The story so far:
Carter’s last gift to her was a hatchet, handed to her through the window of his truck before he drove his daughter back to the cabin. It had a leather cover that attached to her belt. She unsnapped that cover and pulled the small ax from its sheath. In the back of her mind, she thought of the warriors of old who not only used their tools to cut wood or work the ground. They used them as weapons also. She would be like those warriors.
Two sounds now reached her. The first, that terrible buzzing, grew louder as the swarm neared. No such luck as the ship this time. Somehow, the Mongerers had reached her, cold or no cold. Renni set down her bag, her eyes intent upon where they would emerge.
The second sound echoed through the darkening valley loud and insistent. Renni cringed at the half bark, half yelp of the dog being pursued by the Mongerers. She nearly cried, willing it not to be George.
She stood upon a hill, just beyond the crest. Before her the world dropped away into a deep valley. The dog and the Mongerers would come up over that hill through a small patch of bare aspens. No more clouds cluttered the sky, the slight snowstorm having passed as quickly as it had come. The moon rose in the clear indigo sky, illuminating the snow in soft bluish light.
Renni dropped to her knees and quickly unzipped her bag. She removed one of the metal dowels she’d saved from the city. Both hands gripped their weapons tightly, but her mittens made her feel clumsy. She pulled them off and tossed them into her bag. As she did so, she spotted the pocket containing the Harbinger rod.
No choice this time. She pulled it out and let it elongate in her hand. The buzzing grew louder. So did the barking. She heard the dog growl before yelping again. Renni plunged the device into her leg. She held it there a little longer than usual, her mind intent upon the sounds coming up over the hill. Pulling it out, she stifled a yawn. She then put the device in her back pocket, not in the bag. No way would she allow the Mongerers to distract her while they stole it. She remembered the cliché line from so many movies about prying something from cold dead fingers. Renni smiled grimly at the thought.
She stood tall, spreading her legs in the cleared path for balance. Her eyes fixed upon the aspens, white ghosts in a white world splattered with blue shadows. The wind picked up, whipping their skeletal arms into a slight frenzy, a warning of what would soon come racing over the hill.
A bluish gray hound burst through the trees, following the line of the path Renni had dug. Red lines marred its face and shoulders and she saw its tail tucked tightly between its legs. It saw her, barked, and raced all the faster, a bullet of muscle and fear and hope all at once.
George skidded to a stop just in front of her and sniffed the hand she held out to him. She saw his panic and cooed encouraging words. Somehow, he seemed to understand her and his panic disappeared. His tail raised from its tucked position and his ears flattened back as he turned and glared at the hill where the Mongerers would emerge. George bared his teeth and growled low.
Renni patted his head. “Know exactly what you mean, boy,” she said, glancing down at Carter’s faithful companion. She said a quiet prayer, tilting her head to the sky momentarily. “Let them be alive, Lord. What ever happens, please let them be alive.”