I can't believe it's part seven already. O_o Feels like just yesterday when this project started and look how far it's come already! Unbelievable! Anyway, today I'm bringing back the two favourites from the last polls, Rocket and Dusk, due to popular demand. So for all you fans, enjoy!
"North? What's there?" Roxanne asked, flipping a strand of hair over her shoulder.
Reinhart looked at her and his mouth fell open in disbelief. "Most beautiful lady, you do not know?"
"She's not from here, my big friend." Oliver said with a smile and the knight seemingly relaxed, nodding his head in understanding. "The Grey Marshlands are North. We'll follow the road for a while, then cut north-east through the last part of the Ka'Roh Forest, from where we'll turn northwards and march through the marshes. Not a pleasant journey, but it is by far the fastest path into the Blacklands, where the Trickster resides. Questions?"
Roxanne shook her head, a feeling of foreboding on her. She didn't want to go through any marsh, but if she had no choice...
Reinhart happily fell in the lead and started their march. Roxanne didn't want to ask why they weren't taking a transport and were walking, for fear of sounding stupid. Just as the thought crossed her mind, she imagined the words sprawling over the page in her book and groaned aloud. Oliver cast a sidelong glance at her, an eyebrow arching at the noise, but he said nothing.
They had marched for some hours before night fell and they set up camp in a small closing between some trees, just off the road. Before long they had a little fire going and Oliver was roasting some quail on a stick, while Roxanne mashed the potatoes he had been boiling. Reinhart was on the watch, searching for danger from every possible corner. When she had finished the potatoes, Roxanne boiled some water in a small kettle and made some aromatic tea.
They ate their dinner in silence. Roxanne was grateful for the food, realising that she had eaten nothing all day long, with all else that had happened.
After dinner, Roxanne promptly fell asleep in her sleeping roll, while the men kept watch. She had offered to watch as well, but they would have nothing of it, so she let it be. When the day broke, they ate some cold meat left from the night before and Roxanne made another pot of tea before they set out once again.
They marched all day long, pausing only here and there for short rests and to drink some water. The day passed without event, and another, and then another, and soon Roxanne realised that they must have been on the road for five days already. She couldn't believe how the time was speeding by. They set up camp for the night and made dinner much as every night before, with Reinhart on watch.
None of them were as surprised as he when there was suddenly a fourth face amongst them.
She was a very slender woman, almost pixie-like in stature, and clad all in black, from her boots to her gloved hands. Her hair was obsidian, with some electric blue parts peeking through here and there. Her eyes were slanted upwards and were just as black as her hair, and had a mischievous glow to them. She smiled a plump smile and cocked her head sideways.
"Oh, Reiny, when will you learn to keep your eyes open?" she asked in a surprisingly deep voice for her petite size.
"By my honour! Such failure! I should be flogged!" Reinhart cried in despair.
"Let this be your punishment." Oliver laughed and slapped the big knight on the shoulder, before smiling warmly at the woman. Roxanne was surprised to feel jealousy bubble up in her throat, and she suppressed the feeling immediately.
"I take it the others are near?" Oliver asked and the woman nodded. "Come on out!" he called into the darkness and two more figures came into the firelight.
The first was another woman of medium build and height. Her skin was milky pale and freckled with a million little brown dots, and her hair was short, shaven at the back, but longer at the front and styled to a point on the left. Her eyes were pale blue and striking, even as they were behind a pair of goggles. She was wearing a long brown coat, with very short tan pants and a white shirt. Everywhere about her were utility belts and tools, though Roxanne had no idea what these were for.
The second was a rotund man, almost as tall as he was wide, dressed in what was obviously a chef's coat. There were sharp meat cleavers in his front pockets and on his back he carried a pack very near his own size, from which spicy aromas were escaping. His hair was grey and thinning, and Roxanne was struck by the idea that he was older than he seemed. His face held a happy smile and many lines that testified of constantly grinning. He made a flourishing bow to Roxanne and laughed merrily.
Oliver started the introductions. "Roxanne, meet the rest of our party. The little one is my cousin Dusk. She's sneaky, so keep a tight hand on your valuables. The ginger is called Rocket, an Engineer. She's brilliant and crazy. One too many explosions when experiments went wrong." He smiled fondly at her and she just said "'S true."
But before Oliver could introduce the last member of the party, the big man was speaking. "And I am Baron Claudius von Strom, celebrated culinary wizard. Not a real wizard, mind you, " he chuckled and continued, "Let's just say that you'll never turn back once you've tasted my cuisine!"
"We call him Cookie." said Dusk wryly. "Because he cooks."
The big man laughed heartily. "I do!"
The party spent some time chatting and getting to know Roxanne. It seemed their questions about her life wouldn't end. She felt ashamed for her earlier bout of jealousy and found that she liked all three of the new members of their group. Finally, after what felt like hours, she was allowed to go to sleep.
They set out the following morning with a constant banter and laughter accompanying them. But then the smell crept up on them as the forest trees thinned, insuring Roxanne that the marsh was near. And all too soon, she stood looking down at a murky mess of land.
She decided that they had named the place perfectly; for it was grey and desolate, no more than a stagnant pool of filth. Mosquitoes made a constant droning noise and were on their skins, drinking their blood before long. There were giant marsh worms sloshing through the pools and things that drifted on the surface of the water that made Roxanne shudder. The bantering and laughter had died down to an eerie silence, only broken by the noise made by the insects.
But then there was a sudden crash and a yell, as something grabbed Rocket by the ankle. Roxanne turned in shock to face the biggest creature she'd seen in her life, even as it slung Rocket to one side. She landed with a splash in one of the pools. The creature was grotesque and it made a deep, throaty roar, which made the hair on their necks stand on end.
Roxanne was afraid.
And now you need to vote before you can go enjoy your weekend!!
Stay beautiful and be kind to animals,