Adventures of the Cursed Eight 2.2: Rewards and tidings

The chronicles of the Cursed Eight

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

Welcome to a new Chapter in the Chronicles of the Cursed Eight!

We find our party where we left them after the Episode 2.1: The Curse

For the first time since that morning, the party split.

The druid, ranger and warlock descended the long staircase to the left of the entrance and made their way towards the stables nestled against the Keep walls, while Thorin, Shainarra, Zal’tat and Grell strolled towards the tents of the Imperial army.

Even at this late hour, soldiers where rushing in all directions, carrying weapons, wooden poles and sacks of supplies.

“Seems like they’re moving out,” remarked Shainarra, resisting the temptation to trip a rather arrogant-looking half-elf carrying three sacks of potatoes.

“They won the battle. They are moving to the new front. It’ll be closer to Star’s Breath now…the dragonborn are losing,” answered Thorin. His voice was devoid of emotion and his eyes were lost, searching for something beyond his reach.

“A bit premature for that kind of judgement, wouldn’t you say?” Zal’tat said critically, his eyebrow raised in sardonic disapproval.

“Not really. I’ve fought alongside the Empire for decades; they are disciplined, powerful and highly advanced, technologically speaking. The Draconic Council doesn’t stand a chance. They’d do better to bend the knee to the new emperor and hand over his father’s assassin.”

Zal’tat scowled.

“I dislike the notion of anyone bending any part of their body at the behest of a dictator. The dragonborn where within their rights to leave the Empire. It’s not their fault that the heir to the Detorak dynasty has such a bad temper. And nobody knows for sure what happened in that throne room. You don’t seriously believe all the ridiculous propaganda-”

“I don’t believe anything…Spindlefoot, was it? I’m just a soldier. I joined this war to help my allies, not to question them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go look for a drink.”

He strode off towards one of the mess tents, leaving a trail of stares behind him.

“Well, he took that rather badly,” murmured Zal’tat.

Shainarra rolled her eyes. Unconsciously, her hand descended to caress her satchel and the object within.

“I’m going to go get our reward. This whole disaster probably isn’t worth the pitiful sum we’ll be receiving, but at least I’ll be able to pay for a decent meal and a bed tonight.”

She stalked into one of the spaces between the tents and disappeared from sight.

“That one makes me a little uneasy,” Zal’tat said turning to Grell. “Doesn’t she make you uneasy?”

The half-orc –who was sitting astride the dire-wolf pup- stared at the gnome for a long minute. Then, he turned his head and spat on the ground.

“Not really. She’s less boring than you. You talk waaaaay too much.”

A jangling sound floated from the direction of the The Naughty Nymph, the local dive.

“That sounds interesting. See you later, shorty,” exclaimed Grell, urging Bane towards the commotion, leaving the gnome alone.

A long moment passed, as he thought back on all the events of the past few days. His mind wondered to the ambush, his recovery in the infirmary and the crazy adventure in the crypt of St. Vornias.

Hesitantly, he pulled up the sleeve of his jerkin and stared at the faintly glowing symbol of Gerotil.

“I wonder if he ever had a tattoo…don’t remember,” he mumbled to himself.

Suddenly he froze, his body going rigid as his vision was taken from him.

He was lost in clouds of swirling darkness, looking down at a foreign forest.

Somewhere within it, a dull crimson light pulsed slowly.

He felt drawn to it. It called to him and he felt an ache somewhere near his heart of a fluttering memory, lost to tragedy and time.

His vision shifted and he was peering from behind a tree at a simple wooden building of logs and stone.

As he tried to move closer, space warped, leaving him lost in a red mist, surrounded by mad laughter.

Somebody shoved past him, bringing him back to the muddy encampment and the smell of wood smoke. He shivered in the cool night air and then quickly moved towards the Keep gates and the village of Mekliat beyond.

*           *           *

Shainarra entered the large hall of the Imperial Headquarters, closing the large oak doors behind her. A small fire crackled merrily in the great stone hearth and she was surprised to find Major Zigarn –sans armour- sitting at the table, his pen quietly scratching on a piece of parchment.

She cleared her throat.

He didn’t acknowledge her presence for a full minute. Then, his scratchings finally ceased and he looked up, blinking as his eyes readjusted to the room.

“Ah, the thief. Your mission was a success, I take it?”

His tone was far more cordial than the last time they had spoken, and Shainarra felt her shoulders relax slightly.

“It was. There was a cult of necromancers in the crypt. We dispatched them. Father Silin was…very relieved.”

She avoided mentioning the death of the Tree of Gerotil, as well as the apparent loss of one very large, very gold chalice.

“Good, good. You’ve done the Empire a great service. A deal is a deal: here is your payment, two hundred gold as promised. Also, I have had your records expunged. You are free to go. Now please, leave me; I have much work to do before the troops move out.”

She left the hall quietly, moving swiftly towards the lights of the Purple Bear, Mekliat’s finest –and only- tavern.

*           *           *

He’d already downed a pint of beer before someone came and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Uh, captain Battlehammer, sir?”

He winced. The use of his rank –once an honour- caused him more pain than he cared to admit.

He turned and found himself face to face with a young dwarf, a simple soldier by the looks of it. He wore his hair short and had a series of simple wooden beads braided into his beard.

“What can I do for you son?” he asked, trying to keep his tone as light as he could.

“I’m…I’m Irwin sir. Irwin Coppercleaver. I served under you at the battle of Urad’Jedek. You…you saved my life that day, sir.”

Thorin’s expression softened and he turned towards the barkeeper.

“A pint for this fine young dwarf here…”

He trailed off as he noticed Irwin shaking his hands violently.

“I’m sorry sir, I can’t…if I was seen drinking with you, after what happened on the Plains…”

Thorin looked over the youngster’s shoulder at a group of surly dwarves sitting at a table near the exit and scowling in his direction.

“I understand lad. Thanks for stopping by,” he growled gruffly, turning back to his drink.

“I…I’m sorry sir. I just wanted to thank you for saving my life. For what it’s worth, I think you are a fine captain and a true hero. The Halls of Argathod would have fallen if not for you.”

He turned to leave, but stopped as Thorin placed one mailed hand on his shoulder.

“Thank you son. Tell me, what became of the…remains of Gorag Mettlesmith? I…wish to pay my respects.”

The younger dwarf’s eyes widened in shock.

“Haven’t…haven’t you heard? General Mettlesmith isn’t dead.”

Thorin leapt up from his stool upsetting his tankard, which fell to the floor, shattering in a hundred pieces.

“Not dead!? Where is he lad? Where do I find him?” he exclaimed, shaking the younger dwarf so violently that a few of his comrades shifted threateningly.

“Sir, sir! He’s not here! The orc raiders…they took him sir. They captured him and made of for the Steelspine Mountains.”

The colour drained from Thorin’s face.

He let go of Irwin and took three steps back, letting his chainmail rest heavily against the bar top.

Captured? By goblins?”

The words left his mouth in choked morsels of shock and hatred.

“Yes sir. Major Zigarn sent a patrol to retrieve him, sir…but the orcs were too fast. They lost them in the foothills.”

Thorin stared dumbly at the floor for a moment, his fists clenched into balls of furious tension.

“Thank you for telling me. Good luck to you, mister Coppercleaver.”

Slowly, he left the tent, ignoring the dark looks of the other dwarves. He stumbled through the darkness towards the village beyond the walls of the Keep, guilt and hatred marking his every step.

*           *           *

It was nearing ten o’clock when the party reunited within the cosy –yet shabby- walls of the Purple Bear.

“We managed to secure three horses for tomorrow,” said Nala as they all sat down. The inn was fairly quiet; only one other table was occupied.

Zal’tat looked around.

“There are eight of us…I don’t think three horses will be enough. I mean, Grell can ride his wolf, and I can ride with someone else…”

“Well,” interceded Kathra, “in reality we have four horses: I can shapeshift.”

“Practical,” murmured Siloqui staring suspiciously at the mug that the innkeeper had set down in front of her.

“Where is Grell by the way? And where did the cleric wander off to?” asked Shainarra innocently.

“Lohar decided to stay behind and conduct some research. He said he’d catch up to us in a few days,” answered Nala.

The door burst open and Grell sauntered in. He was followed by Bane and a small creature wrapped up in a series of very colourful rags.

“Guys! Look who I found! This is Robin! He sold me a healing potion for twenty gold! Isn’t he great?”

They all peered down at the creature. Suddenly, a small beak emerged from the multi-coloured layers. One beady black eye stared at them eagerly.

“Hello! This is Robin! Isn’t he great? Buy from Robin! Discount! Tell you friends!”-

The story continues in episode 3

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