The Adventures of the Cursed Eight 2.6: The shadow

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 Episode 2.5: The cellar

Siloqui’s swords spun with effortless grace, dancing among the shadows of the forest. Two perfect slashes blossomed across the owlbear’s pelt, spewing dark ooze onto the moss-covered floor.

The massive creature let loose a blood-curling screech, which quickly turned into a furious roar as it twisted away from the wood-elf’s blades. Hidden in the shadows of an elder tree, Shainarra shivered as she caught sight of the dark, lifeless eyes of the hulking beast. With a burst of speed, it aimed three deadly swipes at Siloqui, who barely dodged them and rolled out of the way, as the massive paws smashed into the trunk of a nearby tree.

Nimbly, the huntress leapt up from her crouching position, landed on the owlbear’s ruined back and sunk both her blades into its corrupted flesh. Its roars scattered the fallen leaves in the clearing and the wood-elf found herself holding on for dear life as the beast bucked to try and dislodge her from its back.

Finally, it smashed itself into a tree.  The strength of the blow threw her from her precarious perch into a mess of roots a few feet away.

“Oh…,” she groaned, as painful stars exploded in front of her eyes. She tried to stand, but immediately regretted it as the world spun wildly. Blood trickled down the side of her head and for a moment, all she could hear was an awful ringing sound.

Which immediately became a full-throated roar of triumph.

A massive paw smashed into her side, flinging her across the clearing and into unconsciousness.

“Shit, shit, shit!”

Three arrows blossomed out of the darkness and sank into the huffing creature’s head. It screeched angrily, casting around to find its second attacker. The dark eyes found the glint of another arrowhead in the shadows of a bush; the rogue let fly, but the creature was ready for her this time and dodged.

Then, it charged.

“Any time now, Kathra!” yelled Shainarra, her arms trembling as she let fly another arrow. It missed the advancing colossus, which now appeared to be smiling evilly at the solitary rogue.

The corrupted giant was almost within range of the pink-haired elf when a large form erupted from a nearby bush. A long muzzle lined with deadly fangs clamped on to the owlbear’s neck, causing it to lose its balance and crash to the ground. Shainarra blinked as the dire wolf ripped into its prey’s fur, eliciting more roars and furious screeches. Kathra’s eyes briefly looked up at the rogue and snapped towards the barely-breathing figure of Siloqui.

“Right, right!” the elf exclaimed, dashing towards her fallen comrade, while simultaneously fishing inside her satchel for the health potion she had just bought. She carefully poured its contents into the ranger’s mouth and heaved a sigh of relief as sparks of magic ran across her figure.

“Did you kill it?” Siloqui asked, opening one accusatory eye.

“Not really…” Shainarra answered looking back over her shoulder.

The druid was losing. Although her first attack against the corrupted hulk had done it some serious damage, its sturdy body and brute strength greatly outmatched those of her current form. Furthermore, each time she attacked it, the acidic sludge that coated its form would burn her.

She couldn’t hold out for long.

Both elves now stood with their back to a tree, shooting arrows at the furious beast. The owlbear snarled, but its odd mouth seemed to deform into a wicked grin. Without warning it lunged forward and ripped a chunk from Kathra’s shoulder with its curved beak. The dire wolf-shaped druid limped backwards, keeping herself between the elves and the slowly advancing monster.

“This doesn’t look good,” hissed Siloqui.

The darkness within the creature’s eyes seemed to shift for a moment, but before it could coalesce into some new terror, a flare of violet-green energy erupted from the far side of the clearing. The blast of magic smashed into the side of the thing, shattering its bones and blowing a hole through its chest cavity. It collapsed to the ground, its lifeless corpse spewing more of the dark sludge out on to the forest floor.

“Nice shot!” exclaimed Zal’tat, looking at Nala’s still outstretched palm appreciatively.

“Thanks,” answered the silver-scaled dragonborn.

“Meh. I could’ve done that,” grumbled Grell as the remainder of the party strode into the clearing.

“How did you come across such a vile thing?” asked Thorin, nudging the massive corpse with the tip of his battlehammer.

“I was hunting it. It is…innocent,” murmured the wood elf, searching for the right words. “It was taken over by whatever controls that dark slime.”

The dwarf took a few steps back from the ooze. He peered down at it, a mixture of disgust and curiosity causing his beard to rustle.

“Is it…dead?”

“I’m not sure,” she answered tiredly. “I’ve been following traces of this…plague all the way from the Plains of Vort.”

“Well, whatever it is, it seems to be rather unpleasant,” muttered Zal’tat fingering something in his pack.

You have no idea.”

The words echoed around the clearing, uttered in a hissing voice that boomed like fear in a dark cavern.

“Uh-oh…” Grell said, pointing at the sludge.

The residue had pooled together and was now taking shape. Reptilian features and black scales emerged from the mess, as claws and leathery wings erupted upwards scattering droplets of corrosive goo.

A long, brutish snout emerged from the miasma, topped by two emerald eyes that blazed with endless fire.

They fixed on Siloqui, flaring hungrily.

“So, you are the one that has been meddling with my creations. Disappointing.”

Although this new apparition was barely the size of Kathra’s current shape, they all felt cowed in its presence, as if its will extended far beyond its reduced form.

“And what are you supposed to be? A lizard with delusions of grandeur?” quipped Zal’tat, as he silently traced a few symbols in the air.

A dark snarl emerged from the gooey throat. Without warning, the eyes flared and the thing opened its maw. The party dodged out of the way, narrowly avoiding a blast of acid.

“RRRRAAAARGH!”

Grell leapt from Bane, bringing his oversized battle-axe down on to the creature’s back. With barely a nod, Zal’tat let fly a barrage of magical beams which tore into the apparition and reduced it to shreds.

As the sludge charred and burned away, a low growl echoed around the clearing. Finally it dissipated, leaving the party confused and exhausted.

“This is going to be a loooong trip,” said Grell, holding out an owlbear rib for Bane to gnaw on.

“I…I need a bath,” muttered Shainarra. “And a shoeshine,” she added miserably, looking down at her sludge-covered boots.

*           *           *

By the time they’d reached the walls of Astralia, the sun was setting. The guards looked at them suspiciously as they passed, but finally payed them no mind. After asking for directions, they quickly made their way towards the “Happy Dragon Inn”, one of the merchant city’s more reputable – and cheap – establishments.

They split up for the night: the two elves shared a room with the druid, while the half-orc slept on the floor of Thorin’s room with Bane. Zal’tat accompanied Nala.

At a certain point after dinner, the dragonborn excused herself and went out into the city, her hood pulled low over her features. Alone in his room, Zal’tat gingerly took out the small chest he had “acquired” at Therann Village.

To his surprise, the previous owner had neglected to enchant or trap the box and in a matter of seconds, he’d easily picked the lock. With trembling fingers, he lifted the lid.

A part of him immediately recognized the barbaric lines of the dagger’s pommel: a cruel silvery claw cupping a single smooth ruby. The sight of it brought back a flood of memories, emotions and pain. So much pain…

Hesitantly, he picked it up.

His vision darkened and suddenly he was floating in a space far removed from Syrros. Crimson eyes peered at him from within the dark folds of time and space. He thought he could hear the faint rustle of feathers and the far-away echo of mad, deranged laughter. The pommel floated in front of him: a choice and a threat.

He grabbed it and power shook his whole being. Magic unlike any he’d ever been capable of danced across his fingertips and suddenly, he saw.

Visions quickly flitted through his mind: a flapping tent canvas, a jagged cliff…all blood red, all calling to him. He reached out to touch them but was immediately cast out into the darkness, the laughter burning through his soul and filling his stomach with dread.

He came to in his room, wet with sweat and still clutching the ember-like pommel in his white hands. It soon dulled, and after a bit of searching, he was able to string it through a leather cord which he hung around his neck.

As sleep took him, he shifted in and out of dreaming, unaware of the odd shapes that danced ominously in the polished surface of the ruby laying on his chest.-

The story continues in episode 2.7

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