Oh, the excitement! This picks up a few minutes after the previous post left off. Nightshade has been a bad bad girl and Zillah is pissed…
Nightshade’s corpse lies broken at my feet. Red eyes stare blankly out of her pale, leathered face that looks months dead rather than minutes. I try remember what she used to look like — before the zombie virus, before the mummy rot, before the Eye. Back when she was my ally, if not my friend; a fellow ranger of Emrys pledged to heal the forest. It’s almost impossible to recall.
She was easier to kill than I expected. But I suppose with three of us laying into her… I shudder, rub at my face with the backs of my hands, not willing to sheath my weapons just yet. Blessed Emrys forgive me.
Alix does sheath her weapons and drops to her knees. I leave her to retrieve the Eye from the intimate place Nightshade has been keeping it. She has silver gloves for the operation.
Fen is cowering over by the wall, understandably horrified at what we’ve just been forced to do. But then he says something and I realise there’s a hole in the brickwork… and another brick is wobbling amid puffs of dust. A voice comes through the hole — words I don’t understand — and Fen is talking to it.
It’s not sounding hostile, but we can take no chances. Fen seems keen to stay and chat, but as soon as Alix is done I sling Nightshade over my shoulder. I have one last thing to try before I will give up on her completely.
We head back through the portal and close it behind us. Oddly enough, the unpopulated city of Reyim Baal has started to feel familiar, secure, safe. It’s somewhere I can pray to my god without being interrupted.
Kneeling beside Nightshade’s corpse, I pray to Emrys. I beg him for forgiveness at taking the life of a companion. I entreat him to forgive Nightshade, once his daughter, for turning from him. I ask him to save her soul, cleanse the darkness from it, to make her his daughter once again.
And, after a time, Emrys speaks to me. I hear his voice in my head and heart, telling me gravely he cannot command Nightshade’s soul.
My head drops.
But, he says, he will bring Nightshade back to us, if we desire it, for he believes we will have need of her.
Now I am crushed.
This was not a circumstance I foresaw… That we would need her despite everything. She’ll be angry, antagonistic. It’ll be worse than before. Our terrible actions and her understandable rage, all for nothing.
But at least she won’t have the Eye any more.
Taking a deep and despairing breath, I nod and give him thanks, trusting my god to know what is best.
Beside me, Nightshade stirs, her red eyes flashing.
Tel Marrenor is not what we expected
[Several hours later…] We’ve returned through the portal to Tel Marrenor. For forty years, the city has been cut off from the rest of the world, lost in the midst of a magicked, impenetrable forest. No-one in. No-one out.
To our astonishment, it is not an abandoned, overgrown city of undead, but a bustling city oppressed by a tyrannical council of Vhadrim mages. Far from being secreted in a dragon-guarded chest somewhere, the Right Eye of Varrien casts its fiery glow over the city from the forehead of a giant golem (known as the Colossus), which stands upon a tower known as the Bastian. The Eye’s power is controlled by the council.
We’ve allied ourselves with the “tunnel people”, who live beneath the city and seem to have formed some sort of resistance group. They have a few renegade mages among their number, along with established channels of communication with the leaders of the various quarters in the city. They are excited to see us — the first visitors from outside in decades. Naturally, they see us as a route of escape, so they’re being helpful, if cautious.
They know why we’re here. Their oracle predicted our coming. In fact, according to the oracle, many of our assumptions (and dilemmas) have proven unfounded. It seems we’re going to need the Left Eye to obtain the Right, and it seems that Nightshade is probably the one who needs to wield it.
Nightshade is now all smirking and smug, while I feel distinctly chagrined. She would have been more cooperative, I’m sure, had we not killed her and removed the Eye from her possession. Especially if we’re simply going to return it to her… eventually. (Since Emrys brought her back, she has been mouthy and obnoxious as expected, but so far the geas Alix placed on her is holding.)
Probably not the best plan
[Midnight…] We get our first good look at Tel Marrenor under the cover of darkness. Gil, a youth with the tunnel people, poles us down canals lined with close-packed buildings of three or four storeys, the whole bathed in the scarlet glow of the Eye. Creepy.
We’re headed for the city’s “old castle”, now a barracks for the human forces of the council. We’re going to creep in and kill as many as possible before reinforcements arrive. The aim is to send a message to the rest of the city that we are serious in our intent. We hope to win support from those living in the city and organise a rebellion.
I don’t know if this is a good plan. Certainly we need to start whittling away at enemies, but I’ve never been one for slitting throats of my fellow humans while they sleep.
It starts off well, if you could call it that.
Gritting my teeth, I remind myself I’m trying to save the world… but surely there’s another way than this? Too late, it’s done. My dagger drips with blood.
I’m actually relieved when they wake, alerted by a fumble or a clank of armour. I care not. A scream, and sounds start to come from the chamber across the corridor. Others arrive and there is fighting in the hallway as well.
In all, we kill at least ten of the guards, maybe more, before the gong sounds. We take that as a call for reinforcements. There’s a lot of yelling among us. Fen looks distraught as he stares at the corpse of a child sprawled in the corridor. Nightshade is yelling something about not wanting anyone to see us. In the end, we flee before reinforcements can arrive.
Gil is waiting at the place we specified and we escape without further incident. But my heart is heavy, and I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve done more harm than good this night.
There is a bog in the swamp not far from our settlement that we know to give a wide berth. It’s deceptively placid. Dangerous. Occasionally, we would hear the cries of a trapped beast, and if wholesome, some of the hunters would lasso it and try to pull it clear. It wasn’t unusual for the flesh to yield before the morass would give up its prey.
I know how those trapped beasts must feel.
When the humans arrived in the forest, it was as if a season was changing. They put flight to the rakshasa, they slew the dragon. Lo, we were unchained! And I, barely a member of my own people, saw a chance to be something more than the “mumbler” of ineffectual magics. These humans were trying to save the world! Could there be any greater purpose? I was humbled to be counted worthy to join their number, even though I realised, for perhaps the first time in my life, that it was my magic that was valued.
They are a fractious lot. Two from the north with many deaths of friend and foe behind, and so many horrors weighing upon their shoulders. The paladin, trying to find his black-and-white way in a world of grey. And the undead, slain by its companions, then brought back, all because of a gem.
I feel the confusion dragging me down. How I long for the forest, where at least I knew my place, even if it was not much place at all. Better than this mire, surely.
Oh, this night, this midnight raid on unsuspecting soldiers as we try to find a way to recover the second gem from the face of the colossus. It will be bathed in blood. We will be bathed in blood. If we survive.
To do my part, I thought I should wield the knife. Creep into that darkened room filled with the unknowing breaths of the sleeping guards. And strike.
I shudder still.
Perhaps it was that voice of Emrys, god of forest, who sent my blow astray? Some zephyr of conscience.
And then … and then the child. The noise, the fear, the confinement and the darkness. So far from my world. A strange land, and now I feel I am a stranger, too. An instinctive reaction was all it took. I look at my hand in the moments when I am alone and recall the feeling of the power it unleashed. A word, a gesture, a concentrated thought. And the child running for the door, to raise alarm, I thought, as though alarm had not already been raised. My power, unrestrained, devastating on one so young, so innocent. And her blissfully unaware mother, still sleeping on the other side of that door as her child lay slaughtered…
I am aware we are fighting for the fate of the world. I understand this is war. But at what point do we become that which we are fighting? Or are we fated to take upon ourselves such soul blight, in order that the world can continue to sleep lightly? And not a one here in whom I can confide. Who I can ask to provide me with clarity. I am not the firbolg for this job, and yet, I am the firbolg that finds himself here. Emrys save me. Emrys save us all.
Poor Zillah — so conflicted. And poor Fen, so out of his depth! (Thanks to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)
Things are starting to come to a head. I have no idea what’s going to happen next…