"Of course, there'd probably be big runnel marks in the ground," he admitted, looking around and seeing none. There was some money, however; Terzin's keenly attuned eye discerned six silver coins scattered around the skeleton. That pretty much ruled out bandits.
Brother Martin bent down to take a closer look. "Every major bone has been fractured," he noted. The marrow remained in the bones, so nothing had been trying to get at that. "Unless whatever killed him was vicious to the point of laying into the corpse until it had broken every bone.... The hip joint here, which is remarkably sturdycracked."
They all agreed to avoid the top of the hill, at least until they knew more.
"We could camp out for a while, see if it shows up," Terzin suggested, pocketing the silver pieces until some convenient time came for dividing them.
"Where to now?" Martin asked.
"In all honesty, and as much as I have a certain inclination to go tearing willy-nilly through the forest, it's not going to do us any damn good and we know it," Harrick admitted.
Their knowledge of the local geography was still unfortunately scanty when it came to identifying potential bandit camps. From their vantage on the hill, without the mist that obscured the view on their last visit, they could see that the main river ran east-west and looped around their hill just to the south. The Goblinwater joined up with it from the north not too far away. A fairly sizeable, oblong island lay within the join of the two waterways. Like the hill, it was treeless and rocky, with high grasses growing over stretches of the ground, but the far side was hidden from view. It might make a good spot for bandits to hide out. Terzin offered to take the no-breathing stone and check the place out.
"Just to scout around."
"We can do that, I suppose," Harrick agreed.
"As long as you're confident that you won't be captured, or seen," Martin said in a worried voice.
"Seen???" Terzin replied, deeply offended.
They descended the southern slope of the hill and made a camp near the riverbank. It was thirty feet to the island's shore, and the current ran quickly around it. Terzin stripped down to his trousers and shirt and bound the stone securely against his skin with a strip of cloth, put his knife in his teeth in case he needed his hands free, and dove into the cold, murky water, swimming a few feet under the surface. He was almost immediately lost to the sight of his comrades, keeping anxious watch on the shore.
It took a few minutes to get used to the fact that he had no urge at all to inhale, but he crossed the river without difficulty. Unlike the other shore, which had a rather gentle slope for some distance before dropping, the island rose straight up from the water, and he swam about looking for a way onto the land. He found a cave, or a tunnel of some kind beneath the water, leading beneath the island. He waved a cautious hand within the opening, half expecting something to bite it off, but nothing happened.
Then something grabbed his legs and yanked down, hard. To his shock, he realized it was a lizardman, its tail thrashing back and forth as its dragged him deeper into the water, one arm wrapped around his body and holding his left arm immobile. He grabbed his knife with his free hand and stabbed down at the thing, but the blade bounced off its scales. Then they hit the river bottom. Terzin stabbed at its head.
The lizard pulled away to avoid the blow, rolled a heavy rock onto Terzin's leg, then pulled a spear from behind its back and waited for him to drown. Terzin had no inclination to try to fight this thing in its native element; he rolled the rock off his leg, not quite avoiding the lizard's spear thrust at the same time, and struck out for the surface, leaving a trail of blood. Unfortunately, it was faster than he in the water; he could see daylight when the lizardman latched its arms around his midsection again and began dragging him back down.
On shore, the others heard what they assumed was a fish splash in the river and thought it was taking Terzin a very long time. Maybe he'd swum around to the other side of the island.
They were heading down again. He'd lost all sense of which direction the shore with his friends lay. Kicking and thrashing furiously, Terzin managed to turn himself around in the lizard's grip so they were facing. The lizard, which seemed to have lost its spear, had finally figured out that for whatever reason, the human it was fighting didn't need to breathe. It let go of him to get enough room to bring its fangs to bear, but Terzin put on a sudden burst of effort, pushed off with a foot from the creature's nose, and headed back for the surface. He broke through closer to the island than to the bank and started splashing over toward the latter.
He got five strokes before he felt claws catch into his trousers and shred the cloth below his knee. He could feel the ground underneath him, and then the lizard caught his foot and yanked it out from under him, dragging him back under again. He lost his grip on the knife, which sank into the muddy water, never to be seen again.
Galvanized into action, Jared tied one end of a rope around his waist and waded into the river.
The lizard's teeth ripped at Terzin's flesh but did not close and hold him. Free of its grip, he managed to get his head back out of the water and saw Jared coming out to get him, grabbed hold of the rope and used it to pull himself back onto the shore. Jared clambered back up behind him, keeping a wary eye out as Harrick threw a few Flame Gouts into the water for good measure.
"That was a bad idea," Terzin announced, collapsing on the bank. "I was about to climb onto the other shore, and it just grabbed me!"
"What?" Robin asked.
"What?!" Martin sounded shocked. "No doubt a disciple of the snake-god Yaa."
"I think so," he agreed.
"Oh, shut up about the delusional snake-god Yaa," Harrick muttered, still intent on poaching the lizardman if it had been foolish enough to hang around. No sign of it.
"I'll decide what is and is not a delusion," Terzin replied stoutly.
"Where are you hurt?" his cousin asked.
"Where aren't I hurt."
"So what happened?" Harrick asked.
"I was about to crawl up on the opposite shore when it grabbed me. I don't know if it was swimming, or defending its lair, or what."
"Defending its lair?"
"I assume there was a lair around somewhere," he shrugged as Martin began bandaging his wounds.
"You only saw the one creature?" Robin asked.
"So, there are lizardmen somewhere in the area," Harrick said.
"That's rather disturbing," she agreed.
"There hasn't been a lizardman in the area in ten, twelve years," Martin told them.
"Excuse me if I argue with that statement," Terzin replied.
"There were some before?" Robin asked.
"Yes, when King Daniel came in originally they had problems with them in the swamp, a bounty was put on them."
"That could explain why they got better at hiding," Harrick remarked.
"Devereaux decided that they were simply too much of a threat, they were killing people in the swamps, put a bounty out on their heads, adventurers went out and did what adventurers do, and we thought they had all been killed. They had thought, obviously, I hadn't been here. There hasn't been one around here in...."
"Five minutes," Terzin finished for him.
"Other than the one that just attacked you, there has been no evidence of reptilian creatures in a humanoid form within a decade," Brother Martin snapped. "Are we clear?"
"So, unless the bandits and the lizardmen are working together, there aren't any bandits on that island," Robin said. It would make getting back and forth rather hazardous.
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