“Are you going to keep talking or finally drink something so the damn bottle goes round?” one of the men sitting around the fire snarled.
The recipient of his message only now realized that he had been holding the bottle with the booze that was so vital for these men for at least a minute without drinking from it. He took a good pull and passed it on. It was a big bottle, and its content tasted terrible. It would make many more rounds around the fire.
It was one of these freezing nights when the campfire wasn’t enough to keep the men warm. Just the few new ones among them could remember sleeping in a warm bed or on a bag of dry straw without the cold wind constantly pulling at you. The only thing that made nights like these somewhat bearable was lots of alcohol, combined with the stories they used to tell each other. Feeling the alcohol’s grip on his throat, the narrator gasped “Where was I?”
“You were talking about the stories you heard about the mountain, back when you were with the militia!” one of the more attentive listeners answered.
“Yes” the other man resumed his tale, “we heard lots of stuff. Even before the war, people around here told weird stories about that thing. You know the talk of old blabbermouths, and their crazy fantasies. They claimed that Beliar himself lives on the mountain, stealing the souls of those who are foolish enough to climb it at night. That he poisoned the wine. Right, the Dark One just needs to piss down the mountain, and all the plants are ruined, was my response to that kind of talk.” The bandits laughed, the narrator spit in the fire and continued: “Nonsense, obviously. If Beliar was walking about this world, he wouldn’t bother with poising wine. But”, and he lowered his voice so that his listeners had to bend forward to understand him, “it’s a fact that quite a few people have disappeared on that mountain. We went looking for them. Mostly hunters from Silden or adventurers from Geldern. Obstinate fools who went up there. We didn’t follow them very far. Way too dangerous.”
The bottle had reached him again. He took his time with drinking from it. His listeners waited impatiently, but silent. He finally passed it on and resumed his tale: “I’ve once met a hunter who’s supposed to have been up there. A tough bastard, I can tell you that. He said it’s the kind of place where you don’t hunt. The place is swarming with beasts. Shadowbeasts prowling around, trolls churn up the ground and amid all these monsters there is a ruin. The remnants of an old citadel, destroyed decades ago. Nobody remembers anymore who once has lived there, and to be honest we don’t really want to know.
Because this hunter also told me that, if you listen closely, you can still hear the old inhabitants screaming, cursing their murderers and all living beings. That drives the beasts up there really crazy.”
All of the hardened men around the fire were nervous now, looking around. To them, the wind sounded like terrible screams, and cracking of the fire seemed like the last breath of dying men. They started fidgeting about and were getting afraid. The bottle had been completely forgotten. The narrator grasped it. Now he reversed his speech, getting faster and louder: “Nobody cultivates the wine anymore. Nobody climbs the mountain. And all of us, who once were farmer, soldiers or hunters, are now nothing but prey!” His voice was getting shriller. “We have been hunted and killed, our comrades slaughtered and executed! The Orcs and their servants made us outlaws, and now we are hiding here, right at the foot of the cursed mountain!” By now, he was screaming hysterically: “Do you see the black mountain? Do you hear it calling? Do you feel its grasp?” He took a big gulp from the bottle and spit it into the fire. As it combusted with a bright blue flame, the men jumped away from the fire in terror.
Out of nowhere, a heavy blow hit the storyteller right in his face and sent him to the ground. Ivan, who stood in front of his now unconscious follower, hated these nights. On a similar occasion he would probably just kill the damn guy. The bandit leader would spend the rest of the night restoring his men’s moral. Ivan truly hated these nights.