Try not to look at him, Rende thought to himself. Don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how annoying he is. Rende’s visitor was a Chobble who had wandered into the canyon after he killed his second wind demon and hadn’t made any motion or sound since. Not that this was a big surprise, considering that the traveler couldn’t talk; using gestures instead of sound. Out of all the travelers of the world, Chobbles had the strangest mannerism, which mostly came across as down right creepy.
As ancient scholars of magic, their appearance had long since taken on a sort of magical form itself. Standing at most half the size of the average traveler, they had no facial features and hardly what most people would call a face. Two red slits for eyes and the rest of the face was blank, no lips, no nose, just an empty void of black.
Dusk had already settled and Rende had no intention of staying in the canyon with a Chobble after dark. He had slain three wind demons so far, that was more than enough for one day.
Performing a farewell gesture for his guest, the only Chobble gesture he knew besides hello, he left his canyon home. The little fiend made no returning gesture, barely even noticing his polite motion at all; just continuing to stare off into some other world. The traveler’s rudeness had really gotten to Rende and he continued on venting to himself. The unscrupulous little prick had invaded his privacy and then didn’t even have the courtesy to offer a simple farewell.
When he tired of reasoning with himself, he stopped and looked around. Where should I go now? He questioned. In his quickness to leave the canyon the thought of a destination had not even crossed his mind. He had traveled many places in the world, and though there were still parts of the world he had not seen, the barren canyon was one of his favorites. Now that his home had been invaded by rude travelers, he was at a loss of where to go next.
Just as he was beginning to list the places he could head to for the night in his head, he received a distress call. Distress calls were sent out when a traveler found himself grossly outmatched or automatically when his spirit pack was close to failure. The source of the distress signal was not to far from him, so for lack of any better idea he started towards it.
Must be someone new to the region, he thought. Probably stumbled onto a wretch or some other night-spawn; one more reason to avoid traveling at night.
Rende noticed right away that something wasn’t right. He had arrived at the location of the distress call, but there was nothing there. No monsters, no sign of trouble and no trace of the one who made the call. The tracks on the ground were talon shaped, Ozwolds for sure; but he had never seen so many move in one pack. The tracks were headed southeast, straight towards their home in the nearby cliff. What interested him more was where they had come from, and so he began to follow the tracks.
After a few minutes another distress call came to him, this time in the exact direction he was headed. The coordinates were familiar to him, it was the location of the Mesta Cactus. The cactus gave bloom to a pink flower, though of not much monetary value, it was often sought by those interested in aesthetics. He started to run, the call was clearly coming from the source of these tracks and his curiosity was not going to let him pass this one up.
When the canyon gave way to the small bowl, he was not let down; the scene was unlike anything he had ever seen before. A most unfortunate traveler had somehow been tied to the Mesta Cactus by his feet and was hanging upside down. Two Ozwolds had gathered around him and were apparently taking turns beating him with his own weapon. It was downright humiliating. Though he couldn’t tell how long the beasts had been harassing this poor boy, it looked like he was in pretty bad shape; so he took control of the situation quickly.
Pausing only to strengthen his barrier with a spell, he rushed straight for the two gloating birds. He hit the first bird with a flash of yellow light, causing it to freeze in place. The other creature barely had enough time to turn before a blow across the face sent it hurdling backwards. The blitz worked as he had planned and the creature who could still move began to run away. Rende was able to land several critical blows before the remaining monster shook his spell and he finished it without any trouble at all. The battle renewed his spirit, and a new sense of excitement began to flow through him.
Untying the young traveler, Rende laid him out carefully on the ground. He wore the garments of a hunter from Turro, but it was rare that a hunter would come so far into the wilderness by himself. The Ozwolds had injured more than the young hunter’s pride, the beasts had beaten his barrier to below critical and he was beginning to go into shock. When a traveler’s barrier went down in battle, it was a travelers senses which became his biggest enemy.
Pain, hunger, exhaustion; all the sensations the spirit pack normally held back would overload the brain, causing a seizure like attack. The rushing sensation was not pleasant, especially for those who had been under a spirit pack’s protection for a long amount of time. Once a spirit barrier had gone past critical, fixing it was not as simple as casting a restoration spell. A more complicated spell that few people in the world had mastered was needed to restore a broken barrier; fortunately for this hunter Rende was one of the few who could cast it. Kneeling over his patient, he worked his craft; the spell was a long one to cast and when it was finished he was completely drained. The casting was successful, the hunter’s barrier had been restored; but he was still passed out from shock. He decided to wait for the hunter to wake up.
I’m not letting this one get away without at least a little gratitude, he thought to himself. More than that, he wanted to hear from the boy just what had happened.
The bowl shaped canyon was a lot more open than the canyon he usually hunted in, and this left many directions for creatures to wander up for an attack. He leaned against the cactus spire and waited patiently, still paying mind to any movement in the canyon around him.
It only took a couple minutes for the hunter to begin to come back from shock. He mumbled what sounded like someone’s name, but Rende couldn’t make the word out completely. Then his eyes flew open, and the hunter looked around in a sort of panic.
“It’s alright,” Rende replied, trying to calm him. “You’re safe; I answered your distress call. You were in bad shape when I found you, your fortunate I know how to restore a barrier.”
“Where is she? Where did they take her?” He asked frantically, ignoring Rende completely. “You saw her didn’t you? A young girl with blonde hair?”
“Woah, slow down.” Rende replied, a little annoyed with the hunter’s attitude. “That’s no way to treat someone who just saved your life.”
“You don’t understand they’re up to something; I have to find her.” He said, scrambling to his feet. Rende couldn’t believe his eyes, he had just saved this hunter’s life and he was going to rush off without even a single thank you.
“If you go out there now you’ll be killed.” Rende said, grabbing him by the arm. “I fixed your barrier, but I haven’t restored it yet. You can let it recharge on its own or I can restore it for you.”
“Either way you’re going to have to sit and wait, so you might as well start from the beginning; and the name is Rende by the way” He continued, letting go of the headstrong hunter.
“You’re right, I apologize if I was rude to you.” he said, finally taking a moment to catch his breath. “I’m Takaen, a hunter from Turro. I came out here as an escort for a friend of mine, a young girl named Starla.”
“Hmmmm, that name sounds familiar; but go on.”
“We were going to pick a flower from the Mesta cactus; but when we entered the valley we were ambushed.”
“Ambushed?” Rende replied, his curiosity was beginning to pick up again.
“Yes, a large group of Ozwolds attacked us; they tied me up and took Starla.”
“You’re sure it was Ozwolds that did this?” Rende said, scratching his chin. He was finding it hard to believe that creatures with such a low intelligence would be able to pull something like that off. An Ozwold couldn’t even tie a knot last time he remembered, let alone execute a tactical strike as the hunter described.
“Yes! And they’ve taken her; it was her they were after all along. They are up to something, and I have no idea what it is.”
Rende finally made the connection in his mind, Starla was the name of the chief of Turro’s daughter. But what could the animals be hoping to accomplish by kidnapping her, were they planning to use her for Ransom or perhaps some act of war? It didn’t make any sense at all.
“The tracks, they were headed in the direction of the Ozwold Cleft.” Rende pondered. “But it would be suicide to go up against the Ozwold if they are acting as strangely as you claim.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Takaen said shaking his head. “I’ve got to go after her.”
Rende knew it was coming, they both knew the odds and neither of them was that foolish. If he were to have any kind of chance at all, he would need help. This is the kind of foolish venture that will get you killed, Rende thought. It was even more bone headed then the kind of things he once did for the militia, but something about the idea of showing up those military pricks seemed appealing to him.
“Alright, I’ll do it.” He answered.
“I’ll help you get her back; you’re going to need all the help you can get.”
“I couldn’t ask for your help, you’ve done plenty for me. Starla is my responsibility.”
This kid is just too much, Rende thought. There is a fine line between modesty and complete idiocy.
“Don’t be a fool,” Rende chuckled. “That place is going to be crawling with Ozwolds, and they’ll do worse to you then string you up by your toes, you can trust me on that.”
That one drew a reaction, Rende thought gloating over the grimace that came over the hunter’s face.
“Besides, I think I have a plan.”
* * *
The entrance to the cleft sat like a gapping mouth in the cliff wall. From fortifications high in the cliff, two sentinels kept a close watch on the entrance below. There was a time when travelers could enter the cleft relatively easily and pillage the halls within. But the stubborn birds had fought back rather hard, and managed to take back their home in the cliffs, what’s worse is that they were now apparently well organized. Gone were the days of easy prey among the Ozwold, and if things continued like this the beasts might pose an even greater threat then the goblins.
“Now.” Rende whispered to Takaen, and the two of them rushed towards the entrance. Thanks to some stealth spells Rende had cast on the two of them, the sentinels above neither saw nor heard them as they rushed into the caves beyond.
“The spell won’t last forever,” Rende whispered to the air behind him. “So we’re going to have to act fast, hold onto my hand and follow my lead.”
He couldn’t see Takaen’s response, but he pictured the young hunter nodding his head in agreement. Rende let his instincts guide him through the tunnel, taking the paths which seemed to be the most guarded. He had come here several times a long time ago, but the place seemed to have changed drastically sense then.
Whenever they found themselves temporarily alone Rende would pause to recast the spells, they were deep in the cleft now; if they were discovered they would be done for. The stealth spells were useful for crossing dangerous territory safely, but never had he used it to infiltrate a place like this.
The pathways and crude cut stairwells were leading them upwards. Heading to the top of the beasts’ home seemed like a good idea, so he kept following the corridors which headed in that general direction. After a while there were no guards at all, and they continued to climb completely undisturbed.
At long last they reached what appeared to be the top and two rather large and mean looking Ozwolds were standing watch in front of a heavy wooden door.
“It looks like this might be it,” Rende whispered behind him. “But we’re going to need a way to get past those guards.”
“Leave that to me.” Takaen answered back. That would certainly solve the problem, Rende thought. But what’s going to happen to this boy if he’s caught? And what if this isn’t the right room?
“Ok,” Rende replied. “But take this with you, it’s a warp stone. If you get in trouble don’t hesitate to use it, I won’t be able to help you here. Try to lose them if you can and meet make your way back here.”
“Don’t worry about me, just find Starla.” Takaen said taking the stone.
The guards gave out a screech of surprise when the young hunter appeared seemingly out of thin air and then quickly darted back down the stairs. The ruse worked and the two guards left the door in full pursuit.
He skipped down the stairs quickly and was putting a good distance between him and his pursuers, but he couldn’t seem to shake them. He would turn randomly down tunnels, but he could still hear the Ozwolds close behind him. The beasts had the advantage of knowing where they were going, and it didn’t take long for Takaen to become completely lost.
Swinging around a corner, he nearly knocked over two more guards. There was no choice now but to keep going and the guards joined the loud pursuit behind him. The crowd was steadily growing and it wouldn’t be long before the whole place would be after him. It would only be a matter of time before he took a wrong turn or the creatures managed to corner him. He had given Rende more than enough time now, I should use the stone to escape while I still can, he thought.
He called forth the stone, but something within him caused him to hesitate. I can’t leave without even knowing if he found her, he thought. The hesitation was long enough, and an Ozwold mage hit Takaen with a spell, causing him to lose his balance. The warp stone left his hand and fell somewhere on the dimly lit floor beneath him.
There was no way he could find it now, his only hope for survival was lost. Scrambling back to his feet he took off running once again. His only hope now was to make a blind run for the entrance, but the chances of making it were slim. Please let him find her, Takaen prayed, before sending out the distress signal. There was really no point, nobody would answer it. The Ozwolds would have him this time for sure.
* * *
“Good job Takaen,” Rende whispered after the sound of the Ozwalds’ pursuit faded in the distance. He carefully approached the door, but as he was about to open it he heard voices on the other side.
“My Lady, he has entered the cleft.” A harsh and gargled voice declared.
“Good, see that he makes his way here.” Replied a loud, feminine voice.
“Yes my lady.” The harsh voice replied, and Rende heard the sound of movement followed by the sound of a heavy door swinging shut. A third voice started to speak, but it was quieter then the others and Rende had to lean his ear to the door to make it out.
“…be sorry.” The soft voice cried, it was a young girl’s voice; most likely Starla.
“You should have never left the safety of the city; the wild is just too much for the likes of you.” The loud voice chuckled.
“He’ll save me, and then we’ll see who laughs.” The soft voice pouted.
“Yes, we’re all waiting for his arrival….” The voice paused briefly. “Speaking of which we should bring our guest in, it is after all rather rude to eavesdrop.”
Before Rende could move, something pushed him from behind and he crashed through the door and into the room beyond.
A transformation, a message and an untimely demise.
Next Whispering: A Pleasant Surprise