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A Sojourn to Hydlaa - Part 1 - Clackers

"Kaylara!"

A mournful, wracking sob escaped Kraddok's mouth as he shuddered in the early morning chill, shaking off the last, frightening vestiges of the nightmare that had so recently gripped him. As he wiped the sleep from his eyes, he wondered at the strange, horrifying dreams that had been coming to him with more and more frequency. But the more he concentrated on the terrifying images, the more quickly the images faded, evaporating like so much smoke on a windy day.

As he rose from his straw pallet and crossed the tiny room, he glanced out the window to see his meager flock of kikiri milling around nervously over the parched, nearly barren soil of their pen. Something was out there, stalking the emaciated birds! Quickly, Kraddok bolted for the door, halting just long enough to grab his battered and rusty sword from it's resting place by the stove. As he burst from the door to his farmstead, he heard the familiar, bony tappings and scrapings that could only mean one thing; Clackers! Looking desperately around near the pen, he counted nearly a half dozen of the armored land crustaceans. Too many to tackle together, it would spell certain death for his kikiri if Kraddok didn't come up with a plan, and fast!

As Kraddok desperately looked around, he spied a large branch that had fallen from one of the nearby apple trees. He scooped it up in his free hand and let out a shattering yell, running furiously for the nearest Clacker and leaping over it as he lashed out at one of it's large pincers with his sword, nearly cleaving it in two. He continued toward the next one, never breaking stride, bashing at this one with the thick, gnarled branch as if it were a cudgel. The Clackers, far from intelligent but recognizing a threat, turned for Kraddok as he ran toward each in the pack, attacking once and then running for the next. Soon, Kraddok was running for his very life, pursued by several angry Clackers, drawing them away from the kikiri and desperately hoping for some miracle to come and save him.

Running with every ounce of strength he had, Kraddok angled north, toward the edge of the steep bluff that bordered his land. Soon, he was running along the top of the tall cliff with the Clackers right on his heels and gaining slowly on him. He could hear them as they drew nearer, and with every muscle screaming protest, he put on a burst of speed, temporarily drawing ahead of the angry, ravenous pack.

"Come on! C'mon!" he chanted to himself, "Just a little further!" but he knew he didn't have enough of a lead to see him safely across the rope bridge that spanned Calton's Gorge, which was only a couple of dozen meters ahead of him. If only he could get to the other side of the bridge, he could cut the supports, and cause the Clackers to tumble into the deep ravine below. But his strength was already flagging, and he knew he wouldn't get there in time.

Suddenly, Kraddok felt a buzzing burst forth in his head, and a frigidly cold blast whipped past his ear, causing him to stumble. As he fell headlong toward the scree that littered the edge of the bluff, he felt another icy blast rush over his back. He landed hard on his chest, feeling sharp stones scraping through his jerkin, lacerating his skin from head to knees, and realized with a curious mixture of fear and chagrin that he was headed over the precipice.

As he sailed over the edge, he let out a scream of terror. Time seemed to compress as the landscape passed his eyes at a sickeningly slow pace while he tumbled through the air. And there, just coming into reach, salvation! A dry, scraggly root stuck out from the face of the cliff, just out of reach. Desperately flinging his weapons away and reaching with both hands, Kraddok lunged for that last hope of survival... And caught it! Clinging to that too tiny root, trembling from the exertion and exhaustion, Kraddok let out small, weak sobs of relief.

And once again he felt that buzzing in his head, accompanied shortly after by a sharp CRACK! then another, and another. Each time he felt the buzz and heard the cracking noise, the sound of the passing Clackers seemed to be reduced. Soon, he heard nothing but the breeze as it swept by his precarious perch, and felt nothing but the pain and fatigue from his harrowing ordeal.

Shortly after, small bits of gravel and scree rained down upon his head, and Kraddok heard a scuffling sound from somewhere above him, followed by an unfamiliar voice, calling out to him in relief.

"I say! Wonderful catch, Sir! I was certainly hoping that my attempt at saving you didn't prove to be your undoing!" As Kraddok looked up, he saw a tiny round face beaming down at him from a few meters above. "I'm afraid I don't have any rope, so you're in a bit of a spot, there. You, um, don't happen to have any, do you?"

"At my cabin, a short way south of here," Kraddok replied. "But you had better hurry. I don't know how long I can keep holding on! Back outside wall! Hurry!"

"Back before you know it, Sir. Don't you worry!" the stranger yelled as his head slipped quickly out of view. Kraddok grimaced as he clung to the cliff face, and he felt his last remaining strength slowly ebbing away. Fear gnawed at him, and dark visions of him careening down the sheer rock wall to land on the ground below filled his eyes, making him tremble. Then his left hand started slipping. Eyes suddenly wide, and more scared than he had ever been in his life, Kraddok felt himself begin to panic as he desperately grabed for the root again.

Kraddok heard sounds from up above and looked up. Tiny bits of gravel and dirt cascaded down, getting in his eyes and making him blink. As he looked down and shook his head to dislodge the debris that had struck his face, he heard the stranger shout, "I've found the rope, and tied it to a large rock here, Sir! I'm putting a loop in the other end, so you can place it around your waist!"

"And how am I supposed to do that while I'm holding on to this root?!", Kraddok retorted. "I sorta have my hands full!"

"Not to worry, Sir! Just listen to me, and you'll be just fine! When the loop is just at your feet, place one in the loop, and then the other! I'll take care of the rest!"

"That's CRAZY! It'll never work!" Kraddok shouted back. "You're gonna get me killed!"

"Please trust me, Sir! It WILL work, and I'll get you out of there! Just let me know when the loop is at your feet!" Kraddok saw the rope slowly pass to his left as it slowly descended toward his feet.

"You're a meter too far right! Move it left!"

"My left, or yours, Sir?!" the stranger shouted back.

"Your left!", Kraddok replied. "Gods, this will never work," he muttered to himself. As the rope slid closer, Kraddok called out, "There! Now just a third of a meter lower!" When the rope was at the level of his feet, he yelled, "That's it! Stop! Now what?!"

"Just push lightly against the cliff with one foot, while you place the other one into the loop!" the stranger called out. "Take it slowly, so you don't twist or slip!"

Taking a deep, ragged breath, Kraddok pushed his right foot against the stone of the cliff. Slowly, he extended his left foot toward the dangling loop of rope. As it neared, his body twisted left, and his foot just skimmed past the rope. Crying out in terror, Kraddok froze. "Gods, I don't wanna die!" he shouted.

"I know it's hard, Sir, but I know you can do it!" the stranger called out. "just try it again! Use your knee, instead, to be more stable! And twist your right foot inward!"

Kraddok steeled himself for another attempt. Slowly, he inched his knee against the cliff face, and then angled his right foot to the left. The effect did seem to be more stable, so he tried to move his left foot toward the rope again. This time, it passed easily through the dangling loop of rope. "I did it! By the Gods, I did it!" he screamed.

"Good show, Sir!" the stranger called out. "I knew you could do it. Now, slowly twist your body to your right, and try to get your other foot into the loop!"

Kraddok felt sweat dampening his hands, making it even harder to hold on with each passing second. He tried to slowly twist his body, but only succeeded in a weak twitch. His right hand slipped off the root, and he screamed. "Oh, Gods, please don't let me die!" he called out as his right hand shot out to grab for the root again, but he caught the rope, instead. Just then, he lost grip on the root and started to fall. As the rope snapped taught, his right leg struck the cliff, sending him spinning, and he flipped upside down, while the loop cinched tightly against his ankle. Suddenly, a blinding explosion of white hot pain struck behind his eyes, and blackness engulfed him.

A dull throbbing just behind his left temple and a sickening wave of nausea welcomed Kraddok as he weakly struggled back to consciousness. He hurt all over; Especially his head and left leg. It felt as if someone had tried to tear his leg off, and had nearly succeeded. When he opened his eyes, he saw the fuzzy outline of a person leaning over him. As his head began to clear a bit, he could make out the mumbling sounds of some odd chant, issuing from this stranger; and a whitish glow surrounded the person's hands. Everywhere those hands passed over, Kraddok felt a comforting warmth suffuse him, and the pain in that area diminished to a sort of vague discomfort. As the stranger's hands reached Kraddok's head, a strong lassitude fell over him, and darkness enveloped him once more.

When Kraddok once again returned from the depths of his unconsciousness, he was mildly surprised to find that he was in his own pallet. "Ah, welcome back to the land of the living, Sir!" came a strangely familiar voice. "You'll likely feel a bit weak, but that should pass in a day or so. That was a bit exciting, eh?"

"EXCITING?!" roared Kraddok, "I nearly died, and you..." Kraddok took a deep breath, and tried to calm himself. "Look. that came out wrong. I'm sorry. Thank you. You saved my life."

"And healed you, as well, I might add. No small feat, as badly injured as you were. Whatever caused you to play with so many Clackers at one time, anyway?"

"Played? Those things were after my kikiri, you idiot! they're all I have left, and without them, I may as well die!"

"Oh, terribly sorry, Sir. Sometimes my choices of word do seem to rub people the wrong way. I do apologize."

"No, I should be saying I'm sorry. You risked your life to save me from those Clackers, and you pulled me off that cliff and healed me. I'm grateful. And for a priest to take on FIVE of them..."

"Seven, actually, and I'm no..."

"You killed SEVEN Clackers?!" Kraddok exclaimed in shock. "That's amazing!"

"Not really, to be honest. It's just a matter of the proper spell, is all." the stranger replied "Those buggers don't seem to like cold all that much"

Kraddok's blood went cold. "You... You're not a... You're a... GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! NOW!!!" he bellowed, as his eyes bulged and his face purpled in rage. Tiny drops of spittle flew from Kraddok's mouth as he screamed, "I don't CARE if you saved me! It's your kind that brought me to this! It's your kind who took my Kaylara from me! GET OUT!!!"

Crestfallen, the stranger turned and slowly walked to the door of the ramshackle cabin. "and I thought things were going so swimmingly," he muttered as he went outside, closing the door behind him and sadly shaking his head. He headed south, continuing on his way.

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