Monday, June 15, 2009

Berserker Part 14

They had slowed their pace considerably since Jarn’s warning, and the miles and miles of endless dense forest didn’t help much either, especially with no one willing to widen the trail. As they kept going, Aniston fancied the trees grew thicker and closer together, deliberately blocking out more and more sunlight, closing in around them. All he could see above were the branches and leaves of the majestic oaks that now seemed to hold extreme danger in their shadow, all he could see in any direction were their trunks.

They were just rounding a corner when the noise began. They weren’t really howls, not by the standards of any self respecting wolf. They sounded more like a dog trying to act ferocious, attempting to turn a whining yip into something that would freeze the marrow in their preys’ bones. It seemed that the ululating came from behind every damned tree and branch that could be seen. The caravan stopped immediately and the wagonmaster fought to calm the horses. Every man, woman, and child held their breath, searching for some sign of movement in the surrounding wood.

A sudden bright flash of light pulled their attention as if by a winch to a spot some hundred yards ahead of the wagon. It was a torch being held by something in ragged robes, its lone light was soon joined by three others. A dozen or so creatures like the first were now visible scurrying around small but immensely heavy looking contraptions set in the shadows of the concealing oaks.

Aniston stared at the iron contrivances, too stupefied to say or do anything. They were all poorly made metal pots which someone had made an attempt to paint a dogs mouth around the hole, they looked very deep and heavy. They had been bolted to a square metal platform with handles for carrying. They looked very familiar to Aniston but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what they were for or where he had seen them. He was so enraptured by them, he didn’t even notice when the howling stopped. One of the dirty gnolls placed its torch against a metal pot, his eyes widened as it came to him. He leapt from the wagon seat just as an eye searing flash and a deafening boom erupted. He realized that they were part of a story that his father had told him once, years ago. They were supposed to hold some sort of power, they shot huge balls of metal or stone so fast that they couldn’t be seen, completely decimating anything it hit. What had the old man called it, a can-something?

The wagon he had been sitting on a split-second before was ripped apart in an explosion of wood and metal. The driver simply disappeared in a spray of red, the poor man didn’t even have time to scream. Aniston got to his feat and ran towards the rear of the wagon train minus one. This is it, any second now the rest of those things will tear us all apart before we realize we’re dead. He continued onward, and once again hit the ground as another metal device discharged. But this time there was no death, fiery it was but no death occurred, a tree beside him was blown apart in a rain of boiling sap. It was apparent that, although powerful, they were not all that accurate or easily aimed. Well that’s two, there are two more. That’s one more than it will take to kill us. Aniston didn’t bother getting up to run, he was older than he let on and he accepted his fate.

This time there was not the same boom. A strange squealing noise occurred very quickly before a giant gout of fire leapt into the sky. Something was wrong with the device, it had been plugged and instead of shooting, it had exploded. Incinerating most of the nearby ragged gnolls and setting the oily and matted fur of the rest ablaze. There was a fourth weapon, but they were all too panicked to use it, instead they flapped their arms around like idiots and rolled about on the ground, trying to put the flames out.

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