Chapter 7: On Track

How to be an Adventurer—The Art of the Quest

You’ve found a quest, perhaps a noble one or perhaps something with ruins, treasure and spelunking. Welcome to the world of adventuring! Now that you are here, it is time to INVENTORY YOUR TRAITS! Why ignore those gifts that the gods have given you when you can STRATEGIZE! Maximize your approach by organizing your party. A good leader makes an order of march, an order of battle, a party pool for the treasure and an accurate assessment of all of his or her assets and fellows. Use that assessment and compare it to possible obstacles and foes! Not every party is ready to slay a dragon or scale a cliff. And, when in doubt, RUN! Discretion, strategy and intelligence are much more important than headstrong valor.

***

The weather was favorable this late summer afternoon. It was the sort of day in which the wind breezed off the hills and its battalions of dandelions, tall grass and fruit trees. It was perhaps the remains of an ancient orchard. For sure, this land had seen enough destruction and regrowth over the millennia. 

Carric gazed to the sky, the sun warmed his face as he allowed himself a contented sigh. Carric had practiced being confident and done a pretty good job of it. He had argued the logistics of the quest and lost—as his heart had desired. And so, he had no reason not to feel good. The clouds were wispy and light, the birds chirped with the beauty of sound and things buzzed and flew about him in delightful play. It was a joyous sun that showed on this day and he felt confident that even their corpses would look wonderful in the open air of this magnificence.

Humming quietly to himself, he soundlessly practiced his lute and singing voice as he marched.

“Yenrab, have you ever read the biting words of the poet Ray Day McCray? Or the nuanced thoughts of Alexos Polaris?” Carric asked, scanning about himself in ecstasy.

The man was lost in his own thoughts and paid him no heed.

Carric simply sighed. It is all good. I am often not heeded and am quite used to it.

Tracy cavorted nearby, half-skipping and half-dancing as they moved forward. To her, Yenrab did pay attention, mumbling and shaking his head. Carric noticed that Yenrab even shook his fist at the sky, his face stormy. The big man sighed.

“Yenrab, what are you thinking about?” Carric Smith asked, himself content with their certain and impending death but worried that his new friends might not be so at peace with it.

The big man paused and eyedCarric critically. He nodded, bent to his knee and slung his massive ruck off of his shoulders to place it upon the ground. Tracy continued moving even as they stopped. She was circling them rather than progressing forward, lost in her own world.

Carric eyeballed his fellow half-elf and wondered what she was thinking as well. It had to be interesting, the way it seemed to take her over even in the midst of the things about them. He’d have to ask sometime.

Yenrab flexed and stretched to rid himself of the stiffness that comes with being the party’s pack animal. He opened his rucksack as far as it would go before looking at Carric again with curious and searching eyes. Carric backed up.

“Woah! This feels important, Yenrab. Maybe you shouldn’t do whatever you are about to do,” Carric said as he, without thought, retreated from the large bag upon the ground. He felt the dizziness that often accompanies destiny.

“It might be. I don’t know yet. But if it is, maybe you guys should know about it too. Or at least you since Tracy doesn’t seem to be all there,” Yenrab groused the last bit, distracted with larger thoughts though. “Before I found you both, I found this.”

Yenrab plunged his thick arms into the bag, searching and shuffling before grunting his success. Yenrab withdrew a book that glowed with purpose and he displayed its cover to the curious bard. Carric read it aloud, with an eager voice, “How to be an Adventurer—Volume One. Written at the behest of the gods. By Jerold Frey. Gods, Yenrab, that is fantastic!”

“Do you know something about this, Carric?” Yenrab asked, his eyes serious and wide in surprise. “What can you tell me?”

“I can tell you that Jerold Frey was the most powerful and famous bard ever and that he is practically the father of our modern field. That book, there, is worth a fortune. Can you read it?” Carric asked in surprise.

“I can. And I have a theory that I suspect is about to be proven. Can you?” Yenrab asked back.

Carric scratched his head. “The book is in Upper Elvish, the language of the Elven Reaches. Or so it was a minute ago. And now it is in Icegarditian common tongue. That is absolutely amazing.”

“It is. And I thought it might be like that. For me, it is in Orcish,” Yenrab paused, scratched at his butt cheeks and then sniffed his fingers. Carric pretended not to notice. “And I’m not a quick hand at Nemedian common, ya know, nor do I know a lick of Icegarditian. I’m guessing that’s where it is gonna stay for me unless I make some strange life choices and study to become a linguist,” Yenrab chuckled. Carric joined in. Tracy honed in on them, coming close and laughing heartily.

“What’s up, guys? You playing ‘laugh a lot’? I love that game. I usually win. Especially, when I play against myself. Hey, cool book. You all read Freemeetian? That’s amazing! I do too!” Tracy exclaimed.

Yenrab laughed hard, his sides shaking as he did so. And Carric joined in as well. Tracy was different. There seemed to be something enjoyable and fun buried into that sorcerous free-floating hippy. Something quite enjoyable. They laughed together in newfound friendship as the birds chirped and tweeted and the bugs buzzed by in contentment.

***

“Well, I don’t see anything yet, but let’s all keep looking anyways. They won’t have gone far, ya know,” Yenrab spoke in a concentrated manner as he surveyed the land. His seasoned eyes crawled over the tall grass. Somewhere, soon, there would be tracks.

Carric bent forward and grabbed a small hunk of wood that had lodged into the dirt before him. It was sodden and had a slimy feel to it. Disgusted, he dropped it down and wiped his hands off upon his trousers.

“You find something, Carric?” Yenrab asked kindly.

“Nothing worth anything. I think that maybe we aren’t going the right way.” Carric grimaced as he thought about having to go back and retrace their route.

“Nonsense, friend Carric,” Tracy put in, “Those tracks were heading in this direction. Sure we lost them, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to the right place.”

Tracy Riley spun around in a couple of circles, her arms outstretched as she did so. Carric smiled as he watched her twirl in contented bliss. Then the smile dropped awkwardly. Shadows of his past clouded his face in discomfort and he looked away, both jealous and embarrassed.

“Well, you know, I’m sorry everybody. I lost the tracks and, well, I guess I messed that up. But I’m really thinking that we’re gonna find them again real soon. These guys are not at all afraid, I don’t think. If they were, they’d spend time covering their tracks, but, well, these guys weren’t doing that. And I don’t see why they’d start doing it later up the hill,” Yenrab noted.

Carric gave it a brief thought and nodded. There was no reason for the orcs to be afraid when they had a troll leading them about.

Yenrab whistled a halt. Carric checked about himself in a brief panic, unused to this life. Following the large man’s gaze, he saw it. There, over a green-haired lump of wildland, something was pushing down a clump of tall grass.

“Hey, guys, I see something. Battle prep just in case—I’m gonna move on and investigate,” said Yenrab, taking charge and calling out the plan.

The big monster man moved cautiously. He weighed and calculated the risk in just moments. His handsome and friendly face went serious, his massive muscles rippled as he dropped his large wooden shield and stretched both arms behind him. Each arm seized a well-sharpened and heavily weighted battle axe suited to his size and strength.

Carric whispered to himself in preparation and called up the words to one of his magical songs. He blew notes upon his harmonica and swung its hold bar shut across his face. The instrument quivered in readiness. His powers were just a chord away. Satisfied, he glimpsed over to observe his final companion.

Tracy wasn’t doing anything. Carric growled in frustration.

Ahead of him now, Yenrab moved closer and closer, his body hunched low to the ground and his senses alight in the tingly mess of adrenaline. The human-orc hybrid zigged and zagged with suspicion as if he suspected some sort of trick. Carric whistled, breaking Tracy from whatever conversation she had been having with herself and he waved for her to follow forward. They fanned out in the rear and watched Yenrab approach his target. There was a moment of tense hesitation as the youngling tribesman stopped and reconsidered. Then, with tremendous agility and speed, he leaped up, both battleaxes gleaming wickedly in the summer sun. Even before he landed, his companions could see this was a false alarm.

“It’s a pig, guys. I’d guess it tried to escape and the troll smashed it for a quick meal. Sorry about that. But, hey, let’s take a break here and I bet ya I can find the trail again no problem,” half-chuckled a half-embarrassed, half-amused, Yenrab.

***

The break lasted a brief ten to fifteen minutes before the party moved on again. They were not all that tired, each fueled by that unrelenting energy and that somewhat foolish eagerness that comes with youth. And the trail proved easy to follow. Dollops of blood, bone and cartilage left a trail anyone with half a brain and functioning sight could follow.

Carric thought about what he was seeing and shuddered.

“What a mess,” he said aloud.

Yenrab grunted in agreement.

Carric’s brain pulsed with thought and imagination. He felt he could see exactly what had happened.

He could see the hulking troll and his dirty orcish companions. They hooted and hollered in glee. Maybe one of them even did a dance. They grunted and growled in apish hunger before tearing out steaming, bloody chunks of sow as they trudged ahead. The pig had still been alive, no doubt. They were damned savages. They howled in victory as they made their way to their new home. The orcs and the troll were lords over the local village now, unless the young adventurers did something about it. Dirty, filthy orcs leading humans.

Carric suddenly felt guilty. He cast a furtive glance at Yenrab, remembered back to the orc farmer in the village and sighed. Nah, orcs aren’t all bad. Just the ones that try to kill people for no reason.

As Carric and his companions trudged up the hill, he felt weary. What was right and what was wrong in this world? In Icegard, it was pretty easy. Ogres and humans were the good guys even if they tended to stuff you into the latrine between classes or make you dance naked in the snow. Orcs were the bad guys. And giants. And anything that rose out of the ruins of the old Mage College. He used to pay a local skirmisher a copper a day to hear tales of the world and that last one, the ruins of the old Mage College, that was the one thing about which he would not tell tales. Perhaps it was that easy. Perhaps those ruins were evil and everything else was just degrees less of it.

He felt dizzy thinking about it. But at least it made the time pass by.

***

At the steepest part of the hill there came to sight a series of rough-hewn planks, fresh and new, set into gradually inclining ramps. It was a primitive set of steps that led to the furthest parts of the steep bluffs. They peered up and saw that these thick slabs of oak led to a recess in the almost sheer rocky sides. That recess, Carric thought, must hold the object of their quest.

It would have been a hard climb but, as it was, the humanoid bandits had taken some effort to make this place permanent and easier to traverse and that worked both ways. The party would arrive at whatever camp this was in a condition that left them fit and ready for battle. Ultimately, they would arrive with nary a breath spent.

Winding around, again and again, the heavy wooden planks provided step after balanced step in a way that presented professional acumen. Carric had tried and failed to create his own variety of structures in Icegard—it was expected of real men to know such things. But he had studied the ideals of sustainable architecture before and found that everything he created was neither sustainable nor rightfully called architecture. Ruminating on it all made his brain itch. Either the orcs had better shaap teachers, as they had been called at his school, or else he simply sucked that bad at making things. It really was a toss of the dice, he realized, having no definitive answer to draw upon.

Each plank had been slapped into the rocky side hard with multiple oaken poles, sharpened and forced into the surface by a very enthusiastic troll, held firm and solid without any shake or shiver. Despite a lack of expert craftsmanship, the humanoids had done a good job of addressing the problem at hand, bending nature to their whim and creating the defensible path as well.

Carric peaked over the side at the drop that awaited the unwary and he shuddered. We should probably keep the fight indoors and away from all of this. He could too easily imagine the troll picking them up, one by one and tossing them to their doom. 

The companions walked along the plankways with weapons at the ready. A bird called out, its cry echoed against the rock face.

“Aaah!” screamed Tracy into Carric’s face.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” Carric screamed back, almost losing his footing.

Yenrab stopped moving and just watched them. He shook his head and sighed. Suddenly the air was aflutter with frightened birds. The white pasty grit of their poo haphazardly landed on and about them.

Tracy waved at them as they departed.

“Gods! Both of you! What happened to well-practiced professionalism? Aren’t we adventurers now? Don’t we have a book saying we are?” Carric spoke out in shrill outrage.

“Eh,” Tracy squeaked, her hand rocking back and forth in front of her to signify her doubts about such a concept.

“I think the book is teaching us, Carric,” Yenrab opined, glancing into the sky. “Right now most of it is blank so we aren’t nearly to where you seem to think we are.”

Carric turned to him. “Yeah? Then what are we doing chasing down a troll?”

Carric had been beginning to feel better about the idea. I mean, helping poor villagers was the stuff of ballads! But it was beginning to seem as if his first instincts had been correct and that this fight was well above anything they could handle. 

Yenrab smiled.

“We’ve got weapons and magic, bard. Those are formidable friends in all situations.”

“Yeah!” Tracy added in a burst of enthusiasm. “We’ve got this!”

Carric stared. Those two were bursting with energy and to be honest, he was still feeling a tingle of it himself. How could they be defeated? It was unimaginable.

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Published by Damien Lee Hanson

I am the founder of Damien Hanson Books. Come check out awesome authors right here at my website!

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