Shadow of Hope 53

With a thunder of hooves behind him, Kurn yelled ahead in frustration even as he tried to keep her in sight, “Zulian! Rein up! You’re stretching our line! You’re going to get Erellia or one of the others killed!” Even if she couldn’t make out the words across the noise and the tension of the moment, he knew she could at least hear his tone.

“Gods!” Erellia cursed under her breath, wheeling her horse around to face the others. “The rest of you stay together! Follow as quickly as safety allows.”

She then spun her horse again and urged the beast into a gallop, chasing after the fleeing riders. Passing Finn she shouted, “Wait with the others!”

“Bloody hell,” Marcus mumbled to himself. “Bitch should be on a leash.

“I would not envy the man charged with such a tether,” Katarina said as she fell in next to Marcus. The beautiful woman then began humming a comforting melody to soothe the nearby mounts.

After steadying the pack animals Marcus tried to organize the party to follow those who have pursued.

In a load voice Marcus calls out, “Rôhn! Take point! Cheskith! Behind him! Haron! With me! Get these pack animals in a line!”

Marcus turned back to address Rôhn. “Go steady, looking for trouble! I don’t like the way the party has been split!”

With that said, Marcus moved to his designated place, helping Haron with the pack animals. Thinking he had forgotten someone, he looked around and spied Finn. “Finn! If you would, guard the rear as we advance!”

Finn nodded, glad to be doing something useful, and untied Jack from the bush. “Haron? Will you lead Jack, please? He’s a gentle pony; won’t give you much trouble.” He then drifted to the back of the group, his eyes scanning the terrain for any sign of danger. He kept an arrow nocked and ready…just in case.

“On the ground is better than on the horse for this, I think,” Cheskith announced, though it was hard to tell if he was reasoning to himself or explaining it to others. With some effort he managed to dismount and steady himself.

Leading the horse was less of a problem; his shield wasn’t so large as to occupy his hand, so he could keep a grip on the reins without having to forego the use of the whip in the other.

“Conveniently timed, this scream? Just when such things being discussed, they were,” he noted as he made his way forward amidst the procession.

The line of pursuit stretched out, Zulian, Kurn, Talon, Borlak and Erellia, fifty feet, a hundred feet, one hundred and fifty feet pounding across the moist forest floor…and then the terrified squealing ceased abruptly.

Another few tenuous seconds passed and the lead pursuers saw Zulian leap from the saddle and go tumbling into the undergrowth.

As Kurn watched Zulian leap from her mount, he snapped a glance over his shoulder to see what support was following. When he swung his head back around, he caught sight, hardly more than a flicker, of an inky, slithering movement off to his left.

A black snake, perhaps two inches in diameter, descended from a tree some forty feet distant, but his gut told him otherwise.

Those that closed the distance came across the half-elven woman kneeling on the ground with the head of a great stag resting on her lap, mighty antlers digging into the forest floor on one side and the animal’s hulking torso stretched out on the other.

A faint greenish nimbus around Zulian’s hands dissipated as she summoned what magic she could to aid the fallen beast. She looked up at Kurn’s arrival and shouted, “The magic’s not working. It’s not working! DO something!”

Sticky looking welts and dark slashes ran across the stag’s neck and body. The injuries were unlike anything the soldier had seen before. As he watched, the welts dissolved into a shadowy incorporeal state, and blood ran freely from the surrounding flesh. What he had originally mistaken for slashes, were these incorporeal wounds. As he watched some of the welts dissolve,  many of the wounds become corporeal, turning into the sickening looking welts. In the few instants it took to assess this disturbing phenomenon, Kurn saw the overall effect come into focus. These wounds pulse, from corporeal to incorporeal, slowly bleeding the stag to death.


Shadow of Hope 54

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