There were signs of a camp fire, but only one, and not too recent. The place had been picked over by scavengers at some point, and evidently the damned frogs. There were webbed footprints everywhere. The fairies did an aerial reconnaissance while I looked for any sign of struggle, or worse, bodies. I found nothing of note, but Liz had all the tracking skills. I could only look for things that would be obvious to anyone slightly obtuse.
It was Booty Shake who found the first hob. He had seen better days. I recognized him from the last defense of the bridge. He had been one of the scouts who had taken the wounded away while we tried to hold the froggie horde at bay. It didn’t take long to figure out what had killed him. Despite the parts where the local fauna had nibbled on him, he had two spears sticking out of his back. Pretty conclusive. What worried me most was the leather wrapping and the devices burned into the shaft. These were lizard folk spears. This hob had been killed by one of the lizards. I sent the fairies looking and we found four other dead hobs, one of them on the edge of the deep water, and three in a clearing, with half a dozen dead frogs and three dead lizard folk. I examined them and saw that they were not any that had been with Jira. That was good. I thought we’d all had a pact, had gotten along. Betrayal of an ally is pretty ugly. I was fuming.
I checked each of the hobs and was happy that none of them were my stalwart lieutenant: Shadow One. He and one other were missing, so we widened out search. This is where I saw Liz being beaten down by her own people in my dreams. I closed my eyes and looked around in my mind. What had the place looked like in my dream? Where there landmarks of any kind that could direct me to that spot? We expanded our search southward, away from the original encampment, but gave that up after full dark was upon us. I was uneasy, but didn’t want to go blundering around in the dark, and I was absolutely sure I didn’t want to use any form of light that would draw attention to us.
We decided to make our way to the nearest tree line away from the water, which proved to be east of us by a quarter league. I thought at first that I’d feel better leaving the scene of my people’s betrayal, but he closer we got to the wood the more my stomach began to hurt. There was something bad ahead, and we had to discover it. Intuition is a powerful tool.
The near edge of the wood ran a goodly distance north and south, as well as going eastward for a fair bit. The fairies were intrigued by the possibilities of moving in here if the wood was not already controlled by a fey creature. What they didn’t count on was the taint of torture. The final blow to my composure came when Morning Glory called me a dozen strides into the wood. A clearing appeared in the midst of the wood, overlooked by one of the largest spruce trees I’d ever seen — its grand beauty marred by the crucified form of Shadow One.
I collapsed, my legs no longer able to maintain my weight. They had bound him with rope, then pinned his limbs to the tree with spears. His ears, nose, lips and tongue had been cut from him, as well as all of his fingers and toes. It was a horrid sight and anger rose in me, mixed with dismay. I turned from his visage and vomited. The fairies did the same, and for a few moments all I could hear was the sound of sick hitting muddy ground.
On the ground at the foot of his broken body, Kithri’s bread basket stood, filled with his dismembered body parts. The sanctity of the basket had been desecrated. Never again would the amazing honey bread grace its wooden wholesomeness.
I cut him down and removed the spears. He tumbled to the ground, a rag doll that spoke of many broken bones.
Morning Glory hovered over his broken form and began to sing a nearly tuneless dirge. I sat on the ground next to him and arrayed his missing parts as close to their original positions as I could. Then I began gathering stones to build a cairn. At this point I didn’t truly care if I was discovered. I would look forward to killing a lot of frogs.
Several of the fairies, led by Booty Shake flew around finding stones for the cairn. Recall I told you they were very strong. Two of them could carry a stone heavier than I could carry, and the cairn was built in only a few hours. The sky was cloudy, but the lights from the fairies was enough to build a cairn by. I said words to my friend and cursed his enemies. Morning Glory pointed out that the tracks were all frogs. No lizard folk.
She also suggested that anyone could use spears that belonged to someone else, and that I should not assume that my stalwart hobs had been betrayed by Jira and her warriors. Maybe that’s what the frogs wanted me to believe. She was very wise for a fairy. I had to tell her she was the prettiest in payment for her wisdom, so there is that. Still, food for thought.
Once the cairn was built, I moved deeper into the wood which ended at the side of a slow moving stream. We could get fresh water there, and build a fire far enough away from the frog region to avoid detection. Or so I surmised. What did I know. I had frankly grown despondent. There was one hob missing, as well as all the lizard folk along with Jira and Liz.
Goddesses I hoped she was alive. I’d already lost her too many times. The fairies shared the watch and I provided them with food, much to their delight. Then I lay out my bedroll and attempted to get some sleep.
I don’t even know why I tried. One minute I had my eyes closed and I was relishing the fact I had no pixie lights (since the curse had been removed). So much for good sleep. Dawn was only a few hours away and I had just about given the whole ordeal up as a bad idea when Jackson, one of the male fairies, flew down and stood on my chest, poking me on the nose with the blunt end of his spear.
Apparently I had managed to find some sleep, but only enough to wake to a sudden swimming head and nausea. Definitely less than three hours.
Then someone staggered into the camp.
“Dry lander?” Liz croaked out. I got one glance at her, took in the arrows in her chest and the spear in her back before she fell sideways into my arms.