I grimaced, clutching the reins so hard my knuckles turned white. I might be thrown from the back of this infernal beast better known as a horse at any moment. When I dreamed about an adventuring career it didn’t occur to me that horseback riding might be part of the work. Dwarves are NOT built to ride horses. Our party was to rescue the prisoners captured during the goblin attack. Atherton, Elias, Persephone and Sulayn galloped forward on their horses with a skill and ease my body could never manage. Bitches, I thought.
But one rider was having as much trouble with his horse as I was. Over six feet tall and built like a brick shithouse, his horse seemed grumpy at bearing so much weight.
“Looks like we’re bringing up the rear,” I said. “I’m Halda.”
“Yes, I saw you during the festival attack. I am Vargan,” he said. His voice sounded like a low-pitched croak.
Vargan was so hideous I wondered if his mother had to get drunk to breastfeed him. His pale white skin had a faint greenish tinge and oily complexion. He had large bulbous black eyes and an unnaturally long tongue, both of which resembled a frog. I suspected he was a Caliban.
“A dwarf,” he said. “We see few of those here.”
That got under my skin a little. It felt strange and patronizing being recognized for my race alone. But it was something I’d have to get used to if I was going to live in a human dominated country. “I just moved to Caliphas,” I said. “But I was born in Highhelm.”
“What made you leave?”
“Things happened and I did not fit in there anymore. Many were glad to see me leave.”
“People are always glad to see me leave,” he said. “Why did you not fit in?”
“It’s complicated but basically people were sacred of me,” I said, not wanting to bring up my psychic powers.
“Do you have family in Highhelm?” he asked.
“Yes. They were sad to see me go. But the situation was difficult. I had seen it happen before and it didn’t end well.”
“You are fortunate to still have your family. Mine rejected me,” he said.
“Because of the way you look,” I guessed.
He turned red with anger. “Yes. As a child they tormented me every day. Then they threw me out and left me to die. Someday I will make them pay for what they did.”
I began to feel bad for him. I thought the treatment I received in Highhelm had been difficult – the whispers and suspicious stares as I walked down the street, the friends who began avoiding me, the rumors I was a Duergar mind witch. But through it all my family had supported and loved me. What if they had turned their backs the way the rest of society had? That was the reality Vargan faced.
“I have another reason for moving to Caliphas,” I said. “It’s the last place we heard from my Aunt Valmae before she disappeared. I am hoping to find some information about what happened to her.”
“What was she doing in Caliphas?”
“I’m not sure. She was exiled from Five Kings Mountains 20 years ago.”
“Most people would not want anything to do with an exile.”
“It’s complicated,” I said again. “High King Borogrim exiled her. My family did not agree with the decision. ”
“Oh, one of those high and mighty king types,” Vargan muttered. “I will help you find her. Family is important.”
“Thank you Vargan,” I said. “I’d offer to help you find your family, but it sounds like you might be better off forgetting about them.”
His face darkened and he pushed on ahead. Staring at his slumped shoulders, I had no doubt I was looking at someone who had been hurt badly by this world.
We had just spotted signs of a campfire in the distance when the goblin dogs attacked.
They were so stealthy we did not spot them until they were uncomfortably close. Their foul stench gave them away more than anything. They were the size of large dogs with the face of a rodent and a nasty bite. Even worse, they were notorious carriers of disease. I was not sure how many of them there were but I was pretty sure they outnumbered us.
Taking a deep breath, I focused my psychic energies, feeling the pressure build up in my mind. Then I thrust those energies into the minds of the two nearest goblin dogs like a hammer. They were sent reeling, stunned by my psychic attack. But I knew the effect would not last long.
I turned to see another goblin dog moving in behind me. As I readied another mental stun, Persephone stepped between me and the dog. It charged, but she jumped aside and shoved her sword up its ass. Then she wrenched her sword out of the dog’s body in a spray of blood and gore. The dog screeched as its entrails unspooled onto the ground. Then it collapsed and died.
Another of the dogs slammed into me, its teeth digging into my arm. Fortunately my leather armor held. By Torag’s beard, the disgusting beast smelled worse than orc shit. Focused on me, the dog did not see the figure approaching behind in time. Its head turned just as Elias chopped it clean off. Did he wink at me?
Then I saw Vargan. One of the goblin dogs lay dead at his feet, but it had torn a large, gaping wound in his side and taken out a good chunk of his shoulder too. He was struggling to keep his shield up.
Touching Vargan’s wounds, I channeled my psychic energies into him. I hooked into the connection between his mind and body, trying to stimulate his natural recovery system. It required painstaking, precise concentration and was harder than throwing mental stuns. But it worked. I watched as the wounds closed and then vanished.
Vargan sprang up. “I didn’t know my body could do that!” he boasted.
“I did it,” I said. Did this fool think he had spontaneously regenerated?
For a moment he seemed to not hear. But then he crouched down beside me. “Thank you,” he whispered.