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Chapter XII: FISTO'S FOREST

 

                Krygar just got worse and worse. The great tiger could now barely walk, and was completely dizzy and shaking, burning with fever. Duncan did not know what else to do, while Teela tried in vain to lower his fever with pieces of cloth immersed in boiled water. Nothing did seem to work. Now, even Adam was completely distressed for his tiger's health, and for a moment, he almost forgot the urge of Grayskull luring him.

                They were riding at a very slow pace, and making frequent stops so that Krygar could rest and be tendered. The meeting with the strange cloaked man with the skull face the day before was also of no help, since Krygar got madly tense with the presence of the odd creatures and that apparently made him become even worse. They were passing through a clearing when suddenly, the tiger collapsed, completely exhausted.

                The group dismounted their horses and gathered around the feline, trying to figure out how he was and to aid him, but with no success. "Give space! Let him breath!", Duncan cried. "Panicking won't help him in any way, on the contrary. He needs air... and he obviously needs some sort of medicine. His organism is not being capable of dealing with this alone... I have to find some herbs... If only I knew what's wrong with him!"

                That very moment Krygar vomited, some strange black substance came out bubbling from his mouth, followed by blood, forming a large pool of black and red. "By the gods, father! Is he dying?" - Teela cried. "I don't know, Teela... I just... don't know!"

                Adam crouched next to his friend. "Come on, big fellow! You're stronger than that disease. Hold on. We're here beside you, and we're going to find a way to aid you. Just hang on with all your might!"

                "Father!" - Teela suddenly said aloud. - "The orcs' blood! You said it was poisonous! He bit the orcs several times, his mouth got full of orc blood! It must be it, right?"

                "By all gods, you are right! How could I forget? I was worried about our health, and forgot completely about him. He was the one with higher possibilities of contamination, since he ingested their blood!"

                "Is there any antidote for that poison?" - Adam asked.

                "There are some herbs... but I don't know which or how to prepare them. I can find some herbs and try to improve his situation, but it probably won't be enough. I don't know where to find someone with the lore we need now. And time runs short for our friend, apparently..."

                "We must try whatever we can. If there's a chance, a hope, then it's worth trying!" - Adam replied.

                "Yes. Maybe you should stay here with Krygar and Stratos. Teela and I will go into the woods and try to find something useful. Maybe we have some luck."

                Adam agreed reluctantly. He didn't want them to go alone into the wood, but Krygar couldn't follow and someone had to stay with him. And he knew that he himself was the one that should stay by his tiger's side. This could be his mate's last hours of life...

                Duncan and Teela left and soon they disappeared out of sight between the trees. They walked slowly, Duncan constantly crouching next to some plant, studying it. "Useless", "This one is venomous" and "I don't know this one, it might be dangerous" described his findings. There seemed to be no useful herbs around.

                They walked around for a while. Here the trees were still small, but thick, and surrounded by small bushes of long leaves and filled with some curious blue fruits. The lower ends of the tree trunks were replete of small pink mushrooms. Half an hour had passed and still they had found no signs of a useful herb. Duncan was getting stressed and beginning to desperate. He knew how Adam loved his tiger friend and how much it would cost him if the feline died.

                They were further deeper into the forest when it all happened. They heard no sound. They felt no presence. There simply was no warning. But, suddenly, from between the vegetation, a figure appeared right next to them. Too quick to avoid. Too quick to react. Duncan was strongly punched in his chest by a mighty fist, the sound of metal clashing against his plate armor loudly echoing. He was thrust backwards by an enormous strength, the greatest punch he had ever felt, and he fell. Underneath his armor, he felt a deep pain, as if his ribs were broke. Struggling to maintain conscience, he opened his eyes to face his aggressor. Teela quickly recovered from the surprise and drew her sword, facing the unexpected figure.

                In front of them, standing upright, was a large, apparently angry man. He was middle-aged, apparently reaching his forties, and had brown short hair and thick mustache and beard. His brown eyes burned with fury. He wore a chain mail armor, strapped around to his chest by metal bands. In his left hand, he carried a long sword, and in his right hand, he wore a large metal glove, which made his fist seem more than twice bigger than it should. Curiously, he seemed to be able to move his fingers as if the glove was made of silk. He opened his hand, then clenched it mightily. "Who are you and how dare you enter my lands?", the stranger asked.

                Duncan fell to the pain. The attack had just been too quick and powerful. He didn't even had the time to contract his muscles and try to absorb part of the impact. The warrior lost his conscience.

                Teela, seeing her father wounded and unconscious, became greatly angered. "Your lands? We didn't know these were 'your lands'. But how dare you attack someone like that simply because they have entered 'your lands'? Are you insane?"

                "Watch your tongue, woman, or I might just cut it off. Don't think that I will hold back just because you're a female!"

                "I wouldn't wish you to!" - And said this, Teela's sword swirled into the woodsman's direction, with great dexterity and sharp strength. He parried the strike with his own sword, but just slightly. "So, you do know how to fight, uh? Good. I don't like fighting helpless people!"

                His fist cut the air. If he had hit her, she would now be dead, so mighty was the punch thrown. But Teela was smaller, lighter and much faster than the woodsman. She dodged the strike, and taking advantage of his unbalance, kicked him, making him almost fall. He kept his balance, but as soon as he turned to face her, her sword was already pointed to him once more, and once more he just barely parried it.

                He stroke, this time also using his blade. He seemed to have no trouble using it with his left hand. He swung it with precision, but just not quickly enough to hit her. She blocked the attack, aimed straight to her head, and felt the great strength of the blow. His sword clashed powerfully against hers, and she almost couldn't hold the power of so mighty a strike. The blade stopped just a few inches away from her face. This didn't scare her, though. Fast as a lightning, she moved sideways, lowered her blade, now safe from his own, and stroke. He was just able to dodge the attack, but not completely. Teela's blade hit his right arm, not too deeply, but still enough to cut him badly. He jumped back, even more angry. "Now you are REALLY going to pay!"

                He launched himself in her direction, almost hitting her with his sword. She hadn't even recovered from the first strike when she saw his huge silver fist flying in her direction. It just barely missed her, and hit a tree right behind her. The tree trunk broke, and fell heavily between the two. They both had to jump backwards to avoid the falling tree, gaining distance between them once more. Teela prepared herself and waited for his next attack.

                The man raised his sword and leaped over the tree. As he hit the ground, he threw himself to her, his weapon aimed and ready for a deadly strike. She, however, ducked, too quickly for him to react, and with a swift move tripped his foot. With the help of his own thrust and weight, she managed to bring him down. His face met the grass instantly, his sword flew away from his hand. He barely had time to turn around and the young warrior was already on top of him, her sword's blade against his throat. "You better forget any stupid ideas... or you will need a new head!"

                He swallowed. But not out of fear, out of his own disgrace. He had lost. "You won, woman. You may now kill me. Spare me from this dishonor. My lands are yours when you do so."

                "What are you saying, fool? I do not wish to kill you. I don't want your lands. I didn't even wish to fight you. We are just passing through these lands on our way north. We didn't know they belonged to someone, less even to such hostile owner. And we just stopped here to get some herbs to our ill companion."

                "Ill companion?"

                "Yes, he was poisoned. He bit orcs, and their blood infected him." - she answered, wondering if she wasn't revealing too much.

                "Bit orcs? What kind of..."

                "He's a tiger. Biting is one of the ways tigers use to fight, you know?"

                "A tiger? You have a tiger 'friend'?"

                "Yes. What's so strange? And he's ill, and I have no time to waste. If we take too long, we might just lose him!"

                "I... I'm sorry. I didn't knew... That is, I though you were..."

                "You attacked us for no reason, simply because you thought we were... something? You couldn't try to find out who we really were first?"

                "It's just that... recently... I thought you were enemies. Only the dark army soldiers come to this lands, lately. But I can help you... your tiger friend. I know some herbs. You can kill me after if you wish."

                "Aren't you listening to me? I do not wish to kill you! But how can I know you are trustable?"

                "I lost my weapon. And you have my word. Now it's up to you."

                Teela looked the woodsman deep in the eyes. Somehow, something told her he was telling the truth. Although still disgusted by the way he first acted, she decided he might deserve a second chance.

                "Alright. But I'll be keeping an eye on you." - said this, she rose from top of him swiftly, caught his sword and moved towards her father. She crouched next to the unconscious man, but watching the stranger from the corner of her eye.

                "Father. Father! Can you hear me? Wake up!"

                "Uh?!? Wha... What... Where's him?"

                "Over there", she answered, looking straight to the man, who was now on his feet, with his eyes lowered and a sad expression on his face. "I defeated him. But there seems to have been a misunderstanding. He was rushy and though we were somebody else. He says he can help Krygar."

                Duncan watched the man with a dissident stare. "Why did he change his mind? Got coward when defeated?"

                "No... I don't think so. His attitude changed when I mentioned that Krygar is a tiger. Father, I don't know if we can trust him, but we don't seem to be able to help Krygar on our own. He may be our only chance. But first, how are you? Does it hurt much?"

                "Well, yes. I don't know if there are any broken ribs, but at least I certainly have an additional bruise besides the one the orcs made me. And it seems my armor needs repair. But I can hold on. Krygar needs more urgent care."

                "Can I see your chest?" - the woodsman asked - "I'm sorry I hit you. I overreacted. This... whole situation is making me paranoid, I guess. But... let me see how badly did I injure you. I have some first aid skills, let me help. It's the least I can do to amend my mistake."

                Teela exchanged a glance with her father. He nodded. As with her, something told him this man was speaking the truth. The young woman stood up and helped her father out of his armor. "Who are you, anyway? I am Teela, and this is my father Duncan. We are travelers."

                "My name is Ukden, but most people call me 'Fisto' ever since I got this gauntlet."

                "What's that made of, anyway?", Duncan asked.

                "I don't know. It's flexible as cloth and hard as steel, and it weights almost nothing. I found it a long time ago. I guess it's magical or something."

                He approached Duncan, now already out of his armor and shirt, and started to scan his chest slowly with his left hand. Teela watched him attentively, his sword in her hand and her own already in her scabbard.

                "You have a broken rib here. It seems to be a slight fissure, and there appears to be no bone shards. With some bandaging and rest I guess it will be in place in one or two weeks. About the bruise, I can prepare some herbs to help it heal faster."

                "We can see to all that later. First we need to help Krygar. He may die if we don't hurry. It seems you know some antidote to orc's blood, is that true?"

                "I won't assure it'll work. But there's a good chance. Just let me get some herbs and take me to him. Gladly there are all the required herbs nearby."

                Soon Fisto returned with an assortment of four herb types. One Duncan hadn't yet found, two of them Duncan had seen yet he didn't knew their effects, and the fourth was one Duncan said it was poisonous. "That herb over there... isn't that dangerous?", he asked.

                Fisto smiled softly, a smile that contrasted with his stern face. "I see you know this herb. It is poisonous, yes. But, in the right quantity, and mixed with the correct herbs, it has healing properties. I ask you to trust me."

                "We will trust you. And I hope we won't regret it." - Duncan relied.

                They went to met Adam, Stratos and Krygar. As Teela and Duncan explained the others the late events, Fisto was silent preparing the medicine. Adam started to watch him with a suspicious gaze. Krygar was asleep now, and hardly breathing.

                "It is ready. We must awake him, he must ingest this.", Fisto stated.

                "Are you sure it will heal him?" - Adam asked.

                "No. I cannot be sure it will make effect. The tiger has been poisoned days ago, and it's not always sure this potion will work. Most of the times it does. But I'm not trying to poison him any further, if that's what you're asking. I assure you."

                "I'm sorry." - and Adam went next to his feline friend, softly trying to awake him. The tiger opened his eyes only barely, clearly in pain. Fisto crouched next to him. "I believe you are the one who should give it to him. He has to drink all of it."

                "Alright." And Adam took a small wood cup in his hands, filled with a green liquid. Slowly, softly, he gave it to his friend. "Drink this. It will make you feel better." At cost, Krygar drank the potion.

                "He must rest the night now. I'll stay here with you, if you want me to. There's nothing more I, or any of us, can do now but wait." - Fisto stated.

                They spent the night just a few yards away from the clearing. They carried Krygar and set a small camp under some trees. Once there, they decided to make turns in pairs. None of them trusted Fisto enough, and they wanted to make sure there was always someone awake besides him, without telling him overtly that they did not trust him to make a turn alone. Not that the woodsman didn't understood that anyway.

                Fisto shared his turn with Duncan. He apologized him once more for his rushed actions and for the pain he inflicted on the man-at-arms.

                "I have been twice more alert than I used to, since Snake Mountain's been occupied. He who lives there now is settling a big army, and he's using orcs to take over villages, too. This forest belongs to me, and to the animals that roam here. And here is a great spot for him to set a battle camp. If he comes here with his armies, then he'll have to kill me first before he takes these lands. Not that I alone would stand a chance against his entire orc legion. But the surprise factor will unable me to take some of them down before they take me."

                "But who is he? I did not know someone had re-opened Snake Mountain."

                "I don't know who he is. All I know is that he's planning conquest, and he's assembling armies to do so. Tarn has already been taken a few days ago. The ones who managed to escape the blood bath said they were attacked in the middle of the night by an army of orcs led by a man with three eyes."

                "Tarn's been taken? By the gods, Randor must know about this!"

                "The king of Eternos? What for? He never cared for anything outside his rich city. Only when he feels threatened will he think about fighting back. And I'm afraid then it will be too late."

                "Is Randor so disbelieved outside Eternos nowadays? I've been much too long in the kingdom..."

                "You come from Eternos? You do not seem to. Are there still any warriors in there?"

                "There is a small army, the royal guard. I trained most of them. They're good warriors, but they're too few to face an organized army. Randor always believed the days of peace would last forever... and everyone wanted to believe in that as well. But tell me about the survivors... where are they?"

                "Here, hiding in my forest. They've nowhere else to go."

                They continued to talk for the rest of their turn. Duncan figured a lot had started to happen during his trip to the Grim woods. The time of Eldor's prophecy seemed to be true and close at hand. "As soon as Adam resolves what he has to do in Grayskull, we must return to Eternos... Marlena, Randor and the council must be warned!" - he thought to himself.

 

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