Getting face to face with the most feared ranger didn't seem to be enough to stop the men, in fact Jane was so pissed about the whole thing he came out and damn near dragged Cole off by the scruff, said they were finishing this. It had been two days since the frightful encounter, Jane had some scars to show off from the lightning stick, and a great deal of disgusting words used towards Reaper. And tonight the mists were coming out early.
"Jane, are you really sure coming back to Westen is such a good idea?" Cole asked after he and Marin pushed the gate back in place. Jane was managing the horses.
"I'd like to fucking see her come in here!" Jane hissed.
"Remember, Jane, no yell'n d'is time," Marin said softly but in pure tease.
"Yeah, yeah, fucking yeah," Jane grumbled.
It was late enough now that most everyone had turned in for the night. With Westen being much more compact than Batseye, if anyone came out to see what the noise was the men would have been caught and identified easily for scolding and ridicule. Cole still did not understand why they could not say anything about WHY they were there doing stuff at night, only that the Bucks did not want to be seen.
The three of them would set themselves up in the center of the village, it let them talk moderately, appeasing the Bucks, and have enough visual clarity of the surroundings, appeasing Cole. It was just a matter of waiting now but Cole was still a bit shaken up. How long had it been since someone or something frightened him enough feel paranoid, and enough to dream they came to his door? He only wanted to learn so to do things on his own and help others, not piss-off the self-appointed guardians and get other people hurt for it. Seemed Jane now had a vendetta, being here was not to catch the beast but out of spite against the ranger.
"How long we stay'n, Jane?" Marin asked.
"Till morning light," came the reply and Marin seemed displeased.
"Seriously? Na, I'm ditch'n ta see Vii n' ma boy wake up, n' Cole's gotta go back eventually."
"Hey, if you want to stick your neck back out there that's on you," Jane said.
Marin started laughing. "She really did a number on ya, hehehehe, afraid of da Reaper."
"I ain't afraid of that bitch! I'm watching out for you two," Jane said. "Unless you got a problem with it, Cole."
Cole was a bit distracted as his eyes kept patrolling along every visible stretch of the wall that was breachable and ears burning for horse hooves. "No. Sunrise is fine." Occasionally he would flex his arm even though the sensation had left him over a day ago. There was more teasing between the Bucks about it, trying to drag Cole into it but he paid no mind. Eventually he had something to say. "Real people or not, back home it was said by speaking about, you only call the subject upon yourself."
"You saying we are jinxing ourselves?" Jane said with a sneer.
Cole looked back over his shoulder at him. "You are still limping."
"So fucking what?" Jane scoffed and stretched out. "I just... twisted my ankle..."
The night went on. All was still within the walls of Westen as the last of its residence had fallen asleep hours ago, and between the three men they decided to take shifts so one could rest while the others watched the gates. How many nights was it going to be like this?
Cole was given the first chance to nap seeing as he may need the most sleep, something he did not think he would enter into as he put his back to a post. He pulled the hood all the way down onto his chest to block out light and pests, and listened over the muted sounds of evening to the men chatting. He had to keep telling himself what he was to expect when he woke up, if he actually slept, so to not become lost and confused or unsure if still dreaming.
It had been years, but Cole did manage to enter into a suspended state of sleep, one that he learned to do after spending countless nights in the field when danger could strike regardless of the a night watch; one that let him rest but know at all times just where everyone was, and what was happening.
Before he knew it, he started to wake-up to the sounds of morning birds and men's snores. Picking his head up and blinking to the very early rays of the sun, Cole found his companions scrunched together and just barely keeping one another propped up. He sighed as he looked at them, leaning his head into his supported hand, taking time to blink sleep from his eyes. Just for fun, Cole kicked out and easily toed Marin's boot loose from the ground. It caused a chain reaction as the support was gone, forced awake the friends toppled over and flailed independently from shock.
When their hollers and punches ceased they looked around in a daze. They found Cole just watching them from his seat. "Great job."
And of course, the village started to wake, meaning their half-asleep limbs needed to as well and stat.
- - - - -
This went on for five nights now, it was Tuesday with the moon in its last-quarter, and the men had learned to efficiently get in and out of Westen's gates with little effort. Cole started to feel like a burglar in training, especially when Jane and Marin would help themselves to some meals or drink belonging to the residence there.
Furthermore, each night Cole would wake to the snoring of the Bucks, not that it mattered in the end as they found out that Greeny and Batseye had been hit the previous misty nights. Tonight would be different though, seeing as he did not have trees to chop come daylight, and stayed up through the first two watches with much difficulty.
Sleeping however came easy, Cole was out fast and hard. And Cole dreamed. Most of it was vague, and situational, but there did come an image of a hulking form on the move and mismatched eyes turning onto him. Cole awoke quite suddenly with that image fresh in his mind, and he remained poised with breath held as he gauged what was going on around him. This kept him from reacting violently when Marin suddenly grabbed him.
"Cole!" came the loudest whisper possible without using voice. "Cole! Someth'n here!"
He threw his hood back and sat up to hear what it was the Bucks were reacting to.
"The horses got weird not too long ago," Jane breathed, he was standing and looking around in place. Cole's face was pointed towards the gate. The horses, the boots of the men, his focus was past it all to what was being tracked on the other side of the wall. The sound of shifting ground, weight falling in a rhythmic pattern, even weight against the log wall itself, as what was beyond encircled the village.
"Keep perfectly still," Cole breathed.
Marin was exceptionally nervous, Cole's eyes traced the top of the wall to where he was hearing things, Jane was doing something similar but Marin seemed to not know where to look, only that something was wrong. Cole then shifted so to at least be kneeling on one knee as he kept listening to the movement creeping towards the east gate.
Occasionally it would pause but the pattern seemed to be something like a grunt, or rasp, followed by a double thud onto earth. Cole then picked his head up slightly as he looked to the gate some 200 feet away. The gates stood at 6 feet, something came up above that.
"A little pee is come'n out now," Marin whimpered in the quietest voice Cole ever heard from him.
"Get yourself together!" Jane hissed as he watched the shape bob and sway. Even with moonlight and the villages lit lanterns, it was hard to see exactly what they were looking at.
There was a glint to where eyes would be, making Cole jump as if a hot rod was put on his back. It was enough to put a change into the thing and he realized the glints were looking his way. He locked up in whatever stance he ended up in, feeling his muscles burning already as all parties waited to see what would happen first. The creature moved first.
There was a snort before it started to move on. Cole then had to stop Jane by grappling him with a hand over his mouth. "Not a sound!" Cole hissed. Jane gave little resistance, half bent backwards and getting smothered, but grew still as Cole's strength surprised him. He was let go shortly after and they started to follow the movements again as it went around the south wall.
Marin looked as if to open his mouth but Jane's hand signal kept him silent. Perhaps it was going to the other gate now.
"So what do you plan us to do?" Jane breathed to Cole.
"Let us just see what it does," he replied just as softly. At the very least they should be safe inside the walls.
"What if it leaves?" Jane then asked.
Cole looked at him. "What if it jumps that wall?"
"What are ya say'n?" Marin asked, looking very confused. His answer given was Jane's hand locked over his mouth.
Slowly the thing crept its way along towards the west gate. Cole signaled what he was going to do and dared to leave the center of the village to go behind the homes in follow. The closer he was the larger this thing sounded, taking false comfort that there was a thick and tall wall between him and it, so he tiptoed right up to the wall and followed its movements. Kailen alive, it did not sound promising.
The breathing. The foot falls. Just the actions it was taking were alien and large. The clicks. The faint chirping sounds intermixed with deep groans and growls that made him stop in his tracks. Then he realized all this time it was smelling. Almost consistently the whole way along was the sound of it actually sniffing the air as it went. Then hot breath hit him.
Oh shit, he mouthed as he turned to stone, that section of the wall had a gap between the logs and great interest was being made there at his waist. It took everything he had to not grow sick as the scent that came with it was wretched. There then came a pause to its sniffing, followed by a snort, and it moved on. Then Cole realized as he kept along that it actually had gone back the other way. Catching up and getting near the gate again, the creature paused, sniffed around again and gave a different sound before hobbling quickly off around the north wall before Cole could catch a glimpse through the gap.
This went on for a while, occasionally looking back to see the Bucks were watching him, waving to stay there, that things were okay even though he couldn't make out their expressions or words. Whatever this thing was, it was moving faster now and going for the west gate with agitation. Cole went back to them.
"I think it smells us," he reported. "It might not come in."
"Well that's good isn't it?" Jane asked.
"Not if we want to catch it."
"We're looking to kill it," Jane stated. Cole agreed, but what better location to trap it? Jane started talking about getting onto the walls to shoot it.
Marin was pressing really close to listen, making Cole shrink away slowly as the scent of the smoked fish he had been eating was really strong. It then gave him an idea.
"What ya do'n?" Marin asked as Cole took what piece he had left and nicked another from the racks. He then went close enough to the wall ahead of the creature to fling the piece it over and tossed the smelly filet close to the gate. Watching Cole, the men took places as he himself went to find cover close by.
By the sounds Cole heard over the wall, the bait was a success and hurried the thing along more. Only trouble he had for the west gate was cover, there hardly anything that let him hide close by with any visibility of what went on. Peaking through the slats of a pile of old chicken cages some 30 feet back was the best he had to see what it did. Jane and Marin also took liberty to use a few more fillets further up towards the center of the village so to draw it into the open. It was a matter of waiting on it now and Cole kept his sword drawn and ready before himself.
That nose was active and seemingly wild for the fish, and there was movement by the gate but Cole's position put him right along the wall and only anything past the gatepost visible. The anticipation was murder. The creature was there, it was looking over the gate as its nose was leading the way. Then a hard push to the gate. It was made with posts blocking the way, it took two to three men lifting the gate up a foot to get the locking ends over the top and bottom locks. Again it pushed and the head came up to peer over the edge.
Cole shifted slightly to try and see better. What was this thing? All he could see was black, hair and some sort of thick snout. It looked down and stared at the locks a long while before retracting back over. Cole thought it left as things went quiet, but then the gate started to get pushed again. No, it lifted the end of the gate up and over the locks, landing with a thud upon the beaten ground and silence rested again as it judged the changed. Now it could push the gate open and something struck all three of them with this fact.
Cole shifted as his legs grew tired, using the sword to hold weight as he leaned out more, it was hardly doing much of anything right now. Then a snout poked through the gap with a shift to the heavy gate and Cole sunk back as images it brought hit him hard with the sight. All he really saw was black fur and teeth. Long and jagged teeth within a gaping mouth.
No. Not possible. Looking back again there was the fish he tossed over, it was between him and the opened end of the gate and all that was made out of the monstrous thing beyond was movement. It was sniffing and eyeing the fillet, that much he was sure of.
From further in Jane and Marin were gripping each other as they saw the changes going on with the gate, knowing it was coming or trying at the least. Both ducked away as they saw the long, hairy arm reach out from hiding to pick up the fish thrown there with claws. Cole too saw this from his angle, something a little more direct. And as he heard it start to munch the morsel, hacking as the bones would get stuck, he felt panic wanting to take hold while he sunk down into his corner, involuntarily whispering prayers to his god.
It stopped. He could hear it sniffing the air. He needed to be strong, this was for the safety of all and he wasn't alone. Cole shifted to look out and found he was spotted. Dark features, long stringy hair falling over the face, the eyes were not hidden and met his. It gave one last sniff from its shadowy position before fleeing. He knew it left as the heavy movements faded quickly into the night. Some time passed before Jane and Marin found him still hiding there.
"What the hell happened?" Jane said.
"We need to kill it..." Cole said. He was shaking.
"Cole? Ya okay?"
He gestured that he needed a moment longer, as his pulse slowed the world had started to spin and was still spinning upon being found. But what he said stood true. That monster needed to die.