Friday, November 6, 2015
The Revenge of the Elementals, Chapter 2
Audrie watched the knights ride north, the banner of Cadereria flapping behind them. The sun was starting to set to the west. She took in a deep breath.
She didn't see what happened to the masked man after he left the library. He might have been killed in the fire. He might have been killed by Abbot Lazar, who was now at this moment searching for her, and everyone was safe and worried for her, and...
No. Audrie put her head into her hands. She stood under the roof of the porch, at the town's only tavern. A cloud drifted in front of the sun, making the breeze chill. Audrie shivered. She didn't need to see it to know that Lazar was dead. Melanie was dead. All the others were dead. She would never see them again.
So she had to complete what they had set out to do long before she joined them. She had to find the Four-Cornered Staff. Before the masked man.
She turned and entered the tavern, where she had just penned the letter, now on its way to the capital city of Raylea. It had gotten much busier since Govad left, as the farmers and loggers returned home after the exhausting day. Nothing felt better for them after a day in the sun than sitting down with your mates over a mug of ale. The last thing they wanted was a monk asking them to head out into the forest.
“Please, I wouldn't last a day in there alone. You have experience with the Shadir!” Audrie pleaded to a burly woman wearing clothes covered with dirt.
“That's why I won't go,” the farmer replied. “I know what that forest is like. The land is all crunched up like its covered with teeth. The beasties are always watching, waiting for you to go to sleep so they can strike, covered with teeth. And then there are the druids.”
“Are they covered with teeth too?” Audrie asked.
The farmer harrumphed. “I dunno, I never saw one. But they're real. My cousin Hank got jumped by a druid in the forest, nearly got turned into a bush.” She took a swig of ale and turned back to face her companions as a signal that the conversation was over. “Find a place to stay in town, your masked man won't get you here.”
Audrie shook her head, not wanting to argue further with someone who wasn't interested. She turned to the room and shouted. “Will no one help me stop a murderer?”
“'Ow do we know yer not the murd'rer?” one drunk dwarf shouted back.
“What?!” Audrie gasped.
“Yeah,” another man said. “You could have burned down your own monastery and are trying to get us to believe you're innocent. And then you want to take a few of us into the dark forest? Sounds mighty 'spicious to me. I saw it happen in a play once,” he added.
Audrie sputtered. “This is not fiction!”
Another bar patron joined in. “See, she's getting angry. Wouldn't get angry for being called a murderer if she wasn't actually a murderer.”
Audrie looked around, and saw every face in the tavern starting to nod in agreement. The friends of the dwarf joined him, and their friends joined them, until every person was inching away from the monk in case she lashed out in a murderous frenzy. Audrie took a deep breath, although she couldn't wipe the frown off her face. She turned to the bartender.
“Some ale, please,” she requested.
“What are you going to pay with?” he grunted back. She reached up and took the pin from her hair so that it spilled down to her shoulders. Bangs fell over one of her eyes, but she didn't move it out of the way, continuing to stare at the bartender. He glanced down and saw that the pin had some engravings in the metal, and could probably be sold for at least a couple copper coins. He took it, put it in the pocket of his apron, and slid her the drink. Audrie snatched it up and strode to the back of the room. She sat down at an empty table against the wall, and took a gulp from the ale.
She winced. At the monastery, they gathered clean water from a well that pulled from a spring underneath the mountains. The few times she had traveled, it had been to a bigger city where they had wizards and clerics who could purify water. Out here in the farming towns, alcohol was the only way to make sure there were no diseases in your drinks. It had been years since Audrie had ale. It made her throat feel awful. She took a smaller sip the second time.
Somebody moved into the seat across from her. She quickly wiped at her eyes before looking up to see a half-orc wearing billowing robes staring back at her. The man's gray beard curled in snarls out from each side of his face, looking like they hadn't been combed in ages, but his chin was shaven smooth. His mouth was curled into a frown, with two short tusks poking up from his lower jaw. His yellow eyes stood out from his brown-gray skin, glowering at Audrie unwaveringly. She stared back for a few moments before she started to become anxious under his gaze. “What?” she finally snapped.
He took another moment to complete his analysis. “You are not a murderer,” he said at last. His voice was gravelly, and sounded even older than he looked.
Audrie held her mug with both hands, and didn't break eye contact. “Thank you,” she said.
“If you did burn down the monastery,” he continued, “then came here to pretend you were a victim, you must be a very calculating person. Only someone who plans far in advance would think of such a scheme. Someone that intelligent would have noticed the girl who slipped out when talk of a murderer began and ran in the direction of the sheriff's house.”
Audrie took another drink.
“So unless you are layering so many plots on top of one another that even I cannot keep up...I believe you.” The half-orc leaned back, assuming a more comfortable position in his seat. The simple gesture made Audrie instinctually relax as well. “In addition, I am familiar with the dangers – and the secrets – of the Shadir Forest. I am not surprised there may be an artifact hidden there.”
Audrie perked up. “So you will join me to find it first?”
“Yes,” the half-orc said. “On the way there, you can fill me in on the details of what we're after, and where it might be.”
“We just need to get a few supplies...”
“No need,” the half-orc waved his hand. With the other, he reached behind him and grabbed a staff that was leaning against the wall. “As I said, I know the forest well. I'm a druid by the name of Eremurus.”
Audrie glanced around to make sure no one had overheard. She looked back at Eremurus. “I trust you, but from what I've gathered today not many others here will.”
Eremurus nodded. “That is why we should be off before the sheriff arrives.” He used his staff to stand up, and Audrie realized that, despite appearing quite old, he was still almost seven feet tall. “I have a place on the border of the forest where I store some things that will aid us in our search.”
Audrie stood up as well, and the two headed for the door. “I am glad you approached me. I would have guessed one such as yourself would not have been so willing to help a stranger.”
“You would have guessed correctly,” Eremurus said. Audrie wrinkled her brow. “I do not make a habit of revealing my nature to those I met mere minutes before. However, this masked man you described...He was covered from head to toe in leather, and had eyes that were red like the flames at the edge of a bonfire?”
Audrie began to nod, then stopped. “Wait...I never mentioned anything about his eyes.”
Eremurus nodded once. “I saw him not three days ago, heading northeast. Shortly after, I found the ruins of a small caravan, all dead, presumably his work. I came here specifically to pick up on his trail of ruin and track him down. You are the missing piece I was looking for, and I can only apologize that it wasn't until after the destruction of your home.”
“It...it's not your fault,” Audrie said. They stepped off the porch of the tavern and walked together down the south road, the Shadir Forest looming ahead in the growing darkness. “I'm just impressed that you could have seen what he could do, and...the look in his eyes, and want to seek him out again.”
Eremurus stopped walking and looked back at Audrie. “Then I would guess you've never met a druid.” He paused, then laughed and began to lead the way down the road. His smile lasted long enough for Audrie to see, behind his lips, each of his pointed yellow teeth.