Mists of Daven, Part II

   
The voice seemed to come from thin air, echoing about the room as the adventurers spun, searching for its owner, wondering how they were snuck up on. Then they heard the grating rasp of stone against stone, and a widening sliver of light appeared in one of the walls as it swung backwards. From the newly revealed passage, a broad figure emerged, the strangely bright candle he held in his right hand clearly illuminating both his craggy features and the heraldry emblazoned on his tabard. Behind him were eight other men, armed with thinly-curved swords and bulky crossbows, the latter already aimed into the room. Seeing this, even Embla softened her stance, not wanting to risk being cut down before even reaching their line.

"That is a wise move for us all," the leader of this assembly said. "You may know of me. I am Marshal Dieter von Lanburg. Captain of King Rodric`s Driddaren, Grand Warden of the Interior and many other overblown titles that have no bearing on what I actually do in this benighted city. Which of you will speak for the others?"

There was a pause, then Aidan stepped forward. "I will. Aidan, child of Zel, servant of Heshtail the Merciful. And probably many fewer grandiose titles than yourself, Marshal von Lanburg, for much the same reasons."

A thin smile briefly acknowledged the witticism, but vanished immediately after. "Then, as you invoke the name of Heshtail, I will expect honesty. Do not disappoint me, Aidan of Zel. My unit were dispatched to exterminate a large number of the risen dead observed approaching the inner walls. They did not fall into our trap, however, because it changed course to meet up with another. One that appeared to have been considerably depleted by the time we arrived to clear them all out."

"Upon interrogation, extremely concerned citizens in the vicinity reported the sounds of battle and thunder, along with lightning flashes. Obviously magical in origin, if we consider that spell-hurling skeleton abomination we lost three men, good men I was proud to command, in destroying. It kept screaming something about breaking us like its staff. Then we found an entrance to these old passages that seemed recently used. And now, on further investigation, we find you four here, in an extremely sensitive location. So tell me, exactly what is your role in all this?"

Aidan resisted breathing a sigh of relief, aware that that would certainly make him look guilty of something, then answered: "We were hunting a magical anomaly that tried to harm my dwarven friend, Brokk. We strong-armed a knowledgeable lowlife into leading us to it, but got caught between the two undead groups you mentioned. Our would-be guide fled down here and we followed when we felt we couldn`t beat all the approaching zombies. That skeleton monster you describe was among them, but Brokk, was only able to shatter its staff before we had to flee. Once down here, it was only a matter of time before we found our way to this place. Our intentions now you heard from our own lips. Neltak be my witness, for I speak truth."

For some seconds, the marshal`s flint-hard eyes turned to his lantern, staring hard at the flame. When nothing changed, he visibly relaxed, a genuine look of relief spreading across his face and making him twenty years younger. He nodded at his men and they lowered their crossbows. The change in mood was palpable, a heavy weight lifted from the shoulders. Only Isolde, her tendency to paranoia never more needed, remained wary and suspicious, keeping her hands close to - but not on, just in case - her daggers as the marshal stepped right up to Aidan and extended his hand. The half-elf smiled and took it in his own.

"That`s a
Candle of Lie Detection
Wondrous Item, Uncommon

When lit, this candle sheds bright light in a 5-foot radius and dim light for an additional 5 feet. When someone within 10ft of it deliberately tells a lie, its light changes to a deep, angry red as part of its body is burned away. A Candle of Lie Detection will not catch falsehoods spoken in ignorance, so an innocent mistake or genuine slip of the tongue will not activate it - mistaking a half-elf for a full one won`t count for example; but something like "Come on lads, dragons can only breathe fire three times a day, let`s get it now!" definitely counts! The candle can detect sixty deliberate lies before it burns to uselessness.

*****

Everburning Candle of Truth
Wondrous Item, Rare

Functions as a Candle of Lie Detection, but with unlimited uses.
Candle of Lie Detection, isn`t it?" he asked the marshal, who nodded. "Learned about them during my training. Was exposed to them more than once, actually. Sometimes wish I had a few dozen of them on my person too. I can feel that scowl, Isolde."

From both his own experience and the amused expressions of the Driddaren, he didn`t need to turn around to know the halfling had immediately wiped the look from her face and replaced it with that of wounded innocence.

"Marshal, I dare venture to say our goals are aligned her," he continued, half-questioningly. "But I must ask, if you already knew about this...this atrocity, then why has it not already been destroyed?"

"We ran out of funds months ago," von Lanburg replied sourly. "We started by just trying to hammer it to pieces, but the damned thing must be invulnerable to mundane weaponry. It ignored us until we started hiring wizards, who are rare in this parts and cursed expensive. More than a few took one look at the task and absconded. The rest were killed trying to unravel its wards, for it defends itself against the living just as well as tears open the dead. Or it did, anyway. The last poor fool who tried his luck did some severe damage before paying for it with his life. After that, it began to try stealing magic at random intervals, not just at night as with the other examples, Herr Brokk."

"We haven`t been able to get anyone else down here for nigh on a year now. The few priests we have in the city lack the necessary skills and if they can`t do it, we`ve nobody else in all Daven who can. All they can do for us keep an eye on the ones we`ve found and try to limit their use, you were correct about them having been hidden around the major towns, Herr Dwarf. But they were built to last and it shows, damnation!"

The marshal appeared more dejected than angered by this. Clearly, the pure unending stress of knowing such a hellish device was right below his feet had served to wear him down over the years. Aidan opened his mouth to commiserate, but was not surprised to hear himself volunteering to find a way to help. Supportive murmurs behind him made it clear that he was not alone in this.

*****

"If we ignore trying to apply mostly futile, expensive, fatal, magical brute force to them," von Lanburg explained, some time later. "The only other success we seem to be having is in the town of Arden, past the Great Daven Lake north of Irrol. My associate there reported success anyway, but he went silent four months ago. I don`t know why. If you want to help me and help His Majesty the king, that is where you`ll need to go. See what you can dig up there."

Aidan and Brokk nodded in agreement, knowing that it was likely going to be on their heads to remember the details of this mission. The Driddaren had taken them through the secret passageway back to the surface, emerging in the north-eastern portion of Elder Daven, formerly a temple quarter that had been almost razed to the ground during the Dark Occupation and never rebuilt, then straight to the castle to be fed and rested. The marshal had arranged what was practically a feast, especially for usually-hungry adventurers such as they, and both Isolde and Embla became effectively dead to the world on seeing the repast laid out for them.

"Obviously, if you bring back anything useful, you`ll be paid as handsomely as we can afford. Which will probably not be as much as you deserve. All depends on how quickly we can finish cleansing Daven of those things and start imposing some genuine order...and collecting taxes. We`ll be lucky to get anywhere significant in the next five years, but I`ll take just about anything these days. As, I suppose, will you."

At the mention of payment, Isolde lost all interest in the food and began to pay extremely close attention. Simultaneously, Aidan stepped away from the conversation, unwilling to take the theoretical risk of playing down the need for a reward - and the very practical risk of enraging Isolde by doing so. He remembered thinking earlier that night about how their luck was due to change, given the way things had been going thus far. To his pleasant surprise, it seemed as though their luck was not only changing, but doing so both continually and for the better.

"I can`t help regretting us not catching up with that deceitful gnome though," he thought aloud. "Even though we did end up somewhere we were needed more by chasing after him."

"What I can`t help is having the feeling we`ll meet again one day," Isolde prophesied, a hint of bloodthirst tinging her tone. "Sure as muck is muck, that Little Wulfram will be turning up in our path again. He won`t be happy to see us, that`s for sure! Wonder how we`ll react?"

They waited expectantly for the obvious response, only to stare at Embla in surprise when she said nothing. For a few seconds, she was clearly unaware of their scrutiny. Then she noticed the silence and paused mid-chew to look around in suspicion. With roguish insight, Isolde edged away slowly.

"Were you listening to any of that?" Brokk asked, grinning when she shook her head. "We just mentioned the gnome. The one that we followed. We were wondering what to do about him getting away. What we`d do if we met him again. Maybe even on our way to Arden, who knows?"

Embla gave him a withering look and answered by returning her attention to a suckling pig, picking it up and splitting the body in half with a sudden burst of force. Its juices sprayed everywhere and from somewhere below the table, Isolde`s giggles could be heard over Aidan`s disgust as he tried to wipe himself clean. More than one of the Driddaren, von Lanburg included, hid their own smiles. As strange as they found this towering warrior woman, her attitude was entirely familiar to seasoned barrack-brawlers such as they.

*****

About one hour before dawn, Little Wulfram finally collapsed two miles outside of Elder Daven. He was too exhausted even to gasp for breath properly, a hideous whistling coming from his ragged throat as he fought to stay conscious. His palms and knees were bloodied from countless scrapes in the lightless passages below the city, his thighs and back screaming due to a fall down an unseen flight of stairs, and his forehead was already bruising spectacularly following a meeting with a low ceiling on his emergence from the underground.

As he lay in the grass by the western road, the eerie messenger of the New Master became fully visible again, settling itself on a hummock nearby to watch him. It appeared quite unconcerned by its literal flight from Elder Daven, or in any way tired from the exertions that had nearly done for Little Wulfram himself.

"I had thought you would fall some distance back," the not-crow commented in an amicable tone. "You are pleasingly resilient for a mortal. You may rest for a while. Laub and our master are some days` hard travel away. Even as the crow flies. Do not trouble yourself to attempt a laugh, it will only choke you."

Relieved, Little Wulfram closed his eyes and gradually began to settle himself. His wounds were not serious, but his situation was. For the first time in his life, he was alone - well, he reminded himself, except for something that looked like a bird but really wasn`t - and worse still, outside of the city, the only place he had ever known. Then his mind seized on the name he had been given and he moaned despairingly.

He`d always heard places like Laub and Necrovia, according to the boys who`d been out that far, could call themselves lucky to be called one-mule towns. They were so far away too. He had no food or water, no spare clothes and no skills of use outside of somewhere like Swallowsnest House. He`d never make it. He`d starve or get sick, or wolves or bandits might get him, or just twist his ankle on the way and lie in a ditch to freeze overnight, or-

Powerful wings struck him about the ears, driving out the panic with shock. "I told you once that you must stand strong if you are to be esteemed. This is as true now as it was in Elder Daven. All that has changed is the surroundings. If you are unable to do so, then you are of no use to our master and shall be discarded as any broken tool. The choice is yours, Wulfram Crowsherald."

"Yes, mortal. You were small of stature next to those fools who mocked you daily, yet your spirit had strength beyond any ten of theirs. Stand now and look me in the eye, yes, just so. You have earned the right to do so. It is time to leave behind that which once you were and take up the great destiny laid out before you. Together, we shall announce the might and majesty of our master to all those whose his gaze turns to."

Little Wulfram - no, that was wrong, he was Little Wulfram no more, though he would surely catch himself in his thoughts by that name from time to time - Wulfram felt his resolve harden. He knew know there was undoubtedly more magic in the New Master`s messenger than just turning invisible or making its eyes glow, else he`d still be whining and groaning on his back. Then a thought occurred.

"The New Master is in Laub, you said? Sorry, the Master, just the Master. I thought he was in Elder Daven with us...but if he isn`t, who killed the boss back when I was just one of the boys?"

"Another of our master`s servants," the not-crow answered dismissively. "A former court wizard condemned to ignominy and a pauper`s grave for his sins. His bones are dust by now, I should think, for I summoned him to face those adventurers before they went down below after us. I certainly saw his staff shatter. The rest of him is unlikely to have lasted much longer."

Wulfram took a few minutes to process this, wondering at the strength of one who could command such a power as a mere servant. Now that he knew that, his lingering doubts vanished. For him to have been picked out from the rabble to serve someone like that, well, that could only mean good things for him. All his trials and tribulations thus far had clearly been a test by the messenger, to see if he was worthy enough to join their ranks.

"One last question then, then I think I can keep going for a bit. What do I call you? Now that we`s working together and all?"

"I am Marchosias, though it amuses our master to address me differently. In his presence, simply call me Imp. Now, to Laub!"

THUS ENDS THE SECOND PART OF "Mists of Daven".

Hope you enjoyed it.

And yes, Marchosias is indeed the same imp familiar of the overwhelmingly hubristic warlock Naxartes from the first part. We'll find out more about what's happened to that fellow in the months since his road met with that of our heroes in the third and final part of this tale.

Excellent! Thanks. Can you send me this as a word file?

Yup. For reasons, it'll be along in four-five hours.




 

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