Mists of Daven, Part II - Myth-Weavers


Mists of Daven, Part II

   
Mists of Daven, Part II

"I think you`re over-exaggerating the negatives, just a little. This is far from the worst place we`ve ever had to stay. The rabbit stew here actually has meat in it, for one thing, not just fur or gristle."

Isolde briefly lifted her head from the table, glaring at the man opposite her. The reasonableness of his words only irritated her more, and when he failed to look in any way chastened, she returned to cradling her head in her arms. Davenian ales disagreed with her, but nowhere nearly as much as the water had, even causing Aidan significant discomfort. She felt it necessary to remind the paladin of this.

He grimaced, a hand going to his stomach at the memory. "At least we were alive to suffer through that little nightmare. I`d have preferred not to learn the hard way that divine protection against disease doesn`t stop a body from purging polluted water any way it can."

The pair looked up at the ceiling as a wordless scream of disgust and rage sounded from the upper floor. Aidan shook his head and glanced at the empty space next to him. "To think Embla got hit the hardest. With her constitution, you`d have thought she`d brush off a little poisoning like it was nothing."

"She did drink more than the rest of us combined though," Isolde countered. "And it wasn`t as though she was in perfect health at the time. She did have to drag us across the Dead Hills after you finally collapsed in Zeel."

Aidan scowled and rubbed the fresh scar by his eye. A fraction more to the left and the great orc`s blade would have cut through to his brain. The foul mixture applied to the weapon had worsened the bleeding anyway, nearly costing him his life. Somehow he had managed to stay conscious long enough to slay the beast and staunch the flow, but the struggle had been enough to drain the last of his energy. He had drifted between the realms of waking and sleep for over a week afterwards.

That had been a desperate fight indeed. After emerging from the nameless caverns beneath the Ruin Woods, most of the group had suffered through a variety of maladies that neither Brokk`s magic could halt, nor Aidan`s own gift of healing cure. Isolde`s relatively delicate halfling physiology had succumbed soonest, then Brokk became too ill to work his spells, and finally even mighty Embla showed signs of illness.

She and Aidan had carried the other two all the way to the township of Zeel 'City' in the hope of finding aid at one of the local temples, only to find that an orcish warband had had the same thought. With their group severely weakened already, they had been forced into a fighting retreat into one of the cloisters. It had only been the arrival of Zeel`s militia forces that kept them from being overrun, although too late to keep the orcs from killing most of the defiant priests out of sheer spite. The few survivors had been too inexperienced, or wounded themselves, to be of any help.

Aidan admitted that it went a long way towards justifying Isolde`s current mood. It also didn`t help matters that they had been promised a reward for destroying the source of the plagues that were emerging from the Ruin Woods. But, with everyone who might have been able to pay them dead, even that was denied them. Isolde had made it abundantly clear that she was taking this as a personal insult, more grievous than any mere injury - and from a practical perspective, it made paying for the little luxuries, such as food, substantially harder than it ought to be. Even here, in Elder Daven, in the cheapest place they could find, expenses tended to accrue rapidly.

The half-elf winced as Embla let out another scream, this one tailing off into a series of bubbling coughs. He tried not to imagine the scene, but having been there himself, failed miserably. He wondered briefly if Brokk was feeling up to getting out of his bed today, but then dismissed the thought. The dwarf was hardy enough, but the last few months had exhausted him as much as the rest of them. Whatever peace and quiet he could get would only be good for him. Gods knew they all deserved a bit of rest.

*****

Little Wulfram licked his lips nervously. He was not yet used to being a 'face', but since that stupid bully Akkanta had been caught mouthing off, it was up to him to receive the New Master`s words and pass them on. The messenger was scary in its own way. That it was such a small shape was clearly a way to impress the lads of how tough the New Master was. Anyone could be big and loud and scary, like Akkanta or any other half-orc, but the New Master`s messenger just looked like a crow. But Little Wulfram thought the calm certainty in its voice was so much more scary than anything he had ever heard shouted. That the New Master could make a crow talk was itself a very scary thing.

He knew why he had been chosen as the new 'face'. It was because he was little. The others didn`t hate him, exactly, but he was easy to push around. And after what had happened to the Old Master, and to Akkanta when he started talking big, nobody else wanted to be in line to get hit by that magic stuff. Wasn`t his fault he was the littlest in the group. He felt he did all right out of it, for being the only gnome among humans and elves and orcs. But it was still scary.

The crow stood on its perch, looking down at him silently from the gable, almost invisible in the fading light. Little Wulfram swallowed hard. He never liked this part of town anyways, least of all when it started to get dark. He`d heard stories about things that happened here after dark, or things that came out after dark. The other lads had always laughed at the stories, patting each other on the back and saying how they wasn`t scared of nothing. They always laughed very loudly, Little Wulfram had noticed, especially after a new story went around of someone who`d gone missing, or turned up all mangled or in pieces.

There was a faint shuffling sound from nearby and the crow cocked its head, screeching something into the dark. The shuffling stopped and Little Wulfram shivered. It was an evil noise, like the laughs he`d heard sometimes when someone was roughing up their doxy. The crow fixed a beady eye on him and he forced himself to stay still. He knew that a 'face' was supposed to try to look tough, but he didn`t think he`d be able to do that as well as he ought. Then its beak dropped open and his fears were replaced by wonder.

"You are a brave mortal," it cawed at him, the words humming with sorcerous power. "Greater than the craven filth that sent you here, alone, to hear my words. For you know you are weak, but you stand strong regardless. Our master, true, will not appreciate this so much as I, but he has such grander concerns than either of us. I foresee a use for you beyond mere expendability."

"Hearken to my words, mortal. When the day is as night, when the air chokes as water, come to me here. Terrors shall be all around, but you shall not fall to them. Instead, you shall rise above those who mocked and derided you. But only if you remain strong! Else the torment that awaits you is beyond your comprehension."

The shuffling sound resumed, louder, closer and accompanied by a moaning. The crow kept its gaze locked onto Little Wulfram. He dared not look away, even when he sensed the presence approaching hungrily. Grave-stench filled the air and he coughed, but still could not move. A shadow fell over him and only then did the crow shriek at whatever horror stood behind him, halting it in its tracks. All stayed motionless and silent as the dusk deepened still further.

"There is no message I am to impart today," the crow said at last. "Go back to the others. Know in your secret heart the day is coming soon for you."

The crow vanished entirely and Little Wulfram fell forward, suddenly released from the paralysis that gripped him. He regained his footing and fled, not looking behind him. After a few seconds, he heard a disappointed, angry wail from the street he had just left. He knew there would be another new scary story tomorrow. He was happy that he wasn`t going to be a part of it.

I very much enjoyed that.

As ever, thanks. The start of this actually went considerable revision from what I'd thought I'd be writing, based mainly on some of DRK's feedback on Part I and starting up a new playthrough of Darkest Dungeon. It also occurred to me that whatever GM is running their adventures is a sadistic and low-loot freak. *cough* Anyway, exploring the idea of these poor bastards feeling even worse than they ought to after the completion of a heroic quest, coupled with their having actual justifications for this, appealed to me.

Yeah, I loved that part. I am just finishing up reading Lady of the Lake, the last Witcher book. What appeals to me about those books I also saw in this-- interesting heroes that while heroic are far from perfect or infallible. Heroes who suffer.

Oh, and DRK is going to zap you for the use of single quotes where you should be using double quotes. Lol.

I'm completely innocent!

Whilst I think of it:

Leech's Paste
Rare concoction
A staple tool of both assassins and healers, Leech's Paste is a foul-smelling distillation of several ingredients, principally extracts of hawthorn, olive and sativum. It acts as a potent anticoagulant, preventing clotting and keeping a wound bleeding freely, so only works on living creatures not of the aberration or plant types. Healers use this for cleansing blood-borne diseases, providing advantage on their Heal checks when used for this purpose. When applied to a weapon that deals slashing or piercing damage, Leech's Paste will cause up to three wounds inflicted by that weapon to bleed heavily, each wound causing the victim to take an additional 1d4 damage at the start of each of its turns. The bleeding may be stopped by any magical restoration of HP, or by a successful Heal check against DC 10.

I like it! Now so need two more herbs for an update lol.

Not for the first time, Brokk wondered if the ringing between his ears genuinely was a miniature army being outfitted by the forgemasters. As he pulled himself further out of sleep, these thoughts coalesced into more reasonable explanations. The screams of tortured steel were obviously the rusting hinges on his window. The rumbling undertones of molten rock being filtered for slag were nothing more than his own watery breaths. The roaring of the eastern wind-tunnels to the furnaces were still roars, but from the adjacent room.

Coughing up the last of the night`s sputum, the dwarf looked guiltily and belatedly down at the street below, but was relieved to see that this time he had missed the passers-by. On his left, another window was slammed open and a vast, pale shape came into view. Normally the colour of burnished bronze and taut as a strung bow, Embla Aslaug`s skin was now pasty and trembling, her eyes wide and staring, and unidentifiable lumps of matter were caught in the ends of her thick locks.

Brokk waited until she finished gulping down air like a man nearly drowned, then, with as much cheer as he could muster, called over, "You look like a risen plague corpse and probably smell thrice as bad."

Embla tried to scowl back, but was interrupted by another bout of dry retching. "Only fools or the dying can deny truth. I look magnificent - and am no fool. So I must be dying. You are fortunate, dwarf, to witness a death of Aslaug. Take word back. Let them know it was a good death. Many little children saved from evil hell-beasts! Foes with no number like the stars dead, blood spilled to fill the oceans!"

Brokk laughed despite himself. That Embla could joke at all, never mind at her own expense, was a good sign. Two days earlier, the fever had made her as hot to the touch as a firebrand, and robbed her of all language save her own. When her delirium threatened to turn her sword against others, Brokk had been forced to call upon his deepest magical reserves and bind Embla to stillness until the fever broke. The effort had very nearly been the end of him, though he had made sure to downplay the risks at the time.

At least the worst was behind them all now. Aidan and Isolde had pulled through remarkably quickly, and now that Embla was clearly on the mend, it was only a matter of time before they were back to their usual selves again. Brokk was worried though. For all the speed of their recovery, it seemed increasingly likely that they would still be in Elder Daven when the tipping point came. Since their arrival, he had felt the surges of magical power wash over the ancient city like tides, drawn to some unknown location within.

Brokk rarely considered himself cowardly, a side-effect of his chosen career. He always advocated caution over recklessness, patience over haste, but his gut told him that this was not any threat they wanted to face, prepared or otherwise. These last few days had only worsened the feeling that there was something indefinably wrong about magic in Elder Daven. It was almost as if it was being siphoned off, slowly at first, to serve some other purpose.

The wizard looked back at Embla, still hanging half out of the window, and wondered if any of his companions felt inklings of what he did. Aidan certainly, it was one of the many curses under which experienced paladins had to live, for there was at least some divine magic within them. Isolde having any sense of this was very unlikely, but he had no reference points to draw upon for Embla. The very existence of her people had been a complete unknown to him, a loremaster of the first order for Khuldul`s sake, and conversation with her had made it clear she was atypical even of them.

As he thought of this, there was a sudden gust of wind. Except it wasn`t wind, not in the truest sense. Brokk felt his mind rocked, almost hiding the sense of loss that replaced one of his spells. Vertigo took hold and he swayed. The buffeting inside his head grew stronger and he fought to retain control of himself, recalling every exercise and mnemonic to strengthen his will.

For a few seconds, his command of magic wavered. His lips quivered with the urge to incant, to call upon more of his energies so that they might be drawn from him. In desperation, he allowed a single strand to unravel from the skein, tracing a path towards the source of the attack. It dipped below the earth and was immediately cut off. Brokk let out a cry and fell back, landing heavily on the floor. He lay there, stunned, for all of ten seconds before the door to his room was thrown open and Embla stood over him protectively.

*****

Aidan scratched his head, clearly out of his depth. "Brokk my friend," he said at last. "All I am getting from this is that you cannot cast a spell you thought you could."

Brokk nodded, as inspiration struck him. "That is exactly right. That should have been impossible. It would be like...like if you forgot a particular battle-stance. Or if Isolde looked at a gold statuette and didn`t wonder as to its value."

The others drew in breaths sharply, suddenly understanding. Isolde opened her mouth, trying to think of a particularly cutting rejoinder, then abandoned the effort. The situation was far too serious. They were still not fully recovered and now that this was out in the open, there was no likelihood of slipping away from the city and pretending ignorance. Not that, she admitted to herself, there was any chance of either Aidan or Embla pretending ignorance when it came to something like this, and even she was intensely curious about the whole thing.

"I can ask around places," she offered, trying to recall anything useful about the Davenian underworld. "Unless they were wiped out in the last few years, there`s a couple of groups might have an idea or two about what`s going on. Um, Aidan? I`m going out on a limb here, all right? Will you come along with me, but just not say anything and look intimidating? And preferably only break people`s heads when I ask you to?"

The half-elf made a face. "Because Embla is ill, is that it? You need me to look like your muscle around the thugs. Just stand around and throw a few glares and grunts at lowlifes."

"You got it. Whoever said paladins are unimaginative, self-righteous, holier-than-thou dullards, well! They clearly never met you." There was no hint of sarcasm or irony in Isolde`s voice and that only made Aidan scowl the harder.

"Fine, for you, I`ll do it," he muttered, already regretting it. "But if we see one necromancer or walking corpse, I swear by Kantor and by Neltak, I will not wait for your blessing to send them to Hell!"

Isolde looked affronted. "That`s a dirty stereotype, Aidan, and I`m shocked you would have such an opinion. Just because this is Daven, any criminal must be in the thrall of the undead! And of course, I, a lowly halfling, would know of nobody other than criminals - oh, that makes two stereotypes, then, how very enlightened of you!"

Brokk and Embla glanced at each other, each wondering if it was worth interrupting this argument. After a few moments, Embla motioned against it, having learned earlier that shaking her head would bring on a bout of coughing. Brokk acquiesced, recalling that it had been less than an hour ago that he thought it reassuring they were all getting back to their old selves. It would probably do the other two a world of good to vent their respective philosophies for a while. It had always seemed to work before. They quickly changed their minds.

"Well, crooked and deceitful as I am, maybe next time you`re strapped to an altar I`ll let the bastard kill you!" Isolde snapped. "After all, it`s not like a thieving little wretch like me is going to want to save a paladin! Right?"

Aidan blanched at the memory. "It was all perfectly under control. Not my control, I grant you, but Brokk was about to incinerate the man anyway. And I stopped myself from binding and gagging you after that, didn`t I? It is what you still deserve."

A high-pitched whistling escaped Isolde`s throat in her outrage. Immediately, Brokk stood up, clapping his hands sharply.

"Mavarra is past," the wizard growled. "And it should stay there. All of it. No, Aidan, all of it. I am more serious than you can know! We shall all have nightmares enough without bringing back more of that time. We either stop now or we finish ourselves off."

Silence fell and for a few seconds, none could meet each other`s eyes. At last, Aidan held out a hand, wiping his eyes with the other. Isolde swallowed hard, mouth dry, and took his peace offering. Brokk sat back down, shaking slightly, and drew comfort from Embla`s firm grip on his shoulder. He wondered how long they could keep running. He feared it would be a long time. He was more terrified that it wouldn`t be.

I do enjoy the behind the scenes stuff and the agonizing. And the humor is welcome as well. Paladin stereotypes are always a hit. hehe







 

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