Strangers Meet

Posted: May 10, 2017 in 1. Norasburg, Rears Its Ugly Head, Tall Tales
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Shan watched the strangers approach under the careful supervision of her soldiers.  Six of them had been assigned to search the surrounding woods.  They had been successful in their duties as evidenced by the four strangers they escorted.

She noticed as she took stock of the newcomers that Abeth had shifted position to place himself between her and their surprise guests.  It was imperceptible to the outside observer but Shan knew he had re-positioned himself so he could quickly step between herself and danger.  Shan expected no less from him, as a soldier in the service of the faithful it was his duty and honour to give his life in place of hers.  Both Shan and Abeth kept a hand on their weapons.

The first thing she noticed was the large man who brought up the rear of the group.  He was at least a head taller than those around him, to Shan’s eyes he looked even larger than the lumberjack that accompanied her.  To be fair, this giant of a man looked very similar to the lumberjack; long, wild hair, and unkempt beard, dressed in a muted brown.  The handle of a large weapon stuck up behind his head.  The man walked with more confidence than the logger had ever displayed.

In contrast to the largest of them was the woman, the only woman in the group.  She wore a brownish-green set of pants and tunic made of a heavy cloth.  A small blade hung from her belt and a sturdy staff was held in her right hand.  Long, thick dark hair hung in a loose braid from her head.  She looked well kept compared with her massive male companion.  She was the shortest member of the four.

To the right of the big man was the second smallest of the group.  He was dressed head to toe in dark garb, his body engulfed in a cloak with his head hidden within the hood.  The dark cloak kept most of his physical details from view but a crossbow stock could be seen sticking up over his shoulder.

The fourth individual was at the front of the group.  Physically he was in-between the two other men, closer in size to the smaller of the two.  He was draped in woodland colours like his companions but had a shirt of short-sleeved chain-mail that covered his leather clad torso.  A curved sword was strapped at his side, the only weapon that could be seen on his person.  He had medium length brown hair and a closely trimmed beard both of which were peppered with silvery-grey.

Shan’s soldiers were alert but relaxed.  They didn’t see the strangers as a threat just an oddity to be brought to her presence.  They presented no outward signs of aggression; their weapons were holstered and their hands clear of the handles.  Like her soldiers they seemed relaxed but cautious.  Dust could be seen covering their feet and lower legs, they seemed to have travelled a distance to arrive here.

“That’s close enough,” Captain Abeth declared.  He didn’t wait for the group to stop.  “Where are you from?  Who are you?  What brings you here?”  His voice was distant but friendly.

“We are here,” the man in the chain-mail shirt answered, “to provide some help to you, I suspect.”

“What help can you provide us?”  Abeth asked.

“May we get off our feet?  We have journeyed long and could use a rest,” he responded.  “We’ll answer all your questions.”

“We’ll make camp here,” Shan instructed.  “Have the rest of the tents checked.  Let me know what is found,” she told the waiting soldiers.  She turned to the wagons, “let’s bring our guests something to eat and drink.  We’ll be in the mess tent.”  She indicated the large tent.

They settled in at one of the tables in the tent; Shan, Abeth, and the four newcomers.  There would be soldiers waiting just outside the tent entrance in case of emergency and the wagon drivers would be making use of the kitchens just to the back of the main dining tent.

“It’s good to get off my feet,” a deep rumble came from the large man as he sat down at the table.  His large axe had been taken off his back and now rested against the table behind him.  The woman sat at his left hand, her staff also left to lean against the table at her back.  The man in the chain-mail sat to the woman’s left.  The other man sat alone at another table still hidden within his cloak.  Shan and Abeth sat down across the table from the three.

“I am called Shan,” she opened the conversation, “and this is Captain Abeth.”

“A pleasure.  I am Craig.  My large friend is known as Thomas.  Esther is our druidic priestess.  Samuel is in the back.”  Shan nodded in greeting to each as they were introduced.

“You said you could help us.  With what exactly?”  Shan asked.

“Let me ask you a question first,” Craig responded.  “Have you found any bodies?”

“We’ve only just started the search,” Shan answered.  “We haven’t found any so far.”

“And you won’t,” Craig declared.

“How do you know that?”  Abeth asked.

“Let me start at the beginning,” Craig started.

“We come from a hamlet named Shatterook, far to the east through the forest, on the edge of the endless desert,” Esther added.  “We have journeyed for weeks, tracking a group of the undead through the trees until we arrived here.”

“The undead?”  Shan asked.

“Ghouls,” Esther spat out.  “A grotesque parody of humanity.  Corrupted through the dark arts that raise them from the grave.  They possess none of the grace of the living, their bodies are twisted into almost animalistic proportions.  They are a perversion of life.”

“We had caught wind of a planned ritual to animate about half-a-dozen of these monsters,” Craig took over.  “We arrived too late to prevent it.  The ghouls were raised and on the move by the time we arrived.  Ghouls are tireless, ravenous hunters that we couldn’t allow to disappear and potentially prey on our people.  We followed them through the forest and, to our surprise, away from Shatterook.  Their choice of travel is confusing.  Ghouls are opportunistic killers, moving away from a large source of food is bizarre.  We followed them with very few breaks to rest until we finally ran into your soldiers.”

“We didn’t see anyone but you,” Abeth commented.

“No, they would have been gone by the time you arrived,” Craig agreed.  “Off to their next meal.”

“Another camp,” Shan replied.

“The closest one,” Craig agreed.

“There’s only a handful,” Thomas put in, “it’ll take them time to consume the people.  We should be able to catch up with them before they leave the next camp.”

“We’ll set up our base camp here.  We can guard the river crossing from here,” Shan directed to Abeth.  “We’ll take six soldiers with us.  Choose your best, we leave in an hour.”

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