Harlan had finally gone nuts. He stared at the footprints in the soft sand by the river and kept walking. The flat-soled impressions of the tributes. The rough weave of the ‘Viders. Squatting, he tested the tracks. Another half hour and he should be right on top of the group.
And then what?
His internal crazy man demanded he attack. Dusting his fingers on his pants, he resumed following the group. If he attacked, he might find high ground. Shoot six or seven with his cross-bow.
Which left another half dozen uninjured ‘Viders to overwhelm him. And probably another three or four, really pissed off injured ones, to pour a can of dead all over his ass. Good times. But he wasn’t about to waste his life.
None of the tribute would think to run.
Harlan raked his hand through his short hair as his throat closed up. The fools still trudged obediently behind the ‘Viders. Didn’t one of them suspect anything? Didn’t any of them want to run? If not because of the threat they faced, then just to return home?
He sighed and turned his face to the setting sun.
And there it was. With all his men slaughtered, he couldn’t save all of them. But he had hope to save one or two of them.
Surely, one or two would try to escape and Harlan would be able to help them. Recruit them to his cause.
Maybe even kill a ‘Vider or two in the process.
He’d restocked his quiver and even had a few spare arrows in his pack. Raising the crossbow, Harlan stroked the stock. Surely, that wasn’t too much to ask. He could climb one of the pines along the bank and pierce a chest or two with an arrow. If the wound wasn’t fatal, he’d gladly finish the job with his knives.
Maybe then the angry beast simmering in his gut would settle down. Give him to think and plan. Allow him to wash a little innocent blood off his hands.
He shook out his fists and scanned the ground. Here the sandy banks gave way to rocky shores. No more daydreaming. He needed to focus if he planned to save even one. His thighs burned as he climbed the slope and checked the vegetation. Trample marks in the grass. A few bushes with broken limbs.
At least they were making it easy for him.
With his luck, he’d finally find the ‘Vider camp. God always gave him opportunities when he couldn’t do a damn thing with ‘em. No doubt—
Harlan paused near a patch of dirt before crouching down. Well, well, what have we here? He traced the footprint with a trembling finger. A fancy sole like the tributes wore, but the tread were deep, not worn. Similar to the boots worn by the bastards who had killed his men. So whoever had sent the tribute had one of his men with the ‘Viders. His insides sprouted wings.
Maybe God wouldn’t make him the butt of some heavenly jest.
Maybe he was given an opportunity to silence some of the silent screams inside his head.
Rising, he followed the meandering river several paces. Overturned rocks near the water’s edge indicated the tributes and ‘Viders went one way. He searched fifty more feet. The new tracks weren’t among them.
So be it.
He backtracked to his new quarry. He’d find the bastard, creatively interrogate the bastard for his boss’s name, then go after the tributes. Easy. He loped after the tracks then stopped.
The weave of a ‘Vider’s shoe overlaid the treads. Hot damn. He was gonna get a twofer. Releasing the safety of his crossbow, he plunged into the dark woods. The bad guys were gonna die today.