The Yeti were more organized than Wright found comfortable during his watch. He gave two warning shots, but he was tired of wasting bullets. While he wanted to avoid enraging the group he would not play games all night. After the second warning the elusive creatures disappeared into the woods and he did not return to the lighthouse. The others had nothing to report during their watches and the travelers woke that dawn sore, but rested enough to continue their journey despite the snowfall growing heavier.
Wright prepared oatmeal and promised a better lunch than the day before. Loki ate the breakfast greedily, going back for seconds and even thirds to make up for yesterday. As they set off, Yang paused at the cairns they had passed while entering the lighthouse. He bowed his head respectfully and then followed the others.
Wright had been unaware of Yang’s talent, so before they set out he asked him to scout for a good landmark for lunch. Mariah stepped forward to intervene, “Keep your shoes on Mr. Moreau. I scaled the tower this morning. The woods thin over a few ridges and we should pass another tower near there.”
The company traveled slower than before, but that grueling pace had been to leave the cottage behind. With the malevolent spirit behind them, Wright set a pace that the urchins and adults could recover from as they walked. Loki and Tepic were still in the rear with Beryl.
“Oi,” Loki asked Beryl while they passed an area filled with large snow drifts. “Think yer could climb like Yang did?”
“Up a tree?” Beryl asked rhetorically as they walked, still getting used to the long walk traveling upright. “Yes, I can climb very well, but to return upside down from that height? You’d have to call the fire brigade.”
“Hah!” Tepic laughed as he envisioned the scene in his mind. “Fire brigade has ter save their own deputy chief from a tree! Bet the Free Press would love tha’ story!”
The good cheer continued through the day. Mariah regaled them with a few more ‘raunchy’ songs hidden with clever word play, until Yang and Bookworm begged her to stop. Tepic wanted to play the flute for their march, but the sled encumbered his breath control. He knew some clean marching songs, among those he didn’t know the meaning to, that the others could appreciate. Wright didn’t mind their musical contributions, part of him missed the sound of drums on the march, but it would draw unwanted attention.
The Yeti stalking them departed when they came to the first clearing. Their light pace took much longer to get out of the woods than Mariah had initially estimated, but they enjoyed their lunch at the base of a second tower. While the group rested beside the building they had dried trail rations while Tepic and Wright attempted to start a fire. Every time a flame kindled it was snuffed out by a sudden frigid gust. Giving up, they entered the building to use the kitchen, which meant doing a thorough search for current inhabitants. Beryl went to the top of the lighthouse and returned to report seeing several buildings on the horizon. “The closest seems to be a wood mill, but it’s abandoned due to the winter. We should probably rest there for the night.”
“Did you see the telegraph office?” Bookworm asked, recalling that Avariel had described the place as a death trap.
“Yes, but it’s many leagues out of our path. We are keeping the shore in sight and only taking detours further away when the terrain forces us. Avariel was headed inland for Aquila IX. We are unlikely to cross paths unless the monsters chased her to shore.”
“So we ain’t gonna find Ms. Avariel?” Loki asked with dismay from his oatmeal and raisins. “That ain’t righ’. We came ter rescue ‘er.”
“Don’t worry, Loki,” Bookworm reassured the distressed urchin. “We just want to enlist aid from the people of Wuldram to cover more ground.” They also needed more supplies and a base to work from, but Loki did not take comfort from this news. Later, as the crew resumed, Loki asked Tepic and Beryl if he had made a mistake coming.
“Nah,” Tepic waved his hand dismissively. “Yer got us here faster and that were a big help. Maybe yer could think of a way ter get us to the city quicker?” Loki gasped and his eyes widened with an almost predatory glee. He almost skipped towards the mill until the light sleet turned into a blizzard.
The wind howled and kicked loose powdery snow into the atmosphere and the companions lost sight of their destination. Visibility reduced to a few yards and they huddled together after Yang had almost lost them. They pressed on following Wright, who lied when he assured them he could still see the mill.
Wright stopped the group abruptly when three large silhouettes appeared between them and their destination. They drew their weapons and crowded together with Wright, Book, and Mariah taking point. The forms didn’t appear to have antlers or elongated limbs like the Koudra, nor were they as lanky as the Yeti, but the creatures were larger than a horse. They let out a screech as they bounded forward coming into view. The beasts possessed large sabre tusks, long shredded ears, and sharp bone-tearing claws.
The companions opened fire on the lead lapine, which slowed and collapsed after being shot several times. Everyone scattered as the other two bounded forth to rend them apart. Yang had warned them the rabbits were dangerous to travelers but this was not what they had expected.
Wright set aside his rifle and reached for the shotgun, but was kicked back several yards by the rear legs of the bloodthirsty beasts. Bookworm reached for the tranquilizer gun and fired. She caught the creature on the face where it screeched horribly and thrashed about before succumbing to the potent chemical.
Beryl and Yang had retreated with Tepic and Loki ahead of them as the last lapine charged, Mariah shooting after it did little to deter it. Yang attacked with his knife which bent like a golf club as he swung keeping the monster at a distance. Loki seeing the monster about to pounce and more arriving in the distance took out his ‘enhanced’ flare gun and shot just above the head of the lapine. It sailed above everyone before the firework Loki fired exploded brilliantly. The entire plane illuminated as sparks showered on everyone as the deafening eruption echoed through the mountains for several minutes.
The monsters retreated with a loud screech, their ears ringing even worse than the companions. Everyone got to their feet gingerly clutching their ears while Loki looked on apologetically, “Think I mighta overdone it on ther powders.”
“Well,” Wright began as he stood up, gripping his chest from where the lapine had struck him, “Looks like we’ll be dining on rabbit stew.” Loki made a retching sound at the proposal.
Tepic stood up, brushed himself off and looked at his companions seriously, “Yer all gotta swear, yer most solemn an bindin oath, yer never, ever gonna mention this back home…how’s I ever gonna live down being chased…” his voice caught on the words, “chased…by a…by a…by’s a rabbit!”