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Chapter 8

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Chapter VIII

The Five Hunters

 

Sunlight dawns on the fourth day of the mission, as Dave wakes up from the cold night wind, seriously regretting not bringing anything warmer to wear. As he looks up from his small tent, he sees Doraghek standing on the edge of a rocky outcrop gazing towards the southern mountains fifty miles away. They were some one hundred miles from Normanguard itself but as Dave got out of his tent, he could still see the mountain rising into the northern sky.

“Up already laddie?” Doraghek said turning around to face Dave. His long, thick black hair and beard giving the dwarf all the protection from the elements that he needed; however, he still did wear a travelling cloak on top of his regular outfit. Axe in hand he walked up to Dave.

“Yeah, couldn’t sleep.” Dave replied looking around at the fresh layer of snow that had come in the night before. “How long… Do you think we have left?” The teen asked as he looked down at the dwarf.

“Ah, we should aim to be heading back by tomorrow morning.” Doraghek said. “Any later and the snows will be too deep, and the horses will freeze to death. Followed closely by us.” He added in a matter-of-fact tone that did not match what he had just said.

“This is going to be the last mission before the winter isn’t it?” Dave said voicing the concern that had been growing in his mind after the second day when the snows had started. “If we don’t find anything today, I mean. We’ll have to wait for months before we can resume the search.” Dave finished. At which point Doraghek looked up at Dave trying to find words of comfort to offer the boy but could come up with nothing, as Dave had hit the nail on the head. It would be impossible as well as too dangerous to mount an effective search once the winter had set in.

“We’ll find something lad, don’t you worry.” Doraghek said with a confidence that he did not feel. As Jimmy walks up to them followed by Codsworth and Barca still drowsy from the little sleep any of them had gotten since leaving the mountain.

 

After an hour the five hunters mounted their horses and goat before riding ever further south at a slightly slower pace than usual given for the fact of the snow, only Doraghek seemed to be at ease, whistling a small song to himself, axe over his shoulder and shotgun still holstered to the goat. Dave rode behind Doraghek and whilst not comfortable was managing fine enough as to be able to survive. Codsworth and Barca followed on, with the experience of the military giving them some preparation as to the uncomfortable arrangement. With Jimmy bringing up the rear and whilst not complaining the journey was starting to take its toll on the young scientist, who not two years ago had never left the city of Metropololis before. All of a sudden Doraghek’s goat came to a complete stop almost causing Dave to almost crash into the dwarf.

“What is it girl?” Doraghek asked leaning down to talk to the goat. With Dave dropping down the googles equipped into his helmet and looks around at the surrounding countryside before stopping looking due east.

“I’ve got something.” Dave said as he continued to stare through his goggles. “Ten o’clock, two miles away, it looks like a… a…” Dave stops, staring at the object in the distance before a dark look comes over his face, and then he proceeds to shoot off towards the object, riding at full tilt of towards the east, with the others after a few seconds, giving chase.

After a few minutes Codsworth finally catches up and is able to grab hold of the reins stopping Dave’s horse and almost causing the boy to fall off.

“What the hell, was that about?” Codsworth asked angrily. “What did you see?” He asked gaining a control over his temper, looking at Dave he could see his anger reflected in the boy’s eyes.

“I saw a black car.” Dave said trying to gain back the reins to his horse as Barca, Jimmy and Doraghek pull up next to them, with their weapons drawn. “I bet they’re the ones who took Martin. Now let me at them.” Codsworth could see Dave’s temper rising and couldn’t blame him, as only a few years before Dave had almost been kidnapped by men in a similar car, with only Dmitri there to stop them.

“Listen kid, we’ll get them, don’t worry about that. But we’ve got to do this the smart way.” Codsworth said and seeing that Dave looked like he was about to argue he continued. “If you go charging in on your own, you’ll achieve nothing apart from probably being in the same position as your brother. Understand?” Codsworth said, trying to implore with the kid not to do anything rash.

“He’s right lad.” Barca said looking grave, his pistol still at the ready. Dave only nodded but still had the look of murder in his eyes as Codsworth starts giving out the orders.

“Right, we're going to surround them. Jimmy you come in from the east, Barca come in from the west. Doraghek ride around and come in from the south. Dave and I will come in from the north. We attack in fifteen. Move out.” Codsworth said giving up the reins on Dave’s horse and looks at the group who nod and ride out to their assigned positions. After fifteen minutes Codsworth checks his watch and nods at Dave, before the two of them ride out and charge towards the black car.

 

A tall thin man stands in front of young boy sitting up against a car in a nearby clearing with trees all around them, the man puts a small out a small syringe before turning around to stare at the tree having thought he had heard something, he squints as Dave comes charging on his horse comes through the brush towards the two people.

The man drops the syringe and turns to run before noticing that he has been surrounded by four horsemen and a dwarf on a large goat. As Doraghek jumps off his goat he tackles the man to the ground. As the man tries to scramble away, Doraghek lays the blade of his axe across the man’s throat.

“I’d stay very still if I were you.” Doraghek said staring daggers at the man, the blade of the axe dangerously close to his throat, as Barca dismounts and goes over to the boy, kneeling down so he is on his eye level.

“Are you alright son?” Barca said. The boy only nodded but looked shaken all the same. As Codsworth walks over to the man, with relief, he knew that finally they had found someone who would almost certainly know where Martin was.

“What is your name?” Codsworth asked, looking down at the man with the utmost contempt on his face.

“Alexander Waller.” Alexander said, although he continued to look up at the newcomers with a look like he was ready to kill someone.

“What are you doing with this child sir?” Codsworth said looking over at the boy, then back at the man.

“Nothing that need concern you, imperial.” Alexander said, cursing the last word. “I’m nothing but a simple delivery man.” The man continued with a much more casual tone of voice as if he was describing the weather. Codsworth looks at Barca in shock.

“Where are you based?” Codsworth asked of Alexander but he said nothing in response, choosing to keep his secrets to himself. As Codsworth turns to Doraghek. “Shackle him to my horse, we’ll take him back to the mountain with us.” Doraghek only nods initially, still thinking about what Alexander had said a few moments ago, before coming round.

“Aye sir. A few days down the mines will be enough to loosen that tongue.” Doraghek said with a grin, which in turn caused Alexander to look horrified. The mountain fortress of Normanguard had no prison as such, instead most criminals were sent down the mines as a form of slave labour where they would work off the sentences, not that many finished those sentences with their lives, those mines had a reputation for breaking even the most hardened criminals due to its harsh conditions, as the mines were both very hot and difficult to breath in due to the underground lava pools that fed the heating system of the mountain, but had the downside of making any form of work near to them almost unbearable.

“Barca would you mind examining the car.” Barca nods and gets up trying to pry the boot open as Codsworth turns to Jimmy. “Ride ahead of us and let the others know what we’ve found.” The commander finishes and Jimmy nodded at this.

“Yes commander.” Jimmy replied before getting back on his horse and began the long journey north. Whilst at the car, the boot would refuse to open so, getting tired, Barca takes out his gun and shoots the lock of the car boot and opens it up and looks inside. A few moments later he comes up with two syringes and several bottles of faint blue liquid.

“We’ve got something.” Barca said looking down at the objects and then back at Codsworth. The commander walks over examining the liquid and the syringes, before taking the top of one of the bottles and having a quick sniff.

The smell was revolting and caused the commander to pull back instantly retching at the smell. Before mentally putting two and two together. The smell of the liquid had almost knocked him, a full-grown man, out at the faintest sniff. This substance would certainly render a child unconscious instantly. “Take them with us.” Codsworth said to Barca. “We’ll need Charlie to examine them, bring the kid along as well. I want to hear his story for myself.” Codsworth orders and at this Barca nods and heads back to the boy, before helping the lad back onto his horse as Codsworth and Doraghek strap Alexander to his own horse. With Doraghek leading on his goat the group head back north, following Jimmy’s trail back to the mountain.

 

A days ride away from the mountain the group make camp along a large hilly range, looking across the landscape from his goat Doraghek notices two figures approaching from the north and goes off to greet them. Whilst the dwarf rode off, Barca helps the boy, who had identified himself as Anthony a few hours into the ride north, dismount off the horse. Codsworth and Dave also dismount before roughly pushing Alexander of the horse allowing him to fall into the mud-covered mountain ground. Barca makes to set up camp as Codsworth approaches Anthony leaving Dave in charge of the prisoner.

“Are you alright their son?” Codsworth asks and Anthony nods in return, looking around. “I need you tell me what happened lad, how did you come to meet this man?” Codsworth continues on, whilst Codsworth voice was trying to be calm it couldn’t quite hide the urgency that was there.

“My group was attacked, a few months ago.” Anthony began quietly, so only Codsworth could hear him. “I ran away as far north as I could go. That man found me two days ago, but he didn’t do anything initially. He kept his distance, cutting me off whenever I would try and leave the clearing.” Anthony looked over at Alexander who was did not return the gaze. He seemed almost bored with his surrounding, as if he expected any moment to be set free.

 

An hour or so later, Doraghek returned followed by two dwarves; Tursumlin Herkur and Throzzoug Borgood, two of the dwarves that they had met on their first trip north to the mountain had come to greet them, all three riding goats. When they arrive the look changes on Alexanders face back to one of fear. Knowing that any hope of a rescue was now over with the arrival of fresh reinforcements.

“This is the one.” Doraghek said kicking Alexander down into the mud. “Are the mines ready for him?” Doraghek asked looking at his kin and speaking loudly enough so that there was no way that Alexander couldn’t not hear them.

“Yes, but there is troubling news.” Tursumlin said looking grave. “I’m afraid the old butler is gravely ill; he collapsed a four days ago. We ask that you return to the mountain with us now.” Tursumlin continued, looking wearily at Codsworth. However, it was Dave that spoke.

“What’s wrong with him?” Dave asked looking worried for the first time since setting off back north. They had left Vernon in, well not exactly fine heath, but he wasn’t in any serious harm.

“The doc thinks its Black Numen lad. But apart from that we don’t know.” Throzzoug said looking as concerned as Dave did. Knowing that it was a horrible way to go if the treatment didn’t work. “We were simply instructed to bring you back as quickly as possible.” Throzzoug finished looking at Dave, who in turn looks at Codsworth. Who doesn’t move an inch, whilst thinking things through. He would not stop Dave from heading back for the mountain if that was what he wanted to do, but he also knew how treacherous the terrain would be at night if he wasn’t careful.

“We can look after this man Dave, should you choose to go.” Codsworth said gesturing at Alexander. Dave looked uncertain, not knowing what to do. Before making up his mind.

“I’ll go, we’re only ten miles from the mountain.” Dave said looking at Codsworth who nods. “I’ll go on foot; it will probably be quicker anyway at night.” He said tying the reins of his horse to a nearby rock before turning back to Codsworth. Tursumlin and Throzzoug looked impressed at this statement not knowing whether or not the kid was brave or stupid for attempting such a journey, deciding that in this case there wasn’t much between the two.

Thirty minutes later Dave leaves the camp heading north on foot, despite the cold air moving in he had insisted on going alone, stating that he would be able to move faster on his own. Tursumlin and Throzzoug had tried to argue with him on that insisting that one of the accompany Dave. Only relenting when Codsworth told them. “That once the lad had made a decision, not even the gods themselves would be able to change his mind.” The commander said bluntly to the dwarves.

 

Dave descended the rocky hills, before taking out a small compass and following its needle, headed due north. Not that it was hard to locate, the black shadow of the mountain was visible even at night, the only problem being would be finding the doors. But that was a problem he would think about when it came up, instead focusing his mind on trying to avoid the holes both big and small, in the ground which if he tripped up in one, would mean at best a broken ankle which would lead to his death out here alone, or worst of all, falling into a ravine which would also mean his death.

It wasn’t easy as, five miles away from the mountain, Dave almost walked head long into a mountain wolf nest, only missing it because of a growl warning intruder away directly ahead of him. He checked his watch before remembering it had broken when the manor had fallen two years ago, wondering to himself why he still wore it before realising it was because it reminded him of home, he looked up and realised he had taken a wrong turn, causing him to have to double back.

It took another two hours before the silvery gates of the mountain appeared to Dave from out of the darkness. With the only eventful thing to of happened was two mountain wolves fighting over an old deer carcass that Dave had sworn had been there when they had left the mountain. As the fourteen-year-old reached the gates, he found them closed and barred against him. ‘Course, they close the gates at dusk.’ Dave thought to himself, he had been an idiot for making the decision to come here alone at night. He was about to try and settle in for the night and wait for dawn when the gates would be open, when a deep voice comes from the ramparts above the gates.

“Who goes there?” The voice was Bruce’s, Dave would have recognised it from a mile away.

“Bruce, open the doors.” Dave said loud enough for his voice to carry the forty or so meters upwards so that Bruce could hear him. After a few short tense minutes for Dave where he was greeted by silence apart from the sound of wolves howling in the distance. The doors slowly open a few meters, allowing the boy to re-enter the mountain.

Once Dave was inside the doors closed behind him and he could hear the sound of the bolts closing across the doors, he looked ahead to see Charlie walking towards him, looking tired.

“Where is he?” Dave asked looking around the main entrance hall, just as something to do rather than as a means of looking for Vernon.

“He’s still in the medical bay kid. He’s a lot better than he was but is certainly not out of the woods just yet.” Charlie replied looking to haggard as if she had not slept much since the hunters had left the mountain five days ago. “Where are the others?” She asked looking around.

“It’s only me.” Dave said. “The rest will be back by tomorrow though. We’ve got a good lead as to what happened to my brother.” Charlie smiles at this, it would certainly make Vernon pleased if he was able to wake up. “What is wrong with Vernon?” Dave asked, looking at Charlie pleadingly for an answer he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear.

“The injury he sustained defending the manor for the first time, has opened back up sometime after arriving here.” Charlie said. “It has since become infected, and Vernon has developed Black Numen. He has about a fifty-fifty chance of survival. He’s in surgery right now.” Charlie looked at Dave mentally preparing herself for the possibility of the boy doing something rash.

“I want to see him.” Dave said with an unnatural calmness which he did not feel deep down. “Which way is it to the medical bay?” Dave asked, realising that he had no idea of how to get there.

“Follow me then.” Charlie said and walked down the main hall, with Dave following her. They turn down a side corridor on the left, after a few moments they arrive at a large set of double doors with a red cross painted on them. The two walk through and onto a viewing platform and look down into the surgery room, where Vernon lies on a table, his chest cut open with several dwarfs bustling around him, removing the decaying, black skin. “We’ll know the results by morning.” Charlie said looking down into the room.

“Fifty-fifty you said.” Dave asked looking at Charlie. “Dmitri once said that Vernon would outlast us all. If he dies now, what does that mean for the rest of us?” Dave looked down into the room. Thinking to himself that if Dmitri was right, this didn’t bode well for the rest of the group.

“Don’t worry about it lad.” Charlie said. “He’ll pull through. But we should get going, there’s nothing we can do here.” She looked at Dave, before he responded.

“I’m going to stay here, a while longer.” Dave replied leaning up against a nearby wall, not turning around continuing to stare down into the operating room.

“As you wish.” Charlie said leaving Dave alone as she walks back towards the quarters. Whilst she didn’t want to leave him alone, she knew better than to try and convince him to change his mind when it was set on something.

 

The following morning Dave lay up against the wall of the observation room with his eyes closed, but not having slept a minute as Nick walks up to ceiling high window looking down at Vernon, before turning to look at Dave.

“Hope you don’t feel as bad as you look.” Nick said a small hint of glee in his eyes, any opportunity he had to embarrass his older brothers was not something he ever turned down.

“Fuck you, little bro.” Dave said his eyes still closed but a small smile on his face, he had known who the voice belonged to immediately.

“Have you tried sleeping in a bed. They’re a lot easier, even the ones here.” Nick said grinning at Dave. “But I know you’re not used to that, you prefer sleeping out in the open air, like an animal.” Nick continued before he quickly ducked as Dave throws a stone at where his head had been a few seconds prior, hitting the opposite wall.

“Well, I see you two haven’t changed.” Vernon said from the distance and causing the two boys to look up at the sound to find Vernon standing in the doorway, leaning heavily on his cane, looking pale but very much alive.

“How long have you been standing there?” Dave asked, getting up to his feet.

“Long enough.” Vernon said, at first looking stern before grinning slightly at the looks on both Dave and Nick faces. “Now, I do believe Codsworth is waiting for us.” Vernon turned around and limped heavily out of the room followed closely by both Dave and Nick.

As Vernon enters the main hall Codsworth dismounts and walks up to him, whilst Barca helps Anthony of his horse and Doraghek shoves Alexander onto the ground, as Tursumlin and Throzzoug haul him towards the throne room.

“Good to see you on your feet old man. We thought we’d lost you, the way the dwarves described you.” Codsworth said, looking at Vernon in slight awe.

“You’re not rid of me yet Codsworth.” Vernon replied. “Who was that anyway?” Vernon asked staring after Alexander.

“Someone who will hopefully give us some answers.” Codsworth said with a grimace. “But he’ll be spending a few days down the mines to loosen his tongue a bit.” The commander continues as Barca leads Anthony after Alexander, putting his arm around the boy as he does so. As Charlie comes down the stairs.

“Codsworth we need your half of the combination to the safe. As soon as possible.” Charlie said, she had decided to trust both Vernon and Dmitri’s theories on this matter, and on the matter of the old butler she turned and stared at Vernon in alarm. “Why are you walking about old man.” Charlie continued

“Because I get bored easily.” Vernon replied quickly.

“Why do you need the safe opened?” Codsworth asked looking slightly confused, they had agreed not to open it, in case some of the greedier dwarves got any ideas about the valuable artifacts inside.

“We think we might have something, a hunch but it’s the best idea we’ve had so far.” Charlie said.

“Lead on then.” Codsworth replied as Charlie, Vernon, Dave and Nick return to the quarters followed by Codsworth.

 

A few of the dwarves from the entry hall start to migrate to the throne room to see what the strange man’s deal was and why he had been brought back. The throne room of Normanguard was well lit, with two balconies on either side looking down at the floor. At the end of the room a large rock formation had been carved into a simple throne that stood some three meters above giving whoever was sitting there an excellent view of what was going on bellow. Looking down at Alexander was King Fierhand Kazburn himself, silvery white beard and hair reaching his shoulders and his usually calm, amber eyes looking murderously down upon the figure I him.

“Ah, my son has returned to me with some new friends I see.” Fierhand said looking down at the room at large, before his amber eyes fixed on Anthony who hid behind Barca. “Come forward boy. You have nothing to be afraid of now.” Fierhand gestures to the lad who walks up to the throne slowly, taking great effort to stay as far away from Alexander as humanly possible.

“Father, this is the boy that this scum was trying to abduct.” Doraghek said whilst kicking Alexander in the ribs, a small cracking sound ensues but, the sound of muttering around the room reaches a fever pitch and drowns out the sound of Alexander’s broken rib. It took a short while but eventually, Fierhand raises his hand and the room falls silent, waiting for their king’s response. Fierhand instead talks to Anthony directly.

“All right then son, tell me everything.” Fierhand said staring down at the young boy. “Tell me all and tell me truths. It is a great crime to lie to a king.” Fierhand finishes on a serious note. As the room stares at Anthony waiting for his response.

 

Codsworth and Charlie walk back into the main living area dumping a pile of lose papers onto a table, as Vernon leans down to have a look. Charlie had tried to convince Vernon to rest but had been flatly refused.

“Here it is, everything Dmitri gathered on The Answer. Including their locations that we know of. It’s not much but it’s should be a start at least.” Codsworth said looking down at the sheets himself. Not wanting to believe that the answer had been within reach all this time. Whilst Codsworth was talking, Barca had arrived and was now standing next to the door waiting for them to finish. As Vernon looks up from the notes.

“Barca, what news?” Vernon said, he had now been filled in on the stranger and wanted every bit of detail that he could get.

“Fierhand has sent our mutual friend down the mines for a few days, he says that’s usually enough to break even the strongest of men.” Barca replies. “It’s now just a matter of waiting for him to talk.” The lieutenant finishes.

“Is there anything else.” Charlie said, she suspected there might be, as the lieutenant was not one to hang around unnecessarily. She was proved right in her suspicions when Barca continued on.

“Aye. The lad told an eerily similar story to Dave’s encounter a few years ago.” Barca replied looking at Dave, who briefly remembers the time he was almost kidnapped by the shadowy organisation. “Also.” Barca said as he takes out the vile and syringes and placing them on the table next to the documents, so the group could see, as Charlie picks them up. “We need you to run and analyse on these as soon as possible Charlie.” Barca looked seriously as Charlie continued to examine them curiously. “We found them in the car that was on the scene. Damn near made Codsworth retch.” Barca finishes taking a step back away from the substances

“Correction they did make me retch.” Codsworth said, looking grim again remembering the smell still made him feel queasy. As Charlie kept on examining the blue liquid looking happy for the first time.

“This is good, we should now have enough to figure out just what the in the gods name this stuff is.” Charlie said putting on a pair of gloves and taking a closer look at the syringes. “It’ll take me a day, but I’ll get them analysed.” Charlie deposited the items into a case and left the room, heading towards the lab she had set up when the group had first arrived to begin her tests.

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