Part two in the series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Giving no outward sign of surprise as Pan emerges from his concealment in the shadows, nor when Rubin sheds his invisibility spell. He offers no resistance to the bounty hunters and crusader as they attach the magic bracelet to his wrist, even offering the arm for it to be affixed. Once the bracelet is firmly attached Oliver raises his voice with a question, “May I gather up some books and clothes for the road? I would rather not wear this one outfit for the entire journey.”
Verumalleus deflects the question to Telfor with a glance. The broad, leathery grey skinned man steps to the front of the group. Nodding at Pan and Rubin Telfor answer, “Go ahead, but anything you want just point it out and Rubin here will check it for magic and Pan will grab it for you. No offence, but I don’t trust you yet. Also, before you do, I want to know what’s down the other two corridors and why your cave is guarded by a pack of ghouls if you’re not a necromancer.”
Oliver raises an inquisitive eyebrow, “I’m sorry, ghouls? I have already told you, I’m not a necromancer. Perhaps you mistook some starving bandits taking shelter?”
“Bullshit, there was five freshly dug biters, and two older ones.” Pan snaps sharply, startling the sorcerer with the sudden intensity. Looking closely at Pan for the first time Oliver pales with fear a warding hand raised reflexively.
Stepping in between the two, Telfor gently rests a hand on Pan’s chest a non-verbal order to stand down. Relenting and returning to his usual coolness, Pan steps away from the prisoner as Telfor explains, “Pan here is a Revenant, one of the only survivors from a village a long ways north. He knows the undead and hates them better than anyone else. We found and destroyed a pack of ghouls when we first entered your cave and put them to the pyre. On top of that we found three tunnels, this and two others. Tell me what you know.”
The sorcerers gaze stays fixed on Pan as Telfor speaks, “The other tunnels lead to my food stores and lab. I have to eat, and I have no interest in practising magic and alchemy in my living quarters. I assume your asking me means you haven’t been into either of them?”
“That’s right,” Telfor replies, unable to detect any deception in the sorcerer’s words for as much as that’s worth, “And the ghouls?”
“By the light of heaven, I swear it, I have never even heard of undead in these parts. I’d thought such abominations kept to the cold places?”
“They do,” Telfor answers,
“Cold places and the lairs of necromancers” Pan interjects snidely,
Oliver raises his arms emphatically, “I told you! I am not a necromancer! I don’t know how any undead came to be in my cave, though I thank you for your service in destroying them.”
Telfor glances at Pan who shrugs dismissively, the veteran commander waving a hand at Oliver to go and collect his things. As the sorcerer hurriedly begins collecting things, keeping his distance from Pan as best he can, Telfor approaches Verumalleus and Vahkragg by the door. Pulling her letter from his pocket he offers it to her, only to be met by a raised palm and quiet word, “Our mission is not yet at an end, hold on to that still. When we return to Pike’s Reach, then I shall accept it back.”
Telfor frowns at her but knows better than to try to argue. They wait without speaking until Oliver returns carrying a backpack and a large tome. As one they return down the pathway into the cave, the pyre still burning hot in the sun. They made the short walk back to the road and the carriage without incident, loaded themselves and their equipment into the carriage and left.
Vahkragg drove the carriage, Pan electing to keep him company rather than endure Oliver’s wary stare the entire journey. In the back Rubin asks Oliver about his studies and the pair’s conversation quickly turns to indecipherable arcane jargon. Verumalleus sits silently with her eyes closed, seemingly in deep prayer or contemplation. Sighing quietly, Telfor looks out the window watching the woods as they pass.
It would take a little over a week to make it to the capital, Telfor thought to himself, with another five nights to return home after. He hated being away from his family for this long, but orders were orders and having a family means mouths to feed. The order to investigate and arrest Oliver had come to his group as they were the only deputised agents within a days journey of the cave. While it had been years since he had been released from the King’s army, Telfor had continued to work for the kingdom as a bounty hunter.
Law work was an easy enough gig this far out in the sticks. It was mostly just livestock thieves and drunken brawlers, with the worst being the rare highwayman. He’d been very careful in choosing his territory since becoming a father. If he’d had his druthers he’d have moved on from violent work but a man his age needed money or professional skills to change career and Telfor had neither. So when his discharge had come, he’d brought Pan and Vahkragg south with him. It hadn’t been a hard pitch to make, Vahkragg had nowhere else to go since he’d left his tribe on unfriendly terms. Though Telfor didn’t know any more than that. And Pan simply wanted to go somewhere away from where he’d died. It was only after they had begun to make a name for themselves in Pike’s Reach that Rubin had sought him out. As far as Telfor could understand him, the academic been after more practical experience in applying his magic and Telfor knew what a boon a practised magic user could be. Unlike the other Verumalleus wasn’t a bounty hunter, she was a crusader of Atyx, a god of the afterlife who opposed all necromancy, lawful or otherwise. She and Telfor had been friends for a long time, since before he had taken the king’s coin and joined the army.
“Stop the carriage,” Verumalleus suddenly exclaims, interrupting Telfor’s thinking, “Stop the carriage, Vahkragg!”
Obligingly, the giant draws back on the reigns bringing the horses to a halt. Instantly Verumalleus is up and out of the carriage, hammer and shield drawn and held at the ready as her eyes search the woods for something. The others, prompted by her posture similarly draw weapons and scan the surroundings.
“What are we looking for, Veru?” Telfor asks, gripping his sword tightly.
“Abominations,” her answer, “Their stench is powerful here, I don’t know how I didn’t notice it for so long.”