Rough draft continued…
Kytun and Lurissa exchanged a look. Lurissa spoke first. â€œWe could waste the whole day poking our heads into all these caves looking for tracks. To hell with those people!â€ She stalked to where their gear lay upon the sand.
â€œJag-off says those people have a mage with them,â€ Owain warned. The hand he kept tightly wrapped around his horn of alchemical powder, inlaid with silver protective runes, displayed the root of his concern. â€œBetter if we surprise them than they find us stumbling around in there.â€
Lurissa glared at the ex-soldier. â€œWe have a mage. Jago will deal with their wizard. We also have a boat, something they now lack.â€
â€œWere you planning on telling us they have a mage with them?â€ Kytunâ€™s voice was completely neutral.
â€œOf course. Jago just discovered the fact a few minutes ago. Your find distracted me.â€
â€œThey didnâ€™t reach this bay with that wrecked boat. Too small. They have a ship out there somewhere.â€ Finn waved his arm toward the thinning fog.
â€œThatâ€™s Radaamâ€™s concern. The Reaper will have to deal with it,â€ Lurissa argued. â€œWhat do you want to do? Have Owain fire that hand cannon off a few more times in hopes that Radaam will send a boat back for us now?â€
Kytun was silent, looking into the fog. Lurissa realized Finn and Hawk were waiting for his decision. She controlled her growing anger. It was her damned expedition, not Kytunâ€™s.
Kytun turned to Finn, â€œWhich cave?â€
Finn pointed to a broad opening, wider than a tall man but only half a manâ€™s height.
â€œWhy that one?â€ Lurissa questioned, making a bid to regain authority.
â€œWater,â€ Finn replied. A small but steady stream of water flowed out one side of the cave, down the sand into the bay. â€œRunning water means a better chance of good air.â€
Hawk slung his oxhide bag over his shoulder and walked to the low cave mouth. He held one of the torches they had purchased in his free hand, its end wrapped with canvas soaked in a mixture of wax and resin. His decision was clear.
Finn shouldered his own pack, grinning at Kytun. â€œI told you he was a fine fellow.â€
Kytun carefully packed away the storm lantern for later use before joining them.
Owain knelt nearby, cutting a length of slow match from a coil, lighting it from the length that was near expired. He then carefully fixed it into the serpentine lock of his harkbus. He left the pan of the hand cannon unprimed.
Although he didnâ€™t care for the weapon, Kytun had fired a harkbus before. Anyone familiar with a crossbow could fire one, the trigger mechanism was near identical. It was a devastating weapon at close range, but shockingly loud, slower to load than even a heavy crossbow and lacked the range or accuracy of the bow.
Jago watched Owainâ€™s preparations from a distance. The mage was clearly unsettled by the harkbus.
Kytun shouldered his oxhide pack and paused beside Jago. â€œYou donâ€™t like hand cannons?â€ Kytun quietly asked.
â€œAlchemical powder, gunpowder if you like, is a cheat and a danger. It places power in the hands of the ignorant and untrained.â€ The mage couldnâ€™t seem to help himself, he answered the question at length. â€œOn ships, with cannon, it is a risk, but one with a high pay off making it worth the gamble. And the sea itself protects the powder, the element of water sheltering it from outside interference. On land there is no such protection. It can easily be turned against him. Against us.â€ Kytun realized Jago wasnâ€™t lecturing, the man was worried.
â€œYou had no objection earlier. You said nothing of this on the ship.â€
â€œThat was before there was another mage running around here. In any case, it would have served no purpose. Owain was with Lurissa before I. And the man sleeps with the infernal device.â€
â€œItâ€™s an expensive weapon, probably the most valuable thing heâ€™s ever had.â€
â€œOne which will, no doubt, be the death of him.â€ Jago moved to join the others.
Kytun stopped him with a hand on his arm. â€œProphesy?â€
Jago shook his head. â€œNot my discipline. Just an educated observation.â€
Owain used the slow match of his harkbus to light the first torch, gently blowing the smoldering ember into flame.
Lurissa knelt before the chosen cave mouth, thrusting a torch into the darkness. â€œWhy couldnâ€™t you choose a taller cave,â€ she grumbled.
Finn squatted beside her. â€œBe happy. No dragon worth a damn could fit through here.â€ He smiled brightly at them before crawling into the darkness.