In the scrub, we lurked. Five strong and all veterans. Across the white stones of the road I was barely able to pick out the pair of dwarves, both bald heads covered in thick caps of braxat hide from which stuck twigs and leaves. To my left were the twins, both dirty halfbreeds but each as deadly as they were scarred. They lay silently, prone, flanking a log fitted with makeshift handles. I grabbed the crossbow from beside me and brought it to a low, ready position and went to my stomach as I heard the rumble of large wooden wheels from beyond my sight.
A brief vision appeared in my head of Kalis, our eyes to the east. His burly, halfelven form approaching out of the haze of my psyche, telling me quarry had arrived. A single wagon drawn by four kanks, build for speed but riding heavy. Nenyuki markings. Four guards on the back. Today was going to be a very good day.
Soon enough the black wagon came within view, rolling easily across the well-tended white stones of North Road. Sighting down my crossbow, I frowned as I looked across the front of the wagon. No chance for a shot on the driver. Even though the front of the wagon was open, a shimmering black silk cowl was pulled over the gap, letting sight pass only one way. I heard a softly muttered chant just over my left shoulder and scowled as the wind picked up for a moment, and the twins vanished. Magickers. I could live without them, but it's easier not to. It's unhealthy to piss off a pair of brothers that can light you on fire or fade from your eyes with a word, and many tales had been told of curses laid on those who crossed them. Curses which stripped fortune, luck, friendship, and in one memorable case the reproductive organs of the target. We work well together, so we do. We survive. I saw a footprint in the dust appear at the side of the road, and then nothing. The wagon continued.
As it passed my position, I firmed my grip on the crossbow and sighted in on the guard in the middle. All human, excellent. Should be easy. I tightened my grip on the trigger and the guard fell over. Quick, painless, and without a sound he toppled forward off the back of the wagon, his head colliding with the white stones below and streaking them red. Confused, I glanced down at my crossbow to regard the bolt still within. My mind raced... the dwarves were the hitters, distractions. Neither of them had anything better than a knife to toss. The twins were more flashy than that, and always, always waited for my signal to strike.
I my thoughts derailed as I heard the panicked bleating of a kank, simultaneous with seeing the dwarves burst out of cover to the other side of the wagon. A flint headed axe flew from Flagger's tattooed hand, imbedding itself deep in the thigh of one of the remaining guards. A flash of motion caught my eyes back down the road. I glanced, and immediately regretted.
Small forms, like children, scuttled and leaped onto the road. Four of them, done up in bright paints, feathers, claws, and loincloths, they chattered excitedly to each other in what sounded like bird calls. I groaned inwardly as they reached the fallen guard, the expression on those childlike faces remaining innocent as they sniffed closely and began to drag the man off the road. Halflings. We'd been sitting in the middle of them without even knowing it.
A loud crash drew my attention back towards the wagon as the twins went into action. Both forms and the log they carried had been as visible as the wind itself. Holding the log on the same side, to the rear of the wagon, they'd swung it in hard to the spoked wooden wheel. It caught easily, the motion dragging it out of their hands and up where it collided with the bottom of the wagon itself. Spokes sheared and splintered as the back of the wagon hit the ground like a wounded carru, still doggedly dragging itself along by the panicked kanks. The remaining wounded guards were thrown off of the wagon. Gromp's axe rose and fell in a bright white arc, bone flashing in the sun as the blade bit down into a guard's forehead, eliminating any chance that he'd be paid for this run. Flagger sent the first grappling hook flying towards the top of the wagon, it caught. The rope stretching from it began to uncoil from the scrub as the second hook took flight.
With a loud crack, the ropes pulled tight, yanking brutally at the upper back of the wagon and lifting the front wheels skyward. A flash of brilliant red flame from near the front of the wagon set the kanks free as the rigging was splintered under the undomitable power of Krath, guided by one of the cursed twins. The kanks set off at a terrible pace, careening down the road and bleating in panic, the shell of one on the rear still limned in flame. Flagger reached the back of the wagon as it was yanked to a halt.
Frozen in place, I could only watch as the burly ex Bynner stormed to the rear door and began placed a heavy stone wedge into the door frame and nudged it in with his hammer. His burly arms cording and bunching with muscle, he drove his hammer forward, splintering the lock and popping the door open as he gave the wedge a sideways strike with his hammer. Swinging open, two crossbow bolts whistled out, almost invisible to the eye, racing down the road after missing Flagger.
Unfortunately, they didn't entirely miss. A loud, feral cry of pain sounded from down the road and the woods went quiet. To my dismay, I saw one of the smaller halflings had been struck in the groin. Flagger looked back, his face paled. I heard some sort of a whistle, high and keening.
A hissing from nearby gave Gromp's poor face a quill-like texture. Several small black needles protruded from his features before he let out a strained croak and toppled forward. Flagger ducked through the door and I immediately heard the raged bellowing of a wounded dwarf rip through the open doorway, quickly followed by the running form of a Nenyuki wagon pilot. The twins, near the front of the wagon, faded from view one after the next. A muffled, wet chopping sound came from within the wagon.
Silence. The kanks were gone, the wildlife had gone quiet under the ruckus, and Gromp's immobile form lay as still as the stone supporting him. I saw the halflings approach from down the road, four of them carried off Gromp and another five waited near the other side of the road, watching the wagon. I held my breath.
A tickling on my right hand told me I wasn't alone. Glancing down, I groaned inwardly at the sight of a tembo beetle crawling over my skin. I felt the burn of venom from below its walking claws, but dared not move lest it latch both main pincers into me. I waited as the line of irritated flesh grew with the beetle's progress. Sweat beading on my brow, I watched it stop to clean itself for a moment before moving on. The door of the wagon slammed shut.
My hand exploded in pain as the beetle gripped in and bit down, my teeth lancing through lower lip as I struggled to keep the scream inside. I watched the beetle scurry off, leaving my hand to slowly inflate. I'd live, if it wasn't female. I didn't know how to tell the difference.
My unwounded hand trembling, I weighed my chances. Do I risk the motion and take the antidote? I always carried a spare. In my belt. My vision began to swim as the poison took hold on my eyes. Color began to blur, my tongue felt fuzzy. The air was filled with the scent of purple. Tiny kanks flew around my head. I fought through the poison. I'd taken such things many times back in the Kuraci spice houses. I can handle this. I closed my eyes.
I tried to think about my heart slowing, about being calm, but I only got as far as realizing how completely pleasant it is to lay here motionless in the grass. The pain from my hand faded to a dull warmth, and I couldn't be sure if the blackening of flesh was my sight or my skin. Opening my eyes, I glanced towards the remains of the wagon as a vision of Flagger popped into my head. He said something. I laughed... he said it again, only a lot louder, but it didn't matter. I tried to ask him where he'd gotten the steel caterpillar he was riding. He vanished.
I felt water fall from the sky. Water didn't fall from the sky, but sure enough, I'd just felt it. I squinted down at my unwounded hand as another drop landed. Maybe it wasn't water... maybe it was wine? It had the right color. Another drop. Another. I lift my hand up, sniffing at it. I lick. It tastes salty and like lightning. I feel the rush flow through me and I let out a soft sigh, closing my eyes again.
A soft thump near my hand draws my vision back from behind shuttered lids. Small, reddish and white, glistening. I pick it up with my fingers and I'm staggered by the similarity. Sitting up, I look down at the severed digit resting in my palm, mind making no connection as I study Kalis' spiked ivory ring.
I hear a rustle from above. I look up.
Small feet, small hands, and a big, sharp toothed grin. Falling. If I'd been sober, the spear racing through my chest, driven by his weight may have hurt. It didn't. I tried to giggle and spat blood all over the child-like features. It was hard to breathe, but I couldn't figure out why. The air tasted funny.
I felt hands touch me from all directions, lifting me as I stared skyward, my vision whirling and slowly fading to black. I closed my eyes, knowing I was safe in the hands of my new friends.
The tribe ate well that night. Flagger became very rich. I lost some weight.
The motto of this little story? Eat the krath-damn pill.