A memorable encounter
On the road to Eamonvale
Collab between Terminal & Fetzen
On the road to Eamonvale
Collab between Terminal & Fetzen
After the not so favorable outcome with the men and women on the cart, Vathalar had continued his journey on his own, but not derived from the road. It appeared to be the easiest route to get around, and preferably out of Kron-Nesis since it was widely known that this kingdom was by far one of the most restrictive in terms of policing and general law enforcement.
Fortunately he had neither encountered any militia, soldiers or even the occasional wild beast or bandit so far, but as his horse was completing its climb onto the crest of the next hill something very different came into Vathalar’s sight. ‘Roadblock’ would have been an euphemism for it, oddity a bit less so, and the reality made him feel his throat cord up.
The young male jumped off the saddle and had a hard time deciding what to look at first. The presence of a dead tree whose broken end still touched one side of the road allowed for speculation if this had been some kind of ambush. A purely speculative scenario was setting up in his mind: The road could have been blocked once completely by the tree having been put there deliberately. Then an innocent trader with his carriage arrived and couldn’t go on, thereby becoming an easy target for a group of bandits of the cut-throat kind. Violence against living beings must have been present since there were stains of blood. However bandits usually didn’t… well… let rocks fall from the sky or suddenly burst out of the plain earth? And they usually also didn’t bother about completely destroying the carriage once they had unloaded its cargo. Vathalar forgot about this initial speculation. Something else must have happened, something he couldn’t explain but that made the hairs on his skin erect themselves. Part of him wanted to get away as quickly as possible, part of him wanted to stay here and investigate, and the last part wanted to go wild. He had to resist the urge…
As he turned his gaze towards the wreckage of the wagon, looking for anything amongst the remains that might momentarily distract him from his dilemna, his eyes were drawn to the wanted poster hanging right above them, nailed to the tree. A hard, low gaze rendered from ink met his own. Looking past it, there appeared to be a clearing of some kind - filled with collapsed trees, and a pit in the earth at its center. Possibly also work of these strange bandits that had unsettled the earth.
There did not seem to be anything immediately worthwhile in the wreckage - from the scent of the stains, whatever had transpired here had happened weeks ago - but there was something else there. Another scent, intermingling with the faint, rancid stench of rot and decay. Something alive.
The side walls of Vathalar's nostrils were trembling as he was inhaling more deeply to pick up the scent in more detail. However, due to the fluid nature of air, those were difficult to track back to their origin in general if the conditions weren't good. His eyes turned towards what looked like an impact crater of some kind. Had there indeed been stones falling from somewhere ? At least one could say that there was way too much destruction for a simple, primitive pack of bandits around. He really wasn't all too familiar with magic, but he guessed the skill required for this to be quite considerable.
Being guided purely by instinct, Vathalar directed his next steps towards the clearing. He wanted to look into that pit to see if there was another stalagmite in there. Maybe even crushed bodies or so. Or the source of the scent. Looking over the lip of the hole, he could see that the open swelled - it was not just a pit, but a sink-hole. The corpses of sundered and splintered trees littered its interior, and a net of shade formed by a broken ceiling of twisted branches covered both Valathar and the opening from above. Just barely visible underneath the mass of shattered wood and faded leaves was a single skeletal arm, wreathed in tattered chainmail and clutching at a rusted shortsword. The faded scent of decay came from below, weakened by time and weather doubtlessly. If he were to descend, Valathar would not be able to leave the dark pit again easily. So from where had he sensed...?
He heard branches snapping and the sway of underbrush in the distance as something, unseen, retreated further into the woods.
Vathalar turned his head towards the noise so abruptly that it almost hurt in his neck. He tried to focus his eyes in onto the source, but it was just too dark and whatever had been there had already gone away. A wild animal perhaps ?
"Hey! Is there anyone ?" he shouted as loud as he could, which, given his limited human strength, wasn't all too loud at all. It was worth a try even though he didn't expect much of a response. He started walking towards where he had heard the noise to inspect more closely. Maybe the scent would get stronger.
It did. Although Valathar received no reply and whatever had been here was now long gone, its scent - vibrant, alive, and readily identifiable - was still busily sinking into the surroundings and would not be leaving anytime soon. The smell of sebum, dirtied cloth, cooked meat, were all-too-recognizable. There had been a human here, looking over the scene, possibly even watching him come up the road.
Vathalar was honestly asking himself if it was such a good idea to try and go into pursuit. The woods were dark and he was completely unarmed. On the other hand however he really wanted to know what was going on since this was so unusual. This was no wild animal like a wolf trying to have a feast of the dead remainders, so he started running, soon the fastest he could. Very much unlike that wild thing hidden inside him he was quite agile and able to move around and over the wooden debris lying around rather swiftly. But did he know where he was going ? If his eyes wouldn't pick up any real trace soon he'd likely have to abort.
Thankully, he found his quarry sooner than could have been hoped. A mere fifty-meters later of scrabbling through brush, and up and over small hilly regions of the forest, and he came across another smaller clearing - and a meager campsite, consisting of a fire with a spit. There, a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, was hurriedly tying up a bedroll, as though eager to leave.
Vathalar's boots were partially slipping over the ground as he forced himself to a sudden stop. This was something he truly had not expected, let alone in such vicinity to what had happened on the road. He couldn't help but look a bit askantly at the stranger who seemed to be even a tiny bit younger than himself. "Who are you ?" it burst out of him, his mind already coming to the conclusion that this might have not been the most friendly approach barely after the words had left his mouth.
The other man seemed to leap three meters into the air at Valathar's surprise intrusion, his whole body shuddering as his body turned violently to lock onto the source of the inquiry. The man possessed an unordinary build and physique, that of a serf and a working man rather than a soldier or professional warrior. His dark hair was short and ragged, his face somewhat thin with a faintly rounded contour and set with deep green eyes.
"Mercy's sake, man, don't creep up on people like that! Especially not out in the middle of nowhere!" He exclaimed, still startled but immediately beginning to calm as he saw what to him was just another man of no particular distinction. "I'm Feldis, and let's leave it at that. I was not expecting anybody. Who are you and why are you creeping up on people in the forest?" He demanded.
"My name is Vathalar, and honestly I would like to ask the same question. Or wasn't that you who was checking what I was doing over there? Someone has observed me." Feldis didn't seen to be of the very quiet sort, but he couldn't help but defend against this kind of one-sided accusations -- even though, admittingly, they were correct. "So I wasn't expecting anybody as well. I guess we both have some right to feel disturbed and crept up on, haven't we?"
While waiting for the reaction, Vathalar stepped a little closer into the small camp. Feldis must have been here for a while, and he had to be some sort of long-term traveler just like him. Otherwise that kind of camping equipment wouldn't make sense.
"Well if you were just passing by, I'll not hinder you." Feldis replied tersely as he continued to bundle up his roll - albeit more methodically, as he kept his gaze turned towards Valathar.
Theoretically Feldis argument was perfectly valid, but Vathalar had no intend of letting him escape this easily: "I would have done that and never crossed your way if there were not certain things on the road that struck my attention. Have you seen those huge sinkholes, the smashed cart and the strange stones? Along with the corpses, I mean?"
"What, you mean the ambush?" Feldis replied cautiously. "Place sort of speaks for itself. Obviously some nob was passing through and got his life right and proper ruined by Andromache and her crew. The stones and hole would be her Earthern magic, assuming the rumors about that are true." His voice was low and even - steady, but wary, as though he were conversing with a coiled snake.
It appeared as if he had struck gold, though very unexpectedly. "You say... you know what has happened and who is responsible for this ? How ?" Vathalar's stomach slowly started to turn. What if this man was actually very dangerous? If he had connections to people who could and would pull such a carnage off...
"You foreign?" Feldis' gaze narrowed considerably, and he began to shift and turn his body so he could continue packing his belongings while fulling facing Valathar. "Everybody in these parts knows and has been hearing about Andromache for years now, and that wanted poster out by the scene was probably right put there by the local militia. Don't take a magister to know the score, friend."
"Well you pretty much already answered your question yourself I think. Yes, I am foreign. And I usually don't spend too much time onto the local miltia's business if I just want to get through. I'm trying to get out of this area. And you ? It appears relocation is in quite a high demand for you as well. Where are you going ? I mean.. it also doesn't take a magister to become very curious in your case..." Vathalar picked up one of the items still laying around, offering it towards Feldis. Maybe that would cheer up him and his mood a little. This all was so odd that he really wanted to know more.
"Put that down, and don't touch nothin' that ain't yours." Feldis snapped. "And I'm nobody, minding my own business, on my way to places that do not concern you. If you really are new here, you should learn to keep your nose out of other peoples' business. Try being this nosy with a guardsman or soldier they'll right cut it off for you."
Vathalar dropped the item, resulting in it impacting the dirt with a small splash. "Sorry. I just wanted to help you, but apparently you want to do everything yourself. Pretty much matches my own behaviour -- and I know that I'm rather afraid of strangers since they could theoretically dig up some dirt about me, be that real dirt or just lies and rumors. So you're sure you don't want my help?"
"Sure as certain." Feldis replied flatly. Then, for a moment, he hesitated. "Although it be none of my business, which way were you heading down the road...?"
"I'm trying to reach Eamonvale. That's where I originally come from. My horse's still on the road." Vathalar replied. At least some non-negative reaction. Maybe Feldis' glacier would thaw at some point...
"No you didn't. Your accent is all wrong, you aren't native there - and you don't much look it either. For one thing, most people in the Aemonvale knowabout Andromache and her reign of terror as well. Did you just get done with a stint in prison or something?" Fledis had suddenly shifted to examining Valathar with some faint interest, giving him a brief up-and-down appraisal.
Feldis inspecting him made Vathalar a bit uncomfortable, but what really annoyed him was the misunderstanding going on. "Do you know Barnak ? That's a small village full of peasant's to the southeast corner of Eamonvale. Quite hilly terrain and very fertile soil. That's where I come from, no matter my accent. And no, I have never seen a prison from inside. The outside appearance is horrying for me enough! And you?"
"Yeah, I've seen a map before stranger, sure as you have." Feldis snorted. "But whatever. I was just telling you to mind your own business and here I am not minding mine. Keep your mysteries. Suppose you must have just jumped out of a hole in the ground somewhere."
"Well let's say I've been traveling for a while. And honestly I've grown a little sick of traveling alone. Why don't we do it together for a while ? It's not like we'd have to chat with each other all the time..."
Feldis stared at Valathar, gaze agog, for nearly five seven whole seconds before replying. "You really don't know, do you?" He mused aloud.
"What ?" Vathalar snapped back. "What do I don't know ? Apparently I truly don't do!"
"You don't know that the Grand Army of Kron-Nesis is about to storm through the Aemonvale and border-guards have the roads locked down like a drum?" Feldis suggested with a somewhat mocking tone. "Sorry friend, but the only thing you're going to get going home is some impressment. And I'm not talkin' about being amazed by amusing parlor tricks."
If Feldis looked closely he would be able to see Vathalar's eyes opening widely for a brief moment as he heard those words. "Is that true ?" he asked for confirmation, momentarily not believing his words. "These bastards are going to march through my homeland ?" That truly did change a few things, however it also only boosted Vathalar's desire to get back. If this was true he'd have to try and get to his parents in time, that was, if they were still alive.
"Not just march. The heralds and the like will tell you otherwise, but there isn't nobody that doesn't know the Grand Army is going to roll up and annex the vale right and proper so they can mount extra pressure on the dwarves. And surprise surprise, they aren't letting anybody out of Kron-Nesis heading in that direction where they can help it." Feldis looked faintly amused as he delivered the pronouncement to Valathar. "If you want to avoid trouble you won't be heading that way for a year or two. Nothing about what's going to happen there is going to be pretty. There's not going to be much of a fight, but there will be plenty of bodies all the same."
"So they are already building up troops close to the border ? How great... And which way would you advise me to go ?"
"Anywhere but there, unless you have a deathwish." Feldis replied sardonically.
"Hmm.. So..." Vathalar continued, sarcasm virtually dripping from his words. "I guess that reduces the probability that we will be going different ways, doesn't it ? You seem to know the area and local politics much better than I do."
"Almost like I live here or something, stranger." Feldis quipped. "But to what end? You just said you have a horse. You could ride right on down the way and cause trouble for somebody else without my help. What do you want, foreigner?" The last inquiry came out with a degree of feigned exasperation - but there was a hint of disguised interest there. An underlying tone that Valathar might have missed if not for his enhanced senses.
"Want to hear my honest answer? Well.. just like a minute ago all I wanted is to get out of here and back to Eamonvale. Right now however I'd like to save my family there -- if that's possible." Vathalar answered. Then, before Feldis could answer, he continued: "I know, I know... the border's been locked down. However I'll have a very hard time not trying to get around that. And what do you want? Why have you set up camp so close to such a terrible site? If I'm honest you gave a bit of an impression of someone running away from something. Or at least of someone who doesn't seem to have much of a regular home."
"Kind of like you give off the impression of somebody who's never been to or lived in Aemonvale, stranger. Maybe looks can be deceiving. You want to go off and get yourself get killed going after your family..." Feldis rolled his eyes at the word. "Be my guest. No concern of mine. Go off and get corpsed, I'm not headed that way in any case. And I'll remind you that site is right on a public road. People pass by it every day, and only a fool camps out overnight right on the roadside. There's probably other bands and caravans of people camping out in these woods, you really going to give me grief for being the one you found?"
"I don't want to give grief to anyone at the moment. However I have a certain gut feeling that you are more interested in my than your words pretend. Is that right ? And your argument about a public road would be perfectly valid if it hadn't been ruined by that certain carnage right here and nowhere else. You could have chosen a site a mile further down the road. Why here?"
"Maybe that's when and where the sun set for me on the road, stranger. And the reason I'm interested in you - if at all -" Feldis tone was markedly flat and unamused. "It's as to how a git like you came to be, who ain't from the Aemonvale or Kron-Nesis, in the middle of the country, with no notion of the news of locale. It's like you sprang out of thin air. You a fairy or something?"
Vathalar knew perfectly that Feldis was much closer to his true nature than the young man was probably aware of, even though a fairy was a rather poor description of it. "If I were a fairy I'd not mess around here but do other things instead. I look quite human, don't I ? So take a second guess... It's just not like I'd spent much time on digging my nose into every local stuff. If I'd do that I'd be much slower and would have taken far longer to come here from where I started. Which is Ithell, by the way."
"Ha! Knew it!" Feldis exclaimed. "You probably arrived by port then. That's my curiosity sated friend, and nevermind why you're lying about being from the Vale. Be on your way, I'll not hinder you." He then dismissively turned away from Valathar and returned to assembling his meager belongings.
"I'm not lying about my origins. Have you never traveled far away from home ?" Vathalar let go of a sigh. "Anyway... I guess you won't believe me anyway so let's forget about it. Not relevant. But let's ask where you actually come from? Precisely?"
"Nowhere you'd know about, foreigner." Feldis said absent-mindedly in the same dismissive tone. Valathar obviously wasn't going to get any further by asking him personal questions.
"Well then... I kinda get the feeling that you don't want to tell me anything else. Still... Now that you have abundantly insisted on getting back to Eamonvale being extremely unwise would you still mind about me accompanying you for a short while ? I'm just fed up with going alone all the time."
"You have a horse, I don't, and I'm not riding with you. What would you do about that, friend?" Feldis inquired distractedly.
"Nothing." Vathalar answered while shrugging his shoulders. "Unless you weigh less than you look like we'd be too much for my horse anyway. But walking hasn't hurt anybody for a while."
"And just abandon the horse? That's worth good money or meat, that is. Gods, you really are clueless, aren't you?" Feldis turned back towards Valathar with evident frustration on his face. "Fine. At this point it's pretty clear you're such a babe that abandoning you here in the wilds would be right immoral. You'd die of exposure or starvation, or maybe crack your head tripping on a stiff breeze. Go and get your horse, you can walk with me to the Southern Jewel."
"Abandoning my horse ? Are you stupid ? I'm talking about walking alongside it..." At this point Vathalar had come to the conclusion that Feldis must have been in some minor state of confusion at least. Still he started to trot away, back to the road. "I'll get it. And on the way I'll teach you that I'm not a 'babe'!"