Stepping side ways proved much easier. Nicola drew her cloak up and planted her boot down on the dirt path. Thankfully a full moon sat on a cloudless sky. It illuminated not just the trail, but also the tree tops farther down. Down at the bottom is where she needed to go. And quick. Her guide halted.
“I thought I heard something,” Karm said.
“Wolves I can handle.” He tapped the arrow strapped to his back. “But wolves aren’t the only furry raskals that claims the Sunken Mountain. There are others that prowl hidden under the forest canopy,” he said. “But no need to worry. Your protection is guaranteed.”
Beneath the hooded archer-cloak, Karm had a handsome, rugged face. She had never seen eye-brows that thick before and the stubble of beard was so raw, so primal — that it could never pass in the uniformed inspection of the atelier.
Neither had she seen glacial-blue eyes. Shimmering against the moonlight, they imparted a manly wisdom as though he had seen the worst but came out stronger. The man was handsome. Or, at least, had a different vibe than the book-worm types back at the atelier. Still, she could never trust anyone outside the atelier, especially not a hunter.
He slowed his pace down and allowed her to catch up. “So what’s so important down there that they sent you in the middle of night.”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “Your business is your own.” Dried leaves crunched underneath his boots. “But when most folks from the atelier visit town they leave with sacks of books or bottles or powdered spice and not protection-services.”
“I’m not like most types.”
“I can see that. You caused quite a bit of stir in the hunter-company.” He gave her his hand and helped her hop down a steep section of the trail path.
Her hand tingled. “I caused quite a bit of stir?”
“A company full of men. A girl like you…”
What does he mean a girl like me? “Too bad nobody had the courage to take my contract.”
“Could you blame them?” Karm was quick to answer. “A journey to the bottom of the Sunken Mountain at such quick notice and without information.” He looked between the dark spaces between trees and said, “There are things out here that would make the toughest of all men soil their pants.”
“And I take it you’re unlike most men?” She rolled her eyes.
“Well, I’m new to the hunter-company. So I’m just trying to establish… a… what do you call it? A clientelle. Oh wait for a second.” He pushed a fallen tree bark that was blocking the path, and it tumbled down the side of the deep thud and crashed into a thicket below. “It’s the only way to get repeat customers. Unless I’m talking too much? The guys told me not to talk too much.”
“Not at all,” she said. This was the most excitement she’d had since decades of being in the atelier. Decades since that wolf attack took everything from her. “But I do have a question for you, Karm.”
“Why did those hunters refuse the contract. You were the only one interested. Those men are battle hardened veterans, respected and feared throughout the land. So why did you take the contract-do you like have a special ability?”
“Asides from this arrow?”
“Yes. Asides from that arrow.”
“Well you didn’t ask so I didn’t say.” His voice turned sullen. “It’s because I’m not exactly human… I’m a wolf.”