Dreamweaver Chapter 161
Our party keeps moving forward on the rancher’s dir road overgrown with tall foliage and weeds past the waists of many of the dwarves. Bit by bit we’re also breaking down the trail that probably hasn’t been used in at least a week because only the farmers and ranchers come out here. And the vegetation grows fast so we have like…wet grass stains on the ankles of our pants with dew from the moisture in the air. The air still has the chalky smoke smell that’s been drifting up from lower in the value where the orcs are already raiding.
It’s a damn mess. You can see there was an orc raiding party here recently…like as in not just down in the valley, but here like where we are now. Sunghee points it out; she has a tracker skill too apparently from growing her adventurer job. Sometimes she’ll kneel to the point of almost touching the ground to look at enemy tracks.
“Looks like they passed this way not too long ago,” she confirmed.
“I knew it. It’s just our luck,” Rina said.
“Can you tell like …how many hours ago?” Gyle asked.
“I’m more concerned with how many, but how long ago is also important,” I said.
“Not that specific but see how the prints in the mud are clear and very sharp edged? That shows its fresh. We could run into them any minute now,” she said to us to warn us.
I can see and feel the dwarves getting more nervous. Some of them get shifty, almost as much as the horses.
That’s the weird thing about horses; they can smell orcs and don’t like the smell. I don’t know that works, but they aren’t any special kind of horse. They are plain and ordinary horses, but horses get scared around some kind of animals like bears, mountain cats, and wolves. To them, orcs must be in the same category.
I wonder how that will pan out later too because it takes extra time to calm down the horses after they’ve smelled orcs in the area.
“Maybe we should go back. If they are already here then there won’t be anything to save,” one dwarven youth suggested.
“Dude, we just started,” Rina said.
“No. We finish the mission. We’re doing this and we’ll do it right,” I shoot him down fast verbally before any others join his opinion.
“Well if they already are in the area won’t they already be at the ranchers houses?” Gyle asked Sunghee directly.
“Not necessarily, the tracks don’t go straight at the map markings for the rancher house locations. They are kind of all over the place. They also have to stake out figuring out where all the water holes are for their armies first. Since they don’t come here all the time, if they can’t get fresh water, their troops can’t fight either,” Sunghee confirmed.
I can hear some of the dwarves murmuring about how cool headed Sunghee is.
She’s right about pointing out how they’d go for scouting not just targets but water holes, granaries, anything that can feed them.
“OK, show’s over. Keep moving people,” I urged them on again.
Those of us with horses are having a better time, which is about half of us. I think a lot of the horses actually survived but I doubt that we’d catch up with them in time to finish saving people. You might end up chasing a scared barely broken horse for miles in territory like this.
Or the orcs might find them first. The dwarves also confirmed to me that orcs like horse flesh almost as much as they like man flesh, or humans. But sometimes they think dwarves are too chewy but still like to mutilate the bodies.
Rina asked them to stop talking about it at that point because their talk of orc life styles was making us sick.
About a half a mile later, we also find a bunch of freshly killed and stripped cow bodies on the trail that are all torn up and have their intestines thrown all over the place. They hadn’t even bothered to take care of it properly so there’s a lot of meat just wasting out here because they were in a hurry.
Each step we’re more concerned as the signs of orc war patrols had increased before getting to this point. We found tracks of another troop of them that veered off in another direction away from the trail we’d just come down heading away from the place.
Then we got to another set of more clear tracks, and these look like a bigger group of them which made us even more nervous. I also find out one of the dwarves also has the tracking skill, in addition to Sunghee. “It looks like this other group is headed to the other farthest out ranch,” one of the dwarves said. “If they keep cutting that direction, their angle and approach is straight at that ranch with no deviance.”
“So you think that means they had all the homesteads already mapped out? Or are they still finding water holes and other advantages?” I asked.
“Water holes huh? I hadn’t thought of that,” Gyle admitted.
“Yeah, I think this particular set of tracks is headed straight for that farm. So they must know about this one, but I can’t guarantee about the other groups yet. If they had just stumbled around the trail wouldn’t be so straight. It would follow the lines of the existing trails or follow the tree break line or go through the meadows. It’s not doing that. So they had this planned ahead of time and probably scouted things out. They may have been here with their scouts weeks ahead of time. Who is to say this isn’t their first time scouting this area? I mean if I was some badass orc general I wouldn’t go into some places without knowing its maps and what things looked like,” the dwarf said.
“I think he’s right Shun,” Sunghee also confirmed.
“Wouldn’t the ranchers have seen something?” one of the dwarves said.
“Maybe not…it’s not a guarantee they’d be spotted,” Sunghee said.
But the dwarf she was replying to didn’t quite trust her yet. “But they would have kept a watch over this area.”
“How? Even though they do, these people on the frontier work pretty hard. It’s a hard long day living on a farm. And you can’t just stop to worry about every neighbor around you. And they always are running short of a full rest from trying to keep their animals alive anyway,” another dwarf said.
“Ahh, I guess that’s a good point,” the first dwarf said.
“So there are others predators here as you said before,” Rina said.
“You can’t be naïve about thinking that the enemy has skillful people too. Some of them are really good at sneaky stuff like this. Fact is, one of them could be sneaking up on us right now,” Gyle said back to him.
“Don’t say stuff like that. I’ll have nightmares,” Rina coughed out.
“That’s rough. I always thought we’re better than they are,” one guy said.
“Not always. Don’t underestimate orcs and their evil,” Sunghee said to him.
“But…we can’t let orcs win,” he replied.
“That’s why you keep always building yourself up. Always try to think about how to protect yourself,” Sunghee answered.
I wished I had time to learn all their names but I don’t. And I’ll never see these guys again. And it’s easier to not know their names if I don’t know they will all survive; plus it’s distracting to worry about being friends with all of them when I’m trying to worry about spell work and strengthening my spells first.
In my mind I’m going over spell sequences and speed glyph patterns to cast quicker. I can’t be sweating out every dwarf and his family history, though they seem like interesting people.
We kept going after that working even harder to reach the goal. Surprisingly no other skirmishes at this point occur.
“There it is!” our point dwarf said at one point about a half hour later, who was riding by Sunghee at the front.
“I see it. The ranch house is just around the bend,” one of the dwarves said. It sounds like he’s been out this way before. Both of them sound excited and are happy. This is kind of the halfway point, unless something else happens.
I noticed Sunghee doesn’t look at the house or care about it. She’s watching the brush around us with her hand on her weapon watching for ambushes or something ready to come out. Clever girl, she is. She’s got her mind focused on keeping us alive and early warning if something comes. I can see fierce determination on her face too.
Sunghee’s attitude to alertness has also helped Rina stay on track too, but she’s been too nervous to say anything for awhile.
We were holding our breath as we came around the bend, worried we’d find the site of a massacre.
It doesn’t look too bad, which is surprising.
“Sir, do we have permission to go ahead and check the compound?” one of the dwarves asked.
“Wait a sec,” I said trying to eye it.
“We have to make sure its dwarves inside and not orcs too,” Sunghee said.
We released our breath and our stress after seeing the house intact. There’s a chance the dwarves are alive.
But there are signs of trouble here. I notice this ranch house has a stone foundation on what looks like a basement and first floor, but then the second floor is a log cabin structure. And true to dwarven defensive focus it has no windows until the second floor, far about reach of looters or brigands.
Shit. I hate that crap.
“Looks pretty quiet,” Gyle said.
“Approach with extreme caution only,” Sunghee called out.
We still are getting a bit closer only slowly. Then we started to see torn up animals and stuff of the fight that had occurred here probably only an hour ago. At some point orcs had gotten in the outer fence, while trying to wreck stuff, before they all got shot up by crossbows.
Again, a couple of shepherd dogs are even torn up all over the ground, having sacrificed themselves to save their masters. Some of the dogs weren’t that old and something about seeing the torn up dogs pulled at my heart strings. One of the dogs probably looked less than a year old and you could tell they were good solid loyal dogs. The poor dogs had been saving their owner’s lives. It wasn’t the ranchers fault. The dogs wanted to give it their all.
“Fucking animals,” the dwarves cursed seeing it. They are obviously referring to the orcs, not the dogs.
Not too far from it some of the orc bodies are still hanging on the fences. This part of the fence we hadn’t seen earlier because of the barn being in the way.
“I think we’ve got survivors. These orc bodies were put here on display as warning to intruders,” Sunghee said pointing the bodies on the fences.
“Yeah that’s vigilante art for you,” Rina said aloud.
“So we learned something. Keep your head up people, we think some of the dwarves may still be alive,” I said.
The attitude of the others improved as we made our way past one of the barns that felt empty and devoid of life.
“Looks like living on the frontier makes people live tough,” Gyle said.
And just like that, then we saw them. We turned to finally be able to face and see the front of the dwarven house, instead of the back end. And the whole porch is filled with crossbow wielding dwarven…cowboys…for lack of a better term. They are quietly looking at us, while we’re looking at them at about the same time. Everyone is super edgy so neither side reaches for their weapons very quickly because it could send the wrong signals. We’re stills staring at each other for a good minute or so.
Remarkably they don’t look to cut up, though there are signs of close combat and scrapes with probably some really deadly fighting on both of them.
It’s weird to think that dwarves are kind of cowboy-ish and it’s not exactly the same thing but maybe a mutated version of a medieval version. They weren’t in the mountain fortress underground but here out on the ranch it’s all about practicality instead.
But we hadn’t anticipated they’d be angry to see us instead of happy. What the hell is wrong with these people? We came to save them, damn it.
I feel our morale picking up. The recruits with us are happier too and exclaim with joy seeing some of their brethren are alive.
We dismounted from the horses and left them by a tack rail as we approached the house.
Then we were shocked right after with what the survivors just said.
“We ain’t leaving,” The big tough looking dwarf with the rounded beard said again. His voice sounds raspy and old but his muscles say he’s not a push over. He’s got a flannel shirt, cowboy boots, and leather chaps just like all the others but I might have thought he was the wise one out of them if he hadn’t said what he did just now. Several tomahawks and throwing hand axes are hanging from a leather belt along with all kinds of throwing knives. He’s got charcoal and black hair coloring with a tanned face and skin.
“He’s…kidding right? Why would they…” Rina started to say but then she got behind Shun.
He’s also putting on airs of looking like he isn’t afraid to fight us, along with the orcs either. The others also have all sorts of weaponry visible with a wide variety of styles. All of them look like they might freeze you with their cold hard stares, and similarly defiant attitudes.
The others are undoubtedly his kinfolk and it’s obvious. The five sons look like him so much that you wonder if he married too close to his father’s line. If anyone has married his cousin it’s probably this guy.
All of them are armed to the teeth and there is also a really tall and impressive bonfire going with a stack of hideously slashed up and crushed orc bodies being burned in it. Even as we stare at each other you can hear the pine pitch in the bonfire popping while the wretched and filthy smelling bodies are smoldering in intense flames and heat.
Two of the ranch hands are near the bonfire, and were the lucky two chosen for feeding the corpses into the flames. These two have their faces and mouths covered with bandannas but by the look of things, that isn’t enough either.
I hate the smell of the burning orcs. And yes, the ranchers have already started burning the bodies. You can’t get used to any kind of burning humanoid really but goblins and orcs smell even worse when burning.
“What do you mean not leaving?” Shun barked commandingly. He looks pissed. Making Shun pissed off is dangerous, even if he looks like a little shrimp small fry.
And when Shun ever even blinks negatively Sunghee will suddenly look really aggressive too. Actually that parts a bit odd because she’s almost too loyal, if that makes any sense.
Even Sunghee the kickass veteran jumped when he spoke.
I wish Sunghee were single…damn you Shun. Even I could fall for a human who looked like that. And dwarves have rules about marrying humans too. I won’t betray Shun though. His gold flow is too golden.
I look back at the head rancher who has his knife out.
“Could you put your weapons down while we talk? I’ll not have you shooting up my team,” Shun snapped out.
It’s like everyone is afraid to see who will make a move first. And the rancher’s sons seem to be glancing at their clan leaders to decide what to do.
“Sir, we need you and your men to lower your weapons. We’re here on behalf of the Dwarven Government,” I said, trying to verify things. It’s natural that they wouldn’t trust a human completely, but I’m a dwarf too, dammit!
Most of the dwarves put down their weapons; well put them away but still holding them describes it better I suppose. They still view us with a lot of distrust though. I don’t know if they were distrustful of humans or just thought the dwarf had final say. Either way it’s stupid that we had to repeat the lower weapons order more than once. They still have them a bit too close and when people that are angry have weapons close by you think twice about approaching them, even if you have a bad ass protection mage around you.
“We’ll not be kicked out of our homes and lands! This land is ours! We fought for it for years!” one of the younger ranchers said. That got them started in their complaining just like that. There was a bunch of murmuring of agreement among all of them. The dwarves are getting pretty damn riled up.
“You heard me. This is our home. We love this place. We’ve always lived here. We’ll defend it to the last man,” the dwarf elder top guy called Burin said. I guess he’s in charge here.
“Who the hell does the government think they are to push us out of here!” another said.
Did we step on a land mine taking this job…
Five minutes ago his son Deirryk introduced us to him. He’d been making a fuss ever since. And yes it’s Deirryk not Darryl. Dwarves have their own nomenclature which is odd at times.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” Rina said in surprise.
“This land belonged to my grandfather and his grandfather before him. Since we first came to this land we’ve had to sacrifice our own blood and tears to live. Our family graves have lined this mountain for generations, defending all kinds of predators and even goblin and orc raiders,” Deirryk, his oldest son said.
“Settle down. No one is taking anything from you,” Sunghee said carefully but trying to be peaceful in her tone.
Some of them give her mixed looks. They don’t know if they can trust her. I heard some muttering about a human something but didn’t quite catch it in the back of the other group.
“What they say is true, no one’s here to rob you,” I said to confirm it.
Deirryk is standing on the porch next to his dad.
The women must be inside hiding with anyone too young too fight. I thought I’d seen people looking through drapes on the second floor earlier. They are probably helping with standing guard, especially with a person high up on the next floor up.
We don’t like outsiders to see our women and true to form the ranchers keep this tradition too, even though they are as strong as our men. It’s also how we protect them from being carried off as orc and goblin breeders. Only dwarves have the lowest kidnapped female rate of all of the different demi-human races on this continent. But we do it only for protection unlike humans. Women are highly regarded and listened to more in dwarven society than other societies except probably elves that are now extinct.
“I don’t like this. None of them look ready to leave,” Rina said.
She’s right. They look like they’ve gone out of their way to make it impossible to leave too.
I look around. I don’t like how much time we’re wasting here talking to these stubborn people.
Will Shun force them to come? What will he say? As long as he doesn’t hurt dwarves I hope things will be OK. We all have accepted he’s in charge, even though Sunghee holds the actual license upgrade for the team leader spot.
He always pulls a rabbit out of his hat somehow? Hell I’m getting rich off working for this guy. I have to also cement that relationship somehow so I can keep the gold flowing, but I have the disadvantage of not being a female.
I wonder if he’d go for it if I gave him a couple of females to secure our business together? He seems to like women a lot, more than other people.
I snap out of it. I need to focus on what’s at hand.
Right…what to do about these stubborn people?
But what will he do to force the head rancher to move his family? These guys do not look like they want to move. They actually look like they’d rather kill us and themselves first before they’d leave. This could get ugly fast too. The negative energy is feeding really badly as they all are shouting all kinds of shitty nonsense at us.
If we’re not careful this could turn into a little miniature riot. They keep arguing back and forth for several minutes.
This guy is the worst kind of obstinate even for a dwarf. His inner fire is burning so hot his face is beat red. He keeps riling up everyone with him and this family compound probably has at least twenty dwarves here, even though I can’t see all of them.
“You can’t be serious? We’re supposed to argue or bribe this asshole to leave?” Rina exclaimed in low tones to mostly Sunghee and Shun but a few others heard it.
“Language!” Deirryk shot back at her angrily. He’s now staring down Rina.
“Let’s not worry about someone else’s team,” I said to Deirryk.
“Don’t say another word,” Deirryk warned her.
“Hey, she’s not on your team. She can swear as much as Shun let’s her,” Sunghee said.
Shun was regarding him very coldly, and I was worried what might happen but an older dwarf sort of pulled him back a bit.
“We need to go now. If we leave now, we’ll barely have enough time to get back to the citadel in time before the 3 armies hit us,” one of the dwarven recruits said nervously to Shun, completely ignoring the idiots in front of us. They said he’s a grunt but he looks like he’s dressed to try to get into the scouting brigades.
Technically the guy spoke out of turn. It’s not his place to talk now but it had an effect in rattling the other side because they see we’re scared too.
“Wait, did you say three armies?” one of the dwarves looked skeptically at their leader.
“Yeah, as in the number that goes after 2, and before 4,” Rina said sarcastically.
There’s a long silence.
The dwarves are shocked.
“I swear he said 3 armies,” another said.
“No, no that’s some trick,” The guy named Burin, I think it was, said.
The other dwarves look a bit worried.
“We have the papers and deed to this land so it should be OK. Even if we have to go our claim is safe, and we don’t have any debts,” another said.
“Title free and clear but…” another’s mutterings were heard.
“No that’s just propaganda,” another echoed, but he’s looking down and scared silly.
“Even one army is bad,” another said.
“More hype. I’ve heard this crap before. Leave your homes, go to the fortress for safety. There’s some huge army, blah blah blah,” Burin mocked us, complete with a whiny ‘come save us’ voice.
“Gyle, about face, men let’s go we’re leaving. I won’t risk my team for some suicidal cult,” Shun suddenly said.
“Wait, what?” Burin exclaimed. He looked alarmed.
“What?” a dozen people from both sides together exclaimed.
I hadn’t anticipated this. I thought we’d talk it out for a bit longer, and maybe make them see reason after they tried to get us to pay them some kind of bribes or promise of government aid.
They look really scared now on both sides. They are emotionally reading that this doesn’t look like the other times that government people wanted to come out and encourage them to come in the fortress walls. They can pick up that we’re nervous just being here, knowing any minute some big ass army could come around the bend at any time.
Now we’re on contract as adventurers or mercenaries to rescue dwarves and save their fortress. The job is to rescue the outlying settlers first and we’ve already accepted that we probably won’t save everyone. I expect the next couple jobs will be defending the wall. That means we have to bring them to the fortress to get paid. If we don’t get survivors then we don’t get paid. The government is paying a shit ton of gold for this too because they know there’s a food shortage, it means rescuing anyone that can produce food is a major stipend.
Its 1 gold per food producing settler saved according to this contract to rescue these people. It sounds like a lot but the government knows the ranchers are serious money producers even though they are considered an agriculture occupation thanks to the high price of beef and the food shortage in a war torn world. So for one gold investment the value keeps going on for years in the production of the dwarven economy in goods like food and beef that we absolutely have to have in order to live.
Of course it’s only a sparse 2 silver for dwarves that can’t produce food and 1 silver per child according to this rescue contract. The difference we’d talked about last night when accepting this job, and Saiya thinks it means some major food trouble ahead.
I kind of feel bad in a way. We’re not bankrupting the government are we? I keep telling myself we aren’t but…I don’t know for sure. They say the Prince in charge of this town is pretty smart, but anyone can have problems.
But we had to stop talking about it when it turned into an argument.
“Let’s go guys, we’ll just go help assist the next ranch evacuation. There are two other teams in the other going to other rancher compounds each and our contract does permit us to lend assistance if for some reason this compound doesn’t work out,” Shun said.
“Wait, what’s going on? Shouldn’t they stay to help us?” I heard several of the ranchers say in various means.
We’re already moving to leave the property.
“Have a good next life,” Rina said sadly waving at them.
They have long looks on their faces.
“Wait…you’re just leaving?” Deirryk exclaimed.
Burin has a puzzled look too.
Wait. Will he really do that?
“Mount up guys. I gave you a command. I expect you to follow. Bye, sorry you don’t want to be helped. We won’t force you to live though,” Shun said.
The dwarven recruits all look at Sunghee questioningly. “But…” they looked at each other. At first they don’t want to leave.
But it’s the right call; let them take responsibility for their actions.
“What? It’s Shun’s call. He’s the boss,” Sunghee said to explain. It looks like our team gets it at least.
“But…” some of the recruit guards on our side look questioning back at the ranch. It’s good they don’t want to abandon their people but still…I don’t like the questioning orders.
“Go on,” I urged them to confirm.
Burin’s folk all look edgy and scared suddenly. They are looking at each other like, how do we get them to stay. His face kind of cracked emotionally and he is starting to look a bit desperate.
I …can’t leave it like this can I?
“Hurry up Gyle, or you’ll be left behind,” Rina called back to me.
“Well I think our team is looking at you because even though Shun is the action boss, on paper it says Sunghee for the team leader,” I reminded her.
Sunghee blushed, “oh right. Sorry about that. Shun is my boss guys. If he says we’re leaving that’s what we do.”
“Wait, you can’t leave us here! We’ll die without protection! You are fucking city guard contractors. You fucking work for us numb nuts! I know the law!” scoffed Burin angrily.
“I don’t want to work for them if they have that attitude,” Rina said.
“Neither do I,” Sunghee chimed in.
“Oh so you admit to protection racqueteering huh? Thought you’d make us be your own personal troops and manipulate us?” Shun said.
Burin’s face looked pained but he didn’t say anything back to it.
“What?!” the others are surprised. It’s kind of an odd twist to make them defend instead of him but in a way it’s logical.
They suddenly shut up.
“You have to protect us. I know the legal code,” Burin said again stubbornly like a dumb shit.
Another brief silence…everyone’s on edge.
“You declined protection. The only protection is evacuation, not guarding your farm. So we’re leaving,” Shun said.
“No. You have to protect our farm!” Deirryk shot back.
Shun continues to ignore him despite some pretty clever speech by Deirryk and his father.
Now they are really scared as they see us turning to walk away.
“I’m not risking my people’s lives for some assholes that want us to give our lives just so they can manipulate us. There are three goblinoid armies that will be here in about four hours. We warned you, and you don’t want to leave so bye,” Shun shrugged.
“Dad, I told you this was a bad idea,” the youngest of Burin’s sons said.
“Shit. Fine. Everyone let’s go. Pull the cattle out. Hey wait! We’ll do what you say. Please! Don’t leave us!” Burin begged on his hands and knees.
His family looked at him like it was a scandal to have him plead that way.
Shun didn’t turn around but keeps walking.
“You had your chance. You manipulated us. Some other group needs our help now. You aren’t the only family being evacuated,” Sunghee answered for him.
I’m surprised at balsy Shun is. But his tactic worked.
Now the two head guys in charge are already following us pleading for us to go back.
Would he have let them die though? Technically I didn’t really want to stand off against three armies that are supposed to get here by dark. It’s also true that we’re on a time crunch.
Crap it’s already past noon…
I hope there aren’t any more patrols. But something is telling me there will be a few. They had to have greedy scouts that want the meat of people. Orcs are almost always cannibals, from very early on even as babies even.
“Damn this shit is hard,” Saiya complained next to me. She’s not good at this hiking and camping bullshit. She wipes a bunch of sweat off her face with a handkerchief.
I wipe mine off too.
Trecking around in the wilderness is hard work.
We’re all hoping this is the job that will help us hit pay dirt and escape our fate of poverty.
I sort of am good at the hiking and camping bullshit though, and would have liked it except for hating all the mosquitos and flies that come out this time of year. The one good thing about having a goat’s lower half is that I am sturdier at marching and climbing in mountains and hill vales like this. Plus I don’t have to wear pants in a human town.
Well according to some. Sometimes people get real mad when I don’t wear pants but there’s a lot of fur down there you know…and I get skin irritations if I can’t get a good breeze going through there with pants on all the time trapping sweat under the skin.
But in a dwarven town I got a public nudity citation for some reason. It’s not nudity, it’s fur! Jeez, what the hell’s wrong with them! I don’t write them up for nudity if they are bald do I? It started to appear a few weeks after I’d changed and grew so thick that in only a matter of days I had my own sheep or goat like fur down.
What the fuck was up with that? I’m covered in fur downstairs from the waist down all the way to the hooves, dammit.
They argued that because people can see the outline of my male tools that it’s the same as being a streaker, but you can’t see anything. It’s just discrimination against hoofed legged peoples. Then the people at the bar laughed at me when they heard about it.
I almost kicked the fucker, but that would be murder. My hooves would have slit open his stomach and he would have bled to death. I almost did it.
And that’s why I am out taking a dangerous job now because a public nudity violation in a dwarven town is fucking expensive to pay off. Plus the looks people give me are as if I’m some pedophile or something.
Jerks…all of them…
“Are you OK?” Saiya asked breaking me from my thoughts as we walk through the grass.
“Oh what? No, it’s nothing,” I said trying to hide that I’m still mad.
“You look mad,” She said.
“I’m not…mad…” I managed.
She sighed, “Yeah I know that look. You are definitely mad.”
So a walk through the woods like this on a job is just what I need, except it’s freaking dangerous as hell.
“Let’s improve our speed. If we go a little faster the chance of running into scouts is less,” Saiya said after a little while.
We’re trudging through the underbrush and the trail. It doesn’t look like anyone has gone this way for a little while and the vegetation here grows quickly because of peak growing season. The trees around us are enormous! Lodge pole pines more than a foot and a half diameter across and over a hundred feet tall are common. There’s also strong smell of aspen and other wonderful nature scents that fill the nose with feelings of freshness.
And the way the breeze comes through the trees is also heavenly.
I can see why the dwarves would want their independence to live out here, rather than underground. They must covet these beautiful green lands and mountains and not only for all the mineral wealth under the mountains.
This would be the perfect place to make a cabin and have a good life. And I’d be able to walk around with no pants without living in fear.
I wish I could also persuade Saiya to join me. She’s prettier than Yuriko was actually, but I still think she’s into girls.
Remembering that helped me come back to reality.
“Hang tough. We just have this dwarven ranch to rescue and then we’ll hit pay dirt,” I said.
“I hope so. Paying bills is rough,” she said.
Saiya sort of weirds me out the way she looks at me. She edges on her pet …whatever the fuck that thing is anyway. She never gave me a straight answer on that and is pretty secretive all the time. It’s like some kind of earth spirit mage pet, I think. And nobody messes with her because of those huge ass needles sticking out it’s back that it can shoot people with. She gained it recently from her ‘level up’ is what she called it but there’s not actually such things; which is what we call it even though we can’t see our own levels.
Still…it’s definitely a sentient mage pet of some kind that looks dangerous to mess with.
The creature is weird. It’s not an ent and I’m not sure what it is and it’s rare enough that not even dwarves know though its supposed to be earth element based, which they are home with. But looks similar to a midget critter about three feet tall, but instead of branches and stuff coming out its head it’s got like almost like rock corral spikes, and long sharp pain filled needles, and horns coming out on its head, neck, and down all of its back and spine instead and a trunk and limbs like a porqupine that is bipedal and it’s all earth and rock and not wood. It also makes like cheep sounds and little squeaks. But it can’t seem to use human speech though Saiya understands it.
Despite being a bit shorter than the dwarves it’s solid black eyes are creepy as fuck, and can shoot those spines on its back into pretty much anything that annoys us. And with Saiya being pretty we can get away with a ‘self defense’ clause most of the time. Plus it hits like a truck, though it is kind of small and slow.
This world is weird and hell after all. So we can’t see any health bars or any obvious information on other creatures near us, and it’s too hellish to be some damn video game.
She’s sort of been my second in command for a while now, mostly because nobody else has survived that long to hold the position. There used to be a couple people ahead of the line in front of Saiya but this world was so dangerous that she didn’t even need to wish them anything bad before they’d been slain.
To my knowledge it’s only us and Crow Summoner left out of the people left from our school that had been ‘kidnapped’ to this world. I could be wrong but that’s all that I know about since we’d been separated from the others, and despite searching for news of any others we’d come up with nothing. Everyone else has disappeared.
The rest of our team aren’t related to us but are hirelings we’ve picked up. They are mostly a bunch of young clowns that were goofing off and that we’d lured into helping us that were lazing around town. So we’ve resorted to using whatever dwarven recruits from this world that we can find as we’ve been assigned to help out. They don’t act like the fortress dwarves so I don’t trust them yet, and wonder why there’s a difference.
But according to Stallk, they are a good bunch. I think some of them are related to him though, and he’d helped us find them.
One of them, who is sort of ‘not dependable’ is a veteran fighter named Stallk. He’s a pale little dwarven dude that’s skinnier than he should be and is always drinking and clearly an alcoholic, except for some reason he’s able to function normally and is even the most alert of all of us, except for Crow for some reason. He translates to and from Dwarven for us with the rest of the team. Plus he can somehow fight even though his attitude, personality, and personal life are a complete mess when he’s not with us.
Stallk is pretty quiet and doesn’t complain much on the job because he’s learned to shut his mouth and keep his awful personal life out of the job. Unless you take away his beer or he hasn’t had a bunch of alcohol, then you better get the hell away from him before something bad happens. Then he’ll get all ornery as hell and even nearly got us jailed a couple of times for street brawling.
The last few weeks have been hard. With almost no one left from our town I can only depend on Crow, who doesn’t like to talk and Saiya the earth mage apprentice. Although to be fair, we’re never sure where Crow is at in terms of his physical body. While he goes with us on missions supposedly with his crows, he doesn’t even go with us in terms of a human body. But he has his crows go with us flying around and going ahead of us while his human body we don’t even know where it’s at.
Whenever I look at Saiya I see Yuriko; so that makes it worse since Yuriko is deader than dead. Hell it hurts thinking about how Yuriko died. So I avoid looking at Siaya in the eyes because it reminds me of her. It’s that fucker Shun’s fault. He should have kept her alive. I wish he were here so I could nail his ass to the wall. But now that guy is dead too as far as we can tell.
Yuriko…where are you now? Is your ghost still here or did you go back to our home world?
We can do this, I keep telling myself hoping everything will work out. Lately the stress makes me feel like my head is boiling open almost and I don’t know how much of this I can take.
The job is to help evacuate some dwarven settlements and get them back to the dwarven stronghold before the shit hits the fan. And we were assigned to one of three homesteads in the area which are kind of actually like dwarven clan compounds with several families together. And two other teams are taking the other two groups, one for each of us. But if you ask me the shit has already started to hit the fan.
In a few seconds one of the crows from Crow Summoner comes back. In the crow voice he always talks to us. We still all this time don’t know who the fuck he is by name and he won’t tell us although he did prove he is from our school. So that’s it, we only know that he’s from our school. We never see him, but only ever see crows. I don’t even know if he still has a human body, or if he just transfers around in the crow bodies. And because his element is like shadow or something, even Saiya isn’t sure how his power works since it’s so different from hers.
At first he only had two crows but now he has like forty of them that are always hanging around in high spots so they don’t get wacked or eaten. There are enough of them that he can even attack whole squads of orcs by himself, having all forty of them do guerrilla tactics of hitting and running all day and have it work, as long as he doesn’t have them stand there to get shot at. But crows get killed fast and have to eat often and scavenge so he’s not that effective yet.
We’re sort of jealous of him in a way. He can avoid trouble easily and we can’t.
I tower over all of them with my superior height and muscle now. Even the dwarves give me a wild berth. It does help but doesn’t make me invincible and I have the scars to show for it.
One of the crow’s lands on my shoulder and speaks in that creaky squawky voice, “ranch ahead. The trail is clear for now. But two orc patrols close by. Five patrols over five miles away. Move fast to avoid detection. Standby for if the orc patrols come near the trail.”
Just like that the crow flies off.
“Wish we could fly like that,” I said.
“Seriously? You can kick and one shot orcs to death with those monstrous goat legs of yours. If anyone is jealous it’s probably him wanting to be you instead,” Saiya argued back.
I guess that’s true. They are my secret weapon. Except I hate peeling dried orc blood out of my hooves at the end of the day; which feels like toxic slime in some ways.
Saiya’s using her wizard staff to keep her pace and to balance herself when the trail goes over tiny little mini-slopes. I wonder when she got the wizard staff? She’d picked it up when she got to this dwarven town. Of course she’s not a real wizard yet, but more like a mage apprentice I think.
I so badly wanted to fuck her but she’s only into girls. What a waste…and this goat man body makes me horny as shit all the time.
“Is the scout in place yet?” I asked Saiya.
“There’s only a mile left. He should be at the ranch but…why isn’t he signaling back to us? He was supposed to ‘mage radio’ us as soon as he got there, using that thing that Saiya gave him which would send out a mana pulse that she could pick up on her mage radar.
She keeps working frantically but looks concerned, while we wait.
And we keep waiting. Then she looks more stressed out.
“Crap…where is he?”
Something weird is going on,” Saiya said. She’s way stressed out even more now and it’s obvious something’s gone wrong.
Hell I’m stressed out too with everything riding on our being able to finish this one job. But we need this money to live off and so we can’t just bug out and leave. And we don’t know when the next set of jobs will be.
Saiya now has access to some kind of weird geomancer radar skill thing to, where she can pick up live bodies near us like a mana powered motion detector. But she can’t pick out friendlies from un-friendlies yet for some reason.
So we have something good going for us now in that I have two really good detectors that can help us evade and avoid trouble…most the time. It’s not foolproof with either of them right now. And I wish one of them was more combat oriented actually.
Saiya’s little geomancer skill shows up like a little blue screen with a bunch of black and red dots over what looks like an electronic map screen that hovers in the air. When she looks in it she can see stuff, but to us it looks like jibberish and even gives us a headache by trying to look at it.
Supposedly if she can develop it further geomancy is a real skill that can later help out and make a living from.
“Weird…I think his signal just disappeared at that ranch,” she said.
“Wait…how could it just disappear? You’re telling me, our scout is missing?” I asked.
“I know right? It’s not supposed to do that. It even picks up invisible stuff,” she protested.
So it can pick up invisible stuff but not our missing scout?
That sounds bad and is further confirmation that something’s gone wrong.
That’s when all the crows started to just like start a freaking crow hurricane ahead of us. That’s bad. Crow only converges them when we’re in serious trouble. And the crow storm is also bringing orcs with it.
That guy has been told to not do that. He’s supposed to try to lose them in the woods or go over a cliff and lure them over or something but never to bring them back right at us. But he continually messes up.
“Oh shit. The orcs found us,” Saiya suddenly said.
“I can see that,” I said dryly trying to not take out my anger on Saiya, Stallk, and the others.
“So losing a scout…do you mean more like he’s fucked and dead, or just that we don’t know where he is?” Stallk asked grumpily while getting his weapon ready.
Saiya’s gulping and avoiding the question confirmed to me before the others could answer. We haven’t even had our first skirmish and our first man down has occurred.
I get mine ready too. From here on out it will be probably fighting all the way back to the stronghold non-stop.
The crows hit and pecked the two first orcs that hit us before we even knew what was going on. But just like that three crows are dead and the rest are trying to get away.
One of the Crow’s flies past us so fast I almost missed what it said, “run!” it croaked.
Crow knows how much we have riding on this. Why’d that piece of shit interfere with my plans?!
Random dwarven recruit on Shun and Sunghee team
Where the hell did they get this human mage from?! I don’t know much about mages but most of them aren’t this crazy strong.
We turned around the bend with a full group of dwarves following us and the orcs hit us hard. Somehow the mage is holding them back almost by himself while our people whittle them down. But even that’s not fun to do, when you see them running at you with all their strength and some shitty weapon that is designed to give you tetanus.
Before we’d even had a chance to react there were black orc arrow shafts shooting all over the place. We hit the orc scout team at just the wrong time and were totally flatfooted. The orcs surprised us. That’s one thing my pops always told me to never let happen to me, and it happened anyway.
The dwarves are screaming around me and hit the dirt as everyone is ducking to not get shot. What few have weapons are trying to make a position to recover from.
There is more this time than on the previous patrols.
Something hit me in the face. And I think I’m bleeding as I hit the ground falling over in some ditch. I try to get up before I’m mobbed, but fear I’m just going to bleed to death.
Then …what the hell? I’m alive? And it doesn’t hurt that bad actually.
Did that arrow miss?
Then there’s something like runes glowing around me and what looks like a blue transparent crystal like shield in front of me again. Dang, it gets hard to get used to that. I’d almost forgot that was there. I feel embarrassed for being a pansy though. Hell I almost thought I was dead, and actually I’m not even hurt that much.
Well…I think my nose is busted again. And there’s blood all over my face.
Wait, where’d it go? The blood is there but I don’t feel a wound. And there was this weird energy and light. Then I saw the arrow broken on the ground after ricocheting off the energy shield that human mage had put on me. .
Did I just get healed? I thought healing magic was gone? There are leachers and alchemists but that’s not the same thing. No one else is saying anything but trying to fight orcs.
As I’m trying to recover and get my guard up, I look up. And I feel dizzy too.
“Get moving! Fight damn it! Fight!” Gyle shouted to me, even as he’s fighting already. He’s already attacking an orc and fighting it off somewhat successfully.
Sunghee has killed four of them before I can blink. She moves fast and with an almost dance like pattern that is beautiful and elegant with deadly but solid sword techniques where she blocks and counter attacks quickly.
The mage put up some kind of force field up and the orcs are banging on it, while they scream and yell at us. Then he started picking them off with some kind of blurry, too fast to see, mana darts shooting through the air.
There’s all kinds of crossbow return fire and I think I just peed my pants.
Everyone is yelling and mad while trying to stay alive.
“Get moving damn it! You can’t stand there gaping like a fish!” Gyle yells to me.
Oops…I start moving, but my willpower feels sluggish as I see how ugly and big the orcs are. And their eyes are filled with pure evil that makes you want to run away. Even though dwarves do this sort of thing traditionally, it doesn’t mean we are good at it right from the beginning.
I can hear people shouting all around us.
“Die you son of a bitch!”
“HELP ME!” someone screamed, a dwarf I didn’t know that well really.
All kinds of profanity are all going back and forth. The psychology of war does weird stuff to people. You hear this constantly while fighting, dying, screaming, and bleeding all get messed together in an atmosphere that is so hellish you almost wish you were deaf.
I think I wasn’t the only one that had a near miss on wetting their pants. Everyone looks dazed and afraid when the skirmish is ending and we’re trying to find out what kind of shape those of us that survived are.
But Sunghee, Gyle, and Shun seem fine. It’s like they are made out of steel. I looked around.
Shun killed almost as many as Sunghee the blade princess.
Damn. I…wish I’d be a cool badass like that someday. But I didn’t even get my blade wet.
I gulped in stress. That’s bad…
A dry blade with no orc blade that looks too clean will let them see I was afraid and that I didn’t do my part. While the others are making sure everything is dead I plunged my blade in a dead orc just so I could fake that I’d been useful and hadn’t been standing around.
Good…looks dirty like a real soldier’s dirty blade even though orc blood is worse than shit. Crisis averted.
I think…I should have died just now if they weren’t here.