Chapter Seven, Part Five
“Red. Red. Wake up.”
She lay perfectly still. Then her grip tightens on her ax. Her eyes open. She sees Percy crouched just out of reach and loosens her grip. “Yes?” she yawns.
“Follow me to the mouth of the cave. I want you to listen to this,” Percy answers.
When they reach the opening, she stands next to him and gazes into the darkness.
“Orcs!” she says. “That’d be an Orc marching song. Swear it on mae ax!”
“I thought as much,” he says. Although Percy doesn’t speak the language, he recognizes the guttural sound of Goblinoid.
“Should we be seeking out the Elves? They may need our help,” she suggests.
“I wouldn’t be much help in the dark and we have to protect the Magic-Users while they get their required sleep. I don’t think it would be prudent.”
“Melias, particularly, was hurting . . . ” She lets the thought drift away. “Nae, ye are right, Percy,” she decides. “They are on their own.”
After a pause, she looks up at Percy and says, “Aye never thought aye’d care about any Elves, but all of those fellas have been good to mae. Mae heart’s grown to like them as if they were mae own kin. Ans in such a short time! It’s very . . . unexpected.”
“They are noble men. I, too, feel a growing kinship with all of our fellow travelers.” He pauses. “Except for the pale one.” He looks down at her, then adds, “You feel the same, don’t you?”
“Mister, that man’s done nothing except help us since aye have been with this group. The smell of death may be about him, but his loyalty is unquestionable. Aye would risk mae life for him, the same as any of them.”
“Though not as much as for Orjulun,” Percy says with a sly smile.
Red says nothing.
They stand in silence a while longer, then – as he begins to speak – she asks, “Why are ye here?”
“What do you mean?” Percy asks.
“Aye left High Mountain with orders from our king to assist Bloody Blade Orcbane – the previous owner of this ax – on his assigned mission to build bonds with the world outside our mountain home. Do ye have a quest?”
“A quest? Well, no. Sort of.” Percy looks up, as if the answer is in the honeycombed cave ceiling, then looks the Dwarf in her eyes and says, “I want to prove myself to The Queen Mother and the Purple Paladins of Homeland. Her Royal Highness said I was lacking in Wisdom. I aim to remedy that through the exploration of . . . ” he smiles, “the world outside my homeland.”
They smile at each other for a long time, before breaking into laughter.
The two friends sit down on the lip of the cave and dangle their legs over the edge, gazing at the stars and enjoying the beauty of a peaceful night in the wilderness.
Percy is the first to break the silence. “I just wish I knew where they were taking us.”
“What do ye mean by that, Percy?” Red asks.
“I know we were headed toward ASU – and that’s fine – but I am not certain I understand why. I am not so sure even they know.”
Red considers the Warrior’s words for a long time, then announces, “One settlement’s good as another. Listen, mae whole life’s been structured. Long as mae quest is being followed, aye will enjoy the mystery of the ride.” She looks around, curls her lip in proud approval, and adds, “And if mae master’s ax can hack up some baddies along the way – all the better for me!”
This brings a broad smile to Percy’s manly face.
After another long pause, he asks, “Did you hear that?”
“What?” Red asks, her eyes darting about.
“Exactly! It is quiet again. Maybe the Orcs moved on.”
“Or maybe those Orcs just killed mae Elf friends.”
They fall silent for a full minute, just looking at one another, then Red hops up and walks toward the back of the tunnel. “At least we can check on those who are here,” she whispers, as she passes a sleeping Orjulun, before continuing toward Rastorn.
Percy moves into the cave a few steps and sits. He considers what he said about the party not really having a well-defined quest. After a few minutes, his mind is made up. If by the time they are ready to leave ASU no plan is made obvious to him, he will continue his travels down a different road. Alone, if need be.
Red reaches Rastorn and easily walks right up to him without his knowing. “Glad he’s not guarding mae life,” she whispers to herself, as she carefully pulls his cloak up around his shoulders.
Rastorn stirs, still asleep.
She watched him sleep many times and he never slept calmly. To her, Rastorn seemed to be chased by Demons whenever he entered the world of dreams. “What’s your story, Sorcerer?” she wonders aloud. What happened to make ye so . . . tortured? Deciding here is as safe a place to rest as where Orjulun is, she takes the short walk back to Percy. Maybe the Elves and SeLiem have returned by now.
. . . .
Arturus runs toward Melias, taps one of the Orcs on the shoulder, then proceeds to impale it through the vitals. Trying to hold its guts in, the Orc falls, shakes twice, then passes on.
Thug-gar has noticed he is alone, but fights on, chanting an Orcish death song as loudly as he can. “Kill, kill, kill, bloody my ax, bloody my face, feel the life leave my enemy’s body! The Orcs march in and leave the Elf’s homes burning! To die in battle is an honor, but one for another day! Kill, kill, kill!” He feints left, then strikes to the right, catching SeLiem across the ribs.
Arturus races for Thug-gar and aims for a beheading. His high swing is easily ducked.
Melias backs away. “I’m sorry. You’re on your own,” he says as he stumbles into the darkness.
SeLiem dares a darting glance and nod at Melias, although he can’t help feel a little betrayed. He runs two steps to the side to put the Orc directly between Arturus and himself. “Arturus, I can’t get through this foul creature’s defenses! He’s good at getting past mine though.”
“No worries, Melias,” Arturus says, “I’ll get this smelly vile creature, it’ll just take a moment.”
SeLiem’s attack is again repelled and Thug-gar sings louder and more joyfully. It keeps spinning away from attackers attempting to position itself for a haymaker on Arturus.
Arturus steps back, lowers into a crouching position and thrusts forward at the Orc’s stomach, but the attack is side-stepped.
Melias sees their opponent’s back is exposed to him and knows it has lost sight of him. Estimating where the liver and kidneys might be for maximum effect and gripping the magical dagger, he leaps out from behind the bush he had hid behind. His dagger only dents the Orc’s armor. Now, he is also a target.
Angered by the back attack, the Orc turns and swings at Melias. The blow is only glancing, but it knocks the Elf off his feet and back into the bushes from which he had emerged.
SeLiem uses Melias’ surprise attack to his advantage. He steps to the side to split the Orc’s attention between the three of them. “Not so big and bad now are you pig-face?” He growls as his mace attack is easily sidestepped.
Thug-gar changed to another Orcish song, “Where there’s a whip, there’s a way!” he sings heartily.
Swooping down so silently not even the Elves heard it, an owl with a wingspan larger than the height of most men drops onto the big Orc and claws its face with both talons. Instead of returning to the air, the owl stays atop the Orc, flapping its wings to confuse and blind the monster and pecking at its eyes.
Arturus stabs multiple times, connecting once.
SeLiem also hits.
Only after the Orc falls in a bloody heap does the owl step off the body. It walks off to the side of the party and watches the corpse for a while, then flies up and perches on the wall near the well, where it intently stares at Melias, Arturus, and SeLiem.
As Melias washes his clothes and skin with water from the well, SeLiem and Arturus rifle the bodies of the Orcs and search the area around the well.
SeLiem reports their findings.
Weapons: nine darts, four clubs, war hammer, short sword, mace.
Supplies: fifty feet of rope, fifteen days of dry rations, two full water skins, bottle of unopened wine, silver flask of whiskey.
Treasure: twenty-two gold pieces, sixteen silver, forty-seven copper, gem, golden armbands, set of Human size chain armor, set of Elf size leather armor, three potions, scroll.
Scanning the scroll, SeLiem learns it contains seven clerical spells:
Speak with Dead
Create Food & Water
Cure Serious Wounds
None of them realized how thirsty they were until they heard water splashing around in the waterskins. All of them drink deep.
Hoping to avoid infection, Melias tends to his wounds after cleaning up. All the while, he stares suspiciously at the owl. “You don’t suppose my sister sent it? Helping us from near-certain death isn’t really her style, but maybe she’s trying to fool us into dropping our guard?” He gathers some of the loot and says, “I wonder where these Orcs fought their Humans and if anyone is out looking for their belongings?”
SeLiem smiles as he still looks upon the scroll with interest. “If you wanted, I could ask the Orcs about the Humans with this ‘Speak with Dead’ spell or ‘Commune’ for the answer. Say, you look pretty smashed up, Melias. Let me put this curing spell to use before something else sneaks up on us. I think that owl could finish you off as you are.” He steps to Melias and lays his free hand upon him as he reads from the scroll.
“Lift the scars and stop the bleeding,
healing touch flow through the needing.
Clear the bruises, meld the bones,
with heavenly power, we stop the groans.”
Melias smiles and thanks him.
The owl continues to watch the group. Once SeLiem completes the spell, the owl speaks in a whistling voice. “They will not need their belongings, Melias. They are in the heavens now.” After the Owl lets the party get over the initial shock of fowl talking, he continues, “They were at the end of a very honorable quest and had emerged victorious, but injured, when they were set upon by two simple bears. The bears would have been merely bothersome had they been at full strength, but they had already drained all their magical powers and their injuries were great. The bears slew two before the others banished the rest of them. Then the Orcs came. They slaughtered the party in minutes and stole everything of value. As the group’s adviser, I can say without a doubt that I would much rather you have their possessions than the monsters who slayed them. Just use them in the cause of lawful and good pursuits.” He pauses briefly, then adds, “I’m just glad that fool sang loud enough for me to hunt him down. Thank you for allowing me to play a part in his demise.”
Arturus cocks an eyebrow at the Talking Owl. He looks to his two counterparts then back to the Owl and says, “Ah, well it’s not that I couldn’t have handled it, but thanks anyway. So, speaking Owl, what should we call you? Can you tell us what here is magical and what isn’t? How many licks to the -“
Melias interrupts, “Glad to help, Owl.” Arturus was talking to him, so Melias was relatively sure it wasn’t a hallucination. Perhaps it was someone’s Familiar. “Do you have a name we can call you? Maybe you can accompany us back to our friends. They might not believe us if we tell them we saw speaking animals out here. ‘One too many clubs to the head, Melias’ Rastorn might say.” He approaches the owl slowly, allowing the Owl the chance to answer Arturus – or not – whatever the animal wished. “I’m sorry to hear of your friends. Such a horrible loss. Is there anywhere we can go to tell their family of their ends? Anything we can do to tie up their loose ends caused by their untimely death?”
SeLiem blinks at the Owl’s words and shakes his head, “Yes, that is unfortunate friendly Owl. All that work to die at the hands of these nasty fiends.” He looks at the scroll and lifts an eyebrow, then rolls it up and tucks it in a pouch at his belt. “Well, there is a ‘Raise Dead’ spell on here. I don’t know if I could cast it right because I’ve never actually tried something so complicated. However, if you could show us where their bodies are, I might be able to raise one and let him attend to the party’s loose ends.” He looks to the Elves, and then to the Owl asking, “Do you think that’s a good idea or is it simply too late to help them?”
The Owl listens to each question and comment, then – with a deep breath – answers, “My name is Otto. Three licks. Those are Mergie’s magical bracers. They block attacks. That is Brachnon’s magical hammer. All those darts are magical. Lilith Forestdweller wore the magical leather armor. The potions are Diminution, Flying, and Poison. The poison they were going to destroy when they had opportunity. Each is marked on the bottom in symbols which are simple to understand. Hermando’s spell books burned up when the Orcs opened them. It was the only loss they took.” He looks deep into SeLiem’s eyes and tells him, “If you would be so kind as to raise one of those fine adventurers from death, I assure you they would let you keep all of their old equipment. I give you my word.” He pauses, adding, “The Orcs hid their bodies in a sarcophagus, so they will be unmolested until tomorrow. I would suggest searching for them in the early morning. Just before light. I’m nocturnal.”
Arturus listened to the names Otto rattled off and wonders if he’d heard of the group before. He waves at the Owl and says, “Were the people of this group considered criminals by any chance? Were they on a wanted poster? They sound like a group we were searching for.”
Otto answers, “Criminals? Certainly not. They had just slain the Evil Wizard Pern Durgalace and destroyed his gem so he could not achieve Lichdom. They were meant to do this, you see. Just as I was prophesied to assist them, then watch helplessly while under the effects of a spell as they were all killed. They were not criminals.” He blinks twice, then says, “Ah, you are searching for the ‘Special’ ones, the mind hoppers, The Chosen. That group made mistakes, but they are no more criminals than The Company of the Gem! Chase not their reward for the gold, for it is a fool’s errand.” Otto looks from one of them to the next, then says, “That group, in its second incarnation, appeared on the road to ASU after leaving Cultury, then visited Nofi the memory man, which led them to Darkuth – where they switched again. When they ‘escaped’ Darkuth, they went back to ASU and met Nofi for the first time again, which led them to Goodmanville, where the whole thing started, though they didn’t know that until they got there. They used magic to return to Cultury, then went back to ASU and up to Lumberton. That was their biggest mistake – taking an outworld Druid there. It was near there where they must have found – and lost -The Cube. By the time they were back to ASU, everything had changed – Darkoth made sure of that!” When there are no questions, Otto continues, “But, this is mostly history everyone who is on the hunt knows; what I know is they suddenly appeared in Dumas the night before the poster went out, saved a man who was being skinned alive, then went north. The man split with them just outside of town, so he knows nothing, but someone sent them there, someone from ASU. That someone knows where they went.” The Owl shrugs, “I don’t know who sent them, but whoever is able to figure that out first will likely be the one to find them. I would rather it be you than The Eight. Almost everyone else already gave up searching once The Eight took up the cause. Trust is the latch.” He spins his head behind him, then says, “I would suggest camping away from here. That Orc sang loudly enough to draw more than just me here. I can answer more questions on the way or after you camp.”
Melias chuckles as he shucks his own leather in favor of the magical Elf-sized leather, all the while listening to the Owl yack on. “Hey Otto, I was shocked to hear you talk. I’m damned near stunned to find out you’re smarter than all of us about all of this ‘wanted’ business. Looks like we’ll be heading to ASU tomorrow as planned. I thought they sounded like people who might need a helping hand, and if what you say is correct, it certainly couldn’t hurt.”
SeLiem corrects, “To ASU, after we raise one from Otto’s group first.” He looks back to the Owl and says, “You’ll get to choose which one, so that’s something you might want to start thinking about. And I’ll pray tonight that I can work my way through that complicated spell without any errors.” He looks at Melias and saw he was wearing the new armor, “Fits pretty nice.” He scoops up the hammer and tests it in his grip. “I just lost my hammer earlier . . . this would make a nice replacement. Of course, I won’t go wasting it on a Spiritual Hammer spell this time.” He helps the others load the rest of the items and heads for the cave. “Come on, Otto. We have a place not too far from here.”
Otto the Talking Owl flies over the trees and follows the three back to the Stirge Cave, occasionally swooping down to ask if they had any more questions for him.
Melias follows along, then asks, “What the heck is a ‘mind-hopper’?”
“A mind-hopper? Well, that is a question best posed to Onif the Diviner of Cultury. He is the world’s greatest expert on mind-hoppers.” Otto answers, before flying back above the trees.
Melias knew the talkative Owl would be sure to return soon; he seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice. He scratches his head as he walks, “Why someone would want to be an expert on eating utensils is boggling enough. Why that same person might be an expert on mind-hoppers is down-right confounding.”
“He said ‘Cultury’, not cutlery. It’s a city,” SeLiem says.
“Oh. I wonder if it’s on the way to ASU?”
Talking Owls must have incredible hearing, for Otto dips down again and answers Melias’ query smugly. “Cultury is several days flight past ASU, on the west coast.”
“The west coast . . .” Melias repeats. “I’ve always wanted to see that ocean. Maybe even sail on a ship, free from the greedy dictators of the lands. What a life that would be, huh?”
Melias, Arturus, and SeLiem make good time back to the cave and have no further encounters along the way.
Red is walking to her bedroll as they appear. She hurries toward them with a large smile on her face.
Percy halts her with an outstretched arm. She tries to push playfully past him, then notices the stern look on his face. Her smile falls as she stops and looks at the three again. She frowns even more when she notices the battle marks on each of them, though each had wiped clean any trace of blood.
“Password,” is all Percy says to them.
Melias smiles, approaches Percy, and whispers to him, “I had almost forgotten about that. The password was never decided on.”
Percy stares sternly at Melias a moment, then smiles a smile that seems to engulf his entire face. “I knew you’d be fine,” he shouts cheerfully.
SeLiem follows Melias’ lead, but whispers, “I’m sorry, but I forgot it. Could one of you remind me what the password is?”
Red, ducks under Percy’s arm and tugs on SeLiem’s cloak. “Did ye cross the path of any of those Orcs, lad?” she asks.
SeLiem’s answer is interrupted by Otto who flies into the cave and lands on Arturus’ shoulder, startling both Percy and Red. “They did more than cross paths, dear lady, they vanquished the beasts!” the Owl answers.
Leaning in, Red says happily, “Well aye’ll be a goat’s udder – that owl talked!”
Percy, is not so gleeful. He looks at Melias, pulls his weapon, and shouts, “A spy! Your sister has turned herself into a bird!” He shouts at Otto, “Where’s my sword, witch?”
Woken from the outburst, Orjulun bolts to his feet, weapon in hand. “What’s going on?” he demands to know. Looking around, he comes to the only possible conclusion he could have, given his limited knowledge of the situation. “By the Nine Gods! Rastorn has been turned into an owl!”
“Easy Percy . . . it’s alright,” Melias says quickly to calm everyone down. “While it is possible my sister could turn herself into an owl, I don’t think she is capable of disguising her voice. When she masqueraded as you, Percy, she didn’t say a word.”
Both Percy and Orjulun lower their weapons.
Melias nods to Red. “Yes, we did get into a bit of a scrap with some Orcs. Otto helped us take out the last one. It seems he had a score to settle. There was another group of brave adventurers he was accompanying who these Orcs attacked and killed. Otto wanted to make sure they paid for it.” He lays down the items he carried, as well as his old leather armor. “We found some more goodies along the way, too. Orj, I think you might like these,” he says, as he hands Orjulun the bracers.
“In the morning, before the sun comes up, we are to follow Otto to where his old friend’s bodies are, and I’ll try to bring one back to life. After that, we can head off to ASU. He says we can find out more about the wanted group from someone in ASU. We may even be able to learn where they are currently,” SeLiem says. He stifles a yawn and stretches, then starts removing his armor. “If you’ll all excuse me, I’m very tired and have to get up early for morning worship.”
“Well then, pass that water over here, shorty! Mae throat’s drier than a Lichwitch’s crotch,” Red says with a giggle. After slurping down a big gulp, she gargles and swallows hard. “Ah, that hit the spot,” she coos, as she lays her head back down on her backpack.
“Arturus, it’s your watch. Wake me in a few hours,” Percy says, patting Arturus on the back.
Orjulun is still fondling the bracers as everyone (other than Arturus) settles down for sleep. “Um, thanks. So, Rastorn wasn’t polymorphed into an owl?” When no one answers, he drinks some water from SeLiem’s new water skin, then falls back asleep.
Without a word, Otto flies out of the cave to go hunting. He does not return until an hour before dawn.
Percy had taken the final watch of the night and gently woke everyone else, starting with Rastorn.
Soon, everyone was munching on the rations they had taken from the Orcs, suiting up, and going through their spell-casting rituals.
Eyes wide, Red repeatedly asks Melias, “What else did ye find?”
Otto watches Red for a while, then stares at the floor of the cave. “I’ll scout ahead and check back in a little while. Be ready if you are indeed holding to your word,” he says, then flies away.
“If we take time now to study this spell book, we could have additional spells at our fingertips that could assist us on the road ahead. I say we stay here and study a day or two,” Rastorn croaks. “Three days . . . maximum.”
Percy ignores the suggestion and works diligently at loading the party’s gear.
Shaking his head, Orjulun answers, “We all want to leave this cave and put some distance between us and these people who dumped us into a volcano. We must leave as soon as we can. We’ll learn our new spells in ASU.”
“A fine argument young Mage, but I think no one here has forgotten their vow to make the Metavians pay for what they did to us,” Rastorn tells Orjulun.
“A battle for another day, Rastorn,” Percy states in a tone which leaves no question as to whether he will change his mind.
“Ready,” Red abruptly announces, “to find the bodies of the folks who were killed by those Orcs – not to take on a village of savages,” she clarifies.
Passing by Melias’ pile of treasures, Rastorn takes the wine and Red the whiskey.
Orjulun gathers the darts after no one else claims them.
Everyone winds up with two days’ worth of rations, except Percy.
Based on what Melias told him, Percy figures out which potion is which and snaps up the poison. Carrying it deeper into the cave, he pours it into the small hole in which they found the Invisibility potion, then moves rocks over the hole.
When he returns, Red congratulates him, “Good thinking. No one can be harmed by it there.”
Orjulun casts Detect Magic and scans the area and the party. He learns Rastorn’s broach is magical, as is the silver hollow tube Rastorn carries.
When he’s told this, Rastorn replies, “We’ll share the book, but since you took those bracers and the pearl and the darts, I’ll keep these other two Magic-User items; unless you want to trade?”
“We’ll just see what those items you have are when we get to the next city. I have to admit, I’m curious to know,” Orjulun answers.
“Ye have a greater chance of using the scroll properly than aye do, Priest. Ye should have it,” Red tells SeLiem.
SeLiem nods, then casts Cure Light Wounds on himself, Rastorn, and Arturus.
Red casts Cure Light Wounds on Melias and Arturus.
Then they all leave the cave together.
To be continued in Chapter Eight next week!
Follow The Realms: A World Apart
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.