The Way to Kumas (Part 1)

I.
     The memory of the healer’s fingers tracing their way across her wounds haunted her day dreams out here on the plains. The small escort of mounted men for hire and their priestly charge plodded onward through the saw grass and meadow flowers. Every now and then a butterfly in gold and blue, or a red meadow lark would pass their ears in halting flight. The young elf healer back in York had been gifted with long curling blonde locks down to his waist, nimble fingers, and blue green eyes that seemed as if the sea had been poured into them. Jaxon was blonde. She glanced over at the strong, muscled rider next to her. Perhaps he would be obliged to sate the fire in her loins tonight. Damn that healer! She had just gotten used to being on her own, too. Not many were willing to share the sleeping space of a half-orc half-human woman, even for little more than warmth.
It had been two days, since the party left York. Hired for a miserly sum of fifteen silver to escort the priest on his pilgrimage to Kumas. The city was only three days ride from out of town, and yet she had never heard of it. But the voyage promised a chance for change.
     Beside the old, bald man rode his apprentice, a boy of thirteen. Three other mercenaries had been hired in addition to Jaxon and herself, but she couldn’t speak to how generously they had been paid. Two big ugly men and a younger man of about twenty, or so. They were clean but with broken teeth and matted hair. Like themselves, their piecemeal armor was battered but also cleaned with the worst dents beaten out. Growgash eyed the younger of the three behind her. He had a nervous quality to him, although he could handle the long sword he carried on his back. She had seen to that, herself. The bruises she’d given him would heal, but his broken pride and anger were another matter.
     The goat path they traveled was narrow and overwhelmed by the tall plains grasses. Small stones lay flush with the ground where the topsoil had been worn away. Growgash was just wondering at that when behind them came a high pitched squeal of anger that made the horses reel in terror. The priest had his hand up over his head, his eyes bulging his mouth gaping. The apprentice walked his pony forward and dismounted. Clearing the brush from the path, a black and mangled thing was revealed. He lifted what looked to be a skull not of humanoid form and, taking a knife to what was left of the neck, gingerly carried the grim find to his master. The old man took the skull and stared intently into eyes long gone, then pulled a small sack off of his belt and sprinkled what looked like sand onto its crown. A blue light flowed in the wake of the sand and for a brief moment, the being seemed alive again.
     Beyond in the distance a flock of birds burst forth from distant treetops. These were no meadowlarks, but large black creatures the size of a man. As these monsters lifted heavily into the air the black on their backs caught the sunlight and glistened gold. The soldiers’ eyes grew wide as saucers at the sight.
     “Great golden beasts…” the younger mercenary gasped. A deep troubled feeling mixed with greed in Growgash. This was an evil portent, for no creatures like that openly dwelled within forest, plain, or mountain. To capture one would make mean only ill fortune. She had had enough of that in recent years. To her dismay, the priest pointed and howled ecstatically toward the spot of the forest the birds had fled.
     “This the place we must go to,” the apprentice told them, also pointing towards the thick woods. Growgash eyed the others and caught their anxious expressions.
     “By the gods,” spluttered one of the older men, “one feather off them kind will pay my way ta glory!”
     They left the path and headed into the forest. The priest had his apprentice hide the skull away in a sack, the blue light managing to shimmer through the rough fabric. The half-orc mused again, how it seemed almost alive.
 
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About romeomoon

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an Associates of Science and Art and a Bachelors of Science and Art. I'm the creative lead of the Lounge L33ts podcast, a regular guest on An Unearthly Podcast, write anime reviews and short stories, and create artwork in both digital and traditional media. I am a full time staffer for the Geek.Kon convention in Madison, WI. I am also an avid player of Massive Multiplayer Online Games and live stream various MMORPGs.
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