The chronicles of the Cursed Eight
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 2.3: Drinks and turnips …
“You found him where?”
“Snoring under a turnip. I’m not one for stereotypes, but as gnomes go…”
They had left Mekliat shortly after dawn, moving southeast along the river Shel. They were following the road that skirted the forest that adorned the foothills near the rock formation that was St. Vornias.
They had calculated that they should reach the merchant city of Astralia by the end of the day. From there, they would have to choose: either travel south to find a ship that would take them from Port Xirshe to Thelasport, or take the north-eastern road to Nordok or the Halls of Argathod in the Steelspine mountains.
Thanks to yesterday’s successful bartering, the party was travelling on horseback. Thorin and Shainarra were leading the small group, followed by Nala. Siloqui was gingerly seated on the horse-shaped druid, with Zal’tat slung in front of her. Despite the swaying he was still soundly asleep. Grell brought up the rear, riding on Bane’s broad back.
“Quite a motley group, eh?” continued Thorin, never taking his eyes off the road.
“Mmh,” the pink-haired rogue answered vaguely.
The dwarf gave her a sideways glance, then resumed his vigil.
“Well, it seems like we may be stuck together for quite some time,” he said patting the symbol of Gerotil on his forearm. “We should probably get to know one another a little better.”
Shainarra stifled a groan.
“Where did you say you were from?” the dwarf continued, ignoring his companion’s annoyed expression.
“Interesting. The same city we’re heading for. You should feel right at home.” He stared off into the distance for a moment. “I’ve never been to the sacred city…they say that it is the pinnacle of civilization, the shining dwelling of the Twelve and the greatest marvel on Syrros.”
Shainarra snorted loudly. “That’s what it says in the Gospel,” she sneered sarcastically.
“Hm. I take it your experience has been quite different then. Then again you are a criminal, so I suppose most anywhere most be pretty inhospitable to your kind.”
She shot him a dirty look. “I’m surprised you would know anything about civilization to be honest. Judging from your…uniform, I imagine that the only reality you are familiar with is the butchery of the battlefield. I’ll be sure to put out the silk napkins next time we make camp.”
For a moment Thorin stared at her. Then he threw his head back and roared with laughter.
“Hah! Well done, thief! It’s true that it has been a while since I’ve enjoyed a good bath or a feather bed. But don’t be fooled: from where I come from, those comforts are the norm. At least,” he added, his eyes turning dark, “they used to be.”
She peered at him from within the shadows of her hood. “You come from the dwarven realm; the Halls of Argathod, right?”
“Aye,” he muttered. “But I shan’t see them yet for some time…not until…”
His words ground to a halt while his eyes peered off into the distance, trying to see something that wasn’t there.
“Everything alright back there?” Nala asked, looking back.
“Bored!” moaned Grell loudly, thwacking a large bush with his battle-axe.
“Nothing new here,” growled Siloqui. “Can’t someone else take the gnome for a while? He smells like something that’s been swimming in a keg of ale.” As if to prove her point, Zal’tat let out a loud belch, which caused the druid-horse to shake her head and whinny in disgust.
“Quiet back there!” snapped Thorin, still locked in his dark thoughts. “With the army heading west, these roads aren’t going to be patrolled anymore. There are sure to be bandits about.”
“Bandits?!” exclaimed Grell spurring Bane forward.
Sleep protected Zal’tat from the ensuing discussion, but within his dreams there was no peace to be found.
He was once more floating above the world. Below him he could see his comrades, the road, and the river. Further south he noticed a path leading away from the main highway and into the wood. He floated hypnotically along the winding trail until he emerged into a large clearing occupied by a small settlement.
His attention was immediately captured by a large two-story house of wood and stone. The ground around it glowed crimson; he could feel something pulling at him, dragging him down into bloodstained depths. There was a room…chains, and…a chest…
“Hello travellers! Would you kindly do us a favour? It will only take a moment of your time.”
Horses whinnied and Bane growled, dragging Zal’tat back to consciousness. He groaned, as a wave of nausea almost made him lose his dinner. The sun shone down on them, its bright light stabbing through his eyelids and stoking his headache into a migraine.
“Please…” he whispered, “keep it down?”
Nala frowned as she surveyed the scene. Two burly humans had stepped out of the bushes. Although they didn’t appear threatening at the moment, she was certain they were bandits: a quick glance at the remaining tufts of vegetation revealed two more concealed individuals, each bearing a loaded crossbow.
“And what can we do for you on this very fine day, gentlemen?” called Throin loudly, his mailed fists placed calmly on the pommel of the saddle. Beside him, Shainarra’s hand crept towards her shortbow.
“Well you see, my brother and I have had a lot of back luck since the beginning of the war. Currently we are very low and cash. Barely enough to survive in fact. So, we were hoping for…well, a donation, you might say.” The other brute next to him sniggered loudly.
“I’m very sorry for you, truly. But unfortunately we have no coin to spare. We wish you better luck in the future lads,” the dwarf answered easily, spurring his horse forward, as if to move past.
The thug’s amiable smile turned to an evil frown. Shortswords appeared in their hands, and Siloqui noticed the hidden crossbowmen take aim.
“I guess you didn’t get the message, shorty. Give us all you’ve got, or I’ll use your skin to wipe my-”
He screamed as the dire wolf charged and leapt for his throat, while the raging half-orc leapt off his back.
“YES!” yelled Grell gurgled maniacally as he lunged at the second bandit.
“Get them! Kill them! Kill them all!” howled the leader, trying to free himself from the slavering canine.
The crossbowmen fired of a first round. One quiver found Nala’s shoulder and she grunted in pain. However it didn’t stop her from firing a blast of purple-green energy into the bushes. It sent the hidden thugs flying backwards; one smashed into a tree, causing the trunk to creak ominously.
“You should know, I hate bad manners,” said Thorin as he dismounted. With practiced movements, he gripped his battlehammer and brought it down on the head of the bandit Bane had on the ground. There was a cracking sound followed by a squelch. The screaming stopped.
“He-help!” yelled Grell’s target. The young barbarian was hacking away happily at the fleeing man’s legs, oblivious to anything else around him.
Rallying to his companion’s call, the thug slumped by the tree struggled to his feet, only to be forever immobilised by one of Shainarra’s arrows that went through his neck and pinned him to the splintered trunk. The man that had landed next to him didn’t even look up, but scrambled away into underbrush.
Trying desperately to flee from the endless destruction that was Grell Islander, the remaining bandit twisted and turned, sprinting crazily from left to right.
Straight towards Thorin.
“I think you lost something boy,” he called to the half-orc, before swinging his weapon up, in between the fugitive’s legs.
“OW!” yelled Grell, looking away. “That has got to hurt!” he murmured appreciatively.
He stepped over the still-quivering remains, a look of admiration plastered on his tusked face.
“Are there any left?” asked Siloqui, striding forward to peer at the carnage.
“One, but he got away,” Nala answered.
Behind them, Kathra neighed, causing them to look confusedly at her.
“Wait a moment…where is Zal’tat?”
* * *
Initially he’d just walked into the forest to get away from the noise. Then, his feet had begun taking him down a familiar winding path. He followed it in a daze, ignoring his name being called out somewhere behind him. Crimson shadows seemed to creep along the trees and the farther he walked, the closer he was to where he needed to be.
Now he could hear frantic hoofbeats behind him, but he ignored them and pressed on, following the gentle tugging at his soul.
Suddenly he emerged into a clearing littered with houses. People went about their daily chores and in the distance he could hear someone cutting wood.
A horse emerged from the forest at his back, and Siloqui quickly dismounted, glaring worriedly at him.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
“What?” she asked as Kathra regained her own shape.
“Therann Village,” he repeated, pointing at a large hand-painted sign hanging from a tree.-
The story continues in episode 2.5…