Bright Star Quest I: The Book of Baysil
Chapter 5: Elm, Thief
Copyright© 2005 by Porlock
Sex Story: Chapter 5: Elm, Thief - Book One of Bright Star Quest. A small group of adventurers start off on a quest to find a long-hidden treasure. S&S in a modified D&D world. Very little sex, but lots of blood and gore.
He awoke with the first light, savoring the strange smells of the fresh woodland air. Almost all of his young life had been spent in the Thieves Quarter of Pordigran. He'd known its every sound, every smell. Now he was learning a whole new world of the senses, with the added spice of danger to speed his learning.
Kletta's blankets were already neatly rolled, but even as he saw to his own pack she appeared from Bartan's direction.
"Don't make it too obvious," he cautioned in a low voice. "This bunch doesn't need any stirring up. There's more than enough bad feeling between Bartan and that crazy Dwarf without making it any worse."
"What's the matter, Slippery," she teased. "Don't tell me you're jealous."
"Not one bit," he answered bluntly, irritated by her use of his childhood nickname. "But the other night it was Baysil, last night it was Bartan. Who'll it be tonight, Darrick?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Do you think it should be you, again?" She frowned, looking across the fire to where Kargh tore oily strips of flesh from the breast of a wild duck. "It won't be Kargh, though. I don't want to get anything started with him. I think he is crazy!"
"We all are, or we wouldn't be here," Elm grinned slyly. "But I know what you mean. He scares me too, but he's a good fighting man."
By the time the sun was over the hills they were well on their way. The ground had been rising all day yesterday and now they marched among good sized hills. They had left the lush stands of hardwoods far behind, and now the road wound among huge evergreens. The floor of the forest was open, little brush surviving in the shade of the forest giants.
Elm was struck anew by the diversity of the wilderness. If he'd thought about it at all, he had pictured the world outside of Pordigran as all villages and fields tended by cloddish peasants. Beyond the farms had been a vague area made up of close packed trees infested by monsters and wandering bands of Orcs.
Now he realized that his picture of the land of Orris Kayn was far from complete. For one thing, it was far larger than he'd ever dreamed. For a dizzying instant he wondered what lay beyond even Orris Kayn's far flung boundaries. He pushed that thought away hurriedly, saving it for some time when he could examine it at his leisure. Now was not the time...
"Close up," Baysil warned. "There could be Orcs in these hills."
"How much farther to where we turn off?" Kargh growled, eyeing the trees nervously.
"I don't know. Just pray that I recognize the place when we reach it."
Their feet were silent on the mossy ground. The only sounds were of their breathing, the creak of leather, and the soft clash of chain mail as they marched.
"Look there," Anji called softly. "Isn't that a trail?"
They had just entered a natural clearing where only a few bushes pushed up between scattered boulders. They were high on the north facing side of a ridge, the road wending ever to rau'rd.
"It's a trail all right, but is it the right one?" Bartan asked. "What do you think, Baysil?"
"The mountains are that direction, but I can't see them clearly. Darrick, you've got the best eyes of any of us. What do you see?"
Even as the others were talking the Half Elf had been gazing into the distance. They fell silent, waiting for him to speak.
"High mountains, growing ever higher in the distance," he said at last. "Mountains no traveler has seen for a hand of centuries, but their names are still recorded in the archives of Elf Home. Once this was a busy land, alive with the comings and goings of Elf kind, and before them even older races. Some walked like men or beasts, some crawled like serpents, some even flew like the very eagles. All are gone, and not even the land remembers them. There are ruins of cities hidden there, but the very mountains have changed their shapes since any walked their streets. The trail? Yes, it could be the one we want. Even if it was only made by animals they would have taken the easiest way, perhaps a way that had been smoothed by the passage of men and their wagons."
"And what if it isn't the right path?" Kargh snarled, then laughed, "Maybe we'll find a ruined city."
"We should still find some traces if this ever was a road," Darrick answered. "If not, we'll double back and follow this road on farther."
The new trail led through a jumble of boulders, angling down the side of the ridge and up a winding canyon. Only the sun's rays told them which way they were traveling.
"This stone has been carved," Kargh announced, pointing to where a ledge of rock overhung their path. "See there, where the weather hasn't reached. Though what tools could cut such gouges I could not tell you."
Even Elm's unpracticed eye could see where some instrument had sheared through the living rock as though it was half dried mud, carving out great chunks to broaden the trail and hurling them into the canyon below. Heartened, they marched with renewed energy for a time, but it didn't last. The sun reflecting from rock walls made the canyon an oven, and boulders cut them off from any breeze.
Elm's sling whistled as he sped a smooth pebble on its way. With a low cry of triumph he swarmed up a pile of boulders and snatched up a furry creature about the size of a large rabbit.
"Mountain beaver," Bartan smiled. "Good eating later in the year when they've put on more fat. Not bad at any time."
Elm fastened it to his belt, and by the time they camped for the night he had three more to keep it company. The only other life they'd seen had been an eagle, circling on motionless wings.
They camped where a fall of rocks made a natural barricade. A spring fed pool supplied them with fresh water, and they built a fire of dry sticks against a sheer rock wall. The meat of Elm's prey was dark and gamy, but filling. A few bites of smoked venison rounded off their meal, washed down with water.
Some time in the night Elm woke as a hand gripped his shoulder.
"Hush!" The voice was Furdick's. "Something's out there. Wake the others."
In moments the camp was alert. The fire had burned down to a few coals, the only light a few vagrant beams from the late rising moons. From the darkness, the clatter of a rolling rock betrayed an incautious foot. Burdock added twigs to the fire, shielding it with his cloak.
"Let them come closer," Darrick muttered. "I'll tell you when."
Perched on a boulder next to Elm, Tarr was only a darker shadow. Another rattle of rock, and he could almost make out dark shapes moving toward them.
"Now!" The fire blazed up, and Tarr hurled her spell. Five shaggy Orcs hurled themselves forward, clubs swinging, only to collapse in an untidy heap.
"Some Orc band," Kargh sneered. "Cut their throats!"
"Hold it!" Darrick snapped. Elm and Kletta paused, daggers ready.
"What for?" Kletta grinned eagerly, the corner of her lip lifting to show sharp white teeth. "Afraid of a little blood?"
"Dead Orcs can't talk. Tie them up."
"Dead Orcs can't talk, live ones won't," she shrugged. "Who talks their jabber?"
"I do," Darrick answered calmly. "When they're tied, kick them awake. Do they have any weapons worth keeping?"
"This one's got a pretty good knife." Elm held it up so that the blade caught a crimson gleam from the fire. "Hey, Kargh. You need a dagger, don't you?"
"Yeah." He looked it over carefully before clipping the scabbard to his belt. "Anything else on them?"
Elm reluctantly handed over a few coins. Kletta sliced leather pouches free from the Orcs' belts and dumped them out on a flat rock, finding a few more.
"Thirty five coppers and a few silvers," Kargh frowned. "Not what I'd call a fabulous treasure."
"And one dagger," Elm added. "Shall I kick them all awake, or just one at a time?"
"All at once."
A few hearty kicks did the job. The Orcs strained at their bonds, glaring at their captors. Kargh glared back at the largest Orc, eye to eye since the Orc was sitting on the ground.
"All right, you! Which one of you is the boss?"
The Orc looked blankly back at him, then answered in his growling, barking speech. Darrick repeated Kargh's question in the same language and the Orc nodded at the smallest of the band, the one who had owned the dagger.
"Him. Big Nose. Him boss."
"Where rest of tribe?" Darrick asked the smaller Orc, who would have stood just under five and a half feet tall and was about average build. With his face covered he could almost have passed for Human, but his nose was broad and trunk like, almost the snout of a pig. "Speak up!"
"Big Nose not tell! Big Nose kill!"
At Darrick's nod, Kletta slashed the Orc's throat. She grinned wolfishly as the twitching body spurted blood and was still.
"Who else wants his throat cut?" Darrick glared at another Orc, one as short as Big Nose but stockier. "You?"
"I talk! I talk true!"
"You shut up!" the biggest Orc snarled. Six foot two and stocky, he strained at his bonds.
"Kill that one," Darrick ordered, and Kletta dispatched him as easily as the other.
"What's your name?" he asked the small Orc sternly, looming over the cringing captive.
"Jabber! Me Jabber." He looked toward the other two surviving Orcs. "Them Stabber and Crusher. Deader, him called Hulk."
"All right." Darrick's smile was that of a cat looking at a scruffy mouse. "Where your tribe?"
"No got tribe. No! Me tell true! Tribe dead gone! Just we us left." He squirmed under Darrick's penetrating gaze.
"Is that true?" Darrick asked Crusher, the larger of the other two Orcs.
"Me not tell! Me kill Elf Kin filth!"
Again Kletta's knife flashed red, and blood spurted. The Orc spasmed and kicked, bursting his bonds and fouling himself as he collapsed.
"It true! It true!" Stabber confirmed Jabber's words. He was taller than Jabber, but skinny. "Tribe dead gone. Fat Ass tribe all dead."
"How come be dead?"
"Big lake. Big lake by OldCastle. Not go near to OldCastle. Bad. Big bad. Old Castle Orc tribe kill Fat Ass tribe if catch. We us go hunt. Catch kill nice fat goats. Then big rains. We us come back. Lake all gone. Fat Ass tribe all gone. All wash away. We us run far."
"Stabber tell true?" Darrick asked Jabber.
"Is true! Is true! Fat Ass dead gone. Tribe dead gone. No food. No swords. All wash away. We us run so Old Castle Orcs not catch kill."
"This OldCastle. Where at?"
"Up in hills. You go there?"
"We go there." This debased dialect of Orcish wasn't suited for anything but the simplest of thoughts and ideas, but it sufficed. "How far? How we find?"
"Go up trail. Go many days. See two big hills. OldCastle there. You go up trail. We us go down trail?" He smiled sickly, showing rotted fangs. "We us go fast far!"
"What else in hills? Other old old things?"
"Not know other things. Just hills. Holes in hills. Holes bad. Stay out of holes." He eyed Kletta's dagger warily. "Let us go?"
"So you can get other Orcs to kill us?"
"Not do! We us go fast far." He grinned loosely at a sudden thought. "You go OldCastle. You die. Not need we us bring other us. Other us not talk to we us, just kill."
Elm watched interestedly. Darrick passed on Jabber's words, and he grinned as he heard the words 'OldCastle'.
"I say to slit their throats!" Kletta hissed the words, dagger upraised. Furdick and Baysil nodded ready agreement.
"No need," Darrick answered calmly. "Only two of them, no weapons or armor. They'll head out of here as fast as they can move."
"Yes, let them go," Anji agreed. Elm nodded, moved by a vague feeling that enough blood had been spilled.
"It's up to you," Bartan shrugged. "Let them go if you want."
"I don't know," Furdick wavered, glancing at Anji. "Oh, well. Let them go."
"It isn't worth arguing over," Kletta shrugged. Kargh glared impartially at all of them, but kept his mouth shut.
"It's getting light," Elm spoke up. "We'd better get moving."
"You two!" Darrick snapped the words at the Orcs. "We let you go. You go! Keep going!"
"We us go!" Jabber babbled, almost slobbering in his eagerness to please. "We us not stop long long time!"
"Cut their feet loose," he told Kletta. "It'll take them a while to work their hands free."
They marched up the trail in the gray light of morning. Elm looked back and laughed. The two Orcs were stumbling and scrambling the other way, anxiously looking over their shoulders as they blundered along. A stone from Kletta's sling whistled past their ears, and they redoubled their frantic efforts to escape.
The trail wound its way through hills that grew rougher and rockier with every hour. They scrambled and puffed their way up each hill, only to pick their way carefully down the other side. Elm found himself almost dizzy from looking up and then down nearly sheer cliffs.
"How in the Nine Hells did they get wagons through here?" he panted, throwing himself to the rocky ground. He was glad for once that the sun was hidden by high clouds.
"They didn't," Darrick chuckled. "Once they left the main road, they would have loaded everything on pack animals. I suppose they had a shelter of some kind for their wagons where the roads came together. Maybe a cave."
"I didn't see any cave back there," Kargh argued. "No sign of a building, either."
"Long since gone," Darrick agreed. "Maybe covered up or wiped out by a slide. Baysil, did the records say anything about a cave or shelter?"
"Not that I can remember." Baysil sat with his back against a wall of rock, massaging his leg. Elm thought that he looked tired, and wondered if the Cleric would make it through the day without falling on his face.
"We might as well have a bite to eat while we're sitting here," Anji suggested. "It's about that time of day."
No words were needed as they dug into their packets. Elm gnawed off a chunk of journey cake, savoring the rich taste as he chewed. This was another thing he'd learned of on his trip. It was almost unknown in The City, though travelers in all parts of Orris Kayn knew it as a light, compact and long lasting source of nourishment. Made from coarsely ground grains, dried meats and various berries and herbs, it was tasty enough to tempt the most jaded appetite.
"All right." Baysil was on his feet. "Let's get moving."
"A moment." Darrick was on his feet too, peering off into the distance. "What did those old records say of how the monastery looked to travelers?"
"'In a cleft between two peaks, with higher mountains rising to either side, lies the monastery of the Priest of the Abyss'," Baysil recited, closing his eyes to better picture that faded parchment. For a moment he could see the ancient crypt that held long undisturbed records, even smell the hot oil of the smoky lantern.
The shifting layers of clouds parted and distant mountains loomed, massive and indistinct. Then the horizon closed in again, if indeed it had been other than a trick of the light and their fevered imaginations. Elm rubbed his eyes, but all he could see was a jumble of ridges and canyons. The only certainty was the crumbling, time eroded steps that led from their resting place down to a broad ledge. The clouds dropped down, as though following them along the ledge. The ridge above cut off the light of the setting sun, forcing an early halt.
"A cold camp, tonight," Bartan growled. "There's nothing here to burn, unless one of you knows a spell for setting fire to solid stone."
A fold in the cliff gave an illusion of shelter. Elm picked a spot where two boulders touched overhead, drawn by a fancied resemblance to the culverts and arched bridges he'd nested under as a child. As he unrolled his blankets, Kletta joined him.
"Well, welcome back," he teased.
"Oh, shut up," she answered matter of factly. "I just don't feel like being squashed tonight."
"You're so romantic," he chuckled, then ducked her playful fist. "All right, I'll be still."
He awoke gradually as a grayish light filtered into the niche where they slept. Kletta stirred, burrowing deeper under their blankets. The silence around them was absolute, all sounds muffled by a dense fog. All his senses alert, he freed himself from the clinging blankets. Unmoving lumps lay huddled about, and a single lean figure perched silently on a convenient boulder.
"Awake, I see," Darrick smiled.
"What's wrong? What time is it?"
"Nearly mid morning," he answered the second question first. "Nothing's wrong, except for this fog that's closed in on us. No, I feel no threat within its folds. It's just a particularly dense fog. Rouse the others. It'll soon grow light enough for us to travel if we watch our steps."
They groped cautiously along the ledge. On their right the fog hid a drop off of unguessable depth. A pebble kicked by a careless foot simply disappeared. The wall of rock on their left might have ended only a few feet over their heads, or it might have gone on up forever.
"What's wrong?" Elm stopped to keep from bumping into Darrick's legs. "Why're we stopping?"
"End of the ledge," Anji called back.
"Can you see any way up or down?" Darrick asked.
The answer was 'no', and they started moving back to where the ledge was wider. Elm kept one hand against the rock, bothered by a sudden feeling that the ledge was about to tilt and slide them all off into the mist. He stumbled, catching at a projecting rock. There was a grinding crunch, and the wall of rock shifted with the weight of his shoulder.
"Hold it," he called softly. "I think I've found something."
A section of rock that looked no different than any other slid back and turned to reveal an arched opening. Within was only curdled blackness. He froze, listening. A faint breath of dank air swirled past him, but there was still no sound. He eased forward, peering into the darkness.
"This must be where the road goes," he whispered hoarsely.
"It's so dark!" Kletta pressed close to him, trying to see what lay ahead.
"Back off," Darrick ordered. "We'll light torches. Bartan, spike that door so it stays open."
They marched forward, torches held high. Kargh led the way, tramping into the heart of the mountain with confident step. The flames of their torches flickered orange, streaming out behind them. They were well inside when there was a grating crash. Their torches flickered low, then burned high and still as the current of air that fanned their faces abruptly stopped. Baysil went back a few steps and returned.
"Closed," he reported. "Bartan's wedges just slid on the smooth stone. There's a latch, though. We can open it again from this side when we return."
"Leave it be," Darrick ordered. "Less chance of something sneaking up behind us."
The tunnel was straight and level at first. There was room for three men to walk abreast, and the ceiling arched to twice even Darrick's height. Behind him Baysil's breathing grew labored, and Elm realized that the tunnel was rising. It widened, narrowed, widened again, twisting and turning. In the light of the torches a few stalactites reached down to where stalagmites grew, and he realized that the tunnel had become a cave.
They paused where a narrow passage led down to the right. A torch thrust into it showed only a crooked hole that sloped away into darkness.
"We won't go that way." Kargh seemed almost cheerful in the darkness. "Look!"
He flipped a pebble into the darkness. There was a splash, and the passage rippled and shook. Elm realized that the tunnel was filled with water. Water so clear and still that he hadn't even seen it until Kargh tossed that pebble.
Kargh led the way into the darkness. Elm realized that the cave was turning, dipping downward. They passed other branches, but always the way was plain before them. His nose twitched, even before he was really aware of a rank odor.
"Hold it!" he warned. "Something stinks."
They halted uncertainly. Their torches had been replaced several times, and now the ones they held were again burning low.
"I don't smell anything," Kargh rumbled. "What do you think it is?"
"Smoke." He tested the air delicately, nostrils twitching. "Smoke, and rancid sweat. Almost like the back alleys of Pordigran, but not quite. There's a musky smell along with it, almost like a den of snakes."
"Get your weapons ready," Darrick ordered. "Put out all but one torch. We'll try to sneak up on whatever it is, but be ready to back off in a hurry if we have to."
The floor was level and they could see well enough by the light of the single dying torch. The passage bent off to the left, and Elm caught a glimpse of light through a thicket of stalagmites. Darrick gestured, and Furdick snuffed out the torch. The light from ahead was yellow, dancing and flickering, and a mutter of hoarse voices echoed strangely in the gloom.
The passage opened out into a spacious cavern whose ceiling rose far above the light of a blazing fire. Near the fire stood, sat, or lay a group of strange looking men, if men they were. At first Elm thought they'd run across another band of Orcs. Then one bent close to the fire to toss on wood, and he wasn't sure. The creature's skin was a swarthy greenish color, with patches of scales scattered at random. They ranged in size from about three feet tall to the height of a small man, and most of them were thin and bony. A couple of them were quarreling by the far side of the fire, while the rest watched listlessly.
"Get ready!" Darrick whispered.
Anji checked her that her crossbow was cocked and loaded. Bartan set arrow to bow string. The others readied their slings with leaden bullets. Tarr softly chanted the beginning of a spell.
At Tarr's harshly barked syllable, all but two of the creatures sprawled limply. The two who had been arguing leaped to their feet, glaring wildly round for the source of the attack. Anji's crossbow spat its bolt. Bartan's arrow was followed by a hail of sling bullets. One creature, its armor better than its fellow's, was spun around by the crossbow bolt that caught it in the shoulder, and staggered by a sling bullet. The other was knocked from its feet, Bartan's arrow sticking in its gut, and sat looking foolishly around. Another volley of sling bullets, and both creatures fell.
"Forward, but be careful," Darrick warned.
The two creatures were dead, the pulsing blood slowing to a trickle even as Elm moved out from behind his stalagmite. He and Kletta knelt to make sure, daggers ready, but there was no need.