Cuana Chapter 10 Entry 2
Baraccus was frantic, crying for us to cut him loose from his bonds, but I ignored his pleas and continued to hack at the loathsome savages as they attempted to swarm over us. I cut another down and stepped out into the night to meet them in the open, preferring that to the cramped confines of our room. A glance around showed the entire town, indeed the fort as well to be completely overrun. Fire had begun to spring up from various places where the savages had set their torches, the acrid smell of woodsmoke growing ever stronger. People fleeing their burning homes were immediately cut down. Nobody was spared – men, women, children, all were slain or left to bleed to death where they fell. Behind me, the Stygian silenced Baraccus by draining him of his wits and then stepped out into the fray. Our room had begun to catch fire by now, so all my gear was in jeopardy of being lost, not to mention our helpless, and now witless fugitive. Torn between advancing on a small group of Picts who had just come into view and trying to save my equipment, I decided to try to grab what I could from our room before it was impossible to go back in. I was able to pull my backpack and my mail hauberk from the room and toss them out onto the ground outside the door, but before I could grab anything else I was struck by some blazing timbers as the roof prepared to collapse. Baraccus sat utterly witless, his head lolling to and fro and completely unaware of any danger. Curse that idiotic Stygian! Could he not have at least cut the mans restraints before striking him dumb like this? There was not the time to do so now, so I grabbed the back of his chair and thrust him out the door. Now it would be up to luck if he was to survive, but judging by the efficiency in which the Picts were slaying the townspeople it would take a hell of a lot of luck for Baraccus to survive this night.
I turned to where Dhak was firing arrows at a group of Picts and began to head in that direction, but as soon as I came within range I was struck with multiple arrows and staggered in my tracks. At least one had struck deeply, the others adding to the growing number of wounds taking toll on my strength. Looking around I saw Picts everywhere, hauling people from burning homes, meeting soldiers, rangers, and the like, and slaughtering every last one of them. Fires raged everywhere and the befeathered vermin danced their glee over scenes of complete destruction. The only hope of living through this was to break away and seek a different angle of attack or to simply flee and trust to surviving the perils of the wilderness. Either way, it was time to run.
I had only run a few yards when I saw the figure of Gault stumbling toward me, covered in wounds and leaning heavily on his staff. His eye held the feverish intensity of one barely clinging to life, and as recognition dawned he staggered toward me and thrust forward his staff. He managed to gasp out a desperate plea that I take his staff and transport it to the north, that I prevent it from falling into the hands of the Picts. Barely had the words left his lips when several more arrows thudded into his back and he pitched forward, the staff falling from his hands to land at my feet. I picked up the staff and ran back in the general direction from where I had come, but veering to the south to see if perhaps my horse was still alive. As I did, I could see Tullweim in the distance fighting a small cluster of the savages, and a little further off I saw both Dhak and Xacksmith fall. I forgot about my horse and instead ran to see if I could at least help save the Nordheimer before he too fell to the savages.
I tossed the staff Gault had entrusted to me near into the grass near the burning inn and plowed into the midst of the shreiking, befeathered bastards. Though we both bore enough wounds to kill several men, we launched a withering assault upon them, and within seconds the last of them was gurgling his death cries through a shorn windpipe. Though chaos still reigned in every direction, we were momentarily free of antagonists. Taking advantage of the opportunity, I gathered my armor and backpack, sheathed my sword, grabbed Gaults staff, andtossed Xacksmith over my shoulder while Tullweim did the same with the prone form of the Stygian. We turned to the east and fled into the faintly glowing horizon of the approaching sunrise, putting as much distance as we could between ourselves and the doomed town.
I do not recall exactly how long we ran encumbered as we were, but it couldnt have been too long or we would not have been able to dress the wounds our companions had suffered. The sounds of the slaughter were no longer to be heard, nor could we see or smell the smoke from the dying town, so Tullweim and I each layed our friends down in the grass and immediately began performing what field surgery we could on them. The Hyrkanian awoke with a start but I quickly restrained him, explaining that we were clear of the town and, for the moment at least, safe. A groaning issued from the direction of the Norheimer indicating that the Stygian had regained consiousness. We dragged our comrades to their feet, stressing our need to continue pressing east, for we were still a long way from safety and easy prey for a band of the subhuman bastards that was sure to be scouring the area for survivors. We had lost an awful lot of gear in that raid – armor, weapons, survival gear, money, horses – too much to account for at the moment. I gave Xacksmith use of the staff that Gault had given me, and told him of the rangers dying words regarding its importance. He could use it to help bear his weight, and could swing it as a weapon if need should arise. I had lost my helm and many of my weapons, but had managed to keep my mail hauberk and my greatsword. I strapped the armor on, replaced my backpack, and kept my sword in hand. There were things other than savages in this wilderness of which to be cautious. We continued east.
The forest had grown thicker. Trees loomed high, their dense foliage forming a shaded canopy. Thick vines and streaming trails of moss hung in abundance, and the ground was fairly clogged with an extremely dense undergrowth which made traveling afoot slow and arduous. We came upon a small river – at least it was rather narrow at this point, maybe 20 or 25 feet across, its murky water flowing calmly to the south. Not knowing how long this river might be, I suggested that we follow it in the direction of its source, knowing that rivers are generally much wider at their termination and therefore more difficult to cross. Dhak told of a creature he had heard hunts the rivers in this area called an alligator, apparently similar to creatures in the rivers of his homeland. Warning that they live under the water, move silently, and have jaws that can swallow a man whole, he easily convinced the rest of us to avoid attempting to ford the river at any point. It was at this time that I first heard an odd noise – one that I would hear repeated several times throughout the day – a scraping sound, like something sharp being dragged across bare wood. It only lasted a second, then ceased. I mentioned it to the others, we looked around and soon found claw marks on the trunk of a nearby tree. A bear perhaps? No – I have seen bears sharpen their claws on trees before, and this looked nothing like that. Besides, where then was the bear? Tullweim suggested maybe a panther had done it, but again – where was the panther? All we could do for now was keep on going and be vigilant.
We came to a point where the river was a little less wide with trees set close to the banks on either side. I had again heard that scraping sound during our travels, so we had decided to put ourselves on the other side of the river as soon as possible. This looked like the best place to attempt a crossing that we would see for a while, so taking the Hyrkanians rope and grappling hook, I climbed one of the trees at the rivers edge to where I could get a good vantage point and hurled the hook across the river into the branches of a tree directly across from me. My first attempt was successful, the hook lodging itself firmly in the crook of the tree. Pulling the rope tight and tying it off, I tested it a few times by pulling on it before attempting to cross. Satisfied that it would hold, I swung out over the water and began to cross the river by hanging from the rope and moving hand over hand. I had wanted to place the rope higher than I did – as it was my weight pulled the rope downward significantly, and my height is such that my feet were hanging alarmingly close to the water, especially as I approached the middle of the river. Of course, as anyone could plainly see it coming, this was the precise time that the water below me erupted in a violent spray and a massive set of jaws fairly flew up toward me to snap shut where my feet had been only a second before. Had I not jerked them out of the way, they would have been snapped off at the knees, or I would have been yanked from the rope and into the river. I mamaged to swing my legs upward and lock my ankles around the rope, then hauled myself across the river while the thing made another attempt at lunging at me. Once across, I opted for the safety of remaining in the tree for the time being. That way I could also make certain that the grappling hook held, for although the distance was not great, this would be a deadly fall to anyone for whom the rope failed.
The Stygian came next, climbing into the tree and out over the river. Again, the creature – apparently one of those Dhak had named as an alligator – burst upward from the water, its massive jaws clamping firmly onto the Stygians lower torso, then twisted its head downward and to the side, tearing the scholar away from the rope and down into the water with a speed that was nothing short of appalling. Dhak managed to croak out a few arcane syllables, apparently stilling the creatures and rendering them unable to act, before he too fell back into the water, his blood clouding the water about his unmoving form. The Nordheimer carefully entered the water to retreive the Stygian, but the creatures remained unmoving and Tullweim was able to pull Dhak to the safety of the shore. Watching from my perch across the river, it appeared to me at first that Dhak had been slain, but Tullweim examined him closely before tossing him over his shoulder. Xacksmith had climbed out onto the rope and actually balanced upon it before quickly walking across it as an acrobat might, arms extended outward to each side with the staff of Gault lashed to his back. I climbed down the tree, Xacksmith retrieved his grappling hook and followed, and Tullweim met us on this side of the river by the time the Hyrkanian was back down on the ground. A glance back at the river showed several more of the creatures had arrived, their eyes sitting just above the surface of the river as they scanned for more victims upon which to feed.
Not long after crossing the river, we came upon the body of of a messenger, apparently dispatched with information warning Schondara and the fort of an impending attack by the picts. Well, that message never made it. Another spoke of the abduction of a Lady Coelia and her mission to meet with someone in the wilderness who has an artifact – a staff – that she might use to bargain with the savages for the disbanding of their army. I placed both of these messages in my backpack for further consideration at a later time. That the artifact mentioned is the staff that Gault entrusted to me is something of which I am certain. The condition of the body was such that it looked as if it had laid in the underbrush for a day, two at the most. Gashes and puncture wounds – along with the fact that the poor bastards scalp had been detatched – told us that he too had fallen victim to the villainous Picts. Lacking both the time and tools to dig him a grave, we prepared to continue on our way.
Just as we turned to leave we were suddenly set upon by a hairy, man-like creature that dropped seemingly from nowhere and sank his fangs into the Hyrkanian. Xacksmith let out a scream and dropped like a stone to the ground. I made a grab for my sword, but before I could bring it to bear the Nordheimer bellowed incoherently, and set upon the creature in a red-faced frenzy that left the thing a bleeding shambles in the undergrowth. None of us had seen anything like this creature before, but after we examined its remains we realized that this was the creature that had been clawing at the trees. After administering aid to Xacksmith, we continued to push through the forest toward the east.
Having pushed through the forest for several hours more, we were beginning to tire and decided to try to get some rest. The logical thing to do was to find a few large, well-foliaged trees with sturdy enough branches to bear our weight. This was easy enough to do, so I was soon napping about midway up a large tree, the slumbering form of the injured Stygian in repose in the branches above. The night passed uneventfully and I was able to get enough sleep to prevent fatigue from setting in.
I awoke in early morning light to see a group of the pig-fondling savages creeping about, following the trail we had evidently left in the undergrowth. Thousands of years of rutting like swine has given them a keen nose for pushing through muck, apparently keen enough to have followed our trail even through the dark of night. They had spotted the Stygians form lying prone in the branches above, and were stealthfully creeping up the tree to finish him off. Three remained on the ground while three more were now in my tree – but they seemed to not yet notice me, as their attention was focused on Dhak and on slipping silently up to where he lay. The first of the three came up right where I was waiting, and I had the satisfaction of feeling his windpipe beneath my fingers before he even made eye contact with me. His face contorted with hate, he attempted to break free of my grasp but his scrawny arms had not the strength to save him, and seconds later I launched his strangled body out of the tree and prepared to meet the other two who were closing in on me. I could hear the clash of arms from below, punctuated by that shrill nordic falsetto that was unique to my Aesir friend. The two savages pulled small clubs from their belts and tried to bludgeon me with them, so I stepped back and drew my greatsword in order to splatter them and get it over with. My swings were hampered somewhat by the tree branches all about me, but the sword did its job quite well and I damn near cut each in two with an ease that was extremely satisfying. By the time their bodies hit the ground below, Tullweim had done for their companions, so it was time to retreive Dhak from the upper branches and continue on our way.
Picts arent born like you or I, but hatched in dung heaps like the fly
- from the Mac Fael Libram of Truths and Observations