Chapter Two, Part Five
Melias, SeLiem, and Arturus had returned to the area, but none of them were in the blast radius.
At the sound of the explosion, Melias spins around. “By the bark of the Silver Pine, what happened?” He wants to rush to the side of his fallen companions, but he must settle the horses after the loud noise. “It’s all right,” he says, comforting the horses in his native language while keeping them steady and preventing them from bolting.
SeLiem is first to check the two Wizards. Rastorn is hurt, but he will survive. Orjulun is dying. SeLiem drops to his knees next to Orjulun, closes his eyes, and prays to his god for all the healing power he can be granted.
Arturus arrives, sword in hand since the explosion, and asks SeLiem, “What can I do to help?”
“Bring water. Do any of you have any healing kits in case my magic doesn’t stop the bleeding?”
Arturus runs to his saddlebags and brings back bandages for the Cleric.
Rastorn groans and attempts to sit upright. “Healer…” he says as he lifts his head and shoulders from the ground. “Damn me for being greedy… I figured it would blow with my knocking it loose… I didn’t even open the damned thing…”
A moment later, SeLiem arrives at Rastorn’s side and recites the same prayer while making the same gestures.
“Ahh…” Rastorn sits upright and looks around at the damage he had caused. He almost smiles at his stupidity for such a thing. “Many thanks healer,” he says, while patting his smoldering clothes.
“Not a problem,” SeLiem says, then returns to Orjulun to see if he is still in need of healing.
Melias sees Arturus looking for water and points to the ocean nearby.
“What a great idea!” Arturus shouts, then sprints to the beach.
“Don’t use ocean water, it will make it so much worse!” SeLiem’s voice booms out.
Arturus stops so fast he loses his footing and falls face first into the water.
Melias brings a water skin from his horse and asks SeLiem if the Wizards will be alright.
“I believe so. I am surprised they survived the blast. They are extremely lucky. Was there anything in our new treasure that might help? I’ll look.”
Now everyone can hear the horses approaching, as Melias had warned. They sped up after the explosion and it sounds as if they are minutes away.
Arturus spots them as he crosses the road. There are over a dozen men riding fast and one has a banner, but he can’t make it out, yet.
The chest was obliterated, but all the items that were inside survived. This is amazing to SeLiem, since he saw the dagger blown into the air by the blast and it is still smoking. He gathers the items and considers whether any can be useful now.
Rastorn is the first to notice that the puddles of blood in the camp were sprayed into the air by the explosion and now he and Orjulun are speckled with blood as are the backs of everyone else. The explosion also destroyed the clothing he and Orjulun wore, right down to their shoes. “Well now,” Rastorn says, “isn’t this an interesting sight indeed…” He makes no attempt to cover himself but retrieves all his belongings. Other than a dagger in each hand and a belt with pouches, he is totally nude.
Frowning, Melias curses, “Shit-buckets. There’s no getting away now; the riders are too close. We’ll have to ride out the questioning and hope they don’t take our claim.” He returns to the horses as the riders close in on the group. If need be, he was ready to cut one of the horses free and ride like the wind.
“I should point out; we’re all speckled in blood from the explosion and without additional healing neither Orjulun nor I are capable of battle if this confrontation comes to steel being drawn.” While he speaks, blue veins pulsate across Rastorn’s pallid flesh as adrenaline pumps through him. “Maybe the two of us naked mages should meander back out of sight and get clothed and such while the three of you attempt to handle this?” His voice is calm and not as raspy as usual, but his eyes are pleading.
Seeing early signs of Orjulun’s recovery, SeLiem sighs happily. “Well, these two aren’t ready for any sort of battle. You two get some clothes on and we will get rid of these riders. I’m ready for a fight”
“I’m not so sure we want to fight these strangers,” Melias says, shaking his head.
SeLiem readies his mace. “What’re you talking about? I’m a good enough fighter; I might be able to take out three maybe four before I die.”
Arturus shoos Orjulun and Rastorn. “Get out of here. If their senses are not offended by this wreckage, the sight of two men standing around with their willies out is sure to do it.” He finishes with a broad smile and then as an afterthought says, “I’m glad you two are alright. I’d hate to have a burial on such a fine day.” He looks at Melias and says, “I suggest we be honest and tell them exactly what happened. We have a member of this caravan as a witness, although it seems he’d rather die than parlay.”
“And gone I am,” Rastorn says as he darts off toward their horses. “And I saw you smiling, tall Elf! Like what you saw, I think…”
If the Necromancer wasn’t injured already, Arturus would’ve shot him with an arrow for that. Instead, he just smiles and nods. He splits the treasure with SeLiem and signals they should hide it from the approaching strangers.
Rastorn pulls his and Orjulun’s horses past where Orjulun is laying, just as the Invoker receives a final healing spell from SeLiem. Then he pulls Orjulun to a standing position, surprised at how lively he is suddenly. They each mount up and ride away. The horses carry their own belongings and an extra set of boots Melias tosses on when they trot near him. As they disappear into the woods, the horsemen reach the road east of the camp. All thirteen come to a nearly immediate halt, much to the relief of their frothing horses. The horsemen are immediately recognizable to the three who remained in camp. They are city guards from Dumas. They wear the same type of chain armor but carry different combinations of weapons. After the initial pause, as they take in the sight of the bloody camp, they dismount and slowly walk their mounts forward.
Arturus stands with his hands in his pockets and makes sure he’s out of the way of the Dumassess.
“Parley it is,” Melias says, still rubbing his eyes from the horrid sight of Rastorn’s pale-white hind-side. That was three times in two days … far too many for his liking. Before leaving them to meet up with the riders, he makes certain the horses are secured. He lifts a hand in greeting, then waves them over.
The Dumas Guards stop about halfway between the road and the blood splatters. They wait for Melias to approach them. Several still survey the site with shocked expressions. One, near the back, half-heartedly waves at Melias. The group is made up of almost equal parts Humans and Half-Elves, with one female Half-Elf among them.
One of the men asks, “By the nine gods, what happened here?”
Another demands, “What part did you play in this?”
Melias spins around, taking another glance at the carnage to remind himself just how bad it is. For all the time they’d spent on the scene, he’d grown accustomed to it. He didn’t want to appear too unmoved by the desolation. “Last night,” he begins, “we were camped up on that hill in the distance. These merchants were camping here, being loud, and making their presence evident by explosions and light works – by virtue of their spell-casters. There appears to be neighboring Ogres who took offense and stormed in with a vengeance.” He looks around once more, making sure there are no signs of the Ogres. “We came down to lend a hand in their defense against the brutes, but we were too late for all – except one. This Cleric alone survived what happened here. We managed to chase off the Ogres after that. With the Cleric in a state of shock, we returned to our previous camp site until daylight.” He points, “I even dropped one over there by the remains of that wagon,” he scratches his head and shrugs, “but it appears someone came along afterward and hauled it away.”
At first, the Half-Elf guards seem a bit shocked at Melias being an Elf, but they don much more business-like expressions after they catch the look on one another’s face.
Each time he turns, Melias reveals the blood splattered all over his back. Each time he turns back, he catches different guards craning their necks to keep looking at his back.
After he finishes talking, the guards look at each other, making subtle signals with their faces and hands, as if to secretly decide how each feel about the situation. A decision is made silently and one of the Half-Elf males says, “Alright, so it looks as if you three have more goods and horses here from the wagons you ransacked than you can carry. We’ll take half – you can split it yourselves – and we’ll be on our way…” He looks to the others, as if to confirm their destination, “…back to Dumas.” As he completes his comments, each of the guards touches or in some way moves his or her weapon, but not in an overtly threatening way. The Half-Elf guards fail to keep eye contact as they do this, but all the Humans stare intently at Melias or Arturus.
In the forest, Orjulun and Rastorn move to a position where they can see Melias and the riders talking, although their view is still partially blocked by what is left of the wagons. Both recognized the rider’s apparel and banner as belonging to Dumas city guards. They hope none of the guards knew of Arturus’ banditry or had some means of recognizing him. On horseback they could return to the rest of the group quickly, but they are still getting dressed. The boots are a decent fit, but still wet and pink water sloshes out of various crevices as they pull the laces tight. Orjulun almost trips on what he thinks is a stick, but on second look notices is a bundle of six crossbow bolts. He glances around the area but doesn’t spot anything else out of the ordinary.
SeLiem speaks up, trying a soft, but persuasive tone. “We are sorry if you have not realized it, but we have two friends back there. They are getting dressed, they really like to sleep in the oddest part of the days, you might see them groggy and moving slowly. If you sirs can please wait, they will be out momentarily.”
Eyebrows raised, Melias and Arturus glance at one another.
Rastorn struggles with the wet boots. He had never liked the feel, much less smell, of wet leather. He fondles his belt pouches, one of them oozing blood onto his hand. He had acquired a few specimens even though he didn’t get what he truly wanted. “Man, I feel like a foolish child to have blown us to the Nine Hells like that. I see you have lost some valuable items from your belt pouches. I’ll replace them in the nearest city.”
“Take half, huh?” Melias saw this as nothing more than common highway robbery disguised to be official. “Let’s see, half of the number of horses and objects bound to them… I think a fair rate would be 400 gold. So, you hand over 400 gold, and the horses are yours. Fair deal.” He smiles as convincingly as he can muster. “I don’t mind giving you such a great bargain, since you offer us such a convenience. After all, we did chase off the Ogres without the city of Dumas’ help. They could have marched and overtook the city once they were done here.”
The guards all seem a little startled by Melias’ comment.
For a second.
Then their faces clench into angry frowns and they grip their weapons tighter as they slowly step sideways, eyes fixed on Melias.
The Female Half-Elf speaks up, “We gave you a fair offer, mister. You’d better take it.”
“We are the law – even this far out,” says one of the Half-Elf men.
“We need these horses; I can get my friends from back there if you wish,” SeLiem says, his lower lip quivering. “Please, can you at least understand why we need these horses if we show you our two friends?” he pleads.
Melias blinks hard, but keeps the smile shining on his face. “Ah, you drive a hard bargain. Ok, I’ll let them go for 200 gold. You have to admit, that’s a great deal.”
“I suppose we can give up half the horses,” SeLiem says, then jabs Melias in the ribs with his elbow.
“I think we keep what we found and these Dumassess ride back to Dumas empty handed. I do not recall any Dumas guards during the night, and I don’t recall Dumasses having any power here on the road so far from the city proper,” Arturus says, stepping forward. “I’d say I’m surprised that a Half-Elf would act in such a manner, but then again you are half Dumas bastard as well.” He sticks his chin out at the guards, then looks to SeLeim and says, “Present company excluded, of course.”
SeLiem looks at Arturus, who he believes just made one of the dumbest statements ever. He looks at the guards then, ready to run if they attack.
Melias smirks as he asks the guards, “So, what do you think? Does 200 gold sound fair to you?” After a moment of thought, he considers whether these are city guards at all. Like the others, he stares back at the guards in silence, hoping they won’t attack.
“No hard feelings, it could happen to any of us,” Orjulun says with a smile, while stretching his suddenly tight muscles. He looks over to the rest of the party, and notices several of the guardsmen grasping their weapons and looking sternly at the Elves. “Uh, oh,” he mutters. “We better prepare for a fight, friend Rastorn. It looks like our gentle companions are not making friends with the guardsmen.
Groaning, Rastorn asks, “Didn’t we just almost die in an explosion? And they expect us to fight more? I still bear wounds…” He glances down at the blisters covering him, then nervously strokes where his goatee usually was and in shock, hisses, “My beard is gone!”
Arturus, with a hand on his sword hilt, looks to Melias and says, “I think we stunned them into silence.” He looks to the guards and says, “Now go away!” Arturus always hated Dumas for what he felt was their stupid, practically evil ways. He starts jumping around yelling incoherently at the guards. He throws his fists in the air, pounds his chest, and even kisses one of their horses. “Come on you bastards! Fight me! Fight me and I swear you will all die by my blade!” As he shouts, his mouth froths. If they weren’t going to take offense by what was said thus far, Arturus knew how he could either spook them or provoke them.
The guardsmen all rush in to attack.
Even if it means a fight to the death against unbelievable odds, Melias is ready to defend what he believes is his by right. He moves to position himself to Arturus’ backside, preventing the likelihood of rear flank attacks from the guards, and draws his sword. Coordinating their defenses in Elvish, Melias and Arturus are prepared to fight ferociously.
“Dang it!” SeLiem says, before casting a priestly spell. Both Melias and Arturus smile. Neither was certain he would join the battle.
Arturus says to Melias in Elvish, as they get ready to fight back to back, “If we die today, I am honored to have known you and to have fought in battle with you, I look forward to seeing you in the afterlife.” At that, he draws his blade.
Melias responds in Elvish, “The feeling is mutual, my friend. We might not make it out of this alive but let’s take a couple of those thieving Dumasses down with us!”
SeLiem puts his back to their backs with a sword made of magical fire covering his hand.
“Welcome. SeLiem. Now, let’s give them what for!” Arturus shouts.
“Oh shit…” That is all the emotion Rastorn can muster as he watches a battle about to begin between a dozen plus enemies and his three companions. “Feel free to use my components… that is, if I have any you can use.” He inwardly hopes Orjulun has some offensive spells that won’t take up too many of his components. As for himself, he readies the components for Acid Arrow.
Melias’ blade shines in the sunlight as it arcs a deadly path towards the poor guard who he sees as dumb enough to approach him first. As his sword cuts deep, he shouts, “If it is death you sought, death you shall find, Dumasses!”
“See you guards in the after-life!” SeLiem attacks with his fire sword, but the guard successfully dodges.
Arturus swings his sword at the first guard to approach him, as well. “You can relax, for my face is the last thing you shall ever see on this world!” he shouts, as his sword slices into the man’s neck. The man drops dead.
Not fully clothed yet, Rastorn leaps upon his horse and charges toward the battle. He doesn’t charge in close enough to be caught in melee, but close enough to see and fling spells. When he arrives, he leaps from the horse, still naked other than his boots and belt with pouches.
Magic Missiles from Orjulun, who attacks from the forest, strike a Half-Elf guard, and drops him instantly.
Rastorn casts Flaming Sphere, instead of the Acid Arrow. He plans to send the ball of death out toward the guards to the north of his companions. He focuses his mind and directs the ball with his fingers. He tries to keep it more than five feet from those friendly to him, all the while rolling it over as many of their enemies as he can.
The guards double up to attack. Each swing their weapon, but only half of them connect.
Melias winces at the slice on his arm and growls angrily at the guard who just struck him. “Ha! That’s all you’ve got? The Ogres were far fiercer than you.” He focuses his attacks on the already wounded guard. ‘Best to keep on one until that one drops,’ he recalls hearing his brothers say when they spared.
Arturus and Melias find an almost instant chemistry back to back, as they dodge and move and strike as one. Their Elven swordsmanship shines with each flourish, but it is obvious to the trained eye that Arturus is the superior swordsman.
Orjulun moves forward as he prepares his next spell.
SeLiem waves the blade of fire that has formed at the end of his hand, warding off attacks, then jumps forward striking at the closest guard. The Priest misses so badly that he catches fire to a bit of his own hair, but it doesn’t continue to burn.
A three-foot diameter sphere of fire floats thirty yards from Rastorn and grazes one of the guards. The others begin to move away, disrupting the flow of battle.
Arturus swings wide, scoring a solid hit to the chest of a new opponent, who immediately falls back so another can move in.
The amazingly swift Melias ducks through the injured guard’s defense and stabs him. The guard spins and falls.
The next instant, Arturus turns a perry into a slicing move, but it is dodged.
Orjulun moves a step closer to the melee, and casts Magic Missile at another guardsman.
SeLiem attacks the same guard again, this time landing a blow.
Walking slowly to remain focused on his spell, Rastorn keeps it bowling through the guards.
“Couldn’t take the deal…” slash… “Went to bullying the wrong Elves this time…” stab… “Had to be a Dumass, didn’t ya…” chop… “Give up now, and you may live through this!” Melias keeps talking to his opponents as the fight continues. He switches to Elvish only on occasion to warn Arturus of an impending attack on his blind side. although he doesn’t talk to SeLiem during the battle, he appreciated how the man quickly stepped up to aid them against overwhelming odds. It earned a bit of respect from Melias, and a little forgiveness for jabbing him in the ribs with an order of silence.
“Now this is what I call having fun with your friends. Hope those damn horses know what we’re doing for them. Hells, we’ll even have a dozen more!” Arturus shouts in Common, so everyone understands. He is thoroughly enjoying himself. Nothing like a bit of good deadly fun to start the day.
Orjulun’s Magical Missiles soar through the air and strike the Human guard Arturus had struck earlier. He is dead before the third missile strikes.
The Half-Elf female guard runs the opposite direction as most of the others who are dodging the rolling ball of fire and lets loose two arrows, one aimed at each Wizard. Orjulun has just moved into short range, but it doesn’t matter, both miss miserably.
The guards are still double teaming Melias, Arturus, and SeLiem, but none seems able to land a blow. They begin to look panicked.
The ball of fire glides between the horses and the guards, separating them and causing some guards to stumble into other guards. The guard’s horses are spooked and rear up or trot away. One horse takes minor fire damage when it gets too close, but the men are quicker than the ball of flame and have plenty of room to dodge around it. The same guard who was burned before is burned slightly when he dodges the wrong way and gets a little too close.
SeLiem hacks with his Flame Blade at the nearest guard, but it is parried.
Gracefully gliding along the ground and tossing up a flurry of parries and faints, Melias continues his combative dance, all the while rattling off a series of insults and threats. Once he sees an opening, he slices at one of his adversaries, cutting through the Human’s armor and drawing blood.
Arturus’ fighting form is impressive, but hundreds of years to perfect a style has its advantages. He may not be as quick as Melias, but he certainly seems to make all the correct decisions when protecting himself from all the attacks directed at him.
Seeing an opening, Arturus thrusts his long sword at his enemy, but it is unexpectedly parried by another combatant, which – oddly – seems to thrill him more.
Making sure to keep his view of the melee from being blocked by any of the four destroyed wagons, Orjulun continues to move slowly forward. From his current vantage, he can clearly see everything, so he stops and prepares another spell.
Rastorn continues to roll the sphere of flame around the enemies, attempting to pick them off one by one as they get too close. He moves the ball away from the horses but is intent upon not letting anyone flee to their horse if they decide to fall back. He whistles at Orjulun. Without breaking concentration, he points with his chin toward the woman firing upon them. One well-placed arrow could kill either of the mages and he knows it.
Melias smirks as he notices the guard’s horses are starting to move away from the skirmish. “So much for a hasty retreat for the lawmen,” he says in Elvish, then quickly switches to Common to ask Arturus something for the benefit of his opponents. “Say, brother, how good are you with an arrow? Good enough to nail a running Dumass to the ground?”
Arturus answers Melias’ question in Common, “I believe I can. I don’t usually brag, but I am a better shot than I am a swordsman. I’ll damn sure give it a try. Which guard you thinking of, the one with the bow? I’m going to have to quickly kill these two or you and SeLiem will have to cover me.”
Melias parries and ducks, moving with fluid motions, and answers in Common, “Let’s just wait until they start running away. I’m hoping they’re smart enough to figure out they’re out of their league soon.”
“Understood, brother!” Arturus answers in Elvish. Then in Common he yells to the Dumassess, “Run you dumb bastards! We have you out numbered and out talented!”
Orjulun sends two missiles at the female, knocking her back, but not killing her and another at one of the injured guards, which is enough to end his life.
In obvious pain, the female runs to the party’s horses, jumps on one, and spurs it into a gallop.
The guard Rastorn keeps burning follows the trajectory of the missiles back to Orjulun, he pauses, and a sudden flash of recognition crosses his face, then he dodges past the sphere again and quickly mounts a horse and heads north.
One of the guards surrounding the three party members growls, “Back,” through gritted teeth and they all step back a step or two. Melias, Arturus, and SeLiem are not about to step away from their back-to-back stance and risk a back attack, so they are unable to get another swing in as the guards turn and run toward whichever horse they are closest to.
Rastorn’s ball of fire singes more of the men, but he is unable to do more than make getting to the horses difficult, soon they are all mounted and riding away. Half of them are injured, the other four are unhurt, but nearly frantic to escape.
“You bastards! Come back here and fight! I wasn’t done killing you yet!” Arturus screams, as they ride away.
SeLiem says a prayer, thanking Kubri for keeping them all alive.
Melias drops his sword and pulls his bow. “We can’t waste too much time, my friends. I’m sure they’ll be back with reinforcements. We should wrap things up here and hit the happy trail as soon as possible, maybe pausing only long enough to clean some of this gore and blood off us and get that horrid looking naked abomination some clothes.” He shoots two arrows, missing with both, and wonders whether he should risk taking the time to retrieve them later.
“I agree,” Orjulun says. “We should get away as quickly as possible. One of those guards recognized me, I believe. I’m sure they’ll send reinforcements, and a possible search party.”
Melias hesitates a moment, considering Orjulun’s words, then notches another arrow.
“I’m not leaving without a thorough search of these bodies and their horses. I’m taking a body with me as well, strapped onto one of the spare steeds.” Rastorn doesn’t even bother with getting his clothes back on but starts an immediate search of the fallen foes.
Orjulun helps make a quick search of the fallen guardsmen and finds a cloak to wear.
Arturus follows Melias’ example and fires his bow as rapidly as possible. “This is not ideal. Who knew Dumas had such wimpy guards? Anyone actually know for a fact if these really are guards from Dumas? Maybe if we’re lucky they were just posing.”
SeLiem helps calm the horses. “I fear we may see those men again, with more fight than today.”
Arturus and Melias continue to shoot arrows at the guard’s backs as they ride away. They hit their mark several times and Melias drops the last Human guard Arturus had fought just before he is out of range. The other guards continue, and his horse follows. One horse is struck during the volley.
Gathering arrows and the last guard killed is uneventful as is sorting their gear and taking their six abandoned horses. The female took off bareback on one of the party’s horses.
Once the job is complete, Rastorn gathers some garments and clothes himself. He pulls a tooth from each cadaver and places them in a bag. He makes sure the group knows all the items they found, including three potions and a magical longsword with a golden pummel. Taking a seat on a stump, he takes a few long pulls from his flask of whiskey and offers it to the others. “Damn, men, that was interesting.” He continues offering the bottle to his companions, all the while taking pulls of it and grimacing from its potency. Once everyone else is ready, he staggers to his horse and runs a rope from the horse carrying the body to his saddle.
“Yeah, it was a hoot. But I guess this does confirm they really were guards,” Arturus says. He looks longing at the magic longsword. “Anyone mind if I try out the magical blade?”
Melias desires the sword as well but knows it would be far more effective in the hands of a trained Warrior. “Sure, Arturus… it’s yours,” he says, parting with his own craving to keep it.
“I thank you for offering the sword to me, brother, but I merely wish to try it out. If you want it, it’s yours. It was not my intent to keep it,” Arturus says.
Melias is distracted by Rastorn and does not comment. Rastorn is now clothed, so Melias sings a praise to the sky, “At last, our eyes are spared that horrifying sight known as your birth suit.” He eyes his injured arm, merely a scratch really, and decides to leave it to natural healing. “I think we were very lucky. We could have been all killed and may be if we don’t put a bit of distance between us and them. If we’re lucky, we can make it to some other city where there is some other law involved that can protect us from the extortion we saw from these men.”
Mounting his horse, Orjulun reminds them they still need to decide how to divvy up the three potions they found on the guards. “Perhaps we’ll discover the magical effects of those potions later and that will help us to decide,” he says. “They were likely Potions of Healing because the guards didn’t travel with a healer of their own and Rastorn and I kept things too chaotic for them to safely drink any potions. The one from the chest is still a complete mystery.”
As they ride, Melias shares his thoughts. “So, we have quite a few horses here. When we get to the crossroads, those who follow will easily be able to discover which direction we go. We need to figure out a way to fool them. Too bad we can’t make it rain. Our tracks would be washed away.”
His comments are met with silence, as each man is lost in his own thoughts.
Nothing had turned out as Orjulun had expected after leaving Dumas. There was the strange encounter with the caravan, the Ogre fight, the explosion which cost him several possessions and his clothing, and finally the fight with the Dumas guardsmen. Now here he is travelling with a group he still isn’t sure he trusts, although they did fight well together. The Elves, Arturus and Melias, are, well…. Elves… happy-go-lucky, upbeat, but mainly they keep to themselves. Rastorn is odd. Just odd. And carrying a dead body around isn’t endearing him to any of them. Finally, there is the Cleric, SeLiem. He barely speaks and when he does, he seems to be on a different page from the rest of us. Can he be trusted? Can any of them? Orjulun sighs heavily and utters a quiet prayer to Scorses for guidance. He believes things will surely look brighter in another day or two when they reach Darkuth and can regroup and plan.
Growing bored on the trip, Melias strikes up a conversation with Rastorn, asking in the guttural tongue of Orcs, Goblins, and other such creatures, “It’s unusual to meet a Human who has a grasp of the language of the evil ones such as you. I was wondering how you came to learn it. And… does it have anything to do with your rather morbid collecting hobby?”
“Naaah, nothing to do with that,” Rastorn answers in Goblinoid. “It’s actually not as morbid as you would think. Without Necromancy, there would be no doctors or healers among us. I am learning the biology of the human body along with necropsy and anatomy. I learned the language of the fouls ones while I was held captive by Ogres. You do recall me telling the tale? I had to force myself to learn it if I were to remain alive with my wiles.”
As travel grows monotonous, Melias decides to start a game. He explains the game to the others, then starts. “I spy with my little eye… something green.” Then, before anyone can answer, he realizes they are riding along a forest; everything is either green or brown and on their other side everything is blue. “Never mind, dumb game anyway.” he says.
Rastorn fidgets in his belt pouch. Then, “I spy with my little eye,” he says, holding out a human eyeball, obviously still fresh. With a shrill laugh, he places it back into his pouch.
The group returns to silence, until they locate a spot to make camp.
Once the camp has been set, and the perimeter clear and safe, Rastorn sets up for first watch. He surveys the landscape continuously, although he is anxious to get to his plans for the remainder of the night.
As soon as Melias is prepared to take the second watch, as has been the custom, Rastorn takes his semi-fresh corpse from the horse and lays it out in the clearing he had prepared during his watch.
During the next watch, Rastorn is busy dissecting the body. Melias occasionally hears him toss something aside, or into the fire, muttering something like, “Damned rotted spleen,” or “Is the interior of the anus supposed to look like that,” or “Oops, cut too deep near that liver.” He obviously knows his way around the human body, and his curiosity is intense. He even taunts the Elf with the Human’s brain, running around the fire a bit with it, giggling like a schoolgirl. All in fun, though.
Rastorn’s disgusting hobby helps keep Melias’ heart beating and keep him awake, although mildly distracted. Melias knows the need to focus on the surroundings. He doesn’t want those Dumasses sneaking up on them. Of course, wearing all that chain mail, he doesn’t expect they could sneak up on a deaf Hill Giant.
When his time is up, he wakes the next person on the watch, gladly giving Arturus a chance at the macabre scene of Rastorn ripping through a corpse’s insides and giggling with a touch of insanity.
“You know Rastorn, if that’s breakfast, I’ll pass.” Arturus says.
Melias doesn’t sleep well after that. Arturus hears him mumbling in his sleep, nothing coherent, but obviously unrestful. The images of body parts made its way deep into Melias’ subconscious and were at every turn on his dreamscape. Because of this, Melias is up early. He spends some time cleaning his clothes a little better, getting the blood stains out as best he can. They will have to be presentable when it comes time to sell all those goods. Hopefully, wherever their path takes them will be prepared for such a large trade. He wonders if his sister revels in the same manner as Rastorn does over dead bodies. He involuntarily imagines her bent over his dead and dismembered body and shivers.
They are still too close to Dumas for Melias’ comfort. “Ok folks, let’s get going, shall we?” he says to the others, bumping the sleeping Rastorn with his boot. “We can’t afford to be any slower about our travels.”
“Agreed, Dumas will eventually send more troops. If it isn’t guards, probably their army. So, we need to make haste,” Arturus says, then turns to face the rising sun. It looks to be another glorious day, weather wise, at least.
“I’m ready for a hard day’s ride when you are,” Orjulun says. He had taken the task of saddling, packing, and readying his own mount after first watch, so he was only waiting on the others. “There’s a crossroads near Darkuth. Is there any way to mask our tracks there so anyone following us won’t know which direction we took?”
Arturus knows about tracking, so the young mage’s question is an easy one for him to answer. “Of course, there is. But I’ll have to wait until I see the road itself before I can answer. If its muddy or dry dirt will all affect how I cover our tracks.”
“Don’t you have some special rain dance or something you can whip out?” Melias asks Orjulun. Melias knew about hiding his trail, too. “We could bind a pine branch to the trailing horse, have it drag across the road to sweep it clean of tracks. Worked for me a while back… not on a horse, though. What do you think?”
“We could try that, but then again anyone following us would just have to follow the swept road. For it to work, we’d have to all go in different directions once we hit the crossroads. Then whoever was on the wrong road would have to double back.” Arturus points out.
Rubbing his chin, Melias considers solutions for how they could all stay together. “One of us could ride behind the group making so many tracks on the ground that it would be too confusing to follow. Instead of less tracks, we make more tracks.”
SeLiem is only half-listening to the conversation. His focus is on silently asking forgiveness from his god Kubri for not following the requests of lawfully appointed guards. But, after a few minutes silence, he speaks up. “I can go and do it, after all, I owe you guys my life.” He smiles, “I insist.”
Rastorn finishes packing his belongings and tosses the remaining pieces of the corpse into the dying fire. He made sure to dispose of any parts that made their way from his clearing through the night. It would be no good to have an angry bear or pack of wolves on their asses due to his stupidity. He had been listening to the conversation intently, but he truly had no opinions on the matter. When the Cleric spoke of his intentions to take the wrong road and double back to mask their direction, he simply grunted his approval.
Melias disapproves. “Sure, it might do the trick, but ultimately… any of that is going to slow us down and risks endangering those who split off to being caught all alone.” Tying the long string of horses together for easy leading, he suggests, “We might consider heading across country, maybe up into some stony hills where our hoofprints won’t be so easily detectable or we can just forget all this covering our tracks idea and just haul balls.” He brushes his hands off and says, “There… we’re ready to hit the road. Let’s go. We can talk more about it on the way to the crossroads.”
They spend the day traveling without a break.
Just before nightfall, the giant dark gray stone walls that surround Darkuth are visible. Small clusters of horsemen mill around the area and many wagons and tents are set up in the lightly forested area west of the city.
Upon drawing closer, the party can tell the walls are forty feet high and ancient, but in good repair. There are numerous dead bodies, mostly skeletal, hanging from the walls and some animated skeletons on top of the wall performing repetitive, mundane actions.
The quantity of wagons and travelers in the area is impressive. Most are in line to enter the main gate, on the west wall.
Their worries of being tracked slip away. “I think we’ve learned to not make plans until we have all the facts,” Melias remarks, pointing to the endless, intermixed hoofprints.
Closer still, they can see the length of the city wall and look to one another for clues any among them has ever seen such a massive structure. They discover they all are marveling at the wall. If the city itself is as large as they extrapolate, it is easily eight times larger than Dumas, which is known to be an average sized city.
Based on the length of the line at the gate, the process to gain entrance appears to be complex and time consuming.
The road continues to the south along the coast and a newer, less hardy, road heads west into the dense forest.
END OF CHAPTER TWO
[They aren’t usually that long! – Jim]
To be continued . . .
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