Arrious approached Jarious. The wolfling commander, along with Fovreh, Grawfn and Torrain were tending the many wounded left in the aftermath of the fight with the Elemental. Arrious and Morrow had been sent some time ago to scout the perimeter of the battlefield and make sure there were no further surprises looming.
Along the crest of the hill, Fovreh was administering poultices and using some minor magics to help stave off the pain of the lightly wounded. Grawfn, not far away and covered in some guard’s rapidly congealing blood, was tending to the more seriously wounded. Jarious saw that Grawfn was working feverishly and with a liberal amount of his healing salves and balms to try to keep one of the veteran guards from falling into an unconsciousness he would be unlikely to wake from. Grawfn’s short and stubby arms moved with purpose and agility while shifting between the many bleeding wounds on the man while collecting various pouches filled with herbs and powders to prepare new concoctions and handing them to Torrain, who knelt within arm’s reach of Grawfn. Torrain’s hands moved much less adeptly, but just as purposefully, while he struggled to follow Grawfn’s cadence-like barking orders regarding precise mixtures and measurements. This was a process the two knew well, and Torrain was uncharacteristically patient with Grawfn’s impatience. Jarious reflected that it probably helped that Grawfn was at the pinnacle at his craft, and that the Dwarf’s incessant and rude demands immeasurably increased the patients’ chance at life. For that, even Torrain would check his ego and work diligently under Grawfn’s ever-escalating demands for “faster, better, and more precise…”
As he closed the last few meters towards Jarious, Arrious looked over to Grawfn and Torrain, and shook his head in concern as the two struggled with a jetting vein. While still concentrating on finishing the wraps for a splint Jarious addressed Arrious, “There isn’t anything else of value you could do for the man. A third would only complicate things.” He paused, “You have something, Arrious?”
“Yes, brother, I do. Morrow found something. A dead sentinel.”
“And the sentinel’s guards?” Jarious looked up from his bandaging.
“Dead as well. Something got to them quickly. The sentinel-shaman was still on his post when he was killed, the guards weren’t but a few steps away.”
“What did it?”
“That’s the interesting part. We may need your help. Can you be spared?” Arrious looked around at the injured and dying men scattered across the hill. Many of the wounded moaned in a steady tune with the pain flowing through their bodies. Others simply sat or lied down, completely silent. A few mumbled to themselves as they simply stared off into space. Only a few were strong enough to tend to their own wounds or the injures of those closest to them. The only ones speaking above a whisper were Grawfn and Torrain.
Jarious looked over to Grawfn, silently asking for permission to step away. While Jarious was commander, he had no problems deferring to Grawfn on all things healing-related.
“Yes, yes. Go.” Grawfn waived his right hand in the air dismissively. Globs of old blood flicked off of his fingertips and flew into the grass nearby. Jarious lifted himself up by steadying his hands on his knees and pushing up with a slight grunt. He hesitated a moment to take stock of the aches and pains – nothing too serious. He had plenty of energy left and his mind still felt sharp.
Pushing aside thoughts of desperately needed rest, he followed behind Arrious, allowing his brother to take the lead while he focused on the remnants of the battlefield. Things were quiet except for the approach of a handful of Junction residents who were coming to help tend the wounded now that the danger had passed. Arrious led Jarious along the path of upturned soil and dirt that the Elemental created as it pushed its way through the ground – its sole source of locomotion – at once part of the earth but not. The trail, which stretched on for hundreds of meters was a consistent two meters across, exactly as wide as the Elemental was. The trail itself generally followed a direct path, diverting here and there only when Jarious’ impromptu command had done enough damage to necessitate the Elemental’s attention.
Arrious led Jarious to the far end of the Elemental’s trail, which was the beginning of its rampage and marked the location where it emerged out of the earth. Morrow, who had arrived to the battle last, but in time to help with the clean-up, stood alongside the mound of earth, silent and still as he waited for Jarious to arrive. Morrow pointedly did not meet Jarious’ eyes.
Jarious started to worry.
Near the mound were three badly abused bodies, a spellcaster and two armored soldiers. Jarious immediately recognized them as a sentinel and his two honor guards. The sentinel-shaman’s robes were torn asunder and little more than rags, leaving the spellcaster nearly naked while sprawled out on the ground. The shaman’s body was badly bruised and bloody, with brown congealed blood clinging to the edges of gaping wounds. The honor guard, one man and one woman, were no better. Their sets of armor were in shambles with numerous pieces savagely ripped off and strewn about the field. All three had their eyes completely removed, the black sockets still leaking crimson blood in slow, tortuous drops.
Jarious’ breath quickened. These were the sacred guards of Junction, a duty respected by every resident. The sentinels stood magical vigil over the edges of the city, warding off the numerous eldritch and spiritual dangers that gravitated towards large congregations of humans. Without the sentinel-shamans and their unceasing work in the spirit realm, Junction could never have grown to the size it had. Sentinels were the silent guardians of what passed for human civilization since the fall of Kandarod. At one point in his childhood, Jarious wanted very badly to serve in the city guard and then serve as the honor guard for a sentinel. The guards were a revered career, largely due to their close association with the sentinels.
“Gods. The eyes,” he cursed. “Arrious? Morrow? What am I looking at?”
“A murder, we believe.” Morrow
Jarious looked over the ripped, stabbed, and torn bodies. “This isn’t the work of the Elemental.” He stated matter-of-factly.
“No. It’s not.” Morrow’s deep voice crested just above the sound of the wind.
“You see it too.” Arrious confirmed. “The wounds, they aren’t from the Elemental’s bludgeoning fist. The sentinel and his guards weren’t crushed, they were stabbed and torn to shreds.”
“Wild animals? Orcs? This close to Juntion?” Jarious asked.
Morrow bent over the shaman’s naked form. “We aren’t sure… probably Orcs.” He pointed first to one deep stab wound in the shaman’s chest, then another and another. Jarious saw the sentinel had no less than six deep stab wounds and a series of similar but smaller wounds. “Here and here. These stab wounds. They aren’t from the axe.”
Jarious agreed. “They are not from a sword, either.”
Morrow sat back on his heels, still crouched over the sentinel and the guard, made a fist, and mimicked a thrusting move.
“Any chance those wounds are the result of long-shaft spears?” Jarious asked.
“Javelins, more like.” Arrious responded.
“Piss on me.” Jarious immediately scanned the horizon for anything out of the ordinary. “Orcs. Here? This close to Junction?”
“We think so. Yes.” Morrow replied flatly. “The eyes…”
“Yes.” Confirmation, denied until that moment, flooded Jarious. Feral Orc females, the ones most likely to hunt, usually preferred the simplicity, versatility, portability, and speed of the javelin. They could fight on the move, in close quarters and at range with deadly skill. The fact that the females usually hunted in prides meant that the loss of a single javelin was never a problem, as the others always had more to share. Many of the wild Orc prides in western Alt’Arana, the region Junction occupied, practiced a form of debased death ritual where they proved their prowess by spearing the eyes of their enemies with the javelin that made the killing blow, then eating their prize. Jarious had seen the ritual once before and barely lived to tell the tale.
Jarious shivered. He quickly looked at his compatriots to make sure they had not noticed. They did not make any indications they had seen him unnerved.
(continued next week...)
(continued next week...)