Three days had passed as Fred and the dwarves walked through Fox's
Forest. The woods in that area were filled with strange trees; gangly
roots, grey-brown and moss-covered bark, and limbs knotted beyond belief.
Fred hugged his cloak tighter. He still wore the Flamebane yet he had
also found a cloak within the cave and had covered himself with it. He
knew that the sight of a magically armoured knight within the dense woods
of the Fox would be a startling sight, and he didn't want any more trouble.
Fred laughed to himself, ~~Trouble is all I seem capable of getting into!~~
Even as the thought crossed his mind a croak emanated from a tree to his left, it was answered by another from a tree to his back, and then a chorus of rough chattering seemed to descend upon the party of four.
~~Blast these crows!~~ thought Fred. ~~They're everywhere and for two days they're all I've seen!~~
Indeed, it did seem that the black birds were following the group. The dwarves had first noticed them and they eyed them with suspicion. The birds were odd to say the least; they looked like large crows but their plumage was shabby at best and mottled with unhealthy streaks of grey, brown, and black. Their beaks and legs were rusty red and their eyes were large with purple centers.
"The beasts are sick I tell you," Dokken had said when they were first spotted. "If we stay in their territory we might fall prey to their malady."
That was two days ago and still they were not out of their territory. Fred looked at the dwarves; Dokken and Baren looked to be twins in Fred's estimation, though they had spoken nothing of their family and little of anything else. Lem was the cheerful one, and had been full of dwarven song until the arrival of the birds.
All they wanted was to be rid of the creatures; to be rid of their constant noise and the sense that the birds were watching them with an intelligent eye. Fred wanted more as well; he wanted to see people, human people. He wanted to walk into a well-lit inn with a spot of laughter. He wanted to smell the odor of cooked meats and fresh wine. Yet all he had here was the sound of ugly birds and the ever-present scent of their droppings.
As the birds screamed at the group the dwarves turned west, Fred followed. He had learned that questioning their directions was useless at best. He did not know where he was, the wood was too high to see long distance and he had no other way of knowing his whereabouts. The dwarves seemed to be following their noses. But he was sure these dwarves would not harm him; if they wanted him dead, they would've done it long before.
Of a sudden the birds increased their noise and many flew into the path of Dokken and Baren. "We found something," said Lem. "They don't want us going this way!"
The troupe advanced and even as they did so the noise of the birds grew to a feverish pitch. Fred felt tired, he felt weary, he wanted to just stop and close his ears. Yet the dwarves marched on. Then they stopped, and all their eyes widened in disbelief.
They had walked into an open glade. Before them was a circle of clear ground and piles of rock some 5 feet wide and 2 in width. "Are those graves?" asked Fred to no one in particular. The dwarves made no comment for their eyes were on the pile of bones, cloth and various tools that lay in the middle of the circle. The birds were now hollering and Fred waved his sword about his head, yet to little avail. The birds flittered higher up and then continued their angry song.
The dwarves inspected everything and found a few items of interest, the largest one being a torn parchment. It read as follows:
The accursed birds followed.....most detestable croaking, clattering and......not escape ....... if we traveled....... .............. ........... ................by day their unwholesome presence weakened our party, until we ........... ........ ......... like walking dead men..... ........... the deadrels wore her down quick. We carried her for several days before she finally perished in an exhausted delirium. That night, the deadrels croaked loathsomely...... ......... .... buried her beneath a cairn the next ....... ........ Four more of us died before we....... ....... I am the only one now....... ....... hope to..... ......
And that was all. The message was incomplete, full of holes. Perhaps it was the last journal of the dead man laying in the center of the strange cemetery, a man long picked to pieces. But at least they had a name for the creatures: Deadrels. Then Lem said, "Listen!" They did, and they heard nothing but quiet. "Why, they've stopped crowing!" said Fred. "Aye," said Dokken. "But why?"
10/15/1999 7:30:36 PM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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