Avania was accustomed to this kind of treatment. After all, she was a heavily armed bounty hunter in search of a killer. Though one could not tell all that from looking at her young countenance, she had acquired a hunter's gaze and movement.
Moving slowly through the dusty street, she spied the inn at the end of the road, a dusty looking building with surprisingly bright blue shutters. This inconsistency did not sit well with Avania's heightened nerves, but she needed information and the best place to get that, in her experience, was at the local watering hole.
The faded sign read "Blue Rein".
"Well, that explains the shutters, Tyrian," Avania said to her companion. Walking up, she left Tyrian to graze on a dusty patch of mottled grass. She had no fear he would not be there when she returned. It was not that she trusted the villagers, or believed them too cowed by her status as an outsider, to steal Tyrian. She simply knew that the wiley stallion would not come to any hand but hers.
Pushing open the door to the Blue Rein, her eyes were assaulted by the garishly blue-drowned interior. The walls, tables, and chairs were all different shades of blue. Somehow, not a single shade was the same, and it gave Avania a mild headache as she cast her gaze across the room.
Whatever happened to simple wood? she thought to herself.
A burly man leaned against the wall opposite the door, a cranky look making his physically-remodeled facial features twist in a disturbing grimace. Avania's perusal was interrupted by a wispy heron of a man.
"Welcome Mistress. Welcome to the Blue Rein. My name is Sley Trawdley and I own and operate this establishment. What will be your pleasure?"
Avania had some difficulty understanding his accent. He slurred his S's and kept making coughing noises deep in his throat. His voice was eery, but she responded with a smile.
"Greetings Master Trawdley. I would like a mug of ale and a meal. I will also require a room for the night, as well as a place to stable my horse."
"Of course, of course, Mistress. My room's are well priced and my cook has just finished an excellent preparation of pheasant and potatoes." He finished with a slight bow, offering her to sit in the dining room.
Avania nodded in return, then took up a chair that gave her a clear view of the front door and the kitchen. Her mouth began to water when a serving girl brought out her dinner.
Pheasants and potatoes indeed though Avania.
As she nursed her ale and tore into the meal (she had not realized how hungry she had been from not having eaten in the past two chapters), she thought about the details she had received concerning the Mauler. There had to be some clue to identifying him.
Though she stared pensively at the ruined pheasant carcass before her for nearly an hour, nothing occurred to her. Giving it up, she stabled Tyrian and went to nap to wait for the evening crowd.
Several hours passed, and Avania woke up feeling slightly uncomfortable. She shrugged it off. At least she tried to shrug it off.
"What in Hedja?!"
"Shhhhh, quiet Mistress. We wouldn't want you to start screaming for help. Of course, that wouldn't help you now."
The slurred whispered voice chilled Avania's blood. It made no sense. Why would the innkeeper kidnap her?
"What are you doing Sley? What do you want with me?"
"Want? Hmmm, that is an interesting question. Do I want the money you have hidden about your stallion's saddle? Or perhaps I want to taste your sweet young flesh?"
Here he stopped to watch as his words sank in. Avania lay bound, a primal urgency ripping through her body willing her to escape. Though her face was expressionless, she could not keep the fear from her eyes. She watched helplessly as a wicked grin crept over Sley Trawdley's pinched face.
"Have no fear. I have no interest in your money or your youth. I yearn only for the simple pleasure of destroying your beauty completely."
Avania watched in shock as he pulled out two pairs of brass knuckles. He's the Mauler? No bleeding way! Think Avania. You can get out of this. Figure it out quickly. Taking stock of her situation, she knew she was bound by tight ropes around her wrists and ankles. She glanced down to discover she was without her knife belt, and Trawdley had managed to find most of the throwing knives she usually hid about her person. She wriggled her toes, and felt the blade in the heel of her left boot.
Well, that's something. she thought a little bitterly.
This study took her the few seconds Trawdley needed to slip on the brass knuckles, and he advanced on her prone form.
Change tactics girl! Never be predictable. Her brother's gruff voice interrupted her growing despair.
"Please don't do this, Mr. Trawdley. Please don't hurt me."
Avania's suddenly mewling tone and now obviously terrified expression confused the Mauler momentarily. She used this hesitation and kicked out her bound legs at his right knee. Trawdley went down with a groan, and Avania rolled away.
She did not get far, owing to the fact that she rolled facefirst into a tree trunk. Feeling the blood begin to gush out of her nose, she bent backwards as far as she was able, trying to pull her knife out of the heel of her boot. She had to push the hilt out half an inch with her toes before she could grasp it with her outstretched fingers.
Before she could draw the blade fully, she felt a knee press down on her back.
"Nice try, Mistress. But it will take more than that to save you."
Trawdley rolled Avania onto her back, and the motion allowed her to draw the knife. With a quick motion, she slashed through the bindings on her wrists. Staring up at Trawdley's maniacal grin, Avania tried to roll him again, but he had her firmly wedged against the tree.
"Now now. No more play. It's time to be a good girl and lay there.
He raised a brass fist. Help me brother, she thought, and painfully unwedged her arm from beneath her body. Trawdley saw the knife before he could strike, but he was quick and rolled away before Avania could hit him. She rolled forward and cut the ropes around her ankles, sighing quietly as she felt circulation return to her feet.
Avania stood slowly, always keeping her eyes on the prowling Trawdley. Once she had regained her balance, she dropped lightly into a fighting pose, the knife reverse in her grip to provide a better defensive advantage against the innkeeper's brass-crusted fists.
Avania moved her back away from the tree. It would do her no good to not be able to run, though she felt weak and realized if she did run, she would not be able to get far. Taking a slow breath, she prepared to fight.
"Come little one. Let my hands feast upon your ruined cor..." His words were cut off with a strangle, a black-dyed arrow protruding from his chest. Trawdley could only glance at the arrow before dropping to the ground.
Avania could only stare at the black fletchings on the arrow she had thought forever buried, could only gape at the poisoned arrow that saved her life.