Merwood, Dread Hideout
Acharius, the huge blonde Viking, had been guarding the artifacts for what seemed an eternity already.
He’d been developing a system of traps. Simple snag traps had already caught several nonis. Finding there were more and more all the time, he began building more sophisticated traps.
Sometimes it seems there are neverending Cimmerii.
He’d been working on carved metal traps. And others for bigger beasts, that were weighted to smash or lift their quarry. He’d only set a few of the weighted traps so far.
Now he stood staring upward quietly. The rope creaked where the huge dog-like creature hung near the forest canopy. Flies already buzzed around its head and birds had plucked away much of its face. Looking at it, Acharius frowned.
“Why are you not human?” He turned to view it from another angle and saw the black bark-like armor coating its body. But where eyes should’ve been, were just empty sockets.
Something the birds would’ve done as soon as they found the corpse. He knew.
Still, something’s not right.
Silver Stallion Inn, Dread Hideout
Mardichi had a lovely innkeeper’s daughter on his lap. She was toying with the long black beaded chain dangling from around his neck. Eyeing the amulet at the end.
“What is this?”
“What is that?” Mardichi proclaimed. Leaping to his feet. Toppling the girl from his lap as he lifted his head to scent the air.
“What is what?” The girl whined from where she’d plopped to the floor.
“That smell…” He winced against the awful taint of it. Recognizing what it was, his eyes flashed red. Reflecting the firelight nearby. His head whipped animalistically. “Cimmerii.” He caught the direction.
His large frame was out the door, slamming it with a resounding thunk as he headed out through Merwood.
Mardichi knew for the smell to be this potent this far away, there was a swarm heading for Acharius.
The stink of them floated along the wind.
Travelling nearly as fast as Mardichi.
MERWOOD, Dread Hideout
Acharius cut the line holding the targue in the eerie quiet of the forest. He watched it thump to the ground. Striding over to stare down at it. Viewing it from different angles didn’t change the fact that it was most definitely a cimmerii targue, one of the dog like creatures that followed Radix.
And it hasn’t changed back to a human body.
As the blonde giant stared at it, it lurched its head up and snapped massive jaws around Acharius’ leg. Making him shout in pain.
He stuck a thick branch in its mouth and pried it. Hearing the crunch that signified its jaws breaking. It made a shrill cry then its head fell. Body going limp after a long gasp.
It hadn’t returned to human because it’s not dead. Despite how it looked…And smelled.
Acharius heard the brush come to life around him. He turned in every direction and saw the waist high, dark green bushes rattling. Leaves spraying in the violent movements pushing through. He heard the snuffling and grunting that told him animals were filling Merwood Forest.
No. They’re everywhere. He slowly drew a handful of arrows from his quiver. Naturally splaying them between his fingers so he could stack them as he loaded his bow.
There’s too many. He knew.
But I’ll be damned if I go out without a fight.
Nonis burst onto the trail with him. He instantly shot several. Loading and firing his bow in movements too fast for normal eyes to see. But in that short amount of time they swarmed his ankles. A few trying to climb his legs while viciously biting.
He kicked them away when he could. Eventually having to stop shooting arrows to reach down and catch one’s tail. Ripping it off his hip. But already it left a blood track along his legs. He gave a shout as one sunk teeth, into the deep gouge the targue had already made.
Bloody Hell! Trying to hold his calm Acharius looked for a way to get away from them but they spanned in every direction. A swarm.
He glimpsed a piece of the trail that had the fewest number. He rushed that direction. Shouting and ripping them off him. Their teeth raking across his skin as he yanked their jaws free.
He heard a screaming whinny and looked up to see a giant red stallion thundering down the trail. Shaking its mane as it huffed violently. By far the biggest horse Acharius knew.
I’ve never been so happy to see the barbarian.
The stallion leapt a number of them to land next to him. Bringing hooves, the size of trenchers down on their backs. Trampling dozens in the span of a few minutes. Red hair vibrant in the sunlight as it reared and spun. Acharius rained down a shower of arrows that fell nonis five at a time. He moved with lightning speed.
“No fire!” Acharius warned. Knowing the trees were too dry to withstand Mardichi’s tempest if he lit up.
There was silence between the man and the stallion as they defended each other until the last of the nonis fled squawking.
Mardichi returned to human form.
Only then did Acharius notice how torn up he was. Gashes and bite marks all over him.
The two men, both nearly eight-foot tall, stood side by side assessing each other.
“Are you well?” Mardichi asked.
“I’m fine. Thanks to you.” He paused.
I very nearly wasn’t.
“Well done, Barbarian.”
Mardichi lowered his head. “Same. Viking.”
“You saved my life, I’m certain.”
“Our brethren will believe no word of it.” Mardichi warned.
That much is true.
“I’d no intention of telling them I was nearly noni meat, I assure you.”
Mardichi gave him a half smile.
“I owe you a debt. How can I repay it?” Acharius queried.
“You could leave these artifacts to another.” Mardichi nodded back in the direction of the cave. “And follow me amidst my travels as my personal ale server.”
Acharius gave him a chastising look.
Mardichi laughed. “I jest brother.”
Thank God. Acharius waved for him to follow him to the cave.
Mardichi followed grumbling. “What is this about? You owe me no debt. I want to resume my drink at the Silver Stallion.”
“How’d you know?”
That my hide needed saving?
“I could smell that many Cimmerii from the Silver.” He gestured back through the trees. “I knew of only one place they’d head.”
“My caves.” Acharius supplied. “Well, I thank you.” He rummaged through his worn leather bag. Tugging a white horn from it.
Mardichi backed a step. “Cease this foolishness. You’re not considering giving me your family bequest.”
“I am going to give it to you.” Acharius said solemnly. “As you know it’s tradition in my family to pass it on to the newest family warrior.”
“I’m not your family.”
“You’re the closest to a brother I’ve ever known. And I’ll never have descendants. I’ll likely die in these caves one day. You…Likely already have some.”
“Many.” Mardichi grudgingly acknowledged. “Is possible.”
Acharius laughed and shook his head. Shoving the alehorn against Mardichi’s chest.
Mardichi reflexively took it. “I believe this is you condoning my penchant for drink.”
“This is me not wishing to be your everlasting ale server.” Acharius said dryly. “By taking this, you do me a kindness.”
“Ah!” Mardichi proclaimed. “I knew that was the root of it.” He lifted the alehorn as if in toast and exited the cave.
Acharius laughed roughly and watched him go. Noting the blood trail on the stone floor.
He’ll bleed his way all the way back to the Silver Stallion.
Where he’ll finds some inn wenches to tend him. Acharius chuckled to himself.
Thank God for you, you Hell-raising barbarian. Acharius shook his head.