|| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Earthdawn-ish | Chapter 1 ||
After a few hours of steady walking, something moved in the bushes ahead, heading out into the path. They group stopped, except for Terzin, who climbed a tree. It was a skunk. It looked at them; they looked back, staying quite still. It was coming toward them. They moved aside to let it pass. It gave them another look and sauntered back into the woods.
They didn't see anything dangerous that day, although they passed very near Isaac Chandler's house out in the woods; he didn't seem to be there. Nor did they trip over any of the search parties still seeking (with dwindling hope) for young Mortimer. They made camp somewhat north of Crapaud, their spirits still high, although Jared was the only one who didn't seem tired over the course of the long day's marching.
The next day was also quiet; at its end they were outside the territory any of them knew, beyond where they had fought the bull toad, which just made everything that much more exciting. That night, they heard a chorus of distant yips and howls beyond their camp. During the third watch of the night, the yipping grew closer. A half dozen small wild dogs came into the camp. They were about eighteen inches high at the shoulder, fairly common out in the woods. They didn't seem to mind the fire, just wandered on in and started nosing around in the packs.
"Hey! Shoo!" Robin ordered, trying to chase them off. One of them nipped at her hand, but she snatched it back and kicked the little dog across the clearing. It yelped, then howled in a strange tone. The other dogs stopped what they were doing, turned in unison and stared at her. She recognized that look in a wild thing: they were seeing food. And however laughable they might appear, six of them attacking at once when she didn't have any armor might be a handful. The others were waking up by then, scrambling for weaponry. Harrick observed that the dogs usually traveled in packs of 20 or 30; they were lucky. The dogs attacked Robin en masse. She assumed a defensive position just in time. They could jump pretty well, not quite high enough to snap at her face, as she swatted them away.
"Terzin, get the stuff, climb a tree!" It wouldn't do to have them running off with the party's food. Swinging her spear through the mass of leaping bodies, she hit one solidly and tried to stab a second but missed it completely, driving her spear into the ground. The first dog, the one she had kicked, had started rooting through the packs again. "Cut that out!"
Harrick growled at the dogs, trying to scare them away, but they ignored him. Terzin charged over to the packs, sword out, and swatted at one. The dog staggered back a few steps, its howl increasing in volume, the sound reverberating through the night-shrouded forest.
Terzin grabbed up the packs as Jared went after another of the dogs with his spear and nailed the wounded one. The dogs all turned towards him, seemed to glance at one another, and vanished into the woods, leaving one dead dog behind.
"They'll be back," Robin prophesied tensely.
"I'm torn between moving camp, and knowing that it really won't matter," Harrick agreed. The dogs would find them, and there would be more of them.
Jared started putting on his armor. That seemed like an awfully good idea. They prepared to keep a closer watch for the rest of the night, cached the food in a tree, and built up the fire. Eyes appeared outside the camp. Lots of eyes. Everyone got their weapons ready and stood with their backs to the fire.
Harrick's roaring charge took everyone by surprise, including his comrades; the eyes disappeared, but howls sounded from not far away. Terzin moved out a few paces, found himself flanked, and retreated again immediately; the dogs hadn't gone far. They stayed awake for the rest of the night. After a while, the dogs seemed to decide that the odds weren't all that good, and vanished. Terzin started to nod off.
Twenty dogs poured into the camp with a fierce howl to attack the travelers, eight of them on Terzin, who gave a surprised yell. His leather cloak provided little protection from their teeth as they harried him. Robin speared one as four attacked her. Harrick fell back on his Thorn Dart spell and virtually obliterated one of his own attackers. Jared's segment of the pack gnawed futilely on his armor; he had his fishing net ready and captured all four of the dogs attacking him.
More thorns spewed forth from Harrick's hands, toward one of those attacking Terzin, and again seriously wounded one of them before they could regather to attack. Strange yips and yowls came from the pack; the dogs vanished again. The defenders cheered.
There was no sign of the little beasts for the rest of the night, or during the following day. The ones they had killed made a decent breakfast, though, and saved them putting a bigger dent in their rations. [Dogs are not generally considered pets in Crapaud; they are more likely to end up "toad kibble."]
Thanks to the night's lost sleep, they moved on more slowly that day. They lost more time tracking down and killing a two-year toad, which did help save their food, since it seemed their estimations of how much they would need had been off. By evening they suspected that they were near the lost town; not wanting to stumble into the place in the gloom, they made camp and prepared to move on when they were better rested.
Harrick spent some time in reshaping the bushes around their camp into a low wall, molding them like clay. It would at least prevent a mass dog attack if they came back. The food they cached up in a tree, hanging from a branch, and felt reasonably secure against further attacks.
On Harrick's watch, the bear appeared. It put its paws inside the enclosure, sniffed around, looked up toward the food. Climbed over the barrier. The others had woken up. Trying to attack the thing did not seem like a good idea. They stayed quite still while it nosed about. It started to climb the tree, got out on the branch the food was tied to. The branch bent slightly. The bear tried again, growling. No good. He dropped down with a thump, appeared to glare at the group, and shuffled off into the woods again. They had a hard time getting back to sleep for a while.
Morning came without further incident, and with a renewed sense of excitement. They had weathered all the challenges, they were young and well-rested, and mystery lay ahead. They got their armor on, weapons to hand, and moved out along the riverbank. About an hour later they came across the first buildings, three-quarters buried in mud. The town had been built on the east-facing side of a hill that sloped down toward the river; the higher dwellings had been less affected when the water level rose, but the entire place had been overgrown by the forest. Robin found the usual animal tracks; there was evidently a second bear in the area. The place did not appear to be unnaturally deserted of life, at least.
Terzin stopped to check out a mud-filled house, and didn't find anything of interest. The place had been cleaned out a long time ago. They headed uphill to get a better view of the area. There was one two-story building with a collapsed roof, which appeared to have become a bear den. At the top of the hill they found the cemetery, enclosed by a low wall. It had crumbled in a few places, so they climbed through and looked around.
There were a lot of headstones, three larger crypts, and some kind of statue in the center. It covered a couple acres, all told.
You know, now that we're here, this suddenly doesn't seem like such a good idea, Terzin thought, looking at the graves, but he didn't say anything. It was a couple hours before noon. They stayed in a tightly bunched group, working their way around the perimeter to the south. For some reason, moving widdershins did not seem like a good idea.
They reached the first crypt. Robin looked for prints in the neighborhood, found some animal tracks around the solid stone structure, but nothing else. The weather had been pretty hard on this one; the door had some cracks, but didn't look like it had been opened. They kept going, reconnoitering. The second crypt was at the back of the cemetery and crowned the hill, with a commanding view of the town. It was in better condition, and there were footprints leading up to it and away, two people and fairly recent. Within the last month, she judged, telling the others. They kept going and reached the third crypt, was well away from the wall. More tracks around the door, two sets, one a much larger person than the other, which might have been a woman or child. They moved back toward the wall to finish their circuit, nerves humming with tension. The signs of recent human visitors seemed likely to mean nothing good.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers et al