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【书籍搬运】A Dance in Fire, v4 火中舞——第四章

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原文地址:http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:A_Dance_in_Fire#Chapter_4

作者:渥金·贾思

翻译:花溪流萤

次日一早,这位前帝国建筑委员会高阶职员便和十八位波兹莫一道,开始横穿丛林,踏上自Xylo河畔前去古老村落Vindisi的艰难行程。对于Decumus Scotti来讲,丛林是块陌生险地。爬满蛀虫的参天大树遮天蔽日,即便清晨,林间仍是一团漆黑。有些更是枝桠横生,如同贪婪巨爪一般。遮挡前方道路。就连低矮植株也为前行带来巨大麻烦。更为糟糕的是,一路之上,并非只有自己忧心忡忡,就连当地土著,刚刚逃脱虎人魔爪的Grenos以及Athay两村村民脸上同样不加掩饰的露出恐惧神情。

因为丛林之中,除了野蛮但却无害的本地土著生物外,尚能感知到有危险外来物种存在。Scotti 每从他眼角余光瞟去,都能发现追踪难民而至的虎人的身影不断闪烁跃动树间,每当自己回头细看,这些灵巧生物便又匿于暗中,仿佛只是幻觉。但他知道,自己所见肯定不假,确有虎人尾行,同行诸波兹莫无疑也有察觉,纷纷加快脚下步伐。

十八小时之后,众人终于来到一片开阔谷地。一路之上诸人历经蚊虫叮咬,身上更被荆棘划得体无完肤。此时虽是入夜时分,但是映入眼帘的是一排火炬,将夜色下的Vindisi小村照的通明,村中革制皮蓬以及乱石堆均清晰可辨。顺着火炬之光望去,可以发现峡谷尽头有座经由多瘤树木互相簇拥缠绕,天然形成的神圣庙宇。无需过多言语,波兹莫们纷纷沿着火炬拱廊向着神庙走去,庙宇只有一处入口,望去内有微弱蓝光,数以百计信众祷告之声隆隆回响。Scotti刚欲进入,同行波兹莫女孩连忙伸手阻拦。

“你要知道,这是神圣场所,严禁外族入内,即便朋友也不例外。”

Scotti无奈点头,只能眼看难民谦恭的低着头鱼贯而入。进入之后,他们同样开始祷告,等到众木精灵全都进完之后,Scotti将其目光转向村子。前方有处篝火升起袅袅炊烟,隐隐约约有些烤鹿味道传来,那里一定会有吃的,他忙朝着那里走去。

五个帝国人,两个布莱顿人以及一个诺德人围坐篝火四周,中间架着一块通红白石,众人此刻正从上面烤的热气腾腾的鹿身之上撕扯肉吃。看到Scotti现身之后,众人大都起立致意,唯有诺德人一只大口吃肉,不为所动。

“早上好啊,恕我冒昧,能分些我肉吃么。我饿坏了,我同 Grenos,Athay两村难民一道,走了足足一天方才来到这里。”

众人扶他坐下一起就餐,并都做了自我介绍。

“这么看来,又要开始打仗。”Scotti谈到

“这些懒鬼,完全罪有应得,”诺德人嚼着鹿肉应道。“我从没见过这么懒的文明。现在好了,陆有虎人侵略,海上有高精灵教训他们。瓦伦林地这个破省早该吃些苦头。”

“真不明白,他们哪里惹到你了。”其中一位布莱顿人笑道

“他们天生是贼,可怕之处远胜虎人,因为他们老在背后捅刀,”诺德人口沫飞溅的大谈起来,甚至不慎将口中肥肉吐到滚烫石头之上,发出嗞嗞响声。“他们任由森林四处乱长,不去砍伐,悄悄侵吞不少邻省土地不说,遭到艾尔斯维尔反击之后还装无辜。真是群不讲道理的恶棍。”

“那你还来这儿干吗?”Scotti问道

“我是为Jehenna议会服务的外交官,”诺德人边取回肉块,边回答道。

“你呢,你又来这干吗?”其中一位帝国人问道。

“我为帝都阿特利乌斯爵士的建筑委员会工作,”Scotti答道。“我的一位昔日同僚建议我来这里。他说随着战争结束,我能为委员会揽下不少重建合同。但是祸不单行,先是破财,然后又要开战,而且也找不见那位同事。”

“你的哪位昔日同事,”其中一位自称Reglius的帝国人嘟囔道。“不会是叫里奥德斯· 居鲁斯吧?”

“你认识他?”

“我也是被这么引诱,才来瓦伦林地的,”Reglius冷笑着说。“我隶属你的竞争对手Vanech爵士门下,里奥德斯· 居鲁斯也在那工作过。他写信说,要我亲自代表委员会来此签订一些战后重建合同。我刚被公司辞退,所以就想,如若我能揽下几单生意,或许就能重返旧座。我在Athay见过他了,他说他要到Silvenar接洽一笔肥单。”

Scotti不知所措道:“那他现在到底在哪?”

“我又不能通灵,所以谁知道呢,”Reglius耸肩说道。“他早死了,虎人袭击 Athay之时,焚烧了港口,那时居鲁斯刚要驾船出发。确切的说,驾我的船出发,毕竟是我花钱买的。在我反映过来之前,大火早就吞噬了一切,所有船只全都化为灰烬。虎人虽然只是野兽,但是突袭还是蛮擅长的。”

“我猜它们已经尾随我们来到Vindisi了,”听到这里,Scotti一脸紧张的说道。“毫无疑问,林间一直有支虎人跟踪。”

“可能只是一群猴子,”诺德人嘲讽道。“不用担心。”

“我们刚来Vindisi时,波兹莫人全都躲进树庙里面,个个神经兮兮,嘴里一直念念有词,好像要向敌人施咒,”布莱顿人回忆起来,不禁浑身一颤。“他们好像待在里面一天半了,赶紧看看他们在搞什么名堂,太诡异了。”

另外一位同样来自匕落城魔法协会的布莱顿人,环顾四周黑暗,点头应道。“那里也许真的不祥,但是村子右边,丛林里面也有一些不速之客正在朝里窥伺。”

“又是难民?”Scotti问道,故作镇定。

“大概不是,除非难民也在树上穿梭,”法师低声说道。诺德人和其中一位帝国人忙用一条长湿布盖向篝火,火苗很快熄灭,并未发出过多声响。现在, Scotti已能清晰看到来者,它们长着椭圆凶眼,锋利长剑在火把映照之下闪着寒光。他被吓的不敢稍动分毫,心中一直祈祷莫要被人发现。

这时,有个东西抵住自己背部,他的呼吸不禁急促起来。

头顶传来Reglius的声音:“玛拉保佑,可别出声,赶紧上来。”

Scotti这才发现,从已熄火堆旁的一颗树上,垂下一条粗壮藤蔓,连忙抓住,手脚并用以最快速度向上爬去,攀爬途中屏住呼吸,生怕发出一丝声音。藤蔓尽头,高空树桠之上有个巨大废弃鸟窝。等到 Scotti爬上这团柔软芬芳草垛以后, Reglius迅速拉起藤蔓,这里只有Reglius一人,向下望去,那里同样空无一人,只能看见虎人正向发光神庙缓步袭去。

“谢谢,”Scotti小声说道,作为直接竞争对手,对方能够出手搭救令他非常感激,环顾村庄一周之后,他发现树木最顶端处树枝,正好搭上村庄四周满是苔藓的崖壁。“你擅长攀爬么?”

“你疯啦,” Reglius小声惊道。“我们应该待着别动,等他们走了再说。”

“如果他们像Athay和Grenos那样放火烧村,我们待在这里也是死路一条,”Scotti一面说着,一面尽量踩着结实树枝,慢慢向上爬去。“他们在干什么?”

“我看不太真切,”Reglius望向下方黑暗答道。“他们已到神庙前面,好像还能看到…身后好像有堆长绳,一直延伸,直到暗处”

Scotti攀上通往潮湿坑洼绝壁的最粗壮树枝。相距不过一跳距离。甚至已经近到可以闻到潮湿水汽,感受得到岩石冰凉。但是要想过去,终须一跃,作为一个职员,从棵高达百米大树跳向陡峭悬崖这种极限运动,之前从未有过尝试。他的脑中开始不断回想那些跟踪自己的虎人树间跳跃的身姿,诸如腿部如何发力,手臂如何优美流畅的抓住前枝。思索再三,他终于起跳了。

他的手臂本想攀住岩石,但只抓住又粗又长的蕨根。虽然抓得很紧,但当前脚想要攀上之时,脚底却又打滑。空中荡了一段之间之后,费尽功夫方才爬上一块岩石突出部分,站稳脚跟之后,不禁长舒口气。

“Reglius,Reglius,Reglius,”Scotti不停小声喊道。一分钟后,树枝传来响动,先是背包,其后探出头颅,之后Reglius终于整个出现。Scotti刚要开口叮咛,但是Reglius摇了摇头,示意他往下看。只见一个虎人站在树下,正在盯着篝火余烬若有所思。

Reglius笨拙的想要在枝上保持平衡,但是尽管他很强壮同样没法单手保持平衡。Scotti连忙指指Reglius随身背包,双手并拢,示意他把包裹先扔过来。尽管很不情愿,但他还是轻轻将其解下,扔了过去。

然而包上有条细不可见缝隙,Scotti刚一接住,便有一枚金币跌出,撞在岩石之上,声音虽然不大,但听起来,却对Scotti来说,却是生平所闻最大巨响。

下一瞬间,发生很多事情。

树下的卡萨-纳抬起头来,发出一阵长啸。众多虎人长啸附和,接着大猫开始向着树木低处枝头跳去。Reglius惊恐万状的看着脚下虎人以令人难以置信的速度迅速靠拢,连忙仓促起跳,Scotti也能看出,这次跳跃很不成功,只听一声惨叫, Reglius跌落地上,摔得血肉模糊。

与此同时,神殿忽然升起惨白火焰,并由每个缝隙喷射而出。波兹莫的祷告化作本不属于这个世界的可怖之物,正在攀爬的卡萨-纳,停了下来,望向那道白光。

“Keirgo,”它喘着粗气叫道。“野蛮狩猎。”

空中似有一道巨缝撕开。各路猛兽,长须蟾蜍,浑身尖刺的甲壳虫,透明毒蛇,以及众多飘渺魔人自中空大树之间汹涌而出,势不可挡。神庙前面虎人很快就被撕成碎片,其余虎人慌忙奔入丛林,同时开始拽拉身上所带绳索。不用数秒,Vindisi全村已被参与野蛮狩猎的疯狂怪物占据。

这场狩猎持续不断的咆哮,吼叫之中,Scotti先是听到躲在暗处的帝国人惨叫之声,接着诺德人和两个布莱顿人也被发现吃掉。虽然法师用了隐身法术,但是这些怪物捕猎根本不靠视力。先前爬到树上那只卡萨-纳所在大树也被晃得摇摇欲坠。Scotti发现虎人眼中满是惊惧,心中不忍,递出一根长藤过去。

大猫慌忙抓住藤条,一脸感激。但是还未等到拉回藤条,树便倒了,大猫径直跌入地面,未等落地,转眼已成一堆白骨,甚至没来得及恐惧,仍然面露感激神色。

Scotti试着跳向下块突出岩石,这次非常成功。并且最终到达悬崖顶端,俯瞰脚底小村,此时早已一片狼藉,狩猎者们源源不断涌出,逐渐填满峡谷,追逐逃亡虎人,直到这时,狩猎方才达到高潮。

借着月光,居高临下的Scotti可以看到虎人绑系绳索巨石。伴随隆隆巨响,悬崖多处发生崩塌(虎人在拉石头,可能早就料到这手?还是为了掩埋村子)。尘埃落定之后,峡谷已被阻塞。野蛮猎手失去目标之后,只能捕猎同类。

Scotti转过头去,不敢去看这场同类相残。夜色中的丛林静静矗立眼前,如同一张树木编制成的大网。他肩挎Reglius的背包,走进丛林之中。

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Eighteen Bosmeri and one Cyrodilic former senior clerk for an Imperial building commission trudged through the jungle westward from the Xylo River to the ancient village of Vindisi. For Decumus Scotti, the jungle was hostile, unfamiliar ground. The enormous vermiculated trees filled the bright morning with darkness, and resembled nothing so much as grasping claws, bent on impeding their progress. Even the fronds of the low plants quivered with malevolent energy. What was worse, he was not alone in his anxiety. His fellow travelers, the natives who had survived the Khajiitattacks on the villages of Grenos and Athay, wore faces of undisguised fear.

There was something sentient in the jungle, and not merely the mad but benevolent indigenous spirits. In his peripheral vision, Scotti could see the shadows of the Khajiiti following the refugees, leaping from tree to tree. When he turned to face them, the lithe forms vanished into the gloom as if they had never been there. But he knew he had seen them. And the Bosmeri saw them too, and quickened their pace.

After eighteen hours, bitten raw by insects, scratched by a thousand thorns, they emerged into a valley clearing. It was night, but a row of blazing torches greeted them, illuminating the leather-wrought tents and jumbled stones of the hamlet of Vindisi. At the end of the valley, the torches marked a sacred site, a gnarled bower of trees pressed closed together to form a temple. Wordlessly, the Bosmeri walked the torch arcade toward the trees. Scotti followed them. When they reached the solid mass of living wood with only one gaping portal, Scotti could see a dim blue light glowing within. A low sonorous moan from a hundred voices echoed within. The Bosmeri maiden he had been following held out her hand, stopping him.

"You do not understand, but no outsider, not even a friend may enter," she said. "This is a holy place."

Scotti nodded, and watched the refugees march into the temple, heads bowed. Their voices joined with the ones within. When the last wood elf had gone inside, Scotti turned his attention back to the village. There must be food to be had somewhere. A tendril of smoke and a faint whiff of roasting venison beyond the torchlight led him.

They were five Cyrodiils, two Bretons, and a Nord, the group gathered around a campfire of glowing white stones, pulling steaming strips of meat from the cadaver of a great stag. At Scotti's approach, they rose up, all but the Nord who was distracted by his hunk of animal flesh.

"Good evening, sorry to interrupt, but I was wondering if I might have a little something to eat. I'm afraid I'm rather hungry, after walking all day with some refugees from Grenos and Athay."

They bade him to sit down and eat, and introduced themselves.

"So the war's back on, it seems," said Scotti amiably.

"Best thing for these effete do-nothings," replied the Nord in between bites. "I've never seen such a lazy culture. Now they've got the Khajiiti striking them on land, and the high elves at sea. If there's any province that deserves a little distress, it's damnable Valenwood."

"I don't see how they're so offensive to you," laughed one of the Bretons.

"They're congenital thieves, even worse than the Khajiiti because they are so blessed meek in their aggression," the Nord spat out a gob of fat which sizzled on the hot stones of the fire. "They spread their forests into territory that doesn't belong to them, slowly infiltrating their neighbors, and they're puzzled when Elsweyr shoves back at them. They're all villains of the worst order."

"What are you doing here?" asked Scotti.

"I'm a diplomat from the court of Jehenna," muttered the Nord, returning to his food.

"What about you, what are you doing here?" asked one of the Cyrodiils.

"I work for Lord Atrius's building commission in the Imperial City," said Scotti. "One of my former colleagues suggested that I come down to Valenwood. He said the war was over, and I could contract a great deal of business for my firm rebuilding what was lost. One disaster after another, and I've lost all my money, I'm in the middle of a rekindling of war, and I cannot find my former colleague."

"Your former colleague," murmured another of the Cyrodiils, who had introduced himself as Reglius. "He wasn't by any chance named Liodes Jurus, was he?"

"You know him?"

"He lured me down to Valenwood in nearly the exact same circumstances," smiled Reglius, grimly. "I worked for your employer's competitor, Lord Vanech's men, where Liodes Jurus also formerly worked. He wrote to me, asking that I represent an Imperial building commission and contract some post-war construction. I had just been released from my employment, and I thought that if I brought some new business, I could have my job back. Jurus and I met in Athay, and he said he was going to arrange a very lucrative meeting with the Silvenar."

Scotti was stunned: "Where is he now?"

"I'm no theologian, so I couldn't say," Reglius shrugged. "He's dead. When the Khajiiti attacked Athay, they began by torching the harbor where Jurus was readying his boat. Or, I should say, my boat since it was purchased with the gold I brought. By the time we were even aware of what was happening enough to flee, everything by the water was ash. The Khajiiti may be animals, but they know how to arrange an attack."

"I think they followed us through the jungle to Vindisi," said Scotti nervously. "There was definitely a group of something jumping along the treetops."

"Probably one of the monkey folk," snorted the Nord. "Nothing to be concerned about."

"When we first came to Vindisi and the Bosmeri all entered that tree, they were furious, whispering something about unleashing an ancient terror on their enemies," the Breton shivered, remembering. "They've been there ever since, for over a day and a half now. If you want something to be afraid of, that's the direction to look."

The other Breton, who was a representative of the Daggerfall Mages Guild, was staring off into the darkness while his fellow provincial spoke. "Maybe. But there's something in the jungle too, right on the edge of the village, looking in."

"More refugees maybe?" asked Scotti, trying to keep the alarm out his voice.

"Not unless they're traveling through the trees now," whispered the wizard. The Nord and one of the Cyrodiils grabbed a long tarp of wet leather and pulled it across the fire, instantly extinguishing it without so much as a sizzle. Now Scotti could see the intruders, their elliptical yellow eyes and long cruel blades catching the torchlight. He froze with fear, praying that he too was not so visible to them.

He felt something bump against his back, and gasped.

Reglius's voice hissed from up above: "Be quiet for Mara's sake and climb up here."

Scotti grabbed hold of the knotted double-vine that hung down from a tall tree at the edge of the dead campfire. He scrambled up it as quickly as he could, holding his breath lest any grunt of exertion escape him. At the top of the vine, high above the village, was an abandoned nest from some great bird in a trident-shaped branch. As soon as Scotti had pulled himself into the soft, fragrant straw, Reglius pulled up the vine. No one else was there, and when Scotti looked down, he could see no one below. No one, that is except the Khajiiti, slowly moving toward the glow of the temple tree.

"Thank you," whispered Scotti, deeply touched that a competitor had helped him. He turned away from the village, and saw that the tree's upper branches brushed against the mossy rock walls that surrounded the valley below. "How are you at climbing?"

"You're mad," said Reglius under his breath. "We should stay here until they leave."

"If they burn Vindisi like they did Athay and Grenos, we'll be dead sure as if we were on the ground," Scotti began the slow careful climb up the tree, testing each branch. "Can you see what they're doing?"

"I can't really tell," Reglius stared down into the gloom. "They're at the front of the temple. I think they also have ... it looks like long ropes, trailing off behind them, off into the pass."

Scotti crawled onto the strongest branch that pointed toward the wet, rocky face of the cliff. It was not a far jump at all. So close, in fact, that he could smell the moisture and feel the coolness of the stone. But it was a jump nevertheless, and in his history as a clerk, he had never before leapt from a tree a hundred feet off the ground to a sheer rock. He pictured in his mind's eye the shadows that had pursued him through the jungle from the heights above. How their legs coiled to spring, how their arms snapped forward in an elegant fluid motion to grasp. He leapt.

His hands grappled for rock, but long thick cords of moss were more accessible. He held hard, but when he tried to plant his feet forward, they slipped up skyward. For a few seconds, he found himself upside down before he managed to pull himself into a more conventional position. There was a narrow outcropping jutting out of the cliff where he could stand and finally exhale.

"Reglius. Reglius. Reglius," Scotti did not dare to call out. In a minute, there was a shaking of branches, and Lord Vanech's man emerged. First his satchel, then his head, then the rest of him. Scotti started to whisper something, but Reglius shook his head violently and pointed downward. One of the Khajiiti was at the base of the tree, peering at the remains of the campfire.

Reglius awkwardly tried to balance himself on the branch, but as strong as it was it was exceedingly difficult with only one free hand. Scotti cupped his palms and then pointed at the satchel. It seemed to pain Reglius to let it out of his grasp, but he relented and tossed it to Scotti.

There was a small, almost invisible hole in the bag, and when Scotti caught it, a single gold coin dropped out. It rang as it bounced against the rock wall on the descent, a high soft sound that seemed like the loudest alarm Scotti had ever heard.

Then many things happened very quickly.

The Cathay-Raht at the base of the tree looked up and gave a loud wail. The other Khajiiti followed in chorus, as the cat below crouched down and then sprung up into the lower branches. Reglius saw it below him, climbing up with impossible dexterity, and panicked. Even before he jumped, Scotti could tell that he was going to fall. With a cry, Reglius the Clerk plunged to the ground, breaking his neck on impact.

A flash of white fire erupted from every crevice of the temple, and the moan of the Bosmeri prayer changed into something terrible and otherworldly. The climbing Cathay-Raht stopped and stared.

"Keirgo," it gasped. "The Wild Hunt."

It was as if a crack in reality had opened wide. A flood of horrific beasts, tentacled toads, insects of armor and spine, gelatinous serpents, vaporous beings with the face of gods, all poured forth from the great hollow tree, blind with fury. They tore the Khajiiti in front of the temple to pieces. All the other cats fled for the jungle, but as they did so, they began pulling on the ropes they carried. In a few seconds time, the entire village of Vindisi was boiling with the lunatic apparitions of the Wild Hunt.

Over the babbling, barking, howling horde, Scotti heard the Cyrodiils in hiding cry out as they were devoured. The Nord too was found and eaten, and both Bretons. The wizard had turned himself invisible, but the swarm did not rely on their sight. The tree the Cathay-Raht was in began to sway and rock from the impossible violence beneath it. Scotti looked at the Khajiiti's fear-struck eyes, and held out one of the cords of moss.

The cat's face showed its pitiful gratitude as it leapt for the vine. It didn't have time to entirely replace that expression when Scotti pulled back the cord, and watched it fall. The Hunt consumed it to the bone before it struck the ground.

Scotti's own jump up to the next outcropping of rock was immeasurably more successful. From there, he pulled himself to the top of the cliff and was able to look down into the chaos that had been the village of Vindisi. The Hunt's mass had grown and began to spill out through the pass out of the valley, pursuing the fleeing Khajiiti. It was then that the madness truly began.

In the moons' light, from Scotti's vantage, he could see where the Khajiiti had attached their ropes. With a thunderous boom, an avalanche of boulders poured over the pass. When the dust cleared, he saw that the valley had been sealed. The Wild Hunt had nowhere to turn but on itself.

Scotti turned his head, unable to bear to look at the cannibalistic orgy. The night jungle stood before him, a web of wood. He slung Reglius's satchel over his shoulder, and entered.

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