Part 3) Adwin
Adwin followed Tipper, more or less along the road, heading westward. The day was warm, the sky clear, yellow beaked plains crows were abundant, a few condors circled high in the sky a couple yat ahead of them and the occasional pseudo-vulture appeared to harass the crows or steal some of the bounty for themselves. The broad swath of trampled ground, flattened grass and brush was about a hundred paces across. Large strips of grass had been eaten to a stubble and in some cases the earth had been turned, roots, grubs and likely a large amount of dirt had been eaten as well. The birds were feeding on the leftovers of some other creature’s smorgasbord.
The creatures that had done this were huge, large depressions had been sunk into the ground at fairly regular intervals, perhaps half a hand deep on average, the biggest track he had found had been three hands across. Adwin had also estimated that the creatures were between two and three paces across, maybe twice as long with a fairly broad tail that left vaguely snake like patterns. He estimated the heard to be somewhere between twenty and forty members. At least three of them were much smaller than the others, yearlings or babies. The trampled path was littered with bucket sized piles of dung.
They had been travelling along this broad trail since mid-morning, the creatures had been travelling southward but swung west, adjoining the road. Adwin was beside himself with curiosity, but Tipper had not given the new situation any additional attention, as if she had seen it before. Fifteen yat later Adwin was having a really hard time not asking her about it.
Ever since their hasty departure from Aramy Crossroads Tipper’s brow had a slight furrow and she seemed deep in thought most of the time. Her mood had not been great these last few days, she said little and if he talked overly much she asked him to be quiet.
The carrion birds seemed to follow along behind these big creatures. The trampled path continued ahead, roughly alongside the road for as far as he could see. Eventually, around mid-afternoon he could contain himself no longer, if Tipper would not answer him then maybe the crows would.
“I wonder what could have done this?” He ask, addressing one of the nearby crows. It ignored him.
Tipper looked over, “Did what?”
“Uh, this.” He said with a broad gesture along the line of the trampled area.
She kept walking, the days heat had to be roasting her alive in that armour. “Oh, plains-striders or land-striders as some folk call them. Wyrms, dragon spawn, you know.”
“Dragons!” Adwin looked around, startled.
“Spawn, wyrms.” She trudged past him.
“So no fire breathing, giant, winged reptiles?”
“Dragons are not reptiles.”
“Yeah right.” he said with a skeptical tone.
She stopped, turned with a look of frustration. “Adwin.”
He walked up to stand before her, earnest. “Yes, Tipper?”
“Dragons are either drake or wyrm; The drakes are smarter than most humans and wield powerful magic. Wyrms are typically non-viable offspring that will sometimes speciefy or become a viable species. All dragons are considered chimeric and should never be considered lizards. Lizards don’t do well in the cold, most dragons are not hindered by such.”
“You made that word up,” He grabbed the big water skin and took a couple big gulps, it was warm and not very refreshing, but it quenched his thirst. He passed her the water. “Besides, who’s ever heard of dragons eating grass. And think about it, if dragons can breathe fire then they would not get cold.”
She drank as he talked, tied off the stopper and handed it back to him. She said that she thought he was being silly, “We’re not stopping.”
“Seriously? We’ve been non-stop for nearly three days. I’m sore everywhere.”
She turned and continued walking westward along the trampled road. He stretched and watched her walk away. She seemed grumpier today. He took the time to relieve himself, faced eastward so the wind did not cause any blow back. After a moment he realized he could see three people in the distance, riding horses. From this distance they appeared no larger than ants yet they stood out clearly against the trampled ground.
He straightened out his pants and armour, reclaimed his pack and bundles. It took a fair bit of time for him to catch up enough to Tipper so that he could get her attention without having to shout. Raising his voice only a bit, “Hey… Tipper… Riders behind us.”
She stopped, turned and watched, motionless and alert. He enjoyed watching her do this, he was not even sure it was anything more than the hunter’s skill of observation. Yet, there was a calm, focused intensity about her, no sign of the earlier frustration or moodiness.
After a while she nodded and then resumed the trek westward. “I think the white horse is the mage, the other two are likely her henchmen, maybe the spider-guys.”
“Oh that spider was really neat, never seen one so big. Must have been the size of a dog and mandibles the size of my hand.”
“Well, I’m not saying you didn’t see what you saw, but that woman is a mind witch. So you can’t trust everything that happened to you. You don’t even remember you were about to give her your only coins. She’s more dangerous than either of her big companions.”
Adwin looked back, the riders were maybe five yat distance, they still appeared ant sized to him. He turned back and jogged after her, his pack and bundles bouncing uncomfortably. “Hey, we should make me a harness like the one you have. It’d be easier to carry all this stuff.”
“Sure, but without the buckles and clasps it won’t work as well. You seem up for a jog.” She set off, soon taking the lead.
“You know, this is not really what I want to do. I’m seriously not used to travelling at this pace you’ve been setting.”
“Just a couple of yat.”
They jogged at an easy pace but it was late afternoon before they stopped. Adwin was winded and sore and collapsed into the pile of his gear. She just put her pack and bow down, then spent some time looking back along the road and eastward onto the plains.
They had a quick bite to eat and drank more water, the large water skin was emptied during the break, leaving their two smaller water skins. Their break did not last long enough as far as Adwin was concerned, but by this point he had learned arguing with Tipper was fairly pointless. Instead he got back to his feet with a groan and trudged along behind her.
A short while later the land-striders’ path change to a southward direction while the road continued west. Birds, especially crows, were still plentiful and it was a couple yat further down the road before the sound of their fracas faded away. They kept a good pace until near nightfall. Tipper had been looking for a place they could get off the road without leaving an obvious trail through the grass but as the day’s light was dying they still had not found any such spots. Nor had they found any water that day.
They could not see the riders behind them, but that was likely due to the lay of the land and the fact they were back into the taller grass. Kallen was rising in the southwest apple green in the sunset, but near full, though it would be a number of eight-days before the small moon was truly full. Masri would also be rising soon, and it would be full.
Tipper suggested, “With the moon light we’d likely be able to keep on the road. Our other option is to move off into the grass and hope that if they are searching for us they don’t notice the trail.”
Adwin did his best to appear to be considering the options, but after a moment said, “I think we can risk crawling into the grass. First, it may not even be the witch you think it is and second if they ride through the night there is a very high probability they’d not notice our trail. Especially if we took some care about it.”
“Yeah, sounds reasonable, but no fire tonight and lets be extra careful getting into the grass.”
He nodded in complete agreement. And they were soon huddled in the grass a few dozen paces off road. He sat down, then realized he had fallen asleep when Tipper woke him to make him drink some water, he loosened his clothing and took his extra gear off. Though neither of them removed their armour. It should have been an uncomfortable, restless night, however his exhaustion was so complete that he did not remember dreaming.
He woke with the sun in his eyes and sore muscles, all the muscles, muscles he had not realized he had were sore. Without moving more than he had to, he fumbled with his pack until he found some dried goat meat. Small blue chested birds flitted around the area, one landing briefly on his hat and then it was gone the next moment, not a species he was familiar with. After he had eaten a couple pieces of meat he straightened his gear, he slowly stood and looked around. He was so stiff he hobbled around for the first while like an old man. He drank some water, a bit dismayed at how little he had left. Of Tipper there was no sign other than her pack and bedroll.