Chapter 12 - "We cannot see it, but it sees the heat of our bodies and the heat of our fear…"

The magical Boots of Leaping and Striding that Viselys was wearing were quite helpful in minimizing the damage from the fall. In fact, he was quite surprised at how little damage he actually took. He got up, brushed himself off, and headed straight towards Diamondback.

“Tara? Are you okay?” He said, cradling her neck very gently with his hand to see if there was any swelling which might have indicated a break or fracture.

She turned her head without any apparent stiffness or added pain for the effort, though she was clearly in pain. “I … Viselys?” She seemed a bit hazy, but clearly conscious and cognizant. “How long was I out?”

Viselys, now relatively certain that she had received no serious neck injury, lifted her head and up back into his arms to provide some comfort from the rocks, “If you lost consciousness, it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds.”

Her expression was dubious, “How did you get down here so fast?”

Viselys shrugged, “I jumped.”

Her eyes went wide, “You could have been killed…”

Before she could go any further, a familiar, haughty voice interrupted, “Stupid boy! You could have been killed!” Saris was swaggering over from the bottom of the cliff. Ornrik and Urol were being lowered by a rope attached to Thunderstrike. “You might have given the healers two emergency patients instead of just one,” he said, indicating with his thumb behind him.

“Tara was hurt and I had to…” Viselys started.

But Saris cut him off. “Stupid boy,” he repeated as he turned away.

After the healers had tended their patients, The group (minus Avner and Quenge, who were staying on the path with Thunderstrike) investigated the abandoned village. “As I said before,” Urol commented, “this seems to indicate there are still Olman settlements on this island. These structures haven’t been lived in for several years, but they are certainly not a thousand years old. Without upkeep, they wouldn’t last TEN years. I’d say…three years? Maybe four, since these structures were lived in.

“Probably driven off by the gargoyles,” Saris noted. Urol nodded his agreement.

With that thought, it was determined that they, again, would not build a campfire. Although they could not see the other side of the bay where the gargoyles were thought to be from, at night, the gargoyles would certainly see a fire. Plus, given that their attack party would not be returning, a fire would be a broadcast message that the ones that killed them were still alive AND exactly where to find them.

The beach was rocky and uncomfortable, but digging a groove revealed successively smaller rocks and, eventually sand and soil, which was cooler to the touch. With a small amount of digging and scraping, everyone was able to form a rather comfortable place to bunk down. They slept more comfortably than they had since they left the jungle, lulled by the soft sound of the surf lapping at the rocks.

They did not know, at the time, that it would prove the last good night’s sleep they would have for many nights…

* * * * *

In the morning, all those who had slept on the beach returned by rope, with Thunderstrike’s help, to the ledge. They still had the daunting task, however, of getting everyone – including the horse – to the higher level to continue their journey.

Saris formed a lasso with the rope and quite deftly caught the support structure of the failed lift with it. He was first to climb up, thereby testing the support’s safety. He was soon followed by the others. Urol and Ornrik were last, as magic would be required to get Thunderstrike to the higher ledge.

“How much do you think the horse weighs?” Ornrik asked Urol. “I have a levitate spell that can lift up to 700 lbs.”

“That might be enough, but the horse might weigh as much as a thousand. We’ll work together on this one. I’ve prepared a spell to reduce the horses size by half. Then your spell should have no problem.”

The plan worked quite well and the party was able to continue their trek along the higher path, now approximately 80’ above the water.

They had not been on the trail long when a sense of foreboding came over Ornrik. ‘We’re being watched – again,’ he thought to himself. With some effort, he was able to trigger a spell to detect evil without moving or speaking. As he looked over his shoulder, he knew that evil he sensed was behind him. In a moment he could tell, specifically, that it was about 20’ above the path, either levitating or clinging to the cliff face. Since he could not see an actual figure, he surmised it must be invisible. Whatever it was, however, must have guessed what Ornrik was doing because it quickly withdrew and the spell was broken. However, Ornrik now had more information than he had before.

“I have something to report,” he informed the others. “I now know that I have not just been paranoid. We are, indeed, being watched. It’s evil. VERY evil. It can turn invisible and it can either fly or climb effortlessly.” He related what he had seen, or rather, what he hadn’t.

“Evil’s not good,” Urol said. They all knew what he meant, but they still looked at him like he was goofy.

“Well, all the more reason to move out as quickly as possible,” Viselys stated. “Again, we’ll push it; double time.” He then considered the spell casters and their recent experience with sleep deprivation, “We’ll do that all day to make the best time we can before nightfall.”

“I don’t think it’s going to matter,” Ornrik noted, “We can’t outrun this thing.”

Still, everyone knew they had to try.

As they walked, Quenge pulled out a small pouch that hung around his neck from a leather cord. He rubbed it between his forefinger and thumb as he mumbled to himself, clearly afraid.

“Put that blasted thing away, will you!” Avner berated his servant.

“What is it?” Saris inquired.

“Some Corgy charm,” Avner spat, “Superstitious nonesuch!”

“It wards off evil,” Quenge argued, his anxiety clearly escalating.

Ornrik was doubtful and he surreptitiously affixed his monocle to evaluate the object. It radiated a faint (weak, in fact) abjuration magic. Probably not even as strong as the Protection from Evil he could cast. Still, it wasn’t completely without merit. He moved to the young man and patted him on the back, “It does, and you are with us and we ward off evil, too. Don’t you worry.”

“Maybe we should turn back,” Quenge suggested.

“If we turn back, we’re dead,” Saris stated firmly. This caused Quenge to become even more visibly agitated. Ornrik, who did not have a reputation of being the most considerate member of the team, shot daggers at Saris for being so insensitive. “What?” Saris asked in response. Ornrik just shook his head.

They made good time and stopped to camp as the shadows grew long – about an hour before dark. Viselys and Diamondback took the first watch.

About two hours after the others had fallen asleep, Viselys and Diamondback were plunged into darkness. “Wake up, everybody,” Viselys said in a strong voice, “We’re under attack.

Ornrik knew immediately that it was a darkness spell. “Follow the cliff and you should be able to get beyond the area of effect.”

Because they were already up and ready, Viselys and Diamondback were the first ones out followed a short while later by Saris, Avner, and Quenge.

Ornrik summoned a small, extra-planar being called an Archon that, ordinarily, would appear as a ball of light, but it’s magic did not seem to cut through the artificial darkness.

“Can you see anything?” he asked in the Celestial language.

“I cannot,” it replied in kind, “But I will do as you command.”

“Fly out of the darkness and tell me what you see.”

The little ball of light did just that, flying about 60 feet away from the cliff.

Its celestial voice started to say, “I can see the area but I don’t see-”

There was a loud snarl and a roar that caused a chill to everyone who heard it. Then there was silence again.

“By Laduguer’s beard! What was that?” Ornrik called out from within the darkness. Nobody answered right away. “Hello? What did you see?”

Diamondback found her voice first, “I don’t know what it was. It…”

Ornrik was moving towards the voice of his companion, “Go on.” By this time he had reached the edge of the darkness and he could see the ghastly looks on his companions’ faces.

“Something big,” Saris said, “Dark. Humanoid … maybe? Just tore it apart and blinked out again.”

At about this time, Urol emerged from the darkness with Thunderstrike in tow, “Took me a while to calm her down,” he said.

“Where are the saddle bags?” Saris asked concerned.

“They had been on her, right?” Avner said, turning to Quenge. The scared servant nodded mutely.

“What was in the saddle bags?” Viselys asked Avner.

“My toothbrush, combs, mustache wax…” he began.

“All the crab meat!” Quenge jumped in.

“Don’t worry,” Saris said. “We still have all the dry goods we were carrying.” He reached his hand over his shoulder, then realized he didn’t have his pack. “Frack! My pack is in the camp,” he pointed to the darkness.

Viselys pointed, “Okay, we go in and find our stuff. I know it won’t be easy, but be as quick as possible. We’ll meet on the far side. Then we have to get away from here. We’ll check our inventory in the morning.”

“Urol and I will not be able to regain our spells,” Ornrik pointed out. He held up his hands as if in surrender, “I just thought I should mention it.”

Viselys nodded. “We’ll regroup in the morning and figure out a way to defend ourselves so we can get some rest.”

They walked all night and stopped when there was enough sunlight to see clearly. They stopped, emptied out their packs and took an inventory.

“Yep, all the food is gone,” Saris spat.

“And the water, too,” Urol noted.

“He took Lavinia’s diary!” Viselys shouted.

“What? Why would anyone want that?” Saris asked incredulously.

“I have it,” Ornrik said loudly to cut through the chatter, “Here!” He slammed down the book in front of Viselys. Then he got up and continued walking up the trail.

The others soon caught up and they weighed their options.

“What we really need is water,” Saris said, “We can go for days without food, but we can’t last long without water.” He looked over the edge of the path, “And that won’t help us. You can’t drink that.”

Urol said, “I can create ten gallons of water a day – if I can prepare my spells and if I have something to hold the water in.”

Viselys just nodded, “Okay, we’ll figure this out. Let’s just keep going.”

“We can’t push too hard without water,” Saris warned.

“Okay,” Viselys agreed.

By evening they were very hungry and very thirsty, which made them even more fatigued then usual. They stopped several hours before dark this time.

“Let’s camp. Saris, you and I take watch. I want everyone else to get some sleep. We’ll wake you in eight hours,” Saris shot him a look, but Viselys nodded his certainty, “then we’ll sleep while you guys prepare spells. Okay?” Everyone nodded agreement.

Saris and Viselys brandished their swords and waited. The sounds of snoring soon filled the camp. Even Thunderstrike’s breathing shifted as she slept.

Again, when everyone but the guards were sleeping, the camp plunged into darkness. Viselys put his hand on Saris’ shoulder and whispered to him, “Don’t sound the alarm. Let them sleep. You and I will bodily guard the magic wielders. I’ll take Urol, you take Ornrik.” Saris didn’t even answer, they just felt their way to their charge. They waited, but they did not hear anything untoward. After an hour, the darkness faded to natural darkness. Saris and Viselys then checked to make sure everyone was accounted for and still breathing, and that no packs were missing.

At dawn, Saris and Viselys were exhausted. They nudged Ornrik and Urol awake.

“Anything happen in the night?” Urol inquired.

“The darkness again, but that seems to be all,” Viselys replied.

Apparently Quenge had awakened, too, “It’s still watching us. This thing is hunting us. ALL of us. You know that?” Now everybody was awake. “There's something out there waiting for us, and it ain't no man. We're all gonna die.”

Suddenly, Quenge jumped up and ran, “I told you we should have gone back…” he said as he ran headlong off the edge of the cliff.

Viselys and Ornrik were both moving to stop him, but it was too late. However, as they approached the edge, they both realized that something wasn’t right. To their vision, the edge of the cliff shimmered like a mirage and dissolved away – an illusion.

Viselys skidded to the real edge, stopping just in time. Ornrik had launched himself at the edge, but luckily he was just trying to get a line of site to his falling comrade – he wasn’t actually trying to reach him physically.

They both peered over the edge to the water and the rocks 80 feet below. There was nothing to see.

Viselys turned to Ornrik, “He must have missed the rocks. Been pulled down by the undertow.”

Ornrik just thumped his forehead against the ground, his face in the dirt. From that position he rolled his head back and forth as if silently saying ‘no’ as he pounded his fist.

They all sat in silence, each contemplating what to do next. Eventually, Urol began meditating, preparing spells for the day. Ornrik prayed and studied his spell book.

Eventually, Saris broke the silence. In a low voice he said, “He's killing us one at a time...”

“Like a hunter,” Urol finished the thought, casually coming out of his meditative trance and collecting his gear. The others followed suit as they prepared to set off again.

“This is just great!” Avner exclaimed, “Both of my servants are gone! Now who’s going to take care of Thunderstrike?”

Viselys had a cold look on his face. He glared at Avner and in a low voice said, “She's your baggage. You fall behind, and you're on your own.”

Continue to Chapter 13

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