Second page, first panel: Second page, second panel: Third page: Off We Go
“Cat here has excellent gaits.” The elf patted his stallion’s pale neck. The horse tipped an ear back to listen to his rider’s voice.
“He does,” Indre agreed. “Saki thought he’d be the best fit for what lies ahead of us.”
“All of the horses she offered to loan to me looked more than competent for an adventurer,” said Aendimyon. “One could summon fire; another could toss off lightning bolts.”
“And then there’s me,” said Cat.
“Yes, I must admit a talking horse is an extreme rarity where I come from. You’d think there would be more of them, what with all the mages and wizards around, but perhaps Boris the Incompetent’s creation of the winged thumbcat made them wary of such improvements.”
“Cat has other talents, too,” said Indre, drawing rein to look down from their vantage point atop a gentle hill at the green forest below. “At least, that’s what Saki told me some years ago.”
“Let’s hope you never need those,” said Cat softly.
Both riders and their steeds gazed at the view beyond. “Looks peaceful enough,” said the paladin, “idyllic, even.”
“So it does,” said Indre, narrowing her eyes till their nacreous blue glows had become thin lines of pallid light.
“What are those coloured things below, outside the forest?” Aendimyon pointed down at the neatly parked rows of trucks and trailers.
“Mechanical transport for horses and riders – they call them ‘lorries’ or ‘trucks’. Keeps the horses fresh for the competition and allows people to compete in a timely fashion even though they live far apart. The things towed behind are what the horses and gear travel in and some of the rigs have small living quarters for the humans.”
“Very nice, so all is normal, then?”
“I would say so, except all the humans and horses are missing.” Indre’s fingers traced the edges of Jötunskald’s neck armour where it touched the heavy saddle blanket.
Her friend exhaled a long breath and smiled, his white teeth brilliant in the sun.
“Well, then, let’s go find them.” Leaning forward, he launched Cat down the slope of the hill toward the woods. Indre followed at once and the two of them entered the forest together.
Come on in (story page 1):
It wasn’t just that the forest was creepy; the adventurers were used to creepy. Creepy was, if not an everyday occurrence, at the very least familiar enough not to cause comment. This place, on the other hand... it was… well, there weren’t actually any words that could accurately describe it, neither the wood, nor their feelings towards it.
Of course, the woods didn’t exactly stay still long enough that you could identify one potentially creepy bit from another, as parts of the place seemed to be moving about. Admittedly, neither of them had been able to catch it in the act, seeing a tree picking up its branches and going for a stroll, but how else would you explain that it never looked the same when you looked back over your shoulder at where you’d come from? Considering some of the trees in this place, that might actually not be a bad thing. There was something about them too…
“Yes, there’s definitely something wrong with this forest. The question is what?” Indre commented casually.
“Beyond the Evil Energies you mean?” Aendimyon, quipped in return.
They both glanced down at the path below. It didn’t look any different than it had done the last ten times they’d done so – which, in the great scheme of things was a bit strange. Maybe it did change, but one stretch of path was pretty much the same as any other?
It had seemed the sensible thing to do when they’d come across it, to follow the trail. It was bound to lead somewhere, they’d figured and the cross-country course should either start or finish by the time they reached the end.
If they reached the end.
By now it was obvious that the path, which in places more resembled an overgrown track from the “land that time forgot” than anything else, wasn’t going to be leading them anywhere, except possibly into trouble. Well, that was all in a day’s work, wasn’t it?
Normally, they’d have come here for fun, some rest and relaxation – if they wanted a challenge besting some magical beastie or rabid dark lord, there were plenty of those where they’d come from.
“I like this plane and planet just fine,” Indre said as their steeds trod over something that sounded like soft peat underfoot. “It’s fairly peaceful and the evils you meet tend to be the human-mundane kind.”
“Then what drew you to summon me, and dress for battle rather than a friendly competition?” The paladin looked to his left, smiling his usual disarming grin. He was sure something had moved in the forest beyond, but the moment he moved his eyes any hint of it vanished.
“To be honest, it was the smell of the note, when Saki Harusame held it. It reeked with the scent of sorcery. The invitation itself sounded innocuous, but when I took the note into my hand, it burst into green flame.”
“You need to learn to pull in your aura, Death Knight,” he chuckled.
“I am not responsible for damage caused by some inept spell-slinger,” Indre snorted. “But it did cause me to wonder about the sender’s motives, hence my call to you, and my preparations. Saki said that invitation had been broadcast to many in the horse community, youths and young adults as well as those with more maturity. Not everyone on this world goes forth prepared to fight.”
Cat didn’t feel inclined to voice his opinion on the subject – but that didn’t mean he didn’t have them. He just chose, for the moment, to observe. If they needed him, he would be ready.
This was supposedto be a real large gathering wasn’t it? They’d seen all the trucks and lorries, cars and trailers back at the borders of the forest – there had been a lot of them, and those just marked the contestants who had arrived here by conventional means. So, where were they all?
Admittedly it was a very big forest (or small forest where you went around in circles a lot), but shouldn’t they have come across someone else by now? Here and there they’d thought they’d seen something, but when they’d looked back a second time it had been gone.
It was the same with the sounds.
Aendimyon was a full-blooded elf and Indre was a half-elf; both of them had excellent hearing, yet neither could pinpoint a sound quickly enough to actually be able to trace down whom or what had made it.
Thok, thok, clop!
The sounds were soft, but clear. It was hard to tell if they came from before them or from somewhere behind.
These noises didn’t have that ethereal edge to them though, dark or otherwise. The sounds in fact resembled nothing as much as several hundred pounds of flesh moving through the undergrowth.
Indre tensed and glanced back the way they’d come, reaching for her sword in the process, just in case. Was that a shadow there somewhere in the mist?
“Not that way!”
The voice sounded hollow through the mists. But it was enough to tell them that was no mere shadow out there. That just had to be a fellow contestant. Indre turned her hips and Jötunskald pivoted at once to face the direction of the sounds.
“Stop it you little pest! I told you already, we don’t want to go that way!”
There was no way that some enchanted forest creature, clever that they may be, would sound so exasperated, even if the words were followed a moment later by a displeased snort.
“Oh sure, go ahead…we’re only lost in a some stupid dank forest full of evil trees and dead people…might as well get lured into a bog as well… why not… have to improve the day that one, really…”
At least Mae couldn’t actually see the energies of the forest, not being magically inclined herself. That was something to be grateful for, surely. But then, she didn’t really need to. It was spooky enough to suggest they were there, kind of like seeing something not by seeing where it was but by seeing where it wasn’t.
The horse and rider were at the end of a series of disagreements over this – the last one involving them running, very fast and quite without paying attention to where they were going, from the Red Menace.
Indre barely noticed the half overgrown, crumbling, and discarded equipment poking out of the green (in places anyway) as she urged her mount forwards – even in the misty air that shape had looked familiar.
------------------- And here we have Part One of a collab with the talented and patient Maeix2. More to come, and we'll be linking them together once we have the pieces all posted.
This collab fulfills #4 from the list of scenarios - our heroes find other contestants.
Art credits: Rough pencils - Murasaki99 Final pencils - both of us Inks - Murasaki Colors - Maeix2 Plot, editing, and dialog - both of us Whee! Like all good collaborations, the final product is a fun blend of our styles.
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`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More