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Severed Shadows Continues...
It would have been a leisurely jaunt through rolling farm lands and forests, what with birds singing and a brisk wind carrying the scent of wild flowers. Just a relaxing stroll with a cozy village full of kind folk at the end. Except Meryl would not listen to reason and they were marching double time through a shadow-filled dawn full of potential death, with a guarantee of rousing a hateful mob of frightened country bumpkins wanting to burn the warlock and his zombie to death. Not to mention her intent to let them all know that he personally put all their lives in jeopardy from not one but two terrifying threats.
Seandar was as exhausted from nerves as he was from the hike, when Meryl veered from their path and stopped.
“Look, Gemkray. Seandar is right about one thing, there is no way the townsfolk are going to tolerate the presence of the undead.”
“Truly? I hadn’t the faintest…” Gemkray’s decrepit eyebrows rose in mock surprise but his sarcasm was steamrolled as Meryl pressed on.
“They are simple people, with no worldly knowledge. Head that way through the fields and try not to be seen. You’ll undoubtedly see the crows when you get close. That’s where the gnolls died, and that’s where you should wait for us. Once we warn the people and determine our course, Seandar or I will come back for you. If anyone else shows up, just hide amongst the bodies and try to look dead. Easy enough for you” she was in command mode.
“Sure, you worry about the dead guy. No chance you’ll think about sparing my life too? Well if that’s all, lets leave the corpse to his hiding and go see to my demise,” Seandar didn’t give her the chance get angry with his attitude before trotting on back down the old goat path they had been following the last mile or so. Gemkray shrugged off the tense moment as he shuffled and grumbled his way to the scene of slaughter, complaining about the living and their complete dismissal of anyone who wasn’t.
It was still some hours before Seandar and Meryl arrived in Rocky Spring, passing farmers and goat herders and peddlers as they entered the village proper. Immediately Meryl headed towards the village green, a large open field for gatherings and celebrations that sloped upward to a gentle hill atop which sat the militia headquarters. Though the village had always followed the guidance of the council of elders, and never had much traffic with the courts of the country, life had changed recently. The council still governed the people, but these days they made few decisions that weren’t first approved by the new militia captain. The militia was in fact the captain’s idea and was a new bit of security that Rocky Spring had never before enjoyed. Local men and women could breathe a bit easier knowing that properly trained soldiers now patrolled their home, and the council had come to lean heavily on the worldly experiences of their charismatic Captain.
Samuel Barclay, Captain of the Rocky Spring militia, was a tall and muscular man, dark skinned and dark haired with a square jaw and steely grey eyes making sharp contrast to his dark features. His brown goatee was immaculately trimmed, his steel plate armor polished to a mirror shine and not a speck of dust or grime was to be found on his fine crimson cape as it flowed regally behind him in the afternoon breeze. His deep rich voice floated through the town with confidence and command as he directed both the military and the mundane goings on from his perch at the foyer of the headquarters.
The militia hall entrance lay at the top of dual stone stairways that made a semicircle around the spring which gave the town its name. Expert masonry lay atop the natural rock formations of the spring, from which a stream cut down the center of The Green and nearly the center of town on its way to a larger stream a mile or so away where the local mill was constructed. Below the new militia building and around the spring itself, masons continued preparations for the ongoing project, where they were making a small reservoir around the spring. It was an obvious plan to allow the stream to continue through the town, but expand the busy area in which the people gathered their drinking water. Conveniently the soldiers would always have first access to the town’s water supply.
Meryl made her way through the bustling crowd not looking back to see if Seandar would follow. He did. He toyed with the idea of slipping away and running for his life, but he kept coming back to the idea that Meryl would look a fool if she approached her superior with stories of Seandar and Gemkray and he just vanished. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, he couldn’t bring himself to do that to her. Before he knew it the opportunity had passed and a bitter feeling of regret settled on him. The militia captain was watching their approach like a hawk.
Meryl marched proudly up the steps while Seandar trailed behind reluctantly. She rapped her fist against her chest in salute. “Captain Barclay!”
“At ease Lt. Stormshield,” Seandar could tell he wasn’t the only one impressed with Meryl’s figure. He decided to climb the rest of the steps and stand next to her. It didn’t help. He was still near a foot shorter than Barclay.
“Aye, Captain.” She put her hand down and in true soldierly form she stood with eyes forward awaiting instruction.
“You can call me Samuel, you know. Well, let’s hear your report,” Seandar tried his best not to roll his eyes at the man. He wasn’t sure if it was Barclay’s familiar attitude toward Meryl or the fact that he hadn’t yet acknowledged Seandar was even there.
“Perhaps we should speak in private Captain,” she was all business but it didn’t make Seandar any less sure that Barclay, as impressive as he obviously was, didn’t have every intention of pursuing her.
“Alright,” Barclay turned on his heels and headed into the building. A barracks, war room and a dungeon all in one, the building was probably the most impressive piece of architecture these townsfolk had ever heard of. The captain’s private quarters were modest but comfortable, and his door seemed open to all. Seandar hated this man more every minute.
“Well, Meryl, what’s the secret?” finally Barclay bothered to look directly at Seandar. The acknowledgement was hardly worth being sized up and subsequently dismissed again as unimportant.
With surprising tact, Meryl began to carefully unfold events and details of the gnolls and Seandar’s sorcery. She omitted his complete lack of control for a more understandable white lie. Seandar was now the orphaned apprentice of a wizard who simply died in his sleep one day. Having gained little in the wizardly arts, Seandar ran afoul of the gnolls and the shadow demon was the unfortunate result. Apparently somewhere along the road, Meryl had come to worry about his fate as well. He had to fight the urge to kiss her just then.
“So this scrap of a boy thought to traverse the countryside alone with no Art and no weapons? I thought mages apprenticed only the intelligent,” he turned to Seandar. “I think you reek of wickedness and I don’t buy your story. How is it some know-nothing half-taught pupil of some unnamed wizard accidentally conjured a shadow beast capable of wiping out an entire score of hardened gnoll warriors?”
“Well sir, captain sir, I wasn’t apprenticed for my intelligence at all. Turns out I show a natural spark for this sort of thing, sir, and old Artax the Far Seeing, at least that’s what he called himself, more like the Long Winded… Anyway, old Artax thought he’d best instruct me afore I caused someone as he put it, ‘irreparable harm’. Sounded better than mucking stables to me, but once he died, I think he smothered on his own mustaches actually, long trailing things, went clear to his waist, once he died I decided to go see the world, sir. Adventure and fortune and all that hogwash the bards like to sing about,” Seandar managed to interject massive amounts of mocking respect while speed talking his way through an elaborate embellishment of Meryl’s originally simple lie. He spoke fast enough to make it difficult for Captain Barclay to concentrate much less look for discrepancies.
“Enough. Regardless of your situation, you left my people in a serious state of danger twice now. I hold you responsible for any misfortune that may befall us do to your reckless use of arcane power. I intend to jail you until a runner can be sent to the nearest guild of mages to plead for aid. The guild can find this demon of shadows and banish it, then they can decide what to do with you,” with that pronouncement Barclay rose to leave, fully confident that the situation was dealt with.
“Captain,” Meryl stood to object. “This man came of his own free will,” only slightly inaccurate, “to help warn of a danger and do what he can to protect us from it. If you put him in jail what good can he do us, and what justice is there in letting a guild enslave him on some ridiculous claim of practicing sorcery without their permission?”
“The guild can indenture him or execute him at their whim. If Old Artax, did he even exist, worked outside the guild’s knowledge, then Seandar should never have apprenticed to him or he should never have shown himself here,” with that the Captain signaled two more soldiers from the barracks over to detain Seandar and drag him to the dungeon. Meryl could only look on in shock.
|Severed Shadows Part 7||Severed Shadows Part 12|
|Severed Shadows Part 6||Severed Shadows Part 14 (Conclusion)|
|Severed Shadows Part 8|