Chapter 20: A Feast with Hairy Folk
They brought the airship as near to the town of Yak Folk as they dared, leaving Marteen and his men, and Hiccup with his squirrel, waiting onboard with one of their sending stones. “We’ll call you if we run into any trouble,” Thia promised, pressing the stone into Marteen’s palm. “Hopefully, we won’t need to use it.”
They took the rope ladder down, then made the short trek into the centre of town. As they passed, the streets were rather quiet. Roon spotted a tall, hair-covered figure dart between two buildings and disappear. They were all alert as they approached the largest circular building in the town. It was constructed of wood, with a thatched roof and a large set of doors.
From the large doors burst out a tall, hairy humanoid creature with horns and, indeed, the face of a yak. He grinned widely, showing large flat teeth, and welcomed them. “Welcome! Welcome! What can we do for you?”
Kilian cleared his throat, and Roon took the opportunity to look around. He felt immediately suspicious of the quietness of the town, and he sensed the rest of his companions did as well. From the building, two female yaks flanked the chief holding staffs that looked mysteriously magical. Roon squinted at them.
“Thank you,” the sailor said, giving a slight bow, “who do we have the honour of addressing?”
“Chief Karthakia,” the yak person said, puffing out his chest importantly. “Please, come feast with us. It’s not often we get visitors.”
There was something about the cheeriness of the chief that Roon did not like. Kilian, it seemed, felt the same. When he spoke, it was with some hesitation. “We are here to resupply. Then we will be on our way. We don’t wish to be a bother.”
“Nonsense,” the chief waved a hooved hand.
“Do you get any unsavoury creatures in the area?” Thia asked, peering up at the looming mountain.
“Ah, there’s a chimera in the caverns, but it’s not too much of a bother.”
“Oh, we took care of that!” Opal assured him.
The chief feigned surprise that wasn’t fully convincing. “Did you, now? Well, I’m sure something else will perch in its roost eventually.”
“Do you have tunnels in the area?” Roon asked, rubbing his bearded chin.
“We do,” the chief nodded, watching them with careful dark eyes.
“Any giants in these parts?” Thia asked.
“The odd one,” Karthakia said vaguely, and the two female yaks nodded along. He looked at them, then. “Ah yes, these are my wives. I forgot to introduce them! Why not come inside and share a feast with us? We can discuss all matters once we’ve sat.”
Dropping all pretense, Thia said, “Do you know of a place called the Iron Slag mines?”
The chief gave another easy smile. “It’s quite easy to get to from here.”
“Could you show us where it is?”
“I would love to show you where it is,” he said immediately. “But first, we feast!” He clapped his hooved hands together and the wives opened the doors to the large hut.
Hesitantly, they stepped into the dimly lit building lined with large tables. They saw the rest of the town, a mass of yak folk, inside. They all sat quietly, as though they’d been listening very carefully to the conversation outside. “Sit, sit!” Karthakia said, gesturing for an open space along the benches. The benches themselves were the same height as Roon.
The tables were currently empty but for some mugs and pitchers, but the chief called for a stew to be made. Some female yaks set about immediately stoking a fire and getting the cauldron set. Flint was nodding appreciatively, but Roon tugged on his arm and shook his head. The dwarf frowned down at him. “Don’t trust them.” Roon whispered. “Not until I’ve had the tressym check the food.”
Flint raised an eyebrow at Beatrice, who was trotting just behind them. She looked back and meowed, then began preening her wings.
“She can detect poison,” Roon clarified meaningfully.
“You’re a very suspicious fellow,” the dwarf said.
“I’ve reason to be,” he told him.
Flint nodded and they all took their seats, helping Roon up into his.
The steaming bowls of stew were placed before them, and Roon placed Beatrice on his lap for her to sniff the bowl. The cat hissed as soon as the smell touched her nose, then jumped off his lap abruptly. “Well, there you have it,” Roon muttered. “Opal,” he nudged the genasi, who sat next to him, “you’ve got that spell that’ll help you talk to animals, right?”
“Oh, yes,” Opal beamed.
“Can you talk to Beatrice?” Roon asked under his breath, eyeing the winged cat, who was now pacing the floor. “Confirm with her that the food is poison.”
Opal’s eyes widened, but she nodded and turned to the cat. They had a low, purring conversation. “There’s something in it,” she confirmed. “Oh, and by the way, Beatrice is a boy. She—sorry—he wanted you to know. His name is Archibald.”
“Hear that?” Roon hissed to the others. “It’s poisoned.”
Evelyn arched her eyebrows, then grabbed a wooden spoon and dug in, devouring the meal.
“Evelyn,” Flint whispered, drawing the attention of a few nearby yak folk, who turned in their direction. Flint cleared his throat and sat a little straighter, raising his spoon as though thoroughly interested in its design.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kilian said doubtfully, taking a spoonful and pressing it to the tip of his tongue. “It tastes alright to me. What makes you say the cat can detect poison?”
“Because,” Roon hissed in exasperation, “I put research into the things I have.”
“They’re going to notice if we don’t eat,” Thia pointed out.
Opal nodded and reached into her pocket, handing out small, reddish berries to each of them. “Eat these. They should protect us from even the smell.”
All except Evelyn ate the berries, and Roon felt a comforting warmth spread through his chest.
“Something wrong with the food?” The chief asked in a booming voice, standing just behind them. Roon jumped nearly out of his seat in surprise.
Evelyn, whose face was smeared with food, looked up and shook her head. Kilian leaned in and took a bite. “Not at all,” the sailor assured him with a greasy grin.
“Good.” The chief said. “Good. Eat up! After our meals, it is tradition to pass along the pipe and partake in the healing smoke.”
As he said this, Roon noticed a very large wooden pipe was being passed along the tables. A yak person would suck in the smoke deeply, exhaling curling wisps of smoke through their large, cow-like nostrils. When the pipe was passed to Flint, he shrugged, and took a small puff.
“Bigger than that!” The chief insisted, and his wives nodded encouragingly.
Flint took a large puff this time, coughing as the cloud of smoke surrounded him. He passed it off to Kilian, who also smoked. Roon leaned back, shaking his head. Thia, he noticed, only pretended to smoke. With a wisp of illusory magic, she made it seem as though she had.
The pipe continued around their side of the table, and Roon’s hands were anxious balls of sweat in his lap. Before it came to his and Opal’s side, they needed to find an excuse to leave.
“Evelyn?” Kilian whispered, shaking the girl. She had slumped onto the table’s large surface, snoring softly.
“Seems your friend has fallen asleep! Ha!” Another yak male said, clapping Kilian roughly on the back. “That shows the meal is good!”
“Must be,” Kilian muttered, brow furrowing. Roon noticed beads of sweat, and the man was paling.
“I don’t feel so good,” Flint moaned, clenching his eyes shut. “I feel… dizzy.”
Roon, Thia and Opal stood up immediately, on high alert. “What did you do?” Thia demanded, turning on the chief accusatorily.
Just then, Kilian tried to stand as well but wavered, then collapsed to the ground.
Roon jumped onto the table and ran to Evelyn, pressing a hand to her back. She was under a deep, unnatural sleep. “I knew it,” he cursed.
Thia drew her sword, and suddenly the yak chief was standing there, menacingly tall and holding a flaming sword to Thia’s chest. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” Karthakia growled.
Roon quickly cast a spell over Evelyn, trying to draw the sleeping draught from her body.
Flint threw up his hands as the yak folk surrounded them. Some, Roon saw, had run for the doors of the hut and escaped outside. They knew bloodshed was coming.
Flint’s spell hit two and threw them back, and they shook their heads in confusion as they got up. The rest drew their swords and approached them cautiously.
“Submit!” Karthakia commanded. “Or be slain.”
“We don’t submit,” Thia said simply, taking a few steps back toward her companions. “Stay around me!” She shouted to her friends, then with a burst of roaring hot fire, a wall erupted around them, the flames licking all the way to the ceiling of the hut.
Roon grabbed Evelyn and tried shaking her awake, and the girl got up groggily. She stood abruptly when she saw the flames.
“We need to move toward the door!” Thia said.
“Kilian!” Roon shouted, running to his unconscious friend.
“Marteen!” Opal shouted, holding the sending stone to her mouth. The stone began to glow with a dim blue light. “We’re under attack! Inside the large hut! Follow the smoke. Bring back up!”
Thia shot lightning through the flames, but none of them could guess if the arching bolts hit anyone.
“We’ll burn alive if we stay in here much longer!” Flint shouted.
Opal suddenly shrank into a small black beetle and flew up to the top of the roaring wall. Somehow, the flames did not burn them, but Roon suspected anyone outside of their sphere would feel the burning path they wrought.
“KILIAN!” Roon shouted again, shaking the man. Kilian blinked and held his stomach, then turned over and wretched. “Get up!” Roon yelled. “We need to get out of here! We’re surrounded!”
Kilian nodded slowly and got laboriously to his feet, then threw out a bolt of lightning through the flames.
Thia looked back at them, seeing everyone on their feet, then nodded and sang into her blade. The sword glowed white as the elf took a breath and strode through the flames. There was a clang of steel on the other side.
GONG, GONG, GONG. Something rang loudly through the village.
The wall of fire dropped, and they all saw the interior of the massive hut in flames. “GET OUTSIDE!” Thia screamed and ran for the door, dodging a blade. The last few yak people were already escaping through the door now and were turning to bar it shut.
Thick black smoke filled their lungs as they ran. The chief stood at the doorway, yelling at them to shut the door. Kilian angrily threw a bolt of lightning at the chief, hitting him squarely in the broad chest and throwing him back away from the door. The sailor was only a few steps behind Thia as he escaped through the door, which then slammed shut.
Wheezing from the smoke, Roon forced his tiny legs to push him forward. He’d lost track of Opal in her beetle form, but hoped she’d gotten out. It was he, Flint and Evelyn trapped inside.
“Can you break it down?” Roon asked hopelessly as Evelyn slammed her fists against the door. They could hear the struggle outside, and Roon was sure Thia and Kilian were being overrun.
Flint drew out his large axe and began hacking at the door. Evelyn took a few running steps back, then heaved her entire body against the door. The wood splintered, and the door flew open, sending Evelyn and Flint spilling outside. Smoke obscured Roon’s vision as he stumbled out of the door, narrowly missing a falling beam of blackened wood, smoldering at the edges.
Opal landed, buzzing, onto Roon’s shoulder, then hopped off and turned back to her genasi form. She too was breathing heavily. “Couldn’t. See. Anything.” She said, grabbing her chest and coughing.
The smoke cleared for a moment, and Roon saw his companions had pushed back from the burning hut and were in melee with at least a dozen yak people. As he stumbled forward, he noticed the wives of Chief Karthakia were waving their staves and muttering a simultaneous incantation. “NO!” He shouted, and his giant middle finger appeared in the air and slammed into the two of them, sending them sprawling.
Kilian kicked down a yak man, clearing head from hairy body just as Thia’s sword slid into the chest of another. Kilian spun toward the chief and shouted, eyes burning with rage. “Drop your weapons, or we’ll burn your women and children!”
The chief bellowed angrily but made no move to lower his flaming sword. Kilian’s hands opened, shooting two twin lightning bolts into the chief’s chest. The sailor stumbled when the spell was complete, still weakened from whatever was in the pipe.
Flint’s hands moved through the air and strange whispers ran around their enemies, forcing them to try and slap away the incessant noises. One’s ears began to bleed profusely, and it fell to its knees screaming in agony before collapsing to the dirt.
Evelyn moved through them with her blades, nearly a ghost herself as she sliced knees and necks alike. Thia’s hands burst with tiny green missiles that arched at their enemies and never missed. A dark thunder cloud grew over Opal’s head and she moved lightning over them, the bolts hitting bodies and dropping them. Roon touched Kilian’s arm and sent healing through him as his spiritual middle finger moved through the crowd and kept the yak folk from them. Finally, they heard the cries of Marteen and Hiccup as they ran through the village with half a dozen men, weapons drawn.
The remaining yak folk drew crossbows and turned on them, and the airship appeared through the smoke, hovering overhead. Harpoons flew from the deck and one struck a yak woman in the chest. She dropped her crossbow and went limp as she hanged from the attached rope. Hiccup shot a massive explosion of fire, burning two more alive. Kilian grabbed Flint by the arm and shouted, “steady on!” Then stepped forward with the dwarf, and the two of them disappeared, reappearing only moments later atop the deck of the airship.
“Burn the village!” Kilian shouted. “Keep only one alive!” Then, he shot a bolt of fire down at one of the yaks.
Flint drew out his crossbow and shot his bolts into the fray.
Opal turned on the spot and transformed into a massive vulture, then sprung up and grasped onto Thia’s cloak with her talons, flying up toward the ship. Roon emulated her, casting the polymorph spell over his body. He felt the transformation as his limbs stretched and changed, then he leaped into the air on large wings, swooped at Evelyn, and dropped the girl onto the deck of the ship.
Hiccup yelled at Marteen and his men, and as they all ran back to the ladders hanging from the ship, the goblin turned his staff at the last of the yaks and an incredible explosion wracked the centre of the village. Chief Karthakia, his unconscious sorceress wives, and all the rest of the yak warriors, turned to ash.
“There!” Opal cried as she reformed into her normal figure. “There are slaves in cages below! Look! Near the fire!”
Sure enough, near the roaring hut was a collapsed stable, and inside were cages filled with tiny, naked, humanoid figures.