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Adjudication - Part Two

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02. Fort Locke to Highcliff / The Corsican



Khelgar was not happy with just walking in silence. So, when Audrinne ignored his probing questions, he whistled a tune to himself. If it kept him happy and relatively quiet, Audrinne allowed it, but it was starting to get on her nerves.

If this was what the majority of adventuring was like, then she much preferred it from the excitement and safety of her computer desk. It was a lot of walking—Khelgar said they’d been walking for about six miles now—with hardly any inkling of life. For the first mile or two, she traveled with her sword at the ready, expecting combat at every turn. That got tiresome after a while.

Khelgar was a fit companion for her, as his short legs causing him to walk slower, and she wasn’t used to this level of aerobic activity. In fencing, everything was a carefully calculated lunge, a short burst of energy instead of this prolonged, repetitive motion. The burn in her calves had fizzled away, and she had to switch shoulders for her dance bag so as to keep one from going numb.

The path was becoming more visible now, almost paved with a discernible layer of dirt hammered to a level surface by armies of boots—apparently armies was an appropriate word. “Fort Locke – One Mile,” read a sign adjacent to the road.

“Score,” Audrinne breathed. “Maybe we can sit down to another drink again. I’m not used to running around like this.”

“Eh, women,” Khelgar scoffed. “Draw your weapon. Soldiers are more fickle ‘n a starved dog.”

She did as she was told, and advanced slowly up the path. The road turned sharply to the left up ahead, and she was wary as she approached the juncture. She peeked around from behind a pine tree, expecting something, but not quite sure of what.

There was a small clearing off the path. A gigantic wolf stood over a fallen soldier, eagerly tearing into his already bloodied corpse. One arm was strewn across the road, and parts of his armored uniform littered the ground. The wolf’s face was drenched in blood and its fur was matted with sweat and nettles from surrounding trees. Khelgar inhaled excitedly. “Ooh, yeh! Wolves r’ good stuff. You ready?”

“What’s our plan?” she asked, her voice quavering.

“Kill it!” he yelled loudly, rushing out from under the tree as fast as his dwarven legs would take him.

The wolf lifted its huge head from its meal lazily, eyes focusing on the gray blob running with his axe drawn. It took half a second for the situation to compute it the creature’s mind—then it was jumping in Khelgar’s direction.

Axe and wolf met in mid-air and the skin tore loudly. The wolf whimpered as it hit the ground, a spray of blood peppering the gravel path with an eerie smack. The wolf turned instead on Khelgar’s meaty thigh, where it clashed with the chain mail hanging over his leg. With a yell, he raised his axe and brought the blunt end cashing over the wolf’s head. It stilled at once, but Khelgar, still frenzied, continued to chop the dead thing to pieces, calling out curses she could barely understand. Audrinne jumped out from the safety of the tree’s shade, breathing heavily, sword drawn. When Khelgar had calmed down, he took one look at her and collapsed into laughter. The adrenaline released her and she relaxed, shouting, “What! What’s you funny?”

“You! You look like yeh just been scared outta yer mind! Hah! Didn’t even lay a han’ n’ yer exhausted, oh, hah hah!”

“Shove it, Khelgar,” she said crossly, sheathing her sword. “You’re damn lucky for that chain mail. It that’d been me, I’d have a limp for life.”

“Well, we’ll jus’ hafta arm you up at Fort Locke, huh? Guess yeh haven’t fought much, huh?”

“No. Fencing is a sport in Corsica. We don’t actually kill each other.”

“Killin’is the best sport there is! Why, thas the whole reason I’m off ter Neverwinter. Was in a tavern brawl once with a buncha those Neverwinter monks a’ Tyr. Best fightin’ ever. Only fight I ever los’. Wanna be jus’ like ‘em, jus’ as strong, jus’ as merciful…gotta lot ter learn first, I’ll reckon. I’m up for it. I’ll be the firs’ Ironfist ter be a monk a’ Tyr!” He grunted. “So you don’t actually know how ter kill someone?”

“Oh sure, I could kill someone if I really wanted, I suppose. I mean, I know how. But why would I? Seems kinda senseless.”

She laughed, but it was interrupted as he slammed his elbow into her hip. She was thrown off balance, but, with a little clever footwork, he found the springy tip of her sword just beneath his nose. “Jus’ checkin’! But I ain’t afraid of that twig. Yeh need something with more punch.” He took the sword from the fallen soldier. “Here. Use this until we find something better.”

She took it from him, and nearly dropped it. She was expecting something just as light as her training sword. “Khelgar, I can barely swing this.”

“We’ll getcha a rapier at the Fort. Use two hans’ fer now.”

They continued along, walking silently. Unfortunately, silences never lasted very long. She halted in the middle of the road. “You hear that?”

“Mmm? The noise up ahead? Yeh. Souns’ them honorable soldiers.”

Sure enough, the path opened up into a second clearing in which a quartet of soldiers seemed to be harassing a girl, cowering in the middle. Audrinne glared. “That doesn’t look very fair.”

“Yer tellin’ me—oh, hey, she’s a tiefling,” he said with a growl. “Demon-blooded. Look at the horns. They’re filthy creatures. Can’t be a hero n’ hang around those.”

“If I recall properly, Demeter Bell of Waterdeep fell in love with a tiefling Commander, Valen Shadowbreath.”

“Heh, human heroes aren’t as great as our heroes. Let’s go see what this is all about.”

The pair moved forward on the path, until they came within earshot. The girl had a high-pitched, shrill voice that reminded Audrinne of the younger dancers in her studio that blamed others for their mistakes. It had a ringing undertone that suggested that she was not as innocent as she implied.

“I swear, I’m not with those bandits you’re looking for! Are you deaf or just stupid? I’ve been telling you this for forever!” She hopped out of the way of a swinging blade with an astounding amount of grace. “Hey! A little help here?”

Audrinne summoned her courage. “What seems to be the problem here?”

The soldiers were stunned by her odd appearance: black sweats, a cut-up tee-shirt, and Sperry topsiders, plus her dance bag slung clumsily over one shoulder. The only thing in place on her person was the longsword in her hand, but even then, she held it awkwardly. She had a blonde-grey head of hair, and ashy grey eyes; the furthermost two whispered that she must be one of Eltoora Sarptyl’s sorceresses or at least nobility. Hair and eyes like that were rare in Faerun’s natural blood.

“You keep out of this, aasimar,” the one in charge said. He had horrible five o’clock shadow, and chunks of his face were missing, replaced by pale, mottled scars. “Continue on your way. We can handle this foul-blooded one ourselves.”

“Aasimar?” Khelgar said under his breath. “They think yer high-blood. Hah! They must love the otherworldly to jump ter some conclusion like that.”

“I’m gonna go with it, see if we can’t get out of this unscathed,” she said quickly.

“Aw, Audrinne, let’s fight! We haven’t had a good brawl… well, since the Willow!”

“I missed that one, and I don’t have any armor,” she said, before raising her voice to the troop in the glade. “I understand. We’ll continue, then.”

“Oh, yeah? Some goody-good you are, human! You’re not a celestial! If you were, you’d know I was been wrongly punished over here! Hey!”

The soldiers turned back to the tiefling. The leader laughed loudly. “Nice trick, demon. That’s a celestial if I ever saw one.”

“Then where’s your halo, aasimar? I need help!”

Audrinne calmed herself with a measured breath. “Alright. What seems to be amiss here, tiefling?”

“They thin I stole from them when it’s really just—“

“She’s allied with a local group of bandits—“

“My potion wore off, I was just trying to get through!”

“Shut up, demon filth! Men! Get her!”

“Stop this at once!” Audrinne’s voice echoed loudly in the valley, and she started towards the men angrily, who raised their swords in defence. “You will release this creature. I shall take her to the fort myself. You will continue as you were.”

Audrinne prayed that she would be divinely intimidating enough for them to bend to her word, but the leader narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, you don’t glow as much anymore up close…”

“I wouldn’t mess with her, lad! She’s a descendant of Sune! Show ‘em!”

She yanked the neck of her shirt down over the emblem printed there, and the soldiers gasped, shrinking back. “I come fro the lady Sune on divine business with Tyr in Neverwinter! I should like a better excuse not to continue on!”

She clanged her sword confidently against the closest soldier’s own blade. “Cross our swords, and I’ll see you fall, human.”

The leader quickly shoved their swords apart. “Alright, I’m sorry for this trouble, high-blood. We’ll continue our patrol. Sorry to bother you.”

“Sune be with you,” she said, purposely flashing her eyes. They hustled away, whispering amongst themselves.

The tiefling dusted herself off. “Well, gods, that was close. For a second I thought you were going to let me go. You’re… you’re not an aasimar, I hope? Otherwise I’d have been better off with the soldiers…”

“No, I’m a human. You’re very obviously a tiefling. What’s your name?”

“Neeshka,” she said with a evil grin. Her skin was cutely spotted, but her complexion was dark. She had glittering yellow eyes that made Audrinne uncomfortable. She tugged on one of her horns. “I know I’m a little much with all the horns, but could I team up with you guys? I haven’t been doing well on my own—“

“Oh, no, you can’t! We’ve got business in Neverwinter and we can’t be bringin’ a thief in the mess. ‘Specially a half-blood like you!”

She ignored him. “So you really do have business in Neverwinter! Off to see Tyr in the name of Sune?”

“In the name of Khelgar,” she said motioning to him. “He’s got business with Tyr. I’ve got business with the proprietor of the Sunken Flagon.”

“Best place in all of the Docks! Duncan runs it. He’s not a very smart guy… what d’you need with him?”

“None of your business, demon! Yeh jus’ get outta here ‘fore Audrinne skewers yeh alive!”

“Shut UP, Khelgar! She can barely talk over you!”

“She ought not to! She’s evil, Audrinne, she’ll steal yer purse right from underneath yeh, n’ run off without a backwards glance!”

“Oh, come on, if I’m on your team, I won’t steal from you. I could steal for you, even! Please? Let me at least come with you to Neverwinter, that’ll be your test for me. Please, please?”

Audrinne cast a wayward glance down at Khelgar, who was pouting quietly. “I’m sorry, Khelgar, I didn’t mean to be rude. But let’s at least take her with us to Neverwinter. Once we get there, we’re on our own anyways, right?”

“Fine. But don’t expect me to cover fer her while she’s aroun’.”

Smiling, she quickly took up her place behind Audrinne as she started towards Fort Locke’s gates.

- - - - -

Elanee did not intend to follow the Corsican as far as she had, but the circumstances surrounding her arrival were intriguing. She had originally been following a Harborman elven ranger well outside of his village before he drugged the tavern-master of the Weeping Willow. That was when the girl had almost magically appeared in the courtyard, and the dwarf had started the fight. The girl and the dwarf had apparently teamed up and headed for Neverwinter, encountered a rogue (excuse the semantics) tiefling, and still trudged north to the City of Skilled Hands.

They had suited up for a while at Fort Locke, but spent no longer than an hour within the Fort’s walls. Audrinne, who was once awkwardly timid, had picked up a newly forged rapier and seemed to have gathered some confidence now that she had a killing blade she could accurately maneuver. Elanee was especially intrigued at her willingness to cover up the emblem of Sune; most of Sune’s vestals wore it proudly about themselves whereas she treated it like a bruise. She was constantly kneading it tugging her shirt around it, making sure it was always covered. Elanee felt and odd connection to her for her dislike of attention.

Neeshka, her tiefling companion, liked attention. It was strange, since she was supposed to keep silent, being a thief and all. Presently, Neeshka had managed to aggravate Khelgar enough to cause even Audrinne to stop and get involved.

“I swear, Audrinne, if he says anything more about the tail and horns, I’ll rip the fat right off his beer gut!”

“Neeshka, you are the one that keeps bringing your lineages into it.”

“I’ll twist the horns righ’ outta yer skull, you damned thing!”

“I’ll pull all the hairs out of your stupid beard!”

“I’ll squeeze every drop o’ dirt from yer veins!”

“You look like a toad on marshmallow weed!”

“You were dipped in a vat o’ goblin sick!”

“Ugly potato!”

“Filthy swine!”

Audrinne stamped her foot and looked skyward. “If it takes this long to get to Neverwinter, I may have enough time to think of a way to cleverly commit suicide.”

“Or I could kill you first, Kalach-Cha!”

From out of the hills burst a strange clamour; a set of creatures was moving towards them. They were hunched over, dark-looking things with long shiny swords and arrays of glittering charms woven into their hair. Their leader had green teeth bared by the stretched skin of his face and a long, slimy tongue that wiggled with each syllable he pronounced. “Give up the shard, Kalach-Cha, and we will let you live.”

Audrinne brandished her sword bravely. “Yeah, right. Over my dead body, which seems to be how you want to do it anyways.”

“Foolish human!” it hissed. “I shall derive much pleasure form killing you…slowly.”

Elanee stepped lightly from the shroud of the trees. “But surely you can see what a waste at would be?”

All three of them jumped suddenly. Khelgar reacted first by swinging his axe ferociously, hoping to intimidate her. “Who’re you? You with them?”

“I am Elanee, druidess of the Circle of the Mere. I am on your side.”

“No time for talkin’, let’s get to the action!” Audrinne waved her sword high, and caught the first bladeling by the ear. It was tossed backwards across the grass, and, when it came at her again, she dodged it expertly, and sliced through it’s scaled flesh with a fell sweep of her sword. Khelgar grinned.

“I think yer catchin’ on, girl! Let’s get ‘em!”

Another thing launched itself at Audrinne, but Khelgar chopped it in half with a particularly heavy blow to the chest. Purple and brown blood splattered across the path. Neeshka stabbed the other two with daggers, sneaking silently behind one and slitting it’s throat. Elanee called out the land, and, from the muddy grime of the trail, forced up hundred of thrashing roots that brought the other one to its knees. Audrinne beheaded it keenly.

The leader was still far off, a sphere of magical energy spinning about it. When he released a globe of bright white light, she saw three orbs of lightning rocketing at her. She could do nothing to stop them, but, even as they hit her, she felt nothing; then, all the breath whuffed out of her and she toppled, clutching her sides. Elanee was beside her in a heartbeat, a warming healing light blossoming form her palms. Khelgar and Neeshka were advancing on the leader, weapons drawn and raising a shout.

Elanee helped Audrinne to her feet before running after the other two. Audrinne felt a little queasy, but was otherwise alright. She couldn’t let her comrades down, so she too sprinted to their sides, and swiftly dismantled the creature in a matter of minutes.

When the leader had finally fallen, she turned her blade upon the wood elf. “Elanee of the Circle of the Mere, right? How is it that you come at just the right moment?”

The wood elf shrank away from the tip of her sword. “Forgive me, but I saw these... things about to attack you. I found I could not simply stand by while you were ambushed. I have been watching you, traveler, ever since you first met the dwarf you called Khelgar. I—“

“Audrinne, she’s been stalkin’ us! If that don’t tell yeh somepin creppy is goin’ on, then I dunno what will. Whatcha doin’ stalkin’ us, tree-hugger?”

Elanee frowned. “I was tracking another when I came upon you, Lady Audrinne. You bear the Mark of Sune; Sune marks only those good of heart and rife with passion.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you’re following us,” she said warily, her grip on her rapier relaxing a bit as the wood elf came before them. “Khelgar has every right to be wary.”

“And I commend him for it,” she said, winking at him expectantly. “But instead of shadowing you, I would walk with you.”

“With a frame like that, you’ll probably blow away in the wind,” Khelgar grunted loudly.

“Oh, don't be jealous, barrel-boy,” Neeshka taunted. Audrinne shot her an annoyed glance, but Khelgar quickly rose to his own defence.

“Jealous? Of an elf? And a tree-worshipper at that!” He laughed at the very notion.

Elanee crossed her arms and said flatly, “I think you'll find tree-worshippers rare these days, dwarf, so do not take them lightly.”

“With a belly like that, I don't think Khelgar takes anything lightly,” the tiefling said, dodging a blow to the shins.

Audrinne shrugged them off. “I suppose. We’re en route to Neverwinter; you’re welcome to join up. I didn’t expect this many people would have business in Neverwinter. Is adventuring a group activity?”

“No, but drinkin’ ‘round a campfire is! Who wants ter get drunk by ‘emselves?”

“I’d rather not get drunk at all,” Audrinne said dryly.

“Well, that’s no fun, now is it?”

Elanee relaxed a little and walked beside Audrinne. “I know of a secret path through the woods that can lead you to Neverwinter. I walked it once while on my way to our Circle. It may cut the miles down to perhaps ten. And it will be away from the road, so we can avoid highwaymen and robbers—“

“—and walk right into your trap, you sneaky elf,” Neeshka said with narrowed eyes. “Audrinne, I’m picking up something fishy about this wood elf. I think we should just stick to the road.”

“I’m with the half-blood fer once! Don’t soun’ like a good idea to me, girl,” Khelgar said, “Outta trust the road, notta tree-lover.”

“Well, then we’ll race. I want to get to Neverwinter in ten miles. You can take the twenty-two left. Last one there buys drinks at the Sunken Flagon, okay?”

Khelgar swore loudly and thumped a fist into his palm. “I’m not leavin’ you, Audrinne. I’m stickin’ with yeh. May get me killed, but you find yerself some good fights. I’m stickin’ with yeh.”

“Well, I don’t want to go alone! Oh, fine, I’ll come too. Why not? You better not lead us into trouble, Elanee, or you’ve got something else coming.”

Adjudication - Part II © littlefishh

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