"One, two, three... run."
They broke into a sprint. Something large and loud moved through the woods to their right, keeping pace easily, then darted ahead. When it was well ahead, it stopped.
Robin felt a deep need to have a weapon in her hands, and slowed a bit to looked for a suitable fallen branch. She felt better once she'd found one, and tried to catch up to the others, wincing with the resurgent pain of her recent wounds.
"Guys, wait up a little bit?" They didn't seem to hear her. A loud crashing came from her right; she spun to face it. Something very heavy hit her square in the back and knocked her to the road. She twisted around and came face to muzzle with a nightmare standing over her.
It looked something like a dog the size of a pony. It had six legs, and its mouth seemed to have been turned inside out, so the fangs were all on the outside.
It cackled. Then it said, "Don't worry guys, I'm fine, I'll catch up!" In her voice.
"Help!" she yelled.
"Don't listen to it!"
"Son of a fucking" Robin slammed her makeshift club into its throat and scrambled up and away while it choked and coughed. Then she ran like hell.
She made it maybe twenty yards, and then heard it thundering after her. No sign of the others. If I live to see the dawn I'm going to kick Dubricus' ass. The beast passed her easily. The unnatural jaws flashed in the moonlight as it bit off her club about six inches from her hand. She wasn't going to outrun it, but she tried anyway.
It danced around in front of her and snapped at her. She jammed the edge of her shield into its mouth, choking it again, and ran on, but it was soon in pursuit. She suspected that it was about to stop playing with her. Toad farming was starting to look attractive again.
A shooting star flew past her head, and a hideous yelp came from the thing behind her.
"Go! Go!" Reese shouted at her from farther down the road. They had found a longer length of branch, which Dubricus had lit on fire and Third had thrown with deadly aim into one of the creature's eyes. They got one glimpse of the thing's burning head as it flailed around on the road before it ran into the woods, toward the river.
They ran the rest of the way to the Keep and banged on the gate, ducked under the lifting portcullis and didn't feel remotely safe until it had closed again.
"Thank Shaw you're okay!" Sabine greeted them.
"What. The hell. Was that," Robin panted.
"Leucrotta. Class 5 elemental," Dubricus replied, gasping as well.
"Something happened on the way there. It took much too long."
Sabine shook her head ruefully. "Mendel's a wizard. He was working for the people there. He's apparently able to manipulate peoples' minds."
"That would explain it."
"He must have stopped us on the road, and told us to wait there until he was out of sight," Dubricus guessed. "He probably thought it was funny."
"Stole my fucking sword, I'm going to kill him." She'd gotten rather fond of that sword. There wasn't much else to do but collapse at that point, exhausted by the long dash to safety.
In the morning, Jared was finally up and about, but it was still going to be at least a couple of days before they were back in the best of shape. Robin told them all about her adventures of the previous day. Terzin obviously felt guilty.
"Wasn't your fault."
"I knew I should have gone with you...."
"Did you cast a spell to make us stand still for oh, five hours in the middle of the road while our weapons got stolen? Didn't think so."
"Son of a bitch. I knew we should have checked him before he left."
"Is Martin around?" Robin asked.
"No, I haven't seen him all day," Dubricus realized.
"I saw someone who looked like him leaving the Keep after us. Has anyone seen him?"
No one had. Or Jedael, for that matter. They decided to find Sabine and see if there was a problem.
On their way, Robin stopped in her tracks and said, "Oh, shit," as something she should have seen the night before finally came clear. "Guys," she interrupted their discussion urgently. "Mendel went to join the nethermancers. He knows about the plan."
"Yes," Terzin confirmed.
"They're going to be able to slaughter the Winterkin before we can join up with them."
They realized that she was right.
"I have to get out there," Terzin announced.
Problem was, none of them was in condition for a battle. "Hey Dubricus, do you have any healing spells?" Harrick inquired.
He did, as it turned out, have one in his books which he himself was unable to cast. They resumed their hunt for Sabine.
"We sent two people out with messages," she told them. "Jedael was one, following the road. Cobb was heading directly south." Following the river, he could make very good time. Assuming that the river was clear all the way to Crapaud, of course.
The person who had slipped out after them must have been Martin. They checked his place, but found no signs of nethermancy, or even a note. The two Elementalists retired to Dubricus' room and spent the morning going over the healing spell's specifics. Robin crossed over to the other half of the Keep to update Devereau.
"What do you have to tell me? I've just heard from Sabine about your adventure last night."
She hesitated. "The situation seems to be deteriorating rather quickly, sir. With Mendel's departure, he can alert the nethermantic forces about our plan. Terzin is going to head north as soon as he can to warn our allies. And Brother Martin seems to be missing."
"I wouldn't concern yourself with Brother Martin right now."
In that case, she wouldn't. "We're going to try to get ready to move as soon as possible, with your permission sir."
"He's planning on going on his own?"
"I believe so. He can move very quietly and stealthily through the forest."
"All right." He continued to pore over the earth map.
"There's some sort of new elemental creature along the road, a leucrotta."
"Not surprising. There have been several in the area in the past few years. They're dangerous, but they generally don't attack groups larger than five or six people."
Four unarmed people, on the other hand....
She waited in a respectful attitude for any orders that might be forthcoming.
He sighed and seemed to think aloud. "I don't see how we're going to be able to match their forces."
"We could just pull back into the Keep, I suppose," she offered tentatively.
"I don't see that as being a valid option. What would happen then is that the Winterkin you've already organized will get themselves killed, and"
"We could bring them."
He seemed to consider the mental image that produced. "No." They would most certainly rather die than take shelter in the despised Keep. "All we can do now is move as quickly as we can. Tell your cousin to go. Follow after him as quickly as you are able. Let the Winterkin know that we have troops that will be moving out, not many but some." The rendezvous would be on the path above the valley, the one leading to the bugbear grazing lands.
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