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The Hunters and the Prey

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The warehouse wasn’t deserted, there were plenty of things stored within, but he hadn’t seen anyone in the time he’d been hiding inside.

How long that was…he wasn’t certain.

Time had no meaning.  It could have been hours or weeks since he’d escaped Hydra.  The warehouse was dark, and it smelled of the sea and fish and other things he couldn’t identify.  There was a slight chill in the air, and he pulled the stolen cloak around him as he huddled behind a stack of crates that shielded his presence from anyone who did happen to come inside. 

As he sat there, he let his mind drift, strange, hazy visions floating though his brain, places and people he didn’t recognize.  A blond haired boy – the one he’d remembered when he’d first escaped – replaced by a blond haired man with fancy armor and a shield with a crest on it he felt he should know.  A stout man with a huge ginger mustache and a sword that should have been too heavy to lift yet wasn’t; a thin man with dark hair and an accent from somewhere he could have sworn he’d been before; a dark-skinned Elf with a twinkle in his eye and quick with a joke; a woman, beautiful, dark haired and armored in leather and as fierce as a storm at sea. 

He knew them.  But he didn’t remember them.

And they were important.

He just didn’t know how.

It was the blond man who seemed to be special to him.  He closed his eyes, not wanting to sleep but hoping that the cutting off of any distractions would bring this man to mind.  Unconsciously, he rubbed his magic arm, as if it shouldn’t be there where this man was concerned, that it was something the man would have been sad about.

That last thing he wanted to do was make that man sad. 

But there was no idea why.

As he attempted to remember the man, a sudden feeling of falling struck him, vertigo making him feel as if he was going to vomit.  He felt himself slide down to the stone floor, curling his arms around his knees, shivering as the sensation of freezing overwhelmed him, his breathing harsh in the quiet.

He had to get himself together.

However, the memory was far too strong to break its hold on him. 

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought, This is how I died.

No, that wasn’t right.

But it was.

He jerked back into awareness by a scuffing sound of a boot against the stone of the floor.  Silently, he slid the dagger – something else he’d stolen, having dumped everything including his clothes, which he’d also replaced, keeping only the arm, and he would have gotten rid of the arm as well if he could have figured out a way to remove it without killing himself – out of his boot, holding it ready in his flesh and blood fist. Eyes trying to pierce the darkness of the warehouse, he felt himself slide into a form of hyperawareness, not scared of being caught…but prepared to fight his way out of anything that might come his way.

A light went on, dazzling his vision for a heartbeat while he blinked to clear the spots away.  He peered out and around the crate he’d taken refuge behind, needing to see if the person approaching was a threat.

It was a man, wearing metal plated armor, a blue-gray cloak flowing about his legs, a naked sword in his hand.

Objectively, he could see that the stranger was handsome, dark haired and blue-eyed, tall and well-built.  He was obviously a fighter, just from the way he moved and held his sword, dangerous in ways that he would never have been unable to hide.  Those eyes were sharp, darting around the warehouse, not letting anything escape that gaze.

He settled into wait, although he just knew the man was searching for him.  There was no other reason for him to be stalking through the empty warehouse, with a sword to hand.

He calculated just how much of a chance he’d have against this fighter.

He wondered if the man was Hydra.

He didn’t recognize him from the house, but that didn’t mean much.  There could have been others out there, that never would have been around, so not knowing this person wasn’t a guarantee.

The man stopped just next to the crate he was hiding behind.  “I know you’re there.”  It wasn’t taunting, or angry…it just was, as of this person had neither good nor bad feelings in the matter that had brought him to the warehouse. 

The words echoed about the empty room.

He didn’t move.

The man suddenly slid his sword back into its sheath.  “We know about Hydra, and what they did to you.  We want to help, if we can.”

He now had tactical advantage.  The man had disarmed himself voluntarily.

He did not move out into the open, waiting for the next move.

This stranger knew about Hydra. 

Had he known the Wizard that had been brought to the house?  Had he known about the girl, who’d been so brave and had attempted to escape?  Had he known the Elf, who’d given him enough of a fight that he’d been impressed?

The man seemed as willing to wait as the Winter Knight was.  The warehouse thrummed with something like anticipation, as the fighter stood there, not moving, delaying any sort of action that he might take.

Waiting for the Knight to come out of hiding.

How had this man known where he was?

“If it makes any difference,” the fighter said after a little time had passed. “we want to track down and stop Hydra probably as much as you do.  That Wizard they took?  He’s a friend of mine.  That young woman was my friend’s daughter.  And the Elf?  He’s the Wizard’s lover.  So you see…we do want them stopped.  We’d like it if you helped us do that…or we helped you do it.  So…what do you say?  You want to get a little of your own back?”

He really did.  He wanted to get revenge on the ones who’d kept him under their control.

He wanted to take some of that control back.

This could have been a trap.  The man could have been some sort of mercenary sent out to bring the Winter Knight back in.  To get him back under their thrall.

He regarded the fighter as he stood there patiently, hands out from his sides. Waiting for some sort of sign.  The man was close enough that he could see those bright eyes, blue and warm as the sky, unclouded by the darkness he’d seen within the ones who’d held him.  If he had to trust his instincts, he would have said this man wasn’t Hydra, wasn’t a killer that had been paid to hunt him down and bring him back to his masters.

He was a killer, however.  Just not one that wanted to kill the Knight.

He couldn’t stay out in the cold forever.  He’d been a prisoner far too long, and his mind was a foggy mess of half-remembered images that he wasn’t sure he could trust.  However, the magic that had been smothering him was gone, and it was now possible for him to think for himself.

He didn’t know if he could really trust this man.

But, he didn’t have much of a choice, if it meant having help in taking down Hydra.

“Are you alone?”

His voice was brittle and gruff.  It had been so very long since he’d spoken, it was as if he was relearning how to form the words he needed to communicate. 

The man didn’t startle, which was a plus.  “No,” he admitted.  “There are two Elven archers with me.  One of them is the Elf from the house; you may recall seeing him there.”  He tilted his head back.  “Toshiko…Clint…you can come on out now.”

Twisting sharply, he turned his eyes upward, toward the network of beams that held up the warehouse’s ceiling.  He could just make out movement up there, and he realized that they’d had him covered this entire time, and hadn’t taken the shots that would have been easy from where they’d been positioned.

They hadn’t killed him.

They could very easily have killed him.

They weren’t there to do that, then.

That told him more than his observations of the fighter could.

Tucking the dagger back into his boot, the Winter Knight arose from his crouch, his own hands held away from his body as he stepped around the crates that had hidden him…well, not so well, actually.

It had been a very long time since he’d been able to trust anyone.

Perhaps it was time to start.

He could always kill them if they proved to be a danger to him.