Truth and Consequences Part 9

ITALIAN-HAND-AND-A-HALF-SWORDI happen to be a writer, and on occasion I like to post Fiction stories for my readers to check out.  Sometimes these stories are just random ideas.  Other times they are stories I wrote and the contract fell through so they are just gathering dust.  Its up to you to figure out which is which.

This particular Short story is called Truth and Consequences .It involves two of my more abrasive dungeons and dragons characters going on an adventure together.  The world and setting of this story comes from Josh Weekley.  If you you enjoy the setting of Braeton and the tapestry of the pseudo historical world, he’s written a novel set in the same world called ‘Crown of the Dwarf King’.  Check it out on Lulu.com.

This is the seventh part of the story.  If you are just tuning in, you can find the earlier posts here

“We are still some miles from Barlaeworth.”  A taller warrior said as the men began to bunch into groups.  His face seemed flat with a square nose and receded eyes.  He didn’t seem to have noticed that he was left in the center of the drawn line.

Bryant rolled his massive shoulders, as he looked to the tall blond man who couldn’t have been over 21 years born.  “This late, they usually push sentries and scouts.”  He explained.  “And you know their sort even if we manage to take them out SHE knows.  We need to get in, undetected.  We need to catch them unaware.  This works better in smaller groups.”

“What size groups do we use?”  Father Gerrit asked, his thick eyebrows knitting to his brow. “Weren’t you going to show us something?”

“You will see it if we catch them in the unawares.”  Bryant said a broad smile coming across his features.  “But you specifically father, as much as you want to, do not engage.  This is a scouting mission.  No matter what you see on your approach it is best to use your ability to remain unseen.”

“What is it that we’re doing?”  Aelfric said.  “If she’s as awful as you say we should do what is required.”

The large brigand leader let out a deep sigh.  “That is why you’re coming with me.” Bryant told the young half-elf.  “We will split into two groups.  Each group will take a different direction and meet at the south most wall of the town.”

Aelfric’s thin lips faded down into a frown.  He wasn’t overly sure what the plan was.  As suddenly he was shown that what he thought going in was very different.  It was as though it all dawned on him.  That what he was walking into wasn’t a town at all… it was a horror.

Bryant began to point his fingers and rattle off names, that neither he nor, Father Garret recognized.  Each name he uttered, recalled bodies forward, mixing from one crowd to a second.  Judging by the weapons and body types of those that walked between the silent twin adventurers, there was little method to the madness at all.  Perhaps there was but it made little sense to either of them.

“Looks like you are stuck protecting me, father.”  The familiar deep voice boomed behind the priest.  Michael’s large hand clasped the priest’s broad shoulder with a heavy pound.  “Seems fitting, I suppose.”

“Yes.”  Father Gerrit nodded to the grandson of the crone. The son of who had supposedly been the cause of the entire situation.  It was after all Michael the crone had sent Gerrit and Aelfric to return home in the first place.  It all still made little sense to him.  But he figured answers weren’t all that far away.

“Father your men will go east around the mountain’s base.”  Bryant informed the collected groups of five.  “I along with Aelfric and our party will take the westerly route.  Michael will know when to veer back to the course to lead to the south most walls of the town’s fortressed fences.”

Gerrit nodded his head at the large bearded leader of the men.  His sharp eyes watched as the heavy hand clinched Aelfric’s shoulder leading them to the second group.  As an inquisitor he was use to surveying people.  Watching body movement and facial expressions even more that words to get a pin on people.  It was that surveying gaze, which caused people to feel frightened when they met a warrior-priest.  Normally this was to detect evil in all its forms.  The monsters that stalked men weren’t always forthcoming with their vile natures.  But they were taught more than discovering a shape changer or dark magician.  It helped them in understanding people and their natures.  They were after all as much priests as they were warriors.

“Come on father,” Michael’s voice called over his left shoulder.  “We should start out.”

Gerrit watched with a sneer across his lips as Aelfric’s thick blond hair waved across his lithe neck.  The young warrior fell in line with the collection of warriors marching in a horde towards the east.  He wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but something did feel strange.

Since he’d met the bearded leader of the thieves and rogues, he’d liked the guy.  The man seemed spirited and full of a righteous charisma that spoke volumes of his character.  But why had that very charisma seemed to have vanished just then?  Perhaps he was tired.  It had been a long march and even a longer day.  And for Bryant and Michael there were very personal feelings involved.  Attitudes and raw emotion were always ready to contradict a person’s normal demeanor.

“Yes.”  Father Gerrit said forcing himself to let an awkward smile fall over his mouth.  His steely eyes looked up to the face of the raven haired youth.  The young man didn’t seem to exude any of the same sensations that Bryant had given him.  His wide mouth was forced into a toothy grin as he gave the priest’s shoulder another fierce patting.

“Good, we don’t have long until the witching hour.”  Michael explained turning his broad back on the Inquisitor.

Father Gerrit fell in step with the taller youth.  His dark hair was kept at a length that grazed his broad shoulders.  The thick straight mane of hair swept from side to side,  across the bracken boiled leather inches above the small quiver of red fetched arrows that rattled as he  moved.

The rest of the of the their motley turned their heads to Gerrit and Michael’s approach, the grays and browns of their shawls and leather armours allowing them each to blend into the dim moon light leaking through the emptying leaves of  the forest’s waning canopy.  It was half a month’s time before a bright moon would rend the forest’s darkness completely.

Gerrit pulled his oak bow from his shoulders as he fell in line with the others.  He slowed his walk to remain at the flank.  Michael on the other hand cut through the men’s shape to reach the head.  He after all was going to be directing them.  By the looks of most of those with him, they had no idea where they were.  Gerrit would also fall into that camp.  He did have a map of Braeton to assist him in his travels, but not even Barlaeworth was noted on it.  It was complete coincidence he even ended up in the town.  But perhaps it was a good thing he did.  And not just for Aelfric’s sake.  The Host really did have a strange way of working.

They hadn’t gotten far when the line came to a stop.  The small collective huddled towards a cropping of trees.  Michael’s evil like eyes watching from the crook in a tree squatting to shield his shadow from view.  Garret followed the others lining up against the bracken bark of another, though his gaze was watching the young man and what his plan was.  The Inquisitor slid an arrow from his quiver notching it onto the slim thread of his bow string.

He recalled the talk of not being seen, but he was unsure what the attack from the invisible meant.   He wasn’t sure if that was an available course of action or not.  So he waited.  His eyes centered on the young scout who was to lead them safely like ghosts into the town.

The priest’s eyes turned to see the shambling body walking through the glades.  Rusting armour tightly fitting against the morbidly thin body as it clanked through the path.  It was hard not to see the similarities between this figure and the lich he had fought only an hour before.  It reeked of death and dark magics.  It took the entire priest’s strength not to release an arrow into its skull.

Michael turned his head towards the others as the shambling corpse passed.  He nodded his head and crept from the safety of his tree.  Carefully the others followed suit looking in both directions as they converged on the dark path.

As the line slipped from their hiding place, Garret watched the shambling corpse walking past the only several feet behind them.  Sure it was dead, but was it not to notice them being so close?  The priest’s own ears could hear the heavy breathing in front of him, and the sloshing of leather boots slogging through the moist peat.

Finally he turned his head from the creature. He turned his head to face their upcoming path.  His eyes fixed on the dark bricks of a wall through the silhouette of trees.  It was easy to see the assumed target was still much into the distance.  He kept the arrow’s fletching pressed into the slim bow string.  He didn’t trust the dead knight behind them, and was sure there were more in the coming path.

“You keep looking back” A feminine voice called to his ears, after several minutes had passed.  He hadn’t looked to the others since the rejoining of their sloppy march.  After seeing the grotesque creature so close to them, it and the others like it had taken over his mind.  It begged more questions than answered

“This is not my home.”  The priest said, in a shaking defiance.  His head tilting to the thin thief who had sunk back a step while he was distracted.

“Once you’ve seen one cold dark forest, you’ve seen them all.”  The other chipped back.  The thief was small like a reed, with a scalp of sprig-like blond stubble.  The boiled leather was tight against the compact body that though was slender looked solid and strong.  It was only the heart shaped face, and thin wispy neck that could give her gender away to only the surest of eyes.  That was until she smiled a bright womanly glee cinched up the skin below sharp cheeks and illuminated the skin towards the color of strawberries.  Behind the ragged scar that ran from the bottom of her eye to her chin her tough warrior’s mask shattered with a smile that fit ill in the company she kept.

“This forest is not that cold, nor is it all so dark.”  He countered as he raised his head above those marching in front of them.  “In Slavaria the bitter forest of the Hansel reminds you the luck that the host provides.”

“I suppose that could very well be the case, priest.”  The female said with the swaying of a nod.  “But they don’t really look all that different– just trees and mud.”  She countered.

Gerrit let out the bark of a laugh before he caught what he was doing.  He put a hand to his mouth to stifle the volume.  “Thank you.”  He said finally toughening his hold on the arrow.

“What for?”  The girl asked.  Her footfalls continued to slog as heavily as the others ahead of him.  Gerrit knew he hadn’t much to worry about by sound.  This made him consider his questions all the more.

“What are these sentries?”  He asked the woman.  “They don’t appear to hear sound so much, nor do they seem to see more than what is in front of them.”

“I don’t really know if there’s a name people call them.”  The girl shrugged, “If they have a name I’ve never read it.”  She said.

“You can read?”  Father Gerrit asked,  “That is wonderful,  if not a little uncanny in such a place.”

“Where not all that we appear, priest,”

“Another.”  Michael whispered above the priest and thief’s conversation.

Both priest and thief turned their heads upwards, as the men in front of them began to backtrack into the woods.  Garret watched them tightening his hand onto his bow.  His ears perked as he heard the crunching of brittle twigs.  The sound of rusting armour as people went for their weapons once more.  The woman who had share bits of conversation had already moved with the line, everyone in the darkness looking for a still tree to shade them.  It was a well-oiled maneuverer.  It was a set of motions that seemed well practiced and drilled.

The priest walked with the tail end of the small company, his feet sinking into the loose grass and into the sheer darkness.  His eyes looked to the shadowed columns of trees seeking out one that suited his needs.  But something stilled his approach.  The smell or rot curled into his nostrils.  The aroma was enough to cause the small hairs on the back of his neck to rise.  Something felt wrong.  He bent to his haunches in front of a tree.  His steel eyes centered to the trail they had been on.   The single dead stumbled through the dark mud like the previous one had.  However this one wore thick leather for armour, the natural brown stained to black with mold and rot.  ‘Leather’ he thought.   But before he could voice his concern, a cry of surprise pierced the silence of the forest.

The sound of mail and leather shifting sounded like a cacophony to Father Gerrit as the men turned all their attention to their lefts.  Over their flank the illuminated eyes of the dead floated towards them like a swarm of red fire flies.  Gerrit had wondered how so many had gotten so close.  They were less than fifty feet away, and marching swiftly with little sound emitting from the armours and weapons.

One of the thieves sprang to his feet screaming in a heart rending fear.  “Oh the gods… oh the gods…” He lamented in a blabbering tongue.

“Stay calm.”  Michael’s deep voice called to him.  But it did little good.  He continued to blabber, his voice rising for each verse.

What are we to do now fearless leader?’ Gerrit thought to himself.  But the answer was obvious.  The lack of knowledge of these things meant that the dead adversaries had an advantage and apparently saw to use it.  And no matter how keen their blades were, it was easy to see they were outmanned and would die where they stood if nothing was done.

“Oh the gods… OH THE GODS… OH THE GAAAAHHH!”  The babbling thief’s verse stopped abruptly with terrible groan.  Blood splattered from his mouth as he felt the cold metal punch through his stomach.  He could only look down to see a bloody spear head sticking out of his body.  The rotting breath of the road’s single sentry warm on his cooling flesh.

Gerrit  raised his bow without thinking.  His waist twisted in a pivot.  .  He let the arrow slip as his fingers released the string.  The arrow hissed through the air disappearing into a thread before slamming into the skull with a crunch.

Then everything went from bad to worse.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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