The rain had ceased a day ago but stone-grey clouds still hung heavy in the sky. Jac sat outside the entrance to the kobolds’ silver mine and slowly lit a cigarette. Every movement still burned, even though the smuggler had cleaned off the acid.
That’s what I get for attempting heroics, Jac thought, knowing even as he did that he would still continue to foolishly help these people who had become his friends. He glanced at the white stag standing beside him. It carried everything Jac had taken from the defeated shaman, but he was looking to make sure Liluye hadn’t left. He was sure if she did the animal would follow her. His gaze slipped to the point she had disappeared into the hills.
Lilu had her bow drawn, trying to lose herself in the hunt. Trying to avoid the anger she felt welling inside her. This was a contest, a pitting of predator against prey and a means of feeding herself and those with her. This was not a way of venting frustration or taking her anger out on innocent animals. It was a distraction from her rage at the wild child, Kelak, who had foolishly thrown himself into a pool of acid to retrieve a simple axe. Her shot went wide as the impulse to anger caused her to miss for the first time today.
As the bird that was Lilu’s prey took to the air, Kelak lay unconscious in the silver mines, recovering from his burns. A part of him knew, even in his slumbering state, that he should have died in that pool. Another part of him, metallic and cold, worked to keep the body alive. It had replaced his eyes, it would repair the rest of him. Except the hair, that served no function.
Over the bald boy with his new-pink flesh, Ser Bannon White prayed, pausing only to meticulously document everything the Navaske blood was doing to Kelak. Bannon had learned much of these mechanical monsters from the north and west, enough to be rightly afraid. Wisdom told him he, and the world at large, would need to be prepared should these constructs ever emerge from Numeria. In the meantime, though, Kelak was in the knight’s care and Bannon could only hope that it was the will of Abadar that the child continue.
Time passed. Lilu returned and exchanged words with Jac. She needed to return to the trading post. She needed time to grieve for the brother she had lost nearly a week before. He agreed and offered to come with her. The wilderness could be dangerous.
The two of them went to Bannon, interrupting his reverie. The knight wanted to return with the smuggler and the elf. He had letters waiting. Letters pertaining to the danger he was studying. Kelak could not be abandoned, however, both because of his condition and the threat within him. In the end Bannon stayed with the boy, but he would not remain here until the others returned. He would meet them at the trading post when Kelak recovered, taking the most direct route possible to get there swiftly. Outside, the clouds threatened to rain again.
Smuggler and elf, both experienced in the wilderness, set out. Their journey would not be swift, but it would be safe. Knight and child, one a herald of civilization and the other a stranger to these lands, remained. It took a day for Kelak to awaken, even with the power of a god and the power of machines working to heal him. Then the two prepared to leave. The new Dragon King Mikmek of the Monitor Lizard clan sent his second and third best warriors to accompany them through the wilds. Bannon, burgeoning priest of Abadar, thought to build a compass to guide them. He set a course north, to mad Bokken’s hut.
Jac urged Lilu to haste, wanting her to have her chance to mourn, but the two of them were cautious, giving wide berth and leaving warning to the perils they encountered. Lilu, though, slowed, and confessed to Jac that she no longer felt the need for sorrow. Her brother had hurt her before he died, and she carried that pain far deeper than she did any sadness at his loss. He was like a stranger to her. Instead, she wished to use the time, waiting for Bannon, to explore more of the surrounding lands. The knight had told them to expect him in a week and a half, so Jac acquiesced. The two spent the next few days camping, almost leisurably, and mapping the area around the Old Sycamore, resting place of Liluye’s brother.
Bannon led his group north. Even armored, he and Kelak were nearly as swift as Chastity, the barbarian’s horse. The two kobolds rode as Bannon, Kelak, and the dog, Bismark, ran alongside. They made excellent time, given Kelak’s blindness and Bannon’s inexperience, but as night fell and Bannon’s sight, too, diminished, they were forced to make camp. Bannon forbade Kelak his usual fire because it might draw predators or bandits. Instead, he set Bismark to guard while the men, exhausted from running slept. The wilderness could be dangerous.
Bannon was awoken just after midnight by the barking of his dog. Something had approached their camp. Thankful he’d slept in his armor, Bannon took up his sword and began scouting, blindly through the dark. The night was moonless and the clouds were heavy. Behind him, Kelak slept in a small hole he had dug himself with his axe, worn out past even his limits by the ordeals he had endured.
Bannon crept forward, parting the brush with his sword. Something stirred in front of him and a heavy impact collided with his breastplate, knocking him back. Unable to see, he stepped back a pace, making no threatening moves, unable to see and unwilling to aggravate a potential threat. Bismark was still barking in Bannon’s tent. The thing slammed into Bannon’s chest again, harder this time, and a deep lowing came from the darkness. Bannon swung, but felt his sword bite only air. He shouted for Kelak.
The boy awoke. The Navaske inside him were untroubled by the night, but their range was limited. Sure that nothing was attacking him directly, Kelak rose from his pit and ran into the darkness. Before him a creature loomed. His eyes which were not eyes showed him a beast like that the wise-woman, Lilu, rode. Bannon’s cry rang out of the black beyond Kelak’s sight. The boy hefted his axe and gave a primal cry as he swung at the horse-with-horns.
Battle erupted around the campsite. Bannon tried to flee the stag that was assailing him, only to encounter another. Kobolds were shouting in tongue of dragons, futilely attacking the animals. A dog’s barking was cut suddenly short as a Bannon’s tent was trampled. Kelak’s horse was screaming, kicking wildly and being mauled for it’s efforts. Bannon was blind in the dark, swinging wildly. Kelak was roaring, taking blow after blow from the beasts he battled.
Miles to the east, Jac slept peacefully while Lilu sat, staring at the fire and lost in thought. Wander, her mount, woke with a start and looked at Lilu. The beast was about to voice the doom it felt, but saw something in Lilu that made it go quiet. She would learn of the tragedy later and could mourn it then.
Miles to the west, Kelak’s cries shifted. An antler had pierced his gut. The navaske blood was already tasked to it’s limit, working to keep the young warrior standing, despite the wounds he had suffered. He was lifted into the air and tossed from the stag’s head. Blood and metal poured from the wound. Nothing could save him now. The darkness, kept at bay by what his body held, closed in. He was blind again. And cold. So cold and so dark. He ended.
Bannon’s armor was battered and he himself was bruised. He fell back step by step, sword always ready to parry blows he could not see. Though he couldn’t be sure, he seemed to now be facing three of the animals. He could hear them in their frenzy, lowing and lashing out wildly. A kobold was behind him, shouting warnings and guiding the warrior. Bannon called for a fire and then screamed as something hard, probably a hoof, came down on his lower jaw, shattering it and tearing it loose.
The kobold could not get the fire started. Kelak had fallen. The beasts had even murdered Kelak’s horse. Bannon could not flee. He knew what fate would befall him. In a last, desperate act, he swung out with his sword, past caring if it even hit. His mind raced. His body was knocked to the ground. A swift prayer to Abadar raced through his head just as he felt the hooves fall.
Something moved outside Lilu and Jac’s camp. The elf was on her feet before she could think, reaching for her bow. A fox ran from behind a tree and disappeared into the brush. She sighed, and resumed her watch.