by The Lemon
The heroes travel different paths. Prescott, Isac, and Shenk are left to investigate.
| The warm morning sun rose and brought a renewed sense of life to the city streets. Thanks to a combined effort the night before, the townsfolk and soldiers brought Oneria closer to being restored. Merchants went about selling their wares from newly fixed carts, and the villagers traveled the streets among the usual daily bustle. Still, an undercurrent of sorrow drifted through the very air of the town.
A knock shook Grom’s guest room door. Cloey waited outside; she was the very image of impatience with her arms crossed over her chest and foot tapping rapidly against the ground. She placed her ear against the door and heard no movement from within. Grumbling, she tested the door and found it unlocked, so she pushed it open and stomped inside.
“Come on, sleepyhead!” she started, but stopped when she found no one in the room. The bed was neatly made and all of Grom’s possessions were gone. “Now where the heck did he go?”
Cloey turned and shut the door to his room behind her. She took a single step back down the hall when she saw Prescott heading her way. As he approached, she planted her hands on her hips and puffed out her chest. “The smelly-head left!”
“I’m aware,” Prescott began, “I saw him leave.”
“What!?” Cloey screamed, throwing up her hands, “How could you let him do that? He’s going to end up getting himself hurt!”
“Cloey, it was his choice to leave. We could not stop him. He has decided to walk his own path,” Prescott said.
Cloey huffed at his stiff, uncaring response. She pushed her way past Prescott and stormed down the hall.
“And where are you going?” Prescott called out to her.
“To find Grom,” she said, disappearing around a corner and out of sight.
Prescott sighed and opened the door to Grom’s guest room. He walked to the open window, leaned against the gray stone sill, and gazed into the quiet center of town. White wisps of drifting clouds floated overhead among a bright blue canvas. A shimmering stream of sunlight struck his light blue eyes.
* * *
“I don’t think your brother likes me.”
Isac looked over at Shenk, who slouched low in his stool. He reached over and patted his friend on his broad shoulder.
“He meant no harm. He just didn’t know the situation. He’s the kind of guy who acts before thinking. I guess I’m the one that lucked out and got all the brains in the family,” Isac said, lifting his mug of ale with his other hand.
“But he attacked me,” Shenk said with a slight sniffle. He laid his head against the bar and sighed. “He thinks I’m just some sort of monster.”
“You’re not a monster, Shenk. You aren’t even a full-blooded orc. And if you hang around me, you’ll learn how to be a real ladies’ man,” Isac boasted. He took a long gulp of his ale and belched. The dwarven tender wrinkled her nose and rolled her eyes.
“You really think I could be just like you?” Shenk said, raising his head up.
“Of course! Just watch me at work and be sure to take good notes,” Isac said, slamming down the empty mug. He slipped from his barstool and looked around the quiet tavern. A large group of villagers, The Black Dragon Inn’s usual afternoon crowd , laughed and talked about the day’s events while huddling over their plates of beef and vegetables and gulping down mugs of ale. Isac’s gaze fell upon a woman sitting alone at a table across the room. Grinning and throwing Shenk a confident wink, he walked to her table and leaned against it. An unfolded piece of parchment, a map of the surrounding area, stretched across the table before her.
“What the hell do you want?” she mumbled under her breath before Isac could work his “magic.” She didn’t bother raising her head toward him and continued examining and tracing across the map with her finger.
“Well,” Isac said, tapping his finger on her map, “I couldn’t help notice you looking over this map. I believe I could be of assistance.”
“Really now? And how might you assist me?” she asked. She glanced upward and brushed aside the hair that had fallen over her deep brown eyes. She gazed at him with raised eyebrows that revealed a slight spark of interest.
“Believe it or not, I’m actually a fortune teller with amazing powers. I saw you within a dream the other night, and I knew that you would be here, plotting out your course on this here map,” Isac said, ceaselessly tapping his index finger on the map. The woman’s mouth opened to say something, but he hurried onward with his explanation. “I know exactly where you need to go. Just exit this fine establishment and travel down the path toward the front gates. You’ll see some houses on either side. Enter the third on your right, and don’t worry, the door is always unlocked. My bedroom is just past the kitchen.” Isac traced out the path with his finger, but the woman cut him off with the crack of her hand across his face. Gathering her map, she stormed from her seat and ran to the door. It opened as she reached for the handle, and she pushed Prescott aside as he tried to enter.
“I’ll wager she stormed out of here because of you,” Prescott said to his brother, who rubbed the swollen hand print on the side of his face. Prescott turned to Shenk and walked over to the bar. Shenk cowered as Prescott sat in his brother’s chair.
“Don’t hurt me, Mr. Prescott,” Shenk pleaded. He grabbed hold of his shoulders to try and stop his body’s shaking and turned his face away, refusing to look into Prescott’s eyes.
“Listen, I wanted to apologize for my behavior the other day. I was only concerned for my brother’s well being. Will you forgive me for harming you?” Prescott asked, keeping his eyes on the shaking Shenk.
“You’d better apologize!” Isac shouted from across the room. He joined his brother next to Shenk and scowled. “What you did was completely uncalled for, you jerk!”
“Brother, please. I saw you tumble through the tavern doors, and your friend came right out after you. You could have been hurt. What with the recent attack, I was not going to take any chances on your safety. Had you been hurt or killed, I would never allow myself to forget it,” Prescott explained.
“I understand. I’m sorry,” Shenk said, finally sitting upright and looking Prescott in the eyes.
“It is all right,” Prescott said to Shenk. He turned back to his brother and straightened his posture. “Grom is gone. He left early this morning. Cloey insisted on chasing after him.”
“And why aren’t we following them?” Isac asked, taken back by the sudden news.
“Grom made a choice. He left upon his own free will, and we have to accept that. Besides, we have our own business to attend to,” Prescott answered, standing from the stool.
“What are you talking about?” Isac asked.
“There are too many questions without answers. Who was that dark elf that killed Anne’s kidnapper? Why did orcs attack a quiet town like Oneria? How did the orc that killed the king escape? It all does not add up,” Prescott said.
“So what do you suggest we do?” Isac asked, scratching his stubbled chin. He reached across the bar for his mug and shook it from side to side. Finding it still empty, he set it back down with a frown.
“I’m suggesting that we take a little trip. We need to scout and inspect the nearby regions in order to get a better feel for what we are up against,” Prescott said. He pushed Isac’s empty glass away from him and turned toward the door.
“How do you know we’ll even find anything?” Isac shot back.
“I do not know,” Prescott said, lowering his head, “But anything is better than sitting around here twiddling our thumbs and waiting for another attack.”
Isac watched his brother walk across the tavern and stop at the door. He turned to look at Shenk, who sat unmoving and tried to absorb all that had been said.
“I almost forgot,” Prescott started, turning his attention toward the half-orc and offering him a warm smile, “I would like it if you came along with us, Shenk. We could always use the help, and I want to prove that what I did to you was unintentional.” Prescott bowed to them and turned again, heading out the door into the town.
Isac stood still in bewilderment, staring at the tavern door as it swung closed. Shenk pulled himself upright and walked around in front of him to the door. He pushed it open and glanced back at Isac. “Aren’t you coming?”
Isac shook the cobwebs from his head and looked across the room at Shenk. With a nod, he followed his large companion outside the tavern.
Prescott stood there waiting for them with his arms crossed over his chest. “Am I correct in assuming that you’ll both be joining me?”
“Sure thing! I want to prove that I’m not just some monster,” Shenk said. He stepped forward and reached out toward Prescott. Despite the big goofy grin on Shenk’s face, Prescott still tensed as Shenk clapped his large hand across his shoulder. Prescott’s muscles relaxed, and a smile surfaced across his stony face.
“The only reason I’m going with you is because my friend Shenk wants to go. If we’re lucky, we might also run into Grom and Cloey, not that I care what trouble the little thief gets herself into. I’m more worried about Grom. After all that’s happened, he can’t be thinking clearly,” Isac huffed.
“When are we leaving?” Shenk asked.
“There is no better time than the here and now,” Prescott said. He turned and made his way off toward the town’s restored front gates.
“Hey!” Isac called after him, “Let me at least grab a few things from my house!”
Shenk stayed back and watched Isac rush off after Prescott and give him a shove as he jogged past. Shenk eventually followed down the path after them, but turned and walked between two homes, slipping out of sight.
* * *
Prescott sat in meditation beside a tree near the front gate. The sounds of footsteps forced his eyes open. Isac stood before him and leaned on his staff.
“I’m ready to go. Where’s Shenk?” Isac asked, looking around.
“I thought he was with you,” Prescott replied.
“You didn’t kill him while I wasn’t looking, did you? I know you don’t like orcs, but come on! He’s a friend of mine! When you said he could come along, you didn’t mean as ingredients in orc stew, right?” Isac shouted.
“Please, brother, enough with the accusations,” Prescott said and shook his head. He sighed and pulled himself to his feet. “Did my apologies mean nothing to you? I swear that I have not seen him.”
“Don’t leave without me!” Shenk shouted from the distance. He ran toward them, a large weapon strapped across his back. When he reached them, he spoke through labored huffs. “I just wanted to grab a few of mah things before we left.”
Isac’s eyes fell upon the weapon across Shenk’s back. Leather straps held the handle of a menacing axe. It’s length reminded Isac of his own staff, only made from metal rather than wood. Two pairs of crescent-shaped blades formed perfect symmetry at both ends of the metal shaft, one over his right shoulder and the other ending at his left knee. It seemed to Isac that the weapon’s maker had taken two woodsman’s axes and fastened them together in the center. Despite its ominous size, Shenk carried it with no sign of difficulty, which made Isac scratch the side of his face and take a step toward him.
“That’s the strangest axe I’ve ever seen. A blade at both ends?” Isac asked.
“Huh? Oh, you mean this?” Shenk said, pulling the weapon from the strap holding it in place. He held it out with one hand toward Isac. “Perty, ain’t it? It really does the job when someone tries to hurt me. Go ahead, try her out.”
Isac reached forward and grabbed the handle tentatively. Shenk smiled and let go of the axe. Isac’s eyes widened as the weight of the weapon proved too much for him to hold. The axe pulled his arm down, and he fell with it. Both Shenk and Prescott cringed as Isac tried to pull himself and the weapon up from the dirt path.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t think it was that heavy,” Shenk said, bending down and lifting the axe with one hand and Isac with the other. Shenk secured the weapon to his back again, while Isac dusted himself off.
“Come on you two, there is no more time to be wasted,” Prescott said as he made his way through the gates and out of the town.
“Jerk,” Isac mumbled under his breath. Shenk moved on after Isac’s brother, leaving him behind. “Will you wait up? Why am I always stuck behind everyone?”
Isac caught up with Shenk and his brother. Prescott led the way, deviating from the road out of the city. After a short jog across some low grassland, he slipped into the forests without hesitation. Shenk followed right behind, but Isac stopped cold in his tracks.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Isac asked his older brother. Prescott neither stopped nor answered the question. Letting out a sigh, Isac followed them into the cool shade ahead.
The three walked for some time in silence, save for the occasional complaint from Isac. Prescott made a few abrupt stops, each time stooping down low to brush his fingers along the dirt and leaves covering the ground. Isac stood with his arms folded over his chest at every stop, mumbling criticizing words to himself and Shenk. Each time they resumed traveling again, Prescott turned from their former path toward another direction. The sun descended from its position at the top of the sky when Prescott stopped again. This time he pulled his sword free and began carving at a tree to examine its bark.
“What good does looking at wood do?” Isac asked, unable to keep quiet.
“Hush,” Prescott pleaded. He stared at the small black piece of wood, turning it over again and again in his dirt-encrusted fingers.
“Don’t tell me you’re talking to that chunk of bark,” Isac scoffed.
“Do not be silly, little brother. You know I can only communicate with animals and plants that are alive,” Prescott said.
“Plants talk?” Shenk asked, raising his hand to scratch his mess of thick black hair, “What do they talk about?”
“Plants are similar to the great living races, Shenk. Each one is different with its own voice. It depends on what plant you speak to,” Prescott explained, still examining the bark.
“Why not ask if the orcs have been here?” Shenk asked.
“There is no need. This tree has strange grooves cut into its trunk. From these gashes, I can only assume orcs were here not too long ago,” Prescott said.
“How do you know it’s orcs and not something else?” Shenk asked.
“The markings resemble the curve and width of an orc blade. They must have stopped nearby and cut these marks as some sort of marker for where they’ve traveled,” Prescott explained. He stood and returned his sword to his side. He tossed the piece of wood at his brother, who caught it with a confused look. “Keep hold of that. Maybe I will teach you a few things about surviving the wild when we return.”
“Oh joy, just what I’ve always wanted,” Isac said. He hesitated before slipping the scrap of bark into a pouch hanging at his side.
Prescott started forward again but stopped as a rustling noise drifted to his ear.
“What’s the problem now?” Isac asked his brother, too busy fidgeting with the string of his pouch to notice.
Prescott drew his sword and crouched down low. He lifted his blade up in preparation for anything. Isac and Shenk both tensed and scanned the area around them, noticing nothing but trees.
The leaves of a bush in front of Prescott shook and rustled. Prescott swung his blade, which sent green debris and branches flying. The white blur of a furry creature dashed from the vegetation and escaped out of sight.
Isac laughed and moved toward his brother, patting his shoulder. “What’s the matter? Are you scared of a little bunny rabbit?”
Prescott rose up and sheathed his sword again. His lips curled into a frown, but he refused to say a word in his own defense.
“When are you going to lighten up?” Isac asked, walking past his brother, “Maybe I should be the one scouting ahead. You can’t jump at every little sound you hear. You have to learn to trust your instincts!”
Isac huffed and marched with a swagger in his step. He made it a short distance ahead of his companions before a sharp pain pierced his ankle. Isac’s leg caught a wire running along the ground between two tall trees, knocking him off balance. As he fell forward, a thick net constructed of thorned vines dropped from the canopy on top of him. Isac began to struggle as the barbs dug deep into his flesh.
“Brother, remain still,” Prescott instructed. Both he and Shenk rushed to Isac’s side. Shenk pulled at the net, and a large boulder fell from the tree tops above their heads. Prescott managed to roll out of the way of the rock, which came crashing down with tremendous force, and as the rock plummeted, the net scooped up poor Isac and shot him into the air like a catapult. The bundle of thorns swayed far above the reach of Prescott and Shenk, and they could hear Isac’s whimpering as he hung there helplessly.
“Fear not, brother! We shall get you down!” Prescott shouted.
“How are we gonna get all the way up there?” Shenk asked, gazing up at Isac.
“I do not know,” Prescott admitted as he too stared upward in wonder. Finally, he turned to Shenk and motioned to one of the trees. “Can you give me a boost?”
“Sure can,” Shenk said with a nod. He followed Prescott to the base of the tree that the boulder had fallen from. Shenk knelt down and locked his fingers, and Prescott placed a boot in his hands. Shenk stood and lifted his arms, hoisting the much smaller half-elf high enough for him to grab a low-hanging branch. Prescott pulled himself onto it and looked up through the shadowy maze of branches and leaves.
“What if you fall? What if you drop Isac?” Shenk asked.
“You had better be ready to catch us if that happens,” Prescott answered. Before Shenk could protest, Prescott scrambled his way up the tree. He moved quickly, his nimble feet resting only a moment on each branch before he leapt or climbed to the next. He moved with the grace and ease of a small squirrel searching for a hidden treasure of food.
After several dexterous vaults, Prescott knelt down on a much sturdier branch and crept carefully across it on all fours. As he emerged from his natural cover, he gazed upward at the flailing bundle of his brother hanging just out of reaching distance. He reached for his sword and slowly rose upward, but he halted his movement as he caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of his eye. A crouching form maneuvered in the tree across from him–something humanoid. He saw a shimmer of light reflect off of an object within the figure’s grasp.
"Shenk, get away quickly!” Prescott shouted, but his words reached Shenk too late. The trap had already been sprung.
An arrow flew from the tree and struck Shenk in the shoulder. The mighty half-orc howled and ripped the arrow out. Another followed almost immediately and struck just above the gaping wound. Shenk reached for the new arrow, but yet another raced down and caught him in the leg. Shenk dropped to one knee and tried to pull the arrows out. He collapsed to the ground, unsuccessful.
“Shenk!” Prescott shouted. He made his way back toward the trunk but lost his grip when an arrow pierced through his side. Prescott tumbled through the branches and landed in a mangled pile back on the ground.
Prescott’s vision blurred, and clouds drifted over his senses, driving him toward unconsciousness.
“Two elves traveling with an orc?”
“Strange. We bring them back to our lord.”
Prescott could hear two voices talking over him. He tried to decipher who they were, but darkness came and consumed his mind.