He unsheathed Olctire and moved slowly towards the wreckage. Their horses, which stood a few yards back with Rognvald, stamped their hooves and snorted, nervous at the smell of blood. Gale’s heart beat faster as he reached the ruined carriage. They had come around a bend in the road and seen it ahead, laying on its side, with splintered wood and splashes of blood all around. Gale climbed onto the carriage and reached for the door. He paused and checked on the position of the others. Blind Seer was circling around the carriage, sniffing briefly at the blood on the ground as he went. Ku was at the carriage now, climbing atop it as well. Barry was staying between the carriage and Rognvald, and scanning the surrounding brush.
Gale nodded to the others and pulled up on the door, sword ready in hand and spell ready in mind. As the door hit the side of the overturned carriage, Gale’s eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light inside. He quickly stepped around the opening, looking into the carriage from all angles. When he was sure there were no threats within, he called out to the group, “Clear.”
He sniffed the ground around the carriage. Amongst the iron tang of the blood, Blind Seer could smell the scents of both human and wolfos. The scent of horse was also present. It became stronger as he circled towards the front of the carriage, where he saw the mangled body of a horse still hitched to the carriage. It looked like there was a place for another horse, but all that was left there was a small smear of blood and a tangle of horse hair.
Gale called, “Clear,” and hopped down from the carriage. “Any ideas on what happened here?”
Blind Seer took a closer look at what remained of the horse. “The wounds on this horse look… well… look like they were made by wolfos.”
He jumped down from the carriage and joined Gale and Blind Seer. Barry also approached and asked, “Did I hear you say that the horse was slain by wolfos?”
Ku glanced around at the surrounding brush. “Wolfos bandits?”
“It’s not unheard of,” Blind Seer replied.
Ku considered the possibility of having to fight wolfos bandits. Short. Fast. Armor likely crude or nonexistent. Joints too low to be armor weak point, can’t strike effectively. Neck probable weak point. Enemy magic users unlikely, but possible. Won’t have time to draw blade if ambushed. Keep it out. Guard low. Be mindful of exposing own neck.
Ku drew his greatsword and kept his eyes on the bushes and grasses across the road from where the river flowed, bubbling softly somewhere off to their left. “What shall we do?”
He weighed their options. The overturned carriage was only partly blocking the road. With some maneuvering, Rognvald could get his cart by. They could just be on their way and report the incident to the guard in Rivers’ Crossing. Then again, the blood around the carriage was fairly fresh. The passengers could still be alive. From the looks of the mangled horse, Barry thought it was unlikely that the passengers would remain that way long enough for the Rivers’ Crossing guard to be notified and send out a patrol.
“The blood is fresh. They may yet still live. I say we go after them and try to rescue them,” Barry said. The others nodded their agreement. ‘Besides,’ Barry thought, ‘That carriage looks rather expensive. Whoever we rescue will be thankful… and perhaps rich.’
“Rognvald, we believe there may be some people still alive in the hands of whoever attacked this carriage,” Gale said, “I think we could track them down. Even if we can’t save the captives, we can keep the bandits too busy to set up another ambush.”
Rognvald gave a nod after a few moments of thought. “The other four from Barry’s crew and I will continue down the road while you flush out any ambushes. These wooded hills give way to flat plains not too far ahead. We will wait out there where it will be hard for any foes to sneak up on us.”
Gale nodded, then turned to follow Blind Seer into the brush. They soon lost sight of the road, traveling into the light forest that covered the lands near the river. Gale pushed aside bushes as Blind Seer sniffed the air, darting back and forth as he followed the trail. Occasionally, there was blood visible on leaves and roots, letting them know that they were on the right track.
He had never been officially trained in the art of tracking, but he had his instincts and this trail was easy to follow. The scent of his quarry dominated the light forest. The smell of wolfos mingled with human blood and sweat. Blind Seer confidently led the way, pausing occasionally to let the others catch up. They often had to push vegetation aside, where he was able to simply walk underneath it, slinking through the forest on his four paws.
Plants will adversely effect sword swings. Blind Seer moving unhindered, wolfos bandits will be able to as well. They will probably smell or hear us before we see them. Alternative detection methods recommended.
Ku stilled his mind as he followed the group, letting his awareness spread throughout the light forest. He could feel his companion’s thoughts whispering at the edge of his mind. Ku ignored these, though, scanning for any foreign presences in the area as they continued.
He watched the cave entrance from the brush. Blind Seer had tracked the blood trail to here. They hadn’t seen anyone in the woods or in the entrance to the cave. The ground around the entrance was clear of trees and had been worn down to dirt from frequent travel. Barry looked back at the rest of the group to see if they were ready.
Ku eyed the cave entrance, “It will be dark in there. We should ready a torch.”
Barry smirked, “I’ve got a better idea.” He took a deep breath and blinked slowly. The River greeted him. He had been practicing every evening and accessing the River was getting easier each time. He coaxed a tendril of energy out, focusing it into his sword. Barry blinked again, returning his gaze to the world and watched as his sword burst into flame.
The tang of blood filled his nostrils as he entered the cave. His eyes adjusted to the flickering light of Barry’s burning blade. The back of the cave was lined with beds of rags and twigs, all empty. There was a narrow passageway as well, leading further under the hill. Gale poked at the empty beds with his longsword, which gleamed in the firelight, “Do you think they are out hunting? Perhaps we should hurry back to Rognvald.”
Blind Seer perked up his ears, “Hush! Do you hear that?”
They all stood silent. Above the soft beating of the fire, they heard a forlorn wail, coming from deeper in the cave. Barry moved towards the passageway, beckoning the others onwards, “The captives! Let us hurry.”
The narrow passageway soon opened into a wide chamber. The smell of ash rose to mingle with the ever present blood scent. Blind Seer saw that there was a large pit in the middle of the room, coated with soot, with logs rigged to hold food over it. The fire pit was cold at the moment, but the bones protruding from the ashes gave testament to the meals that had been cooked here. Half buried in the black and grey powder near the center, sadly staring up at him with its ceaseless grimace, was a human skull. Another wail split the air, louder now, coming from a tunnel that sloped downwards at the back of the cooking room.
Blind Seer hurried forward, knowing that the living needed his help more than the dead. He could hear something else now. A low, deep noise at the edge of his hearing, full of malice and intent. A chant.
He and his friends… his pack… spilled out into the room at the bottom of the tunnel. Thin fires burned throughout the room with bright colors flickering through their tips, casting inhuman shadows on the walls, dancing and jerking and writhing. Six humans were tied to wooden posts, squirming in terror. Low shapes prowled around them in the crazy light… wolfos, no… one of them saw Blind Seer and locked its eyes on him, and Blind Seer saw the eyes, devoid of reasoning, filled now only with hate and hunger. He cried a warning to his friends, “The Dark Tribe!” Worgs, the humans called them. Then, he spotted the source of the chanting, a nightmare leapt straight from one of his tribe’s stories. A thin two-legs, knife in hand, dancing as madly as the shadows, with slender horns curving back from its head. A shaman of the dark spirits of nature, chanting and cutting the arm of a bound woman, who wailed in pain and dismay. Another shaman was struggling in the dirt, grappling with a worg within the rough circle of the wooden posts. Blind Seer had heard this tale before… the worg and shaman would struggle until one was dead, then the blood of the sacrifices would pool around them as the winner would cut his own throat. Worg and shaman would fuse into one, remade as a horrible monster, free to walk in either skin and kill throughout the land.
Blind Seer frantically urged his friends forward, “Stop them!”
The fires flickered and the shadows danced as the worgs charged. Ku pushed all worry aside and let his mind and body move as one. Chop left. Block right. Step up. Slice wide. He felt his muscles surge with strength as his mind reacted to their need. His greatsword joined the flickering dance of the fires and suddenly three worgs lay dead before him. The horned creature by the wooden post danced madly. For a moment, the room lit up with bright red light. Ku felt his muscles freeze up for a moment, then pain spread from his chest.
Red light flashed and he saw an arc of energy spring forth from the dancing creature’s hand, hitting Ku squarely in the chest. The other horned creature still struggled with the worg amidst the wooden posts, seemingly oblivious to the erupting battle. Barry darted forward with his fiery sword, driving it into the side of a worg. The smell of burnt fur and skin reached his nose as the worg fell to the ground, adding its blood to the blood of the sacrifices. The humans chained to the posts squirmed against their bonds, wailing in terror. Barry saw that they were all bleeding from a myriad of cuts, but it looked like they may yet live if no more harm came to them. Barry strode forward, waving his sword, fending off the worgs that circled near Ku. They eyed his fire warily, but pressed closer, preparing to strike.
He waved his hand, calling forth the power within, which readily rose to greet him. The worgs circling Barry began their own mad dance, trying to keep their footing on the ice that had formed beneath them. Gale strode forward and swung Olctire at one of the worgs. The blow struck true and the worg slumped forward, sliding a ways on the ice. Barry skewered another one. The flickering flames reflected in the ice. The worgs hung back on the far side of the ice for a moment. Gale stepped over to Ku, who was still clutching his chest. “Hold still,” Gale said as he laid a hand over the charred wound. The power rose in him again and Gale was glad that he seemed to have gained some control over it ever since the events in Lakeside. Ku breathed easier as the wound was healed. Nodding thanks to Gale, he readied his greatsword, for the ice was melting and the worgs were preparing to advance.
The ice finished melting and the battle crashed into motion again. Gale, Ku, and Barry traded blows with the worgs, which darted forward, biting and retreating. His friends were getting scraped up, but were holding their own. The worgs were beginning to fall. The shaman danced again at a frenzied pace and his hand began to glow with arcing red energy, which he aimed at Gale’s head. Blind Seer was ready this time, though, putting the full power of the still part of his mind behind a stab to the shaman’s thoughts. The shaman halted in mid-jump, collapsing to the ground. The arc of red energy hit the ceiling of the cave and a few clumps of dirt and rock fell. The shaman twitched once, then was still, blood oozing out of his ears and eyes. The rest of the worgs soon lay dead as well.
The horned creature and the worg that had been struggling in the middle of the wooden posts at last finished their fight. The worg lay dead in a pool of blood. The horned creature yelled in victory, then at last took note of its surroundings. It had a moment to realize that the ritual had been disrupted before Ku’s greatsword smashed into its face. Ku wiped off his blade, then began cutting free the humans that were bound to the posts. Some were sobbing, some were unconscious, but luckily all were alive. Gale and Ku bound their wounds with strips of cloth and offered them water.
He approached one of the people that had been tied to the wooden posts, a man with a well trimmed goatee and clothes that were probably nice before this incident. Barry offered his waterskin, “Hello good sir, are you alright?”
The man took a drink, “I… I am now. By the Elders… Probably wouldn’t be if you all hadn’t shown up.”
“We came across a carriage on the road. Overturned and with signs of battle around.”
The man nodded, “Aye. That was my carriage. The worgs… they slaughtered my guards and horses. I think they… ate all of them. Dragged me back here for that profane ritual. I… I am glad you lot came along. Thank you. My name is Mathius Drosund… and you are?”
“Barry, my lord,” he replied, for Barry recognized the name Drosund, a family of minor nobility, “My companions here are Gale, Blind Seer, and Ku.”
Mathius nodded to each of them as they were introduced, “Well met. I shudder to think what would have happened if you all hadn’t been here… You saved our lives. It seems the worgs had been here for quite some time. These other people who were to be… sacrificed… are workers and travellers of this area. I must give you my gratitude… I will take you to see Lord Eric Indaren of Rivers’ Crossing and tell him of your valor in rescuing these people and me.”
Barry and his companions gathered up the others and guided them out of the cave. Only one of them, the woman that had been most heavily cut by the horned creature, was still unconscious. Two burly men carried her. The group stepped outside into the light and gave a sigh of relief as a light breeze rustled through the nearby trees, cooling them off and blowing away some of the stench of the worg lair.
Barry’s stomach lurched as a tremendous roar split the air. Everyone looked to the sky and gasped in shock, for a huge creature flew swiftly overhead. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry exchanged a glance, for they had seen this before… it was another pale blue ice dragon.
“By the Elders… What is that,” someone whispered.
Mathius Drosund shielded his eyes with his hand, “Whatever it is… Looks like it is heading towards Rivers’ Crossing.”