“Shit, I have to go first? Well, fuck.”
Jack Jones scratched behind his ear and continued.
“Probably can’t say fuck here, you’re awake and back and you’ve made the place feel like a church.
I want to know how to…
Dammit, everyone’s here, too.
I wanna know what I have to do to get this… COndition of mine to go away. I wanna wake up in the same bed I went to sleep in more than once, you understand? I mean, I don’t even know what happens when I vanish, and you know what? Don’t tell me, just tell me how to make it stop.”
She smiled, her ghostly form glowing with a bluish hue.
“Yes. I will answer your questions. And then I will give you a gift. For you have rescued me from Thoran’s grasp.
Moonflower, your trial will end when your trial is over, but only if the one who holds the scales looks favorably upon you. Remember her condition.
Who will be your witness when none know your name? Who will vouch for a stranger? Who will attest to your character when you have so many, yet so little?
Who will stand for one so selfish?
Think on these things as your day of judgement approaches.”
She then turned to the elf.
“Angiledhel? Do you have a question?”
Angiledhel’s eyes darted from the lady to ‘Jack Jones’ and his other companions, then back to the apparition. He bowed before her with a rough-edged grace, deeply-ingrained courtly manners shining through despite years away from the halls of Myth Drannor.
“My lady honors me,” he said, and stood tall, meeting her gaze unflinchingly. “As you know me, Lady, you know the question in my heart already. What must I do to free the elven lands of Myth Drannor from the evil usurper Ingerhol of Ovare, and restore the rightful rule of the House Findwallae?”
He longed to ask her more, to ask about his mother and sister, and the fate of his friends Adlindris and Elchelmon, but feared to ask too much, and not be answered at all.
The Lady smiled, charmed, before her eyes seemed to focus elsewhere, perhaps lost in reverie of bygone days, when such ancient courtly manner defined her every interaction.
“_Piradrastai_,” she said, gently, meaning “little prince.”
“Only your word may convince your people of Ingerhol’s treachery. Only your eminence may draw allies enough to defeat him. Only your fang may slay him. Return to Myth Drannor when your tongue is honored, your roar is renowned, and your your bite is deadly, or do not return at all.
When your time comes, seek your allies among the people of the dagger.”
Her head turned abruptly. “You, Una. What is your request?”
Una pondered his reactions to the answers so far.
So, am I missing something? Do I know these people around me at all? The only one I really trusted, besides Dositheus, of course, is the bard. But now I discover I didn’t even know something as trivial as his real name until now, and I’m not even very convinced he’s a he. I mean, Moonflower??
And Angiledhel?? I’m not particularly surprised that he lied about his name; he hasn’t left me abounding with trust since we first met. But now I find myself empathizing with him more. A noble cause, to free his lands from an evil kingdom that stole them from his people. I can relate ALL too well. But I feel I must learn something about these people of House Findwallae. Presuming I can respect the clan, I am glad to know a bond might be growing between our “nearly shared” causes. I feel I may be with him and the others for some time, and it’s glad to be around others who can carry their weight (maybe mine?) in a fight. As much as it pains me, I suspect my immediate future has too much fighting in it.
Enough of this brooding; to the task at hand:
“My lady, I am sorry for your troubles as of late; I’m very glad that Hosvir convinced us all to go on this quest. I suspect this simple discussion may have saved your being, if I may be so bold, and this thought emboldens me to ask a very personal question:
“I am torn between tracking those who possibly destroyed my family and my friends, and tracking the friends and family that may remain. But I cannot let vengence rule my spirit. Please tell me how I could find and reconnect with my mother. She is lost and imprisoned in lands far to the East, currently under control of the Netherese, I believe. Thank you deeply for any help! Again, I am so glad to know that you are well, and I thank Hosvir for convincing me and the others to come to your aid.”
She paused, seemingly puzzled, then closed her eyes. She held her hands forward, palms up, raised her head, and held this position a few moment before finally beginning to speak, as if entranced:
“Follow Torm’s servant and his path will guide, To answers to questions goliath provides.
He’ll lead you through swamp and through dungeon and keep, And down the dark river that flows through the deep.
Until you are lost, hopeless, and weak. Then this riddle’s answer is what you must speak:
Ever before you and ever behind, It’s where the road leads, wherever it winds.
It’s high in the mountains, low in the plains. Invisible during the snow or the rain.
You won’t ever catch it, though quickly you tread. But a new one you’ll find if you just turn your head.”
She opened her eyes, and looked around, as if waking, befuddled. Then she seemed to regain herself, her pleasant smile returning.
“Yes. Now that the renowned hero of Wheloon has his answer, let us hear from his cohort, the servant of Torm.”
Dositheus turned his head, took off his helm, and knealt in front.
“M’lady,” he began, “you bless us with your gifts!”
“By Torm,” continuing, “all that I need known is, what has happened to my Master Eutocius, a servant of Torm like no other! He was the one who taught me at a young age in my small village of Antikythera, the gentle art of healing, and of combat, and of the wise and just carings of Torm.
Eutocius was to have arrived in Antikythera for his summer visit, but instead an imposter was in his place! This imposter did horrible things to a young villager, and by Torm, when I’d reported it to the men in the city temple I’d been thrown in jail!
If not for Una’s quick hands I would still be in jail, not faltering in my faith in justice but questioning the ways of this world!”
Please, m’lady, tell me news of Eutocius!”
The Lady looks genuinely confused.
“Gentle knightling. To rise from such humble beginnings into the knighthood takes great talent and devotion, and I am always pleased to meet a man of such faith. But why do you ask me for news of Eutocius when one among you has as much news of him as I? Ask your question of her.
It is right that you seek him, for your order is a beacon in darkening Cormyr, protecting the defenseless and healing the weak, and Eutocius shines brighter than most. But your order has secrets, Dositheus. Surely you must wonder what first prompted Etocius to take an interest in you?
Find him as swiftly as you can. I am blind to the true nature of his mission and peril, but I know the danger is great. And the matter is more urgent and vast than even I can grasp.”
She turned to Corvyr and her manner became matronly. She approached him and rubbed a ghostly finger across his cheek.
“And you. Corvyr.” A rueful look. “Do you have any questions about your life’s remaining days?”
Moonflower, aka Jack Jones, stood watching, glowering.
Is there another girl in the party I haven’t noticed?
Who’s this knight that I supposedly have news of? Did I sell him a horse or meet him on a road? Unless he’s rich I doubt I robbed him. I’m not robin hood but I prefer the same target’s he chose. Rich, bloated, greedy. The greedy are easy to rob if you let them think they’re robbing you, you know. Was he collateral damage, with his money in a back I sent under?
She tried not to look hunted.
Giving shit advice is one thing, I think to myself, glaring at the wall. Throwing you to the wolves is another. Thanks, blue bitch.
Then she remembered: In Llork, there was a Paladin that hired her briefly as a guide. No serious larceny committed, that she recalls. Eutocius. Yes. He was looking for news of an evil cult.
Corvyr stepped forward and spoke:
“My lady, I only seek how to save my family from the grip of the Netherese Empire that has engulfed Sembia. I know not their state, but I fear for them.” Corvyr says, desperately hoping that the Lady will somehow have an answer.
The Lady responded with a voice of woe. “Poor young man. You must know that I am not infallible. The future is constantly in motion and I can offer only a passing glimpse. Yet every glimpse I see bodes the same for you.
Your family is safe and comfortable, though certainly not free. The worst of your brother’s bargains have not yet turned back upon your kin. Your best hope to achieve what you seek lies not in Sembia but here in this room.
Lead these people. Hone, shape, and sharpen them into a dagger to be hurled at the heart of the Empire. But you must have faith in your craft and your aim, for you will not live to see whether the dagger strikes true.”
She turns to look not at Hosvir, but at a point down and to his left.
“Hosvir, the deformed wizard who gathered these souls, and whose heart’s need was the reason for this quest. Speak your question, intrepid one.”
Hosvir shuffled quietly across the room to stand before Lady Saharel. He abruptly called under his breath for the small demon to restore himself to this visible dimension.
“Yamin!! Show yourself!!”
He paused. A few short moments later, Hosvir reached out in frustration and a for a brief moment, mystical hand extended its reach, grabbing the Yamin by his throat and shaking him into obedience.
Yamin faded back into existence.
Frustrated yet hopeful, Hosvir slowly pulled the hood down to display his true self. His shattered stature fell by almost half a foot, as his hunch back, oddly jointed arm, and generally disproportional disfigured body stood before her.
His eyes sown shut; he painfully pulled the stitching free to show Yamin’s demonic eyes squint and shutter around the room wildly.
“I was not always this way” .. he paused to clear his throat.. “You see, this unwillingly binding to this demon harvest my soul such as ants slowly picking away at a rotting carcass.”
A slow tear of blood ran down his cheek.
“I know not what magics can be used to reverse such a course but I know one must exist. I ask for a direction, a path, a person, whoever or whatever it may be, that can lead me from my dismay”.
All the while, Hosvir’s demonic eyes fluttering in the amazement of sight, Yamin’s eyes showed Hosvir’s true human feelings of sorrow and pain.
“Please tell me what I must do to be separated from this evil before it becomes my own.” Hosvir bowed his head as much as his crippled body would allow.
Una stood, shocked, having never seen Hosvir’s true form.
Holy shit, what did I get myself into! The self-proposed leader of our group is in an incessant struggle with his own insanity, brought upon by demon magic. The most magically adept in our party is struggling to find a magical cure to something that he himself proposes might have no magical cure whatsoever! And what’s the potential outcome? Merely the possession of his spirit and soul by an evil so cruel, so dark, that it has no equal in the mortal world. Hosvir himself recognizes that he may succumb to the demonic evil somehow embedded in him!
And what then? Will we have to send Hosvir to his death? Who could do this? This power where he bursts into flames around him could potentially take us all out! And what would his death do to HIS soul? Will he be forever banished in a dark realm, to suffer through the river Styx and all the other unspeakable sufferings? I have seen enough magic to know that there are plenty of fates worse than death. Hosvir has, to date, proven to be a good enough and worthy enough man. I cannot send him to such a fate, even pre-supposing that I could end his life, which I doubt.
Fuck, fuck! I need to talk to Dosi at some point about all this. These folks just seem so fucking unstable. The rational one is fighting off demonic magic that may turn him into my worst enemy. The irrational ones are so crazy they won’t even tell us their names – no, scratch that – won’t even tell us their fucking GENDER! Hmmm… I wish I knew Corvyr better: he seems at least sane, but he’s so quiet I really don’t have much to judge him on yet.
If I had my druthers, I’d like to leave the whole bunch, assuming I can convince Dosi to leave, too. But who knows? This last fight certainly needed more than just the 2 of us. Now I’m afraid that we’re marked somehow… that we cannot just walk away without getting jumped by more of the “ugly halflings” (what the fuck was that comment all about??).
What I wouldn’t give for a comfy bed, a few “magical” herbs, and a charming mistress on each side…
“Aldaman was wise to send you to me, Hosvir. Perhaps he intuited that he had not yet fully understood the nature of your tragic condition.
He believes that he interrupted a horrible experiment before it was complete, but that is not so.
In truth, the experiment was completed. And it continues, even now. This…,” she gestured to human and quasit alike, ”…pairing. It is the experiment. And its outcome matters a great deal to a being of great power.”
She appeared to walk, though in truth she merely floated, toward Yamin, who hissed and arched his back as she got closer. She knealt, then, and examined the creature, who sullenly yielded to the indignity.
“The quasit is bound to you, but he is also bound to another, in an older and still more immutable way. But this other is far from here, in a realm that my vision cannot pierce.”
Yamin swiped at her, and his vicious flash of claw passed through her. She seemed not to notice, as she stood and floated the to a nearby wall, where she appeared to look out a window, though the room was windowless. She continued, staring into an unknown distance.
“It is a difficult question that you ask. How does the rat quit its maze? How does the frog turn the pithing lance against its owner? Because I cannot see your tormentor, I cannot provide an answer beyond this: you must survive the experiment, for each experiment ends with a close inspection of the subject. When your enemy draws you close, you will have your opportunity to strike.”
“To survive, you must have power. You will find power in the swamp, beneath the Thunderspire, and in the Feywild. Resist no assistance. Turn away no advantage.
Finally, be watchful for clues as to the nature of the experiment. The more you understand what your tormentor is trying to learn, the more you might use that curiosity to your own ends.”
She turned back from the window and faced the entire group assembled there.
“Many pilgrims seek my counsel. I see the numbers camped in the ruin or ensconced in the monastery and I mourn, for it is not within my power to appear more often than I do.
I chose to appear to you for reasons beyond mere gratitude. If you had saved another, not me, I would still have appeared, for it is my way to honor a special trait that you all share.
The ones who seek my face are merchants, typically, or explorers, or lords and nobles, or philosophers. An artisan once sought my opinion on a vase he had fashioned. A bard once traveled all the way from Aberil to demand the complete lyrics for an ancient song that was partially stuck in his head.
You yourselves have held many occupations. Merchant. Horse-trader. Prince. Keeper of the Peace. Freedom Fighter. And you all sought me for your own reasons, like all the rest.
But when I was in danger, only you came. Whatever your previous occupations, you are now something else. You are heroes.
And you have chosen your new occupation well, for a great trial is descending, and heroes will be rare, and needed. If you can survive the labors, the world will give you all that you desire.
Seek Allendi when you leave this tower, for I have been conferring with him. He will give you further counsel and beg your help in an important matter. He will also bestow upon you my gift to you for your assistance.”
She smiles. “Goodbye, my Heroes, you who accept the yoke gladly and you who buck against it. When next I see you, we will all be greatly changed.”
Her smile became and expression of rueful sorrow and then she was gone.