Chapter 3 - Another Rumble In The Jungle

The walk through the jungle was grueling and Skald slowed to address his companions, “I have to inform you that I can no longer be absolutely certain that we are still on the exact course that Lavinia and the other survivors took. There are no longer any clear footprints, and the broken branches I find could just as easily have been caused by a raptor as by our friends. However, I can tell you we are still heading south, so if Farshore is their destination, we are going in the right direction.

Viselys nodded, “Since Adameus did not return, it seems reasonable to assume that Lavinia and the other survivors of the Nixie are okay and either at, or well on their way to, Farshore.” If anyone, Viselys included, had thought of the other obvious explanation for Adameus’ failure to return, nobody mentioned it out loud.

At about midday, the group arrived at a clearing – and what a clearing it was. It was approximately a mile in diameter forming a circular grassland within the jungle. The perimeter of the clearing was demarcated by slightly higher ground – almost a hill – making the circle like a large, shallow bowl of land.

“An inactive volcano?” Saris suggested.

Urol shook his head, thoughtfully, “No, this is – or was – an impact crater.” Everyone looked at him like he was crazy. “I know how it sounds, but some sometimes large objects fall from the heavens. Nobody has a definitive explanation, but there are theories.”

“You mean like shooting stars?” Saris asked. “I’ve seen them many times, especially out at sea.”

Urol nodded, “That one theory; that there is a connection between the two phenomena. A shooting star might be an object like the one that caused this crater, but it’s moving far away and not directly towards Corwyn. Imagine one of those objects coming right at you, and imagine it is as big as a small mountain. Some think that these celestial objects are hurled by a god or a giant or something. Personally, I believe there are more things in the heavens and on Corwyn than are even dreamt of in our philosophy. I think the stars are not just objects hung in the firmament. I believe they are other suns and around those other suns are worlds like Corwyn. Objects that cause craters like this, in my theory, would be fragments of those worlds, or moons or something very like them.”

Avner scoffed, “That’s absurd. The sun is huge and bright and the stars are little pin-pricks of light. Besides, the sun is smaller than Corwyn, so the other plants would be ‘around’ the stars, it would be the other way around.”

Urol didn’t really care to explain the Theory of The Celestial Spheres to Avner, since it would be about as useful as explaining it to a tree (maybe less so), so he just knoded (sic).

As the group looked out over the clearing, a large group of dinosaurs moved into it from the west. They were nearly a quarter mile away, but they were huge. The adults stood about ten to fifteen feet high at the haunch of the back, but from nose to tail tip they were about 80 to 85 feet long! Their necks alone had to be about 20 feet long. Clearly this was a heard . Urol became quite excited, but his voice dropped to a whisper as he named and began lecturing about the creatures and verbally noting his observations. They were Diplodocus, according to him.

Suddenly, the gnome became silent, stopping in mid-sentence. The ground was shaking in a way similar to the impact tremors of the T-Rex, but this was heavier and faster. Everyone split up and hid behind trees and got down in the underbrush just as a juvenile diplodocus charged through the trees, splitting the party by its path. Though small by compared to the adults in the herd, this child was still huge and could easily have killed any of them had it actually trampled them. But that was not the only danger as a hunting party of six Velociraptors were in hot pursuit.

“That’s not fair – six against one!” Urol said. “We’ve got to help the little guy!” Nobody bothered to acknowledge the absurdity of calling such a huge creature a “little guy,” since the idea of putting themselves in danger for a fight that was not theirs seemed so much more absurd. And Viselys was just about to make that very point when a line of flame blasted three of the bipedal hunters. All eyes, including those of the Velociraptors, traced the line back to Ornrik!

There was a moment of hesitation as the hunters evaluated the new circumstance. The “little guy,” too panicked to notice, kept running, as did his two closest pursuers, as the action occurred behind them. Nobody wanted to take on six Velociraptors, with the exception of Urol and Ornrik, apparently, but the choice was quickly becoming irrelevant as the hunters started spotting the hidden members of the party. Saris stood his ground, but he was spotted and one of the reptiles came running right up to him, screeching. Viselys charged to the other side of the creatures’ path to help his friends, but was spotted by one of the predators who was apparently trying to decide whether to continue after the diplodocus or try for one of the new, smaller prey. It opted for the latter, turning its full attention to Viselys. Avner drew his sword and hesitated, not sure if he should get involved at all and, if so, exactly where. His servants, for their parts, focused on keeping the horse from bolting. Skald began planning arrows in every velociraptor that looked like a good target, and Diamondback moved to back-up Viselys. The two predators that had been in the front of the pack caught up to “little guy” and attached themselves to his haunches. One, however, did not have a good hold and didn’t react fast enough as a giant tail swiped him, batting him nearly 40 feet, where he landed with a bone-shattering crunch, dead.

Suddenly, a ground shaking explosion and flash of light caused everyone, attacker and defender alike, to pause. One of the Velociraptors lay dead – a charred husk blasted by a bolt of lighting. Everyone looked at Ornrik who, with raised eyebrows and wide eyes, shook his head and pointed at Urol, who was cracking his knuckles. The little gnome wasted no time, for his part, as he picked up his quarterstaff and ran into the fray.

Ornrik seemed to actually be enjoying himself as he hurled fire and magic missiles. Saris held his own and Viselys and Diamondback double-teamed one (which Urol finished off with a single knock from his quarterstaff). Avner scored several good hits, and almost finished off the velociraptor that had attached itself to the “little guy” but Ornrik’s magic missiles found their mark, first.

This left an injured, scared juvenile herd animal to contemplate it’s next course of action. Urol and Avner knew they were in serious danger, close as they were to the beast. Urol did some sort of spell and began creeping away from “Little Guy” and, strangely, the creature didn’t seem to notice.

“Avner, get away from him!” Viselys shouted.

“You don’t have to tell me that!” Avner said as he bolted.

“Little Guy” snorted and charted off towards the heard and, presumably, Mamma. In so doing, he narrowly missed stepping on and crushing Thurnderstrike and Avner’s two servants.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

“You want to explain to me what that was all about?” Viselys growled at Urol.

“Hey, don’t blame him,” Ornrik came to Urol’s defense, “I agreed with his decision to get involved, though maybe not for the same reason.”

Viselys turned to the dwarf, “Yeah? What was your reason, then?”

“These things attacked us our first night here, and now there are six less to attack us later. Better to take them when we have the advantage than on their terms.”

Before Viselys could retort, Avner spoke up, “The little guy’s right. That wasn’t so bad, really. Just like I said at the beginning. Did you see how I stuck that last one? I’d have finished him off too if someone else hadn’t gotten him first.” Avner seemed incredibly pleased with himself, almost as though he had enjoyed the combat.

“You think this is all a game?!” Viselys spat at the nobleman.

Avner’s brow furrowed, “You know, I’m getting real tired of overlooking your arrogance, peasant.” Everyone who wasn’t Viselys or Avner took a step back and gulped.

“Peasant?!” Viselys retorted.

“Yes, peasant. You’re not a noble.” Avner turned and addressed Saris, “You might want to instruct your friend on the class system and the appropriate way to speak to a nobleman.” Saris just raised his hands in an ‘I’m not touching this’ gesture.

“Whatever your social rules may be,” Viselys replied, “I have a duty to defend my honor…”

“What ‘honor’?” Avner scoffed. Viselys drew his sword.

“Oh, it’s a duel you want?” Avner said, drawing his sword.

Now Saris found his voice, “I’ll go dig your grave,” he warned.

“Did you hear that?” Avner asked Viselys, tilting his head in Saris’ direction, “He’s going to dig your grave.” He had a mocking grin.

Viseleys, bound by his code, could not make the first attack, so he waited for Avner to strike first. The attack was not completely amateurish – it showed style born of formal training, but clearly had not been honed by real combat. Nonetheless, it was a very lucky thrust that found it’s way under Viselys’ armor and drew blood. ‘Good, now I can let loose,’ Viselys thought.

However, Avner held up his sword and stepped back, “There you go. I win,” and he re-sheathed his sword.

Viselys was stunned, “What!? What do you mean ‘you win?’”

“What, you wanted a duel to the death?” Avner chuckled, clearly not believing that to be the case. Again, he turned his attention to Saris,” You might really want to instruct this one in how things are done.” Then, back to Viselys, “An honor duel among nobility in Sasserine is settled by the drawing of first blood. Of course, you are not nobility – I guess I should not have expected you to know the rules. My mistake. Then again, back in Sasserine, I never would have accepted a challenge from someone of a lower class. It just seemed so important to you…”

“Fine,” Viselys interrupted him, “Now that I know, we should go again.”

“What, you mean like ‘best two out of three?” Avner was surprised, but intrigued.

“If you like,” Viselys replied, again readying his weapon.

Avner drew his own sword with a huff. Again, Viselys had to wait for Avner to attack first, but this time he fully expected Avner to miss. Then he would knock him unconscious with the flat of his sword. It was Viselys’ intent to humiliate the arrogant noble.

Avner’s thrust did miss, this time, giving Viselys honorable leave to retaliate. He swung hard fully expecting to slam the side of Avner’s head, but to his shock the swing missed high above his head. Suddenly, Viselys realized that Ornrik had enlarged him.

“What is this?! Avner said. “You can’t fight an honor duel that way!”

Viselys had to agree, “You’re right, you can’t.” He glared at Ornrik.

“Okay, I’ll dispel it!” the dwarf replied, waving his hand. Viselys immediately began to shrink back to normal size. “I just wanted to have some fun, too.”

When he had regained his correct stature, he took his stance again hoping to finally get his satisfaction. However, Avner re-sheathed his sword and turned his back on him. “I’m bored now,” he said, dismissively, “Let’s move out.”

They hiked the rest of the day in silence.

Continue to Chapter 4...

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