Shadow of Hope 52

Kurn volunteered across the line, simply stated, as if all the speculation, questions, and debate did little to address the issue or help, “If it’s sentient, it can be killed. If it’s not, every force has its balance and opposite.” That the party was present in this region to determine how to stop it was good enough for Kurn. The questions were simpler that way, as were the actions required, whether those actions would require sword, spell, engineering, or whatever. People got in their own way, making things so needlessly complex sometimes.

“Without further information,” Erellia said, “I could only speculate at the possibilities, and speculation is curr–”

The elven woman was cut short by a horrific, tortured shrieking from some distance off to the left. All the beasts of burden in the group snorted and stamped their discomfiture at the distinct sounds of an animal being savaged.

Erellia instantly spun toward the back of the party, her pale hair fanning out in an ivory wave, but the words racing from her lips were still not fast enough. “Zulian, NO!”

Fueled by instinct as the rest of the party looked in the direction of the offending noise, Zulian gave heel to her mount and bolted into the forest toward the screaming.

Kurn, already facing in Zulian’s direction as the horses pivoted, let out his own exasperated yell of, “Gods damn it!” on the heels of Erellia’s cry. Defeating an adaptive, self-aware extraplanar rift of malignant chaos suddenly seemed like child’s play compared to the continued necessity to ward Zulian from her own spontaneity.

“Somebody shoot her!” Kurn suggested in annoyed anxiety, thinking an arrow in her back might snap her to her wits and the danger she was placing herself and the party rushing to rescue her in faster than words of caution trailing behind her on the wind.

With no available instantaneous alternative Kurn snarled and snapped his own mount into pursuit.

Haron struggled with the reins of the skittish pack animals but snorted a chuckle at Kurn’s outlandish suggestion. Upon turning to share in the jest with his employer, Haron’s face ran slack when he saw that Kurn’s words carried more truth than humor.

Marcus almost bolted after the others then changed his mind and helped Haron with the pack animals, trying to steady them while giving Haron a disapproving look.

The lizardman certainly wasn’t about to go bolting into the woods. Nevermind his natural disinclination to charge into danger, there was also no way that he’d chance trying to spur his horse for fear of losing control of the beast.

Still, some were charging off into potential danger while others were being left with less defense against it. A few syllables of whisperchant wafted through the air, bearing power with them as they had during the battle with the ankheg. If they were going to be divided, best to not be weakened.

“Harumph! First she steals my heart, now she steals my thunder. Ha-har!” With what appeared to be the flamboyant’s exhilarated battlecry, Talon urged his mount toward the scream in fast pursuit of the other two.

The barbarian hesitated for only a moment before the thought of the Dance won out over discretion. After all, the Dance was what he lived for. With a fierce cry, Borlak spurred his mount forward, making a quick wrap of the reins around the pommel.

Anyone paying close attention would see his hand go for a small bag around his neck, into which his nimble fingers quickly darted. He dropped the bag to hang by its leather thong again, sprinkling a small amount of what might be tobacco onto the ground.

His hand dropped for his iron sword and with a flourish he drew. His long black hair whipped out behind him as he charged in the direction the others had gone.

If the scream didn’t startle Finn enough, the hasty response of his new companions did the trick! Horses and folk flew by the startled halfling, and when the dust settled, he tied Jack to a bush, patted the pony’s face, and took off at a run, quickly and quietly, slipping through brush and stone, bow in hand and arrow nocked.

Rôhn stoically turned and looked at Erellia, cocking a bushy, red eyebrow. Emptying his pipe with a single tap of his index finger, he tucked it in his girdle, drew his warhammer, and took a defensive position between his remaining companions and the rising dust cloud of the departing horses.

The dwarf’s forward position was well-set to interdict any return charge from the direction of the scream, but the party’s other quarters were still wide open with all of the sudden departures. Mindful of the potential for other hidden dangers, Cheskith ensured that his shield was in place as he detached the whip from his belt.


Shadow of Hope 53

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