Chapter Ten, Part Five
“By the gods! Let’s hope this vision of people killed at the door of the keep wasn’t a vision for us and it was just a dream of someone else’s woes. Although, I do feel bad saying that,” Arturus says.
“I don’t think you are very short at all,” SeLiem tells Melias. “I think this mansion is just fine and it probably isn’t the mansion you think it is.” He tells Claire, “I don’t think you know much at all of Taber’s Keep and I hope Orjulun’s dream is a vision of what will happen to us.”
“Well when the disintegration ray comes blasting at us, I’ll make sure to shove you to the front of the line. I don’t have a death wish like you seem to have,” Arturus says, shaking his head and squinting one eye at SeLiem.
SeLiem laughs and says, “I bet you do have a death wish, I bet you do.”
“Is that true? Do you really wish to die? As I said, we will do whatever we can to reverse your . . . disorder,” Percy tells Arturus.
“You are on my nerves, Priest-boy,” Claire tells SeLiem, as she moves away from him and toward the back of the group.
Rastorn takes up a position in the middle of the party. “We are entering the forest now, so you may want to keep quiet,” he tells Arturus and SeLiem.
“Death wish? No. It’s like I said to Percy before, I don’t fear dying in battle, but I want to choose which battle. I know my fate will come to an end on the edge of another man’s blade, but it will be in a battle for a great cause. I have no wish to die by some magical trap or some other silly way,” Arturus says, always scanning the land around them and avoiding eye contact. She unstops the Super-Heroism potion and drinks it all. “Anyone want an empty flask?” she asks around a burp and then says to Percy, “No I don’t have a death wish you incredibly handsome fool. Wow, I never realized until now how attractive you are,” Arturus concludes with a playful smile. She decides this could be fun, like wearing a good costume.
Percy walks a little faster and seems unnerved by Arturus’ comments about his attractiveness. Once he is a safe distance ahead, he looks back and whispers, “Uh, thanks. Now focus on protecting us, eh?”
Melias stops SeLiem and looks him over carefully. He asks, “Do you think this is a very cloudy day?”
Rastorn stops in his muddy tracks and asks Melias, “Cloudy day? What are you daft? Melias, of course it’s a cloudy day – on this part of the world, anyhow! What sort of a stupid question is that?”
SeLiem shrugs, then calls Arturus a liar.
Melias tells SeLiem, “Whatever you do, don’t give me that Ring of Levitation you have on.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
Arturus levels his bow at SeLiem and says, “You call me a liar again and I’ll put an arrow through your throat, so you won’t be able to speak. I don’t know what troubles you Priest, but you won’t speak like that to me.”
“I dont think you will Arturus, or should I say Arturina?” SeLiem laughs. “And I will speak that way to you whenever I want.”
“That’s it.” Arturus shoots.
SeLiem dodges, and says at the same time, “No – it is not it!”
“Ignore him,” Melias tells Arturus. “He’s ensorcelled.” He jogs to catch up to Percy. “With all that armor, make sure you keep at least twenty feet from me; I don’t want to be a victim of a near lightning strike.”
Percy looks back at Melias, then catches sight of Arturus shotting at SeLiem. He runs to them and tries to break things up, before someone gets killed.
Rastorn gets out of the line of fire and sits down to watch.
Claire shouts, “Is this whole bloody party mad?”
“Bastard!” SeLiem shouts, as the second arrow ricochets off his armor, drawing blood. He sprints at Arturus and tries to push her to the ground.
“Melias, help me!” Percy shouts, as he jumps in between SeLiem and Arturus.
Melias sighs and rolls his eyes but continues moving toward the forest. “There’s more important things to worry about,” he says loudly over his shoulder.
Dodging, Arturus says, “I told you I would. But – no – you didn’t listen to me. I won’t be disrespected like that, Priest.” He slings his bow and draws his sword, holding it so if SeLiem gets too close he can slap him with the flat of the blade. “Now I suggest we follow Melias, because I’d rather kill something other than you.”
Claire pulls out her flute and begins playing a calming tune and singing about peace and togetherness.
SeLiem tries to get past Percy and shouts, “You didn’t tell me anything! I listened to your every word and you didn’t say that! You will be disrespected by a Priest. You are disrespected by everyone!” He draws his magical hammer, still trying to get around Percy. “Ahaha, I’m not going to follow Melias. We aren’t finished. I know you want to kill me. Come on, coward.”
“Just calm down men . . . er, people . . . friends. We’re sure to have plenty of enemies out there to fight, if fighting is what you want!” Percy says, as he holds SeLiem back with one hand and holds the other hand open toward Arturus.
Rastorn stands and walks toward Melias, muttering, “Percy always has to go and ruin everything.”
“That bastard ain’t my friend! We don’t have any enemies to fight. Are you crazy?” SeLIem shouts.
Lowering his sword and stepping back, Arturus says, “Hey, just keep him away from me. I don’t know what in the hells his problem is, but he needs his breeches pulled down and his ass beat.
What’s with the sudden outrage, Priest?”
“I don’t have a problem,” SeLiem says, laughing.
“Here I go into the spooky forest,” Melias says loudly as he nears it.
SeLiem shouts to Melias, “It isn’t a spooky forest, and you aren’t going anywhere!”
By then, Melias, Orjulun, and Rastorn have already entered the forest, so Percy takes matters into his own hands. He picks SeLiem up by the hand that held his weapon and by the opposite leg and carries him toward the woods.
Waiting at the edge of the forest for Arturus, Melias asks, “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Shooting the very people who are in this together to save the world? What are you, insane? Maybe you are my sister in disguise; you sure act like it. Why would you act so hastily and try to kill a member of our group when he’s acting so uncharacteristically? Don’t you know anything about sorcery?” He taps Arturus in the chest with his forefinger. “You’d better start shooting me too, because I think you’re as much of an ass as SeLiem does right now.”
“I forgot you’re so damn perfect, that the gods favor you above all else and Melias can do no wrong. I didn’t see you doing anything to stand up for me or stop me, perfect Melias,” Arturus says.
“You are either with us, or you’re against us. If you start shooting the very people, I rely on to keep me alive through this, then you’re against me. Next time you start thinking with your sword, I’ll take a stand against you, I can promise that,” Melias says, as they step into the woods.
“I didn’t see you try and help,” Arturus says, wiping a stray strand of hair out of his eyes.
SeLIem struggles, but Percy continues to carry him. To free himself, SeLiem says the Command Word, “Noitisnt!”
“Go ahead and talk all you want, SeLiem, I’d rather we pull the monsters to us, than have them ambush us in this death trap,” Rastorn says.
“Art just downed a potion. I think it made her – him – a little more cocky than normal, but we better find a battle quick if he’s to take advantage of the effects,” Percy says.
Just as Percy sits SeLiem down, the Cleric rises into the trees. Soon, he is pushing branches away. He is unable to move forward on his own but can move by grabbing branches and pulling himself to them.
“If you are that evil that you would attack a man with intent to kill he who is merely insulting you with words, then I want nothing to do with you,” Melias says, still walking. “Don’t you realize, he has no control over it. He has to argue. It’s not in disrespect – it’s a Curse! And for you, it’s just your personality to try to kill things you don’t agree with.”
SeLiem looks at Rastorn, then says, “No, I think I am going to shut the hell up and no monsters will send me into a deathtrap!” He stops talking and cannot stop floating because he refuses to speak, even the Command Word. So, he follows the party from the treetops.
“No, not evil, just tired of insults and since you want nothing to do with me that’s fine as well. I care not for your company, either,” Arturus says. His hand keeps clenching into a fist and unclenching. After a few more steps, he says, “Besides, how in the hells did I know it was a Curse? It doesn’t matter. It’s funny that I’m only wanted around here when there’s a fight. I don’t hear you complaining then.”
Melias stops and looks up at the female Elf. “Listen, if the cost of having you at my side in a fight is worrying about you killing anyone who has an argument with you in our party – good riddance!”
“Fine! As soon as I can find a way out of this damn place, I’m gone,” Arturus shouts. “Sort of funny how I’m always the bad guy. I seem to remember you being the person wanting to plot against Rastorn when he hadn’t done anything. Hypocrite.”
As SeLiem listens to the conversation he stays silent on the first part but then shouts to them, trying to sound sincere, “No, you aren’t the bad guy, Arturus. Rastorn has done many things, and I just don’t believe Melias is plotting against him. Nor is Melias a hypocrite, Arturus.”
“Believe what you will. I know our conversations. All I can tell Rastorn is to watch his back because I won’t be here. As soon as we get out of this realm – or wherever we’re in – the swordsman who gets ridiculed for doing what he does is gone.”
Rastorn paused for a moment when Arturus said something about Melias plotting against him, then continued to walk as if he hadn’t heard it.
Claire continued playing. Hostile people became neutral when she fused music with Bardic magic and she hoped it worked for hidden enemies as well.
Having worked his way to the front of the group again, Percy slowed down and held a hand up to halt those behind him. He shuffles forward and peaks around some of the trees before him. As the others approach him, he whispers, “What do you make of that, some kind of garden?”
There is a forty-foot circular clearing on the other side of the trees, just off the road. It is filled with shredded wood, leaves, and small mounds of dirt every two feet. Directly across from where the party stands is a path of toppled and damaged trees winding deeper into the woods.
From tree level, SeLiem sees the same thing the others do, but he can also see that the curving path of destruction from the clearing goes on for as far as he can see.
“No, of course it isn’t a garden. It’s destruction,” Rastorn remarks.
“I’m not going to stay somewhere I’m being ridiculed for what I am. I fight. I am a fighter. Killing things is what I do best,” Arturus tells Melias. He looks up at SeLiem and says, “I am sorry I shot an arrow at you and I praise Kurosaw that I didn’t seriously harm or kill you. But, since my own curse has been bestowed upon me, I haven’t quite been myself, either.” He turns to face the rest of the group and says, “Being a woman is terrible. One moment I want to kill my friends and the next I want to cry because I want to kill them. Until I get things sorted out and the sudden harsh feelings for one another, it’s best I leave. I just wish I knew where we were at. Maybe one day when you’re old and gray I’ll stop in to see you. I’m done being looked down upon and treated like some sort of bad guy.”
“So sad to see you go, Arturus, well, have a safe trip back alone, while we split up the treasures from the keep,” Rastorn says, without any emotion and without even looking at Arturus.
“Ignore him, Art, let’s head around this ‘garden’ and see what is on the other side, eh?” Percy whispers to Arturus.
Claire stops playing and walks into the clearing.
Orjulun steps in front of Arturus and says, “Arturus, it is best you don’t leave, if you travel with us you lessen the risk of death. If you stay in one city you may never find a cure for your Curse. If you continue exploring the cities with us every city there is another chance to find someone who can help you. You don’t want to kill us. I know you don’t, and you won’t. We don’t treat you as a bad guy Arturus, believe me.”
Melias shakes his head and looks to the heavens, then at Arturus. “I’m tired of hearing you cry about you. It’s not all about you. The universe does not revolve around you. So what, you got turned into a female. Boo-hoo. Cry me a river. So what? Look at the benefits you have now you didn’t have yesterday! The assets you hold at your disposal as a woman. The ability to get in close to those who you have unfinished business with – without so much as raising a suspicion. If anything, this Curse of yours is a blessing in disguise! And if you’re using it to excuse the fact that you like to attack anyone and everyone, I’m not buying it.” He looks around at the devastation and lifts an eyebrow. “You want me to stop looking down on you, then start acting like a hero instead of a thug.”
“If it’s such a blessing in disguise you put on the damn girdle! I don’t care where we are, I don’t want to be around this ass.” Arturus leaves.
Melias mutters a possibility, “Tornado? I don’t know what the mounds of dirt are from though. It doesn’t quite fit.”
SeLiem throws a stick form the tree above at Melias, “Dumbass!”
Melias dodges the stick and chuckles. “Like I would have put on a girdle after hearing about how it might be Cursed.”
He looks at Arturus heading off and waves. “Hope you find your way out of here.”
Arturus chugs the Flying Potion and flies over the destruction.
“More treasure for us. As a woman, he’s even more melodramatic than before,” Rastorn comments, as he enters the clearing.
“Are you sure that’s damage from a tornado, Melias? None of the trees near the trail of destruction are molested, only those right in the path. Wouldn’t the winds cause some damage to the nearby trees?” Percy asks. He watches Arturus disappear above the trees and says, “I hope he comes back. This area can’t be safe for one person alone.”
“Just what did you men expect? His whole world has just been turned around! Let’s chop your manly parts off and see how you react!” Claire yells at Melias. “Shooting SeLiem was extreme . . . sure it was sort of amazing . . . but, it was over the top and I just think it was Arturus trying to call attention to his misery . . . . calling for help.” She lowers her voice a bit and adds, “I hear my brother did things like that for months, before he became accustomed to his new body.”
“That was sort of harsh, Melias. You two are friends, right? I would have expected you to be more understanding and supportive of your friend,” Percy tells Melias. “Then again, he broke a pretty vital code of conduct by attacking a party member . . . . ah, well, we have other things to be concerned with now. These mounds just don’t make any sense.”
Melias shrugs, then says, “What he did detracted from our mission. We don’t have time to feel sorry for him. He’s got to put the world ahead of his own misery, else he’ll have nothing to feel sorry for. And trying to kill someone just for arguing with them is borderline evil. I left evil behind me and don’t intend on partnering with it anymore.”
“Ha! I wonder if he has any idea how long that potion will last! He better not fly too high!” Rastorn says, with a chuckle.
Percy turns toward Rastorn and says, “Mister, I think you better just stop the rude comments. Teasing like that is why Arturus left.”
“This is boring. Let’s just get back on the trail. There is nothing of interest here and investigating some stupid clearing isn’t going to get us to Taber’s Keep any quicker,” Claire responded.
From above the trees, Arturus checks the twisting path of destruction. It curves around and around, through a mile or more of the forest, then ends near the road close to the keep. He guesses whatever it was that caused the damage, it originated from the keep. He swoops down toward the party, enjoying the feeling of flying and wishing it were something he could always do. He lands ten feet in front of Percy and says, “I’m not leaving. I don’t give a rat’s ass what Melias thinks. I can’t have it on my head that you all died because you needed another fighter. I fight, that’s what I do. When I grew up my parents were thieves, I had to fight for everything I got or else I would’ve died. So now I like to go places, meet new and interesting people, and kill them.” He points towards the Keep. “The destruction trail seems to start at the keep. This isn’t a tornado, it’s something unnatural.”
Melias shakes his head and says, “You kill on impulse. You can’t be trusted. More than that, you’ve betrayed my trust by trying to get Rastorn to turn against me with that comment about how I was going to betray him. Stick with us for your own safety if you want, but you’re no associate of mine.” He points at Rastorn. “I trust you no more than I trust him, so why don’t you two just stick together in the group where I can keep my eye on the both of you.”
Orjulun had kept his distance, but now he walks even further away.
“One mistake and I’m deemed evil now? What a hoot. I don’t kill on impulse, I kill when I need to. I seem to remember you attacking those Orcs when we could’ve left them alone. Attacking and killing them was your idea. But you know what, you’re always right so there’s no sense in this conversation. Just remember if you need help, don’t ask me,” Arturus says.
“Orcs are evil creatures that should be wiped from the lands. Any Elf knows that. Leave them to their own devices, and they’ll rob, rape, pillage, and kill everything in their path. They had confessed to killing some innocent passersby. They were not worth civil talk – it would get us nowhere,” Melias says. He shakes his head and sighs. “Why am I justifying myself to you? What do I care what you think? Don’t try to turn this around to some sort of trial against my character, Arturus. I’m not the one who attacked the very person who’s been healing our wounds because he said something bad about my mother. Just shut the hell up and concentrate on the task at hand. We need to pay more attention to our surroundings, and less attention to our personal differences. If you can’t do that, then please go away. I don’t want to die because you’re too busy whining noisily to let me concentrate and avoid potential death traps.”
Melias jabs one of the dirt mounds with a stick.
Checking for tracks, Arturus says, “Always have to get the last word in. Always have to be right. Fine by me, I’ve got nothing left to say.”
SeLiem pulls himself closer and tells Melias, “You know what, I bet you would put the girdle on.” He looks at Rastorn and says, “Arturus isn’t melodramatic and he isn’t a woman. It won’t be more treasure for us when we have less people.” He then looks at Claire and tells her, “We aren’t men. We are all women. His world isn’t turned around; he’s still the same. By the way, shooting me wasn’t extreme. While we are on the subject,” he yanks the arrow from where it still dangled from his armor, “Arturus isn’t calling attention to his misery. He doesn’t need help.” SeLiem laughs with sudden enjoyment. “This isn’t boring. It’s fun as the hell! Besides, for all we know, if you search through this clearing we may find a portal to Taber’s Keep.” He tells Arturus, “Yes you are leaving. You wanted to go, so go! You do give a rats ass and you are going to leave. You aren’t any kind of fighter, and you don’t fight for crap! Your parents aren’t thieves and you probably had an easy life where you got everything you wanted on a silver platter. He doesn’t kill on impulse.” He moves a bit to show he isn’t dead. “We can trust him. I know we can. He didn’t betray your trust by trying to make Rastorn turn on you. Arturus will be your associate, Melias. Over time, perhaps. I think you do trust him more than Rastorn, you just aren’t willing to admit it. You’ve made no mistakes and you aren’t deemed evil Arturus. You do kill on impulse don’t you? You don’t kill when you need to, just on impulse! Melias is never right; never! And if you need help Melias, I am sure Arturus will save you.” He floats to Melias and Arturus, using a tree branch. “Orcs aren’t evil! Hah, they are as evil as a Paladin! And as chaotic as a monk! Arturus, you have the right to talk! Melias, I bet you want to die from Arturus whining you into a death trap, don’t you? That is probably your true reason for being in this party – to die from Arturus crying her ass off.” He laughs, still in a good mood. “Arturus, Melias is never right, we will probably die because of Melias’s wrongness. You should know that – I do.”
Arturus looks up at SeLiem and smiles. “Yeah, you tell us.”
“Well… if Arturus would have killed him, he’d have been a lot quieter,” Melias says, still jabbing his stick at the dirt mound, half-expecting something to come crawling out. “Do you think they might be burial mounds? Maybe someone died here?”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out . . . as grim as it may be,” Arturus says, curling his lip in disgust.
SeLiem starts up again. “There are many ways to find out, even if they aren’t burial mounds. I can think of millions of ways to find out whether or not these are burial mounds – which they aren’t! Even if they are, burial mounds aren’t grim, the walking dead and liches and such, now those are grim.”
Arturus pulls out his two daggers and inverts them in his hand so they face towards the ground. He gets into a crouching position, in case he needs to jump back suddenly, and starts stabbing the dirt to loosen it, while using his forearms to push the dirt away. Buried beneath the dirt he finds a four foot long, furry, bi-pedal creature with a short sword in its hand. It was sleeping, until Arturus stabbed it, then it burrowed a little deeper and seemed very afraid.
“Dear me, I hope you didn’t hurt the little thing too much.” Percy says with a great deal of concern and sympathy.
“Some sort of rodent. We can’t risk them waking up and attacking us or stealing from us tonight.” Arturus says, and prepares to stab the first mound.
“This should be the easiest kills you’ll ever have!” Rastorn says.
Both Percy and Claire gave Rastorn a wicked look.
Arturus suddenly doesn’t feel very good. His stomach is churning and he feels dizzy. He tries to sit and falls. His face turns white and his nose starts bleeding.
“Arturus? Are you alright?” Percy asks, as he kneels beside him.
A few moments later and the sickness ends.
“He must have reacted to mixing the two potions together,” Rastorn deduces. “I’ve heard of men blowing up when the wrong potions were mixed. Lucky.”
“No one is going to stab these helpless creatures!” Percy announces. He puffs his chest, with his two-handed sword over his shoulder, as if guarding the mounds.
“Then let’s go,” Claire says, as she pulls out some dried meat and bites off a chunk.
Arturus stands and looks at Percy. “I have no desire to kill these creatures, so you may stand down.”
“Then let us just leave this area, so we don’t disturb their sleep any further,” Percy whispers. “That one was cut a bit by Arturus,” he tells Orjulun, “it is unfortunate that SeLiem is out of healing spells.”
“Am I the only one who finds this odd?” Claire asks. “A tornado rips a trail from the keep and stops right on top of a bunch of hibernating giant gerbal-things?” She walks out of the clearing, turns, and says, “Like I said before, I think we should just leave the area, but this is something we may want to take a closer look at when we come back this way.”
Rastorn, Percy, and Claire all return to the road and begin eating their rations as they start walking slowly toward the keep.
Melias looks into the forests that were untouched by whatever had knocked the trees down for signs of more of these burrowing creatures. “You don’t suppose that these furry fellas had uprooted all of these trees by digging? If so, what could be their motivation? Maybe these things are nocturnal, in which case we should try to get away from them before nightfall.” He finds himself wondering if this place even has nightfall. He counts the number of mounds, just in case.
“Here, you want some jerky?” Percy offers, as Melias joins him on the road. “I don’t think they dug under the trees, they all looked as if they were just pushed over. Those creatures were too small to knock trees around like that.”
“If they all worked together, they could,” Claire suggests. “There may have been a couple hundred of those mounds. If each mound is a fuzz-ball, then they have more than enough in number to weigh down a tree.”
“Sure, given days to do so. The one Arturus found was slow-moving. It would take months for them to have downed as many trees on a trail as long as Arturus claimed that trail of destruction to be,” Rastorn says, between bites. “Besides, like Melias said, what reason would they have?” He pauses for a second, chews some food, then continues after he swallows, “I surmise whatever knocked the trees down stopped right there and the creatures burrowed into the churned dirt a while after it left.”
“I have the feeling we’ll find out the answers to our questions when we get to the keep. I think that place is going to answer our questions and a lot more,” Arturus says.
Continued next week!
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