Monday, August 11, 2014

Tales of Urth - Book 1: Chapter 3

Chapter 3
A Feathered Favor

“A talking chicken?!” said the dwarf incredulously, poking at the white feathered thing at his feet.
The chicken scoffed in a strange sound that garbled together the perturbed cluck of an old hen with the impatient sigh of an obstinate teenager. She ruffled her feathers in annoyance, looking from one member of the party to the next.
“It seems hard to believe and yet there it is,” stated Damar simply.
“What is your name, chicken?” asked Jamfire, his voice was slow, punching out each word as if he were speaking to a dumb child.
“It’s Karenna,” replied the bird with a sigh, her voice laced with impatience. “And you don’t have to speak to me like an idiot, just because I look like a chicken doesn’t mean I can’t understand you.”
“My apologies Corna,” Jamfire said with a humble bow.
“Karenna. I saw you take on those brutes at the tavern. I thought you might be great warriors, now I am rather concerned you are wandering idiots.”
“We meant no insult, bird, it isn’t everyday you see talking livestock,” said Titan with a chuckle.
“Fine,” replied Karenna, “just tell me this, are you great adventurers or not?”
“Adventurers, certainly,” said Damar, “but great?”
“Speak for yourself, lad!” Titan pulled his hammer from his belt, striking a heroic pose. He smiled like he had swallowed an ounce of sour cheese. He tossed his hammer in a show of agility, but immediately dropped it when the pommel inelegantly struck his palm. The hammer struck the ground near the chicken and sent her flying in a cloud of dirt and feathers.
Titan looked about sheepishly.

Karenna squacked and preened her feathers back into place. She looked up at the three. They hardly struck an imposing silhouette. Her angry golden eyes softened and she sighed again.
“Very well. It isn’t like I have much other choice around here. Anyone else in these parts would rather destroy a magical chicken than offer to help it.”
“Magic?” repeated Jamfire with interest.
“I am not ordinarily a chicken,” Karenna turned to the curious elf who was now squatting to get a better look at her.
“Please, tell us your story, Garuna.” Jamfire sat down near the bird, like an excited child ready to hear tales from a village elder.
“Karenna. I will tell you what I know, but the details are a bit fuzzy.”
“Or feathery,” the dwarf interjected.
The red-combed head of the bird turned to look at Titan with a glare that could cut glass.
“Do you want to hear me out, or make jokes?”
“Titan, please, some respect. Perhaps we can help this poor bird.” Jamfire turned his attention back to Karenna as she hopped onto a pile of debris. The others gathered in and sat back down into the shadows of the old barn.
“As I was saying, I am no ordinary chicken. As best I can tell, it was over a month ago, I was working in my family’s farmstead up along Ilnukle Pass. It is a small farm, mostly a few milking cows and goats. My parents were killed a few months before my eighteenth birthday. They died during one of the worst winters we ever had, and though they were strong, it proved just too much for them. I did all I could to care for the farm after they were gone.”
The others looked solemn for a moment, each one suddenly thinking about their own strained and painful ties to their families in far off lands.
“Where was I? Ah, yes, about a month ago. I started having trouble with creatures coming down from the mountain woods and attacking my livestock. Shapes in the night. At first, I thought it was foxes, or even windcat that was trying to pick off an easy meal. But after late nights out watching the animals, I heard things. Voices. Though what language they were speaking I will never know.
“I did my best to keep the animals safe and calm. They seemed too nervous to keep in the pens, but terrified of staying in the barn. I stayed with them in the barn, trying to keep them as calm as I could. One night, I fell asleep in the hay while trying to watch them. That was the night the creatures attacked. They were no foxes or cats. They were like terrible little red men, all scales and teeth. They couldn’t have been more than three feet tall, ugly as sin.”
“Red you say?” asked Jamfire, digging through his younger years reading through scrolls of the strange creatures that propagated Lominore.
“Like him,” Karenna sort of shuffled dirt in the direction of Damar in her closest attempt to point.
The others looked at the Tartarean, the dim light giving his otherworldly skin an almost purplish pallor rather than its usual crimson brilliance.
“What happened?” asked Damar, if for no other reason than to draw attention away from him.
“The creatures attacked the animals. I awoke to the sounds, not to mention smells, of their terror. That was when I saw them. Trying to flee back to the house, they attacked me from behind. The world went dark and when I awoke I was in a place I certainly didn’t recognize. I suppose it could be called a room, but it smelled like a foul hole in the ground. All was dark until the creatures returned. One carrying a bowl of glowing mushrooms to light their way. But they were not the same as the ones I saw in the barn. This group was different. Similar little red creatures were there, some with ornate curled horns, but also with them were what I know to be goblins, their ugly hog-nosed faces snarling in that stupid chatter they call a language.”
“Gobbos!” said Titan in fascination, his use of the common slang term wasn’t lost on the others. Jamfire tried to stifle a laugh at the dwarf, wondering if he actually had anything against the creatures, or was playing up the goblin-hating dwarf stereotype.
“There was a third creature there. A strange one. He wasn’t dressed for battle like the others, he had no weapons on him. He wasn’t much taller than the tallest goblin in the group, but was certainly much wider. He had a frame not that dissimilar to yours, dwarf.”
The adventurous excitement drained out of Titan’s face.
“He was no dwarf though.”
“And what did these creatures do?” asked Damar, growing a bit impatient with the long story and still wanting to get further from town before daybreak.
“It was this third creature. He wore long robes and a hood wrapped in strange sigils. I could practically smell the magic on him.”
Jamfire’s elven ears perked again at the mention of magic.
“He certainly was some sort of mage or sorcerer. It was he who put this spell on me. I watched him hold aloft three wooden objects. When they came together, he spoke in a strange and foul tongue and the objects glowed bright in the dark room.
“I felt nothing. I awoke with a start one morning in my bed. But as my head cleared, I quickly realized it was no dream. Surely enough, I found myself in this body. I squawked and flapped around the house futilely for the better part of a day just trying to comprehend what had happened. I am sad to say it took even longer for me to figure out a way out  of the farmhouse.
“I have since that day been looking for anyone that might help me get back to my true form.”
“And that’s where we come in,” stated Damar.
“I would like to hope so. There isn’t anyone else.”
“Good to know you have such confidence in us,” said the dwarf, twirling the hammer on the ground beside where he sat.
“I’m sorry. I am from these parts, and I have grown up not finding most people that reliable. I should have more faith,” her voice changed slightly, becoming warmer, “perhaps I can trust you more merely because you aren’t from around here.”
Jamfire stood.
“Of course you can! We would love to help.”
The others looked up at him, startled.
“We would?” asked Damar, pulling himself from his shadowy perch.
“Of course! Why not? A chance at adventure? An opportunity to help someone, rather than worry about them turning us out on our ear.”
“Any treasure in it?” the dwarf wondered as he stood, pushing himself up with his hammer before returning it to his belt.
“Sure. Whatever,” the chicken replied. “You can keep whatever you find.”
“There we go! Magic! Intrigue! And Loot! What more do you need? What do you say Damar?”
They turned to look at the Tar who stood with his arms crossed, his face hidden under his damp hood.
Damar thought about it.
What was he doing here? What did he travel all this way for? Was he looking for something? Or was he really just running from something. Perhaps it was both. But what could he find in this gods-awful land he found himself in. Was the rest of Lominore this way? Was his only chance at belonging with a dwarf, an elf and a chicken?
He scratched absently at the scale-like plates that lined his jaw and sighed.

- - -

It felt like it had been hours since their run in with the men at the tavern. But no sign of the light of dawn seemed to breach the eastern horizon. Damar wondered at what time it could be, when even the first glimmer of false dawn failed to show as they began walking. He was at least glad to be farther from town. He had hated to think what would have happened had they been found squatting in the old barn.
They followed an old cart path that cut across the rolling hills south of Hedgemeadow. They passed under the looming gaze of thick stone pillars that Jamfire claimed once held a mighty road used by the ancients. Damar barely paid attention as his mind wandered, putting one foot in front of the other as he kept in step with the others. Their little line was lead by the fluttering Karenna. She flapped her useless wings occasionally to hop over a puddle in the mud. She stayed mostly silent, merely heading in one direction with her adventurers following closely behind.
No more than hour after passing the ancient stone ruins, and barely two since they had left the shadows of the old barn, the sky once again lit up. Lightning ripped through the clouds in branches of white light, jumping across the sky. The rain wasn’t far behind as those same clouds opened up and unleashed their torrents on the hapless travelers below.
Damar was broken from his spiraling thoughts as the cold water soaked through his cloak and he fought to keep from losing a boot to the growing mire. Lightning cracked above him, hurrying his steps as the storm barreled down over them.
They were standing in the middle of the farmstead before they could even see it. The rain came down in heavy sheets, the clattering sound of raindrops on wood the only give away that there were buildings nearby.
Jamfire picked up the soaking wet chicken and tucked her under one arm, doing his best to shield her from the rain.
“Up ahead, to the left.” Karenna shouted to be heard over the rain.
The dwarf spurned on to be out of the rain, ran ahead. His shins quickly found the farmhouse, as he crashed into the front steps of a weather-beaten wood farmhouse.
“Ow! Ulric’s fist!” the dwarf cursed. He hopped about to shake the pain from his legs. “Found the house!”
He hobbled up the steps under the protection of the wooden porch. He rubbed his shins. They would certainly be bruised, but no more than his pride.
The others hopped up on the porch and out of the rain. Jamfire set Karenna down on the wooden boards where she did her best to shake the water from her feathers. She looked as miserable as only a soaking wet chicken could, with mud-flecked feathers plastered to her scrawny frame.
Damar pulled his hood from his horned head and shook his arms to release the water from his sleeves. He had once had pride in his cloak, it did well enough to hid his face and tail, but he was beginning to find its ability to absorb rain quite irritating.
“This is your farm Karuma?” asked Jamfire.
“Karenna, and yes. This is it.”
“They looked out the porch at what would be the farm, if they could see through the pouring rain.
Titan, his hammer out in caution, pushed at the door of the farmhouse. The door stayed firmly shut.
“How did you end up getting out of this place anyway?” the dwarf asked, trying the door with his hand.
“Opening doors isn’t exactly easy when you don’t have hands,” she replied, still shaking the remaining water from her body. Eventually I through myself through a cracked window and nearly knocked myself unconscious.”
Pushing on the door with his shoulder, the stout dwarf managed to force his way in. The wooden door creaked and cracked as it scraped against the floor on crooked hinges. The dark one-room farmhouse smelled of damp and age. It hadn’t fared well in the strong storms as numerous leaks in the ceiling dripped onto growing puddles on the bare floor.
Digging into his oversized pack, Titan pulled a small iron box. Fumbling with it for a moment in the dark, it suddenly burst to life with a spark. The small storm lantern bathed the tiny house in yellow light.
There were simple wooden shelves holding spices and jars, an open chest filled with musty blankets and old clothes, and a large four-post bed made from carved wooden logs and a simple frame. Atop the bed lay a mess of blankets and white feathers.
Titan heard a rattling behind him and turned the lantern to the other side of the room. Jamfire was looking through the various pots and pans of the kitchen. If it could even be called a kitchen. Against one wall of the house was a series of shelves and cabinets and a flat counter that faced the barrel-shaped stove near the center of the room. Doubling as a furnace to warm the single room home, the stove sat like a squat iron dwarf under a wide exhaust pipe that ran up through the ceiling. The rain outside clanked against the exposed metal pipe above.
Damar walked around the room, watching the others, listening to the storm outside. As he walked to one end of the house, he could hear the pounding rain better than before. He saw the broken window. His boots crunched broken glass as he stepped closer to the window, peering out into the rain.
A shadow of movement caught his attention in the downpour. Damar’s vision wasn’t built for the dark. He could see better than most humanoids in the bright blazing sun of a summer’s day, but his intense reptile-like eyes were almost useless in the dark.
“I think I saw something outside.”
Jamfire rushed up behind him to look out the window. The dwarf returned to the doorway.
“I do not see anything,” Titan called back inside.
“Nor do I,” said Jamfire. “But it might still be worth checking out. Karenna, you said there is a barn, how many other buildings and how far?”
The chicken was slightly caught off guard by the elf actually getting her name correct.
“Uh, just the outhouses and an old shed that collapsed before winter. They are right behind the house. The barn is about thirty yards past that. It is built up against the mountain wall.”
“Alright,” said Jamfire,” as soon as this rain lets up, we head for the barn. If anything is out there, we will find it. Until then, we stay here and be prepared incase anything comes looking for us.”
The others nodded.
Titan came back inside and pushed the door shut again. He turned up the oil on the lantern to let it burn brighter before hanging it from a metal hook fashioned on the side of the furnace pipe.

They sat in the farmhouse and waited as the storm raged on outside.

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