“I am ready to dictate.” Typical dregordian courtesy, such as it was. The culture predominantly used body language and subtle gestures to indicate emotions and social niceties. As almost all cultural equivalents were radically different within the other races, dregordians often came across as cold and rude regardless of their intentions.
Despite knowing this, Cairos still felt indignant, though to be fair it was only partially the dregordian’s fault. Artivan, motivated by a disdain for all things bureaucratic, had decided the eldekar would make a suitable liaison with the new quartermaster. Kassegore, completely misunderstanding as he seemed wont to do, accepted Cairos’ presence with a tilt of his head and immediately set his new personal scribe to work.
Cairos had tried explaining his position several times. Kassegore had listened intently, nodding his head to mimic mammalian behavior in a poor attempt to appear understanding, and simply given out new orders. Cairos then tried complaining to Artivan. The commander had listened intently, nodded his head in typical human fashion in a poor attempt to seem caring, and simply told him to keep up the good work. Cairos remained calm by reminding himself he’d be able to dance on both dregordian and human graves long after they were gone.
But such a moment wasn’t going to occur today and probably not tomorrow. The patience gained from centuries of experience allowed him to suppress a sigh as he began writing, but only just.
21 Dancing Clouds
The reports are confirmed. The strange moaning and shadowed figures were undead. The presence of the Deniers of Death is not unexpected as remnants of Prelacy forces still roam the area. After tracking them for two days we caught them as they were attacking one of the outlying villages, but the Denier called upon the aid of creatures I had not encountered before.
Icor splattered his scales as he cut down another zombie. The undead were as easily dispatched as he remembered. The Beast shifted the weight of his kayakor, his arms tensed as they prepared to deliver the final blow to the last zombie before him. He was interrupted as shouts and screams caught his attention. Another zombie had broken the door to one of the huts and small, shrill cries of terror responded and the human trainee faced three…creatures.
He snarled at the situation but before he could abandon the human to its fate a sharp whistle distracted him yet again. Magpie, flying overhead, shouted down, “I’ve got the children. Save Rufis.” The Beast swatted the zombie aside and ran past it, charging down on the new enemies. He recognized the rage of these beings, matching his own in many ways, and understood. These were Abominations. He had not known such existed within the other races.
Had they been more tempered in their rage or more numerous they would have posed a threat. As it was the wild swings didn’t even slow him down as he killed them, Rufis guarding his flank. The white silver of his kayakor burned through them, confirming the monsters they were. When the last one died he took a moment to calm himself. He would need the strength when he tracked the rest of them down.
I am told the creatures that fought alongside the undead are known as the “troglodesh,” corrupted goblinesh who gave themselves to Darkness. The goblinesh kill them whenever possible for these fallen damn not only themselves but all future progeny of their line.
From the village it was a simply enough task to track the undead and troglodesh from where they came. Another half day and I’d found the lair. The initial ambush was simple. A handful of troglodytes wouldn’t have been worth mentioning, but none of us predicted what came out of the cave they were guarding.
Kassegore paid no attention to the bodies at his feet. He stared at the hulking brute that came lumbering out of the cave. A troll, by the description given by the villagers, and far larger than any ogre he’d yet encountered. It easily stood twice as tall as him carrying a crude club that had to weigh more than a human. The troll stood for a moment, scanning the area. He couldn’t stand before such threat for long but, his eyes flicked back toward his companions, he would last a good deal longer than any of them. He reached deep within himself and pulled forth his rage and its terrible power.
The Beast roared as he crashed through the underbrush. His charge took him straight to the looming threat and he struck with his kayakor once, twice. The troll rocked back, staggering under the ferocity of the assault, but such a foe could not be downed so easily, nor did it come alone. The Beast realized it had been pulled into a trap as hobgoblins and troglodytes surrounded him, the combined assault overwhelming him and driving him almost to his knees.
Somewhere he dimly realized his companions where desperately trying to rally. An unfamiliar sensation swept over him. He was losing and had calmly accepted the fact he may very well died on this spot. Very well, let them all see how a dregordian dies.
The sudden appearance of bubbles obscured his vision and he snarled. That certainly changed things. The Beast refused to killed while smelling of lavender.
At Salvator’s shout he lashed out his attackers, scattering their bodies as broken toys in a child’s tantrum. He stepped up and in an act of defiance sank his teeth into the troll’s leg. Though the troll had not been harmed, the Beast had caught its attention once again. The distraction allowed Magpie to stab at its throat, almost finishing the creature. Its eyes wild with pain and hate, the troll raised its club to end the offending aevekar and dregordian. The Beast tensed preparing to dodge, or at least try to absorb the coming blow when a streak of light shot into the trolls head and burned the monster’s skull from the inside out.
The arrow Rufis shot had a vial of dwarven fire lashed to it. His quick thinking and desperate gambit saved us as fire is the only element capable of killing a troll. Though rare the incident has shown the Rangers need to secure more of such for when we encounter trolls in the future.
We rested before entering the cave. Rok-tar modified one of his potions to produce fire in case we ran into more trolls. It is encouraging he learned quickly. I do not know what possessed him to believe cleaning bubbles could be utilized effectively in battle. It was a stressful situation and things happened quickly. Perhaps he grabbed the wrong potion. Trainee Rufis was sent back to find more fire arrows in case that failed. Salvator spent several minutes healing my injuries.
Given the grievous wounds I suffered the rest of the squad deemed to prudent to come up with a plan to enchant me before I went berserk and got myself killed, somewhat difficult since most of Rok-tar’s potions need to be drunk. Combined with the darkness it was decided the best solution was for me to give Nightingale a “piggy back” ride. Her wings compensated enough for weight and balance and both of us were able to keep our hands free.
While trying to scout ahead Magpie was almost completely overrun by zombies. His enchanted blades gave enough light to fight by. They also led everything in those caves straight to us.
Kassegore again noted most, if not all, the zombies were human, an odd choice given their location in goblinesh lands. Ichor splattered. Surely goblin bodies would be more available. Perhaps humans were more easily animated. His tail lashed out and swatted a would-be attacker away. He was not a necromancer. He would never know. A whirl of slashes and one of Salvator’s bursts of Light finished the rest.
The troglodytes were of no more consequence than the zombies were. The dozen or so that showed died swiftly under arrows and blades. Kassegore looked across the chasm and the stone bridge that crossed it. The ogre at the other end was obviously dead and heavily modified by arctech implants. Somehow it seemed to have a hold over half a dozen hobgoblins.
Then and arrow flew past his head and dropped one of the wretched creatures. Whatever tenuous control the ogre corpse held broke and they all charged forward. He looked over his shoulder at Nightingale. The sheepish aevakar pulled open his jaws and poured a potion down his throat. She looked quickly back at the charging foes, back at him, and punched him in the snout before flying out of reach.
Magpie dropped behind the hobgoblins on the bridge and Salvator began chanting. Between their swords and spells only two hobgoblins reached the Beast at roughly the same time the ogre slammed into Magpie. The Beast paid little attention.
The hobgoblins rained blows upon him, but neither the edge of a sword nor the weight of a club could slow him. A headbutt shattered one hobgoblin’s skull and his tail crushed the chest of the other. His roar as he surged forward alerted the last dueling pair to his approach. The ogre, overextended from its attack on Magpie, could do nothing except watch the kayakor descend.
Magpie flew off before the bottom half of the ogre hit the ground, not trusting the Beast. Nightingale’s tactic had certainly been effective but he didn’t want to risk coming down yet in case it had confused the Beast about who its allies were. He and Nightingale didn’t land until it was certain Kassegore had regained control. The dregordian just stared at Nightingale as she approached with an apologetic message in hand. Kassegore, never taking his eyes off her, reached down and took hold of the ogre head and tore out the implant with his claws before walking away with his gruesome trophy.
At the back of the cave was a door from which Salvator claimed a great darkness was emanating. Magpie made quick work of the lock and we descended into the ruins of a long past civilization. The Deniers were conducting a ritual of sorts, mixing arcmancy and necromancy. I have never considered the influence my actions may have on my companions beyond keeping them alive and our enemies dead. My desperate charge against the troll seemed to inspire Magpie. He may have learned his lesson. Time will tell.
Kassegore cut through the first ranks of the remaining zombies just in time to see Magpie stagger under the force of the blows from the Prelacy soldiers. Enraged, he roared at the foolish thief, ordering him to stand up. To everyone’s surprise, Magpie did just that. He finally did the smart thing, dodged the foes surrounding him, and ran into the opening the golem came from and sealed it.
With our attention shifted away from Magpie’s almost certain death, the rest of the combat seemed almost easy. Two more trolls appeared but were considerably weaker than the one we met at the cave entrance. I’m told it was because they were summoned as such things are typically weaker than their real counterparts. In the confusion six Prelacy soldiers escaped the ruins. I gave chase once the necromancers were dead but was unable to take prisoners.
Claude died before they even knew they were being pursued. They had stopped by the river near the cave to catch their breath. They had a long walk and the Rangers seemed content to let them leave after that scaled monster killed their commander. Claude was sitting nearest to the water and was dragged under before he could scream. Vanessa cried out and ran to help but the others stopped her, knowing her lover was already dead.
The Beast began singing of the hunt. The song was meant to terrify prey and drive them before the hunters. They would seek no cover now, only escape. They would die for the mistake.
Distracted by the roars, Renard tripped over an exposed root. No one stopped. He cried to them for help as he died. The roaring resumed.
It was Vanessa who recognized the melody first. It made no difference as the monster leapt from a tree onto her. She sobbed in pain as it lifted her only by the jaws clamped over her shoulder to look at the rest of them. It tossed her up lightly to bite down on her throat instead and she joined Claude.
Jean turned back, telling the others to run. He tried to buy time. They only heard his shout of defiance cut short.
Pierre collapsed a few yards before Javier did. They allowed themselves to do so only because the song had stopped. Pierre had just started to think they may be able to escape when the Beast emerged from the woods. It broke his ribs so he could not scream and his legs so he could not run and his arms so his could not help his friend.
Javier couldn’t even find it in himself to lift an arm in defense as the Beast leaned in. His exhaustion and terror burned themselves out and he only hoped it would all be over soon. The Beast leaned in close and inhaled deeply. Its eyes shut for a moment and Javier wondered if it was basking in the moments before the kill.
Instead, the Beast tied the unresisting human to a tree. Javier waited and watched in horror as the Beast dragged back the corpses of Claude, Renard, Vanessa, and Jean one by one. As each body was laid out it was arranged so the dead eyes could stare at him. Javier screamed and sobbed, begging the Beast to stop, to kill him, to do anything to end this procession of horror but the Beast remained silent. After several hours, when the task was complete, it turned to Pierre and gutted him with and almost casual swipe of its claw.
It faced him and a finally spoke. It seemed wrong somehow that such a horror could speak any of the tongues of men. “There is only death for your kind in these lands, your fellows now proof. Tell your people this.” It untied the ropes binding the insensate soldier. “I am sorry I cannot grant you the same kindness.” With that, Javier watched as the Beast simply walked away and left him with the broken shells that were once his squad.
Pierre’s last breaths were harsh, wet sounds.