The River Bend
"I can smell the sage, skipper," Guir grinned from the bow of the Gosling. Fawkes Fairchild nodded. Guir sniffed again and sneezed. "There is thyme, too." "You've become a master of spices, Guir."
The sailor groaned and turned back to watching the riverbanks. Fawkes laughed. "Not seeing much of anything with this mist rolling in," Guir complained.
"Bristol, set her down!" Fawkes called out. He, too, watched. It was not the banks he watched. It was the mist. Guir spun to Fawkes. "H-how can you be sure, skipper?"
"The mist, Guir." Fawkes' voice turned grim. "It's too late on a warm morning for it to gather."
"Aye, aye, skipper," Bristol answered from the helm. He placed a hand on the hub of the ship's wheel and pressed. Nothing on the wheel moved but the Gosling started to gently sink from the sky. Bristol steered the keelboat down to a smooth landing in the middle of the river.
"Get ready, brothers," Fawkes ordered, his voice hard as steel. "We have arrived." Thirty men, who had so patiently sat cramped together, stood and hefted their staffs.
Into The Woods
"There." Guir looked sharply at the right bank. "Someone moves in the mist." Fawkes raised his arm high. All on the Gosling went still. He dropped his arm towards the right bank.
Bristol turned the keelboat and brought her in close. Fawkes jumped off the Gosling and onto the wet rocks. Two great dogs and the thirty men, his fellow acolytes, followed.
The First Fray
Flanked by the two great dogs, Fawkes led the scramble out of the water. The men behind him formed two rows and rushed up the bank to more level ground.
Wild men charged out of the trees wearing fur kilts, moccasins, and nothing else. Each bore sigils etched deep into his skin all across his torso. They attacked, swinging bearded axes on four foot handles.
No Quarter, No Mercy
There were fifty of these wild men, all with bloodlust in their eyes. Fawkes held no hope that they would surrender, or ask for mercy. Men such as these believed only the weak begged for mercy, or gave it, and they sneered at the weak. Fawkes and his brothers met them with fierce discipline and unfailing resolve.
The two great dogs tore into the wild men. One bit an arm clean off. The other pulled down a wild man and ripped his throat open. Axe hafts crashed against acolyte staffs that blocked nearly every chop. In a few savage moments, all the wild men were dead, but they were not the only ones.
Two acolytes lay among dead. Fawkes sent three more of his brothers back to the Gosling bearing wounds. There was no time for a rest, but acolytes were trained how to breathe and ease fighting muscles even as they marched.
They had to press on. The great dogs scouted the way through the misted woods while the men quietly followed. A half hour later, the trees opened up to a sprawling camp before a tall cave cut into a hillside.
The Reviled One
Gaunt and naked men in chains hobbled about doing menial tasks. Seeing the acolytes and dogs emerge from the trees, they scurried away to a corral. Simple pallets were spread about the corral. A captive's pen, Fawkes realized. No women or children could be seen. He grimaced. There was only one fate for women and children in places like this. He hoped they had arrived in time to save at least some of them. Mist billowed from the cave and the acolytes formed into a circle, bracing themselves. With shrieks and maddened screams, women and children charged out of the cave brandishing daggers. Their eyes held a ruby glow as unnaturally long black tongues wagged out of their mouths.
There was no time to despair over these lost souls. There was only time to kill them. The mob surrounded the circle of acolytes. Poison tongues lashed out. Acolytes ducked. Daggers jabbed in. Staffs blocked them. Not all of these were ducked or blocked. Two acolytes fell to the ground writhing in posionous death throes. A half dozen more bled from dagger wounds. Many women and children died. Their numbers were many, though, and the clash raged on. One of the great dogs let out a thunderous woof. The mist cleared for a moment, revealing four men in reddish attire and carrying clawed staffs creeping past the tents towards the acolytes' left flank.
Some of the acolytes broke free of the mob to deal with these summoners. Fawkes and his two great dogs also broke free to charge the cave. He hoped to save whoever remained inside. The true terror behind all this horror stomped out of the cave to meet him. It was the vile great demon, Ra'atik'kwa. Screams from more of his brothers dying joined the shrieks from the lost souls and the howls of unhallowed magics, but Fawkes dared not turn away from this new foe.
The Last Fight
Ra'atik'kwa bore down on Fawkes, roaring with glee and spraying hot ichor. Grinning, Ra'atik'kwa snorted at Fawkes, its huge clawed feet pounding the ground. The great demon licked its lips with a long black tongue as it neared. Fawkes narrowed his eyes. His foes always scoffed at his appearance, never realizing his boyish face hid his true age and experience until he killed them. The great dogs attacked Ra'atik'kwa from behind. The demon stumbled. Fawkes side-stepped the deadly charge. "Dew'l," he said and ran up invisible steps sprouting beneath his feet.
"Zi'i!" Fawkes yelled. Magic flowed through him. He delivered a powerful kick to the demon's head. Ra'atik'kwa bellowed and fell to the ground, eyes glazed. The mist thickened about them. Roars, shouts, barks, and the flash of magics ignited the mists. Beyond them, the rest of the acolytes fought on. More acolytes fell to the ground. The battle with the summoners clamored into the captives' pen. One summoner's clawed staff grabbed a captive. Another summoner drew a dagger and plunged it into the captive's chest, speaking foul words. Blood streamed out of the wound turning into a dark black swirl of vileness thirsting for more blood. A scream of terrible pain and an unholy bellow cried out together and all of the mist vanished. Fawkes and the dogs stood over a very still Ra'atik'kwa. Shrieks and maddened screams of the tainted women and children stopped as those not already dead fell lifeless to the ground.
The vanishing of the mist took the lives of the summoners, freeing the swirling vileness. It raged about the pen, killing everyone. "Slen," the last dying acolyte in the pen manageed to whisper. The swirling vileness faded to nothing. Fawkes drew a white crystal from his pouch, wincing at the claw-torn wounds revealing his ribs. With a shaking hand, he drew the essence of Ra'atik'kwa into the crystal then watched the demon's body melt into the ground. Pressing the shreds of his slicker to the caustic burns on his left side, he turned around. Three of his brother acolytes stood bleeding from wounds. Two more helped each other to their feet. The rest lay dead.
I saw the light fade from their eyes
On a wind came their last sighs. Leaves drift over my fallen brothers
While I say this last goodbye. Many places have we seen
Many troubles have there been. My heart doesn't regret, my mind won't forget
My brothers who dared all with me. To your memories I will hold,
My blessing to your souls. We came all this way
And we won this day.
Now to the Gosling I must go. I bid you all a very fond farewell.
Friends & Foes
Acolytes of BokiAcolytes are spell-casting monks devoted to Boki, the Goddess of Secrets. They are specially trained to battle against the unnatural. Their main weapon, when not using their feet and fists, is a staff. The degree of their faith and devotion to Boki enhances their attacks.
Wild MenHuman men who worship demons. They wear no armor and wield beaked axes on four foot handles.
Tainted SoulsMortals who have been implanted with a demon seed that gives them minor vile powers and mindless servitude to the source demon. The only cure is death.
GurA gur is a great dog that is a mystical mix of gargoyle and mastiff. Growing to nearly three hundred pounds and as sentient as a person, they can bite off arms. In addition to their deadly bites, a gur has a magical bark that can have powerful affects.
SummonerThese humans gain power by summoning demons into the bodies of their mad minions who strive to prove they are the best host for a demon. They then control the demon by controlling the host ... but there is always the risk a demon will reverse that control.
Though he stands 6' tall, Fawkes is not the brawny sort. In addition, his face just wont grow facial hair giving him an even more boyish look. He aids those no one else bothers to care about. Fawkes cares. He cares very much.
Ra'atik'kwaRa'atik'kwa is a greater demon who has been sent back to the Abyss by an acolyte master in the past. It has taken control of its master summoner and the small consortium of summoners its master is a part of. Powerful but arrogant, its own attitude is a weakness.
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