Sunday, January 28, 2018

Skulls of Spoke Top Hill, Part 2

This is part 2 of Don't Go Past the Skulls post.

Gavin and his companion, Douglas, climbed the south side of Spoke Top Hill, Janon suggested they go that way. That's the side the Corron use when they make their rare trips into the villages.

"There's no goddamn path." Gavin erupted after searching the hillside for the better half of the morning. "We keep climbing up, but there's no trail and none of their damn skulls."

"All of which suits me fine," Douglas added.

A friend and traveling companion from when both were boys. Douglas wore a lion medallion he'd gotten when he'd joined the holy order of Delaquain. He left after a few months. But it was a longer stay than his time in the Guild of Arcane Lore. Disipline had never been a strength of his. He wore the studded leather of a guard from Eastgate, he'd walked the wall for less than a year, and held a spear he stole from a sleeping mercenary in the Seahawk Tavern.

"I've no idea why you want to risk your neck, our necks, to speak to some savage augur." He frowned when he saw a pile of rocks stacked with purpose. He stepped around it, not wanting to disturb them. "We've got perfectly good liars in Eastgate. Cost you a bit more I imagine, but the result still the same. Ohhh you have a dark future. Ohhh you have a might battle ahead. Ohhh you'll be a great leader one day. Ohhh, you have the most charming traveling companion. Nonsense like that. In Eastgate we could hear the nonsense and then hit the tavern, a real tavern where the air doesn't taste like dirt and shit."

Gavin shook his head searching the ground. His eyes saw the same pile of rocks, but it meant nothing. "I can't go to any of the temples in Eastgate. They'd know and it'd be used against me. The oracle would tell me what I wanted to hear. I can't have that. Not this time." His foot brushed against the pile of rocks and a few fell away.

From the canopy of trees, birds burst into the sky. Both Gavin and Douglas flinched from the sudden noise as dozens of large black birds took flight. They stood motionless, searching the trees. The angry cawing of the birds faded. Douglas held his spear in both hands, Gavin braced his shield and held his sword close to his body. Both men did not speak, but moved so their backs were to one another.

After a few minutes of quiet both men relaxed enough to speak. Gavin said something about birds and how he hated them. Douglas looked around, it was different. He searched the details. The trees were closer, the branches thicker, lower, tangled with vines. The stone pile was now scattered skulls, cracked and broken with a layer of lichen.

"What the..." Douglas saw Gavin standing over the skulls. "Gavin, get the hell out there."

Gavin looked to his friend, saw he pointed at his feet and looked down. He saw the skulls scattered on the forest floor and knelt to look at them closer. "Mountain magic." He picked up one of the skulls, looked it over then tossed it to the ground again.

Douglas flinched when the skull hit the ground and rolled down hill. "Damn Gavin, have some respect. These Corron have primal magic that make the guilds of Eastgate nervous."

"I'll not be frightened by skulls or stories of their magics."

"Your bravery is noted, but it boarders on a fool's sense." Douglas saw Gavin was standing on a worn path that wound through the trees. "You've found a the trail you were looking for. Your clumsy footwork has finally served you. Well done." He pointed toward the opening in the tangled trees. "Shall we?"

Gavin took the lead. He kept his sword close and moved through the trees slowly. The vines and branches brushed across his shoulders and back. The trees crowded together blocking out much of the sunlight. Gavin saw his breath escape from his mouth.

Up ahead he saw movement. "Do you bring the torches?" he asked Douglas without looking back. He kept his eyes locked on the anomaly ahead of them.

Douglas lit the torch and held it over Gavin's head. His hand became tangled in the vines. When he moved his hand away the vines tightened around his wrist, but he kept hold of the torch as he dropped his spear to grab for his dagger.

"If the skull's eyes watch you, you're safe." Gavin repeated to himself as the torchlight bathed the ground in front of them.

Skulls were stacked together in a makeshift barrier. Gavin saw a basket hanging in a tree. We walked past the skulls making sure to keep the eyes upon him. He reached into his pack and retrieved the dead bird Janon had given him and placed it in the basket.

With some effort Douglas cut through the vine that wrapped around his wrist. His face covered in sweat and the panic on his face was obvious. He moved to stand by Gavin, more skulls, basket with a dead bird, he was very far from the comforts and luxury of Eastgate. He shivered from the cold.

"Now what?" Douglas asked. "Dead bird in a basket. Nice touch."

"I don't know. Janon said to put the bird in the basket. I didn't think to ask what to do next." Gavin sheathed his sword and grabbed the torch from Douglas. He tried to see beyond the skulls, but there more trees. The path ended here.

"I'm cold. I'm building a fire and I'm going to use the damn vines." Douglas said and then went about cutting off the hanging vines. Before too long he had a small fire going. It did little fight off the chill. "You never told me what you needed to ask the augur."

"I know." Gavin planted the torch in the ground near the basket to free his hand for his sword. He kept searching for the dark treeline for movement. Damned if he was about to become someone's stew without a fight.

A shock of pain struck his arm. He lost strength in his hand and his sword fell to the forest floor. He struggled against the pain. He threw down his shield to grab his arm just above is elbow.

"What's wrong?" Douglas quickly stood and checked on his friend. He expected to find an arrow sticking out of Gavin's arm. Nothing. It was then he smelled the faint scent of magic. A sickly sour scent of decay. The manipulation of entropy. He brought his spear to bear and sensed someone, something by the basket.

The torch flickered. The flame decreased slowly until it vanished. The campfire had also gone out. Darkness. Gavin on the ground fighting off the pain in his arm. Douglas kneeling next to his friend waiting.

The faintest glow of light came from the forest behind the skulls. It grew bright enough to blend shadows into the dark places. Sitting on the ground behind the skulls was a cowled form. Douglas caught himself, the urge to run was strong.