An excerpt from The Creature of the Baradoons. Written by Jeremy Lee Riley, with illustrations by Dar Parsons.
I. RAVEN’S END
As Recorded in the Journal
of Dr. Demetre Jaeger
in the year 1361 AE
The dying man was discovered by a group of farmers and brought to my office here in the town of Raven’s End.
I had just finished my final appointment and was about to close the office for an hour so that I might slip over to Roseby's Saloon for a couple of drinks. It had been a relatively slow day consisting of a sprained ankle, a minor cooking burn, and a fractured arm from falling off a ladder. Nothing that would throw the town into turmoil should their only doctor decide to drown his boredom in a schooner of ale and a slice of Momma Roseby's mishmash pie.
I was fishing through my pockets for the keys to the front door when it crashed open, missing my face by mere inches. The farmers hurried in, a half-dozen at least, and all sharing the same panicked expression. In their arms was a writhing, screaming man drenched in blood.
My first thought was that one of the farmers had fallen into the combine. It wouldn't be the first time such a tragedy had occurred. But I quickly recovered my senses and noted that the injuries appeared to be the result of a vicious attack, most likely from a wild animal.
The farmers were all speaking at once, some nearly shouting in order to be heard over the man’s screams. Their foreman, a broad-shouldered giant named Huy, quieted them with a curt bark and then quickly explained to me what had happened.
"We was working the fields near the foothills. Séamus saw him first. He was staggering along, barely able to walk. Looked like he'd come down outta the mountains, but—"
"Never mind that right now," I said. "Just get him on the table and hold him." I rummaged through the cabinets for my supplies while Huy and the others heaved the man onto the operating table. They wrestled with his flailing limbs, keeping him still long enough for me to administer a sedative. Once it took effect and the man had quieted I asked Huy to finish his story.
"He was screaming something 'bout his village. Don’t know what he meant, he wasn’t making much sense. We did what we could to stop the bleeding but, gods, there's just…” Huy shot a queasy glance at the man on the table. “There's so much blood."
I ushered the farmers out the door with instructions to fetch the town magistrate at once. I knew he’d want to see this. Once alone I washed my hands and then removed the patient's clothing for a better look at his wounds.
My initial assumption appeared correct. The man had been mauled by some sort of animal. He had suffered lacerations and punctures to his head, neck, left shoulder, torso and left thigh. The wounds looked to have been made by a carnivore with a jaw measuring around a foot in width and a foot-and-a-half in length. The fact that he could have sustained such injuries and still be drawing breath, no matter how increasingly shallow, was truly remarkable.
The man was shivering uncontrollably. With the amount of blood he had lost he must have been freezing from the inside out. I needed to restore his blood volume, increase the hemoglobin levels. But with the primitive equipment at my disposal there wasn’t much I could do. I didn’t even have a means of determining his blood type. Perhaps if I was home behind the protective walls of Elysium I could save him, but out here in these wastes his chances were next to nil.
The man groaned and muttered something under his breath. Gently, I leaned in close and asked what sort of animal had done this to him. His shivering became more violent, his breathing more erratic. He let out a high-pitched wail and clawed at my shirt with a trembling hand. I took his hand in both of mine and told him that everything was going to be okay. The most important thing for him to do right now was to rest and regain his strength. The man responded with a heart-wrenching sob.
I let go of his hand and turned to see town magistrate Whelan Daumier standing in the doorway. He was a tall, bearded man with a robust frame and a mane of graying blonde hair that hung shy of his broad shoulders. His faded blue eyes peered at me from the leathery folds of his sunburned face.
Whelan had been the magistrate of Raven’s End for going on twenty years. He and I had been friends for most of that time. He was one of the few decent people I’d met out in these wastes. Honorable to a fault and dead serious about his profession, he did not play favorites when it came to upholding the law in his town. I had learned that the hard way when he once locked me up for public intoxication.
Whelan nodded to me and had himself a look at the patient. “Heard the farmers found him wandering through the fields,” he said. “Heard he was losing blood by the bucket loads. How’s he still alive?”
“He barely is,” I replied. “Frankly, I’ll be surprised if he survives the night.”
The man let out another moan. Whelan cleared his throat and shot me a sidelong glance. “Can he...can he hear us?”
“I doubt it. He’s pretty far gone. I wouldn’t be surprised if he—”
“CREATURE!” The man jerked his head forward, screaming in our direction. “IT CAME IN THE NIGHT! IT KILLED 'EM ALL! CREATURE! CAME IN THE NIGHT! EVERYONE’S….dead.”
The man’s voice cracked on the last word. Having used up the last of his strength he laid his head back on the table, let out a shuddering sob, and grew still. I checked for a pulse.
“Is he…?” Whelan began.
“Aye,” I said.
“What was he going on about?”
I was silent for a moment as I pieced the story together in my mind. The picture that began to form was less than encouraging. “The farmers said he came from the mountains. There’s a small village up there, as I’m sure you know.”
“Wait,” Whelan said, “are you saying that whatever did this to this man also attacked the Taivan Village?”
The village in question was a tiny community established in the Baradoons by the Taivi mountain dwellers over a century ago. They stopped in town from time to time to trade goods and stock up on provisions. The general lot tended to be clannish and secretive, interacting with the townspeople only when necessary. This had not won them many friends with the locals.
I retrieved a sheet from the closet and draped it over the body. “You heard his final words, the same as I. ‘Everyone’s dead’. What else could it mean?”
Whelan’s face paled. “Gods, Demetre, I’ve kin up there.”
“I know,” I said. “Let’s pray it was an overstatement on this poor fellow’s part. He was hardly in a rational frame of mind.”
“Maybe so, but something chewed him up and spat him back out. Crazy or not, he went through an awful lot to warn us.”
I shook my head. “Let’s say some kind of creature did attack the village. There’s no way it could wipe out everyone. The villagers have weapons, they have the numbers. There’s just no way.”
Whelan looked a little relieved. “Maybe you’re right. But why didn’t more people show up here? My son, he would’ve brought his family to town first thing.”
The thought had crossed my mind as well. Whelan’s son, Gerald, had married Abelia, daughter of Ahren, the village’s chieftain. By law Abelia was not permitted to leave her mountain home, so Gerald became a member of the clan. They had a daughter, Branda, two years ago. Gerald had a good head on his shoulders. If trouble had befallen the village he would’ve been the first to get his family out.
“Maybe he was afraid to make the long journey here with his daughter in tow,” I said. “Those mountains can be treacherous, even to an experienced climber.”
Whelan ran his fingers through his beard, lost in thought. At last, he said, “This guy’s gotta be full of it. There’s no way one animal could wipe out an entire village.”
“The man did say it attacked in the night, right?”
Whelan’s brow furrowed. “I think so. What about it?”
“Well, the villagers would’ve been asleep for the most part. They would’ve been caught off guard. The village isn’t that big. There’s what, forty-five…fifty people up there? They would’ve been disoriented, disorganized. Easy prey.”
“Are you saying they were eaten?”
“Maybe. Whatever did this to this man is enormous. Didn’t you see the size of his wounds?” I pulled back the sheet to allow Whelan another look at the dead man’s ravaged body. “Naturally, it didn’t eat everyone at once. Maybe it simply killed them and is saving the others for later. You know it’s rather cold up in the mountains this time of year, so the bodies would be well preserved for—”
“Enough!” Whelan slapped a box of bandages off the counter and stepped to the open door for some air. “Gods, my family may be dead and here you are talking about them like they’re a frozen supper.”
I mentally kicked myself for my insensitivity. “I could be wrong,” I said. “I am just theorizing, after all. I mean, the only way we can be certain is if we go up there and see for ourselves.”
Whelan didn’t answer for some time. He leaned against the door frame, staring out at the mountains that towered over the town like a giant's hand reaching for the heavens. The Baradoons rose along the northern border of Eulimi, separating the region from neighboring Nabron. It was one of the largest mountain ranges in the known world. Its five peaks, Tos, Nambre, Haelia, Vair, and L'Deia, varied in height, with its tallest, Nambre, around nine-thousand meters high.
The Baradoons were shrouded in mystery, and was the stuff of legends even during the Age of Kings. It was once believed that the mountains were home to the sky god, Valdueis, who watched over all from his great throne high atop Nambre's summit.
Raven's End was founded by miners near the southeastern base of L'Deia half a century ago. The iron ore they extracted from the rock was lucrative enough to attract other prospectors, and with them came the usual assortment of boomtown followers, including families, merchants, saloon owners, whores, religious fanatics, and broken men looking for a fresh start.
The town flourished, becoming one of the richest in the Deadlands. This was due in part to adventurers and explorers who came from all over to brave the Baradoons' treacherous terrain and attempt to chart its many nooks and crannies, pouring much of their wealth into the town’s economy in the meantime.
The mountains have never been mapped entirely. Unpredictable weather, treacherous terrain and unexpected mishaps were to blame for that. Explorers have died, been injured, disappeared, or just given up and returned home in frustration.
Many have told stories of strange occurrences in the dead of night; the sound of footsteps outside their tents, accompanied by strange, guttural sounds. Their pack animals have been found slaughtered and their supplies strewn for miles up the mountainside. Some even claim to have seen hairy beast-men watching them from far off distances.
I have always taken such tall tales with the proverbial grain of salt. Sounds in the night could be any manner of wildlife, from shadow cats to wolves. As for the beast-men; if I had to guess, I would say they were the product of mass hysteria brought on by altitude sickness or the irrational need to believe in something that wasn't really there.
But that was before Huy and his companions had brought the Taivi man into my office. His death had created more questions than answers. Most prominent among them was what sort of creature could have caused such fatal injuries?
The mountains were vast; any number of undiscovered species could have flourished there, free of our interference. But the Taivi had lived in these mountains for generations without any harm coming to them. Could a whole village have truly fallen prey to this thing overnight?
Even if that was possible, why the sudden attacks? Had the creature entered their territory in search of food? Had the Taivi instigated the attacks somehow? Or was the dead man on my table its only victim, his ravings about a ravaged village the product of a traumatized mind?
So many questions. My overworked mind couldn’t settle on just one.
Whelan drew a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh before turning to face me. He was doing his best to remain calm, but concern for his family was playing havoc on his nerves. "I'm going up there," he whispered. Once he had spoken the words out loud a sense of urgency came over him. He grabbed my coat and shoved it into my hands as he steered me towards the door. "It's my duty to go. I'll put together an expedition and we'll see if this man's story is true or not."
"And if it is?" I asked.
Fire danced in Whelan's eyes. "Then so help me I'll hunt this creature into extinction!"
Copyright, 2012, Jeremy Lee Riley, Wamingo Publishing. All rights reserved.
Copyright, 2012, Jeremy Lee Riley, Wamingo Publishing. All rights reserved.