“We’re looking for safety, Camouflage. Got any ideas?”
“Hot damn recruits. You smell like failure and cheap ale. I mean, why don’t you just fall down and cry and wait for the Flame’s intervention guided by your weeping mamas! If you want to live, you’ll stay with me. There’s no mercy until Lessina. Safety out here costs a pretty coin, and it’s never insured. Best side with right, and right takes care of it’s own. Lessina is where you need to be now.”
“Lessina?!” gasped Ares, “Why the hell would we want to go there?” Ares explained the border town, located on a rocky ridge, to Gerrell, who obviously had never heard of it. It sat a full mile above the valley they now found themselves at. The town there, a city were it not for the fact it was basically a military compound, the last this far out in the frontier, made Akra look like an outhouse.
Theros, and Gerrell, the little gnome riding atop Ares shoulder, listened to Camouflage’s offer. They had nothing to say any way. Gerrell knew nothing of the area, while Ares knew he’d be picked off if he tried to evade the ice trolls into the wilderness. Theros still wasn’t sure what to do. Once apart of the flame, he was now abandoned from it. In a way, he knew destiny would decide his fate now. Ares wondered if it were an offer but none of his thoughts mattered he knew. All that mattered, was whether or not they would follow this grisly old soldier. Since there was a powerful necromancer with dead corpses for ammunition to spare, not to mention her half a dozen pet ice trolls scouring the keep for them, they were out of options anyway. Besides, if Camouflage turned out to “not be of a like mind”, which was his way of realizing someone needed to be found in a muddy ditch with his throat slit, they could deal with him later. For now, he was possibly their best bet, and to Freak the Mighty, the key word was “their”.
Camouflage continued. “You see boys, Akra is only one of six outposts which protect the passes for miles and miles around Lessina. Soldiers, it is now our duty to activate these defenses. Lessina’s help is but a lever away. A lever our bloody hands will pull.” His speech was even more impressive, thought Theros, since both his hands were actually covered in blood. “These blighted demons have attacked all of Cellinor, They are about to learn what happens when you pull on the tail of our Lord’s lion.”
Ares moved to say something, but Camouflage picked up some of his gear and headed for the stairway. “Now do an about face, a left face, and get outta my face, and maybe you sorry lot will get outta here alive!”
Following Camouflage, they crept along the tower secret passage they had found earlier, and wound their way to the base. The wind had picked up, which they knew wasn’t good for keeping their position a secret. They knew the ice trolls had a powerful sense of smell. Camouflage solved that by, unbelievably, using a soldier’s dead corpse to rub off some of the frozen gore along his arms and exposed flesh. He motioned for them to do the same. Relunctantly they did. I’ve fully lost myself from the light, thought Theros, whose arm was now covered in globs of coagulated blood for the second time that day.
“Dave,” said a voice in Ares’ mind, “Dave, we smell now.” Ares shook his head side to side, pain, mental pain awash on his face. He looked down at the sword in his hands and lamented ever touching the thing.
Out into the flurry they crept and they noticed Camouflage walked and stepped among the prints already made during the battle. Once they heard movement behind a building that was most likely a troll searching for them, but they maneuvered around it quickly and soon found their way into a sewer grate. Down they went, out of the elements, into a cold, foul place. Camouflage wasted no time and waded into the filth, down one tunnel and into another, where he stopped at a stone masoned wall.
“We already thought of hiding here, Camouflage,” moaned Ares, “Surely, the enemy will look for us as in this place again”
“Recruit! If I wanted to hear shit, I would have farted! And one more thing you slippery grunt.”
“What’s that?” asked Gerrell.
“Don’t call me Shirley.” He then held out a finger and pointed to a stone that looked out of place in the mortar. “Pull that.”
“Your finger?” asked Ares.
Camouflage looked about to explode with frustration. Theros covered in gore, grime and now sewage up to his chest stepped around them and pulled on the stone. The water around them rushed out of an opening that suddenly appeared. Soon they were standing on the stones of a stairwell going down.
“Next time you fail to follow orders, it’s going to be you who gets flushed recruit,” barked the grisly old man, and he walked on, with the others following behind him.
The foundational stone work under Akra turned to much older construction quickly. Oddly, Gerrell saw that this older construction was much better, much stronger in fact. He reminded himself to take note as he knew if he were ever to return to his world, he’d need a way to get there. The event which had catapulted him to the surface, what he now knew to be this place, happened too suddenly, and even his scientific mind, was still searching for answers.
Once, Camouflage stopped and listened backwards from the direction they had come. He set off faster after that, and kept telling them to “Move their seat cushions”, which they did.
Onward they marched, downwards too, until the stone below their feet was then smooth rock, and there was another smell. And sound. Unmistakably, they heard the sounds of rushing water, and smelled the humidity it left behind in the confined air. Some of the cold left their extremities. It was a welcome relief. Then, without any grandness at all, they stepped out onto a ledge overlooking a monumental cavern, in which a river poured from a vast hole on one side, and emptied into a vast hole on the other.
“Akra was built for it’s strategic location to water. We knew there was something underground, with a current, and here it is,” said Camouflage. He swept his hand along the river. We need to find a way to cross it, and make our way towards the north eastern side of these hills, which we now find ourselves under at the moment. There, we can activate the Scorpion.”
“But what is The Scorpion?” asked Gerrell.
This time, Theros answered. Camouflage watched him, at first annoyed for being interrupted, and then, with a slight, ever so slight, sense of pride. Perhaps.
“The scorpion begins in Lessina, as a series of cables and metal platforms strengthened by timbers as big around as a hill giant’s thigh. It sits atop the mountain range which rises above the valley like a giant backbone. It was a crowning feat of achievement, built by Hyperion, his majesty’s mage to Commander Malcolms’ specifications. Six tracks end in the six forts, of which Akra is one. Or in our case, nearest Akra as could be built, about 2 miles away. On the other end of these tracks, up from the mountain top, an entire garrison of troops can board a barge, and within a 1/2 hour travel along the track downwards to the valley floor, ending at one of the scorpion’s legs. In this way, Lessina has kept it’s forces protected but still able to attack invaders swiftly, should any be foolish to invade the valley from hostile lands beyond the Inpenetrable range south of here.
“But why then wasn’t it activated when Akra was attacked?” asked Gerrell.
“Those demons must have surprised us at Akra, for I saw with my eyes that our scouts were slaughtered along with the soldiers. Perhaps, some trickery we know not of. Lessina’s command doesn’t know we’ve been attacked, nor will they.”
But Camouflage took over. “Until failure to report in two more days soldier. Until then, we’re on our own.”
“By then, the next fort, Three Bales, along the crest will be taken over, most likely under similar pretenses. The enemy will move through the valley and be gone,” said Theros thinking out loud. “And this area will be compromised to the Realm.”
“We can stop it though, recruits, we must. It is now Flame marshall doctrine. You’ve all been drafted.”
“Good news, Dave, you’ve been drafted,” said the cursed sword in Ares’ mind.
“Great,” spat Ares.
Before long, they had scouted a way down to the underground river and with a bit of searching, even managed to find enough driftwood to tie together a makeshift raft. The idea was to float down the river until the end of the cave, and search for a way out in the tunnels that snaked their way all through here. If that were not possible, they would have to risk themselves sailing down the river in the darkness and hope that there was enough opening and space above the water line to exit out through whatever fissures it snaked through. But that was something they hoped they wouldn’t have to do.
They launched it out of a shallow still pool, but were nearly swept overboard before even putting out. With a rudimentary pole, Theros pushed off, and the raft picked up speed quickly, bobbing over the rapids. Ares and Gerrell tried to steer the so-called vessel, but there was nothing doing. The cave was dark, and the plan of being able to put back into shore soon evaporated as one of desperation to get there, took over. Theros lit a light to help, and gave Ares steering duties. He had just finished the spell when a screech like a thunderclap echoed behind them. Theros held his light out and a monster with feathers as long as a man, a beak as big as a battering ram and with a wingspan so vast, so enormous that the light didn’t illuminate it all was hovering just behind them, it’s talons, as big around as wagon wheels, stretched out for him.
The claws lashed out for Theros, but just then, Camouflage flung himself in front, and in between, and the talons wrapped themselves around him instead. Another echoing screech sent them all instinctively to their knees, with their hands over their ears. Meanwhile Camouflage was plucked from the raft, yelling something about kicking the feathers out of the son of an egg that was taking him. The sudden movement caused the raft to pull left, where it veered towards a rock and upended itself. The others were launched unceremoniously onto the shore. Theros turned and held his light backwards.
A faint outline in the darkness loomed. A giant set of wings, and two dangling legs carrying a man off into oblivion.
Camouflage was gone.
“Put out that light, fore it returns!” hissed Gerrell.
Theros called his spell back, and the light winked out, leaving them alone in the dark, without a guide, bleeding, bruised and cold.