Into The Maw Part III: The Aftermath
The adrenaline started to to wear shortly after and I was finally able to take in sight of what we had just went through. Several bodies lay strewn about, limbs missing, organs freed from their rightful place, blood from one joining others in a massive pool, and a giant owl bear to the far end in an equally large pool of it’s own blood. “Well, I am tired and I am sure as hell not cleaning this up. I’m hitting the hay” said Kurgar. He then grasped onto a bloody cot and dragged it outside and started to go to sleep. “Oh he cannot be serious. Yes it is late but much more work needs to be done” Boris said. He surveyed the area with great intent and finally decided to plop down in a small puddle of blood next to the body of Fat Nori. Well what was rest of Fat Nori.
Boris with surprising macabre strength then started to rip into the remains of Fat Nori, seemingly like he was trying to find something. “Oh heavens man. What on earth are you doing?” I say in disgust. “These men could have swallowed something valuable when we initiated our attack” he replied. “Well I assure you Boris, the only thing that you are going to find in that man’s stomach is his lunch.” Stonehands I noticed started trotting to the corner with a rather pale look on his face. “Speaking of lunch, excuse me, I am gonna lose mine” which he said in a hurry. Right after that Stoney vomited and hurled until he was in dry heaves. “I did not figure him for a weak stomach. Interesting…” said Adra. Stonehands was then starting to wipe some puke from his chin as he spun around to address me and Adra. “Ya know I understand how this madman over here digging into people isn’t disturbed by this. Though you two, come on. How does this not disgust you” as he gestured to the bloodbath that encompassed the room.
Adra simply shrugged. “I’ve seen worse”. I did not even have a response. To be honest I did not even give it a thought at all. I mean yes the stench was slowly beginning to fill my nostrils and some of the bodies in particular were displayed in a gruesome fashion. This oddly enough did not bother me at all. It made me think right there and then, after everything I have been through since I have left home, just how desensitized I have become. That I do not even bat an eyelash to a scene of slaughtered bodies. Huh. I wonder if this is why I drink a lot, to repress something? No, nope. That is not it. Damn, am I more like our Inquisitor then? I turn and see Akiros turning into the room to survey the damage as he made his way to the courtyard. He had this certain expression on his face that the death he was looking at was inconsequential. I really hope that was not the same look I wore
“Aha!” shouted Boris as he popped up from the body he was searching. He sprinted towards us and held out in his bloody hands a small leather pouch to which he opened to show it’s contents. “See there was something in that man. I knew it. What is it by the way?” Me and Adra gave a once over at the powdered contents and said in unison “Drugs.” He smiled as he tied the pouch back up and stowed it away in one of his belt pouches. “Well drugs are quiet valuable. That is sure to net some good value to someone.” Adra stepped forward and stared him down. “So you will knowingly break the law for financial gain?” Boris laughed. “Then we can arrest the person who bought the drugs, take the drugs back and resell them. I say it is a way to weed out criminals and raise profit for us.” Adra scowled and turned away from him. “Why do I even bother” she said.
Shortly after that Stonehands found another bandit named Topper Red, which he quickly added that he seemed to be like Akiros, a decent man in the wrong place. Adra rolled her eyes and still took to questioning him and interrogated him sternly. I did not get the notion that the man enjoyed nor partook in evil acts, so I decided to lump him in with Akiros to see if redemption and atonement was an option. In our talk with him we did get from him there was someone else downstairs. An old prisoner that the Stag Lord kept in the basement. That his sole purpose was to keep him alive just to beat, cripple, and maim.
“Sounds like that could be pappa Stag Lord” Boris said. “What on earth makes you think this poor old man would be that monster’s father” I said. Boris was lost in thought for a moment and replied. “Well I would imagine that someone like the Stag Lord would kill anyone who got in his way. Though if he is keeping the man alive to just hurt him, then it is personal. It is an older man and this Stag Lord clearly had issues. So all signs point to it being his father.”
We gathered up and headed down into the basement to see to this poor old man. Upon entering the celler, a horrid stench hit us. This was more akin to that of blood that sat around to long, sweat that clung to clothing for ages, and feces that has sat around even further. We did find a small cell to which contained nobody, or so I thought. The old prisoner in question turned out to be some horrible magic user as we found him darting back and forth on the wall. We did not even had a chance to use words with the man for he attacked us first, sending hordes of rats and an ant that was my size in a direct attack against us. This all was happening while Kurgar decided he needed his beauty sleep. The battle faded quickly and the old man was promptly knocked out. This man set off my internal alarms and once again that white, hot feeling of hate washed over me in this man’s presence. Me and Adra agreed to let the man sleep off the beating to which we would give questioning in the morning.
We all wearily headed back up, piled up all the bodies in the owl bear pen in case they got back and started walking around again. Hey there were zombies next door, it could have happened. Better to be paranoid about nothing than being oblivious. We then tried to get the best rest we could outside the compound. The next day would have to hold a complete search of the fort, questioning of the old man, and a clear decision of what to be done next.
I started to tussle and turn in my sleep, for which thoughts we what kept me awake. The whole situation of my House being entangled in a war had me worried. What made it worse was that I knew so little and all I had were questions and possible scenarios playing in my head. I opened my eyes and just stared there, in my bed roll, just looking at the stars. I reached over, grabbed my sword and held it close to me. “Hell of a night. Man that was awesome. You see the way that oaf looked at you when you spilled him! Jeez I miss moments like that” Darius said enthusiastically. “I am happy you could enjoy that particular moment” I dryly responded. “So. I noticed that you had an episode back there when the mean dwarf was getting chomped on by the owl bear. Care to explain?” he said. “Just an empathic backlash. Reminded me of you a bit in your last moments. Did not want to see anything happen to anyone in my group.” The image of my friend Darius laying against the wall with arrows, two small hatchets, and a sword protruding from him kept flashing in my head. “Yea but that dwarf is an asshole. If he died, one less problem for you in the future right?” I sighed as I thought about it. Yes it would technically be one less problem. It would not be the right thing to do though. “Even though the man has been crass, he has been loyal to the goal. Regardless he is part of the group. That is all to it.”
Then the thought of losing my family started to play in my head. Seeing my father, my brothers, mother, sisters….everyone in that same position and pose that Darius was in started to haunt me. “I need to talk to you about another matter. What do you think of me….possibly staying here? Setting up a safe haven for my family. For anyone for the matter?” Everything was starting to eat at me. If something were to happen to my family I would want them protected. Sheltered from a war that need not to be fought. They could be here. With me. Here we can start a new life. This land requires so much help. The short time I have been here I have already come to that conclusion. I have seen it bad before. Corrupt cities, unsupported hamlets, and others of the likes. This was a bit different. Those were establishments that had other people that could possibly, maybe do something. Here though, out in the Green Belt. There was chaos. No order, no help. Just nothing.
“Well that is ambitious of you I will give you that. I like it a lot better then you running onto a massive battlefield and getting your head lopped off. Then you are dead and some other jackass takes me off your corpse and probably melts me down.” I stayed there looking up at the stars examining each one with purpose, like somehow there, I was going to find an answer to my problem. “Well you never actually told me if the idea was good or not” I said. Darius sighed and grumbled a bit. “Does not matter what I think. Seems you set your mind that you are going to stay here and take this damn spooky sunken fortress. Sword Lords are not going to like it if they want you out and set you up elsewhere.” I thought about it for the moment and smiled. “No. Something tells me I was meant to be here. Everything that has happened as of late. I bet they will just say thanks for taking care of the immediate threat down here and I will be good to go.”
I heard crunching of gravel near me and I sat up quickly ready to unsheathe my sword. Adra was standing near the bonfire in the center of camp just staring at me. “Who were you talking to?” I saw her then peer out to scan the surrounding area and then back to me. “I have a godddess. Do you ever speak to the one you are faithful to?” I reply. She cocked her head to the side and squinted her eyes harder at me. “Heavens woman don’t look at me like that. I have a hard enough time trying to sleep as is.” She shook her head and walked away, back to her chair by the fire. “Oooh she almost caught us! Then you would have to explain to her that I am one of the many voices you hear in your head. Such fun!” Darius laughed. I took my sword and gently flung it underneath my pillow. “Jerk” I mumbled.
I was awoken by the sound of a horrible, agonizing scream. It was Boris’s wretched,skeletal, fey bird. That was definitely something I wanted to hear first thing in the morning. To hear at all in any time of the day and in any situation in matter of fact. Boris walked over to me while reading a small letter.
“Uh the bird carried with it a message from Oleg. He said when you were able to that you have received a parcel. From your sister it appears.” He frowned as he was reading the rest of the message. “He also says to speak with Keston Garress. It does not seem well.” A cold feeling started to bubble up in the pit of my stomach. What befell of my family now? This was not a good way to wake up at all and start the day.
I got up and made my way around inside the fort and to my surprise, Topper Red and Akiros where still here and started up a small pot of stew for the group. Adra sauntered up next to me as I was nearing the basement stairs, to deal with the old man that we took down last night. “So will you let this one free after you are done questioning him. Like the others?” I shook my head at her while hunkering my head down so it would not hit the top part of the wall heading down. “This one does not live regardless. I could feel corruption dripping from his very being” I replied. We found the old man in his cellar where we left him and to my surprise, still unconscious. Adra pulled him up a bit by the handcuffs she slapped on him to make sure they were not loosened or any other matter of trickery to be had.
I crouched next to the emaciated, old man and pressed my left palm to his head and with it his eyes began to flicker open. Not much to my amazement that the old man seemed delirious. A raving lunatic even. Adra was questioning him and the only thing we could find out that was any use or slightly informative that the man in question was indeed the Stag Lord’s father. Score one to Boris for the amazing insight. His rambling after a few minutes began to make me weary as there was no point to let his life continue any longer.
We had him propped up, on his knees waiting to be executed. Adra started to pull out her bow as I gently pushed her to the side as I began to draw Darius. “No, let me. You put down the son, I will put down the father.” She put back her bow and nodded. “What we offer is a mercy.” The old man tried to stand back up but I quickly pushed him back down on his knees. “If you have a God or Goddess, pray to him or her now, so I may send you. Let them be your last words” I said.
The old man started a small rant and again I grew tired of it, this time rather quickly. I targeted him with my own divine judgment as I felt that same white hot, hate cascade over me. I held Darius over the old man, with a downward thrust with it’s point, into the man’s vertebrae and through his throat. He gurgled for a second or two and then finally just stopped. “I have to admit it. I did not think someone with your…restrictions would kill a man like that. Old, bound up, clearly not in his right mind, and unarmed. Just curious, I thought knights like you had a certain code of honor” I heard Adra said. I wiped the mans blood off on his tattered rags and drew my sword back into my sheath. “Simple. Evil things need to be dispatched. No matter what the situation. Plus they are not worthy of my honor.” She just smiled, nodded and repeated once again “It was an act of mercy.”
I dragged the dead body up the stairs and while doing so already saw Kurgar taking off on a horse without even so much as saying a goodbye. Well who could blame him. He is a mercenary. He did his job and he was off to collect. Not much more to it. I took the man over to the pen with the other dead bodies and shoved him in. “Rot with your bastard son you filth.”
Everyone was talking of heading back to Oleg’s but I was not in the mood for such a thing. At this point I wanted to stay here and settle like I planned on doing. That and I needed to become more acquainted to Akiros and Topper Red. I was not going to leave a building like this to two bandits I hardly knew, even if I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. That and there was the whole issue of having to clean up the dead bodies. Oh yes and the dead bodies that were still moving around outside the walls. Crap almost forgot about those for some reason.
I told Stonehands to retrieve the parcel that was waiting for me at Oleg’s. I relayed to both Stonehands and Adra that I would also like Lt. Garress down here to rotate shifts on guarding this now acquired fort plus to bring in Jhod to see if he could help with the undead problem. They both gave me a worried look when I said I was staying but would await their return. Adra seemed she was about to say something but closed her mouth and left. Stonehands did not also like the idea but gave into it when I firmly stood my ground.
So there I was. Standing alone by the gate of the Stag Lord’s Fort. Watching my group gallop off into the distance. I stood there, taking in stock of everything that needed to be done. I would hope this place would clean up ok and these two bandits still had a shot of redemption before them. I made my way inside only to see Akiros dragging bodies out of the pen into a neat pile outside, in the back of the fort. “What are you doing exactly?” He threw what was once the Stag Lord into the pile, spit on the body and then turned to me. “Well this place needs to be cleaned up right? Plus we need to burn this bunch. Don’t want them coming back as anything else now do we?” Me and him looked around and really saw how much there needed to be done. Just how much blood there was in this whole place. It then at that moment looked like to large of a task. Topper Red came up to us with buckets and rags. “Come on guys, we got work to do. Hope you don’t mind getting your hands bloody.” Akiros grumbled something about having to much blood on his hands as he took a torch to the mound of bodies and straw. I thought about it for a moment. How much blood would I get on my hands before my time was up?