Exodus

Canto, the First

Guys? Guys? This isn't funny any more...

Dramatis Personae:

Idiot #1 Peter
Fizzle Abi
The Cook Tim
No one of consequence JC
The Unibrow Jake
The Gropee Dallas
Backhander Bill

The irregulars camped at the bottom of the wall, cuddling in the safety of their bedrolls. The cook was awake, fixing their breakfast. The fire burned merrily, but the steaks were not becoming hot. The rest of them awoke to bone-aching cold.

The archivist awoke to cold, again. His shirt and pants were frost-rimed and his joints creaked. “Typical,” he said, as his clothes froze over and shattered. An idiot came running in, entrenchment tool in hand, and swung for his crotch. “Good thing I’m an eunuch,” the archivist grumbled.

A second, one “Fizzle” by name, rolled in and set fire to the archivist’s pants. Apparently something was hiding in there — something cold and spiky. The something bolted away, with his pants, of course. The something tore a strip from the archivist’s pants and tied it around its head like a bandana.

An angry and veiled priestess anger the something. So, of course, the something burrowed its way into her robes. “Just reach in there and grab it,” the first irregular said. A second, young, with a Hitler-stash and a unibrow, full-bodied tackled the priestess and started groping under her dress.

The something popped out of the priestess’ robes with a hand around its neck. A hand that was neither hers nor unibrow’s.

Idiot Number One shouted some nonsense about condemning it to death, and unleashed some fire, missing spectacularly. Fizzle did likewise, with better results, but only angered the something, causing it to stab for her feet with an icicle, and tumble into a teapot, which promptly froze and shattered.

The archivist spoke a word, “Healing”, towards the gropee, and then lashed out with some lightning, pulling the something over next to him. “You, something you, give me back my pants,” he said morosely. He picked up the largest portions of his pants, and they were suddenly shredded by a crackling bolt from the Gropee. “That’s gratitude for you…”

“Die!” screamed Idiot Number One, lashing out again with fire, more effectively this time, promptly mimicked by Fizzle who missed. At least they know how to take turns, the archivist thought.

“You’re next cupcake!” screamed the something, and it promptly vanished.

The archivist picked up a shard of teapot, which promptly exploded. Muffled mumbling could be heard from a sleeping bag, into which the old seer had somehow zipped himself. His beard woven into a muzzle, tied around his mouth, and frozen over. The seer’s bag had apparently been stolen. The Tribune, meanwhile, lay in his bedroll with a broken leg.

The something was invisible and flying. The archivist looked around and found a trail of blood from the something. They tracked it. Not towards the fire of ultimate coziness, nor the plains of pleasantness, but into the icy heart of the Mirror Forest. “Typical…”

The woods got closer and tighter, and tighter and closer. As they walked, snow melted, icicles fell, and a path appeared. The Cook led the way, covered with clanking pots, and a heap of snow which fell on his head from the trees above.

The brambles grew closer, thornier, almost as if they were deliberately woven to catch our clothes. Fizzle set it on fire, which was surprisingly effective, given how damp everything was. The kind of damp that made the archivist’s bones hurt, almost as much as the cold did.

Hanging in the brambles was a snowflake made of bound-together fingerbones. Fizzle mage-handed it into Gropee’s bag. A lazy, chill wind blew by. Gropee said it was a curse-marker, used by spirits in the employ of the north wind to curse their enemies. “Of course it’s cursed…”

The thorns grabbed and restrained the irregulars. All of them. Except Unibrow. Some creepy little twig-dolls appeared and started spitting thorns at them. The archivist dipped his head just in time to not get hit by one, then looked up and took a thorn to the forehead, and promptly passed out.

Let it hereafter be noted that the next portion of this account is based on hearsay.

Unibrow, with tremendous aplomb threw a rock masterfully at a tree branch, causing it to fall perfectly on top of one of our fell, fiendish foes, striking it a withering blow! Gropee followed with a viciously volatile volley of lightning! Idiot Number One aptly anointed the aging archivist with bilious blood, bringing him back to clear consciousness!

One twig-doll tumbled into the river below, because, of course there was a nearby ravine with a river below. A second leaped at cooky and began strangling him with its thorny limbs. The archivist leveled a smoldering glare at it, and it began to smolder. Idiot Number One lit it up as well.

The archivist said that word again, the “Healing” one, and Fizzle stood up. Then he yanked the twig-doll-thing over next to him with a lash of lightning. Where Idiot Number One promptly burned it to cinders. Then he opened a seal on that thing he carried and all the icicles on the trees turned to blood, and the cook got better.

A small, skittery, thorny creature scrambled its way into the thicket which held them. Fizzle talked to it, about fire and not-snowflakes and the missing satchel. “Winter is coming. Dig your roots deep. Drop your leaves. Store.” Gropee passed it some food, which it promptly sucked all the moisture out of. As the thing skittered away, Fizzle performed a ritual for the detection of magical auras. She sensed cold, faeries, the verge.

The irregulars moved. The trees moved. “Of course they moved.” It was easier to track in the forest at least, as the leaves near where the something had flown were brown, cracked, and frozen.

They came upon a small hamlet of Glaistig charcoal burners. They sent Unibrow in as a sacrificial goat to see if the locals were friendly, the others followed. Branches cracked, dogs barked, children ran yelling, and a crew of charcoal burners all carrying bundles of sticks, with glinting metal things insufficiently hidden within. Unibrow lay down and starts rolling around in the dirt, then stood back up. A nervous tick perhaps?

Someone let Idiot Number One talk. A Glaistig of the irregulars (where did this guy come from) backhanded him and shut him up. The locals seemed cautious, but Backhander stumbled his way through and offered them his weapon as a gesture of their good intentions. Idiot Number One opened his mouth again, and got backhanded again.

The locals were not simple forest folk living a simple forest existence. These were hard-bitten, armed, grumpy. They cooked their meals over long-burning charcoal. Cook stepped in to show off — drawing quite the crowd of women, and children, and dogs.

Idiot Number One struck up a conversation with the Tribune, Claudius Lysias, learning that he drew the short straw in being sent beyond the wall. Of course, everyone out there drew the short straw. As to the archivist, after much coaxing, the Tribune implied that he was “standard equipment”, and the poor man was thereafter referred to as “Stan”. For his part, the archivist cozied up to the fire and tried to massage some of the ache out of his bones.

Backhander strikes a conversation with the locals. They were proud folk, descendants of the workers and engineers who built the outer ramparts of the walls, more concerned with their freedom than their comforts. No fans of the Legion these, but they still would fix a block here or there to keep the wall intact. In exchange benefiting from cast-offs from the other side — medicine, cloth, weapons.

“What my friend here has been trying to say…”

“Don’t hit me again…” Idiot Number One butt in, after getting hit a few times, asking about ‘Borea’, the spirit of the North Wind. The locals informed the irregulars that there was a struggle in the forest, between the spirits of the wood and the spirits of the winter. It’s always been going on, but this year, “There is real blood, or sap and ice if you prefer, in the water.”

Backhander offered to provide a military escort to the locals to transport their charcoal to market. They, in turn, suggested that it would be more useful if they just emptied out the Kenku nests. Of course, the locals conveniently had some idea where it my be.

The archivist, meanwhile, hugging the warmth of the charcoal fires as much as possible, tried to turn an old blanket into a pair of pants. A gnome appeared out of nowhere and insisted on making the pants for him. They were glittery, spangled, flamboyant — exactly the sort of thing to make a target out of him. “Typical…” Then cut up his shirt into something not-at-all-warm, which showed off his caved in stomach and bared ribs. “Of course…”

At least they got a good night’s sleep.

Then they went off in search of the Kenku nests — filthy, befouled (and befowled) nests. The whole place was heavily pungent. Like a hutch of giant chickens, with a crude, useless outward-facing palisade. The cook scouted ahead. There were a lot of them — multiple hunting parties ten to twenty strong each.

Fizzle hurls a lance of fire at the biggest hut full of guano, and as her name implies, it peters out before making contact. The birds charged them, leaping into the air with heavy bundles of what were surely instruments of destruction.

Gropee suddenly revealed herself to be a kenku, or at least she looked like one. Backhand blasted one out of the sky with arcs of lightning.

Idiot Number One grabbed Fizzle and charged them back, downhill, on a lead sled. Two were knocked prone. One was knocked sliding down the scree. Five more were left in the dust behind him. Closer now, Fizzle could, in fact, hit the broad side of a barn. Of course, she and Idiot Number One were sitting in the middle of the caldera of highly-flammable bird shit.

A handful of kenku swooped down upon the irregulars at the top of the hill. Three dropped rocks on Unibrow, another three dropped rocks on the archivist. Of course. The archivist, being the only intelligent being present, cast sanctuary and hauled ass for the tree line. He probably would have been better off without the flashy pants.

Idiot Number One threw down his shield and surfed further down the scree, dodging charging kenku. He grabbed Fizzle, and cast “Don’t quit on me now girl,” and somehow managed to burn up a kenku as they went past. Fizzle, meanwhile, started glowing and unleashed a thunderwave, blowing the remaining kenku away. They flew down the hill, sparks flying from the metal shield, and breaked right on the edge of the steaming lake at the heart of the extinct volcano on which the Guano City had been built.

And, of course, they were all going to die, but not until next time…

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