Thunder and Lightening Loads

Thunder and Lightening Loads

Postby Korressa » Thu Oct 22, 2015 3:49 pm

The thunder of hooves and the rumble of wheels precedes the wagon that tears into the Broken Dagger's stable yard. Its lanterns sway and cast flickering, eerie shadows in the dust thrown up by their arrival. Before it fully stops, a trio of merchants tumble from various perches and posts, discarding a cudgel and an old crossbow as they descend. A pair splits off, racing to grab the heads of the panicked horses that had hauled them and their wares up the southern road. The two solid horses in the traces are lathered with sweat, their eyes rolling in their skulls and their ears pressed flat in fear. They jerk and buck, and one man quickly slashes through tack with his knife to pull the terrified animals free before they break either limbs or shafts with their frantic thrashing.

"Wha'appened?!" one of the lads from the livery gawps upon exiting the stable proper to view pure chaos on eight legs. The others stay back in the doorway, knowing that fearful horses and stray hooves do not mix well with young bodies or skulls. The men pace the horses in tight circles, trying to slow their attempts to break free and flee. With every pass, they begin to calm, but they still huff and blow like they have run for miles at top speed. Even calmer, they start at their own shadows in the glowing lamplight.

"Attacked on the road, just before we were aiming set up for the night," the third man answers as he wipes sweat from his brow with a sleeve coated in dirt. He, too, stays back from the fearful animals, letting the other two manage alone. He's the eldest of the three; the other two could well be his son and grandson. "Ne'er seen a thing like it in all my years on the road."

"Bandits?" the boy asks eagerly, and scrambles between the slowing horses to get to the older man. Little by little, the livery resumes its usual activities and tends to the new arrivals. Some of the older lads relieve the merchants of the horses, and they join their patriarch near the battered wagon. Evidence of some sort of struggle shows on the planks of its sides—gouges have been rent through the wood in jagged rows, as if raked by great claws. Some of the strapping and oiled canvas tarps that protect the merchants' goods are likewise shredded and flap free over the sides.

"Nay, no bandits," the old man says.

"Not even human," the second eldest, his son, interjects. "Some kind of dire forest sprite, with talons on all four feet that would make a harpy weep in envy."

"Took our spare horse," his father adds with a grimace, and raises his hand to smooth his mouth unconsciously. His eyes are hard to read in the unsteady lamplight, but his face is drawn and tense. "Tore her lead as if it were a bit of woollen yarn, tore her to pieces like she was made of marzipan." The stable lad listens on with wide eyes, and rubs a tentative finger over the fresh gashes in the wagon's painted flanks. They stand out, a stark white in the dark.

"Were it one o'them dry-ad things?" he asks at last, his expression mingling awe at their survival and dread at their response. "Stories're goin' 'round. Hunter almost got et by one last week. 'eard it was the size ov'a tree wi'a mouth like a cave."

"One?" The old man laughs, a deep and hollow sound. "At least half a dozen, working in a pack. Shot them with as many bolts and they brushed each one off like a mosquito. If they'd not all fallen on the spare pony, I'm not sure we'd have gotten away at all."

"Should report it," his son says, coming closer to place a supporting hand on the old man's arm. "Someone ought to be sent to do something. Let Brand handle things here, we'll go together."

"Aye, aye. A wise suggestion," his father agrees wearily, and together they head into the stables to borrow fresh horses, that they might report these strange happenings to the constabulary. Brand, meanwhile, sets to securing the wagon with the help of the lads from the livery. There are things missing to be accounted for in the morning—but at least the only life lost was that of a horse, and not a human.
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