It had been hours since Balim had found any tracks. The ground was undisturbed. There were no broken branches, or bent grass. There were no obvious signs that anyone had been traveling along the path that he himself rode. It had been this way for hours, which meant his quarry had noticed the pursuit and was using a spell of some kind to hide signs of their passage. Signalling his horse to stop, he dismounted to inspect the sun dappled forest floor. The smell of the earth was warm and tinged with the afterscent of rain. There was no way his quarry would be able to escape making prints in such soft dirt.
Balim stood up and swore to himself. He never liked taking on those who used an innate power like he did. Walking to the saddlebags on his horse, he thought back on the woman who had shown up at his campfire three nights previously. Her clothes had been torn and disheveled. She was clearly distraught, and it took nearly five minutes to calm her down enough that her ramblings took on a recognizable form.
Balim boiled some water over his fire and prepared her some tea as she explained what had happened. She, her husband, and her daughter had been traveling from a small village in the south to visit family in the north. They had been attacked the previous night by a single man. Her husband had been murdered, her daughter had been taken, and the woman’s innocence had been shattered.
Balim had grown stone faced through her story, bustling around his campsite, packing and moving his supplies around. When she had finished speaking, he gave her the reins to his usual packhorse, now carrying only half of the normal supplies. Pulling on his power, he nudged the consciousness of someone empathetic nearby, ensuring that they would come across the poor woman.
Swearing he would get her daughter back, he had left her there, following all the tracks and signs that he could, using all of his normal skills to track what he thought was a normal person.
Jerking himself out of his daydream, he pulled out a wide, circular shield and a bag of sand. He set the shield down on its face and removed the arm strap, before pouring in a thin layer of sand. He smoothed the sand out before placing four rocks tightly together in the center, each representing a cardinal direction, and one stone held up by the first four, representing himself. Pulling out a small pouch of stones, he began clearing his mind, and pulling on his power.
Closing his eyes, Balim extended his arm and dropped several stones one at a time, allowing his mind to wander. Upon opening his eyes, he saw that the grouping of stones was heavily concentrated in the Northeast part of the sand. Pulling out the stones, he smoothed the sand down again. This time, he set one stone in the center and three others by the rim of the shield, equidistant from each other. One segment represented unharmed, one represented harmed, and the last represented dead. The middle stone stood for the girl. He closed his eyes and dropped a single stone. Unharmed.
Smoothing the sand again, he set stones in a vertical line across the sand. Each segment stood for half a mile. He rolled one stone in the sand and it stopped just short of the fifth stone. Nearly two and a half miles to the Northeast.
Balim breathed out sharply, the birdsong seeming far away. The wind shifted as he dumped the sand out of the shield after collecting his stones. The darkly tanned man placed the shield back on his saddlebag before mounting his horse and taking off. He didn’t bother to look for signs or tracks as the trees blurred by. He pushed his horse to a blistering pace, the sunlight warm. The wind cool upon his face.
Before too long, he saw birds shooting out of trees in the distance. He could see the truth of why they fled, and knew he had found his prey. It was near to another half hour before he was close enough to draw and string his bow. The forest seemed silent. Almost like all the beasts that roamed were in silent mourning. They knew who stalked among them. They knew peace would return to their forest. Through battle or through speech.
Pulling upon his combat magic, Balim muttered “Atoch mataam verbii”, feeling energy flood his body as he gained nearly double his normal strength and speed.
He nocked an arrow as he passed into a clearing, seeing a man clothed in dark brown and black waiting for him at the other end. Dismounting his horse, he stayed by the treeline, looking for any traps or tricks.
“You have a girl in your care. I’ve come to return her to her mother.”
The man on the other end of the clearing just laughed. “I’m surprised that whore was still able to talk at all. She was quite entertaining, you know!”
“Hand the girl over or suffer the consequences. You’re better than this, Randulf.”
The man took a step back, visibly shaken at Balim’s knowledge of his name, but quickly recovered. Instead of bandying about with words, Randulf hurled an axe towards him and started sprinting.
Balim calmly raised his bow and shot the axe out of the air, nocking another arrow that was loosed towards the charging man. A sudden gust of air knocked it off course, Randulf barely flinching. He had pulled another axe off of his belt, this one considerably larger than the first.
Balim dropped his bow to the side, not having enough time to safely loose another arrow. Instead he drew a long, curved blade, spinning it around as he did. The axeman roared and attacked, swinging the axe in a massive overhead arc that Balim ducked under. He flicked his wrist and sliced open Randulfs wrist during his downswing, the axe dropping reflexively.
Not wasting a moment, Balim spun around and stabbed the man straight through his shoulder, pinning him to a nearby tree. The axeman was howling in pain as Balim removed his gauntlet and placed his bare hand upon Randulfs forehead. “Make peace with your actions, sir. As I must make peace with mine.”
Using his power, he showed the man his true calling, and the truth of what his actions had wrought upon the world. He showed Randulf what had been and what could have been and how things still would be. Before the blood had stopped flowing from his wound, tears were flowing just as thickly from his eyes.
“I will work to counter the pain you have brought upon this world, Randulf. Now go in peace.”
Balim stood vigil by the tree until the man had died. He yanked his sword free, cleaning it off before sheathing it. He shook his head in sorrow before heading to the other side of the sunlit clearing, the girl tied to the base of a tree, bound and gagged. The man’s horse had already run off.
When he removed the gag from the poor girl’s face, she sobbed through her tears, “How did you find me?”
Balim helped her over to his horse, deep in thought before looking over at her and smiling. His eyes sparkling as his wrinkles crinkled. “With some sand and some stones dear. Just some sand and some stones.”