26165736_524925471206813_5741445874671323792_n

 

Gax parried an awkward and weak strike with his massive axe, burst forward, then slammed his fist into the human’s face, bone crunching. The merchant flopped to the hard rock ground, a limp heap. He brought his axe up over his head and set his feet apart.

“Gax!” shouted a familiar voice. “No killing!”

He rolled his eyes and spun around to face Darsil’eit, his elf companion, his arms going slack.

“Where’s the fun in that?” he argued, kicking backward and striking the unconscious human with his heel.

Dar tilted her head and glowered at him.

“Oh, fine!” he relented.

The two left the handful of unconscious humans and their orc guard to sleeping and ransacked the cart they’d been hired to waylay.

As they pulled open compartment doors and slid open drawers, finding hidden areas with small lockboxes and other fine goods, Gax noticed a sizable cut on his forearm, leaking blood to his elbow and wrist. “Look at this! They tried killing me dammit!” He cast a glance over his shoulder as the driver stirred, his face twisted in pain.

“One’s waking up, Dar. Come on, let me take him out. I think he’s the one who got me!” Gax took a step toward the semi-conscious man.

“No,” Dar barked. “You heard Eaton. Any casualties and we lose half our pay.”

“Fine then,” he huffed. “I’ll just take a bunch of their shit.”

“Fine by me.”

Minutes later, they were strolling along the mountain pass, a light breeze blowing infrequently, shivering Gax to his bones each time. They were only a bowshot from the merchant and his cart when they heard the people they’d left there stir awake. The pair remained sure in their casual gait, however, certain that the rope binding the guards, driver, and merchant would impede them for quite some time.

“Hey,” Gax said suddenly, stopping. He unslung the sack from his shoulder, filled with the merchant’s goods, and placed them on the ground. Dar followed his intense stare up the slope of the mountain leaning out toward them, searching futilely for whatever Gax had seen that had caused him to cease abruptly.

“Here,” he added without looking at her, “hold my battle axe.” He thrust the weapon toward her but continued to stare upward. When she didn’t take it for a long moment, he turned to regard her wildly.

Dar stared at his axe with a mask of disgust. He followed her gaze to the pointed tip at its end and found a chunk of meat and greyish green skin. “Ah, from the orc back there. Shoulder, I think. Maybe some bicep…”

He trailed off as Dar turned her angry glare his way. “Right.” He carelessly flicked the mound of gore from the top of his axe then placed it on the ground. “Wanderer’s moss,” he said as he turned back to the mountainside and pointed. Roughly twenty feet up the steep, rocky face, was a thick mat of glistening blue moss, small flecks of purple strewn across it.

“We’re stopping so you can get a handful of wanderer’s moss?” Dar asked, plainly not impressed.

“The places you can go while on that stuff, Dar.” He shook his head and grinned. “I’ve paid a gold square for an evening on that before. That’s enough to keep me hallucinating for a week.”

Without another word, he began to climb, ignoring Dar’s whispered expletives.

The rocky face was lacking in sure foot and handholds, made especially difficult given Gax’s size. He sidled back and forth as he charted the best path up. After a minute or so, he fell the short distance to his back, smiling at Dar as she bored holes into him with her glower while he made another attempt.

Sweat falling from his brow, calluses ripped open on his hands, Gax was finally nearing the hallucinogen. He found a particularly flat shelf that would place him within arm’s reach of the moss and hoisted himself toward it. His hand reached over the lip of the shelf and brushed something rough, perhaps just another stone. He pulled himself up higher and came face to face with the narrowed eyes of a large eagle.

“Oh, no,” he whispered into the raptor’s face as her chicks squawked alarmingly behind her. The eagle opened its wings, screeched, then clawed at Gax’s face. The tip of one talon raked across his forehead, digging a deep furrow through his skin. He yelped and nearly lost his perch, leaning away and swatting at the bird.

He slipped down and barely managed to grasp a rocky outcropping after slamming into it, groin first. He continued to slide down it, slowly, the breath blasted from his lungs. His grip continued to falter, and he plummeted the rest of the way down. He bounced off the rocky mountainside once, then crashed down onto his back next to Dar.

A groan of pain spilled from his slack mouth, his eyes clenched as tears welled.

“Gax, get up!” Dar instructed.

“I just fell off a thrice-damned mountain, woman. Can’t you give me a moment! Oh, my balls…”

Footsteps sounded vaguely on the rock back the way they had come. Gax opened his eyes and looked up the path to see the orc and human guards from the caravan descending on them, weapons in hand. He turned to look at Dar and found himself staring at her back. She had turned, their prize in hand, and bolted.

“Honestly…” he whispered incredulously.

Gax struggled to his feet, grabbed his items, then followed, limping at first as each step sent a stab of pain through his groin. He heard the eagle’s piercing cry and looked over his shoulder to see it staring at him menacingly. He threw an obscene gesture its way. As though it understood the insult, the eagle dove from the mountainside and cut through the air at him.

Gax’s eyes widened and his mouth went slack. Then, he looked ahead, put his head down, and ran as hard as he could, hollering, “Shiiiiiiiiit!”