The Realms: A World Apart

Seeing Red

Chapter Six, Part Three

With his left hand pulling back the reins to take his horse from a full gallop to a stomping halt, Percy steadies himself with his right hand on the pommel, then slides off the saddle before the horse is completely stopped. Momentum drives him forward three quick steps to the body in the road. As soon as his knees meet the ground, he tears off his gauntlet and presses his fingers against the side of the Dwarf’s neck. Orjulun arrives as Percy turns and yells to Rastorn, “Ride back and bring the Cleric! He’s still alive – but make haste, for his life hangs by a thread!” Only then does he scan the area to see if danger is near. When nothing jumps out to attack, he pulls off the brown cloak the Dwarf is wearing and starts loosening the chainmail beneath.

The Dwarf has red hair and a short (by Dwarven standards) red beard with beads braided into it. A ruined battle ax is clenched in one hand and a golden disk with a crossed pick and battle ax symbol in the other. The symbol is also emblazoned on the front of the Dwarf’s cloak.

Percy freezes in shock and horror.

“By the nine gods! This Dwarf has bosoms!”

Looking up at Orjulun, he points down at the Dwarf’s partially bared chest, as if looking for confirmation. “I know little of their race, but never would I have thought this to be true. To think, that proud and brave warrior race is made of men with breasts like women!”

Percy’s eyes bulge. “I know they work heartily in the mines – perhaps this is the only way they can feed their children working such long shifts. The mother, then the father allowing the child to suckle their nipples. It is amazing no one discovered this sooner!”

His tone grows more serious. “Perhaps we should keep it secret also. What do you think, friend Orangejewlin?”

“I think it’s a female Dwarf, Percy,” Orjulun says flatly. “Don’t they have males and females like any other race? I’m afraid I don’t share your surprise, my friend.”

Percy stands up, leans toward Orjulun, and in as hushed a voice as he can manage says, “But, the beard! Clearly, it is a man.”

To assure Orjulun notices the Dwarf’s beard, Percy jerks his head down and sideways over his shoulder.

Orjulun notices the Dwarf woman’s eyes flicker and open long enough for her to make out her two rescuers, before closing again. He turns in the saddle to check Rastorn’s progress.

Rastorn’s horse closed the distance at a full gallop. Upon arrival, it nearly collides with the three other horses. Rastorn feels an odd sense of satisfaction from the look of shock on the Elves’ faces at his charge. “SeLiem, there is an injured traveler upon the road ahead! Come quickly; there is no time to waste!”

Melias steadies his panicked horse, then snarls at Rastorn. He leaps back onto his horse and stares at Rastorn as he waits. He will only follow along after everyone else has gone before him.

Having just completed casting many minor healing spells on Arturus, SeLiem feels drained, but he quickly mounts his horse and leads the way to the Dwarf. Once there he prays for healing, knowing he will not be granted more for the remainder of the day. He knows if some day he earns greater favor from his god he will be granted more healing abilities and additional spiritually-based magical powers.

Rastorn grimaces for a moment, but then laughs heartily and directs his horse over to Melias. He clouts the Elf between the shoulder-blades. “That’s the spirit Melias! Humor in the face of adversity; I love it! Now, back to ‘normal’?'” He offers a handshake.

Melias stares at Rastorn’s hand a moment, then takes it in his own, half expecting to die instantly from contact poison. “Normal…” he responds, forcing a small smile onto his face. “… until I dig a dagger out of my back,” he finishes the thought in his mind.

The two men simultaneously dismount and slowly approach SeLiem as he remains kneeling beside the Dwarf woman.

Looking over his shoulder, SeLiem asks Orjulun, “What happened?” Then stands and looks down at the blood-soaked woman.

They all watch intently, as her eyes open. Slowly, without moving her head, she glances around, pausing a little longer on the Elves than the Humans or the Half-Elf. In a deep, gravelly voice she says, “Undead happened, Priest. Undead. I’ll be healing myself the rest, lad. Thank ye for the leg up, though. Tis much appreciated.” Holding the golden disk aloft, she says some pleading words in Dwarven and her wounds close. Checking the site of her previously most grave injuries, she notices her top has been opened and her breasts are exposed. Eyes narrowing, she leaps to her feet gripping her battle-ax. “Ye should’ve raped me whilst I was out, ye rat bastards! Now ye’ll have to get past my blade! Who’s first to die?”

“Rape?” Rastorn says. “One of you sick bastards raped that poor Dwarven woman?” He chuckles at the sheer disgust and poor taste of anyone, mainly Humans, who would do such a thing. “Maiden, I believe you were injured, and someone was attempting to bandage your wounds,” he offers, speaking this last sentence in the language of Dwarves.

Jutting his finger at Rastorn, Melias says, “This man is so ugly, that’s probably the only way he can get a woman. Feel free to punish him as you see fit.” He steps back two paces.

Arturus never liked Dwarves. In his experience, they were rude, crude, loud, and usually smelly, but as soon as the ax flashed into play Arturus wasted no time notching an arrow. He had no clue what was going on, only that his group was being threatened. Aiming at the Dwarf’s head he says, “I suggest you drop that ax before I force you to.” He says it in Elvish, hoping for a chance to put the Dwarf down.

Rastorn speaks in perfect Dwarven, “The pretty-boy Elf back there with the bow has been thinking himself funny as of late. Fortunately, you and I both know to do such would be an abomination to us both. It is forbidden.” He tips his head slightly toward Melias and says, “As for him, someone who has racial enmity toward your kind, it would seem as though his handshake to me in mutual trust was a farce, and he seems to be attempting to get you to attack me. I thought Elves were honorable.” He points to his own chest and says, “It was I who actually rode back in a rush to retrieve our healer to magically mend your wounds.” He smiles. “Please disregard the shorter Elf. He is befuddled with his mistrust, and as of this morning, worth much less than Kobold dung to our party. Speaking bluntly, in his present state of mind, he could be more of a deterrent if we were to face a foe.” Nodding, he continues, “Being of the warrior race that you are, I’m sure you understand how one such as that could be a hindrance to the betterment of the group. All I need in a battle is for him to retreat and leave me to struggle against a foe alone. For now, we are trying to find a way to stay his qualms without resorting to anger or malice. I’m sure you would probably cut him down in his tracks for his dishonor and treachery, but I beg of you to spare him.”

Slowly stepping between Rastorn and the Dwarf woman, Orjulun speaks in calm tones. “Rastorn, step back now,” he says in Common. “And Melias, shut up.” Switching to Dwarven, he addresses the Dwarf. “I don’t know why you feel the need to brandish weapons against those who healed your wounds and attempted to help you, but it would be prudent to lower your arms,” he says. “We mean you no harm, and only wished to assist a fellow traveler on the road.” As he speaks, he continues to step forward, until he blocks Arturus’ view of her. “Now, if you still feel the need to attack someone, then attack me. I am unarmed and pose no threat to you. However, if you value your honor and gods so little as to threaten those trying to help you, then I will accept the brunt of your wrath.”

She sheaths her weapon.

Melias scoffs. “When you’re through playing with the hairy lady, I’ll be right over here,” he says to the others as he moves his horse back the way they came.

SeLiem says, “I wish you no harm. I just noticed you were injured; nothing else. I see no need for bloodshed.” Looking into the forest behind her then into her eyes, he says, “If I may ask, how long were you traveling after you saw the Undead?”

Pulling his stallion behind him, Percy follows Melias and berates him. “What are you doing? Have you no honor? You, who should be protecting those weaker than yourself, are taunting a potential enemy into attacking one of your own fellows! I thought you to be a gallant brother in arms, but – at this moment – your actions make you appear as a vengeful ninny! Please, explain to me – to us – how wishing harm or death upon one who has saved your life and fought beside you is following the teachings of the wise and goodly Kurosaw, god of Elves! This is a most vile act!”

Ignoring the outburst from Percy and not even glancing at Melias or Arturus, the Dwarf begins to tell her story in Common, speaking to Orjulun almost exclusively. “The Undead are now miles from here and surely in their hidey-holes by this time. Aye beg pardon for the error, ye would have thought the same, had ye been in my boots. I am called Red, for my fiery hair and temperament – and please tell the dullard with the sword bigger than his brain that female Dwarves have beards more often than not. Though few have more shapely teats than ye just saw!” She straightens her clothing and armor as she continues. “We were sent from High Mountain a full moon cycle ago to act as emissaries for our clan. Two nights past we were ambushed by a flock of Undead-types and the entire team passed on to the great beyond – except yours truly. Outnumbered, aye ran until l I got here at daylight this morn. Aye was hoping to heal myself, but my eyes dinnae want to stay open and my mouth ‘twas nae working too well, neither.” She glances behind her, then looks at Orjulun again. “Again, aye thank ye. Though aye have nae leader to guide me through the world of men, aye must continue with my work of learning more of The Realms on my own. Aye have but ten years to report back with my findings. Farewell.” She bows slightly, looks left and right, then chews her bottom lip.

Arturus sighs. He wanted to shoot someone but had no reason to plug the Dwarf. Could he justify shooting Percy for yelling at Melias? Probably not, he thinks. Relaxing his bow, he wonders if anyone noticed he had it out in the first place. He trots his horse back to Melias.

Melias waves off Percy, who he now knows is far too serious to recognize a joke when he hears one. After all, Rastorn was in no danger. The Dwarf, Red, wasn’t going to attack when facing such odds if she didn’t have to. “Go henpeck someone else,” he says, turning his attention toward Arturus.

As Percy moves away, Arturus whispers something in Melias’ ear.

At the same time, Rastorn hears a whisper inside his mind. “Human, look not around for this magical whisper is for your ears only and I am very far away as well. I have need of your services and will purchase those services with three powerful magic items which any Necromancer would give his eyes for. If you would like to rid yourself of the troublesome Elf and gain power and prestige while doing so, you need only say “Yes, I see” aloud now and I will contact you soon and do as I promise.” The voice is female and sweetly sing-song with a subtle accent.

Melias’ whisper to Arturus concerns how Rastorn suspiciously changed his behavior about the group on the wanted poster and Melias’ belief Rastorn sold his party members out for freedom or maybe led them into a trap for profit. To him, it seems obvious that Rastorn is motivated by greed and shows sociopathic, if not psychopathic, tendencies. He tells Arturus he should try to lead Rastorn on to make him seem he was siding with him to get to know what is truly on his mind.

Red chooses to head toward Metava and begins walking.

His temper quickly cooling, Percy returns to Orjulun. “This is a strange group. Did you not see Melickus’ actions as treachery?” He looks at Red as she walks away and adds, “Are we to leave that one alone on the road when we could offer her some protection? Rastorm? Orangejewlin? What say you?”

“Hmmm . . . Maybe it would do her and us justice to have another in our midst. Hells, I’m suspicious of everyone, so don’t think yourself special,” Rastorn clasps the large Warrior’s forearm, “So, we might as well have a Dwarf among us. It’d be comical to see the interaction between her and the Elves, anyway. Orjulun?”

Leaving the company of Melias, Arturus joins the others. Riding up to Percy he says, “Melias was just joking. You just don’t know his sense of humor yet. As for me, I really do apologize for my negative attitude toward you. I had gotten used to being the best Fighter in the group and I couldn’t see past you overshadowing me last night. I welcome you to our group. Sincerely.”

They shake hands while smiling broadly at one another. The slightest hint of suspicion still registers on their faces.

“Apology accepted, friend Arterius,” Percy answers with a slight lilt in his voice. “I am certain you will prove the better fighter as often as I.”

Turning toward Rastorn, Arturus says, “I’d like to let you know, too, Rastorn, that I really don’t see you as the potential back-stabber Melias sees you as. I’ve seen you do too many good deeds to question your kinship with this group. I will keep talking with Melias to try and help him see the light. Also, if you want this . . . Dwarf . . . to . . . join us . . . well, I’m fine with that, too.” He then smiles a crooked smile and spurs his horse toward Red as he shouts for her to stop, apparently unconcerned with Orjulun and SeLiem’s input.

As Arturus rides away, Percy asks Orjulun, “Well, that’s all good news . . . but, who is this ‘Melias’ he spoke of?”

Riding alongside Red, Arturus leans off his horse and says, “The Humans want you to travel with them, but there is no way in hell you are riding on the back of my horse.”

She nods and he waves everyone else forward.

“She must have accepted the offer,” Percy says. “That’s great! I’ve never met a Dwarf before . . . and only one other Elf – until now!”

As the party rides up to Red and Arturus, they hear Red saying, “I canae allow ye to go on injured! It is against my nature, my religion, and my oath for this excursion. So, dismount ye ungrateful Elf child and accept a gift when it is offered!”

Arturus sheepishly dismounts and allows Red to cast a Cure Light Wounds spell on him.

Percy reaches down and easily plucks her up and onto the back of his horse. She screams at him, “Don’t ye pick me up, ye lummox! Aye can do for myself!”

Without comment, he continues to ride and the others join behind, Melias in the rear.

The party travels unmolested until nightfall and make camp in another clearing, one that had been used at least once before by others.

Red demands first watch and the party agrees. If she is up to no good, that would be when they are most likely to still be awake. Perhaps she realizes this and that it why she wants first watch, some theorize.

During dinner (Arturus brought back two rabbits from the woods), Red asks everyone’s full names and gives her own.

“Red Cobblestone, Priestess of Corma King of Courage and former apprentice to Bloody Blade Orcbane the first chosen to the King’s First Diplomatic Excursion Alliance.”

“Arturus Carenta,” Arturus says quickly, then turns toward Percy.

“Percy Mudd of the Homeland Mudds,” Percy answers, as he looks blankly at Arturus. “I thought your name was ‘Arterius’?”

“Melias Saskiir.”

“‘Melias’? A thousand pardons, I thought your name was ‘Melickus,’” Percy interjects. “Don’t you have some sort of title or list of accomplishments to go with your name – as the Dwarf does? I thought Elves had long names.”

Melias purses his lips, as he shoots Percy a side-ways glance.

“Orjulun Mirrorstar, formerly of Dumas, now seeking adventure,” Orjulun says, smiling. “And I, for one, appreciate the new watch-order which allows me some much-needed sleep.” He accentuates this with a yawn.

“What!? I had your name wrong, too? Let’s cut to the chase – what are their names?” he asks, pointing to SeLiem and Rastorn.

Arturus answered for them, saying, “The Half-Elf is SeLiem a Priest of Altma, the Human soldier god and that is Rastorn a Necromancer from Dumas.”

“Gee, I thought your name was Salami.”, Percy says in a slightly softer tone. “Well, enough of this! I may not need to eat nor drink, but I must get my sleep. Good night all.” He kneels and prays at the edge of camp for ten minutes, before turning in for the night.

The first three watches are uneventful, but shortly after Melias begins his watch, he hears a scream for help come from the south. Arturus pops right up and pulls his long sword. The scream then switches to loud cries of agony with no comprehensible words.

The sounds originate from at least 150 yards away.

Arturus has been itching for a fight, but he stops to ask Melias whether they should wake the others and whether all of them should go together.

His talking wakes Percy, SeLiem, and Red.

Percy grabs a torch from the remains of their fire and instantly starts running toward the sound, with Red right behind him.

“Duty calls! Onward to victory! Your desire for adventure awaits, Orjulune,” he shouts over his shoulder.

Orjulun wakes with a start at Percy’s cry, scrambles to get his boots on, and follows the thrashing sounds the large Fighter and other party members make ahead of him as they dash from camp. He looks back and sees Rastorn following close behind him.

The Half-Elf and Elves have no trouble catching up with Percy and Red, due to Percy’s night blindness and Red’s short legs. After a one-hundred-yard jog through thick forest, the group enters a lightly forested area. The voice of the man screaming grows weaker, as the party nears. They spot a rocky hill ahead and slow to listen. Arturus assures them the sound is coming from the other side of the hill, about half-way up. Melias agrees. The man is now making a loud gurgling sound.

“We must hurry! I think he is dying,” Percy whispers loudly.

“Aye haven’t had a chance to pray for new spells, but aye may have enough left, if we reach him in time,” Red whispers.

“This smells like a trap. I say we advance with caution. You should douse that flame, Percy,” Arturus suggests.

“If I do, I will be of no help. I cannot see in the dark as you can,” Percy says, at his normal volume.

Arturus looks to Melias and the Wizards who are running to catch up with them and asks, “We can’t blind half the party and we can’t just run into a trap – do you have any ideas on how to approach this?”

“I have an idea,” Rastorn says, “since our Elf friends here are quick and nimble, particularly Melias, why doesn’t he, or both of them, sneak up a tree or up the hill and down a ways to determine what we’re up against. Or I could cast Spider Climb and climb up and see.”

“I don’t think it is a trap,” Orjulun says. “It sounds to me like something just mutilated someone over there.”

Arturus taps Percy on the arm. “By the way, if you plan on charging off like that, from now on, wake the rest of us. It could cost someone their life to be so brash.”

Melias looks at the hill and shrugs, then looks around. “How about Red heads around this way,” pointing to the shorter trip around the hillside, “Arturus and I go around that way,” he says, pointing the long way around the hillside, “and you Humans travel up with the torch lit. You will serve as a distraction, while we who can see without the torch attack from the flanks.”

“Sounds good to me. Let’s make sure we have some sort of signal for we Humans in case the need for a hasty attack is apparent. There may not even be a need for battle here. We are only assuming,” Rastorn says. “Let the game begin.”

Melias digs into his belt pouch and pulls out a whistle, then tosses it to Red. “Arturus is better off with the bow, which is most effective when left unmolested. I fight better with surprise on my side. Red can blow a whistle from her direction if you need a signal, that leaves us still well hidden.” He asks Red, “Is that acceptable?”

She nods, then asks SeLiem, “Ye can see out here – why don’t ye come with me?”

He nods and follows her.

“Let me get this straight,” Percy interjects, “The Wizards and I go straight to the hill, then take an eastern path around it to find the man, while she heads east around it and blows a whistle if she, or we, are in trouble and you two go west around it, so you can come to our aid. Is that right?”

“Sounds close enough,” Arturus says, then runs south-west with Melias.

The screaming now sounds more like a muffled cry.

Arturus and Melias make good time around the hill and are soon able to spot the man on the south side. He is a naked Human. He is about half-way up the steep southern side of the hill and is trapped under a large rock. He is covered in blood and tattoos and is bleeding profusely from his mouth.

Red and SeLiem circle around the other side of the hill and do their best to keep an eye on the Humans. The Dwarf slows the Half-Elf down, so the trip takes longer than expected. They get to the other side just slightly before the Elves. Regardless, they do not spot the Elves and lost sight of the Humans. “Do ye see? It looks to be a Human man. Aye canae see much from here. Let’s start climbing up to him,” Red tells SeLiem, as she starts to climb.

“Should we head straight up the hill, or go around it like Red and SeLimey did?” Percy asks.

“Let’s take the angle of the Dwarf and Half-Elf,” Rastorn answers. He wasn’t too keen on the idea of climbing. He had enough of that within the caverns of the Ogres, and then even more when he finally made his escape from that wretched place. “Besides, you’re covered in metal and would probably make loads of noise trying to do that.”

Shortly after Red and SeLiem began climbing up the southern side of the hill, Rastorn, Orjulun, and Percy arrive. The hill is steeper on this side, but not difficult to traverse. They occasionally use their hands, but mostly walk upright. Percy reaches a spot centered between Red and SeLiem and where he figures the Elves to be. This spot is slightly less steep, but he is slowed greatly by the lack of bright light and his heavy armor. “Are you coming?” he whispers loudly over his shoulder to the two Wizards. He is climbing directly below the man trapped under the rock, although he doesn’t realize it. Rastorn and Orjulun begin climbing, but they intend to stay back, preferring to use spells from a distance.

Arturus and Melias spot Percy climbing seventy yards away from them and Red and SeLiem climbing further east. Percy’s torch is like a beacon in the night, so if they are attacked, he is the clear target. Surveying the area, they see no obvious traps or ambush sites. The top of the hill is covered with trees, while this side is mostly grass and rocks. There is a slight overhang of rocks just below the trees at the peak.

“Looks like the poor fool just lost his footing under some loose rocks,” Melias whispers to Arturus. Not to be one caught off guard, he checks the far side of the hill. “Or perhaps some Hill Giants are using him as target practice. Let’s hold our place for now and wait to see what transpires.”

Arturus scans the area leading up to the hill, then whispers to Melias, “In case something happens, I’d like to be a little closer. We can make our way through these bushes and still stay out of sight.” He points to a large grouping of bushes that spread a few feet from their current location to the base of the hill. “Follow me,” he says, then clamps an arrow in his teeth and runs in a crouch to the closest bush. He scrambles through the bushes and reappears at the end closest to the hill, arrow notched and ready. “So, you think I should just plug this guy and be done with it?” Arturus asks with a playful smile. “We will see if this is a trap quickly, I’d imagine.”

Red shows off her mountaineering skills, as she quickly shortens the gap between herself and the injured man. She looks back at SeLiem, then to Percy far below. She expects to be first to reach the man. Moving closer, she can hear him gurgling. As she reaches out to touch the dying man, several very large boulders come rolling and sliding down from the top of the hill. Those further away hear the loud rumbling, but if that isn’t enough warning, Red blows the whistle and Percy shouts, “Landslide – run!”

Neither can completely dodge the boulders. Percy takes a minor hit from a smaller rock as he crouches behind a tree, but Red is smashed hard and knocked several yards down the hill. SeLiem is grazed by a boulder but rides the small avalanche down to avoid further injury.

Everyone else can easily move away, although the Wizards aren’t able to see anything except Percy ducking behind a tree as boulders come raining down.

“The poor soul took a boulder to the head, his life on this world is over,” Red shouts. “Aye need my own healing now,” she adds, before casting Cure Light Wounds on herself.

Percy’s torch goes out, struck by a cloud of dirt blown up from the boulders. He yells down. “Can someone cast Light up here? I can’t see a thing and I fear I may cause additional slides if I stumble around in the dark!”

The Wizards are both in complete darkness near the bottom of the hill, but the Elves can see clearly. They both see two very large heads peek out from the top of the overhang and peer down. Red is busy casting and totally unaware of the villains and Percy is blind in the dark. They are both easy targets.

“Is that an Orc?” Arturus whispers to Melias, as he takes aim. He knows he is unlikely to hit a target so under cover, but decides a diversion is beneficial. To his amazement, he fires twice and hits twice.

The two heads jerk back behind the rocks as arrows bounce off their skulls.

“I don’t cast Light. Orjulun, cast on a stone or coin and toss it up there, or cast upon the tree Percy is behind,” Rastorn says, as he ascends toward Percy. “I see my spell-book is lacking in the visual aid department, dammit,” he mumbles.

Pulling his own bow, Melias jumps out into the clearing leaving Arturus within the bushes and shouts, “There! Orc . . . or something . . . at the top of the hill!” He shoots two arrows as he moves further away from Arturus.

Arturus notches another arrow and targets the same area as before, waiting for one of the heads to reappear. He silently vows to do his best to assure no harm comes to his friend.

Below, Orjulun casts Infra-vision on himself, allowing him to see in the dark.

“Priest! SeLiemi . . . SeLimey . . . whatever your name is – cast Light near the top of the hill! I hear something talking in the Goblinoid language up there! I’m heading up, team,” Percy shouts, as he scrambles through the darkness. “Come down and face me, you cowardly little rats!”

The fury of his shouting is matched by Red’s war cry as she races up the hill, swinging her battle ax whenever her arm is free. “My eyes are keen at detecting stone traps, and aye don’t see any more; let’s take the battle to them, lads! They’re either running or waiting for me! Either way – I’m going to slaughter the rat bastards!”

As Arturus is running and hiding, he sees a path overgrown with tall shrubbery and decides following it would be his best chance for a surprise attack.

Everyone else continues their same routes.

Red tops the hill, pulling herself over the jutting rocks, with her shield on her left arm and her axe in her right hand. Standing, she shouts, “Where are ye hiding, ye – ” Her demands are cut short as she ducks a nearly tree-sized spiked club. The enemy is still out of sight due to the overhang, but those near hear her blurt, “Corma . . . ” as she is unable to dodge the next club from the opposite direction.

She is knocked clean off the overhang, hits hard, and tumbles down the hill.

Red’s years of mountaineering taught her to roll as she falls and lessen her injuries, but she is barely breathing once she stops. Before she passes out, she croaks, “A two-headed Giant!”

To be continued in Chapter Six Part Four next week!

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