Chapter Ten

March 19, 2011


            As we wait the three days for a patrol to come through, Ulric and Briggette spend the time in training.  We repair our gear and work the hides to be used later.  Korvinean drinks—a lot.  Brianna spends some time caring for the orphans of the community.  I practice working on locks and blending into the shadows, as well as getting used to my new tail.
            On the third day, men bearing the Baron’s standard approach the town.  Ulric rides out to meet them.
            “Sir Ulric!”
            “We got your letter, we will see to the security of the town.  We thank you for your bravery and that of your men.”
            “No need to thank us, we only do the duty we are called to,” Ulric assures him.
            “Did you incur any expenses?” the sergeant asks.
            “None of consequence,” Ulric begins.  He tells the men what happened in graphic detail, and we make ready to leave the area to continue on our way to the south.
            For the first two days of our travel, we see no signs of large animals at all.  The pack we slaughtered must have been quite large.  Our watches are uneventful into the fourth day, when we come into a large town.  It has a wall, and appears to have roughly 1200 inhabitants.  A sign proclaims it as Magdeburg.  The gates are open with guards attending, who cross their halberds to block the way.
            “Hail!  I am Ulric von Zurwald.  We come seeking a river of blood.”
            “Well,” the guard looks confused.  “You, of course, are welcome to enter, as well as your Protector.”  He nods toward Briggette.  “The rest of your entourage will have to pay the gate charge.”
            “Of course.”
            “And you and the Protector may carry any weapons you wish; however, your companions will need to check any missile weapons they carry.”
            The men negotiate the rate for us and all of our horses, and Ulric asks to be directed immediately to the Shrine of St. Cuthbert.  “I didn’t catch your name?”
            “I am Boris,” he says.  Then, indicating his counterpart, “He is Nikki.”
            We all make our appropriate prayers and ablutions, then continue on to make accommodations for our stay at their recently constructed Golden Dragon Inn.  We go inside.
            Behind the bar, there is a huge man who must be at least six feet, eight inches tall.  He and Ulric establish rooms for us and proper care for our animals.  He seems nonplussed when Ulric lays a platinum piece on the bar. 
            Ulric sends Finn to resupply us with rations and tack, and he asks me to ride to the merchant’s area of town and speak to those who have arrived from the South.  He wants me to find out if anyone has any information about our mission.  One gentleman we speak to had recently purchased some rare herbs from a dealer to the south.  That merchant told him that there was a stream where blood ran with the water.  It is located forty miles into the fallen duchy, near the lands of the wood elves.  The merchant who had the herbs had gotten them from the wood elves themselves in exchange for some copper weapons.  Korvinean buys several of these herbs, which should help him when he is healing.
            Boris takes Ulric and Briggette to the Lord Mayor’s house.  A young elven woman answers the door, and Ulric introduces himself and Briggette in perfect Elvish.  She invites them in, and offers a drink.
            “Why, yes.  Some brandy would be wonderful, thank you.  I’ve been out in the elements for some time.”  She brings him a giant snifter that is slightly overfilled.  He samples the vintage and compliments it well, speaks to how lovely Boris has been, and explains that he is here to see the Lord Mayor as we are on our way through town.  After about fifteen minutes of polite conversation with the elf, a disheveled man comes clumsily down the stairs.
            He bows and almost falls over, “Lord Zurwald.”
            Ulric greets him appropriately and lays forth platitudes about the city and the way it is run.  As they converse, it is obvious that the Lord Mayor is still inebriated from some earlier frivolities.  They have a pleasant conversation for about forty-five minutes.
            On our way back into town, we encounter Ulric and Briggette in front of the Crimson Ogre.  We realize that they are entirely drunk, and are trying to decide what to do, when a man comes flying through the closed shutters.  A moment later, a man is flung through the door.  Ulric declares, “I am a law enforcement official!  I can do something about this!” and bursts into the bar. 
            Inside the Crimson Ogre, there are several people against one wall, a man on the floor under the remains of the chair that hit him.  Another man has his head stuck through the wall.  One man is standing in plate mail with a large handlebar moustache.  Another man is still standing and is drawing a dagger.
            “Oh, Laddie,” the man in plate shakes his head.
            Suddenly, Korvinean shoots the dagger from the man’s hand, but as he is already in motion, he continues to swing his arm toward the man in plate, who grabs him by the arm and flings him into the wall.
            “Crossbow!” Briggette yells, and points to the far corner of the room.  Korvinean quickly adjusts his aim, and shoots through the string of the crossbow.
            I notice that the man in plate is heavily armed, but had not drawn a weapon.  He pulls his assailant from the wall and slams his chin into his knee, knocking the attacker out cold.
            As the ruckus dies down, Korvinean buys a round for the house, and Ulric gets to the business of introducing himself and us.  This must be Sir Reginald, whom the Lord Mayor had mentioned was in town.
            “What brings you to Magdeburg, Sir Reginald?” Ulric asks.
            Sir Reginald mentions that he was on his way to our area after our recent troubles with the orcs and ratmen.  Ulric explains our mission to find the river flowing with blood.
            I tap him on the arm, “Um, I’ll probably have to explain this again when you’re sober, but it may not actually be quite a river.”
            Korvinean notices a couple of people acting strangely at the mention of the bloody river, and goes to question one of the men.  He tells of stories he’s heard of the wood elves of the area being upset and the existence of a possible temple in the area.  “There might be a land to the south of the wood elves’ area that might sell some things that may be illicit.”  He stammers a bit, “I may have been down south of the wood elf lands making some purchases, and I came back through, and there’s this one little group that’s not like the other wood elves… How can I put this?  They have a stick up their ass!  They’re different.  They’re very set in their ways and they have this temple…”  He talks of a grey elf coming down and teaching them to be rigid, rather than fun like the other wood elves.  He motions to Brianna and says they had people like her.  “When I came up on the river near their temple, it may have been running red, so I may have cut down a tree to cross it, because I just didn’t want to stick my feet in there, you now?”
            He also tells us about a hobgoblin tribe in the area south of the wood elves who are also not normal.  They are very good hagglers, and they like to trade more than battle.  There are normal goblins between the elves and these hobgoblins.
            Korvinean asks the man, “How much would it be worth to you to show us the way?”
            The man makes some calculations, and comes up with twenty-two silver.  Korvinean goes to Ulric and asks if we should hire the man.  Ulric immediately pulls out the money and declares that we shall leave in the morning.
            After a bit more drinking, we part ways and head to the Golden Dragon Inn.  We take our rest, or our recreation, as the case may be.
            As we ready ourselves to go in the morning, we find Sir Reginald already outside and mounted.  We say our pleasant goodbyes and ride on our way.
            Our first day is uneventful, but on the second night, we hear movement in the brush.  I look over and see a large, four-legged creature about thirty feet in.  I train my crossbow on it and whistle at Ulric to let him know there may be a problem.
            Suddenly, it charges toward us.  As it clears the brush, I fire and yell “Incoming!” to the camp.  It appears to be a large creature similar to a moose, but is all white.  My shot bounces off of its hide.
            As it runs by Ulric, he slashes at it with his sword.  The beast uses his antlers to flip Ulric up and over his back, then to dig into the ground and dump dirt on our fire.
            Korvinean walks up to the creature and lays a hand on it’s shoulder.  “Hold! I apologize if we’ve inadvertently encroached on your territory.  We will gladly move.  We meant no offense.”  The stag whips his head around to face Korvinean and sniffs him.  Next he stalks over to Ulric and inhales deeply.  He turns to me, and gives me the same treatment before backing up and stamping his foot as if to charge.  “She is my friend,” Korvinean says quietly and emphatically.  The creature sniffs me again and looks at me warily.  He glances at Briggette and then begins to dig at the dirt with his hoof.
            Briggette looks at the marks and realizes that it is Cuthbertine writing.  “Well, aren’t you the intelligent one?”
            He writes Yes, I am.
            “How may we help you?”
            They kill the land, they kill the water.  Kill them.
            “How many are there?”
            Many.  He pauses.  Too many for me to kill.
            “We are here to fix that problem.”
            Many, many.  More than you.
            “Where are they?”
            “Are they men like us?  Are they animals?  Creatures of the forest?”
            Little men of the earth.
            Briggette indicates me, “Like her?”
            “How far from here?”
            Too close.  Moves toward the star that does not move.
            “I assure you we’ll do everything in our power to stop this.”  He walks up to Briggette and inhales deeply.  Then he moves over to stand in front of Korvinean and look at him.  Then he writes some more in the sand, and turns to run off.
            For what they have done, there is no forgiveness.