Cuana Chapter 13 Entry 4

The Nemedian took last watch over the camp that night, but was gone when we awoke the next morning. All of his things were gone too, and the only trace we could find was his tracks leading back toward the west. Whether our companion had left of his own accord or had been lured away, we didn’t know. Artelios and the Stygian were at a loss to offer any explanation as well, so we let the matter drop and began to head further east before our quarry could put any further distance between us.

We hadn’t been trailing Orafa and his thugs for long when we came upon a dead horse on the trail, a spear jutting from the beast’s side. From that point, we could see that the tracks we followed were now those of two horses instead of three, one of them more heavily burdened than before. Cautious to avoid the attention of whatever savages were harrying our prey, we continued after Orafa and his men. Not long after, we came upon another horse, this one dead as well, but dead from exhaustion, not as the result of an attack – they were wearing out their mounts in an effort to stay ahead of us. The tracks were starting to look fresher as we went, so we knew we were gaining on the three slavers.

We emerged from the jungle into a broad tract of savannah, the trail we were following winding its way for perhaps a mile before disappearing again into the trees. At the far end of the clearing, preparing to enter the jungle once again, were the three we sought. One obviously injured and being helped along and all their goods stored upon their last remaining horse, they were moving very slowly. At the same time we saw them, they spotted us, and beat it into the trees. My heart leapt at the thought of exacting revenge for their casting me in chains, and my fellows seemed to feel the same, for we took off running for them as one, determined to recover Artelio’s map and slay these dogs outright.

Through the tall grasss of the plains we sped, weapons in hand, murder in our eyes, and bloodlust in our hearts. We covered the distance very quickly, Artelios and his decrepid Stygian hireling keeping a decent pace behind.

We were but a few paces from reentering the jungle when my senses picked up what I should have recognized as a warning. All was silent – the usual background canopy of bird and animal noises was absent. I paid it no heed, assuming the noise we were making in our pursuit to be the cause of the silence. Then suddenly a large, dark shape burst from the grass, knocking the Nordheimer clear off his feet. Before I could react, another burst forth and pricked me with his spear. Rounding on the bastard, I hit him twice but didn’t take him down. He struck at me fast, hitting me very hard with his spear, but instead of withdrawing the weapon to use again, the dog pushed it deeper, a crimson haze of agony washing over my field of vision as I felt the point of the spear exit the flesh of my back. With a laugh, he took a step back and made to grab the hatchets hanging from either side of his belt.

Every movement was pure agony, as my innards were pushed and squeezed against and around the shaft of the spear. I had to try to remove it, especially before he or someone else could grab hold and twist it, as that would surely bring me to my knees. I could feel blood pouring freely from both the entrance and exit wounds, and the sight of this black devil prancing about, grinning as he waved his hatchets in anticipation of the kill, unleashed a fury in me seldom felt or seen. Every ounce of strength I could muster went into my swing, and as my blade came down upon his shoulder, the sound of his gurgling death-cry was drowned out by the snapping of his sternum and at least five ribs. The sounds of combat continued around me, and turning, I saw the others were finishing-off Orata. I turned to get help removing this blasted spear from my body, but before I could utter a single word, I was struck by a spear that flew from the other direction – from the way we had come. But something else struck me as well – a bloodied mass had been tied to the spear, and as i turned it to see what in the name of the hells it was, I recognized the face of my former companion, the Nemedian, Ambrose.

I yanked the spear free, the head of my former companion bouncing off of my leg to be lost in the tall grass. Every movement was an agonizing struggle, my guts twisting around the shaft that still protruded from my back. The Nordheimer attempted to pull it through me from behind, but his hands slipped, the blood leaking from the exit wound making the spear head to slick to grasp. Crying out at the pain, I pulled the spear back out from the front, a fresh gout of blood spilling forth as I did.

I turned and leapt amid the savages, the Aesir by my side. The madness of battle overtook me, red rage clouding my vision as I attacked. Striking one twice, the savage crumpled to the ground, a ruined and bloodied mess. Another one moved to take his place, and I smashed my sword into him as well, but instead of falling, the bastard buried his spear into my hide nearly as badly as that other dog had. I was oblivious to the pain, my rage and bloodlust compelling me to destroy every last one of these jungle dogs. His eyes wide with fear at looking death straight in the face, I brought my sword down straight down upon his simian crown. Even as he fell another moved in, unsuccessfully trying to run me through with his spear. Two quick slashes from my greatsword split his belly and sent his intestines springing out onto the trampled sward. One of the dogs was left, trying to stick the Aesir, so I dropped him to the sward with a cloven back.

Having taken serious damage from my wounds, I stripped the leather jerkin from the body of the dog Orafa and put it on. The injured Zamoran who had accompanied Orafa was named Alam’Enshadar, and we invited him to remain with us, sparing his life. I doubt a single one of us trusts him, but he may have knowledge of this temple we seek that could aid us. At the first sign of a double-cross, I’ll just kill him.

We moved ourselves into the shelter of some trees at the edge of the jungle. Here, the others made camp, while I climbed to the top of the tallest nearby tree and slept.

Part II

I climbed down from my treetop perch with the rising of the sun, joining the others as they were breaking camp. We continued our journey east toward the mountains. It was well into the day when we made it into the foothills. We climbed some small, rough – hewn steps which widened as we ascended into a broad stair, worn smooth by years of use. Well up the mountainside, we caught a glimpse of two war parties of approximately one hundred each, about a half day or so behind us, in the jungle vista far below.

The stairway finally came to an end at a cleft in the rocks. Runes or glyphs were carved into the rock of the cleft, and an eerie moaning, whistling sound issued from the opening of an apparent passage that continued through the mountain. Stepping into the passage, I could see light far above, and occasional glimpses of the blueish purple of the twilight sky. Plainly frightened, the girl began to chant softly, her eyes nervously scanning across the shadowed patches along the rock walls.

We had been moving cautiously for most of the day, the girl continuing her nervous chant all the while, when the shadows began to lengthen with the arrival of sunset. Only the feeble light of a gibbous moon filtered down through the shadows of the narrow passage, making our way more difficult along the treacherous path. The girl grew more frightened with the coming darkness, babbling to the Hyrkanian, who understood and could speak her primitive tongue after a fashion, about supernatural guardians that supposedly guarded this pass. Craning his neck this way and that, he joined the girl in her chanting, while scanning the shadows with his cat-like gaze. I could see nothing, only shadow. The Zamoran however seemed to see something, for his gaze latched onto a patch of shadow and a look of terror overcame him. It was at that moment that the moon became obscured by a passing cloud, and in the very moment that darkness enveloped us, the creatures, hideous things with heads like jackals, descended the walls of the ravine and attacked.

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Cuana Chapter 13 Entry 4

The Nemedian Chronicles Cuana