On The Run Edit
Looking back over his tiny furred shoulder, Tientrich saw four ogres still close behind him, and very much with him in their sights. He had not realised how well the monsters could see in the dark, his efforts so far at evading them proving in vain. Desperate for a moment’s respite, the druid called upon the powers at his disposal, and thick mist bloomed out around him. While the mist kept him out of the brutes’ vision for now, the fog also clearly placed him in this vicinity. And while he had little regard for the intellect of ogres, he thought even they would be smart enough to have some of their number posted around the edges of the mist, ready to spy him if he left. And he could not simply wait them out here- the mist would not last forever, and he still needed to be away.
Sitting upon the branch he was acutely aware of the rapid hammering of his tiny heart, and tried to calm himself. He had been making far too man y decisions under pressure today, and thus far he had been panicking and making poor ones. This form was of course the most recent example; there were innumerable small birds whose form he could have adopted and flown away, but for some reason under pressure he had opted for this squirrel. And he had not the energy to make another transformation, a return to his true from being all he felt he could manage without rest. Just as foolish had been his decision to bring the ice storm down upon the roc as it swooped. He had hoped to drive it away, but with more thought he could have masked his and his companions’ presence as he was doing now. The roc would have been unable to pick out a target as it plunged. He could even have tried using his talents to befriend the bird, and how useful would having that fabled raptor as an ally be at this moment?
He tried to ignore the crashing of ogres sweeping the area, telling himself again that at least for the moment they couldn’t see him. He worried about the residents of the Fort, and hoped that most had escaped. If not, then had at least died quickly; ogres had a reputation for appalling depravity, their very natures nothing but layers of perversion, like some kind of corrupt onion. He had never quite believed they were as bad as was rumoured but now, having seen their faces twisted in hate, he was a believer without a trace of doubt in his mind. He would not like to see what they might think up to amuse themselves with their captives. Shying away from such thoughts, he turned instead to thoughts of his companions. Hopefully Jon had found time to hide well while the ogres had chased him away. Bereft of all but the most rudimentary of his magics Twitch held little hope of his survival should he be found. The remainder of his companions would probably fare better, particularly if they could stick together, and if Tevan had much more of his healing ability to call on they may even survive a running battle. But number would probably tell in the end, he had to admit to himself, and they had not even seen any of the ogre shamen they had been warned of as yet.
Tientrich himself had enough tricks up his sleeve to confound the ogres for a time in the forest environment, and he had no doubt that he could keep ahead of them for most of the night. However, at some stage he would run out of those tricks, and would need to have lost them by then; he had little doubt of the outcome if he were to enter combat with the brutes.
The problem was, most of his abilities would, while keeping him ahead of his hunters, also alert them to his general whereabouts, as was the case with the fog that now enshrouded him. And even if he escaped one lot, there would be others. Perhaps another band would ignore a simple squirrel if they even noticed it. But perhaps not. He had seen those closing with him callously crush any creature that they had come across during their pursuit. So, what he really needed to do was to get far enough out that they were all behind him before finally losing them. His natural skills would mean he would leave no trail that they could follow, and he should then be away. The question was simply where to go then?
It took him but a moment to decide. Toward Turtleback Ferry was the obvious choice. Hopefully he could rejoin with Shalelu and Summer (who thankfully were away from the Fort!), and it seemed the most likely direction for his other companions to choose if they were able. There they could regroup, and at worst if there before the ogres could probably escape across the water to find the next settlement at which to make a stand.
The safety of his companions remained, however, of great concern to him, lacking his talents at moving through the natural environment. Krolmn would probably make it out if he were alone, but the gnome was also the best chance the others had of finding a way through out here, so he hoped the ranger was still with Belor and Tevan. Well, Tientrich thought, if he was going to be running anyway, and using abilities that would attract attention, then he would attract as much as he possibly could. Every ogre chasing him was one less for the others to make their way through.
Feeling composed at last, he took a deep breath and bolted for the edge of the mist.
As predicted, and ogre picked him up immediately as he left the area of the mist, but Twitch was no longer concerned. He threw a bolt of thunderous energy behind him at the monster, knowing that this earliest expression of his powers would do little damage, but would keep its attention, and the sound would surely bring more. As the ogre closed in rage, the druid-squirrel darted off again, the small animal’s agility combined with Tientrich’s ability to move unhindered through the vegetation easily keeping him ahead of the brutish creature.
The next few hours passed swiftly in a blur of exhilaration and fear. Tientrich continued to use his powers to attract attention, confound the pursuing ogres, and stay a step ahead while dealing minor damage to many of them. Thickening the bushes around him to slow movement, causing undergrowth to entangle and trip the blundering creatures, summoning more fog, throwing bolts of thunder and fire all served him well. As did conjuring up the globes of lightning he had learned to use so effectively against the undexterous creatures, although at one stage he stayed too long seeking to do damage with these before running, and a great club sent him arcing through the air. And of course he had summoned all sorts of creatures to aid him, distracting and delaying his pursuers, though dealing little damage. And as he did all this gained a better understanding of the ogres’ night vision; it seemed that unlike himself and the natural animals of the world they did not simply have far better vision in dim light, but instead could see extremely well in the dark but only within a limited distance. Something he had managed to exploit on several occasions.
Now, however, it was time for the druid to attempt his final escape, with several ogres close behind him, and his bag of tricks nearly empty. As they closed on him he again summoned creatures of the forest. However this time instead of bringing forth animals to fight the ogres he brought forth half a dozen squirrels, and sent them all darting off in different directions. The ogres split up in pursuit, and after a moment Twitch happily darted off southward, reading to make his way toward Turtleback Ferry and hopefully to reunite with Shalelu and Summer on the way.
Pleased with his efforts, it was only though his superior senses that he managed to escape a blow from an ogre he had not seen. He dashed away but realised quickly that this would not give him the clean escape he was after; the foliage was thin here, and with nothing left to slow the pursuing ogre it would be able to keep him in sight. And once the other squirrels were either destroyed or returned to the natural forces from which he had crafted them, the others would easily be able to quickly rejoin the chase.
Realising there was nothing else for it, the squirrel dropped to the ground, and Twitch resumed his natural form.
The ogre grinned grotesquely as it approached, its usual abhorrent features marred further by tooth and claw marks, and two streaks of oozing, blistered skin tracked across its torso.
Twitch charged toward it, knowing he needed to end this quickly. In doing so he gave too little care to giant’s longer reach, and paid the price as the great club smashed into his side. The druid rolled and came up quickly, spitting leaves and dirt, and rammed his spear upward into the ogre’s chest. Tearing the weapon free, he dodged to the side, but fortunately this last blow was too much for the already-wounded ogre to take, and it fell to the ground.
Grimacing in pain, and unable to heal himself as he had sacrificed the last of the healing magics available to him to conjure that last group of squirrels, Twitch set off south. He was secure in the knowledge that his superior skills in the natural environment would prevent the remaining ogres from tracking him. Which was just as well, as he doubted he could survive another such encounter.
Just as the first hint of dawn appeared over the Ashwood, Twitch stumbled across the campsite of Shalelu and Summer. Or rather, Shalelu challenged him as he unknowingly approached it. Her relief at seeing a friendly face quickly soured as the druid, exhausted and in pain from his wounds, all but collapsed onto the ground and told his tale, speaking the tongue of the elves so as not to distress Summer?
“So you know nothing of what has become of your companions?” Summer asked as he completed his tale. “I speak Elvish.” She added matter-of-factly as he raised his eyebrows.
“Elven.” Tientrich corrected, annoyed.
“Actually, no.” The former scholar replied. “Elven refers to their culture, crafts, artwork and the like, but the language they speak is Elvish.”
Tientrich glared as Shalelu cut in.
“And what of the Black Arrows? Jakardros?” She asked, obviously distressed to reveal her emotion at the fate of one individual, contrary to her usual reserved demeanour.
“I don’t know,” the druid replied, shaking his head, then sighing. “But give me some time to rest and I’ll see what I can find out.”
Twitch sat, seemingly in some kind of trance as he communed with the spirits that granted him his powers. Blinking, he came back to the present. He firstly reached into a pouch on his belt, pulling forth a meagre handful of berries he had collected after eluding the ogres. He spread them on a leaf in front of him, mumbling and gesturing over them, before taking one and placing it thoughtfully in his mouth. He slowly chewed and swallowed then, satiated and feeling a little better, healed the worst of his wounds.
“I can try to look for them,” Tientrich told Shalelu, “But I’ll need you to stand guard while I do; this will take a while.”
Twitch walked a few steps to a still pool of water left by the recent storms, then sat cross-legged in front of it. He would start with his companions, he thought, it being easier in theory to find those he knew better, and he had never tried this before.
His eyes became unfocused as he sat staring into the pool and turned his thoughts toward Krolmn. It seemed only a brief time to the druid until the subject of his thoughts appeared in the shimmering pool in front of him, although to the watchful Shalelu and Summer it was apparent that he was vacant-eyed and slack-jawed for closer to an hour.
“Any idea what he’s doing?” the ranger asked the Halfling.
“Presumably some kind of scrying.” Summer replied. “You know, I used to think the mystique around druids was something they deliberately cultivated to leave everyone guessing at the extent of their talents. But if they’re all like Twitch here, I’m starting to think the mystery simply comes from the fact that they never damned well tell anybody what they’re doing!”
Oblivious to the conversation around him (just one more druidic talent that was the envy of men everywhere), Tientrich continued to stare into the pool. The gnome, being the focus of the spell, was defined clearly in the centre, and that clarity allowed the druid to see that he was clearly the worse for wear. He appeared to have few arrows left in his quiver, although Twitch recalled that the quiver had properties similar to those of the bag he had made for Marius and so the appearance could be deceptive. More telling was that there was blood on the ranger’s usually decorative axes, a sure sign things had not all been going his way. He could also hear the gnome speaking, and had he known of the conversation of the women adjacent him he likely would have wished for that instead, the obvious hardship having done little to stifle the gnome’s chatter. Twitch did, however, find it encouraging; he must be speaking to someone.
Sure enough, as he watched Belor lumbered briefly into view at the edge of the pool, the conversation becoming (marginally) less nonsensical now that he could hear both sides of it. However, the warrior kept cutting in and out of both his visual field, and Twitch realised that he only had a small area of view around Krolmn. He continued watching, and over time realised with relief that both Jon and Tevan were also with the gnome, though all were looking rather frayed around the edges. Twitch was also able by studying the vegetation, slope of the land, and direction of shadows to get a rough idea of where they were. And fortunately, it was not too far away.
Snapping his attention back to the present, the druid picked up another berry and began making strange chirping sounds. A blackbird quickly flew in and alighted on his hand, snapping up the juicy morsel as the druid continued to twitter, before flying off again.
“Are you going to tell us what you’re doing?” Shalelu asked, annoyed.
“I was able to spy Krolmn and my other companions.” Twitch replied. “I just spoke to that blackbird and sent it to fetch them; Krolmn can speak to animals every now and again so hopefully he will be able to on this occasion.”
Twitch did his best not to grin at his own cleverness, then stood and stretched before resuming his position by the pool.
“I can do this once more. I think if I focus on Marius would be best.”
“I think it would be better to find out what Jakardros is doing.” Shalelu said.
“No,” the druid replied “Marius will be better. If he’s still alive he may be hiding in the keep, and I might be able to get some idea of what is going on inside.”
“But Jakardros will rally any surviving Black Arrows. It will be important to know what allies we have out here.” Shalelu countered.
“And if Marius has managed to get out he will have other survivors from the Fort with him. Plus, I know him better, the scrying will be more reliable. Definitely Marius.”
The elf turned sharply and stormed away a few steps, making a show of studying her gear as Twitch sat back down by the pool. He was just about to begin his trance when he felt a sharp jab to his ribs.’
“Ow!” he complained, as Summer kicked him again. “What was that for?”
“Just trying to kick some humanity into you.” She smiled sweetly. “Now, look for Jakardros.”
Twitch looked glared into the halfling’s eyes, level with his as he sat on the ground while she stood, then broke off his gaze and glanced over at the dejected Shalelu.”
“On second thought,” he announced loudly, “Jakardros probably is the better bet. Any escapes from the Fort will likely be in hiding, whereas we can hopefully meet back up with Jakardros.”
Twitch stared into the pool.
“What’s with him?” Belor asked, gesturing at Twitch as the four entered the camp behind the blackbird.
“Some kind of spell.” Jon observed with a frown.
“He’s looking for Jakardros.” Summer explained “The same way he found all of you.”
“Wouldn’t knowing what is happening within the Fort be more useful?” Krolmn asked as he farewelled the bird. Summer glared at him.
“Whatever. Do you have any ale with you?” Belor asked.
“Or more importantly, food?” asked Tevan. While he also would have been happy at the thought of ale, food was the more pressing need for the exhausted group at present.
“Twitch said to give you those when you got here.” Shalelu gestured at the berries remaining on the leaf.
“A berry each? I’m not sure that will help much I’m afraid.” Tevan admitted.
“I think he did something to them. He seemed happy enough with one.”
“At least he didn’t cook.” Jon stated, reaching for a berry “On past experience he’d have had us eating roast ogre.”
Jon ate the berry, then looked accusingly at Krolmn.
“I feel like I’ve just had a full meal. Are you playing your sensory tricks again?”
“Hey, why does everyone always blame the gnome!” Krolmn protested “I used up everything I had saving you lot from the ogres.”
Sceptically, the rest of the companions ate their one berry each, and each in turn felt like he had breakfasted well.
“Fucking druids. If he can do that, surely he could have turned that water into ale.” Belor muttered, as Twitch stared slackly at the pool.
The Vision Edit
Twitch glanced upwards at his companions, the only sign his spell was finished.
“Well?” Krolmn asked as he absently tapped an arrow on his leg. Belor and Jon had both collapsed with exhaustion, while Tevan sat with his sword across his lap, intent on making sure the group wasn’t surprised by any ogres. He staved off sleep with willpower alone. Across from the druid Summer looked up with interest, while further up the road Shalelu kept a lookout.
“I… saw Jakardros,” Twitch slowly.
“Alive?” Krolmn asked excitedly, before realising Shalelu may not want to overhear Twitch’s response. The gnome lowered his voice to a loud whisper and repeated his question. “Alive?”
Twitch nodded. “For now…”
…The surface of the pond before Tientrich seemed to shimmer, dark shadows flickering beneath its surface. The druid concentrated on the shadows, looking beyond the surface as if peering into the depths of the water. The shadows formed shapes and lightened into brown, green and red… Blood.
Suddenly Twitch was watching Jakardros. The ranger’s tunic was in tatters, and his body was covered in cuts and bruises. Blood was smeared across his face and upper chest, and it left a trail on the leaves as he was dragged unconscious across the ground.
As if sitting in the trees above, the druid peered down and watched as Jakardros was dragged through the forest. The man dragging him was large but no ogre. He had thin, patchy hair, with slightly pointed ears protruding from the side of his head. He was dressed in farming clothing of simple shirt and pants, but carried a heavy steel spear. His right hand was nothing more than a large, misshapen finger, which he had wrapped tightly around Jakardros’ ankle. Flitting in and out of Twitch’s limited view were several large hunting dogs, running around the man’s feet and occasionally snapping at Jakardos.
“This is my lucky day!” the man said excitedly, though to himself, his dogs, or someone out of view Tientrich was not sure. “I’s huntin’ bear and found humans! Ha!”
Jakardros moaned, his hand rising slowly to his face. A dog growled and snapped at his arm, grabbing his sleeve in his teeth and shaking viciously. “Hey!” the large man yelled, hitting his spear on the dog’s rump. “Don’t eat him! We gonna have fun with him yet. Hey!” The dog fled with a yelp.
The man kept dragging the ranger through the forest. Suddenly he let out a deep bellow of laughter. “Oh mammy is gonna be happy with this one! She been so lonely!”