Legends of Cobalt

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Lovely, Dark and Deep

“What’s that?” I pointed into the woods.

A set of glowing red eyes shifted through the fog and trees towards our camp. Branches around us creaked in a steady, footstep-like pattern.

Bucephalus scrambled to his feet and scooped up his shield. “What’s what?”

“That,” I pointed at the glowing eyes. Another set of eyes flickered to life on my right. “And that.”

“I don’t like this.” Bucephalus fidgeted with his hammer. “I don’t like this at all.”

The last licks of our fire sputtered out. Darkness rushed in. Four more sets of glowing eyes converged on our camp. Bucephalus kicked a new log onto the hot coals. The fire flared back to life. Six humanoid figures made of twigs and branches haunted the edge of the firelight. I dove back into the tent.

“Get up! We’re under attack!” I shook both of the girls awake.

Wood scratched at metal. I tossed my scabbard down and rushed back out of the tent.

The living brush piles pushed into our camp. One scraped at Bucehpalus’s shield while the others circled around him. Ceph jabbed the point of his war hammer into the one attacking his shield and shoved it back.

I stealthed forward, sword at the ready, and cut off both of a living shrub’s legs from behind. The wooden creature clattered to the ground like a bundle of sticks. It swiped at my shins with sharp claws. I bunny hopped over the living shrub’s attacks and kicked it in what would be its face. I bounced back and readied myself for another round of attacks.

A second living shrub broke off their attack from Bucephalus and turned toward me. The second one swiped at my head. I dodged backwards a step and blocked with my sword. My sword sheared through the living shrub’s wrist like butter. The first shrub balanced itself on one arm and slashed at my groin. I twisted my leg to shield my sensitive parts. The shrub’s claws tore through the fabric and flesh of my thigh. 

I screamed in pain, recentered my chi and plunged my sword into the shrub’s back. It fought against the length of steel locking it in place.

Wyanet sprinted past me. She tackled the second shrub and rolled towards the fire. She plunged an oil-soaked torch into the coals and pulled back a lit torch. Wyanet sighted a target and hurled the torch at a third living shrub. The torch lodged itself in the shrub’s torso. The shrub forgot about Bucephalus and scraped at the blooming flames in its chest.

“Destroy them with fire!” Wyanet lept to help Bucephalus.

The handless shrub lunged at me and wrapped its spear-length arms around me. I searched for a way out, the shrub crushed me against its body. Fifteen feet away our hand axe rested in the trunk of a tree. I headbutted the mass of twigs and used the little leverage I had left to break free. The bark and thorn-covered limbs of the shrub scratched at me as I pushed clear of its embrace. I took a deep breath and focused my chi. I vanished into the cold, secret pathways of shadows. 

The shrub stabbed at the ground where I vanished. I reappeared behind the tree with the hand axe. I pulled the axe free and threw it at the shrub. The axe chopped deep into the shrub’s neck. I chased after the axe. I jumped into the air, twisted my body into a flying side kick and knocked the living shrub’s head off with a loud snap.

An explosion showered the campsite in twigs. Wyanet and Bucephalus dove to the ground.

“Ha! It worked!” Phebes knelt in front of the tent, bow in one hand and a clutch of arrows beside her.

Wyanet scrambled to her feet, ready for another attack. “How did you do that?”

“Olivia told me how some Elven warriors could charge their arrows with magic to do a variety of things. She walked me through the basic principles of casting, but I figured out the blasting arrow on my own.”

“You could have killed us.” Bucephalus pulled twigs from his fur.

“But I didn’t.”

The legless shrub continued to struggle against my sword. I yanked my sword free and hacked the shrub’s head off. “What are these things?”

“Vengeful trees, blights on the world.” Bucephalus lifted a shrub corpse and dumped it on our dwindling woodpile. “The influence of evil awoke them from their slumber and gave them a thirst for blood.”

“Are there more of them?” Wyanet dragged another corpse to the woodpile.

Bucephalus up-ended his flask down his throat. “Undoubtedly.”

I slid my sword back into its scabbard. “Should we make a run for Spinel?”

“No point to it.” Bucephalus stuffed his empty flask into his rucksack. “When beset by shadows, one should dwell in the light. Besides, Spinel locks their gates at night. They don’t want any of the monstrosities that roam the woods getting into the city.”

“Double watches for the rest of the night.” Wyanet put a hand on Bucephalus’s shoulder. “Get some sleep, we’ll move out at daybreak.”

***

Thick fog clung to our camp. We tore our camp down in five minutes and shouldered our packs. The fog parted, revealing a towering figure who stood hunched over. The figure beckoned to us with a long, slender figure at the end of a multi-jointed arm. The figure locked eyes with me and smiled. The image of the Elven woman from my dream flashed across the figure’s face.

“Does anyone else see the creepy old witch?” Phebes knocked an arrow.

“Ignore him. We do not have time to waste.” Wyanet braced her spear on her shoulder and walked toward the road.

Phebes took a step towards the figure and tugged her bowstring back. 

Bucephalus forced Phebes’s bow down and pushed her back. “Hags are more trouble than they’re worth.” 

The hag’s visage shifted to the slender elven maiden. She smiled and laughed at me. “Everything you’ve ever wanted.”

Bucephalus’s firm hand snapped me out of my trance.

“Let’s go, before anything else creeps out of the woods.”

We jogged with weapons in hand back to the road. Muddy ruts stretched south. The hag appeared on the road behind us and beckoned us back. We ignored her and pushed forward.

We walked for three hours. Heavy mud caked our legs from the knee down and spattered everything else. Nothing ventured out of the forest to accost us. We walked through the grey misty morning until the forest vanished. 

The road continued two-hundred yards through a field of tangled weeds and gnarled shrubs. The road ended at an earthen rampart crowned by a wooden palisade of interwoven branches. The air reeked of old wine, rotten fruit and excrement. Two half-dead guards manned a flimsy wooden gate.

Bucephalus flipped up his hood. “Welcome to Ringtown. Don’t ask anyone for anything and assume everyone will gut you for an apple core.”

We waded through throngs of skeletal people. Their eyes bore into us like the fangs of a hungry wolf.

“What is this place?” Phebes slipped her cloak over her sword.

“Food got scarce and the land wouldn’t grow anything. Refugees flocked to the cities hoping to find food and work. The city could only take so many people, the rest set up a camp outside the city gates. It didn’t take long and monsters from the forest pressed into the camp. The surviving refugees, and the new ones flooding in, built the wall to keep the monsters out. They have little food or clean water, and Spinel ignores them.”

A gang of teenage boys beat a shrieking creature in a shadowed alleyway. Wyanet ducked down the alley and the rest of us followed her.

“What is going on here?”

The boys stopped what they were doing and backed away. Hatred glittered in their eyes. A bloody, battered body lay on the ground between us

“It’s one of ‘ose monsters ‘at brought ‘is plague on us,” the oldest boy spat. “If you ‘elp it, you one too.”

The gang of boys changed their stance and moved towards Wyanet.

“DISPERSE!” Bucephalus loomed behind Wyanet with crossed arms. “We will defend ourselves.”

The boys hesitated, sized up Bucephalus and retreated down the alleyway.

The body on the ground struggled to its knees. A goblin pawed its broken fingers and hands at us. Blood poured from several fresh cuts and dribbled from the goblin’s mouth. “Tank you, Tank you.

Wyanet knelt in front of the goblin. She slipped her dagger from her belt and sliced the goblin’s throat.

The story will continue, August 20th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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