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They were surrounded. Iain growled, but Ailbhe grabbed him before he could jump off the horse.
“We will compensate you for the use of your horse,” Arth said, pulling his horse back from the villagers that were closing in.
“Compensate?” the man said. “You’re a ranger with no income. What are you going to do, give me road kill and weeds?”
“Maybe he could round up you’re animals when they get out,” Ailbhe suggested.
The villagers looked at one another. “You know, that might actually be useful,” said the horse’s owner.
“What? No, you can’t just volunteer me to be a shepherd,” Arth said.
With a raised eyebrow Iain asked, “And why not?”
“How else are you going to pay me?” the man said.
Arth glared at them all. “It’s demeaning and beneath my social class.”
“Dude, you stole a frigging horse,” Ailbhe said.
“Are you saying earning an honest living is demeaning?” the man asked. Several of his fellow mob members nodded and muttered among themselves, moving their makeshift weapons in a threatening manner.
“I’m sure that’s not what he’s saying,” Ailbhe said.
“That’s exactly what he’s saying,” Iain said.
As a whole, the mob took a step towards Arth. Before they could presumably capture and torture him for being an elitist son of a bitch (and a horse thief), there was a great roar at the edge of the forest and Ciardhe charge the group. The villagers scattered, but not fast enough. The berserker charged through their midst, killing anything that moved. Clinging to her shoulder was hellspawn. The little thing waved as it rode past.
There was a moment’s silence after they passed and the two still horse mounted people looked in disgusted awe at the trail of destruction left in the ex-healer’s wake.
“Good God,” Iain said in a horrified tone. “Is that what you’ve been seeing?”
“The hellspawn? Yeah. I tried to tell you guys, but you wouldn’t listen.” She shrugged. “Come on, we’d better go catch up with them.”
“What about the ranger guy?” Iain said.
Ailbhe glanced at where the man lay in a crumpled heap. “I think he’s dead.”
Arth groaned and rolled onto his back.
“Damn it,” Ailbhe said.
“Better heal him,” Iain muttered. “If you lose your healer powers we might never get all this straightened out.”
Though she grumbled about it, the former paladin cast a few healing spells on the injured ranger. “There, he won’t die. Now let’s go.”
Iain shrugged and the two of them headed out to catch up with Ciardhe.
As it turned out, this was easier said than done, for no sooner had they started on her trail than it vanished. Yet at every village they stopped in, it seemed they were one step behind the rampaging berserker.
“Come on,” Ailbhe growled as she looked at yet another destroyed hamlet. It was difficult to see if there were any survivors in the fading light. Ailbhe was thankful; it meant she wouldn’t have to cast any more blasted healing spells. “We’re not going to catch them tonight and that inn over there looks like it somehow survived with minimum damage. Let’s go check in and hope they give us a damaged goods discount.”
Unfortunately, only the front of the inn survived. The back wall of the tavern section was completely gone, as were all the booze that should have lined those shelves. Ailbhe just shrugged as the innkeeper tried to apologize. “As long as the kitchen is fine we don’t care.” She grinned. “Neither of us drink.”
The innkeeper blinked. “Really? Odd as it might sound, my only other patrons tonight is also a teetotaler,” he said, motioning towards a very familiar looking bard. “He also has the only room I can still re-hey! Where are you going?”
Ailbhe sat down at the bard’s table, knocking on it twice to get his attention. “Seamus, what are you doing here?” she asked.
The bard shrugged. “I found all of these destroyed villages while I was out looking for you guys and kind of followed the trail. I figured you had to be involved somehow.” He paused, his brow wrinkled in confusion. “Did you guys get haircuts or something? Because I swear there’s something different about you.”
Ailbhe facepalmed and Iain hit his head against the table a few times.
“What?” he asked, thoroughly puzzled.
The now healer told him about the misadventures. Iain added colorful descriptions and near swear words. When she was done, Seamus told them about waking up without them, panicking that they’d left him, and the realizing all their stuff was still there. That was about when the place’s security had started knocking on the door and demanding payment. And he’d had no idea where the money was hidden.
“So what’d you do?” Ailbhe asked.
Seamus shrugged, looking pained. “Only thing I could do,” he said. “Barred the door, packed everything up and got the heck out of there.”
Iain laughed. “We’re rubbing off on you.”
“Yeah, I would never have climbed down a drainpipe before I met you guys,” he said.
Iain facepalmed. “That wasn’t what I, you know what? Never mind. You got everything?”
The bard nodded. His fro bobbed as he did.
“Good,” Iain said. “We’re going to need some stuff to beat Ciardhe.”
The group discussed strategy over a dirt cheap dinner. Just as the innkeeper broke out Pop-Tarts for desert, the ground began to shake. Standing, they readied themselves to make a mad dash out of the structurally unsound building, only to discover the wall that had been letting in a nice evening breeze only moments before was standing exactly as it should.
“Oh good,” the innkeeper said, setting the box of blueberry Pop-Tarts down on the table. “I told a wizard he could have the best room in the place for free if he would fix the wall. Now if I could just get him to conjure some booze.” He wandered off muttering about making more deals.
Before the group could enjoy their tasty treat, the doors flew open and in stalked Ciardhe herself.
“There they are!” hellspawn cried, pointing at their little table.
“Aw, shit,” Ailbhe muttered, still fiddling with the wrapper on her Pop-Tarts.