Chapter 17 - Nothing Like a Good Field Appendectomy to Put a Guy in His Place …

… or Turn Him Into a Horse Thief

The next morning, everyone awoke with the customary red, blurry-eyed haze of a night spent fitfully tossing between nightmares and the uneasy fear of waking in the corrupt environment of “Fogmire.” If asked, any one of them would have been hard pressed to say how many nights they had spent in Fogmire – it seemed like forever. Worse, it seemed like they were losing companions at a rate of about one a day.

Perhaps it was this very sentiment that led to what happened that morning. Avner was simmering and, if anyone had paid him any attention, which they all tried to avoid, they might have seen that he was in rare form and, perhaps, dowsed the flames that were burning before they became an inferno. That didn’t happen, however. Instead, Avner broke the silence by saying, “So, which direction were we going in?”

As this was a fairly innocuous question, nobody caught on right away where it was leading. In fact, at first, nobody realized how complicated the answer would be, straightforward as it seemed.

“We were heading south towards Farshore,” Saris said, almost simultaneously as Viselys said, “We were looking for Diamondback.”

Ornrik and Urol exchanged a look of confusion. Urol went first, “Actually, we can’t be sure if ‘South’ was the direction we were going. I can’t get my bearings in this … this ‘Fogmire,’ and I have perfect direction sense.”

Then Ornrik nodded in agreement, “Besides, we were making our decision based on my evil detecting spell, not specifically on compass direction or Diamondback’s location.”

Aver turned his attention to Ornrik then, “So, based on that, which direction were we going?”

Ornrik wasn’t quire ready to recast that spell again, so he paused a moment to consider which way the had entered these ruins the night before.

However, before Ornrik could respond, Viselys interjected, “Why, Avner? You want to take the lead from here?”

It quickly became clear to everyone that, joking or not, Viselys had struck a spark in a methane-filled mine as Avner replied, “Absolutely! And I’m going to start by going in the exact opposite direction from the way you would have us go.”

The entire group exploded in outrage and boisterous inquiry. It was Saris, surprisingly, who seemed to be the voice of reason, “Avner, why?”

“Isn’t it obvious? If we keep following this … child, we’re all going to end up dead, one by one. Look, I’ve lost both of my servants; there was that elf kid, and his own girlfriend. You were almost next, Van Skye. You know that, don’t you?” Saris didn’t have to answer for Avner to know that he had considered that, too. “Yeah, if it hadn’t been for us, the two nobles, that four-armed thing would have killed one of us and, frankly, it was well on it’s way to doing just that to you.”

“Well, of course, Ornrik kept me in the game,” Saris noted, by way of offering thanks to the dwarf.

Avner nodded, but continued, “And, sure, this one,” he indicated Viselys, “made every appearance of participating in the fight, but he made darn sure to fight defensively so he was never in any danger … nor was the creature from him. He didn’t actually core a single hit!”

“Really?” Viselys said, rhetorically, “Who scored the killing blow?”

Avner thought for a second, “I don’t recall, but are you claiming it was you?”

Saris was speaking at the same time Avner was, “I don’t recall, I was pretty out of it by that point.”

“Yeah, it was me,” Viselys declared, proudly.

“No!” Ornrik interjected, “I never saw you score one hit. I have to agree with Avner.”

“Are you accusing me of something,” Viselys asked in a warning tone.

Avner shrugged, “All I’m saying is that, to watch you fight, I couldn’t tell which side you were on.”

Viselys’ hand went to the hilt of his sword, “That’s a direct insult to my honor!”

“Oh, HO! Here we go again with your ‘honor.’ You HAVE no honor, child. You killed my servants, the elf kid, your own girlfriend, and, almost, Van Skye. Or, I suppose, the alternative is that you are just incompetent. You tell me which.”

“I’ll be happy to show you my competence with a sword…” Viselys said, drawing his blade.

“Do I need to demonstrate to you in another duel how incompetent you are?” Avner asked, smugly. “This would be, what, the third time?”

“Second,” Viselys replied quickly, perceiving another slight to his honor.

“No! Third.” Avner would not let this pass. “You forget that the last time, you wanted to go best two out of three, forcing me to embarrass you twice. This would be the third time.” Avner was vehement. He took great pleasure in wielding the truth so cruelly.

“Not when I best you,” Viselys said, taking the traditional ‘on guard’ stance.

Saris, who had been trying to interject throughout this exchange, was working himself into a frenzy, “What are you people doing?! Why are we fighting amongst ourselves?”

“Relax, Van Skye,” Avner replied, “This whelp needs to be taught his place. I’m going to do what his father should have done years ago,” and he drew his own sword.

“None of this ‘first blood’ thing this time, Meravanchi,” Viselys declared, swiping his sword dramatically, “If we’re going to do this, we do it!”

“So be it!” Avner said, almost eagerly.

“Please!” Saris tried again, “Don’t you understand? This is exactly what that … thing … out there wants. It wants us fighting each other.”

Avner turned to Saris and said, soto voce, “This isn’t going to be a fight. Don’t worry.”

Viselys and Avner squared off, and Avner moved quickly to engage. Everyone was moderately surprised at how fast Avner was. He lunged in, taking two crossing swipes, missing with one and opening up a nasty gash across Viselys' chest with the other then Avner drove the point of the sword into his abdomen. Viselys went down.

And the outrage and boisterous inquiry began all over again.

“YOU KILLED HIM?!” Saris exclaimed.

Avner casually cleaned his blade. “The dwarf can revive him,” he replied smugly, “but when he does, perhaps the whelp will be a bit more humble.”

Ornrik examined his patient, “Rupture of the bowels, obviously,” he said to no one in particular, with clinical detachment, “Fecal matter in the abdominal cavity. I can heal the wounds, but he could still die from toxic sepsis.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do for him?” Saris asked incredulously.

“I may be able to slow the poison, but not cure it,” Urol offered.

“It won’t help unless you can slow it until this time tomorrow,” Ornrik stated, “I don’t have any magic prepared to deal with poisoning. However, he may fight it off naturally.” He cast a few more spells, and brought Viselys back to consciousness.

Seeing that everything would be fine, just as he knew it would, Avner said to Ornrik, “Alright. We should get going shortly. Which way were these ‘evil waves’ moving again?”

Ornrik looked at him, dubiously, “So we can go the opposite way?”

Avner nodded, “Precisely! And since you are the only one who can see the only thing like a direction indicator…”

Ornrik realized that Avner was right and that, no matter who was “in charge,” he was in charge of what direction they walked. Simply for spite, he pointed in a direction perpendicular to the ley lines, “This is the way you want to go.”

Avner mounted his horse and, surprisingly, waited patiently for the rest of them to get ready. Then they marched out.

After about an hour, from his position atop Thunderstrike in the front of the marching order, he could see another set of ruins. He pulled back on the rains and slowed up, telling Urol what he saw. Urol moved to the front so he could assess the new location.

“This is like the others. They are not Olman, but likely of the same origin…” his voice trailed off.

“What is it?” Ornrik asked.

“These ruins look awfully familiar,” Urol replied.

“Familiar as in you know what culture they are from?” Saris asked.

“No,” Urol replied, “familiar as in we’ve been here before!”

Sure enough, they were approaching the same ruins they had left an hour earlier from the opposite direction.

“There’s no way we could have walked in a circle and come right back to the same spot,” Saris decreed.

“I don’t think we did,” Ornrik said, “I believe this is a magical antlion trap.”

Urol recognized the blank stares from the others before Ornrik did, “An antlion is an insect that digs a hole in the sand and waits at the bottom. Whenever some other insect steps over the trap, it falls in, unable to dig itself out. At the bottom, the antlion waits and pounces.”

Ornrik nodded, “In other words, we’re stuck here. No matter what direction we go in, we’ll keep coming back here. Space is magically warped here. That’s why Urol can’t get his bearings. There is no direction for him to sense.”

All of a sudden, it was like the jungle came to life. Viselys, Saris and Ornrik were hit from nowhere, and Urol was apparently floating away from them. As they quickly accessed their situation, they knew that there was something – several somethings – attacking them. These creatures weren’t exactly invisible. They were cloaked by a chameleon-like effect. They couldn’t be see directly, but their movements created a distortion effect. One of these cloaked creatures was carrying Urol away at a very fast pace.

“Help me!” Urol pleaded in a heartbreaking voice.

Saris ran after Urol, though he found the dense jungle slowed him a great deal. Ornrik avoided this restriction by flying. However, the creatures’ movements were so fast, Ornrik still could not keep up. Saris and Avner began fighting over who got to ride Thunderstrike.

Urol’s voice grew more and more distant, “Please! Help me. You’ve got to-” His voice was suddenly and eerily silent. Ornrik continued to fly in the same direction. Now using the evil detecting spell, he could see that they had been moving in the direction of the “evil” flow and, for the first time in days, he was seeing a new landmark. Up ahead, the jungle thinned and he could see a low hill above which a black rock spire loomed - clearly the “magnet” that was pulling in all the 'evil.’ At the hill’s base, two gigantic fanged baboon heads carved into the rock leered out at the jungle, their gaping maws revealing two caves leading into the darkness.

Ornrik waited for Saris to catch up, and Avner was not far behind, apparently having won the fight over his own horse. Viselys eventually arrived. When all were present, Ornrik informed them that the dual baboon motif was a reference to Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons.

Weighing all options, prompted by an ambiguous augury by Ornrik and the blind terror of Thunderstrike, they all decided to return to the clearing, and hold up until the next day when Ornrik had regained his spells and those that required it had healed.

Nobody really looked forward to trying to sleep. Another day, another party member missing…

Continue to Chapter 18...

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