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Eriks D&D Game: Plague at Goblin's Tooth Part 1-3: Horses

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“Horses is what we need,” Aeryn said.

I sucked in my breath between my teeth. I had never liked riding.

“We have these,” Marzena said, gesturing at the draft horses.

“Riding horses,” Aeryn said.

I sucked my breath in between my teeth again.

“We could ride these,” Marzena said.

I sucked on my teeth again.

“They’re slow!” Aeryn said.

“Perhaps we should just walk,” I said.

“What do you mean, walk?”

“I mean ...”

I sucked the breath in through my teeth again.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked. “Are you afraid of horses?”

“Not afraid!” I said, a little too loudly. “I give them a healthy distance and the respect that they deserve. They kick. I’ve seen them kick. They kick certain places.”

“Not if you’re riding on them. They can’t kick you.”

“Dwarves do not trust horses either. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Unless you want to get somewhere in a hurry to save a town from dying. Then there is something wrong with it.”

I sucked in a breath between my teeth again.

“Horses,” Aeryn said. “Riding horses. Need ‘em.”

“I hope you have more money than I because I cannot afford to purchase a horse,” I said.

“Obviously I have more money than you,” he replied.

“Yes, you’ve been buying drinks all night.”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you, by the way. I think I have thanked you a couple of times, but thank you again. I cannot afford a horse. I will jog alongside if need be. Perhaps a dog cart, I don’t know.”

We walked to the stables.

The stable master was an old man who liked, perpetually, to talk.

“How my horses treatin’ you?” he asked Aeryn. “You not mistreatin’ them, is you? Poor old Rolf couldn’t stand it if you was mistreatin’ my horses.”

“What you mean mistreatin’ your horses,” Aeryn said. “They’re my horses, actually, because I bought and paid for ‘em.”

“Ah, but I solds ‘em to you, so I still think of them like mine.”

“Well, they’re not yours and I’ve treated ‘em quite well.”

“I have seen this,” I interrupted.

“What can I do for you then?” Rolf asked.

“I need four riding horses,” Aeryn said.

“You need four, is that it?”

“Look mate, we’re in a bit of a hurry too, okay?”

“I believe I have three for sale. Light riding horses, you need?”

“Yeah.”

“You can ride one of those horses I sold you already.”

“Do you have a stepladder so that we can get up on it?” I asked.

“I have a little small stepstool if you need it,” Rolf replied.

“Do you have somethin’ against gold?” Aeryn asked the man.

“No, I don’t,” he said.

“Then let me give you gold for horses.”

“Aye.”

“That’s what’s getting ready to happen here.”

“He only has three,” I interjected.

“You win either way” Aeryn said.

“He only has three,” I said again.

“It will be ...” Rolf said. He counted on his fingers. “Let me see.”

“How many horses do you have?” Aeryn asked.

“I have tree.”

“He only has three horses,” I said.

“You only have three?” Aeryn asked.

“Aye,” the old man replied.

“I can run alongside,” I said again. “I will be fine.”

“Wait a minute. You only have three for sale?” Aeryn pressed. “Or you only have three here?”

“I only have three riding horses,” Rolf said.

“Oh dear,” I said. “Do you have anything else besides riding horses ... that actually you can ride?”

“I have a couple of ponies and a couple of the larger horses,” Rolf said.

I sighed.

“Which of the larger horses is the fastest?” Aeryn asked.

“None of them,” I muttered.

“Speed is of the essence,” Aeryn said.

“Probably one of the two that I sold you already,” Rolf said. “You wanted some of the best horses I had and I solds ‘em to you.”

“Now we need more,” Aeryn said. “Fast. Fast horses.”

“It will be ...” Rolf said, again counting on his fingers. “Carry the one ... it will be 225 gold crowns for the horses.”

“Is there any discount for saving the entire town from death and destruction?” I said.

“Yes, you get the knowledge that you saved the town,” the old man said.

“Are tack and harness included in your price?”

“Aye. Why not? You’re saving the town, so you claim. How do I know you’re not taking poor old Rolf’s horses and riding off for who knows where?

“At least the horses will be saved,” I muttered.

“I can honestly say that we are taking your horses and we are riding off to who knows where,” Aeryn said. “The difference is that we’re coming back with somefing that’s supposed to cure the whole town.”

“So you say,” Rolf said.

“Yeah. Exactly.”

“Comes to 250.”

“That is more than you just quoted us,” I said.

“Is it?”

“Two-two-five.”

“I’m not very good with coins. I’ll say 250.”

“But you said 225.”

“Did I not say 275? It’s 275, isn’t it?”

“No, my friend. You said 200.”

“This is bargaining completely the wrong way!” Aeryn suddenly said. “I don’t understand what’s happening! We don’t have time for this.”

Aeryn pulled out the small pouch and dumped the gems he’d flashed in the tavern into the man’s hand. There were three large gemstones and I felt my jaw drop.

“I don’t know how to count these,” the old man said quietly. “But I’ll put them against the horses.”

“And when we come back, we will trade you back,” I said. “Fair enough?”

“If the horses are in good condition, I’ll buys ‘em back,” he said.

Rolf got the horses saddled up. I filled four saddlebags with oats from the trough nearby.

“Why don’t you go buy us some hardtack and beef jerky?” I said to Orrin.

“Sure we shouldn’t just sleep tonight and head out in the morning?” he asked.

“We don’t know where we’re going. Anyone in town have maps, anyway of knowing even ... north. That’s all we know: north. That’s all we know. Correct? For the dwarven place?”

“If you want to know anything about the woods, where you’re headed, I say you go to one of the main lumber camps,” Rolf said.

“That’s where we got to go,” Aeryn said. “We got to go to the main logging camp and talk to them about the oldest tree in the wood.”

I asked Rolf where the camps might be and he said they were north. Then he told Aeryn that it would cost two gold for him to keep the other draft horse for a week.

“After that, I’ll say he’s mine and you’re dead,” he said.

“We’ll pay you two gold when we get back,” Aeryn said.

“Aye,” the old man replied. “If you’re not back in a week, I’ll say you’re dead and the horse is mine.”

“If does return after that can he pay an additional gold piece a week to get his horse back?” I asked. “Does that sound fair. If he comes back alive. Only him.”

“We’ll see.”

“If I come back, it does not matter. I cannot get the horse for that bargain price. Fair enough?”

“If you come back, two gold for every week that you’re gone.”

“Right,” Aeryn said.

“And you can have the horse back,” Rolf finished.

“Fair enough,” I said. “I didn’t catch your name. I am Porthos.”

I held out a gloved hand and he shook it.

“Poor old Rolf,” he said. “That’s my name.”

We found Orrin, who had water skins and food for the trip. We mounted the horses in the square.

“People of ... what is this place ... Goblin’s Tooth!” I shouted.

“Really?” Aeryn said.

“We go to seek a cure!” I called, waving my hat over my head. “Onward!”

“Halt!” Sir Derrick said. “Are you men headed out of town? For what cause? Is it true that you’re going to find a cure?”

“We are going to try, yes,” I said.

“Where are you headed?”

“North.”

“Lumber camp first,” Aeryn said. “See if we can’t get some information on the oldest tree in the woods.”

“Ah,” Sir Derrick said. “If it’s true, what you’re saying, be wary. Jarlbin Trooks is a stern and untrusting man. Ask for Millan Radam. He’s the best tracker I know. And he works there.”

“All right,” Aeryn said. “Thank you, sir.”

“And godspeed you.”

“Hope so.”

“We will do our best!” I said dramatically.

I put my heels to the horse’s side and galloped out of town, holding on for dear life. Once I was out of sight of the hedge, I slowed the beast a little. We rode north for over an hour and it was midnight by the time we reached the lumber camp.

It cut an ugly scar of stumps into a dense stand of proud darkwood trees. Five sturdy-looking log buildings, apparently a bunkhouse, a meal hall, an office, a barn, and a smithy, stood with numerous wide carts and sleds amidst the sawdust-covered clearing. A small band of burly-looking armed men came out of the meal hall as we rode up. I dismounted.

“What the hell do you want here in the middle of the night?” one of them grunted.

“We have been sent by Sir Derrick to talk to Millan Radam,” I said. “It is a matter of life and death.”

“Isn’t it always?” the man said with a growl. “Sir Derrick doesn’t have any jurisdiction up here. Be off!”

Orrin and Aeryn dismounted and the latter took a balanced stance.

“This is how this is going to go down,” Aeryn said calmly. “We got an entire town of people that are dying, right now. We’re out, trying to find a cure for these people. Now, the next one of you that says a single word that stops me from accomplishing this task, I’m going to make you about two feet shorter from the knees down, if you get my meaning. My blades are sharp, and my reflexes are quick, and I’m tired and in a bad mood. So, if one of you don’t scurry off, right now, and find this Radam fellow, I swear by all that is holy, I’m going to cut you in half.”

Orrin, no longer drunk but looking hung over and most likely volatile after our violent journey north, stood and glared at the men.

The men glared at them for a moment and then one of them looked at me.

“Millan, you said?” he asked me.

I nodded. He looked at Aeryn and the man threw his cloak back to reveal his sword. The lumber man gripped his axe tighter.

“Wait here,” he said.

“Right,” Aeryn replied.

He walked to one of the smaller buildings. There was shouting from the building for a few moments. Then he returned.

“All right,” he said. “Trooks’ll see you. That’s no bloody favor to you.”

“We’re not here to see Trooks,” Aeryn said.

“That’s who you’re seeing,” the other man replied. “And you can take up your shortening with him.”

Aeryn glared at the man.

We were escorted the smaller building. Within was a filthy office thickly decorated with various pelts and heads of forest animals. A small black bearskin rug dominated the floor while the heads of other animals covered the walls.

“What the hell you want?” Trooks muttered. “Ridin’ into my camp in the middle of the night! Threatenin’ my men! You said that the reeve sent you, Derrick, did he? If he did, if you’re doing his work and you’re threatenin’ my men, how by I tell him about ‘at?”

“How ‘bout it?” Aeryn said. “You can start by telling me about it.”

“We’re doing work here! You want to kill all my men, stop all the lumbering? That’s up to you, and I think he might have somethin’ to say about that.”

“Yeah, he might.”

“And so would the lumber consortium.”

“Ain’t going to do a bit of good if everybody in town is dead and there’s nobody to buy your lumber now, isn’t it?”

“We’ll sell anywhere we want. Not just Goblin’s Tooth.”

“You can’t if you’re dead now, can you?”

“I’m not dead.”

“You might be.”

“The black scour does not discriminate with who it kills,” I added.

“Well, that’s in Goblin’s Tooth, isn’t it?” he replied nastily. “It’s a good thing I’ll be in my camp.”

“Your own water might be tainted as well. Probably it is. It is the same aquifer as all the other wells in this area. It comes from the same river, goes to the same place, kills as dispassionately and uncaring as any disease. There are children dying and all we ask is a few questions of you. I apologize for waking you from your deep sleep, from your restful slumber from a hard day’s work of cutting down your trees. I apologize. But there are more important things than your sleep and there are more important things than your lumber.”

“Aye, there are more important things. Maybe something that might convince me to answer some of your questions.”

“You should be rubbing your fingers together when you’re saying that,” Aeryn said.

“He is talking hard, cold steel between his chest,” I said.

“That’s what it looks like to me,” Aeryn said.

“We are not dispassionate men but ... Orrin is hung over,” I said quietly. “I would not anger him.”

I looked at the man for a moment.

“There is a man named Radam in your camp,” I went on.

“Maybe there is,” Trooks replied. “Maybe he’s out. Wouldn’t that be a sad shame?”

“It would,” I said.

“For you,” Aeryn added.

“For all of us, wouldn’t it?” Trooks said.

“Yes, it would be a terrible sad shame,” I said. I turned to Aeryn. “I am terribly fond of children and that little girl that was coughing tonight broke my heart. When my heart is broken, I feel like other hearts should be broken as well.”

“Please, stop your flappin’ your gums, I’m weeping here,” Trooks growled. “Should I be plain? A bit of hard coin may find you some answers.”

“No,” Aeryn said. “How about a bit of steel, pointed at your face?”

“Lads, gettum out of here,” Trooks said. “Be off.”

Aeryn leapt onto the desk, landing on his knees, as he drew two swords. He crossed them against Trooks’ neck, pressing them both lightly against the man’s skin.

“Better call off your men right now,” he said quietly.

Trooks stared at him as everyone stopped moving. A little sweat rolled down the side of the man’s face. I quietly drew my sword and held it low and Orrin had his axe in his hand.

“You think killin’ me’s going to mean you walk out of here?” he whispered.

“It’s a good start,” Aeryn muttered. “You think your boys, with a bunch of hatchets, choppin’ down the trees–”

“Gustav!” Trooks said. “Grab the damned tracker. Bring ‘im here.”

He looked at Aeryn again.

“You take these swords off my throat, lad, or there’s going to be bigger problems for you,” he went on.

One man shouldered his way by Marzena. Then Aeryn took one of the swords from the man’s throat and sheathed it. He backed away from Trooks, slid one leg off the desk, removed the second sword, and sheathed it. He slid off the man’s desk.

The logger who’d left returned with another man.

“We got him sir,” he said.

“Get the hell out of my office,” Trooks said.

“Sure,” Aeryn said.

The others turned and left. I backed up to the door.

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” I said to Trooks before I stepped out of the door and closed it behind me. Shouting came from within the room.

Outside was a small, wiry, hard-looking man with tan skin. He was dressed in a simple tunic and breeches.

“What you want?” he asked. “Rode a long way here. Gave Trooks the shakedown, eh?”

“We didn’t have much of a choice,” Aeryn muttered.

“What’s it to do with me?”

“You’re name was given to us as a man that we could ... trust and talk to plainly.”

“Well? Talk.”

“Got the black scour showed up in Goblin’s Tooth.”

“You don’t say.”

“I do say. We was told of a possible cure but there’s some rare ingredients that we have to gather, one of which is some moss off the eldest tree–”

“Elderwood moss,” I said, still watching the door.

“–in the vale,” Aeryn went on.

“All right,” Millan said.

“Know of it?” Aeryn said.

“We were told you might be able to show us where we could find it,” I said.

“Show you?” Millan said.

“Tell us. Anything.”

“Draw you a map.”

“We’d appreciate it,” Aeryn said.

“Goblin’s Tooth, you say?”

“Yeah.”

“It is spreading very quickly,” I said.

“My sister and her lads live there,” Millan said.

“What is her name?” I asked. “And the children.”

“Treeva,” he said.

I nodded.

“Lots a lads,” he went on.

“Well, we’ll do our best to help out any way we possibly can,” Aeryn said. “We don’t have time for jackals like him.”

“He pays my coin, so ... you got any parchment? Any pens?”

“I do,” Marzena said.

She took out a scroll case and a parchment, giving Millan a quill. He drew us a crude map. As he wrote, Aeryn told him of the other things that we were looking for. I mentioned that if he knew where the witch’s hut was, we’d appreciate it. He told us that there was a lake in the woods with the great tree on the other side of it. Not far west of the tree was the old Hag Haunted Hollow with the old witch’s hut. Beyond that was some dwarven hold.

“I wouldn’t go to any of these places,” he finished.

“Well, we have to, mate,” Aeryn said.

“Someone must,” I said. “We thank you. We’re indebted to you for your help. If there is anything that I can ever do for you.”

“If my nephew’s sick, any of my nephews are sick, I hope they don’t die,” he said.

“We will do our best,” I said.

I took the map from him and tucked it into my jacket pocket. Aeryn took out a gold bracelet and held it out to the man.

“For your trouble, mate,” he said. “We appreciate it. So does Goblin’s Tooth.”

“Aye lad,” the man replied.

I asked him the names of his nephews and found that one of the 10 of them was called Tavian. He rattled off the other seven names, but couldn’t remember the youngest ones.

There was some talk of leaving the horses there. Millan suggested it and told us the place was called Darkwood Forest and that in addition to blood scour taint, big black nasty wolves had been attacking people in the woods. Aeryn asked if they were goblin wolves but he was not sure.

“And we hear there’s one even worse out there,” he said. “He can’t be killed, so they say. He moves here and there as he will. Can even go through locked doors. Some sort of ghost. You watch yourself.”

“We’ll have a word with Sir Derrick when we get back,” Aeryn said. “Maybe something can be done about that. Make your jobs a little bit easier. A little safer.”

“Not bloody likely.”

“You’ll look after the horses then?”

“Somebody will. They won’t be yours no more though.”

We took the horses, walking them and following the river upstream from Goblin’s Tooth. According to the map, another river connected to the main river and, beyond that was the lake.

I cast a minor healing spell on my horse once we were underway, which seemed to refresh it. We walked for about an hour before stopping to make camp. I took Aeryn aside and told him that I could cast one last healing spell that day if any of them needed it. He suggested that I cast the spell on Orrin. Aeryn asked Orrin to let him take a look at his wounds. The man only resisted a little. He had obviously been in a bad fight. He asked the other man if they could trust me and then I cast the healing spell upon him, having him drink a swig of beer and splashing a little on the wound.

“Do you feel any better?” I asked.

“Aye,” he said. “I do.”

The magic had scabbed over some of the fresh wounds while others were completely healed. Then we set up camp, making a fire and hobbling the horses. Orrin flopped down and fell immediately asleep. I asked about keeping watch and Aeryn told me to get some sleep.

“Do you have enough to keep your warm, Marzena?” I asked.

“I’m near the fire,” she said.

I sequestered myself in prayer with a drink of alcohol and a short song before I went to sleep that night, wrapped in my cloak and using my satchel as a pillow. It was not comfortable and it got very, very cold, though I lay as close to the fire as I safely could. I fell immediately to sleep.

* * *

The sun was well up when I awoke as something struck me in the cheek. I leapt up and grabbed my sword off the ground.

“I was awake!” I said.

I looked around for whatever attacked me but saw nothing. Marzena sat across the fire from me while Aeryn and Orrin stood near the horses. Seeing nothing untoward, I sheathed my sword and shoved it back into my belt.

“You all right?” Aeryn called.

“I am fine, yes,” I said, picking up my crossbow and my satchel. “I was awake this whole time.”

I stretched.

“Ah, the brisk morning air!” I said. “Is there any breakfast?”

I approached Orrin and offered him more healing magic if he wanted. I took off his shirt and examined him, then cast a healing spell upon him and left him with only light bruising. He was very happy about that.

We broke camp; Aeryn and Orrin took the horses to the river and watered them. While they were gone, Marzena cast some kind of spell upon herself. Afterwards, she seemed refreshed and her clothing seemed cleaner. The men returned very wet, obviously having bathed while they were there.

“You didn’t notice black specs in the water, did you?” I asked.

“I didn’t drink any of it,” Aeryn said.

“It’s running,” Orrin said.

They finished drying themselves off, Aeryn noting that Orrin had just put all his filth right back on himself with his filthy blanket. He then shook off the blanket onto the other man.

We rode upriver and travelled all day, eating lunch as we rode. I noticed that shadowy shapes were in the woods, seemingly following us. I mentioned it to Marzena and she glanced that way. Orrin was sleeping in the saddle but I quietly called to Aeryn and looked towards the woods. He nodded as if he’d already seen the shapes. I took my crossbow from my back and loaded it as casually as I could. I kept it in my lap as I rode after that.

We continued until dark and I told Aeryn I would need an hour to pray. Before I did so, I cast a spell upon myself that would make me immune to the cold of the night for 24 hours. I also cast a healing spell on Aeryn.

Marzena said she could produce some light. Aeryn asked her to do so. I told him that I could also cast a spell of magical light and could do so when her light went out, if he so desired. He suggested that she cast it on my crossbow bolt and that I do the same when hers wore off. When there was trouble coming from the woods, he wanted the bolt out there so they could see what was coming.

She cast the spell on the bolt, creating a cold, blue light. We continued on until the magical light faded. Then I cast a spell on the bolt myself, illuminating the area with my own white light. Before it faded, we could see the connecting river ahead.

We made camp at the fork of the river, which was flowing towards where we thought the lake was. Aeryn told us that something had been following us all day. He guessed it was wolves. I noted that normal wolves did not attack humans, unless they were sick or starving.

We hobbled the horses in the fork where the rivers met. Aeryn said he was doing that so that they would fight rather than run away. He set watches and I lay down and went to sleep.

* * *

I awoke to Aeryn tapping my foot. He hushed me and then asked if I had another of those light spells. I told him I did. He told me to get ready to cast it. I could make out, in the dark, that he drew the string on his bow well back and aimed towards the woods.

“What do you want me to cast it on?” I asked.

“The arrow,” he said.

I cast the spell on the shaft, closing my eyes as I did so, and heard him shoot the arrow. I opened my eyes to see the light some ways away. It illuminated the hideous shape of a small creature held together by sinew and strips of flesh. It was clearly not alive as it staggered towards us. Others shambled towards us.

“All right everybody, up and at ‘em,” Aeryn said.

“They’re just zombies,” I said as I stood up. “Wait until they’re closer. Once they start cowering in fear from me, then you can kill them at your leisure.”

Aeryn pulled on his bow

“Don’t waste your arrows on these things,” I said. “You must chop off their arms and legs.”

“What the hell’s going on?” Orrin asked.

“Zombies,” I said.

“Shamblers coming into camp,” Aeryn said.

Orrin and Marzena stood. Aeryn dropped his bow and drew his swords. The others waited and I cast another spell on a rock, causing it to glow brightly. I dropped it at my feet, illuminating the immediate vicinity. As The things drew closer, I could see that the little creatures had not been human when they had been alive. They looked more like small lizard men. The one in the front had some kind of wooden placard hanging around his neck.

“Feels wrong just waitin’ for them to walk up on us,” Aeryn said.

“Indeed,” Marzena replied.

She chanted and a burst of light came from her finger and struck one of the zombies, bursting through its chest. It staggered but did not fall. I moved to one side.

“When they turn and run, cut them down like the dogs they are,” I said.

As the things continued their slow advance, I touched the holy symbol at my throat. Marzena cast another spell, sending another blast towards the things.

“By the power of beer, partying, and sex, the unliving will no longer harass the living!” I said, holding up my hand in defiance of the terrible things.

The things put up their arms to shield their faces and then turned and began shambling away.

“Run them down and chop them to pieces, they will not attack you!” I said. “I must continue turning them.”

I moved towards the things careful not to get close enough to disrupt the turning. Aeryn charged ahead and stabbed the nearest zombie in the side. Orrin also charged ahead and cut another of the things. I continued to pace the zombies, holding my holy symbol. One of them moved past Aeryn and he stabbed it again without doing it any harm. Orrin struck another zombie but it continued to shamble away though it was badly damaged.

Aeryn charged ahead, striking the zombie without apparently doing it any real harm. Then Orrin cleaved the thing he faced in twain. Aeryn continued stabbing the thing he followed, apparently without harming it at all. Orrin moved to another zombie and struck it without slowing it. Aeryn desperately stabbed at the same zombie again and again while Orrin cut another of the things to pieces.

There were only two left.

Aeryn stabbed the thing he had stabbed before, this time apparently damaging the walking dead body. Orrin rushed another of the things and cut it to pieces.

Only the zombie that Aeryn had been attacking over and over again was still standing.

“Aeryn!” came the scream of Marzena from back at the camp. “Orrin!”

Aeryn turned and ran into the darkness back towards the camp. Orrin brought his axe down on the last zombie and cleft it in twain. Then he looked around.

“Aeryn?” he said. “Where’d they go?”

“Screams from the camp!” I shouted.

I turned and ran back towards the camp, drawing my rapier. Near the horses, I could see two wolves stalking towards them and Marzena. One of them bit the woman in the leg and then shook its head, knocking her to the ground. She chanted and moved her hands and another magic missile struck the wolf that had just knocked her down.

Aeryn stabbed one of the animals as Orrin came crashing into the battle. I charged to Marzena, standing over the girl and trying to stab the other wolf but missed it completely. I yelled at the animal, trying to get its attention from the fallen girl.

The wolf glared at me and, though I was not sure, I almost swore it said “Die!”

“We could discuss this,” I muttered.

The thing bit me in the leg but I managed to stay on my feet.

“Why do you want me to die?” I asked. “We have food. You could have it if you want it.”

Aeryn tore into the other wolf, and it let out a yelp. Orrin rushed Aeryn’s side and brought his axe down on the wolf, finishing it. It let out a hideous cry that didn’t sound animal.

I stood between Marzena and the remaining wolf, swinging my sword wildly and ineffectually. The animal turned and fled as I tried to stab it but missed once again.

I went to Marzena. Her leg was bloody. I knelt beside her and examined it, then cast a healing spell upon the wound. It closed up the wound and something bubbled up out of the cut, possibly poison or disease. Then I went to the dying wolf and found it still breathing. I cast my weakest healing spell to stop it from bleeding out.

“What are you doing?” Aeryn asked.

“It can speak,” I said. “Which means it can be interrogated.”

Even as I said it, I realized how mad that it sounded.

I stood, cleaned my unbloodied blade on the wolf and then sheathed it.

“Perhaps I am mad,” I said. “But I could have sworn that the other one spoke and, when this one was cut down, it screamed. Wolves do no scream.”

“I’ll give you that,” Aeryn said.

“And if it can speak, perhaps it can answer questions.”

I gave my hand to Marzena, helping her to her feet.

“Perhaps I’m mad,” I said again.

“He’s not mad,” Marzena said.

“You heard it too?” Aeryn asked her.

“I did,” she said.

“All right. Goblin wolves.”

“They speak?” I asked.

“I would stake my life on it,” Marzena said to Aeryn.

She went to the camp and brought back the rock I’d enchanted. In the light, it was obvious that the creature was not a normal wolf. The face and the head looked strange. There was less fur in the face, but more exposed, black flesh. It had a goblin expression to its continence.

“What are goblin wolves?” I asked.

“They are not exactly beasts, but they are known to travel with goblins and fight with them on occasion,” Marzena said. “They are wicked and evil creatures. They are far from their homelands. They come from Ridnath and the Forest of Hárgaldor.”

“No redemption for said creatures?”

“No, they are the spawn of evil.”

“No information they could probably provide us?”

“I don’t know.”

“What types of questions would you want to ask it?” Aeryn asked.

“We were attacked by undead as well as them,” I said. “It was coordinated. It seemed to be planned. It felt to me as if this attack was something someone staged, not just a coincidence of these creatures attacking at the same time as those things.”

I gestured towards the area still lit by Aeryn’s arrow.

“Perhaps I am paranoid,” I said. “It feels to me like it is more than just running into the wrong things at the wrong time. I am, perhaps, mistaken. If you think there is nothing to be gained, we can slay this creature painlessly. It is up to you. I saved it in case it could have perhaps been interrogated.”

Aeryn decided to kill the beast and left that to Orrin, who dragged the wolf down towards the river. I told them the healing spell I’d cast on Marzena had also removed something, either a poison or some kind of infection.

“It’s gone now,” I said. “It should be gone.”

“I thank you,” Marzena said.

“Those undead things came from the direction that we need to go,” Aeryn said.

“Yes,” I said.

“The woodsman did say they call this the Darkwood Forest,” Marzena said.

There was some discussion of what we might expect and if that was the correct river to follow.

We returned to the camp and I found my spot on the ground. Though it was quite cold, I didn’t feel it at all thanks to the magic upon me.

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