Into the Wild – Chapter 32
Chapter 32 – Devon
The trip back to town was only eventful in so much as nothing happened; they traveled as if they were strangers. Mat stayed locked inside his head with Devon’s occasional attempts to draw him out, always falling flat. The problem was Devon wasn’t sure how or even if he wanted to talk. Mat had killed someone, not in battle. He’d just plucked them out of the world and murdered them, locking their soul in a prison of crystal Devon still didn’t fully understand.
And what was that taint he’d left behind in the cave? It felt like the personification of evil.
Devon found their trip disheartening. The nights had been clear, and the days not too hot, but none of that mattered against the interminable weight of Mat’s distance.
At first, Devon had been upset, not mad, just upset, but as they traveled, his anger or whatever it was, faded. Like had always been the case with Matsugo, no one could’ve been harder, angrier, or more disappointed in him than he was with himself. So, Devon did what was probably the cruelest thing he could do; he left Mat alone to his thoughts. As they traveled, he’d watched his friend slowly tear himself down. By the time they reached the town, Mat wasn’t that cocksure person Devon had always known. He’d recover, but for now, he needed the lesson.
When Yalum appeared over the hill, Devon breathed a sigh of relief. As somber as things were, he still felt that little rush of excitement seeing the city. It was just so medievally, like something out of a movie. The horse pulled carts filled with hay. The people, some dressed in decent tunics while others in little more than burlap and a rope. With the sight came the sounds and smells. He guessed that Yalum held onto its assault of your senses until they could all arrive in mass like soldiers on the way to war.
“Does it seem like something is off?” asked Mat, it was his first words of the day, and they startled Devon in their suddenness.
“What makes you think that?”
“Look at the gate. More guards. We’ve been in and out this city several times, and they’ve never had a dozen guards at the gate.”
“It can’t be us, can it?”
“Don’t be paranoid,” snapped Mat defensively.
They were staring down the hill at the city, still several hundred yards away, when they heard a noise. It was like a clicking sound. Mat instantly had daggers in hand. Gawd Devon wished he wasn’t so eager to violence. He started to say something, then remembered the goblins, and choose instead to let his teeth administer their anxiety to his inner lip. He tasted copper. At first, they couldn’t locate the sound. Finally, he found the source. Pointing to a large shrub, he said simply, “elf.” Behind, or more accurately, inside a clump of partially dead bushes was a tiny female elf. It was clear she was on high alert by the way her head kept tracking from one side to the other.
Walking past Mat, Devon pushed his daggers down. “Let’s try a peaceful approach and no snarky remarks.” Mat just nodded as the blades vanished to wherever he’d pulled them.
“Hello,” the elf said in a whisper as they walked closer. “Are you Devon and Mat?”
“Yes, we are, and why are you hiding in a bush?”
“And how do you know our names?” added Mat.
“I have been sent to intercept you before you made it to the city.”
“And why,” said Mat dangerously.
“There has been an…incident…and Burf wanted to warn you. He sent me to keep an eye out for you and then to take you to him.”
“Are we doing this again,” asked Mat. “We’ve had a rough couple of days, and now you think we’re going just to follow a stranger?”
“He told me to give you this,” added the Elf handing over a small coin.
Hesitantly Devon accepted it. “What is it?”
“Hold it between two fingers and identify yourself.”
Devon did as instructed as a weapon again appeared in Mat’s hand. He froze, shuddered briefly, and handed the coin to Mat. “You need to see this.” Turning to the girl, “Will this work more than once?”
“Try it; that is something.”
Mat took the trinket between two fingers; spoke his name as his eyes went wide, and he smiled. “What is this?”
“It’s a beacon of trust. The spell encodes the creator’s identity and a message onto the coin, and only those intended can retrieve it. No one else can intercept it or use it.
“That is so very cool,” added Devon.
“So, you don’t know what it says?” asked Mat.
Looking over at Mat, who nodded, Devon turned back, “Lead the way.” As they slunk from bush to bush away from the gates, he asked, “there are so many people coming and going, how did you know it was us?”
“Burf said to look for a person who looked out of place, and he would be traveling with a brooding triefling with an attitude problem. You two fit the bill,” she answered matter-of-factly. Devon started laughing as Mat just hmphed. His first laugh in days, it felt good.
Together they crept back from the roads. The elf was trying to look like they weren’t sneaking, but Devon didn’t think they were succeeding. They were trying too hard not to look like they were trying too hard. When they reached a small farmstead, the elf flashed something at the farmer, and together the three of them vanished into the house. “We having tea?” snarked Mat.
The elf ignored him as she rushed through the main room, into the kitchen, and out the back door. When she reached the well, she put her shoulder against what looked like a pump house and pushed. “You can help,” she added over her shoulder.
They shrugged and together started pushing against what appeared to be a solid wooden structure. To his surprise, Devon felt it move. They continued as the short building slid away, revealing an opening with a ladder leading downwards into darkness. “Yea, that doesn’t look creepy at all,” remarked Mat.
“You two go down, follow the tunnel and when you reached the other end, climb the ladder and rap three times in quick succession.”
“You’re not going?” growled Mat.
“No, someone has to come back with water to cover your tracks, now bitch or move. One will save you, while the other will get you caught,” she snarled and then rushed off. “Oh, and pull the lever at the bottom.”
Again, two shrugs as first Mat and then Devon climbed down. When they were standing in a small mud-walled room with only the ladder leading up and a dark opening leading off to the north, Devon looked at Mat, “You got the spooky part right.”
“Produce a light,” said Mat as he looked around. Devon cast a quick spell creating a floating ball of light as he pointed, “That looks like the lever.”
“Should I pull it?” asked Mat.
“In for a penny, in for a pound.”
With a pull of the lever, they saw the shadow from the light above slowly fade and go out as the structure replaced itself over the hole. “Great now we’re trapped,” added Mat.
“All we need is a dragon,” added Devon.
“Dungeons and Dragons. We have the dungeon it seems.”
“We do not need a dragon. Do you hear me….NO DRAGONS? Gawd,” exclaimed Mat as he started marching down the hall. “Have you learned nothing, geez ‘all we need is a dragon’ he says.” He finished before bursting out laughing. And just like that, the tension of the last couple of days vanished, and his friend was back.
The tunnel was low, claustrophobic, and wet, not damp, but wet. Water was dripping from the roughly hewn path. “Could this collapse?” asked Mat, looking dubiously at the walls.
“Are you telling me you’re claustrophobic?”
“No, of course not, that would be silly. I just don’t like closed confined spaces.”
“Oh, Ok, sorry, my mistake,” chuckled Devon. He’d never known Mat to have a phobia. He found it endearing to see his gruff friend try to hide his trepidation as they walked. “You keep speeding up, you in that much of a hurry?”
“It’s not because of the tunnel. I just want to know what all this is about.”
“So, it’s not about the tunnel?”
“No…IT IS NOT ABOUT THE TUNNEL.”
“So the closeness of the walls, the low ceiling, or the hundreds of tons of soil these flimsy walls are holding back has nothing to do with it?”
“Would you shut up,” barked Mat as he broke into a run.
Devon ran into Mat’s back when he suddenly stopped. His focus was on his bouncing orb and the way it caused the light to dance along the walls. In truth, it had started to make him a bit motion sick. He’d used the spell several times but never in such confined spaces. As they ran, he’d been playing with adjusting its levels of brightness. “What,” snapped Mat, he was still tense it seemed.
“Nothing sorry, why did we stop?”
“Wall. It seems we’re at the end of the tunnel. Just a ladder,” answered Mat. After looking up, around and back at Devon he added, “Prepare something, I’m going up first and if anything falls down the shaft, and it’s not me, I cannot emphasize that enough, it’s not me, then blast the fuck out of it with whatever you’ve got.”
Mat didn’t wait and started up the ladder with an ever-present dagger between his teeth. There was a noise, a light, what sounded like a small scuffle, and then Mat’s voice saying, “come on up, all’s clear.”
Devon was tense as he climbed until he recognized the second voice, is was Burfs.
Taking Mat’s hand, Devon was helped up into the dark, musty-smelling room. “Where are we?”
“A warehouse of mine, boy,” answered Burf.
Devon smiled, the familiarity and kindness in the greeting caused his resolve to crumble as his lip began to quiver. “It is so good to see you too.”
Burf eyes went wide as he turned to Mat in panic, “Is he about to hug me?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he does,” answered Mat as he turned to Devon. “Do you want to hug Burf. He will let you; he would probably welcome a hug.”
“NO, I WOULD NOT. There will be no huggin; do I make myself clear.”
“Don’t worry, no hugs,” assured Devon as Mat chuckled.
“Why all the mystery. We’ve had a horrible few days and really don’t need drama right now, what’s this all about? Something has to be wrong for you to have us intercepted and snuck into the city.”
They watched as Burf carefree demeanor died like a soldier in battle. His face lost all merriment and turned grave. “Things have turned sour.”
“In what way?” asked Devon.
“Come, lets us sit. This is a story which needs wine, lots of wine,” answered Burf as he headed across the warehouse.
This was what Burf had said it was, a warehouse. The place stunk of rotting food, mildew, and general disinterest. The walls were older than old, the wood bowed in areas, in some places so much so, they were letting in light from outside. Again, Devon ran into Mat’s back.
“Can you stop doing that,” growled his friend as they entered a small room, probably an office. It wasn’t in any better shape, and it appeared someone was living here. There was food in various states of being eaten and dirty dishes scattered on a large table along with several wineskins. A few of the skins looked full, but most were piled in the corner, probably empty. There was a cot against the wall under a small high set window. On the same wall was a fireplace with a pot full of something cooking away. The rest of the room was like the warehouse outside, full of crates of all sizes stacked to the ceiling. Without asking, Burf fished out three bowls, filled them with the concoction in the pot, added spoons, and set them on the table after sweeping the other dishes onto the floor. Next, he produced three very abused goblets and poured drinks. Motioning for them to join him as he sat down, he added, “Might as well eat now, won’t have the appetite long.”
Taking a seat, Devon smelled the food and discovered he was starving. It appeared Mat had come to the same conclusion since he was vigorously spooning stew into his mouth. After a couple of bites, he noticed their host was just picking at his food. “What has happened, Burf?”
“Someone burned me out.”
“What does that mean?”
“The inn?” said Mat pushing his bowl away as his chair rocket from out behind him.
“Yes, the inn.”
“THEY BURNED DOWN YOUR FUCKING INN?” barked Mat. Then in a calmer voice, he asked, “Tell me who they are?”
“What! Burned it down?” asked Devon, his eyes darting to Mat. “Was it because of us?”
Burf just shrugged. “There is no way of knowin until we know who done it. As for it being about you. If I were guessing, you weren’t all of it, but harboring you two probably didn’t help.” Both Mat and Devon started to say something until Burf held up a hand. “Don’t go getting any more riled up, if you ain’t guessed I ain’t just no innkeeper. I’ve got my hands in things. It ain’t all about you, boys, I’m reckoning.”
“You have no idea who did it? None? No leads, rumors, whispers in the dark. Burf, I haven’t known you long, but I know you better than that,” prompted Mat. Devon could hear the instance in his friend’s voice, and from the look on the bartenders face so could he. What Burf probably didn’t know was Mat was scared. Devon could hear it.
“If I listened to rumors, it was the rogues.”
“Like I said. I have interests that often overlap theirs, plus there is talk of an elite mystery rouge in town who’s traveling with an equally mysterious druid. Plus, there has been some commotion out at the Druid’s compound…,” stared Burf as Mat turned towards the tunnel entrance. “Slow down there young un. I’ve been having beefs and workin with them for years. Them torchin the place over a couple of strangers seems a bit farfetched.”
“Well, I still need to see them. Now I have a real reason other than this bullshit about checking in,” said Mat as he continued to the tunnel.
Devon started to follow, and as if the day wasn’t bad enough, it was like a dagger in his own heart when Mat said, “You stay here. I’ll be back. We’re not doing this together.”
Devon watched as Mat vanished down the ladder.
“We hava door. That boy is going to get himself killed,” said Burf as he shook his head. When he turned and saw the look on Devon’s face, he added, “Oh right, sorry. Pretty sure he’ll be just fine.”
“Yea, thanks, try sincerity next time,” replied Devon, defeated. “Do you have anything here?”
“What you want, this is a warehouse full of everything. Come, finish your stew, and we will settle down to some wine and a story while your friend runs off and does stupid things.”
“Yes, wine, as for my friend, you have no idea how accurate that statement is.”
“Pretty sure I do. I run an inn. I used to run around pickin fights for both fun and money. I know an overzealous, bitter, pissed off, powerful lughead when I see one.” Devon paused and looked at Burf with surprise and a bit of a smile. “What, I was, and maybe still am, one myself,” added the bartender as he refilled their goblets.
“What the fuck is that smell?” he asked as he took goblet.
“Smell? There’s a smell? Oh, we have lots of foodstuff in here, stands a chance some of its turned.”
“Really, why haven’t you thrown it out. I mean, really?”
“It’s accorden what it is. If its dairy, it’s probably cheese, and that just makes it better. If its meat, we can sell it as aged. Anything else might be good fertilizer. Never throw nothin out until you can stand the stink any longer.”
Devon grinned, “you and Mat would get along so well.”
Devon looked around the room again with a smirk.
“Well, I’ve just never seen a bed that short. Well, I mean, except in a dollhouse,” said Devon as he burst out laughing at the look on Burf’s face. “Sorry,” Devon added, still giggling.
“Make yourself at home, you heightist. At least until you start to smell so bad, I gotta toss you, which seems to be approaching pretty quick if you keep it up. Now tell me what you boys have screwed up.”
“Screwed up? What makes you think we’ve screwed up?”
“Mainly because of rumors about the Druid compound, and well, you both came in here looking like you just got caught in the local nunnery after dark.”
“We did not,” demanded Devon indignantly. Burf just cocked an eyebrow and stared at him.
“Listen here young’un, you are two of the most highly skilled people I’ve met in a while, but for some reason, you ain’t got no idea about how things work. There’s a story there, and its time you start tellin it.”
Devon felt the weight of Burf’s eyes. What could he say? He didn’t remember them being told not to tell others the truth, but then they probably didn’t need to. People would just think they were insane. “It’s complicated. I’d prefer to wait till Mat was here to talk about it. Sorry Burf, we appreciate….”
Burf held up a hand, shaking his head. “Leave that stupid part for later, we all have our pasts. I just hope ya know I count both of you as friends and trust you. With that being said, I’d be workin on your story, people notice. Now tell me what happened with the druids. I got a feelin that’ll be tyin into my current predicament.”
“Good advice and thank you.” Neither said anything for a long time. Devon was trying to decide how to tell Burf about the Druids. Eventually, after the silence became awkward, he noticed something in Burf’s now inebriated eyes that reminded him of Mat’s on their way back to town. “Where is everyone else?”
He watched the inn owners back straighten. His lips vanished in a tight line as he stared at the floor. Devon stopped himself from speaking several times until finally, Burf said in a broken voice. “They didn’t make it, lad.”
“What do you mean?” Devon felt a cold sweat break out across his body as the blood drained from his face.
“I was with Klarga as she passed,” said Burf. His voice broke. He tried to cover it by downing his wine.
“The fire, they were caught in the back. It spread so fast. When I found her, she was already crispy. I was sure she was dead. I saw movement and pulled her into my lap. She opened an eye…” Burf couldn’t go on. He wasn’t trying to hide the tears now. “And sweet little Bella.”
“I’m so sorry we brought this upon you,” said Devon as tears flowed down his face. His heart was breaking, and Mat wasn’t here. MAT WASN’T HERE. He was the strong one. Devon sat just sat there, helplessly watching what he now knew was a broken man. He should’ve known when they arrived, the first thing he’d told them about was the fire. “Why are you helping us?” Devon finally asked.
Burf shrugged. “There is something about you, lads. You’re like newborn babes but with the powers of Magi. Your caring and his anger, two sides of a coin.”
Devon watched him run his finger around the rim of his glass, “you are going to find them, aren’t you?”
Looking up for the first time in a while, Burf met Devon’s eyes with an iron gaze filled with so much hurt and anger. “Oh, I’ll be findin them.”
Devon’s mind was racing. He spoke before he thought. “And we will be there with you.”
“No lad, this isn’t your fight.”
“Bullshit, it’s not. We’re not sure they weren’t after us, but even that doesn’t matter. They attacked our friends. There is a lot we might not know, but I can tell you for sure we know shit like that can’t be allowed to stand. We will not walk away from this fight.”