As I leap from my bed and go to investigate the screams that had awoken me, I can’t help but think to myself: I should’ve known.
I run through the tented hallways, moving swiftly, knowing that every second wasted is a second longer that the Princess could be in danger. I slip and slide through a muddy hall, before ducking and rolling to go under a rope that was strung across the entrance way to my chosen path. I scramble to my feet and stretch out, forcing myself forward with tiny blasts of magic.
In a few minutes, I’d run to the dorm where my companions had spent the night. I flip over the heads of some goblins crowding the doorway, and land on my feet in the middle of the room.
I can’t say I was at all surprised to see the scene that greeted my displeased eyes: Anne—looking tough and ferocious in her red and black long-sleeved shirt, ripped jeans, and fingerless black gloves despite her slim limbs—standing in the middle of a small army of enraged goblins. Her fists were raised, her eyes dark, her face contorted in anger. “Get the hell away from me,” she screams as I land, “You rotten, rotund runts!”
And let’s give the girl a prize for alliteration in insults, I think to myself with a weird sense of pride.
I was just about to step in when a puppy jumped in from the outside window.
And everyone but my less-knowledgeable companions took to our feet and sprinted from there.
I can only imagine the confused looks on their faces at the sight of short fluffy goblins and a tall leonine elf sprinting from a tiny border collie puppy…..
But I still can’t help but wonder what impulse made Anne pet the little puppy….
Because, two seconds later, there came a massive WOOF!
And the entire massive tent shook, and debris flew everywhere.
A few seconds after the explosive bark, I stagger to my feet. I’d escaped injury, but I knew my companions wouldn’t be so lucky.
Worrying and tired of all of this already, I go to investigate the wreckage of the dorm room.
There was no sign of the puppy, I was happy to note. However, the wreckage that awaited me was worse than I could have imagined: The beds were shattered, the blankets ripped to shreds and scattered all over the floor, and splinters scattered everywhere.
So this is what happens when you leave people alone with puppies, I think to myself. You’d think mankind would’ve guessed that petting puppies only leads to sonic barks.
A bit worriedly, I start hunting around for my companions. I spy Leslie easily—she was sitting under a blanket, trembling and afraid. I spotted Joey conked out on the top of a pile of debris a few seconds later, Anne lying sprawled underneath him. So there was three of the four—where was Max?
I give the room a swift once-over; it didn’t take me long to realize that searching for him was hopeless. It would take far too long.
So it was time for an alternative method….
Within my mind, I curl up, pulling in the tendrils of my mind until I am hidden deep, my awareness dwindled away to nothing. I keep my mind there for a few brief seconds, before with a shriek inside, blasting my consciousness out into the surrounding area, passing through debris and tent walls like they weren’t even there.
In seconds, I have found Max.
And it didn’t look like I was gonna have an easy time of getting him out….
Fighting back the fear, I run to the side of a pile of debris about two feet taller than me, collapse to my knees, and start digging. I lift pieces of bunk bed ad hurl them behind me, shred my hands on nails, and wince at the lice that nibble at my skin. But I keep digging.
Maybe two minutes later, I came across his hand, and thank the fates that it’s still attached to him.
Ten minutes later, I’d uncovered the rest of him. Max was unconscious, but in one piece.
I picked him up and carried him out of there, setting him outside the room to be tended to as soon as I checked on the others.
Back in the room, they were just starting to move again. They seemed pretty conscious, and no real bleeding wounds. I sighed, and helped them to sit beside a still unconscious Max.
We were on the road within minutes of Max’s awakening. I found that we had definitely overstayed our welcome—Anne hadn’t been much of a help to us when she kicked a goblin after she found them too irritatingly cheerful to not be damaged. And then Anne petted the puppy, causing it to bark, which practically destroyed their entire home.
All in all, I was very disappointed in my companions.
They were riding hard, trying to keep up with me as I sprinted ahead down the dusty road, leading them towards a river where I knew we could find a faster mode of transport. Unconsciously, my mind sends out blasts of magic to increase my speed, before I recall Lady White’s wishes for me to not utilize my magic unless absolutely necessary.
I sigh, and let the magic go.
As my speed drops, I cast a look to the cloudless sky, framed by the overreaching branches of oak trees. I smile at the wilderness, and breathe in its scent.
And then a much fouler scent comes to my attention….
I’d stepped in horse poo.
I close my eyes, sigh, and think to myself, Alright, Avery, how bad is your situation here? How bad is it really?
Well, not all that bad. I was just thrown out of the home of some of my oldest friends, I had DESTROYED that home as well, and I have been sent on an impossible quest made even harder with excruciatingly bad companions and an order to use magic as little as possible.
I sigh, and lift my foot. I look at the unappealing mass for a few seconds, before deciding it’s not worth attempting to get off.
And so I resume my run, guiding them to where I hoped we would have a better chance of continuing our journey.
I don’t get there for a very long time.
About halfway to the river, I decide to stop for a rest, and collapse in the moss by the side of the road. I wait patiently for the others to join me, and ignore their pleas for more food as I distribute the rather generous rations I had been carrying on my back all this time. How much can humans eat? I think with wonder as Joey devours several slices of chigrala, an elven patty made of vegetables, spices, and herbs. And Leslie eats even more. Instead of taking slices of the valuable food, she takes handfuls, and barely seems to even bother with chewing.
Feeling a bit sick to my stomach, I nibble at my half a slice, before returning the remainder to my pack to join the other packages of chigrala that await in its depths.
“We’ll spend ten more minutes here. I’d suggest you take care of all bodily functions required before we resume riding,” I tell them, and don’t bother to listen to the griping, “We should be to the river in a few more hours of hard riding.”
They scatter almost immediately, Anne and Leslie going to the northeast, and Joey and Max to the southwest. Me? I remain where I am. Elves produce very little waste—we eat very little, and almost all of it is utilized in one way or another.
In ten minutes, Anne, Leslie, and Joey all return to camp.
Fifteen minutes later, Max still isn’t here, and Joey has no idea where he might be.
Clenching my teeth, I go to see if I can find the wayward human.
Lucky for me, the trail Max had left was expertly hidden.
By a human’s standards, that is.
In other words, the trail Max had left was as plain to elven eyes as a bright red ribbon against a green leaf.
I follow his trail, breathing in his human scent, following the bent branches pushed back into shape and the grasses he had attempted to unflatten. How did these humans survive? Weren’t there any real trackers where they were?
Anywho, the run to find him was a brisk one. In about three minutes since the start of my tracking expedition, I came upon him:
He was standing in the mouth of a cave.
The stalagmites and stalactites stand tall and go deep, their tips sharper than should be natural, the mouth of the cave appearing to have taken the term ‘mouth’ perhaps a bit too literally. And the two openings above the cave’s mouth? They were almond-shaped, with a weird light glowing from inside them.
With a sinking feeling, I realized how short a lifespan Max had.
And there was practically nothing I could do about it.
The only thing I could hope to achieve was perhaps a swifter death, or maybe a bit less torture at minimum.
Or….maybe I should just leave him here? It would make my life a lot easier, and we probably would move a lot faster with one less human to worry about.
This is about when I get hit on the shoulder with a rock.