His Dark Tomb: V

He waited behind the tent for awhile until the two military folk marched off in what appeared to be a predetermined direction. He sat there long after their noisy departure was lost in the whipping winds. He thought about how ridiculous the situation was and how great it'd be if he could just return home and be with Sally again.

Maxwell imagined her sultry hair, red lips and her salty perfume. But she was gone, lost to him forever through death throes of the empire which he had served in as an academic. He'd never hear the name Max again, either. No, that was reserved only for his long dead mother and his lost Sally. Now he was Maxwell, however pretentious it sounded.

It didn't take too long to pack up what remained. Most of his worldly possessions were in the pack he had abandoned at the bar in a fit of stupidity. He used a smaller less sturdy one and crammed it full of his remaining journals, books and supplies. The military man, Aeolus, had stolen the book he had purchased from Mary Ann the previous day. He cursed him and wondered why such a dim witted thug would want to read about Norse mythology. He was surprised the man could even read.

But books, especially old ones were a hot commodity in the south. Maybe he intended to sell or trade it for an instrument of destruction to maim or disfigure someone who irked his authoritarian style.

Maxwell knew he couldn't bring the tent or the little pot bellied stove with him. So he snuffed the fire out, warmed his hands one last time and did the only thing he could think of. He followed the two strangers into the night.

He waited awhile before his journey, to give them a healthy lead. But before too long he could hear the man's loud laughter and traces of the woman's voice. They were weighed down with heavy armor and packs far more impressive than his own so it was to be expected he'd catch up with them.

He walked in the man's tracks until he heard the howling and yipping of hounds. It was then that he left his trail and found a position down wind. After the hounds rejoined them (two of them by what he could hear) they didn't hesitate much to make camp. So he crouched in the snow and watched their flickering fire in the distance. He didn't dare get too close, but instead he watched them warm themselves, play with the dogs and generally behave like they were on a camping expedition.

They were in the service and were used to roughing it. And they weren't shy about enjoying themselves on salted meats and heavy breads that they produced from their packs. He could smell the wood smoke and sour dough as he pathetically nibbled on a tiny fragment of a candy bar he had purchased weeks prior. When it was gone he turned the wind to his back and looked to make camp himself.

It didn't take long. He found an enormous, but dead willow and curled up at the base of its truck. It offered some respite from the driving wind, but the chill still seeped through his clothes and blankets.

Maxwell fell asleep within minutes, his hand grasped firmly on the butt of his pistol.

He awoke to the man's accusing face and a gunblade pointed in his general direction. The woman was standing some distance back with a composite bow pointed, he assumed, at the spot between his eyes.

Aeolus' hounds were of local stock and thus enormous. They were bearing their teeth, mouths expelling frosty breath. He could smell their breakfast in the morning air and it stank.

He felt his hand up to shield his eyes from the morning sun.

"Good morning, sunshine."

Aeolus said, his gunblade humming softly.

"Wakey wakey, eggs and baccy."

Maxwell gritted his teeth and started to stand, but the thug jerked his weapon and made a couple of throat noises.

"Not so fast, friend. Just relax for a second. Why don't you share with us the reason why you've been following us all night and why you're just in earshot of our camp."

"I'm not your friend," he said, marshaling all of his courage as he stood under four sets of watchful eyes. "And I believe you took something that belongs to me. Applied Norse Theology, by R. Herrman. Seen it?"

"Damnit, Aeolus. I told you to cut it out." The woman barked while withdrawing her bow, she marched up to the man and punched his arm. His face went slack and he withdrew his weapon. Jabbing a finger toward their camp with a whistle the dogs bounded off through the snow.

They stood there for sometime talking. Maxwell developed a liking for the woman instantly. Her name was Thesair. The man, Aeolus, took a bit getting used to. They explained they were part of a larger unit and were working on reuniting with their fellow servicemen. It turned out the book thief was their commanding officer. Maxwell found this both amusing and distressing.

Unsurprisingly he offered little insight on his own life or why he was in the area. But he did reveal that the locals didn't much like him after an idle comment about a black eye he was unaware of.

"Mirrors," he quipped "are uncommon in these parts. My apologies."

They invited him over for breakfast. They had already eaten, but it was the least they could do. His book was reluctantly returned to him after some scolding by Thesair.

Aeolus apologized and half heartedly offered some gold for it, but he didn't have enough in his purse to even cover a fraction of its true value. But he politely declined, instead simply saying it wasn't for sale. Sentimental value and all. It was a half truth, but it held.

It wasn't before long he was shoveling bread and cured vegetables into his mouth. The conversation moved briskly but inevitably drifted toward the book. The man was very interested in it, specifically the notes in the margins.

Maxwell dismissed them. "A vandal before I purchased it," he said swallowing a half chewed fragment of bread. "But a sophisticated one. She's pretty insightful."

The man turned to be a wanna-be academic.

"Norse myth, eh? I was always interested in them. My nanny would tell me stories when I was a kid about Thor, Odin. It's why I wanted it. Sorry. Again."

Maxwell smiled. It was the first time in weeks. "It's fine. At least I got it back."

"Why do you have it all the way up here? You sound like you're not from these parts." Thesair said while repairing the shaft on a expertly machine ground arrow.

"I'm looking for something." He replied, eying her from across the small campfire. "Something you might also be interested in."

He had her attention.

"I'm looking for Nidhoggr."

They both stared at him, mouths agape. But there was a sharp yelp in the distance, followed by a terrible noise.


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