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The Messenger - Chapter One

Author: 
Mandos (Bill Marcellino)
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
124

The gorge spread out before me; a deep cleft, pine covered, with a falling stream down the center of the cut. To the right side was a decent trail, but I could see where the spring had uncovered slides and tree falls. There would be at least three places where I would either have to climb over thick tree tangles of fallen pines, or try and slide into the draw.

Damn. I was hot, tired, and even downhill sucks when you have far enough to go and it is steep enough. My shirt, where my pack and straps touched it, was soaked through with sweat, and even though I was hot, the breeze on my back was chilling on wet clothes.

It would be cold tonight after the sun went down.

I shifted my pack, and started down. The path was steep in places, and really steep in others, steep enough to make my quads burn; to be a danger to my ankles should I turn one. I concentrated on where I placed my feet; but it was still nice weather, an easy day compared to some, and I was content.

That is why I missed them at first.

At a certain point I realized something was amiss; something tickling the back of my mind. I stopped for a sec to catch my breath, looked back at the rising land behind me to see that I was a quarter of the way down.

Movement behind a tree off the trail.

Fudge.

Someone was tailing me; I could hear Koort saying something like "The Hunter becomes the Hunted" with crazy grin on his face in my mind. I started to move more purposefully, but without running and giving it away. Coincidence, or did someone know why I was heading where I was heading? No matter. There was a tree slide below me a few minutes; 3 or 4 big pines toppled over when the wet snow melt made the mud around their roots too soft to hold.

I went under the first, and had to climb on top of the other 3, carefully crawling from springy branch to solid limb and back again, worried I would fall through and get stuck, or worse take something in the back. It took all my will to not look back; I felt eyes burning into my back and my neck itched like crazy.

Over the top, a drop of 6 or so feet to the trail and I stumbled, twisting my ankle a little. Fudge. Well, I had planned to stand here anyway. Reverse slope, just like the NFR teaches in 2d form. A brief prayer to the Lady as I unlimbered my bow, dropped my pack, and knocked one of my crappy slop arrows.

Waiting�.waiting. I wanted to climb up and look, even though the rational part of my mind knew that it was stupid. So what where they�ok there it was. Small humanoid figure, sword clutched awkwardly in one hand. Bow up, draw to ear, breath let out to natural hold, release.

The goblin looked at me in dumb surprise as an arrow with brown feathers sprouted in his chest; he fell forward in a disjointed sprawl that ended with him hitting head first with a loud smack on the trail dirt. Good. The next one must not have seen what happened, as the same dumb expression and brown fletching blossomed on it as well.

Then there were two coming over with a yell, and I dropped one, and dropped my bow. My dagger came free quick enough to threaten this one; it backed off for a second, holding an iron bar club while two more come over.

The one smiled as I drew my short sword, but before friends could get down I hit him overhand, hard, clanging off the bar he raised in defense; the blow staggered him enough to leave him open. My dagger scored him across the face, bone showing then crimson splashing out. I hit again and again with the sword and he fell dead; the reek of shit hit my nostrils as he voided his bowels in death. I spun, slashing wildly as one of the other two came for me. He fell back, his eyes wide as he took in his buddy's death. He backed up, short blade in hand, and his eyes flicked to the side where his other buddy was�.climbing back up and leaving him for dead. With a yelp, high pitched in fright, he turned to run and flee; 3 steps and I cut him down from behind, chopping into back, muscle and sinew. Blood splashed me as I killed him, and I looked up the last gray skinned goblin crested the tree pile.

I lunged for my bow, came up with an arrow in shaking fingers and tried desperately to knock it; but the shot was gone.

I looked up at the tree pile, and instead of climbing it sat down; my limbs suddenly were trembling with fear and rage after the fact; I realized I was exhausted and my arm ached. My sword dropped from my fingers nervelessly to clang off a stone on the trail bed. I don�t know how long exactly I sat there, chest heaving; it was my first time I realized, that I had killed by myself.

Ever other time I had drawn blood from a beast or man it had been by the side of one of my form or Shan. Always had eyes on me, always thinking how to act, always watching to see how Koort acted, always I realized, feeling backed up by my form. I started at the thought of sitting on my ass like a rookie; Shan would have whooped me and made me like it if he could see me now. Feeling shamed with an audience of one, I jumped up and began to clean myself, clean my weapon. As I worked quickly at a small tributary rivulet, I looked up the side of the draw to see an old raven staring at me. His head was cocked, and he had an inquisitive, intelligent look about him. I grinned, and on impulse said to him, "Go ahead," as I gestured at the bodies, "pick away. Everyone's gotta eat, I won't cover 'em."

He gave no reply, but sat perched on his tree while I put my pack on, and moved out.

I made about three more leagues, and came to a good campsite by the stream bed. It was not NFR, but I saw common marks by the headstone. The mark was a little over a year ago, but I figured it was as good a place as not.

There was enough dry wood available that I felt safe lighting a small fire, besides, I had already proved today that I was the toughest mother's son in this valley. I thought this with a smile, took off my boots and put on my wading sandals.

When I had got a fire going, and put on some good hard chunks to get embers up, I lay my roll and oilskin out, and pulled out my kit. In 20 minutes camp was up, and I had my feet breathing easy, and was sipping sassafras tea. I ate, and had the embers of my fire carefully banked before it was too dark.

Night began to spread her blue black cloak across the sky; the moon was up, a pale crescent, and the first stars were twinkling in the east on the right hand of the vale.

I looked down from the sky to see, with a shock, a raven not 5 feet from me. Damn. What was it doing? Shan had a way with animals, and you could say he was mostly friends with the animals of Split Ridge, mostly. He said you just got to know them, respect them, and they will do the same for you. Uh huh. Shan says a lot of things like that, and I smiled thinking of him. Well, the raven wasn't going nowhere, just looking at me. I could barely see him on the gloaming, and I slowly, oh so slowly, reached into my pack and pulled out a bit of pack biscuit.

I threw a crumb to him. He hopped forward, looked at the crumb, and disdained it. "Sorry, friend," I said softly, but damn if old boy didn't back off, shake his head, and then flew up a few feet to a bush. Then he flew back, croaked, and looked at me again. What the hell, I thought? The raven croaked again, and I could have sworn he was trying to say something. He hopped again, and flew to the bush�and.

Fudge. Double fudge. "Old boy, you trying to tell me something, ain't you." I don't know how I knew, but somehow I knew that the goblin that got away, well, he come back.

Just then the raven flew up in a rush, and I grabbed my bow and quiver. Quick as I could I high crawled into the thickest brush I could heading away from the stream. Could goblins see in the dark? Man oh man, why didn�t I listen harder in school circle? I didn�t think so; but just the same I got in, as hard as I could, in the roots of a thick bush. It was uncomfortable, but not a bad place to hide. I lay still, sweat dripping down my eye brow, listening with every fiber of my being. My eyes stung, I was starting to get a pain directly in my thigh from a root knot, but damned if I was going to move for anything.

Then I heard it. Guttural, slavering goblin speech. A lot. Maybe four? Maybe more. Fudge. What now, toughest mother, I could see Koort laughing at his buddy? I smiled to myself in the dark.

It had gotten much darker now, but as my eyes got better I could see them. Five indeed. Ugly sums a bitches too. One of them was decked out in a white necklace that rattled when he walked. Bones? Teeth? Anyway, they soon starting poking through my gear. I watched, really, really unhappy, as they commenced to ratfuck my pack and gear. Would they notice no weapons? One of them held up my boots and spoke softly to the others. I heard some of their gutter speech...heard the word "Ullun" used several times. I guess that was me. After much argument, two of them began to beat the bushes for me. They came back in less then 20 minutes, and the group settled down to wait. They went through it all�anger, denial, depression, and finally acceptance.

My leg was asleep now, and I was cold as all get out. I still staid quiet. Shan always says, "If your life depended on it, I bet you could do it boy." Well, this little NFR boy felt his life depended on being quiet, and he was. Amazing how that works. Then suddenly it hit me.

I could die out here. End of story, no codicil. No just me either; what I carried in my head was precious, and other people's lives depended on it. I thought about my failure to take out that last goblin. "No follow through boy. You are all show, no substance." No follow through. Fudge.



 

The night was full and dark; the fire they had uncovered and used to heat all my rations had gone out, when I began to work my leg muscles in place. My right leg had wicked pins and needles, and shooting pains where a small pebble had pressed for hours. But they were asleep, and I was gonna get some.

With infinite slowness I crept forward, low crawl, listening every few feet. They had no watch; I have no idea what the heck they were thinking of. I mean hey, there was an armed and dangerous, barefoot "Ullun" out there. Oh well, too bad, so sad, as Shan says.

I cut their throats one by one. That, by the way, is hard to do. You have to yank back and pin the head as you pull across the carotid. And you gotta hold tight. The window of danger is less than a minute as they try and flop; then they are dying but too weak to do anything about it. I was covered in blood up to my elbows, and then across my chest and left shoulder crook. I got number four as the last one sat bolt upright and looked up at me. We both froze for a second, me ridiculously still trying to be quiet. Then a rush of motion as I scrambled up and tried to cross the fire, and he spoke in a strange deep voice, unlike the one used earlier. As I rushed at him, my vision fogged for a moment, and I saw violet flashes like lighting to the sides. Like that my body locked up, and I fell forward. I landed half on the fire circle, and my elbow and left side hit hot embers. I was panicking, my arm starting to burn, and I found that I could yell, which I did in great gulps of shameless pain. But I couldn�t move my arms or legs; it was like they were made of stone now, no longer flesh and blood.

The goblin walked towards me; I could see his legs and the club which he carried; it disappeared as he hefted it, and then I was hit a stunning blow on the back that clipped my neck and head. Oh Lady, I knew I was going to die then, helpless; my ears were ringing and my head spun with terrible pain.

Suddenly the feet in front of me spun and danced, and a few seconds later the paralysis was gone, fast as it came. I leapt up in fear and panic and rage, as much to get to the goblin as to get off the fire that had burned me, was smoldering my shirt.

The goblin had dropped his club and in the dim firelight that had kicked up from the embers I could see he was clutching at his eye. With a hysterical scream I lunged forward and knocked him down; as he squirmed below me and began to chant again, I cut his damn throat. My arm on fire still with pain, I staggered to my feet. A shape fluttered down onto the goblin head, and began pecking at the neck. It was the raven. I stared at it for a second, confused as to what it was doing, my head throbbing from the blow, but the pain in my arm drove me to the water.

I returned maybe 30 minutes later, my arm still shooting with pain, but now manageable. The raven croaked at my return. I laughed, which hurt my head.

I built the fire back up, and looked at my new�..friend. He had pecked the necklace off the goblin's neck, and drug it near to me.

Raven skulls. Well, bird skulls anyway, and I would bet crowns to dragons that they were raven skulls. The raven drug the necklace to me, and dropped it at my feet.

"Ok. What am I supposed to do?" The Raven jerked its head up and down, croaked, and generally made no sense. I eventually cut the gut cord of the necklace, and watched in silence as one by one, heavily, awkwardly, but still the same each skull was borne aloft in turn, clutched in the raven's claws. I don�t know what he did with them, but old boy sure as fire had a plan. I had heard stories that the raven and thrush were counted as wise among birds, and that some could talk, but this beat all.

A long, unpleasant night, with snatches of sleep in between misery; surrounded by dead bodies. But with the morning I built a new fire, collected chestnut leaves, and put them to boil. I ate my surviving biscuit crumbs and scraps, sharing them with Old Boy, who now was more than willing to eat them with a concupiscent greed that amused me to no end. By the time our meager breakfast was done, the leaves had boiled down; I made the scrapings into a salve that took much of the fire out of my arm.

I collected my gear, moved the bodies away from the stream draw, put my pack on gingerly, with much hissing and self pity, and started out. Old Boy paced me. I wondered how long he would follow me. I doubted all the way. All the way to Arabel.

 

The Messenger Chapter 1 © Mandos (Bill Marcellino)

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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