<---------Previous Chapter Eladrin: Dawn Chapter Four Camping… was a novel experience for Melfice.
He’d trained in some rugged terrain, that was true, but that was because the Basalt Tower was located high in the mountains north of Horinta, an expansive trade city all shared that the races of Eladrin. That being said, he rarely ever trained outside the safety and warmth of the enchanted black structure rising from the cliffs overlooking the rest of the world below.
The Basalt Tower was home to dozens of high-tier wizards of various stripes, all under the leadership of Archmage Gravius Lorine.
The man that had, for whatever reason, took Melfice under his wing when he’d first arrived as his sole apprentice.
Being a half-elf had kind of paid off, truth be told. Unlike the rest of his peers, he still kept his youth by the time his ten-year training was completed, appearing no older than a sixteen or seventeen-year-old man, albeit thinner and paler with slightly pointed ears.
While they had to complain of their teenage years being spent stooped over a massive tome in a dark library by flickering candlelight, Melfice still had some growth to look forward to.
That being said, as he sat on a log that’d been hewn from a lonely tree off the side of the road by Skelly when they’d stopped for the day, staring at Needles and Wheeze as they struggled to hold down the thin broth Elena had forced upon them, he mused that maybe he’d missed out on being around people that weren’t all bibliophiles.
He’d never gotten to laugh at anyone for drinking too much and puking onto a druid’s two-headed war hound before being forced to run as said druid shouted what had to be some rather colorful curse words in his secret dialect. The closest he’d come to this level of entertainment was when Thomas Macomber had snuck a bottle of what he’d thought was cooking sherry, only to down the bottle before realizing it was actually fermented Linnorm Oil.
He’d been drunk for days!
“Enough with that,” Skelly grumbled, stepping over Wheeze as he moaned miserably. “We only got an hour of daylight left. Maybe less, if I’m being fair. Melfice, you know how to make a campfire?”
Melfice shrugged. “I can conjure flames, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Good enough,” Skelly nodded, kicking Needles in the side. “Come on then, you drunks, cut the branches good while Posnev and I go hunt down some dinner. Some nice greasy rabbit should settle your stomachs, I imagine.”
“Yer a right bastard, yeh know tha’?” Wheeze groaned, pushing himself up onto his elbows to scowl at Skelly. “I already heaved me innards while ya frog-marched us all day, least you could is let us rest a bit.”
Skelly snorted. “As I can’t see in the dark, I’d like a campfire ready and crackling by the time I get back. Going to be a chilly night.”
Melfice snorted at the understatement. A soft dusting of snow covered the fields that the road split, with ice-rimed weeds poking out of the frost here and there, icicles hanging from the scattered trees that were clumped together every dozen feet.
Wrapped in his travelers’ cloak with the thick gloves and boots he so loved, Melfice still felt like he would catch a cold just sitting here.
Elena didn’t seem to fare much better, her thick scarf wrapped around her neck and shoulder so tightly he could barely see her sparkling eyes over the colorful stitching of the woolen garment. Her winter’s cloak and fur garments sparkled with specks of snow here and there, her cheeks rosy beneath her fuzzy hat.
Wheeze and Needles were each wearing their boiled leather chest plates and sleeveless jerkins beneath, baring their muscled arms to the frigid clime around them. From the way they were sweating, they didn’t seem to care that it was cold enough to preserve a corpse.
“Right then,” Needles grunted, heaving himself up to his knees. “Let’s get this over with then. C’mon you, before the druid goes barkers!”
He kicked at Wheeze, who waved him off as he pushed himself to his feet, wobbling slightly. They grumbled, picking up their swords as they coughed and hacked. Wheeze spat up a black sludge onto the ground, earning a shriek of fright from Elena. He gave her a wane grin, sludge dribbling down his chin.
“Wha’ thought ya were a healer? Never seen Black Lung before?” He rasped, hefting his heavy blade onto his shoulder.
“You have Black Lung?” She gasped, hand covering her mouth.
Melfice looked between the two. “No clue what that is, but it doesn’t sound good.”
“It isn’t!” Elena insisted, sparing Melfice a glance before looking back at Wheeze. “That could kill you, what in the Lady’s name are you doing outside of a hospital?”
Wheeze shrugged. “Eh, somethin’ has ta kill me. Might as well earn some coin fer laughs and booze before I stop walkin’.”
“Braver priests than you have nagged him before, El,” Needles said, stopping near one of the thicker branches jutting from the log. “Just leave him be, he has medicine he takes for it.”
“There is no medicine for it!” Elena cried, shaking with indignation.
Wheeze raised an eyebrow. “There ain’t?” He reached to his hip and pulled up a waterskin, filling and heavy. “Wha’s this then?”
She snatched it from his hand and popped the cork from it to take a whiff, recoiling in terror. Melfice was sitting almost five feet away, and even he could smell that awful stench.
A mix of charcoal and a latrine, it made his nose hairs curl up on themselves. He gagged, moving his arm over his nose. “Damnation, that is foul! Plug it up, quick!”
Elena did, looking positively green as she handed the waterskin back to the smirking mercenary. “What in the world is in that? It smells horrible!”
“It’s wha’ gives me my lovely mood yeh’ve all enjoyed,” Wheeze chuckled, rolling his head to the side with a manic grin. “A mix o’ some witch from tha south, Needles makes it fer me.”
Elena and Melfice looked over at Needles, who was using his long daggers to hack into the dead wood, cackling madly as he did so.
“He… doesn’t seem like the person who knows much about herbal medicine.” Melfice said, trying to be delicate.
“You think your so tough, Nature? Bring it!” Needles crowed, stabbing the trunk to gain a handle hold, before ripping the damaged bough from the log in a show of brutal strength. “Ha! You ain’t got nothing, Nature, nothing!”
Wheeze shrugged. “’E’s alrigh’, knows more than ‘e lets on.”
“This can’t be good for you!” Elena insisted, waving at the waterskin.
“Makes it ta where I can breathe,” Wheeze countered, “not breathing ain’t good, righ’?”
Elena stared at him, dumbfounded. Melfice just shook his head. “El, just… just let it go.”
“B-b-but…” She sputtered, clearly at a loss.
Elena glared at Melfice, puffing her cheeks. “He needs to take better care of himself! Do you know what could happen if he doesn’t?”
“I’d die, prolly.”
Both Melfice and Elena snapped their heads to Wheeze at the rather straightforward answer. Wheeze was studying them with his bloodshot eyes, looking either half asleep or very bored.
“I, uh, I mean, yes, you could die if you—”
“No ‘could’ bout it, little sister,” Wheeze coughed, shaking his head, “we come slidin’ outta our ma’s chute with an hourglass. No matter what ya do, no way to keep them last few grains o’ sand from fallin’.”
“But…but… you should still try to not speed it up!” Elena stamped her foot frustrated.
Wheeze gave a raspy chuckle, shrugging carelessly. “Why? I kill people fer money, girl. An’ they rarely let me do it twiddlin’ their thumbs. Odds are I won’t live to see the Black Lung claim me, an’ I should jus’ enjoy what time I got.”
“That’s… oddly poetic.” Melfice said after a few moment’s consideration.
Wheeze grinned, head lolling. “Yeah, tol’ yeh I was a scholar!” He turned to Needles, who had already hacked the bough into several manageable pieces. “’Ear that, ya lout? I’m poetic!”
“Lovely.” Needles drawled while wiping sweat from his brow. “Get over here and use a simile on this log, would ya? Going to be cold tonight.”
“Wha’s a simile?” Wheeze asked, walking over to study the sturdy trunk.
Needles shrugged. “No clue. Heard a few scribes arguing over it before when talking poetry, figured it meant something smart-like.” Needles leaned back, several pops echoing from his spine. “Probably could have found out if we made that beauty a sandwich last night.”
Wheeze laughed, slapping Needles on the shoulder before squatting to heft up the split logs. “Tha’ we would’ve!”
Melfice shook his head, frustrated. “A simile has nothing to do with food, you cretins!”
The two paused and spared a glance at Melfice before sharing a long look between each other. “Food?” Needles asked confused. “When in the blazes did we bring up food?”
“Boys barkers…” Wheeze shook his head, carrying a stack of firewood over to where Elena had laid out her supplies. “Though she looked good enough to eat, she did.”
Melfice heaved a sigh, turning to Elena before nearly jumping.
She was blushing redder than any rose he’d ever seen, eyes focused on her folded hands in front of her. She seemed desperate not to look at any of them, though for what reason, Melfice couldn’t fathom.
Wheeze nudged him with an elbow, waggling his eyebrows. “Hey, looks like El here migh’ wanna talk poetry wit ya!”
Needles let out a loud guffaw. “Ha! ‘Talk poetry!’ That’s great, have to remember that!”
Melfice opened his mouth to continue arguing, only he paused as his ears twitched. Waving a hand to shut the two meatheads up, he turned to face the woods that Skelly had marched off to with Posnev.
He could hear… was that squealing?
“Wha’ is it?” Wheeze asked, staring at Melfice. “Ya hear somethin’?"
“I don’t hear anything…” Elena said, red hue slowly draining from her cheeks.
Needles stood up, twirling his knife between his fingers. “You’re not an elf, Sister.”
“Neither is Melfice!” She insisted.
Wheeze waved a hand at her, dropping his voice to a rough whisper. “’E’s half, so closer than any o’ us. What ya hear, boy?”
Melfice continued to stare into the darkened shade of the woods, the dying light of the sun stretching the shadows to unfathomable lengths. “It sounds like… a pig? An excited pig?”
Wheeze dumped the stack of firewood to the ground and yanked his longsword from the sheathe. “Aw shit, I don’ feel like dealin’ wit—”
Skelly broke through the tree line at a dead sprint, a crude arrow sticking from his shoulder and a streak of blood running from his greying hair down the left side of his face. Posnev was running at his side, three arrows jutting from his side.
“Marques!” He shouted, the shrill cries of a dozen high-pitched voices carrying over the light breeze. He kicked up clouds of snow as he ran, Posnev whining as one head looked back from where they came.
Bursting from the underbrush, a crowd of pale white Marques came rushing out with terrible war cries, brandishing sharpened spears and bows.
Needles groaned. “By the gods, really?”
“Better to find them now then later, right?” Melfice asked, pulling his grimoire off his hop by the chain.
“Not complaining about that,” Needles said, darting forward. He pulled another knife from a sheathe strapped to his leg as he moved, a practiced maneuver he did with nary a wasted step. “But the little blighters are gonna stink up our camp!”
“Marques stink, Mel,” Wheeze said, swinging his longsword about experimentally, “’specially when dead.”
“What do we do?” Elena asked worried.
Wheeze rushed forward to catch up to Needles as he sought to close the distance between them and Skelly. “Feed ‘em to Posnev before they shit themselves!”