Thane didn’t like it. The rat—who finally introduced himself as Sargon—had to hold on to the bear, Brun, so he wouldn’t bump into one of the aspen trees that had replaced the cedars on this side of the tunnel. But technically, they were all following this same rat. Madness.
The rat said he knew the scent of where they needed to be, but Thane had cast about in the air himself and had found nothing of note. His nose told him they were surrounded by green forest, and nothing more. When he brought this up with Brun, the bear didn’t even look at him.
“I smell it, too,” he’d said. “A wolf’s nose is nothing next to a bear’s.”
After that, Thane had ceased speaking with him.
They walked in a tight lump, with Sargon leading Thane and Brun. Rusty and Simon stuck close by Thane’s elbow, and Zeke raced to keep up so he’d be in the middle of the formation instead of the tail end.
After an hour’s march, the trees began to thin and you could taste something on the air. Something foul. Thane licked his lips, trying to get the taste out.
Ugh! It’s like grease and sweat and mold grown together. Is that what the old codger’s been following? How can he stand it?
The stench grew stronger as they approached the end of the woods. The tree line faded in a smattering of aspens. The company found themselves ascending a grassy hill, which blocked their view. The smell seemed to be coming from the other side.
“Houndsmouth is on the other side,” said Brun. “Few visit.”
“Yes, it is out of the way, isn’t it?” said Thane.
Simon was the first to see over the crest of the hill.
It really does look like a hound’s mouth, he thought, running his tongue along the teeth of his bottom jaws as his eyes traced the peculiar outline of the snowcapped mountains. Two behemoth crags jutted into the sky, coming to sharp points on opposite ends of the valley. Between them lay smaller jagged mountains, evenly spaced. The village huddled in valley’s basin, in the middle of it all. Brown and free of snow, it looked like a tidbit set before the lower teeth of some colossal dog.
The bear took a moment to gaze over the valley. Next to him, Thane frowned. The village was far too still—no cubs about playing, no one in the marketplace, no barkers selling the latest cures or entertainments.
And that smell!
“Whelp,” said Zeke, “I declare all their food spoiled. I’ll stay behind and gather up some grub.”
“Uh huh, me, too,” said Rusty, who already felt she had gotten enough songs from this trip to develop an entire one-hour program.
“No,” said the rat. “All of you are needed.”
“All of us! Us!” Rusty yipped.
“She’s right. You’re coming too, rat,” said Brun.
“Yes, yes.” Sargon waved them off.
Taking his first step down the mountain, the rat stumbled. Brun caught him, then yanked him back. “Why hurry? It’s almost nightfall. We should prepare. We don’t know what we’ll find.”
“What’s happening down there…Hm, let’s just say you won’t like it if we delay too long.”
“What do you mean?” asked Thane.
“I…”—the rat paused a long time—“heard rumors of this happening elsewhere in Armello. There’s something going on down there, a process with a beginning, middle and end. We’ve arrived sometime during the middle. We don’t want to see the end. Stopping it now is the best decision we’ll make today. Your sword is sharpened, isn’t it, Thane?”
“Well—“ Thane turned to Simon, who nodded. “The grey wolf’s tail perked. “Yes! It is!”
“And you’re still a slab of muscle that can throw spells, aren’t you, Brun?”
“Watch it, rat.”
“I’ll take that as an affirmative. Then there’s no reason to hesitate!”
“Aside from my gag reflex,” said Zeke.
“You don’t have a gag reflex!” said Rusty. “You can’t even throw up!”
“Yeah, but right now I wish I could!”
“I’m sorry, cousin, but you’re needed as well. Now come, we musn’t dally!”
Sliding his feet, the rat went a step closer towards the village. The bear sighed through his nose, then stepped forward with him.
Thane drew his sword, smiled at his reflection in the steel, then sheathed it again.
“Well, fellows, he’s right! No growls, no glory!”
Rusty shook her head, ears back. “This is different, Thane.”
“Every adventure’s different, Rus, but they all mean residuals for you!”
With that, Thane jogged to catch up with the rat and the bear.
Simon glanced back, ready to agree with Rusty. But when he moved his neck, the shield on his shoulder rattled, and he hurried to be by Thane’s side instead.
Zeke looked up at Rusty. “Did you keep track of where we’ve been?”
The possum’s face fell. “Then we can’t go back without him. We’d get lost.” He started forward.
Rusty stood on the hill. All the red in her pelt screamed at her to stay out.
Thane called over his shoulder, “It’s in your contract, milady!”
Rusty slumped. He had her there.
She pushed aside the unease and trudged down the hill after her muse.
No chapter tomorrow because it’s Sabbath! AND Mother’s day! Take the time you would’ve spent reading my chapter and call your Mom instead. :) See you Monday for chapter 6!
The game Armello and its characters are property League of Geeks. Buy it today!
You might also like to check out the free art program Krita because it’s what I used to paint the HOUNDSMOUTH cover.