Buzzards circled high in the sky above the inland roads that led away from the ferries of Skara Brae, their lazy paths taking them in loops above whatever carcass lay beneath. Artemia took notice of them as she crept silently through the forest, hot on the heels of the hart she’d spied an hour earlier. The old stag was a crafty one and had kept out of any clean shots so far, but she knew that ahead lay a clearing before the land gave way to the road. If she was going to get a clean shot, that would be her opening. With swift and sure motions she indulged herself in the hunt, and she broke into the clearing and sighted on the great stag for only a brief moment before a scowl rose to her face. It seemed that the object of the vulture’s attention was here. The stag made its way back into the brush as she stalked closer to the carcasses in the clearing, and began to check through them.
The packhorses were clearly dead, and though they bore a mix of wounds, the feathered hafts of spent crossbow bolts spoke to what appeared to be an ambush. Their packs were empty as she’d suspected from the first, but she didn’t see any trace of their owner…until she noticed a light spattering of blood across trampled grass. She quietly nocked an arrow and stalked along the trampled grass until she found its end, where a fallen branch of dead leaves covered a man’s body. She kept her bow trained on him until she noticed no reaction, and stowed the arrow back into the quiver attached to her sash. Moving around the branch she took a moment to admire his face before shaking her head. She slung her bow over a shoulder and moved the branch off to see if she could identify him, or if there was enough left to take back with her. As she took stock of his wounds, she noticed a few shafts emerging from the side of a leg, and it looked like one of his arms was out of the socket. She knelt for a moment and closed her eyes before she became aware of a sound so soft she hadn’t noticed it until now. She looked down and laid her head atop the man’s chest for a moment to see if she wasn’t mistaken, but sure enough there it was; the slightest hint of life still ran through him. She set to work immediately, taking a flask of yellow liquid from a pouch at her side and pouring a bit of the potion down the man’s throat, following it up with another flask of cloudy white liquid. The man’s breathing seemed to strengthen, and Artemia put an arm under his head and scooped the man up with a grunt of effort, making her way back to Skara Brae.
The extent of the trader’s wounds only became apparent when they had time to examine him at the healers. Artemia stayed in the room until the healers urged her to wait outside, but even that was enough to see that he had a half dozen other wounds from various weapons. Cuts and bruises, a missing ear, broken hand, seven crossbow bolts, dislocated shoulder, broken leg, and Virtues knows what kind of internal injuries. It was shocking that he’d lived after it all, and Artemia wasn’t holding her breath on his continued survival. After a brief wait she began to get restless, and peeked her head inside once before heading towards the Ranger’s Guild. Live or die, the trader’s life was in the healer’s hands now.
Making her way through town she avoided a few of the roads and ignored the trash that littered the streets. The stench of the city had never held any appeal for her, but the rotting refuse that lay scattered amongst the town definitely wasn’t helping improve her disposition. As she traversed perpendicular to one of the main streets she stopped, feeling her body tense, and she crept to the corner of the next building and peered down the road.
A small group of citizens were outside one of the businesses, shouting and screaming something she couldn’t make out over the tumult of their combined voices. Their demeanor was clear, and she could tell it was yet another of the riots that had been happening lately, but there was something different about this group. She looked more carefully, and that was when she noticed the one in the center with a heavy satchel. As she watched, he opened the satchel and pulled out an improvised explosive, and started his attempts to light it. As quietly as she could she unslung her bow, nocked an arrow, and fired at the man. The arrow whistled across the distance in an instant, piercing through the rioter’s arm and causing him to drop the bottle, and the others fled in all directions. Artemia nocked another arrow as she approached, and kept it aimed clearly at the would-be arsonist’s face.
“Give me one good reason the next one doesn’t go through your eye.”
The man seemed to be in a state of minor shock at the arrow in his arm, but he managed to stammer out a response. “W-we aren’t trying to h-hurt anyone, b-but we have to s-send a message!”
Artemia scowled darkly, but removed the arrow from the bow and drew the short sword at her side, as well as a coil of rope from her bag. “Well I’m sure the town guard will like to have a few words with you, then. Give me any trouble and that arrow in your arm becomes the least of your worries.” The man didn’t resist as Artemia bound him, and she got him onto his feet. Marching him through town she got a mixture of responses, but ignored them all equally until she’d handed the man over to the guard on duty. With a sigh she headed towards the docks before anything else interrupted her.
She took a final look back to the city before boarding the ferry and tossing the sailor a few crowns, and they swiftly crossed the bay to the mainland. She could already tell as she approached that someone unfamiliar was at the ranger’s guild, if the shouting from the guildmaster was any indication. She stepped through the door in mid-tirade, closing it quietly behind herself and standing patiently as her guildmaster argued with the woman.
“…dumb enough to go on a wild goose chase! And for what you’re offering it’s hardly worth my time to even talk to ya! If ya want to drag someone off to die with ya be my guest, but it ain’t gonna be me or any o’ mine! Now take ya blasted maps and get out of my building.” Artemia stepped aside to let the visitor leave, noting the shock of bright blonde hair the woman sported as she passed, and looked towards the guildmaster for a moment. The old man sighed and rubbed a hand across his head, reaching for the drawer that she knew contained his flask. Noticing this, Artemia shook her head and returned out the way she came in. Artemia searched the nearby area to see if there was any salvaging her stag hunt…Even though she knew it could only be a brief, momentary respite from the reality that was unfolding around her.