The air is musty and damp. I seem to be sitting in a chair beside some sort of table, with Fleet’s warm body curled over my feet. She stirs, draws up to rub her face on my hand, which is resting on my knee.
Why is it so silent? I cannot hear any murmurs from my companions, clinks of weapons, shuffling of gear. Just the swish of Fleet’s tail and scratch of claws on the floor.
There’s a chink of light below what I think is a door. My chair scrapes against the floor as I push to my feet. It is a door. It ushers in a dim light, and I can make out furniture and many bookshelves. I think it’s a library.
As far as I can make out the library is empty, so I turn my attention to the corridor outside the door. And pull up short, breath catching.
There’s blood. Fresh blood. Even if I couldn’t see it smeared over the floor, the smell is unmistakable. And still no sign of my companions. Fear surges through me.
Desperately I try to remember. Is this Issimbaal? I remember arriving in that city after a journey of some four days through abandoned farmland. Every night we had to fight off hordes of zombies. And one day there was a fearsome six-headed desert hydra. These lands are deserted, scourged of all life except for that which is undead or wrought by magic.
Issimbaal seemed largely deserted too when we arrived, except for the clerics of Phanator who have taken up residence in the desecrated Temple of Kaltan (Emrys save us from Blizzard’s ill-judged recriminations and posturing on that score). The clerics’ spokesperson, Geretam, said they are trying to find a cure for the zombie disease. They are growing moss for this purpose, and —
My memory triggers. The moss. Geretam sent us to the abandoned Vahdrim college to see if we could retrieve information they could use in this endeavour. In return, they will waylay Elliana.
Elliana, who reportedly has the Left Eye of Varrien, is here. If we succeed in helping these clerics, they will help us retrieve the Eye for the Church of Elloran.
The last thing I remember we were at the Vahdrim college. We defeated at least three whirling air creatures guarding the building, and then Squirrel broke a window to gain us entry.
I have a lingering impression of fighting…
Half an hour earlier
We’re walking through the college corridor, but all I can think about is the desecrated statue back at the temple, the image burnt into my brain. Those bastard clerics of Phanator! Allies, huh? That’s one fucked up way of showing it.
I’m so preoccupied with plotting vengeance that I almost bang into Zillah, who’s stopped. Squirrel’s up front trying to get through a door. The light, coming from behind us, isn’t good, but I can spy him over Zillah’s shoulder, bent over the lock.
Glorious Kaltan, Zillah smells good now she’s had a bath. Can’t help thinking she’s changed lately. We’re not arguing as much — or at least not as acrimoniously. Just yesterday, I found myself agreeing with her when we were discussing what to do with the Eye. It’s strange — I could almost imagine she likes me.
I glance over her: the elegant but well-defined musculature. A good body — got to give her that.
She whirls, both hands pulling swords. Perhaps she’s read my mind! But, no, the look on her face… Fierce as her cat.
Trouble. I cast around. Where? All I can see are stone walls, Nightshade silhouetted behind me, the shape of Alix beyond her.
Before I can ask Zillah what’s going on, she forbids us entrance and declares herself guardian of the library. For a heartbeat, I think she’s joking and am about to laugh, but then she swings at me, and fire flares across my shoulder.
She’s quick. So quick. Two, three, four slashes. I manage to duck one.
“Stop it,” I shout, grappling her to prevent her next attack. Nightshade’s shouting behind me. My ribs burn. My stomach. Liquid warmth runs down my thigh — have I pissed my pants or is that blood? I seize Zillah’s wrists, squeezing hard, trying to make her drop her weapons.
We wrestle. She’s strong, stronger than me and breaks free. Those two blades slice into me. Pain, hoarse shouts — mine and Nightshade’s.
With my falchion, I pommel-strike Zillah across the head, trying to beat sense into her, rather than kill her.
She shows no such restraint. Long sword, short sword, long sword again.
Pain makes me dizzy. Falchion up — my only escape is to knock her out — but she evades it. For a moment, behind her, Squirrel’s face, and then something sticky envelops me. A web. He’s caught us up in a web. Good!
Only she’s out of it, and I’m stuck. Fuck.
I struggle to free my hands. No. Zillah’s blades carve me up.
Nightshade’s behind me, hacking at the web, but I’m weak now, ill. I sag, stars circling my head, but then have one genius thought. If I play dead maybe Zillah will leave me alone.
Embracing the weakness, I let my head droop, but then someone grabs my hair, and Nightshade’s forcing a bottle to my lips, and my mouth fills with a bitter potion that stings my tongue. I cough, splutter, but the potion gives me strength. Again I fight to be free of the web, but already Zillah’s blades are crashing down…
Three sets of bloody footsteps emerge from the blood in the corridor. Stomach queasy, I follow them, Fleet padding at my side. They lead into an adjacent room, across a dusty floor to a broken window.
Outside is a lone air creature at the foot of a tower and the thick hedge we cut through to enter these grounds.
I’m through the window, under the hedge, and retracing steps towards the temple. I pray my companions are there.
But, if they are, why did they leave me? Surely they wouldn’t have abandoned me. What the fuck happened?
The abandoned city creeps me out and I draw my sword. Its edge is bloody and wet. My dagger is also smeared in red. But… I can’t have been in fight; I always clean my blades straight away. Besides, there’s barely a scratch on me.
I lurch into a run.
The door of the temple opens to my pounding. Faces, pale as the moon, turn to face me. Shouts. Weapons bristle.
I drop my swords and hold my hands in a gesture of peace.
On the floor, is that — ? That corpse looks like —
It is. I recognise the armour. The expressions on the faces of my three living companions are hard. Wary. Grieved. They hunch over Blizzard’s corpse protectively.
Oh, god. I don’t understand. I do not like the way they are looking at me.
I remember the blood on my swords. I remember a day long ago in a crater when Calwyn died, and Ammonite —
My stomach heaves. Fuck.
Thanks to Tracey Rolfe for Blizzard’s account of his, er, valiant battle against a charmed Zillah.
Stay tuned for the next post, which will deal with the aftermath! All D&D posts can be found on The D&D Chronicles page.