The Eilythry World
Week 6, Retreat from the Forest
We left our heroes withdrawing from the forest under attack by elves or something like them. The party got out without further incident and went back to the tent, to patch up and tell Lorelei and David of our misadventure.
We then heard from a crier that there was going to be a theatrical performance on the jousting green that evening. David, Dr. Wu, and the Naza (still disguised as a horse) decided to go and try to pick up some local culture. Tom, Lorelei, and Aphron stayed in the tent. Cantrel went to the tavern-tent to drown some of his aches and pains.
The performance started with a stage-magic act put on by Agrast the Charlatan, whom we have seen before, collecting "hant" blood and rummaging through book stalls. He does a creditable job, then packs up and the play begins. The play is "The Woods Beast," based on a local werewolf legend, and is, alas, dull and dreary. Consequently, Dr. Wu's attention was free to notice that Agrast, having packed up, went wandering off into the woods.
Dr. Wu dismounted and skulked after Agrast. He found him standing oblivious in the fringes of the forest. A hant approached him from behind, but withdrew at the sight of Dr. Wu. After a while, Agrast returned to the clearing and Dr. Wu ducked out of sight to summon the rest of us by hand-comm.
Aphron, Tom, and Lorelei left the tent and heard someone muttering and fussing in one nearby. It turned out to be Agrast, who emerged still fuming. Tom hailed him and asked what his problem was. Agrast, still seeming pretty disconnected, muttered that he had had a book on these woods people, but it had been stolen, doubtless by the hants themselves. He added that there always had been enmity between them and mankind, an that they were now out to revenge their dead. He wandered off and could not be further engaged in conversation.
In fact, he wandered off into the woods on the opposite side of the clearing. The party hastily gathered to follow him, except for Aphron who detoured to the tavern tent and gathered up Cantrel. Now, even in his cups, Cantrel is deuced sneaky, but luck was not with him that night. He, Aphron, and Wu filtered into the woods after Agrast, but quickly lost sight of him. They also lost interest, since the woods were thick with the flitting pale shapes of hants. (Tom, Lorelei, the Naza, and David stayed at the edges of the forest, since they are not good at stealth.)
Just about the time Agrast vanished into the gloaming, the hants attacked our scouts -- Cantrel first. While Cantrel collected damage and laid about him with his nunchuck, Aphron dashed in to the rescue. He swung with a mace, an elf parried and deflected it -- into Aphron's forehead. Aphron was down for the count. Dr. Wu threw stealth to the winds and fired a laser at a hant -- who turned the split second before and blocked the laser bolt with his spear-shaft. THAT'S a new one.
Since stealth was of no further use, the party at the edge of the woods now charged in. In the end, we all got out alive, though Cantrel was just barely on his feet and Aphron had to be revived by Wu. These hants throw and thrust a very nasty spear, and are just as strong as humans. Also, they strew the forest with snares and traps.
But we got a hant. He went down late in the fighting, and Tom, Wu and Cantrel determined to pay in their own blood to get him out to examine. And pay we did. Wu and Noon both took spears. Cantrel picked up the hant and dragged him out, using his body as a shield. The other hants went right on throwing and stabbed their fellow two or three times. Eventually, some yards out of the woods, the rain of spears stopped.
We went back to the tent for a quick patch-up and a look at our prize. Quite dead, but still a specimen to examine. Wu did emergency field surgery on Cantrel and surprised himself. In fact, Wu first showed a talent for psychic healing, in addition to his mundane talents. Then Wu and Cantrel, the worst wounded, started out separately for the pantope (which we left in the outhouse, as you may recall). Cantrel carried the hant body, for the autodoc to examine.
Now, when we first started tailing Agrast, we noticed another figure watching him at the edge of the woods. He was there at least until the Naza charged into the woods. Cantrel now noticed him trailing stealthily behind. Cantrel managed to lose him, deposit the body in the outhouse, and sneak up behind him. He coughed politely and asked if he could help the gentleman. The man started, then smiled, and admitted that he was burning with curiosity. Cantrel admitted to the same problem and suggested they pool their information. He invited the man to step into his outhouse. The stranger decided that was, indeed, the privatest place available, and a two-holer besides, so in they went. (They had by now sized each other up as high-quality spies.)
Cantrel was relieved but not surprised to find the hant body gone. Wu had reached the pantope before Cantrel and had removed it. Also, the entire party is now listening in on Cantrel via hand-comm. The stranger wanted to know:
The spy left and Cantrel and the body quickly vanished into the pantope, sick bay to be precise. Consequently, when the spy came back a moment later to ask one last question, he was puzzled to find the outhouse empty....
Nonetheless, he came to the tent, where Noon was, of course, expecting him. Noon did not reveal this, but admitted him on Cantrel's name and showed him the spear, which was made of steel and rather better than the steel in the spy's best knife.
Meanwhile, Cantrel was healing in sick bay and Wu was pumping the autodoc for data on the hant. The autodoc reported that this was definitely a non-human being of non-Terrestrial metabolism. It was adapted for darkness. It was faster than human. (Do tell!) It had an extensive adrenal-gland analog and could probably do remarkable things in short bursts. (Yup.) It might be more confused by bright light and noise than a human would be. It could not be revived without expending scarce resources.
The next morning, Tom came in for a turn at the autodoc and brought some local weeds with him. The autodoc confirmed that the weeds matched Terrestrial metabolism, therefore the hants are alien to THIS world, just as much as to the real Earth.
We also met the spy again, who gives the name Tecker. He said he had found the creatures had a name -- Eilythry -- and had killed thirty people during the night, all at the edges of the camp. It looks like war, folks.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.