From the mind of Nemeia…
I awoke to the sound of heavy rain and realized I was alone, although my trusty shortsword was still by my side which is usually a good sign. I must have really been out of it. Last thing I remember… well, was almost being eaten by a Knoll. I shuddered at the thought of how that particular meal may have gone and eased myself out of bed. Sanity check.. arms, legs, horns, tail, sword – all good. And with a stroke of luck I managed to swipe my travel pack as it floated by my knees. Hmm, lot’s of water. Probably not a good sign. But I wouldn’t even be alive without some kind of help so the group must be nearby – but where? No time to dawdle – the inn where I had found myself was falling apart. I found my way to the window and, well, swam through the wreckage of the town as I made my way to higher ground. I surveyed my surroundings, but I had a nagging apprehension. For a town in this much disrepair… something was missing. Then it occurred to me – there were no people, no animals, no screaming. Everything seemed oddly peaceful and surreal, although the rain had yet to let up. Off in the distance I spotted a large cave and what looked like a wagon peeking out. Perhaps where there is a wagon, there are people? With no other clues grabbing me, I slogged my way in that direction.
Upon inspection of the cave it seemed safe enough, and it seemed as though my friends were definitely here. Okay, so my powers of observation aren’t THAT great, there were a multitude of townfolk and goats milling about grumbling in the confines of the cave. While most gave me odd looks (nothing new there), a few of them had seen me carried into town by Kratos so they were willing enough to tell me which way they had gone. That being.. down. In to the scary looking passageway of death. But that’s okay, dark, scary shadows have always been my thing. Well… it was my thing back in Haberlin. In the city. Out here? Everything takes on a new hue and there are so many things I’d never seen before. It nothing if not different, and I’ve clearly been off my game lately. But all things aside, my friends might have been in need of saving themselves so I drew my sword and began my descent.
I picked my way slowly down the passageway, shortsword loose and ready in my grip, my progress taking me further into darkness. What was that smell? I chuckled to myself because I knew that, for once, it most certainly wasn’t me. It smelled acrid, faintly of burning, as though lightning had been cast down here. Could be I was getting in way over my head.. no, I had to stay centered and stand ready to face whatever was down here. Could be magic had been used and that meant I was close – Desdamona was certainly not shy about casting. I reached an opening and with my back to the wall I peered around the open doorway and saw… Kratos!
Kratos was injured and tending to his wounds but we made eye contact and he nearly (nearly!) smiled at my presence. Mostly he grunted in greeting. But as I took in the rest of the room I saw Desdamona was hunched over my dear friend Fairinduil who lay prone on the cold, damp floor. I dropped my guard and leapt over to Fairin’s side. “What happened? Is he alright? What did I miss??” I stammered, unsure of what their response would be. He had always been such a good friend, but xsiol if I ever let him know that I had worried about his safety I wouldn’t live to hear the end of it. Des straightened, lifting her chin slightly in my direction, “I’ve done what I can for him. He seems out of immediate danger” and she moved quickly over to another prone figure, who looked like a small child. At this point Kratos was kind enough to bring me up to speed on current events, thank Io, and I was starting to feel a little more grounded now that I knew what I had missed. I took several long, cleansing breathes to clear my mind (oh yes, the Order would be pleased that this has become almost second nature to me) and as Des finished tending to the.. wait for it… gnome, Roywin, Kratos gently hefted Fairin and Roywin into his arms and the three of us ascended into the cave opening. To be clear, I did offer to carry Fairin, but I let it go when Kratos insisted.
Upon reaching the surface, a young girl approached Kratos as he set down his charges. She was quite a confident little creature, took one look at his wounds and asked him to spit in a cup… at which point I turned to watch this unfold because well… it’s not every day someone asks you to spit in a cup. She trotted over to the cook fire and came back several minutes later with a concoction for Kratos to drink. Poor guy, he didn’t know what to make of it but on the other hand he didn’t seem too worried about it either and so he drank it down, looking at her expectantly. When his wounds and his fatigue started to improve, it was clear that this girl … Dera was her name I think… was actually quite capable with healing despite her young years and she proceeded to mix a brew for each of our fallen. It was not long before Roywin stirred and came back to the land of the conscious. Fairin, on the other hand, was still slipping in and out so we had him take up residency in the back of our wagon as we prepared to move out.
After some glorious mutton for breakfast (everyone was famished), we hitched up our wagon and started the journey to Haberlin with a very sorry looking crowd of townsfolk and their herd of goats trailing behind us. Now that the initial shock of losing their homes and their livelihoods had passed they all seemed to sink further into a depression which was not helped by the ceaseless rain we were having. Speaking of which, that’s about the point when the rain, which was merely an inconvenience on the road, became a bit more life threatening as the temperature plummeted. Startled by the sudden change, Kratos, Roywin and I looked at each other with apprehension. “I don’t know what to make of this, but I do know we need to get out of this weather or it will kill us” I said as I scanned our surroundings for anything that we could take shelter with. We spotted an alcove, not quite a cave, that could at least provide a bit of shelter against the driving rain and we ordered the villagers in that direction. Unfortunately, while we were huddled and attempting to warm ourselves with a little magical heat (and more basic means), we realized there was no room for the goats – but there really wasn’t much we could do about that.
I peered upwards into the sky wondering when this freak storm would stop, and pondered on how our group was going to even tackle issues like weather changes and never-ending rain when my heart dropped into my stomach. A dark shape, a suspiciously dragon-like shape, was circling us, gently gliding lower and lower. Dear Io I could swear it was eyeing us like prey! The others had caught on and even without the freezing rain we were all frozen in awe. The goats were bleating tremendously in pure panic and took off wildly trying to seek escape from the enemy they could sense if not yet see. But it was a short-lived freedom for the goats. The dragon, a great silver beast with a wing-span thrice the size of our pitiful wagon, emitted a blast of pure, icy death from his throat and froze the goats solid. With what I could have sworn looked like a smug expression, the dragon dropped to the ground with the delicacy of an earthquake and feasted.
None of us dared move, but in that moment of fear induced quiet, I pondered if the dragon would actually recognize (or care) that Kratos and I were Aspects. Given the way things usually went, I presumed it wouldn’t make a difference. Nevertheless, and to our great relief (or distress depending on who you ask), upon finishing off the last of the goats the dragon gave us one last glance and took to the skies once more. Within minutes, the temperature returned to normal and we were able to continue our journey amongst grumbling from the villagers over the loss of their goats. Having lived in Haberlin for most of my young life, I tried to reassure the villagers that there are those who offer reparations for losses such as these once we reached town, but I think my words fell on deaf ears. I am half dragon after all, and the dragon is what these folks were focused on hating at the moment. As with many things, people are as ever-shifting as the wind. It brought to mind words Renard left me with upon my departure of the monastery, a reminder that ‘you cannot change the direction of the wind, but you can always adjust your sails.’ Or, in other words, I couldn’t control the way the villagers saw or thought about me at any given time, but I would always have the capacity to adapt.
A Return to Haberlin
The gates of Haberlin towered above our sorry group and I jumped down into the mud to converse with a few of the villagers. We had a few options for getting the villagers settled, but we opted to head to the Bipentic Church. After all, there were not one, but two aspect children in our group so why not take advantage if we could? We already led a hard enough life otherwise. Although, my inner voice hedged, I knew from experience that what may be an advantage one day could just as easily be a disadvantage the next. But that was a bit too philosophical for my current state of mind so I shrugged the thoughts aside and hoped we would have the advantage we hoped for as we passed through the gates of Haberlin.
The BiPentic Church is not a sight to be taken lightly. About a few steps above ‘majestic’, the church rose high above it’s surroundings, with intricate designs carved into the stonework depicting dragons, their histories and the 5 pointed glyph that was the symbol of the Bipentic Church. If my ‘history’ lessons from the street served me well, the symbol was representative of the five ‘heads’ of the dragon. So two identical glyphs intertwined represented the all ten types of dragons – the children of Tiamut and Bahamut. I sighed. Even with my obvious lineage, I tended to steer clear of the Church, so I was not looking forward to this. As we climbed the steps I noticed Kratos had started to hang back and was, not so stealthily, attempting to break off from our group. Great, just what we need. Of all the people we would notice missing upon entering the Bipentic Church. Roywin also noticed Kratos’ attempt to sneak off.
“Kratos! Where do you think you’re going? You must stick with us now.” the little gnome was stubborn and more than a little fiesty, but I think I was starting to like her. She attempted to drag Kratos back in line, and appeared to succeed at it. Although I’m fairly certain Kratos found this all quite amusing and decided it wasn’t worth the fuss to argue.
No sooner had Kratos arrived at my side when a young male Accolyte rushed up to us wide-eyed. “Oh my goodness. You…..” He blinked. “and you!” He looked frantically between myself and Kratos. “This means something. I just know it does! You must come with me. Now!” More than a little surprised by this show of exuberance at our presence, and okay, maybe a little curious, I raised my eyebrows at him. Yup, big gesture on my part. The accolyte kept prattling on and I’m pretty sure he muttered something about a prophecy. And who am I if not one who will follow where life will lead? Even so, I also try not forget myself. I turned to the other young Accolyte, a female this time, and I said, “these villagers have lost their homes and their livestock. Where can we find them shelter and food?”. The first Accolyte didn’t even seem to notice that we were dripping wet and surrounded by villagers. He put a hand on both mine and Kratos’ arms – “Come on, I must show you.” Kratos and I pointedly looked from the boy to our arms, but he didn’t seem to understand that his actions were somewhat bothersome to two well-armed Aspects. The second Accolyte spoke up, “I can arrange to bring these folks to the Mission where they will be given the aid they seek.” Curious, I shrugged, looked back and nodded to Roywin who was sitting with Fairin in the wagon and Kratos and I entered the Church.
Big. Mistake. The young Accolyte, all the while muttering to himself, proceeded to lead us directly into the middle of sermon. Two Aspects interrupting a sermon… boy this sounds like a bad joke. I mean, it was ridiculous. We were met with absolute silence. The two priests stopped short mid-breath and all eyes were on us. I gingerly made my way using all my skills of stealth to stay quiet, not that I could have escaped notice, but it was my way. Kratos, on the other hand, bulled ahead with heavy (armored) footsteps until we were about halfway up the aisle, at which point he seemed to notice we were the center of attention and he slowed, perhaps trying to be a bit more quiet. When it didn’t work, he grunted and continued through a doorway leading further into the bowels of the Church. I felt their stares like a weight settling into my bones until I disappeared into the open door after Kratos.
We followed the young Accolyte into an enclosed cell that held a single table with scrolls scattered everywhere. After a few minutes of expectant waiting, and more muttering about prophecies, we told the boy we’d had enough, there was clearly nothing here for us to see. With creepily good timing, Accolyte number two squeezed herself into the small space and reprimanded number one,
“Poln! Stop this at once.” She turned to us, tilting her head slightly in…deference? “I’m so sorry. Please forgive him. Poln sees meaning in everything
. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Poln-come with me at once. Would you two be able to find your own way out?”.
Shocked by the ridiculousness of this moment, Kratos grunted and I shrugged. “Of course.”
And so we were alone. In the Bipentic Church’s archives. It’s like the opportunity was waving to us and holding up a welcome sign. I mean I did spend some time in the thieves guild. So I snooped. Don’t judge. It’d been a long, cold day and my curiosity is never sated. Unef! (fortune!) I had found a hidden panel. Here was where the good stuff must be. Perhaps answers to … something? I pulled four archaic looking tomes from the wall, tucked them into my travel sack, slide the panel back into place and we were good to go. I’d have to find some way to study these later.
Upon making a discreet exit this time, Kratos and I hurried to the Mission so we could collect our friends. As expected, the Mission felt we were not ‘needy’ enough, so they refused to let us enter. Little Roywin on the other hand, they mistook for a child so she was in good spirits being warm, dry and fed. I didn’t mind though, I’d rather listen to the music that oft comes from buying a hot meal and a warm bed at an inn. The first inn, yes, there were a few, chaifed at our appearance. “Ho! No way. We’ve heard of you and your reputation. And we want NO. TROUBLE. HERE. So get lost.” “What do ya mean? That bar fight last time we were in town was a complete misunderstanding..” I attempted. Damn Fairinduil, but he can be so clumsy and think he is so suave when he’s in his cups. Okay fine. Stubborn as per usual I said, “We don’t need this, we’ll go down the street.”
Turns out, our reputation proceeded us a lot these days. No luck at the second inn. Also? It was still raining. I was not in the mood for this. Apparently, neither was Kratos. He glowered at the doorman and cracked his knuckles menacingly. It… sort of.. worked. The doorman started to acquiesce but I felt Roywin tugging at my cloak and making eyes at the ally where a young kid was running off, presumably to collect reinforcements. “Kratos. Not worth it. I know a place. It’s more out of the way but good people. They’ll take us.”
It was a bit farther to travel to get to the Way Station and I sort of let Kratos and Roywin think I was familiar with the inn from when I lived in Haberlin. Truth be told.. I knew of this place, but I’d never been there. I knew it was a way station for wanderers and was, most fittingly, run by an ex-monk from my order. I had never met her, but if what I had learned at the monastery was true she would do what she could for another monk, especially one who had been recently called to Wander. As expected, the doorman of the WayStation was no different than the previous, but Brolryn came striding out to see for herself who we were. Brolryn Skald, a middle aged dwarf and quite handsome in her own way. She carried herself with the ease of a lifetime spent attaining true self as only a monk would know. I tipped my head to Brolryn and gave her a greeting from the Order of Lekuulo. “Nomag wer suaco kagn wux.” Or, in common that would be “may the wind carry you.” It was a common enough phrase among the Order, and it had the desired effect. Brolryn greeted us each in kind, gave us a sharp warning to hold our peace in her establishment and let us in.
Feeling perhaps a little stunned by Brolryn’s strength of character, Kratos didn’t touch a drop of liquor that evening. I think he was worried he might piss off Brolryn although I didn’t tease him about it. Roywin and I had our share of drinks and while I enjoyed the music with an ear tuned to nearby conversations, Roywin danced the night away. It was an unusually enchanting dance, and it was not long before Brolryn joined in. The two of them twirled to the lilting notes surrounded by bouncing lights that danced along in the air about their bodies. I think this must have been some kind of magic, but then again, I’d been drinking an awful lot. I don’t recall turning in for the night, but I do recall numbly awakening to the sounds of Kratos pounding into Roywin’s room in the room next door demanding that she get up already. Geeze, guy must really be an early riser when he doesn’t drink, it’s barely light out! I groaned and looked over at Fairin’s bed. Hm. Still looked a little pale, sleep-muttering about something.
I made my way to the common room and gestured for a plate of eggs to be brought out as I finished strapping my shortsword to my side. At the monastery we had our choice of weapons to practice with, but this old shortsword was the only thing I started my travels with. Having made some loot over the last two span, I could afford something new and I planned on doing so before we left Haberlin. I pulled up a chair between Roywin and Kratos, Rowyn staring dejectedly at her plate pushing eggs around, and Kratos – shoveling mouthful of eggs and sausages into his maw. “So where to today?” I started in, " market? We could see what’s open with this storm still going. Maybe get some new weaponry…" I suggested hopefully trailing off. Kratos, ever the mercenary, “Stones first, get paid. Market later.” Wow, what a conversationalist. Roywin nodded a few times and bravely nibbled at her food. “Okay… stones first. Point taken, getting paid is a plus. We’ll leave the rest of the crew here today. Who’s ready?”
An Unexpected Encounter
First stop of the day, the school of magical nonsense (or something, something). Don’t get me wrong, magic exists and it can be helpful..sometimes. But I feel strongest using my body as a weapon and tool and not trying to control some mystical force. Although Ki is a kind of life force that I have started to learn to harness.. hmm.. definitely something to think about some more. Perhaps during my next meditation. We were directed to the offices of an older dwarf named Ess’wara Farrowgreen, whom we introduced ourselves and presented the magical stones to. Ess’wara took the stones and put them aside on her desk and began shuffling through her papers once more. We requested additional information about the stones and what it all means, but she wasn’t in a sharing mood.
Kratos stepped up his game and actually lied to her, “the contract stipulates that we are to bring any information you can provide us with about the stones back to the Silvestri.” The professor eyed Kratos and began rummaging for our contract. After a few moments of “hmm hmm-ing” she threw her hands up and told us to come back in a few days and she would have more information then. “But before you go,” she went on, “you seem like the adventuring lot. There has been a report of some strange outcroppings of rocks about a half-day’s travel from here. If you were looking for something to do, you might investigate and see if you can find any books worth bringing here to the college. We would pay you for anything of value, of course.” “We’ll think on it” I said, not willing to commit to anything just yet. Not willing to leave without some kind of receipt in hand for a job done, we had Ess-wara draw something up and the three of us headed to Silvestri for payment.
And thus we ended up at the stronghold for the Silvestri, which I never felt was a very flattering place. Perhaps they were going for the scary, ’don’t care what you think’ kind of look that shows they are both powerful and influential. I snorted to myself, powerful people always feel they have something prove, but as a rule I generally wasn’t interested in their intentions. We were met at the gates by a tall high elf who seemed rather pleased that he could look down his abnormally long nose at us.
“And who… might you be?” he questioned us.
Kratos intoned, “We have fulfilled our end of a bargain with the Silvestri. We are here to collect.”
“Mmm…yes. Just a moment.”
And he wandered off. Truth be told, he made us wait a good long while before returning, at which point I was convinced he was making us wait just to show he could. Io but I can’t take the nature of the Silvestri most times.
After what seemed an eon, Sir Something Up My Butt came striding back to the gates with none other than Isryn Ahkan accompanying him. Isryn had originally hired Kratos for this job, but when Isryn gestured to us all to follow him inside my eyes narrowed, there was definitely something going on. Regardless of suspicion, I followed him inside along with the rest of my friends. Kratos and Desdamina seemed right at home, Kratos having had many dealings with the Silvestri and Des, well, these were Des’ people. Roywin… Roywin actually still seemed a bit hungover and I was not getting much of a reading from her.
We descended into a cool, dark room that held one, long meeting table. Isryn sat himself at the end of the table and gestured to us to join him. As we each took our seats a heavy ‘thunk’ echoed throughout the room and I realized, without a doubt, that we had just been locked inside this…cell… for lack of a better term. What the hell did they want with us?
“First, your payment for a job completed”. And he passed us each a purse with 35 gold pieces. “Now, as you might be wondering” Isryn jumped in, “I have brought you here today to offer you a deal. These are dark times and there are more uncertain times ahead of us. To that end, I, the Silvestri that is, have need of agents with your particular… skills.”
“Is this some kind of a job?” Kratos cut in.
“As a matter of fact it is some kind of a job.” Isryn smiled, a toothless, humorless smile that sent shivers up my spine. “You have been causing quite a commotion in town recently.” No reaction from any of us. “As two Aspects, traveling together, you could be seen as both a good omen or… a bad one. The Silvestri, of course, are quite capable of elevating your status in either case. In the latter, you would be ostracized and reparations sought. In the former, you would be paid a fair stipend to stay on retainer for such jobs as the Silvestri see fit to require of you. It’s your choice. It’s quite simple really. Each of you will be asked to sign a contract stating your willingness and ability to abide by the rules as I set forth and then you will be free to go. We only ask that you keep us informed should you plan on leaving the city. Should you not wish to sign, you may think it over until you come around to our way of seeing things.”
“This is easy money. I’m in.” Kratos said.
“Hold on there Kratos” I turned to Isryn, “And what kind of jobs would the Silvestri be requiring of us?” I asked sweetly, my temper flaring hot. I did not make a habit of letting myself be used for the devices of others. I’d been down that road, and I wouldn’t go back. Kratos gave me an “are you kidding me right now?” look. Oh for Io’s sake he is truly a mercenary straight to his bones. I smiled sweetly right back at him.
“I couldn’t possibly predict all of the jobs we may have need of you for.” Isryn gave his cold smile again, “But, for starters, we would require you both to appear at the Maker’s Day fair four days hence to receive honors for saving the townsfolk of Ghatford.”
“Hmph” I snorted, “Well of course the first job is innocent, but I, for one, won’t be coerced into doing your bidding. No way.”
Isryn ignored me and looked to Roywin, “And do you travel with these folk as well?” At Roywin’s nod, Isryn put another contract in front of her and said, “then you will also be required to sign.” He looked to Desdamona. “And Desdamona dear, your parents are a bit disappointed with you of late, and would very much like to see you.”
“Maybe we could just think about this and come back when we decide what to do.” Roywin suggested.
“Oh my dear” Isryn said, almost apologetically, “but you won’t be leaving until you decide.” Isryn’s demeanor hardened, “And if you decide not to sign, then you won’t be leaving at all.” he said coldly. He paused, then smiled again. “So I’ll just give you all some time to think this over. When you make a decision, you can call me with this.” He placed a small bell in the center of the table and proceeded to… disappear. No doors opened, he just up and went “poof” like mystical beings in fairytales.
“Well this is ridiculous, let’s just sign and get out of here. It’s the easiest money I’ve ever made.” Kratos said.
“I don’t like it.” I shook my head. “I refuse to be a pawn in the hands of the Silvestri! I vote we don’t sign.”
“Oh well, maybe it won’t be so bad. And what are we going to do just stay here forever?” Roywin asked. But I could tell Roywin wasn’t so worked up, she came from another plane of existence after all. None of this had any real permanence for her.
“A good point.” I said. “We can’t just stay locked up either. I change my vote. We sign and then we can say ‘fuck it’ later and not do their bidding. Let them come for us then when they don’t already have us locked in a room.”
“Either way, it’s signing so let’s do it.” Kratos agreed.
I picked up the bell and Isryn reappeared. “And what have we decided?” he asked.
“We’ve decided to sign” I said with my best impression of sweetness. I scrawled a name on my contract, not sure whose name, but it wasn’t mine, and I handed it to Isryn. Isryn looked down at my name and back at me but didn’t say anything. Take that, Silvestri scum.
Having signed our lives over to the Silverstri, (okay, don’t judge, that’s what it felt like), we were allowed to leave. But, foulest of moods that I was in, I couldn’t help but get excited about going to market. I led the group back through the market and into a weapons shop run by a gruff old dwarf named R’sar. His fluffy grey eyebrows were furrowed into a scowl, but as soon as he saw he had customers his whole demeanor perked up and he greeted us like we were old friends. “Why hello there! What can I interest you in today?”
I sidled up to his workbench trailing my fingers along the hilt of a double edged battleaxe – it was a particularly fine piece of craftsmanship. “I am in the market for a set of knives. Newly wrought.”
“Ahh. I can help with that. Was there anything specific you want me to include for the set? Shall I balance them for right-handedness?”
“Actually, I’m left handed.”
“Indeed! Good to know – that will be important for crafting the blade for the lady.”
“And I’d like to include an aspect of the dragon as well as a piece of the wind in the hilt. Can you do that?”
“Capture a piece of the wind? I’ll try, at that!” he laughed, a deep, genuine chuckle. “Beautiful, a set of knives… custom built… that’ll be 6 gold pieces for the pair and they’ll be ready about 3 days hence.”
“I’ll give you half now, and half on delivery. Fair?” I hedged.
“Fair enough! And what can I get for you, sir?” He said leaning his frame towards Katros who was eyeing the weaponry on the walls.
“I like this, but nothing custom. I’d like to take something with me now.” Katros said, hefting a maul.
As R’sar helped Kratos pick a good fit and proceeded to haggle over prices, Roywin was busy replenishing her basic supplies which had been lost in the flood. I leaned against the frame of the doorway watching the rain plop heavily in the already muddy square as I waited for my companions to finish their business. My mind wandered and I wondered at the Silvestri’s intentions, good or bad. Did they really have the city’s best interests at heart? Either way, we were still pawns to them. I sighed.
A Castle Discovered
Back at the WayStation, we made a merry troupe, bellies full and no immediate dangers to speak of. We drank, we shared, and even sang a few rounds of a the Wanderer’s Shanty although we couldn’t find the right pitch if it had shot us with a longbow.
“So what are we going to do with ourselves the next few days?” Roywin ventured.
“Hmm.. I suppose we could go a-questing and seek out the cave that Ess’wara mentioned” I mused, “could find something interesting.”
“And get paid for it” Katros chimed in. “Only half a day’s travel. We can be back in time for the Maker’s Day celebration.”
“Also true” I agreed hesitantly. “Alright, it’s settled, yes? We’ll leave in the morning.” I said to gestures of agreement from Roywin and Katros.
The following morning went much better than the previous, with no hangovers to speak of. Desdamona opted to stay with Fairinduil at the inn to ensure he would continue to heal, so the rest of us hitched our wagon and, get this… Roywin saddled her… mastiff… which she had acquired in the market the prior day. Roywin was, quite possibly, the cutest renegade gnome you could imagine. Astride her great furry mastiff she was carefully etching runes into the wood of a brand new quarterstaff. Regardless of the rain, she quietly widdled away as we rode.
After a short while, we spotted a stone outcropping in the distance that jutted out from the side of hill. It was situated just beside a river, so given the constant rain of late, we opted to hitch our horses (and mastiff) among trees on top of the hill. Satisfied that our things were at least partially hidden from the main road, we climbed out onto the rocks and ducked into the first opening we could find.
Once accustomed to the dim light, I noticed we were in a woman’s bedroom – probably someone of noble birth based on the furnishings. The bed posts were intricately carved to depict dragons, very old dragons. But even though the furnishings screamed ‘nobility’, it was painfully obvious that the room (and every room we came across), had already been tossed and combed through for valuables. Neverthless, Roywin and I meticulously went over every inch looking for hidden gems and Roywin did manage to find a single gold and diamond earring worth a small fortune.
After making our way through a few more rooms, we determined that we must be in a tower of a castle, only the castle lay underground for some unknown reason. As we made our way down a spiral staircase further into the castle, we noticed that while some of the windows were caked with dirt, still others just showed heavy darkness on the other side. And I mean you could sense the darkness like a weight on your body. When you put your ear to these windows all you could hear was what sounded like a thousand whispers echoing in a cavern – if that’s even what we were hearing. Mostly the darkness had a weight to it, and I couldn’t really put my finger on the source of dread that accompanied it.
While Roywin and I insisted on combing over every inch of the castle for loot, Kratos kept pushing us forward with his impatience. Eventually the three of us split up to cover more ground as nothing had seemed particularly dangerous up to this point. Kratos had edged his way to the far end of the dark hallway and was opening as many doors as he could find. I, on the other hand, was following in his wake a bit more slowly and actually going in to some of those rooms. Roywin held up the rear with her lighted staff and was taking her time looting.
The first room I entered was a library. My immediate thought was that here is where we’ll find some books that the college may be interested in buying from us. But as I peered through the darkness to see if there was anything of value, I felt a creeping chill spread over my senses. I couldn’t explain it really, but I wanted nothing to do with the darkness in this room so I backed out into the hallway with my sword drawn. I looked up and down the hallway, but Kratos and Roywin were still out of sight. Behind me was another room, a nursery.
Feeling stubborn, and more than a little miffed at my reaction to the library, I scanned the nursery. All seemed quiet, so I took a few steps inside. Nothing felt particularly strange so I peered into the bassinet and WHAM! I felt a rush of cold envelope my limbs. Surprised, I let out a shriek as I felt something attacking me… but I couldn’t see it! I slashed wildly with my shortword but it slid through nothingness as though I were back home in the training yard with no opponent. I felt the energy draining from my limbs and I knew I had to get out of here as quickly as possible or I would surely die.
Now was as good a time as any to harness my Ki. I had been practicing this during my meditations, but hadn’t ever used it like this, at least not yet. I closed my eyes to help still my mind and I reached for my inner Ki. I felt a faint tugging sensation in my chest. Was that the Ki or was I dying? I couldn’t be certain, so I re-focused my mind and concentrated only on the steps it would take to move myself out from the cold grasp and into the hallway and… I let go. I have never felt my limbs move so fluidly as I twirled away from the ghostly grasp and rolled myself into the hallway. Gasping, I screamed for Kratos and Roywin once more, and, pulling myself to my feet I stumbled in Kratos’ direction.
No sooner had I reached Kratos, than we heard Roywin “I’m coming!!” and then, “Aaaackk!” as something seemed to have attacked her. Fearful that she had just run into the arms of whatever had attacked me, I edged my way to the corner where the hallway turned, and, notching an arrow to my shortbow, I peered around the corner and let loose an arrow towards the space where I ‘felt’ the ethereal being would be. While the ‘thing’ didn’t seem harmed by my arrow, it did give Roywin enough time to harness her magic and fling what looked like balls of light at the being. With each impact of these magical bullets, we could see the smoky outline of the being somewhat dissolve while at the same time piecing itself together again. By the time the third bullet struck home, however, it was too much and the being dispersed completely. Roywin let out a sigh and stumbled over to me. “I think we need to take a short rest.” I nodded, a bit dizzy myself. So with Kratos supporting us, we made our way to the upper levels for a short rest before venturing deeper into the castle.
Softly at first, I heard Roywin and Kratos’ voices drift into my consciousness as though from a great distance. I held on to their voices as I pulled my mind back into the present situation. I had been meditating to help my body heal faster. Some people have magic, I have my body and my mind. I opened my eyes to find Kratos towering above me, “Ready?” he asked. I nodded. “Let’s go.” I wasn’t anywhere near full capacity, and I could tell Roywin was in a similar boat, but that wouldn’t stop us from exploring.
Weapons held ready, we finally approached the bottom platform of the tower’s spiral stair case. While most of us had dark vision, we were still limited in how far we could see without a little light. We appeared to be at the entrance to the cavern that we had sensed through the windows earlier. I nudged Kratos forward, “who wants to go first?”. Kratos grunted, hefted his maul and took two steps into the wide expanse when a booming voice suddenly echoed through the room.
“WHO DARES DISTURB ME???”
“Uh, my name is Kratos.” he said into the void
“IF YOU CAN NAME MY MOTHER, I MIGHT NOT KILL YOU” came the response
“Hey” I whispered, “Go with, uh, Io. Something draeconic?”
“Io.” Kratos’ voice echoed into the silence.
Just then I noticed Roywin pitch her head to one side as though listening. As she opened her mouth to speak, I heard it too – a groaning, wheezing sound accompanied by shuffling and scraping against the stone of the chamber. Two undead corpses were shuffling towards us from either side.
“YOU HAVE CHOSEN… POORLY. YOU WILL DIE!” threatened the great voice.
Just then an arrow whizzed through the chamber, followed by a second. I would say it was a close call, but I’m not sure the archer was really aiming. Both arrows hit the walls of the stone chamber harmlessly, well to each side of my companions. Roywin and I rushed out into the room, shortsword comfortable in my grip and quaterstaff set defensively in Roywin’s.
The first of the undead shambled towards me. Why wait? I slashed out, connecting at the shoulder and setting free it’s arm. On my downswing I allowed my body’s momentum to carry through and landed a spinning back kick square in the chest of the undead. I felt ribs crack and the being was thrown back a few paces but to no avail – it kept coming. I could hear Roywin’s intonations at my back as she threw magic at the other being. Out of the corner of my eye, I almost sensed more than saw, a third corpse appear from behind a column further into the chamber. The third corpse let loose two more arrows – this time definitely aiming for Kratos. Luckily, both arrows missed their mark again. As the first corpse closed the gap between us I readied my blade and slashed it’s head clean off. I turned to find Roywin about to go down beneath the second corpse, but Kratos was almost to her side – they could handle that one. That left me to take care of the third, as I’m fairly certain I’m the only one who had spotted him at this point.
I ducked over to the bannister – yes, there were indeed more stairs running down both sides of the cavern. I could see more of the room now, and it was indeed a cavern opening into a grand space lined with columns. Columns behind which our undead friend was lurking. I sheathed my shortsword and drew my bow, taking care to stay out of sight. Arrow notched, I crouched in wait for the fiend to make his move.
I saw a bow appear, followed by a head and torso. The undead took aim at Kratos just as I let fly my readied arrow, an arrow that harmlessly glanced off the column. Drat. I heard Kratos bellow in surprise as an arrow found his flesh between plates of armor. I wiped sweat from my eyes and took a steadying breath, readying another arrow. Kratos bellowed again, but this time he was going into a rage and he started pounding down the stairs on the far side of the grand room. I edged my way, still crouched, down my set of stairs and watched for signs of the undead. There! He was readying another arrow for Kratos – clearly, giving the wrong answer to the ethereal voice put Kratos at the center of their malice. I breathed deeply, willing my body to cooperate, and fired on the undead lodging an arrow in his sinewy ankle. Unfortunately, being undead, he didn’t even seem to notice.
Kratos, having closed the gap between them, lunged with his maul, forcing the undead to drop his bow in favor of close quarters combat. I heard a crunch and knew that Kratos must have connected, followed by a gust of cold, but then I heard a gasping noise and what sounded like a body crumbling to the ground. White lights rocketed through the air and I knew that Roywin was somewhere near the top of the stairs unleashing magical bullets on the ‘still’ undead. I had reached the bottom of the stairs at this point and, seeing Krato’s still form I pulled my shortsword as the thing turned and started shuffling towards me. I slashed with my sword, sending decaying flesh flying, but as I spun out of the way it managed to brush my skin with a dead hand sending a cold feeling through my body, as though my blood was growing thick and slugglish. No longer able to hold my ground, I dropped to my knees, one hand on the cool stones to steady myself. Another blast of cold slammed into the undead and I watched as it struggled to move. It appeared to be slowing, and frost was creeping over its limbs from the torso out. It kept reaching for me, but with a satisfying crunch I saw that it had frozen solid – one arm still extended towards my face. But just as suddenly, the darkness crept in on my vision as I sank fully to the ground.
I don’t know how long I was out when I felt tiny hands on my face. “Nem? You’re gonna be fine. I’m going to try to stabilize Kratos.” I heard Roywin scamper away and her voice echoing with satisfaction back to me, “I shattered the heck out of that thing!” And then I let the darkness take me, but this time, it felt more like falling into a deep sleep.
To be continued…