he went the worse it would get. The rising smell of smoke closed in on him. He drifted off to sleep as he waited for the boys to come through the storm and meet him.
It wasn’t often the hunter moved north beyond the protection of the Sentinels unless something interesting was to be found. The presence of the six women on the other side of the border had definitely scratched at his curiosity. He followed them slowly as he worked his way through the underbrush. He watched as their dresses flapped in the wind and they pointed this way and that. They seemed visibly uncomfortable standing in the open, yet none of them spoke or voiced a complaint. No horses or other mounts followed them. The women were traveling by foot.
At first he had assumed the group was lost, traveling on the outskirts of the storm to the north in the vain hope of staying dry. It wasn’t obvious at first, but the more he observed of the women the more he realized they were actively searching for something. While the women were interesting, the hunter figured it was best that he did not become that which they searched for. Once they had gone from the immediate area, the hunter worked his way back through the Sentinels to the south.
However, out of the corner of his eye, his curiosity was peaked again. A plume of smoke rose from the top of a nearby hill at the edge of the forest with a peculiar stone outcropping. Again, it was on the other side of the Sentinels. The hunter worked his way to the trees and Sentinel overlooking the area. The source of the smoke stopped him from crossing the Sentinel line. The rancid smell of burning flesh attacked him as he surveyed the scene.
At first it was a single burnt skeletal carcass propped up like a child’s doll against the rocks. More remains could be seen scattered throughout the stones. The hunter couldn’t put a solid count on it, but several doomed souls had met their demise here. A darkened circle on the ground crept outwards as more of the forest floor caught and the fire spread. A wide-shouldered horse stood tied to the tree nearest the stones, seemingly unphased by the fire and corpses.
The hunter turned and broke into a sprint. He headed south, not looking back. Sentinels save me he prayed silently as his lungs sought to keep up with his rapid pace.
Orten caught a second wind as he passed another marble pillar. A mental click turned over in his head noting the number of Sentinels he had passed. He knew the momentary burst of energy that the boys had provided him would only allow him to maintain his guise for a short period and the blasted storm whores had cut him off from his horse. Which may have been for the better as on horseback his guise would not have worked at all. His speed afoot sufficed to see him safely away.
Orten knew he couldn’t head back into the storm, their storm. Heading south was not a viable path either. First, there were the Sentinels to cross and secondly there were the Reichland forces. Not that the Reichs were particularly of concern, but he did not need any delays. And it did not matter as the presence of the Sentinels deterred any further movement south. He couldn’t be sure why that was the case; passing the Sentinels may be inconsequential or it may be disastrous. Orten was not a gambler at this stage and lessons taught long ago echoed in his mind. Mother had always warned of the Sentinels. Your kind is not meant in the south she was fond of telling him.
So Orten worked eastward towards the sea. The storm visibly curved back north towards Castle Black and it was very likely a boat could be found amongst the numerous fishing villages along the coast. He looked down at his hands and for the first time realized that years of hiding his true self were near their end. Streaks of crackling fire began to burst from the pores of his skin with tiny wisps of smoke disappearing into the air around him. Not long at all he thought to himself.
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