Sulfur and ash filled his nostrils. A lean muscular man crouched low against the side of a ravine. His red/brown cloak helped him to blend into the blighted ecology around him. These were the Wounded Lands, southern part of the Worldwound. And Rickard lived here.
His handsome features, marred by dust and the near permanent scowl he wore, were unsurprising for the rugged Kellid. Many of his people were tall and fair. Now they lived in Gundrun, the saddest little town, the only free town remaining in Sarkoris. And this was Sarkoris, the rest of the world could call it what they wanted. But this was his land, the land of his ancestors, proud warriors all. These abyssal filth, were invaders, trespassers, engaged in a war with his nearly forgotten people. He remembered. He fought.
The smell got stronger. Not the dry acidic stink of the land, he didn’t really smell that anymore, but the putrid deathly breath of a Brimorak. A fire demon. He was close now. He had tracked it since an hour ago and it had made the mistake of entering this ravine. Rickard slouched forward, staying low to the ground and keeping alert. Peeking around a bend, he saw it, the short furred thing, hooved and bovine in the face. He waited, arrow knocked to bow, waited as it creeped forward, muttering filth to itself. Finally it stopped, a splayed out rabbit, its entrails arranged into unholy symbols had caught its attention. Rickard had set that up himself this morning, smiling he leaned out and took aim with his bow. He let loose, not at the demon, but above it to the small wooden wedge holding back a huge boulder. With a rumble, the giant rock fell and crushed the demon in a satisfying splat.
Inspecting his kill, he recovered what he could from the corpse, in hopes to trade it to the shamans and witches that led his people in Gundrun. No one traded with Sarkoris, every resource was precious and scarce, that in mind, he jogged down the ravine and retrieved his arrow. Thanking Desna for his luck, you didn’t survive like him in the wounded lands without a good deal of luck, he began the journey back to his tribe. On the trip he reminisced about the shamans, hunters and his own father, who had shown him how to live in this blasted land. All of them were dead now, they died before he was even a man. 25 now, Rickard was harder and less forgiving than most cynical 60 year olds. He wasn’t afraid of demons. He hated them. For killing the people he loved. For desecrating the land of his people. He hated them and would hunt them until they were forced back into the abyss, they would lament his name and speak it in frightened whispers.
He smiled at that thought. His life was a cursed and blessed one. Cursed in his sorrow for the losses he had suffered. Blessed because he was surrounded by his quarry, cursed in the death of the land, blessed by the favor of the Elk rider, Desna. Things seemed to go well for him, which meant they went badly for the Demons. Gundrun came into sight. It was a small collection of tents, and yurts, with the occasional mud hut or stone structure. Children kicked dethorned tumbleweeds around. Smoke rose from the cooking fire in the middle of the village. Everlasting stew in the cauldron, filled with whatever they could scavenge or kill. Smelled like rabbit and liver at the moment.
The chief of his tribe, a rugged and gnarled hunter and shaman called Ashner Firebrand rose from a stump near the fire when he saw Rickard return. Motioning to a hut he followed Rickard in.
Inside, incense and animal sinew burned. A painted woman, brown hair graying, clothing worked with bits of bone and chalk scratched into symbols adorned her. Yerna, the chief’s wife and a Witch. ”Your journey is nigh Rickard.” she crooned.
”Yes” spoke Asher, ”I have the list of things you should try to acquire while you’re there. It should be easier than usual due to the celebration you mentioned.” Asher was referring to Armasse, a religious holiday that Rickard had learned of on his last visit to the Mendevian city of Kenebres. He had purposefully waited for his trip this year so he could experience it. He glanced at the list the shaman handed him. Scrolls, spell components, some tools. ”Basic.” he said. He was the one who made this journey for several reasons, one, he was the most likely to survive the journey. He had spent weeks making expeditions year round further into demon territory, committing the land to memory and hiding supplies along his route. Two, he was one of the few in his tribe that spoke the common trade language. Most here spoke Hallit, it’s what they were speaking now.
The witch blessed his journey. Smoke filled rituals and the like, Rickard indulged her in silence. He wasn’t unfriendly, he just knew that the guidance of Desna was all he needed. And while, gruff, he was actually talkative for a Kellid, many of whom couldn’t be bothered to converse beyond grunts.
Retreating to his tent, he got a good night’s sleep and set off at dawn. It would take him nearly a month to reach Kenebres, and the festival was on it’s way.