Final Sacrifice

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Dry Rot

The air whooshed into the Beren’s face as it stung his eyes, leaving a cold sensation that was uncomfortable to say the least. The jagged bounds and leaps kept his muscles cramped and locked tight to a protruding spine bone before him as he hanged on tightly. His hands barely slipping each time as he held on pondering how Vex and Ragnar were fairing with the bleak form of travel. Serving as their decrepit steed was Riken, whom in a fit of wanderlust had ran for one day and night without rest. The abnormal strength and stamina the wendigo possessed bewildered Beren. Granted the creature was large but his long extremities were what propelled him as his massive claws dug into the dirt.

Looking behind himself Beren noticed Ragnar holding on with one hand and the other holding his face mask as it blew in the wind. Almost as if the air was trying to expose his curse to the world. In front of Beren he noticed the little pygmy Vex, whose own small stature seemed to make Riken much larger than he was. In fact, Beren realized Riken was monstrous in sheer size but never realized how tall or long he was on all fours. A staggering ten feet not including his bone like tail, which zipped behind him back and forth as if keeping his balance. The long arms and legs did little to hide such an imposing sight as he grabbed and clawed at the dirt leaving talon claws and hoof marks in the mud as they began to conclude their journey. What truly gripped Beren’s sense of primal fear was that there was no noise escaping the creature as he moved. No sounds of rubbing flesh, nor hastened breathing. The only sound was of ripped earth and grass as they bounded through the country side. A hellish steed from the underworld would be all that could be recounted, should any mortal eye fall upon such atrocity.

The landscape slowly changed from the familiar dense wooded areas, to an array of green rolling hills. In some areas there would be creeks and vegetation making their home around it. Beren wondered if during the summer months if all these creeks dried up and the green turned to a burnt brown. A color almost symbolizing dried spilt blood. He felt rage fill inside him once more as he shook his head attempting to keep himself under control. What little human emotions he still posses it was rage that kept him fighting. And perhaps it was rage and hatred that kept him existing in the world of the living.

“Beren.”

Beren looked behind him as he heard Ragnar’s voice. His hand still on his face mask as they trudged onward with each leap and gallop.

“We are nearing the outskirts settlements of Drita and will arrive shortly. We should stop soon and devise a plan for sneaking you in.” He explained, his cool blue eyes giving proof of his calculated demeanor. Beren simply nodded as he understood the reasoning behind Ragnar’s words.

Reaching forward and tapping Vex’s shoulder, he leaned forward and spoke. “We need to stop soon, we are apparently reaching the outskirts.” Vex simply nodded without turning around as she too leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the neck of Riken as she appeared to whisper to him. It took a moment but soon the momentum ceased as Riken eventually came to a halt where he waited for those on his back to jump off. The few trees in a small ravine proved to be beneficial in camouflaged along with the vegetation bushes that darted around their vicinity.

Standing up straight with a stretch, Vex rose her arms up grunting as if waking from an uncomfortable bed. Ragnar doing something similar as he crossed his arms across his body twisting himself to the side. Unsure if Beren was supposed to do the same thing, grabbed for one of his legs attempting to lift it, curious if this was something normal he stood there awkwardly his leg pulled up behind him.

“Well ok then…” Vex stated as she walked past Beren rolling her eyes sarcastically shaking her head at him. Feeling foolish and awkward he let go of his leg and followed her towards Ragnar who appeared to have sat down on a rock with a long branch in his hand.

Pulling off the twigs on the sides and leaves Ragnar remained silent as if considering his words carefully. There was a soft breeze that flowed into the small ravine that felt soothing with the mid day sun. Were it able to put them at ease it would have done so. Though they were destined to a small city full of scorn loyalist and with no direct plan.

“We need to start walking from here and leave your Wendigo here to hide.” Ragnar stated as he rolled the thick clean branch in his hands barely long enough to serve as a walking staff. “There will be clothes along the way for Beren, but they will be attached to things that will bear hatred the likes you have never felt.” He finished as his cold blue eyes transfixed themselves upon Beren.

Looking back at him furrowing his eyebrows Beren felt a sense of rage and despair fill his mind and being. He was not fond being lead on by surprises or riddles and was in fact not fond of the man before him either.

“Get to the point already.” Vex exclaimed as she held her grimoire to her chest with both arms, obviously feeling the same as Beren.

“Put simply, while you lived on the edges of the scorn empire you had been blessed with less than trivial circumstances.” Ragnar stated flatly as he pointed his branch towards Beren. “What happened to your village was something as normal as breathing, this religious cult surrounding who ever this scorn is, are capable of so much more. And the road that leads to that city will be but more proof for you to encounter.” He ended as he stood up, his face calm and calculated as if ready for any reprisal for his words.

Vex looked up to Beren and noticed him standing still, his large hands clenched into fists upon taking in Ragnar’s statements. His face seemed constricted as his lips remained tightly closed and his eyes fixated on the combat mage before him.

“I will control myself if that is what you are concerned over.” Beren declared as he loosened his hands and eyed the ground. Vex could only guess what was going through his head, the sheer hatred he had for the scorn knew no bounds nor limits.

“Good.” Ragnar stated as he walked by patting Beren’s shoulder as he began pulling himself up out of the Ravine.

“He seems more considerate than usual.” Vex stated with a grunt as she jumped onto Beren’s back, before situating herself behind his neck as if a father and child. Her climbing quick and seamless as if Beren was in fact a climbing tree.

“What are you doing.” Beren asked barely noticing her light weight behind his neck, her short legs dangling in front of him.

“What, you expect me to run to keep up with you two? Yeah right.” She snorted as she patted his head playfully. “Besides I am playing the role of a child, a beautiful innocent child.” She gleamed in her mocking statement, her voice sounding an octave higher as if imitating and practicing.

“Whose full of themselves now.” Beren lightly breathed as he grabbed onto a root and pulled himself out of the ravine. It took but a moment for his capable monstrous body to scale the side before he found himself at the top standing next to Ragnar. Looking down into the ravine it was hard to tell where Riken resided between the dark browns and greens from the vegetation. There were no sounds save for the breeze that enwrapped itself around them.

“I assume we are running?” Beren asked as he eyed the horizon, the silhouette of what appeared to be trees with barely any branches on them. Before them stood an empty elongated green field with a long road leading down the middle to a tall tower in the further distance. Beren assumed it was probably the keep of the city and marveled at the sheer size of it at the distance they were. Though they were a fair day travel away, it would prove to be easy to reach before the sun set. Gently gripping his hands around the small ankles of Vex he looked back to Ragnar smirking slightly. “See if you can keep up this go round.” Before crouching slightly and taking off down the road in long strides similar to Riken except more human in all regard.

The soft padding of bare feet on the dirt road invigorated Beren’s senses, as the dust wedged themselves in between his toes. Though sensation of feeling was rather minute, it still captivated his positivity of inhabiting a body once more. A body that responds and is powerful, thanks to a little necromancer who sat gleefully on his shoulders. Vex’s hands wrapped around the forehead of Beren as she clung tightly during the quick yet smooth running. Behind them ran Ragnar who seemed to keep up rather well, despite his mortal coil or perhaps the lack of from his unique curse.

Beren felt his lungs inflate and deflate as he let the air whoosh in, then escape just as quickly as it entered. It was exhilarating and refreshing as he inhaled pollen and dust of the spring weather. His thought pondered to the smell of an incoming rain and how he missed the exquisite aroma of sap from the oak and maple trees from his home. His thoughts raced to the large red wood trees further into the forest where Vex called home, and how tough their wood would be if he and his former lumberjack crew attempted to fell such a tree.

His monstrous legs moved with ease in each stride as his talon like feet easily dug into the ground propelling him forward creating dust in his wake. A smirk covered his face as he wondered if he was making it a nuisance for Ragnar for trailing behind. His assumptions faltered such confidence when he noticed Ragnar running beside him instead. No sense of fatigue surrounded the masked man with branch like hands. His motions were rather fluid as if water was molding itself a running man.

They continued this affair the three of them as they left a sleeping Riken further behind and approached upon a city unique and foreign. Beren did not know what to expect once they reached the outskirts let alone what their plan of action was to be. He knew his chance at avenging his village lied with Ragnar showing him where the damned mage named Covon resided. If he could just get his massive hands around his neck, he could end it all with a simple yet noticeable snap. An ending too quick perhaps for one whom presided over a horrific sacrificial sermon.

Beren shook his thought from his head as he focused on the task at hand, Infiltrating the city safely. It did not take him long however to realize how far they had run as they came up over a set of rolling green hills to come to the very top to see a forest. It was frightening to say the least as it clashed with the vibrant green landscape beneath them. The trees themselves lay bare and dead. No leaves or branches sprouted from them to signify healthiness. Even the forest floor held no vegetation. Just a signature black dead grass as if everything had been burnt. But this was not the case upon closer inspection, the trees themselves appeared to be rotting. What little bark a few of them had were falling off, no signs insects feasting on it neither. The road lead through this dead forest up to a large gray city whose walls and battlements were a dark grey. Such a sight that did little to add color to the surrounding bleak environment.

“What is going on here.” Beren asked as he looked to Ragnar with suspicion his hands tightening around Vex’s ankles to reassure himself.

“I do not know all the details, it looked like this when I first came here myself.” Ragnar stated between heavy gulps of air, his posture obviously limited of stamina and encroaching exhaustion. Beren squinted his eyes as he felt a tingle up his spine. It was a sensation he would rarely feel as a human when things did not seem right. And this situation did not feel right in the slightest.

“The city of Drita sits on the cliff overlooking the sea if I am not mistaken?” Vex asked as she jumped down off of Beren’s shoulders as she walked forward on the hill overlooking the dead forest. “I do not see anyone in that forest, and we are too far to see the ocean. But my studies have told me rainfall occurs more often near coastal areas. This does not make sense.” She stated before crossing her arms with a rather anxious look about her as her eyes went to the sky. Some clouds had remained stagnant as if overshadowing the city itself in a dreary atmosphere. The tall tower within the city seemed tall compared to the low walls and battlements of the rest of the city. The sun setting behind them in the west provided a soft yellow illumination upon the visible landscape. That in the end provided a feeling of melancholy that sent waves of depression upon those who transfixed their gaze.

“There is an abandoned farm house further north of that forest. We should consider that a stopping point so we can derive a plan to enter the city. Drita, has a curfew at sunset no one is allowed in or out.” Ragnar stated as he began walking down the hill towards the bleak dead forest. Feeling uneasy Beren followed behind along with Vex who kept her arms crossed her yellow eyes tracking everything around her.

“Why was there a curfew?” Beren asked as his eyes darted along the forest perimeter where the green grass abruptly ceased and rot and black began. Ragnar simply looked behind him with a shrug before returning his gaze to the forest. The road beneath their feet being the only thing reassuring and secure.

The party eventually took their steps into the forest keeping their feet implanted on the road, vigilant as their heads looked side to side deliberately. As if looking for something to give them answers, or perhaps an entity that was the culprit of this death and decay. The landscape within the forest felt bleak and dreary, the only smell was that off an aroma similar to dry rot. But what was befuddling was that there were no mushroom vegetation to prove the rot process accurate.

“This way.” Ragnar stated as he pointed a finger off the road leading to the castle. Vex gave him a peculiar look as she peered behind him to see a dense dead forest, almost forbidding them from entering. The suns setting did little to settle the mood as their light was slowly dying out. Creating a shared sensation of haste and anxiety.

Following behind Ragnar, Vex and Beren put their guard up as they kept a vigilant eye on their surroundings as the road behind them slowly disappeared behind a dense set of trees. Their footsteps made barely an audible sound as the grass simply squished into the wet dirt beneath their feet. Beren felt a sense of digest as he noticed Vex’s bare feet walking over rot and decay. Though his ridicule was lead dry as she normally deals with death and decay, the sight of dying vegetation would be no different.

By the time they arrived at a small clearing the sun and nearly fully set leaving only traces of light to shine upon a small wooden barn and a burnt down house next to it. The barn structure itself looked stable enough and appeared large enough to house Riken should they have chosen to bring him along.

“Its abandoned?” Vex asked as she walked up and rubbed her hand over the brown wooden texture of the barn.

“I would presume so, no guards patrols outside the city, the only activity on that road would be officials from the south for the scorn government. And even then, it is remarkable rare.” Ragnar stated as he pushed on the barn doors as a loud creak distinguished itself into the twilight air. “I hid in this barn for a few days before sneaking into the city. This should suffice until we can find an opening to enter.” He added as he walked over to one of many heaps of straw piles and laying himself into one in a fit of fatigue.

Vex and Beren followed behind as Beren closed the large barn doors behind them. The loud sound of a creaking hinges filling the air once more, as if the barn was alerting to intruders in a figurative sense. Looking around the dimly lit barn he noticed Vex open a crate looking through it with interest. Curiously Beren followed up behind her to see what the contents were only to realize it were sheets to cover cattle in harsh weather.

“We can use this for your clothing.” Vex stated as she pulled out a stained white sheet showing Beren with a toothy grin. Beren simply shook his head and walked over to a standing beam that lined the barn, before taking a seat and crossing his legs. He looked around the barn taking in the smell of old straw and moldy dust. Were he a human this would in fact be a realistic form of housing for him. The lumberjack lodge he resided in with his co-workers were not much better accommodations. The only thing unrealistic was the forest outside and a peculiar spine-tingling sensation he would get ever so often.

“Get some rest, and what ever you do, don’t open that barn door until the morning.” Ragnar stated as he gave a stern look between Beren and Vex who seemed curious but also slightly frightened.

“So, there is something out there?” Vex asked as she seemed rather interested her eyes wide and vivid, her toothy smile agape.

“There is a reason this forest is overgrown with rotting trees and vegetation, and no one resides outside the city walls.” Ragnar stated as he turned over on his side preparing himself for a deep sleep. “Just stay inside the barn and keep the doors closed, I prefer to live to see tomorrow.” He finished as he closed his cold blue eyes into a fit of slumber.

Vex eyed Beren then to the door before casually walking over to him, her hands behind her back as if on a stroll. Leaning down to him she whispered. “They are watching us inside this barn right now actually.” She stated in a low hiss which made Beren feel put off his senses. Standing back up she smiled as she walked over to a small pile of straw before throwing herself into it.

Beren sat there beside the barn beam knowing full well he was on guard duty for the night due to his inhuman ability to not sleep. An ability he wished he did not have for the sake of the peculiar situation. His eyes darted around the barn as what little light was left slowly died out leaving them in a blackened environment. Removed from possibly time itself.

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