Cuana Chapter 10 Entry 7

Our travel northward lasted about a half a day, picking our way along the barest of trails as the forest grew even thicker than what we had traversed thus far. Through the forest canopy the sun could be seen beginning its descent toward the horizon when we began to detect a foul smell coming from the direction in which we were headed. The trail had widened, allowing several of us to walk abreast and giving us room to swing our weapons should we need to bring them to bear. At first I thought that maybe there had been a village up ahead that had fallen victim to yet another raid by the Picts, but they would have put everything to the torch and there was none of the acrid smell usually left behind after a large fire. The stench grew worse, eventually becoming nearly unbearable as we continued up the trail. Once we rounded a bend we saw the source of the stink – a huge lizard – some among us murmured the word dragon, lay dead across the path. The thing was enormous, with a spiny ridge that ran the length of its back and large spikes on the end of its tail. Well into a state of decomposition, the thing had a bloated look to it, flies and other vermin well into their act of reducing the thing to bones. The Aesir approached the thing to get a closer look, but as he got within a stones throw of the massive corpse he was overcome by the indescribable stench of the thing and dropped to his knees, throwing up nearly everything he had eaten in the last fortnight. That was all I needed to see to know I was going nowhere near the thing if it could be helped. Nobody cared to get close enough to risk a similar experience, so Tullweim dragged himself to his feet and walked, a bit unsteadily, back to where the rest of us waited. The Stygian then turned and warned us that he was going to try to animate the thing and try to get it to walk itself off of the path, to look away and avoid the inevitable tug of panic we always feel at the sight of his calling the dead back into their bodies. The Nordheimer followed me back around the bend in the trail to where we could not view the results of Dhaks necromantic endeavor, avoiding the panic the threatens every time we witness such blasphemous activity.

Within the space of just a few heartbeats we heard cries of alarm from both human and horse, followed by a galloping of hooves growing louder as the knight’s horse, mad with terror at the sight of the behemoth attempting to rise from death , came around the corner and bolted down the trail, followed a few moments later by two retainers in a desperate attempt to retrieve their lord’s horse. After a few moments we made our way back to where the others were and saw that the Stygian’s attempt to move the creature off of the trail had failed. Discussion was now centered upon whether to climb the stinking mass or create a path by hacking our way through it. They could debate this all day for all I cared because I would do neither. With the forest so thick as to be nearly impassable it only made sense that it would be easy to traverse by way of the tree tops, so I sheathed my blade and scrambled up a tree at the trails edge. Once aloft I was able to see past the beast, noting that it lay right at the edge of a ravine of undeterminable depth. Anyone able to leap over the thing would find themselves falling, probably quite a distance, to the ground below. A rope bridge stretched out across to the other side providing a way across, but there was no way to get a close enough look at it to determine if it was in any condition to hold our weight. I hollered down to the others about what I saw, and Xacksmith determined that he would climb over the giant carcass to get a closer look at the bridge. I saw him toss his rope out with the grappling hook on the end, pull it back until its head sank into the reeking mass and caught on something – presumably a rib bone, and started to climb the giant corpse as if it were a hill. I continued on my way through the tree tops, making my way closer to the ravine. I had glanced down to check on the Hyrkanian’s progress and saw two tentacles spring outward from inside the beast as I did, both taking a swing at Xacksmith, one catching him up in a grappling attack as the other groped for an opening in his defense. He was able to slip free of the thing’s grip, but as he tried twisting out of the way his foot broke through the rotted skin and sank deeply into the creature’s innards, miring him as if he had broken through a crust of snow and into the drift below. I had climbed nearly to the edge of the ravine and had begun to make my way back down to the ground when I lost my grip and fell, shearing several smaller limbs from the trunk as I struck them. Thankfully only small harm was done, bruises at worst, and I scrambled to the edge or the ravine and began to climb down. After descending only ten feet or so, I began to inch my way to my right, coming to the point to where I was directly below the bridge. I then climbed up, grabbed the rope that served as a hand hold, and swung myself up onto the bridge. Xacksmith had managed to get clear of the thing and was standing on the bridge as I was coming up underneath, so he stepped back out of the way and gave me a clear shot at the tentacles as I drew my sword and attacked. The things flailed at me but I managed to dodge them, hitting one and eventually slicing it off to send it twitching and squirming into the depths of the ravine. Those still on the other side of the giant corpse were attacking the tentacles as well, and by the time I was seeking another tentacle to attack the parasite within had been slain. The others were planning to hack their way through the rotting carcass, but I had no intention of doing that. I crossed the bridge to wait comfortably on the other side for the others to join me.

I had only been on the other side of the ravine for a few moments when I heard the steady pounding of feet on the turf growing louder, and immediately knew someone was running toward my location. Seconds later a Pict bearing a message pouch burst into the clearing, and seeing me by the bridge, turned and ran in a different direction. I hollered out an alarm and ran after him, knowing that he would probably outdistance me in this terrain pretty quickly. The Hyrkanian pumped two arrows into him before he could get too far, and I was soon pulling the message pouch from his lifeless form and inspecting the contents. The others had finally hacked through the disgusting barrier and crossed over the ravine, and Gasparus, in his usual manner, demanded to see the contents of the message pouch. There were two sealed messages, both bearing grim news regarding the Pictish insurgents and the likely loss of the entire Westermarck. Much of the remaining military was withdrawing to the Bossonian Marches in order to make a stand there, and Aquilonia’s king was away on some mission in far away lands. It sounded as if things were to the point where the only way the tide of Picts could be stemmed was for us to get this staff to someone who knew how to use it, who dwelt within the Ligurean grove far to our north. At this point we were out of provisions, so we moved into the forest for cover and selected a site in which to make camp. Tullweim disposed of the Pictish runners body by heaving it into the ravine, having first taken the scalp to add to his growing collection.

We managed to rest without incident, but also without food. Setting out early the next day we pushed hard in order to cover as much distance as we could, finally settling down to camp again when we encountered the edge of a swamp late that afternoon. The Hyrkanian took his bow and went off in search of rabbits, while our Pictish guide offered to go get provisions for everybody from a Pictish village a short distance from where we were. Xacksmith returned with two rabbits about an hour after heading out to hunt, leaving us waiting for Arisawe to return with food for the rest of us. While awaiting her return I heard a distant cry – a woman’s voice, calling out for help. I told the others, but both Dhak and Xacksmith were immediately against the idea of investigating, even when I pointed out that the voice I heard had cried out in Aquilonian. The Nordheimer was eager to investigate however, and I could tell that he feared the source to be our Pictish guide. It made me wonder if he had been continuing his dalliance with that sorcerous, blue-dyed she-ape, but on the other hand, if she was to return with provisions for us it would hardly do to ignore the possibility that she was in peril, so I agreed to go with him into the swamp and investigate.

We had pressed deeper into the swamp until we stood in front of a large pool of dark, still water, both the Hyrkanian and the Stygian grumbling their displeasure at poking about in the swamp. Within the span of the blink of an eye, a huge lizard shot out of the pool straight at us, clamping down on the Aesir with its savage jaws. We killed it quickly, but more were coming up out of the water and advancing upon the four of us from several directions. One managed to sink its teeth into the flesh of my leg, but the Hyrkanian shot it squarely in its face with a bolt from his bow, and as it loosened its grip on me I skewered it straight through it’s head. Turning to where Tullweim was struggling with another one, I buried my blade deep into its flank and was rewarded with the sight of it gurgling up blood and falling still in the swamp grass. We were preparing to kill the one remaining lizard when our attention was taken by the sudden appearance of a ghastly visage – first just a head, then the entire body of a vaguely humanoid creature that seemed to appear out of nowhere! It’s face shared characteristics both humanoid and lizard-like, with pointed ears and an overly wide mouth full of long, wicked looking teeth. The single most unsettling aspect about the creature was that it appeared to be wreathed in green flames, and as it grinned and began to advance upon us, the flames followed it as it came! Dhak attempted to speak with it – through the red haze that was beginning to cloud my vision I heard it answer him, but it was probably only taunting the Stygian. Fear was tugging at the back of my mind, urging me to flee this otherworldly saurian and seek safety deeper into the swamp, but I bit it back and allowed the bloody rage of my people to overwhelm my senses and blind my fear with pure, raw fury. All I clearly remember is swinging my blade and striking the creature, the roar of the Aesir as he hacked at the thing, my sword growing cold in my hands as it clove past the unearthly green fire, and the hellish cries from the thing as we struck it again and again. I knew I had killed it – or at least cut it’s tether to this world – when one last unholy shriek issued from the thing and it attacked no more. We wasted no time in retreating back the way we had come, the Aesir and I suffering the rebukes of our fellows who had warned us to not follow that voice into the swamp.

When we returned to the camp we found everybody eating and resting, our Pictish guide returned and sitting comfortably with the others. Not only had she returned with provisions, but also with two doses of a strong salve of healing, of which I gladly accepted a dose to help close a few of my more grievous wounds.

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Cuana Chapter 10 Entry 7

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