August 17, 1720
After yet another very late night, the party woke late the next morning. Not wanting to waste time, they quickly gathered up their things and went to find Bittercress.
They found her and the other Tuscarora warriors just outside the fort. The warriors were kneeling, prostrate on the ground as Bittercress walked through their ranks, beating them with a green pine-switch and berating them mercilessly in their own language. Seeing the party come out of the fort, she broke the switch and cast it aside before walking up to them, all smiles.
“Take us to your leader,” they said.
Bittercress explained that the village was about 4 days away, walking at a good clip. Her raiding party, she said, kept a semi-permanent camp on the west-bank of the river, only a few hours hike away from the fort, and only rarely went back to Chief Graceful Cock’s village. Liadan implied that her magic could speed them up considerably.
With that, as quickly as possible, their few horses were saddled and the party was underway, surrounded by an honor-guard (if it could be called that) of a dozen fully-armed Tuscarora warriors. Were it not for Rhodri riding point and scouting, it would look, to any outside observer, very much like the small party were the Indian’s prisoners, rather than the other way around.
They quickly descended from the mountains heading north-west and crossed over the river, with only Rhodri’s stature causing any issues with fording it. From there they turned south and worked their way upstream, following the river’s course. They paused at dusk. Over a brief supper, Liadan worked her magic to dispel their weariness and they all pressed on through the night.
August 18, 1720
Some time in the dark hours of the morning, Siclare pointed out that they were not far from where they had encountered the werewolf a few nights before. Sure enough, Rhodri soon found wolf tracks crossing their path and heading more-or-less the same direction. Liadan called a halt and she, Tess, Siclare, and Bittercress came up to examine the tracks as well.
When Rhodri turned back to point out what he had found, the tracks looked, oddly, to be going in the opposite direction from what he had first observed. Even more oddly, the tracks appeared to be depth-less, almost as if the tracks had been painted on the ground (albeit convincingly) without any weight actually being applied. Of course, no one else seemed able to see this. Tess even went so far as to break out rulers, calipers, and every other imaginable measuring device in order to show him how deep the tracks were.
Their argument was cut short by the sound of a deep-voice laughing. Looking up from the tracks, Rhodri spotted a number of floating balls of light drifting through the trees towards them. He fired off an arrow, striking one of the glowing balls and sending it spiraling down into the underbrush. At that same moment, Tess’ pants fell down and she tripped, falling flat on her face, accompanied by even more laughter, this time from right above them.
“Pixies!” Rhodri shouted, with an obvious tone of disgust. The pantsings, and laughter continued for some time, while the glowing balls kept their distance. Tess pointed out another glowing ball up in a tree right above their heads, then pointed out a branch, at the same height, but on an opposing tree, that seemed to be sagging oddly.
Liadan called up and offered the faeries booze, in exchange for leaving them alone. She gathered up handfuls of nut shells from the forest floor and began filling them with water from the river, which she promptly transmuted into whiskey. There was a loud rushing sound, as of large wings snapping, and the branch Tess was watching shuddered as if a great weight had been removed. One by one the tiny nut shotglasses vanished, then a deep voice, now right beside Liadan said. “Got a bigger cup?”
Rhodri, who apparently had a deep-seated prejudice against all pixie-kind, began to berate their unseen tormentor. He quickly felt something hard come up between his legs and rose nearly seven feet into the air and stayed, floating there, almost as if he were sitting on an unseen horse. Tentatively reaching out to either side of him, he felt something smooth and leathery, almost wing-like. Liadan explained that she had made all the booze her spell could, but offered them more tomorrow.
“Then I guess I’ll have to stick around until you can make more,” said the deep voice. Slowly a horse-sized, winged reptilian creature faded into view between Rhodri’s legs. The dragon was dark yellow in coloration, with brown spots running down its spine, and brown and white striped wings, and introduced itself as Plein-Vite. Tess took a good look and pointed out that the coloration matched a French breed, used by the Empire as couriers, leading to much speculation as to how Plein-Vite might have gotten out there (though with no answers from him).
Once everyone had settled down, they got back on the road, with the dragon trailing along behind them, determinedly pointing out that he would stay with them until provided with the promised additional alcohol.
They marched on through the day, stopping only to eat and relieve themselves. As they day wore on, they found that Liadan’s fatigue-suppressing magic had to be used more and more often. Some of their Tuscarora escort even found themselves getting strangely jittery when they went more than an hour between castings, forcing her to constantly relieve them as they walked.
Finally, around dusk, the foot-pain of thirty hours of mostly uninterrupted walking overcame even the fatigue-lifting effects of Liadan’s magic and they were forced to let up. They pitched camp and turned in for the night.
August 19, 1720
A few hours before dawn, while Tess sat watch, the glowing balls again appeared drifting through the woods. Assuming, from the events of the night past, that they were the work of the dragon, Tess sat back and watched as one drifted into the camp and began flitting about the bedrolls.
Finally, the light settled just above the face of one of the sleeping Tuscarora warriors. His body stiffened, jerked, then bent almost in half as his spine seemed to curl in on itself as if wracked by excruciating pain.
Tess screamed and quickly woke everyone. Seeing their companion’s state, the other Tuscarora grabbed their weapons in a panic. Liadan turned towards the light and unleashed a volley of eldritch blasts, to no avail. More and more of the lights began floating towards the camp, faster now, their radiance pulsing brighter with every scream.
The dragon, sleeping on a tree-branch that seemed far to thin to hold something of his bulk, looked down and suddenly caused all of the Tuscarora’s pants to drop around their ankles, then laughed uproariously. The lights paused their advance, as the startled warriors stopped their screaming for just a moment. No one else thought the Plein-Vite’s antics were funny at the moment however.
Meanwhile, the sleeping warrior continued to writhe in agony as the light pulsed over his head.
With a roar of, now seemingly forced laughter, the dragon dove and unleashed a sharp exhale. A billow of thin, yellow-brown gas washed over the party and their terrified escorts. Immediately everyone burst out into uncontrollable fits of mad, cackling laughter. The lights froze, even the one feeding on the downed warrior, turned and flew away with great speed.
Liadan looked up at the dragon, “You weren’t pranking us last night…you were trying to protect us from those will-o-wisps. Weren’t you?”
The dragon merely rolled his eyes and muttered something about the dangers of not having a sense of humor.
To be continued…