CHAPTER XVII: FIND YOUR MARK

A SANTHARIAN NOVEL

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. The Arvins Festival is about to begin, and Viresse sets her plan in motion. But an easily recognizable unpredictability rears its ugly head - sending all of them into the eye of danger.

 

ive unfamiliar clerics were dressed in similar garments to Sifl, though It was not present, stood before several wagons as they wound around a clearing. Between each wagon was about a ped gap - and in these gaps were small torches that were sunk into the earth and reached up into the air, with small but brilliant flames about a ped and a half above the ground. It illuminated well, but was sparse enough to keep the area mysterious and enigmatic. There was at one point a gap about three peds wide, and at that gap were a pair of armed and uniformed - if you could call them uniforms - guards. Similarly dressed guards were at each wagon. The wagons were filled with people, screming and shouting loudly - their desperate cries piercing Viresse's ears as she approached. She scanned the wagons for signs of a familiar face, but the wagons were so crowded that she couldn't tell- just teeming masse of flesh- arms and legs flailing as they desperately screamed for a saviour - be it a dark elf or otherwise.

Viresse shook her head slowly and minutely - these people were going to die. She couldn't save all of them, there was no way in all of Corr's plans that she could even conceive that. But she was going to save Rube - if he was here. She truly hoped he wasn't, perhaps her dream was wrong. But both she and Taluen had dreamed it- and doesn't that make it true? Again - she hoped Rube wasn't here, but what happened if she believed he wasn't and then discovered some other dark elf had caught him? That would make her ill beyond belief. But she had to do it this way - there was no other possibility.

 

Viresse glanced over at Taluen, who looked extremely nervous as he led Bane and Strut on leashes. The two hounds looked uncomfortable on their restraint, and they kept snapping at each other - they were wound up, as was she. Viresse just wanted to get started and find Rube. Even if getting started meant the beginning of the end for some of these people, and even some of these elves. But Viresse was single-minded. She wanted one thing. For Rube to be alive.

Viresse looekd past Taluen to Tristen. He tried his hardest to stifle himelf, but his face kept splitting into a smile and he giggled like a small child. He even had a spring in his step. Viresse wondered about Tristen - was he really going to be any help? She doubted it for the most part. He enjoyed the hunt too much and he enjoyed killing. Who could restrain him if he went ape on Rube? If they found Rube.

Viresse then looked to Terquan. And worried. She should have told him. But would he have listened? And if he did - would he be able to restrain himself enough to hold off on killing Rube? She wasn't sure - she was more worried about Rube being alive than she was about Terquan.

They stood before the clerics, as more dark elves came filing in - gruff hunters, with masive hounds, swords and bows of threatening make, and even a few crossbows. The most fidgety of the hunters were ones that had no weapons at all - they were acting like dogs on leashes themselves.

She looked to Terquan again. He seemed to fidget oddly, jerky movements, and Viresse even thought she saw him talking to himself. Terquan quickly whipped and stared at Viresse before she could look away and deny her stare, and something in Terquan's smile was off. Sickeningly off. She shuddered and looked away. It was good that she didn't tell him about Rube - his darker half may have killed him just out of spite.

The clerics raised their hands as a sign of silence, and soon all was quiet, save for the snapping and howling of wound-up dogs. Viresse glanced over the area and noticed there were over a hundred hunters. She shivered. With this many hunters after so few people - she would be insanely lucky just to even SEE him, dead or alive.

For just a second, Viresse was angry with herself. It was a DREAM! Dreams aren't real! What was she thinking - that Rube would be here? Was her unconsciousness just playing a sick joke on her - that she really wanted Rube to follow her ? She huffed loudly at herself for her stupid mistake.

And Taluen's hounds caught her attention. She looked up to Taluen - he appeared scared, but he was here. And he had the dream too - though different. She swallowed and pushed her thoughts of denial away. Taluen was here to help her. And Tristen was - well, he was kind of here to help, but he was no doubt planning on hunting.

As the clerics in the front of teh gathering began to speak, Viresse let an image slip into her mind - Tristen pinning a man with his body weight, turning to Viresse and saying "Is this him?" and when she said "No., Tristen would maul them. Then he'd move on to the next quarry. "How about this one?" "No." Gnash gnash. "This one?" "No." Shred shred...

Viresse shook her head clear of the thought. The clerics were finishing their speech, and the crowd was getting restless. She felt the tension rise and surge through the crowd as the clerics moved toward the wagons. The people began screaming louder as their release was imminent - they didn't notice the legion of dark elves standing before them. The clerics opened the doors, and then quickly jumped aside.

The people pired from the wagons, arms and legs flailing. Some were already beaten in some way - their faces bloodied and some with black eyes. Viresse shook her head slowly - where did they get these people, and weren't they missed?

A flash of black hair caught her attention - it was caught in a slow moving cluster, and it was all she could see. She desperately wanted to cry out Rube's name, but knew it would be stupid to do so. She snapped her head and looked to Taluen, who was peering intently at the crowd as it surged and swayed as it spilled out.

Viresse looked back to the crowd - and lost the hair. She desperately began searching again, and found it. And, to her dismay, it was just a scruffy man with greasy black hair. She sighed, she'd never find him.

A voice caught her attention through the incoherent shouting... it sounded like her name was being called. She looked in the direction of the voice, and saw a flailing arm. It lurched forward - and its face became visible.

It was Rube.

Viresse grunted as she stared, and then quickly looked to Taluen. She found that Taluen was looking to her, and she nodded eagerly. They watched Rube as he tried to run toward the crowd of dark elves, but was roughly shoved back by one of teh clerics. He fell on his rear - he must have been be very weak, Viresse noted, and a couple of people streaming toward the forest tripped over him. He got to his feet as quick as he could, and bolted off into the forest.

The human crowd finally dispersed into the forest, and Viresse became very antsy. She wnated to go - she wanted to bolt off right now, but it would be way too obvious. She kept glancing at Taluen, who kept glancing back while being yanked one way and another by his eager hounds.

Finally, they were released, and all the elves ran in different directions. But Viresse and Taluen ran in the direction they last saw Rube's head. She didn't care if Tristen and Terquan followed or not - but it seemed they did as heavy breaths and thundering steps follwed them, right on their heels.

As Viresse ran, she began shouting out to Rube, hoping he'd hear her and come toward her. It would make him easier to locate. But all she heard in response was the shrieking, and the shouts of Styrsh made by dark elves as they either arranged a trap or permanently subdued their quarry.

Viresse continued to shout, and soon Taluen was doing the same, although with a thick Styrsh  accent that made it sound as if he was mimicking Viresse in the hopes of catching him rather than actually helping her.

A sound caught her interest - it was her name again. She looked in the direction of it, and saw something run in the forest - it was dark so she couldn't entirely tell, but she took off after it. "Taluen!" she called, and ran off, hoping that Taluen would follow her. As she continued to call, the answer back became stronger, as if she was closing in.

"Stop running!" Viresse shouted, and heard a skitter in the forest ahead of her. She continued to run - and did not stop until she ran into something that sent her spilling onto her feet. Whatever she ran into, it came out of nowhere, or at least she didn't see it. She clambered to rise, and a hand was held out for her, though it shook like a wet dog. Viresse looked up.

And she never felt as happy before that moment - for Rube was staring straight at her.

She sprung to her feet of her own accord and leaped into his arms. "I thought you were goign to die!" Viresse exclaimed, her voice muffled as she spoke into the hood of his cloak.

"So did I..." he said. She could feel him shaking in fear, and it made her clutch him even tighter.

Suddenly, they were plowed into, and they fell to the ground, Viresse and Rube, and another person. Another weight landed upon them, and growlining ensued as whatever it was begna tugging violently at Viresse's cloak. She struggled to get whatever it was off of her.

And then Taluen came running in - stopping just a ped short of joining the pile. His chest heaved as he breathed looking down at them. He made a quick noise, and the struggle for Viresse's cloak stopped - it was Bane and Strut. Viresse smirked.

Quickly she was thrown aside and Rube lunged at Taluen, tossing him to the ground. Rube punched Taluen in the gut a few times while Taluen struggled to throw Rube off.

"Rube!" Virese shouted, and pulled Rube off of Taluen with all the strength she could. Rube must have been weary, for he was easier to remove than she expected. Taluen gasped for air and coughed.

"For Cor's sake, Rube!" Taluen gasped.

Rube looked to Viresse. "Friend of yours?"

She nodded. " He had a dream about you too."

"You dreamed of me?" Rube asked.

Viresse rolled her eyes. "People are still hunting - we have to get out of here." She picked Rube up by hauling him up by his arm. They turned to begin running again.

And Rube was thrown to the ground by a flying monster. He was caught square in the chest with a forearm and was thrown to the ground - then it tried to strike him in the face with a clean hand. Rube turned his head, and caught a glancing blow to his brow - it sliced open and seperated like the cleaving of a loaf of bread.

Taluen and Viresse leaped forward and pulled the monster off of Rube, all the while Taluen shouting "It's ours! Back off!" But as they stood up the monster - they saw it was no use.

For it was Terquan. And the way he stared at them, then shoved them away with an incredible strength, it was as if he did not recognize them at all. His chest heaved and he spewed warm breaths of air into the night like a dragon spewing smoke. He glared at them wickedly, his eyes red as blood, snapping at each of them like a dog - perhaps showing dominance over the situation, then turned toward Rube.

Viresse lashed out. She jumped at Terquan, or at least, what used to be Terquan and used her nails to rip at him. He grunted as the struggle began and focussed on her for a second, but he easily threw her aside.

"Terq! Snap out of it! If you want to hunt - get something else!" Taluen said, and shoved Terquan. Terquan snapped his head toward Taluen, and struck him in the face with an open hand. Taluen went sprawling - and his hounds took the attack to heart.

Despite the fact they knew who Terquan was, Bane and Strut ripped into Terquan as well as they could, but he easily kicked them away. He bellowed loudly, a monstrous sound that escaped him, and he turned back to Rube... to find that he was gone.

Viresse looked up at Terquan, ready to try again, but the skitter of fleet feet in the forest ahead caused her to look that way. She too found that Rube was gone - and yelled in agony. She knew why he bolted - to keep them safe, and not to be a coward, she hoped. But it meant he was fair game yet again. Viresse struggled to her feet as Terquan bolted after Rube, followed by a pair of fapple grey hounds and a dazed Taluen. Viresse quickly jumped to her feet.

Viresse ran as fast as she could after Taluen. He whipped through the trees at a speed she could barely keep up with. Of course - he'd been hunting for years and probably knew the forest like the back of his hand. Viresse hoped he knew where he was going.

A couple of shouts were heard ahead of her and Taluen stopped dead in his tracks. Viresse slammed into the back of him, unable to stop in time. They both tumbled a few feet, then slid down the embankment of a dry river bed. Viresse got up as fast as she could, but Taluen was quicker. Viresse only caught a glimpse of him as he tore off to the right down the river bed.

She slipped on the smooth rocks but kept her footing. Fortunately she was more nimble than Taluen in this type of situation, and soon she was only a few peds behind him, as opposed to barely being able to see him. He broke off of the dry river and tore up the river bank, Viresse on his heels. He paid no attention to her, but it seemed he ran even faster as he heard the growling yip of dogs directly ahead of them.

Viresse's heart began to race more than it needed to for a run. Did the dogs get Rube? She hoped they didn't. But they got something, for as they got closer, she heard the sounds of a fight - shouts, growling, grunts and barks and the sliding of dirt and leaves as the fight moved about.

Again Viresse found herself plowing into the back of Taluen, and he fell to his knees, sending Viresse and her momentum headlong into the clearing. She thudded against something heavy, and stopped in her tracks. She looked up - and into the Face of Terquan.

But... it wasn't him. His eyes burned with a hellfire not seen this side of the Dream in millenia - and his face seemed unnaturally contorted. He heaved and throbbed with a strength unreal for his size, and Viresse stared in fear.

Terquan stopped in his tracks as he was bumped into and stared at Viresse, a note of recognition in his eyes. He leaned in close, their faces mere spans from each other, and he sniffed like a dog - heated breath become a frosty cloud and curling into her face. It smelled of rotten flesh. She released a heavy, quivering breath, and recognized the moment. She could not help but exclaim it.

" I dreamed of this," she said.
 


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