Wind-whipped and obscenely wild, the mountain range stood as if it had been anchored to the ground for thousands of years, though Anachronist was fairly certain it had not been there for more than a few hundred. This far north the terrain was uncertain of itself, jutting out from itself strangely in countless places, but even these mountains could not have been formed by any natural cause. No, they rose from the Kghavyx plains awkwardly, strangely, as if someone or something had simply deposited them there. Where the plains were blanketed in scrub grasses and low brush, the mountains were cloaking in a thick tangle of trees that reached almost to the snow-covered caps, an utterly foreign forest that seemed to be spreading out from the mountain.
A plain that would soon be forest as well, the face of an entire continent irrevocably changed with the range’s arrival. As he strode toward them, Anachronist imagined the sheer power that could cause an entire range of mountains to be created. Or, even worse, moved from… somewhere else.
The shiver that ran through his body, he was almost certain, was from that thought, and not entirely effected by the unending cold of the northern plains. (this sentence is awkward, change it)
â€œThey call this summer,â€ he remarked to the Mask, who trailed behind him, moving silently in his wake. â€œI imagine the winter might test even a god’s fortitude.â€
The Mask, busy scanning whatever it was she could sense on the horizon, didn’t reply. She raised her crossbow. â€œStop.â€
â€œCurse your lovely eyes. What is it?â€
She pointed slightly to the left. â€œSmoke. A dwelling, or a camp over the rise.â€
Anachronist grinned. â€œAh, the fabled Kghavyx shepherds, perhaps?â€
â€œPerhaps.â€ Her mask twisted into an expression of mock disgust. â€œI suppose you’ll want to go meet them. Crazy fool.â€
â€œTo test their mettle,â€ he said, picking up the pace once more. â€œAnd maybe even mine.â€
They crested the rise in silence, to find it not so much a rise as a hill overlooking a deepâ€”or what passed for deep in the plainsâ€”valley. A valley filled with sheep. Several fires dotted the fringes of the valley, surrounded by a dozen or so tents.
â€œI imagine you’ll find shepherds here,â€ she said.
A nod. Another grin, a little crazier this time. (show, don’t tell, change this wording) â€œYes, I imagine so. Unless these are wild sheep, the fear of whose ferocity chills my blood.â€
The Mask slipped a quarrel into her crossbow, mounting it with a strength and speed that belied her slender frame. â€œYour weapons,â€ she prompted.
â€œLet’s make it a fair fight,â€ he said. â€œMy hands versus all things metal and pointed.â€
â€œYour death,â€ shrugged the Mask. Anachronist’s answer was an almost girlish giggle. â€œWe’ve been seen.â€ (not sure this fits together right… maybe break into two lines)
He could see movement ahead. Then off to one side, and the other, and, when he looked back, behind them. â€œGood. They’re quick.â€
Something hissed through the air. The Mask ducked, and Anachronist saw an arrow embed itself in the grass at his feet. He nodded, impressed; the arrow had come from one of the figures in the distance, figures approaching, longbows drawn. The shepherds, it appeared, were not entirely the pastoral sort.
Then the flurry. The Mask dodged and wove between the arrows that didn’t quite seem to reach Anachronist, moving with what he though was remarkable grace. She left trails in the air, she was moving so fast, seeming in more than one place at a time.
Anachronist, on the other hand was in more than one place. He called on Elnomia Sercc, and it answered, thrumming deep inside him, bursting to life like a slumbering fire disturbed. Crackling with unseen energy he… divided. And divided and divided until there were ten, fifteen, twenty Anachronists all streaming and flowing around the Mask.
The arrows passed through all off him, a hail of them, while the Mask danced faster, and then streaked forward, a blur carving a path of broken grass toward an advancing archer.
Whose head jerked back, arterial blood arcing through the air. He was still folding in on himself when another archer cried out and stumbled backwards, hands clutching at a quarrel embedded in his eye. The shepherds began to panic then, firing arrow after arrow at where the masked assassin had just been, as archers began dying with ever-increasing rapidity.
The last one with a knife angled up between the ribs, lancing into his heart. As the Mask jerked it loose, the man’s eyes widened; he began to say something, cut off suddenly as she dealt him a kick to the head. His neck snapped like small thunder.
Then there was only one Anachronist, his multiples disappearing like they had been simply shut off. â€œWell, that was fun,â€ he announced cheerfully. (More action? Show off Anachronist a bit more?)
A man seemed to rise from the plain in front of him, crossbow mounted, a cap of grass falling to the side. He released the quarrel, an arms-length from Anachronist’s face, and flung himself to the side, screaming a war cry.
Anachronist plucked it easily out the air and hurled it back. The quarrel buried itself in the man’s open mouth. Chunks of flesh and bone exploded outwards, the impact driving the man into the grass.
â€œA pre-dug grave,â€ the Mask remarked, returning, looking down at the pit the archer had risen from. She began cleaning the blood off her knife and hands with the edge of her tunic. â€œHow thoughtful.â€
* * *
He was turning a hare over a fire on a spit when the Mask returned. â€œAnything?â€
â€œNo,â€ she replied, laying down her quarrel beside the fire. â€œSome tracks, but nothing particularly fresh. Well, except for that.â€ She pointed to the impaled animal.
â€œA man needs to eat,â€ Anachronist said.
â€œA god doesn’t,â€ the Mask pointed out. â€œBut I suppose you miss eating, being a sentimental fool.â€
â€œI have,â€ said Anachronist, â€œendeavoured to number the times you’ve called me a fool today. I needed seven of me, all counting on our fingers.â€
â€œYou’ll need a small army of you before this is over,â€ she replied, snapping off a bit of hare and tasting it gingerly. â€œAnd this tastes like Take’s own frostbitten toe.â€
â€œI ceaselessly plumb my memory to find where I asked your opinion.â€
â€œYou asked me along on our little venture here,â€ the Mask reminded him, â€œwhich of course means you’re entitled to my opinion.â€
â€œA dubious honour I bear with great ambivalence.â€ He rotated the spit. â€œHow long till we’ve cleared these ridiculously badly-built mountains?â€
â€œTomorrow. We’re almost through now, which is a miracle in itself.â€
Anachronist slid the hare off the spit. â€œI can feel the paths leading left and right,â€ he said. He began gnawing on a leg. â€œIn circles. And the skeletons!â€ he said, between mouthfuls. â€œI would very much like to know how the Kghavyxu, the great agnostics, the blessed unbelievers, the worshipers of iron, the cave-dwellers, deserving greater invective, almost, than this hare which seems to have been fed wire and twine its entire life, came to have a series of mountains filled with arcane sorcery protecting their land.â€ (starting to sound a bit too much like Croup and Vandemaar)
â€œThey probably died out during that sentence, and we’ll never know,â€ (zing!)the Mask said dryly. â€œOr perhaps they’re not as agnostic as they once were.â€
â€œThey don’t worship me.â€ Anachronist tried to suck the marrow out of one of the boned. â€œWhich is all that matters, really.â€ He grimaced. â€œAnd this does indeed taste like Take’s frostbitten toe. I’m not entirely certain what I was thinking.â€