Discover more from The Cascadia Chronicles
Chapter 3: Crossing the Razbaack
In this long-awaited new sample chapter, our mammal companions face their first combat.
Welcome to the third sample chapter from the first Cascadia Chronicles novel! Just some quick notes before we dive in:
Despite the quiet on this page, I’ve been working behind the scenes to polish up chapters for shopping around and chatting with various folks who could help bring the Cascadia Chronicles into fruition.
I’ve also been inspired by the art of Lily Seika Jones, an artist who captures the vibe of Cascadia as well as any I’ve seen. I’m certain you’ll like her art.
Thank you for reading along! Without further adieu, here’s Chapter 3.
Chapter 3 - Crossing the Razbaack
Arrick arose first, waking to birdsong just a little after twilight. The moonlit clarity of the previous night was replaced by a gauze of fog so thick even the edges of camp were blurred in mist. He waited before waking the others, enjoying the peace of the gloaming hour, the singing of robins and wrens and cliff swallows, the clouds shifting around them. After a while, he prodded his companions awake. Eola rose easiest, thrilled to start the momentous day, but Ophir and Bajo snoozed in before stirring to life.
The fire was ash so they ate a quick breakfast of oatcakes and honey, mostly in silence. Then they packed away their gear, letting their sated bellies and the morning movement warm their muscles.
There were dangers to consider. While Bridge City was tantalizingly close and the travelers had come this far without incident, they were also entering treacherous ground. The paths through the forested hills on the western border of Bridge City were soft zones in Cascadian justice. There were reports of bandits holed up in hidden valleys and rogue Old Way bands, the kind comfortable operating deep in governed territory. The folds of the hills had always been home to predators, even when the prime mammals ruled.
When camp was broken, the quartet set out from the site and followed the row of alders east up the hill, which soon gave way to an old human road along the edge of a tall grass meadow. A thick layer of moss over the old pavement felt soft and cool on Eola’s paws. The road passed between a line of old homes and a solitary farmhouse grown over in brambles from which they plucked ripe blackberries, seedy, sweet, and tart.
Then the path peaked and left the old road and began a slow descent through the meadow until trees emerged ahead in the fog, a pear and apple orchard planted among the occasional bark-armored trunks of ancient, hulking firs.
“Should be mostly downhill from here,” said Bajo, then he climbed up a trunk, which caused a flock of sparrows to skitter off to the next tree over. He picked a heavy-hanging pear and tossed it down to Eola before taking one of his own. Eola caught the pear, thanked Bajo, considered the Great Spirit’s provision, and devoured the snack. The pear was juicy and complex, and after that Eola felt energized.
Their travel plan that morning was to cross Razbaack Creek, which Bajo claimed wasn’t far, then follow the path’s southern branch downstream and along the creek. This path would lead them under the Great Road and down the hills to Southfront.
As they passed deeper into the firs, the ground pitched downward to where it dropped away from a low cliff to another old road. There were large stairs cut into the side so the mammals picked their way down, crossed the road and found themselves at the top of a ravine, where a much longer line of stairs seemed to tunnel down through coils of overgrown brush. From somewhere at the bottom, they could hear the low murmur of running water rising up through the mist.
Eola breathed in the meadowfoam and skunkweed, wet soil and willow, and a foreboding thrill ran up her spine. She took some breaths and felt her companions’ presence, which offered a measure of comfort. Then Arrick took point, stepping slowly down the long wooden stairway, and as they descended, the sound of the creek increased even as the fog seemed to sink in closer. They were dead silent and hyper aware as the greenery and haze enfolded them. Then, finally, the stairway ended beside the creek, and ahead of them stretched a bridge of low planks.
Arrick gestured the other three close in to huddle, and when he spoke his voice was barely even a whisper.
“Something’s off here. Ophir, you follow me. Then Eola,” he nodded toward the badger. “Stay close so her back’s covered. Bajo will cover yours.”
Eola felt a ripple of clarity and a pulse of adrenaline. She set her paw on the grip of her simple wooden club and followed Ophir close as they stepped out onto the bridge. Bajo followed, staff held ready.
The boardwalk stretched across the marshland into the mist, just a little higher than the water. Soon the bank disappeared in vapor behind them and Eola found herself peering over the side, gazing into the currents as the water flowed under their paws. The sound of the creek cheered her.
They were about a third of the way across when an insect buzzed above Eola, and she glanced up, and saw, in the wake of the creature’s path, a swirl of disturbed vapor tracing a faint line overhead. She stared as she walked on, when—whiiiisk—another whipped past her eyes, only this one stopped suddenly with a hard thunk in an outstretched willow limb just to Eola’s right.
That was when she realized they weren’t bugs at all. They were darts, slim needles of blackened steel flighted with tiny and shimmering green feathers.
“Are we under attack?” Eola whispered, but her voice was dampened by the heavy air. Then what felt like the searing of a spark landed on her front left paw, which she lifted to her eyes to find one of the darts buried in her coarse dark fur. Then the burning relented, and she marveled at how she didn’t feel anything around the wound, and how the feathers on the darts were really quite pretty. And then she realized the lack of pain was somehow spreading. Then there were two more sharp pangs as more darts struck her, one in her thigh, one near her hind paw, and the other in the rough brown wool of her cloak near her spine.
“We’re under attack!” she said, louder.
But Arrick and Bajo had caught the attack unfolding a heartbeat after the faint thunk of metal on willow wood, and ascertained the darts were inbound from their left. Bajo moved into position as a defender, spinning to the left edge of the bridge between the hidden assailants and Ophir. His staff twirled in an uppercut arc to hammer one of the incoming darts from midair. The missile spun off into the air and was swallowed by the fog. He swung the other end of the staff around and then, with a nimble downward swish, sent another pin of poisoned metal clattering into the creek, where it was swept under the plank bridge and sunk in the current.
Bajo reckoned the shots were aimed either at Eola or him, the attackers likely looking to put down the largest creatures first, and he registered this as good news, since these were likely bandits, and not assassins targeting Ophir.
Arrick, meanwhile, knew Bajo would provide cover for Ophir, and estimated their aggressors wouldn’t expect a counterattack. He dashed off the bridge and out into the fog, the ground soft and squishing under his paws, but he wasn’t in the main creek channel and the marsh was still mostly firm. He knew even proficient blowgunners had limited range, and the shots weren’t angled from above. So he curved outward, like a swallow winging over a field, and moved low into a full four-legged sprint. From the low dangling branches overhead, he could tell he was moving toward the trunk of a large willow, and then he could see the trunk, and there at the base he spotted the shrouded figures of three frogs raising their hollowed reed blowguns from behind the cover of gnarled roots. He focused on the most oblivious—a bullfrog who’d just puffed out a dart—and closed in to attack.
One of the frogs—a Northern leopard—caught a flash of bright orange through the mist from the corner of his eye. He turned to find the charging marten, and croaked in dismay, a warning to his brethren before turning to leap away for the cover of the stream. But the other two frogs didn’t pick up on the flanking action and huffed out an additional volley. One, on recognition of the panicked croak, fired and quickly hopped away, tossing away its blowgun in a wild retreat. The bullfrog was not so lucky.
Arrick reached the unwitting assailant in another heartbeat, diving and colliding with the startled amphibian, wrapping both arms tight around the creature’s torso. But the frog was strong and tough, and soon kicked free as Arrick lost his grip on the slippery skin.
The bullfrog’s escape route differed from his companions, further from the creek, and even though the frog had been firing poison darts at him just a few seconds previous, Arrick felt a touch of tenderness toward his prey for at least covering for his mates. Out of this scant admiration, Arrick decided he wouldn’t kill the creature, and he closed the meters between them like a cyclone before tackling the frog onto the marshy edge of the creek bank.
Arrick gathered the bullfrog up, holding the slick amphibian fast against his cloak with powerful mustelid muscles and bound the creature’s ankles and wrists with a coiled bit of twine from his cloak pocket. The frog kicked and cursed as Arrick carried him back toward the boardwalk.
“Anyone hit?” he asked, as he dumped the bullfrog onto the wood planks,.
“Eola took three,” Bajo replied. Then he turned to Eola. “How do they feel?”
“Increasingly numb,” said Eola.
A smaller creature would already be knocked out cold, but the badger could feel the poison still spreading. All sensation was gone from her left arm, through most of her left leg, and her right leg was beginning to feel the pinprick tingle of the paralytic. Eola patted her digging paws together, but felt nothing on the left side. She felt a sudden flush of fear.
“Am I going to die?”
“No,” Bajo patted her right arm. “They wanted to knock us out and you were the scariest and simplest to hit. You’ll have to sleep this off, though. For now, can you move?”
“But not as far as Southfront,” Arrick calculated. “Where to now?”
“The Wells will have healers to treat this. We’d best move fast if she’s gonna make it the without a wheelbarrow, though,” said Bajo.
“What should we do with this soggy slug?” Arrick said, pointing to the bullfrog onto the wooden deck. The amphibian croaked, forlorn.
“Why are you crying?” Bajo asked. “It wasn’t us who asked for an early morning dart attack.”
“Happy fun time is over, mamms,” the bullfrog scowled and croaked out his intended slur defiantly. “Chaos is coming, and your ways will end. The Old Way will return and your stupid Council is doomed.”
“Well, at least his hopes are still unfettered,” laughed Arrick.
“You think the Old Way’s gonna work out for bullfrogs?” Bajo asked the frog, showing his teeth. “We’d be prepping your legs for the grill right now.”
The bullfrog blinked, then spit back.
“Maybe and maybe not. At least we knew where we stood!”
Bajo leaned into Arrick and away from the pouting amphibian. “We could bring him with us to The Wells as a prisoner but that doesn’t sound very enjoyable.”
“Especially if we have to lug Eola,” Arrick added. Each of their eyes narrowed at the thought of letting such a sassy bandit go, though that remained the logical conclusion.
Arrick untied the twine around the frog’s wrists, then his ankles.
“You messed with the wrong mammals, and we won’t be as kind next time. Go haunt some other wetland,” the marten snarled.
“And expect a patrol, too,” Bajo added. “We’ll report this to the Hill Brigade.”
“We aren’t afraid of them” the young bullfrog said, but he needed no convincing to leave, and dashed off the edge of the plank bridge to hop away upstream.
Bajo offered Eola his staff and himself as a crutch, supporting her as she limped across the rest of the bridge. Soon, the boardwalk ended, and the marshland gave way to firm ground. The trail split, with their planned path heading south along the creek, and an old stairway winding up out of the valley again to the east.
“That way to The Wells,” said Bajo, pointing upward.
By then Eola could feel almost nothing below her belly, yet she lurched and staggered on, legs wobbly and unsound. Halfway up the stairs, she began to feel tired all over, as tired as she’d ever felt, and that each of her steps felt like she was dragging a sack of stones. Bajo and Arrick pushed and propped her as well as they could, and they’d just barely made the top when Eola went out cold, collapsing in a pile, and breathing so deep she snored in deep gusts.
“Now we’ll have to carry her,” Arrick sighed, and Bajo groaned because The Wells was still a half mile away, and every step was uphill.