Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
The inferno behind Triss glowed violently. She and Declan were travelling north towards the closest town with a group of survivors. Triss sent a worrying look Declan’s way, he limped holding his right side painfully. The stab wound had been mostly healed externally and the bleeding had stopped with the aid of her magic but it was still damaged internally. Declan feeling Triss’s worried eyes upon him locked eyes with her and attempted a reassuring smile. Unable to cease her worrying she looked around at the other survivors, to see if anyone else was in better shape, they all staggered along the road, silent and gloomy. Declan and Triss had yet to see another member of their original party. Triss doubted that they would see them again even if they were alive, they were a very indecisive group she was glad she wouldn’t have to have any more pointless arguments over who gets what and which job they would do. Declan’s voice broke her thoughts “Triss, I need a hand catching up.” He was straggling behind, Triss wrapped her arm around Declan’s neck and he her waist, trying to keep in step the two moved at a slow but steady pace,
They continued onwards they watched their step’s as to not trip on the roots of the forest floor. “Where are the others?” Declan’s whispered,
“I’m not sure Dec, I haven’t seen them since before the attack.”
“No, the other survivors.” Declan said, he said clearly alarmed.
Triss looked to the survivors up ahead, seeing empty space they both stopped. “What the hell?” The Elf mage had never known true fear in her four hundred and twenty eight years of life, in the last few hours she had never been more scared. Triss shivered more out of fear than the chilly night breeze. She looked examined the ground where the other people were meant to be. “There are no tracks, it’s like they just vanished.”
“Maybe we just walked off the track?” Declan said calmly, his shortsword trembled in his good hand. “I need to stop anyway.” He knelt down with a groan, silently cursing the pain. Triss looked at her human companion. Declan was only a boy of sixteen when they met, he lived in a slum near the Elf border, she took pity on him and taught the boy to fend for himself. But fate and circumstance had kept them together and now the twenty one year old man kneeling in the dirt clutching his side was Triss’s most trusted friend.
“We need to keep moving Dec, those cultists could be combing the woods for people to sacrifice or something.” Declan glared shot a feeble glare at the elf mage, “Declan, this is serious, I sensed dark powers at work back in Bazinet.” He sighed and pulled himself up, accepting a hand from Triss.
The two continued as they were before, one step at a time. The soft rustling of wind in the leaves and bird calls filled the air. They had been walking for what felt like hours until Declan gestured with his sword point to a flickering light in the distance. Triss chanted quietly under her breath, the air around her face rippled and configured, Declan watched coolly as she cast a spell to make her see long distances. Declan had long grown used to having magic around, Triss had tried to explain to him the basics but he just acknowledged that it was beyond humans. “Two men sitting around a campfire, one is armed the other looks to be a local from Bazinet.” She reported
Declan asked “Should we ask for a hand?”
Triss shook her head, “we need to be more cautious they could be enemies.”
Declan let go of her and hobbled towards the camp, “You’re too distrusting Triss, c’mon it’ll be fine.”
“Wha-“she pouted, “Well you’re too trusting” rushing to aid Declan with his footing, the Elf and the Human made their way to the source of the light.
Cynric looked over at Duke Enroth, he had passed out several minutes ago. Grinning the outlaw started plucking the gold buttons of the Duke’s soiled clothes, happy with himself for suggesting that Enroth should blend in. Cynric’s plain brown tunic and slacks gave the dark haired duke a much needed commoner’s look. His eye’s shifting to Enroth’s fine leather boots, pondering how if he could slip them of the man without waking him. As Cynric’s hands edged towards the boots the soft ring of the perimeter bell caused him to dive for his weapons. Seeing the duke also at his feet and ready in seconds, discomforted the outlaw. Darkness surrounded them, after staring into the fire for too long his eyes watered as they adjusted to the dark. A hand signalled from the gloom and Cynric held his dagger ready to strike. A person walked into the light, they wore a black hooded robe with an ominous rune on it.
Enroth yelled for Cynric but he was already rushing forward to cut the cult mage down. Instinctively ducking to the left he entered the mage’s blind spot and went in for the kill, evading Cynric’s strike with ease, the mage started chanting softly the air around it shifted. Enroth attempted a tackle but fell short, readying another strike Cynric watched a speeding bolt of light hit the cultist staggering it. Cynric took the advantage and ran his dagger through its chest, the mage wheezed dryly and disintegrated into an ash like powder. Jumping back in surprise Cynric watched the empty robe fall to the floor, brushing the strange powder of himself Cynric looked to see where that bolt of light came from. Enroth motioned with his chin to two people walking into the light.
A tall slender elf and a human hobbled towards them. The elf’s long golden hair shimmered in the firelight, she propped the man up they both wore adventurer’s garbs however he had leather vest and bow slung over his shoulder and a shortsword at his hip. Enroth examined the two cautiously, “show me your left hands!” he ordered. Doing as they were told they showed their left hands. Nodding the Duke indicated the fire, “Shall we?” sitting around the fire the two parties introduced themselves, Enroth keeping his identity hidden, and Cynric proudly flaunting his title of wanted man.
“So you’re really one of the most wanted men in the kingdom Cynric?” Declan asked in his eye’s wide in awe.
The outlaw chortled and reached and stuffed his hand in his satchel, pulling out his wanted poster he held in front of Declan, “Read it and weep kiddo.”
“Wanted for high treason” he read aloud, “what on earth did you do, and wait why the hell aren’t you hiding your identity?”
Enroth interrupted, “Because he’s an idiot that’s why.”
Triss watched the engagement in mock amusement, she said “Enroth do you know anything about the attack on Bazinet?”
Enroth turned to face her, “yeah I do.” He looked over to the robe which Cynric had thrown in the fire. “But first I have to ask if you know anything about what happened to that cultist just now.”
Triss’s expression darkened, “the way that ‘thing’ just disintegrated, it may have been an undead of some sort.”
“What! That’s impossible undead, summoned or not, can’t use magic.”
“That’s what’s has me worried as well.” Triss looked over at Declan and Cynric sharing a flask of booze. “At least those two don’t seemed so concerned.”
Cynric stared at the elf, “what are you talking about long ears, I’m shaking in my boots here.” He said with a straight face. Declan chuckled softly receiving a bitter glare from his elf friend. Warm rays of sunlight pierced the dawn, and the newly formed party roused.
Scraping sounds of boots on gravel occupied the four people trudging along the road to Màchrl town. Enroth had agreed to travel with (or in adventurer’s terms party up) Triss and Declan, Cynric stuck around as well. “-you are four hundred and twenty eight and you spent more than half that time doing nothing in elven cities?” Enroth asked Triss.
“Yeah pretty much, time goes by very quickly when your do nothing.” She added matter-of-factly.
“But you could’ve done so much in that time!”
“It’s a fairly common story, an elf racks up some debt and has to go work in human lands, I’ll eventually return to pay off my debt.” Declan face fell a little at hearing Triss’s statement. Noticing she quickly corrected herself, “of course I’m a far from having enough money to return.”
Cynric scanned the road ahead, “Should be reaching Màchrl soon.”
Declan looked at the outlaw and his new found friend, “Something bothering you Cynric, you look concerned.”
“Something concerning the legendary Cynric the Cruel.” Scoffed Triss “outrageous.”
“Actually yeah,” Cynric responded his tone serious, the others all curious turned to look at him. “What the hell is this cult called, the one that burned Bazinet?”
Enroth responded with a sigh, “By the gods does it matter?”
“Yeah cause just calling them cultists is too vague. There are a lot of cults out there.” He stroked his chin as if in thought, “How about we call them ‘Mongs’?”
Triss looked back at him her face twisted in a snarl, Enroth shook his head and Declan giggled quietly brushing brown hair out of his eyes.
“What?” Cynric looked generally surprised at their reactions, “it’s a shortening of warmonger because they’re trying to start a war right, it makes sense.”
The party continued on their way. Reaching the town of Màchrl they saw houses strewn around a crossroads, sitting on the crossroads was a worn but bustling tavern. Inside an earthy smell accompanied the few occupants that sat scattered about the room quietly drinking. In the centre of the room a game of poker was being played a group of adventures and survivors watched eagerly. Cynric waltzed over to the bar, and Enroth reluctantly payed for a room so Declan could get some rest. Taking a seat at the bar he looked to see Cynric drinking a vile grey liquid, how the hell did I end up with this guy? Enroth thought, At least he isn’t bad in a fight. He could hear raindrops start to fall outside.
Rain poured heavily outside. Declan lay on a sleeping mat, propped up on his elbows he watched the rain smack against the window, “I wonder if it’s the start of the wet season?” he thought aloud.
“Possibly” Triss answered him, a faint glow sprouted from her hands, she held it over Declan’s stab wound, she had closed the wound soon after he got it preventing him from bleeding however there was still internal damage. She bowed her head and muttered a prayer to the goddess of life. The young man watched her with a grim look, “What’s with that look, elves have gods too.”
Declan shook his head, is soft brown hair shimmering in the candlelight, he needed a haircut, “No that’s not it.” He said his voice no more than a whisper, “You just look really pretty in this light.” not trying to hide her blushing Triss ruffled his hair and turned to leave.
“Get some rest boy.” She hadn’t called Declan boy since he was sixteen.
“Sure thing, mum”
Triss gestured rudely to him on her way down to the tavern. The room was quiet, most of people had went home or were sleeping upstairs only a few sat tending their drinks. Seeing Enroth leaning over a parchment she made her way over to him.
“What’s that?” she motioned to the parchment he was studying.
“Information” Enroth responded gruffly.
“No shit. What is it really?”
“Some sort of legend, it was found on a Beastkin corpse.” He motioned to strange markings scrawled all over the page, “I can’t decipher this but I think it’s an old Beastkin legend.”
Triss nodded gravely, Enroth looked at her expectantly. “I can’t read this either!” she quickly added.
“The Iron crown” A gravelly voice came from behind them, they turned to face a tall figure, his face was like a humans but he bared dog like teeth, furry ears poked out of its head and a fuzzy tail suspended from behind it, A member of the wolf clan. A heavy greatsword rested on his back and he gestured toward the parchment. “I can help you.”
“Show me your left hand!” Enroth ordered
The Beastkin showed his hand, revealing no mark, “I am not with the cult.” He said, “My name is Wroteger, I wish to help you.”
Triss looked him up and down, “How can we trust you.”
“If you wish to find out what the cult is planning then you must.” He responded indifferently. He grinned slightly, “I believe one of you comrades can vouch for me, the grey haired young man”
Enroth sighed dramatically, “If you can find him.”
The elf just know realising Cynric’s absence asked, “Oh yeah where did he go.”
“He’s been drinking grain alcohol for the past hour and just stumbled outside not long before you came down.” He said indicating to Triss.
Wroteger grinned “Sounds like the Cynric I know.”
The three peered outside, the storm outside was at its peak, rain fell heavily and wind lashed the buildings. Enroth motioned back inside with his chin, “Maybe we should let him find his own way back.” He said. Nodding slightly the other two returned to the table. “Okay, Wroteger fill us in, what is this iron crown?”
A small room littered with books of every description greeted the old caretaker, in the corner a young woman no older then eighteen watched the rain fall outside. “Isn’t it best you go to bed milady?” the caretakers voice had weakened with age and now all he could manage were sot croaky words. She nodded her red hair glimmered in the candlelight. “have you been watching him again milady?”
“yes.” She responded, her voice like velvet. “However I am afraid I can’t help him.”
“I have been looking after this castle for many years milady, I know you can do anything when you put your mind to it.”
She smiled at the old caretaker. “Thanks Gregory.” Gregory chuckled and waved his hand in dismissal. Returning to look out the window she whispered “Please stay safe... Cynric.”