Another fictional vignette.
For a merchant, the highest risk brings the highest profit. For Urluis d’n Farnath, trading across the front line of a war is about as risky as it gets.
To keep well away from the actual war zone, Urluis’ caravan must head out west, following a big loop, something like three times the distance of a more direct route. And it’s all through lawless wilderness, populated by isolated tribes of feral humans, vordral and worse things.
His caravan is heavily armed. It has to be, not all the tribes are friendly, and some of them are better armed than they have any right to be. While some say the security division of the Merchant’s Guild is little more than a clearing house for mercenaries, every man and woman in Urluis’ employment is more than reliable. Whether kandar or human, many of them have served in the legion, some of them veterans of the war itself. A couple of humans in the caravan Urluis recruited from the tribes whose territory they cross; in a land such as this, their local knowledge and contacts are priceless.
Urluis knows better than to ask precisely what’s in these boxes, some kind of machine parts, he’s told. Why the Academy of Knowledge needs to import such things from the zughru, of all people, is a mystery to him. Why can’t they just make their own? But there is a lot of mystery when it comes to the Academy of Knowledge and their machines.
Four days out from the isolated zughru trading post on the fringes of their territory, Urluis urges the lead pack-beast forward along the narrow trail through the rolling wooded hills. He has always wondered how The Academy of Life managed to create these beasts. Sure-footed on their six legs, with endurance beyond that of any common creature, and a digestive system that meant they can eat just about anything, the Academy of Life justifies the high prices they charge. Nobody but the academy can breed these apparently sexless creatures; in fact nobody knows if they grow pregnant or lay eggs. Maybe they’re spawned in vats, created by some dark magic. They certainly bear no resemblance to any natural creature of Kalyr.
Urluis stops dead at a signal from his human scout, Qeelu. It seems she’s seen something in the forests ahead. Urluis confers with his most senior caravan guard, the grizzled ex-legionnaire Leyrandol.
“Trouble ahead”, he says in hushed tones, “Don’t know what Qeelu’s seen, but I fear it’s not good”.
Qeelu herself has now disappeared into the undergrowth. Leyrandol gives the well-rehearsed hand signal to his men and women to ready weapons. As a civilian operation they don’t have access to military weaponry such as flamelances, but a few somewhat illicit explosive crossbow quarrels ought to give any enemy pause for thought.
Leyrandol opens his mouth to speak, but before he can utter a word a beam of coherent light splits the world open. His head explodes like a rotten fruit leaving his headless corpse still mounted on his riding-beast for a moment before it tumbles to the ground.
As the men and women of the caravan dive for cover, Urluis realises he no longer cares about the profit this trip was going to make. When faced with an unseen enemy armed with energy weapons, all he wants now is to make it out of this alive.