Cuana Chapter 10 Entry 3
Before continuing north, we grabbed a couple clubs, hunting bows, and around thirty arrows or so from the fallen Picts to take along as supplements to our depleted weaponry. We were pretty beat up from events since arriving at Schondara and had to arm ourselves as best we could – another encounter with those savages would be fatal unless we were armed effectively and ready to meet them with the same ferocity with which they fight. Tullweim was hauling the senseless, drooling Stygian while the rest of us kept as best a watch as we could as we went. We eventually stopped to forage for something to eat, being forced to do so since we had been without rations for some time now. Xacksmith found some red berries to hold him over, but judging from his expression as he chewed them they were as bitter as pig bile. An amusing effect of the berries was that they left his mouth stained a brilliant red, making him look as if he was painted like a Tarantian whore. Though my stomach was growling, I politely declined his offer to share them with me.
I was about to make a comment to the Hyrkanian about his appearance when I heard the lisping falsetto of the Nordheimer crying out from a short distance away that he had spotted a group of Picts. His lack of subtlety turned out to be motivated by his wanting to ambush them by luring them directly to us. His plan worked – they came charging straight toward us while I hauled my greatsword out of its scabbard and crouched, ready to strike. Xacksmith and Tullweim dropped one but the Hyrkanian took a savage blow and fell bleeding to the ground. I managed to hack one to pulp with one swing of my greatsword as he entered the clearing, then dropped another that was trying to flank me with the backswing. One of the savages had fled and none of the others were left alive, so I immediately attended the Hyrkanian and began stitching his wounds as Tullweim attended a group of prisoners that the savages had been herding. I was able to do a pretty decent job sewing up Xacksmiths open gashes, so I took the opportunity to use the last of my healing salve on myself. I had taken another wound in our last skirmish and was beginning to feel alarmingly weakened, especially since I had not eaten anything for a while. The vitality induced by this paste is nothing short of miraculous, and I would give a ransom – if I had one – to know how to make it myself.
We turned our attention to the group of settlers the Picts had captured. They were dirty, their clothing torn, streaks of blood and soot on their clothing and skin. Three were women – one of middling years and two younger girls, and the fourth was a lad in his middle-teens. Each was obviously in shock from recent events, staring vacantly at nothing in particular and unresponsive, oblivious to their current surroundings and the fate they had just barely escaped. The Nordheimer and I each took a while to hunt for game – anything that would provide some substantial nourishment. Luck was with me for a change, for I soon came upon a boar – a wild sow with her piglets. I was soon hauling the pig back toward camp, the piglets scattered and squealing through the underbrush. We placed the boar carcass on a spit, roasted it, and devoured it as soon as it could be eaten. The settlers almost had to be forced to eat, their state of shock still profound. Once fed, we decided on a watch rotation, and I went to sleep.
The cries of my companions awoke me from a very welcome slumber. They were giving chase after a Pict – presumably the one which had fled our ambush earlier – who had snuck into camp and abducted one of the women again. I stood up and drew my weapon, keeping an eye on the camp, the settlers, and the prone Strygian lying in the dirt. Xacksmith and Tullweim returned shortly, their blades bloodied and leading the woman safely back into camp. The rest of the night passed without incident, each of us finally getting both the food and the rest we had been needing.
Morning saw the Stygian open his eyes, feebly tottering around the camp until he could get his legs back. The last of the boarmeat was had, we gathered our belongings and the settlers and continued to journey north. The four pioneers were still in a complete daze, arms limp at their sides, staring at what were probably terrible visions of the attack and their subsequent capture playing over in their minds. They allowed themselves to be led without protest or resistance, and we continued on in this manner for a while.
We eventually came to a clearing – a moderately large area had been cleared of trees and undergrowth and a home had been built. A fenced-in area contained typical sorts of farm animals – all of which were dead. A few vultures wheeled overhead but failed to dip low to the ground where the dead animals lay. A hot wind blew up, stirring everything and blowing up dust and small debris along with it. As we got closer to the house, I noticed that among the dead animals were cattle, horses, dogs, rats, and even some vultures. All of them bore curious patches where their skin or fur had taken on a deep, ugly purple as if terribly bruised. Some bore areas where the flesh was shrivelled and blackened. The Stygian confirmed what we all suspected – that this was sorcerous in nature. The stillness of the scene was unsettling – the only motion aside from the tentative vultures overhead was the stirring of the grass where the hellish wind gusted. Looking into the window of the house, we saw a man, presumably the homeowner, hanging from a noose. We climbed into the house and looked around, finding a woman laid out on a bed in an adjoining room. Despite that she was completely blackened and dessicated, it was obvious that she had been pregnant. In the other room, Dhak cast one of his necromantic spells to commune with the dead man, but we learned nothing from him that we had not already figured out for ourselves. We gave the place a quick going-over before we left to see if there was anything about the place that may be useful to us. Our curiosity was well rewarded because we found a well-made ax with a steel blade, a sturdy bow and arrows to use with it, and to my surprise, a bowl of healing salve which we quickly divided and applied, restoring our health significantly. As we exited the house we were once again buffetted by that unnaturally hot wind, hastening our steps to be gone from this accursed place.
The path of the river had begun to bend back toward the west, so we stopped following it and continued to make our way north through the forest. The unnaturally hot wind continued to blow, and dead wildlife could be seen with greater frequency. We would occasionally come upon other clearings where settlers had made their homes, but just like the first one we had visited, they were devoid of visible life, and most had the blackened livestock lying about the property. The magnitude of the sorcery that had wrought this widespread death was unsettling, but it did nothing but strengthen my resolve to do whatever I could to put an end to this invasion and drive these dung-eating savages back to the squalid huts their mothers prostitute from.
We had just passed by a large open area where a cluster of houses sheltered more of the blackened dead when the boy that journeyed with us let out a ragged gasp and crumbled to the ground. Right there before our astonished eyes we witnessed the ugly purple patches appear upon his flesh, then his skin started to blacken and shrivel with a speed that was unnerving. Not wanting to risk being infected ourselves, we left the poor kid where he lay and hastened on through the forest and into the hot, gusting wind.
We had considered going to a settlement called Coyaga, but instead kept heading north until we came to a wide river. Thinking that this could provide a natural geographic barrier between us and the invading Picts, we decided to attempt a crossing. Remembering the alligators we had previously encountered, I volunteered to craft a raft large enough to carry us and the women across. Using the ax we had found at the farmhouse, I was soon reliving the labor of the days of my youth. I cut two larger trees first to use as rails – each twenty feet in length – with which to build the actual floor upon. Next I cut more trees and trimmed them down to a length of approximately eighteen feet, and laying the crosswise atop the two rails, began to affix them to the rails with vines cut from the forest. The Hyrkanian had been at the rivers edge trying to catch a few fish when he cried out in alarm – we were under attack again. I dropped the ax next to the nearly-completed raft and drew my greatsword, scanning the area to see from which direction the savages were coming. I ran past the Nordheimer and quickly climbed a tree, assuming that my companions would lure the Picts in our direction where I could jump out and attack them from behind. This was not the case though – at least not immediately. I heard the sounds of combat scattered about the area, but nothing that told me that two groups were meeting eachother in force. Bowstrings twanged nearby, and the occasional gasp of pain told that at least some were hitting their mark. Finally the sound of fighting began to draw closer and I saw both Tullweim and Xacksmith allowing themselves to be driven back to the tree where I was perched, ready to attack. Sure enough, as they past my position one of the savages came into view, and I dropped out of the tree while swinging my blade in a downward arc the left the subhuman bastard little more than a pile of reeking guts. That was enough for the rest – they ran like frightened little girls into the forest.
Finishing up the raft in haste, we gathered our belongings and the three women, pushed the raft out onto the river, and began to pole ourselves across to the other side. We were lucky we had launched the raft when we did, because we had not gone very far when were assailed by a rain of arrows fire from the bank we had just quit. A large group of the savages had emerged from the forest and now stood at the bank, trying to skewer us before we could reach the other side. Most of the arrows fell harmlessly around us, but one of the women – the one in her mid-twenties – was struck in the side and badly wounded. I redoubled my efforts to push us out of range as quickly as possible while the Hyrkanian and the Stygian did their best to attend to the injured woman. We reached the other side of the river without further injury, but some of the hastily-tied vines had begun to loosen, causing the raft to partially disassemble as we hit land.