(If you are new to this story you can find Part One here!)
It was almost ridiculous in its simplicity. As the Elder had explained a mere half hour before the effects of the gas were brought on through contact or more specifically by allowing the gas to enter the body. To that end the solution was fairly simple: scarves or scraps of cloth wrapped around the mouth would prevent direct contact with the gas, though the Elder also warned that prolonged exposure would render any deterrent ineffectual. That meant they had to keep moving and fast. Simple enough, but still Odius could not bring himself to fully trust the old man. Sages were not known for their diplomacy, and he was beginning to suspect that the Elder had plans of his own. Plans that did not necessarily require the survival of his expedition.
Conversation was kept to a minimum. This pleased Odius greatly, after all closed mouths could not speak of conspiracy and it was not as though the men could nod or glance their way into a mutiny. For the time being at least the expedition was safe.
Even so, the men’s reaction to their orders were met with some apprehension. Most accepted their leader’s rationale without question, but a fair number seemed almost to prefer the irrational, complying with the orders but whispering prayers as they did so. More fool them if they are overcome by the gas, thought Odius maliciously. Slaves to superstition being poisoned by the very thing they refused to accept would serve as fair warning to the others of the dangers inherent to such lines of thought.
They marched in a box formation, every man in their row responsible for the others and constantly keeping watch in case one of their number should fall under the cloud’s influence. They had made good time in spite of the loss of the scouts and the addition of an unconscious passenger. A decision had been made to leave the supply tent behind, it would have taken too long to deconstruct anyway and Odius doubted they would actually need it. If the settlement was as he had seen then there would be space enough to store supplies in one of the buildings. He looked forward to the challenge ahead and the promise of finally reaching their goal.
‘We’re a man down,’ said Jethrin, mindful to open his mouth the minimum required as he formed each word. ‘Don’t look round, but we seem to have lost one from the back row.’
Odius looked at Jethrin instead, letting his furrowed brow do the talking that he dared not do himself. His retainer merely shook his head, keeping one watchful eye on his lord and the other on the back row of soldiers who were marching onwards in spite of the gap in their ranks.
‘Should we turn back?’ asked Jethrin. Lord Drovalak shook his head again; the idea of turning around now was all but insulting. They had made more progress than the scouts, and not one of the men had shown signs of succumbing to the gas. Either the Elder had lied to him yet again, or more likely the deterrent was simply working more effectively than hoped. Regardless he would not lose ground searching for a single man that had more than likely simply taken the chance to run off on his own.
‘Send a scout if you must,’ said Odius, the idiocy of the statement hitting him after the words left his lips. ‘Send three of the soldiers from the back row. Three should be enough to keep track of one another and still find their way back to us.’
His retainer nodded in agreement, and made to turn his horse around when his lord stopped him, indicating three of the mumbling soldiers as candidates for the task. Jethrin acknowledged this with another curt nod and set about trying to explain the order to them without opening his mouth, a task that took him the better part of five minutes. Odius smiled to himself, realising then that it didn’t really matter what became of the three men. They could be lost in the mist or overcome by its effects and it still wouldn’t matter, the taint of their superstitious nonsense would be removed, and though they were far from the only ones it would at least be a start.