The dull thud of a door woke me up. I stretched and looked around. The landlord nodded across at me worriedly but I ignored him and focused on Rut. He gave me a dejected look.
“What happened to you?”
“She has to stop doing that.”
Rut touched his split lip gingerly and winced. I tapped his hand away and stared at the landlord’s back until he straightened and met my eye.
“Breakfast for five. Drink and a shot of whiskey.”
“What’s the whiskey for?”
Chem and Aner were expelled into the room and sat down looking sleepy. I snorted angrily as Mega emerged. She gave me a look and I lifted my chin, staring her down. She looked away first and I smiled briefly without mirth.
“What are we doing today?”
I opened my mouth and shut it again as the landlord came over with a large tray. When he left I grabbed a slab of bread and folded it around several pieces of bacon. The others waited for me to take my food and then fell on it like a pack of ravenous wolves.
“Jackals.”, I said matter of factly.
As they ate, I examined them each in turn. Mega was girly and slightly vain, she was a rather odd addition to my hunters but she had her uses. Rut is obviously the muscle, but gentle as a lamb most of the time. Aner was the adept spell-weaver of the group and crucial to our hunt. I saved Chem for last as he is tall, slender and powerful and my second in command, the one person I would trust my life to. He often wished I did, as he always says and we had a rather fragile understanding with each other.
He looked up and caught my eye. A grin pulled a sudden smile from me, and that’s another thing he can do better than any one else. He makes me smile, which is a lot coming from me. By his side, Mega looked up at him, expecting to meet his gaze but she looked close to screaming when she saw that his gaze was on mine. Mega had only joined my hunters because of Chem, convinced she could wrest him away from our unusual relationship. All of her previous attempts had failed.
We finished our meal and I threw the landlord a handful of coinage. The reassuring weights of my bolter and my sword bounced against my hips and the dagger in my boot shifted as I led the others from the inn. A derisive laugh greeted us and I rubbed my forehead, saying to Aner,
“If you can’t control that bird, I’m going to shoot it.”
“Ah, be nice to Keth.”
Aner held up his arm as a very large seagull swooped down from the roof. It looked at me and laughed again. I glared at it for a moment before remembering it was a bird.
“Why does he do that?”
“I really have no idea.”
Rut appeared with the horses and we mounted into the saddles. Cesa whickered at me and I stroked his neck calmingly. Mega trotted past me and I quickly overtook her, taking my position at the head of our group. She attempted to draw between me and Chem but he moved forward until our knees were touching. Cesa spooked sideways as Mega’s horse nudged into Chem’s. I wheeled him away and blocked Mega.
“What is your problem, Mega?”
“Then get back in line.”
Mega curled her lip at me.
“You are only on this mission ‘cause your father’s got more money than sense. I have more battle experience than you and more tracking ability. I am in charge and you will do as I say. Get back in line.”
She glared at me in disgust but turned to stand by Rut. She lent over and whispered to him but he moved away, looking at me uncomfortably. I exchanged looks with Aner and Chem before spurring Cesa forwards. Behind me, the Hunters spread into a V formation and the dust from the road cloaked the view of the inn.