This week’s story has turned out to be much longer than I anticipated, therefore I will be splitting it into two parts. SUSPENSE!
This week’s cards:
They were still several meters away when they first caught sight of the gate. Clinging to his companion’s massive right horn, Korin did not even notice it at first, not until Wuump came to a sudden stop, groaned in his throat and extended a trunk-like front leg towards a spot in the near distance.
There was no stately façade around this gate, no grand arches to announce its presence. Just a narrow slit in a boulder emanating a subtle red glow if one were looking close enough.
Korin stamped his hooves in defense against the moonlit cold, goosebumps breaking out over his bare arms. His breath condensed into thin clouds as he exhaled a sigh of anticipation.
“That must be it,” Korin whispered into his companion’s ear.
“Weeeeeee,” Wuump’s whisper gusted through the treetops, half word and half bellow.
“Well, when your trade is hedonism and murder, I would imagine you’d want your outposts to keep a low profile.”
“Mmmmm,” Wuump lowed, Korin assumed in agreement. “Nowwww?”
“Well there’s no way you’re going to fit in there. Let me down and I will see what I can find out.”
He held tight to the horn as Wuump lowered his head to the forest floor. Korin shielded his face from the scrape of twigs as they descended.
Korin leaped to the ground, trotting in circles to warm up his legs. It seemed like he had spent days perched atop that behemoth since they first encountered each other in the field of Marathia, and Korin’s whole body felt stiff.
“Wait here for my signal, and…try to keep out of sight.” Even as the words left his mouth, Korin realized how ridiculous they were when delivered to the face of the reptilian bull the size of a small mountain. He swore he even saw Wuump raise an eyebrow at the absurdity of this advice.
Nevertheless, Wuump gave a single nod in understanding, then slowly began lowering the rest of his body to the ground. As Korin set out in the direction of the gate, he could hear the crack and rustle of saplings and dried branches being crushed under the weight of his companion’s body. Of all the sneaky little wretches that slither out of the Gruul Clan, he would be saddled with the most unsubtle of all for a traveling companion.
Korin glided through the darkness in a direct counterpoint to the noise behind him. Perhaps the cacophony would draw any snipers away from the gate long enough for him to reach the antechamber. If he could reach the antechamber, that should be enough.
Korin could feel the weight of his saddlebag slap against his right haunch as he trotted through the forest, the bounce of the small blue bottle, the slosh of its contents. He tried to push away the memories of all that transpired in the name of acquiring that ingredients contained within that bottle, but they were too poignant to be denied.
Korin and his brother clerics of the Kasarna training ground had been on a quest looking for certain elusive herbs fundamental to their healing and spiritual practices. After months of combing the woodlands, finally their search had yielded results. They were returning to the Selesnian guild with their treasure when they were ambushed in the field of Marathia by a band of Rakdos marauders, spiny things with spells to match.
It had been a massacre. All of his compatriots were lost, and Korin was lucky to escape with his life, and a few of the precious herbs that had cost his brothers so dearly.
He was pursued for hours by the assassins, galloping through thicket and swamp until they lost his trail. Finally, he was able to find respite between the edge of a pond and the base of a craggy hill. As he leaned down to drink, the mound of dirt behind him started to convulse and emit a deep, sorrowful moan.
He reared back in defense—surely this had to be some kind of Rakdos trick—when the mountain unfurled itself to reveal a large beast, several houses tall, with the skin of a lizard, the body of a horse and the head of a bull. And he was crying, big pendulous tears sliding down its bovine face and landing with a splash that soaked Korin to the bone.
Korin recognized the monstrosity immediately as a member of the Gruul clan. Not a particularly reliable bunch, but certainly better than a Rakdos serpent.
“My woodland brother, what is the matter?” Korin shouted through the thunderous sobs.
Between his rudimentary language skills and his watery hiccups, the creature was barely coherent. But eventually Korin came to understand that he had been traveling with his four siblings (a sight Korin shuddered to picture) when they had been accosted by a monstrous flying creature, sooty black with the kite-like wings and the face of a demon. It gave a casual fling of its claw, and one of his sisters exploded into a cloud of dust. Within a few moments, all of his siblings had been obliterated.
Before departing, the demon turned to him and said, “We spare your life to serve as our messenger. Tell the world that Rakdos is coming.” With that, it took to the sky.
Korin shuddered at the whole gruesome picture: the slain Gruul, the flying terror, and the thought of Radkos roaming the planes once again. He could not bear the thought of it.
“What is your name?” he asked of the blubbering soul in front of him.
“Wuuuump,” came the answer.
“Wuump.” Korin felt foolish uttering the nonsensical syllables, but he stuffed down his pride and continued. “Wuump, it grieves me to say that we share a common sorrow…and a common enemy. If you will help me track these foul things to their guild gate, I promise we will vanquish them before they can harm another family. Do I have your allegiance?”
Wuump sniffled, twirling up a small dust storm as he did so. After a moment, he gently placed his large hoof on the ground in front of Korin, taller than Korin’s considerable height by several feet.
Korin set his palm against the wall-like foot in front of him, sealing their pact. An instant later he was rummaging through his saddlebag for the few remaining herbs.
“Don’t worry,” he said as Wuump tucked his feet underneath himself, nestling back into the earth the way a hen roosts into her nest. “I know exactly what to do.”
TO BE CONTINUED…