28th day of Tardisia, Rias
I had forgotten how unsettling it was to travel by myself at night. Every sound, every crack in the darkness makes me jump. Avoiding any living soul, I hid under Silverscot’s main bridge. Burrowed in my sleeping bag, I will try to rest as much as I can before the sun rises again.
Soon after Maurus was arrested the four of us went back to the tavern to discuss our next steps. We sat at a table and ordered some food and drinks. Veronique, Harmand, and Bingo started to have a heated discussion on what to do next. I wasn’t paying much attention. My mind was already preoccupied with other matters.
The events from today made me realize two things. The first one was that traveling with me was too dangerous. There was a group of people determined to kill me waiting around every corner. If I were to continue traveling with Veronique, Harmand, and Bingo, they would most likely end up injured or, worst, dead. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if something happened to them because of me.
This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if at least I was able to properly fight. But I am no fighter. I try to remain calm, but I can feel my hands shake every time I try to cast a spell during a fight, and the instability of my magic isn’t helping either. In order to be worthy of joining my friends again on their journey I must become stronger and learn to keep my powers under control. That is why, sheltered by the night, I left the tavern and my friends behind.
I don’t know when I will see them again, if ever. But for their own sake, I must travel alone until I am ready. They probably won’t be pleased when they find out I abandoned them, but I had no other choice. I just hope they take care of each other until I join them again.
1st day of Acustula, Manias.
“Were her intentions as noble as I assumed? Or were we just pieces in her cosmic game? What if she was just pretending to care about us just so she could achieve her own personal goals?”Rhyl’Aun
The night was rough and overslept a bit. I had some of my rations for breakfast and tidied up. Then, using one of my spells I disguised myself as an elder human man, bald, grey beard, spotted and wrinkly skin. With such an appearance I made my way back into town.
The townsfolks seemed a bit uneasy. It looked like news of Maurus been arrested by the royal guards had spread rather quickly. Everybody was talking about it and most citizens were very upset by this turn of events. As much as I wanted to help keep my promise to Maurus, there were other matters I had to deal with first. I’m sure the others were already on the case.
My main goal right now was to become a more proficient fight companion and that meant finding, buying or making something that will allow me to control my powers in a more stable way.
I asked around for a shop that specialized in magical items but sadly there was none. Instead, most people pointed me in the direction of Smith the smith, a name that, at that time, sounded worryingly familiar.
Once I arrived at the smith’s workshop I saw a tall, strong man. He wasn’t old, probably in his late 20s or early 30s. He had short brown hair and tanned skin, clearly used to working outdoors. He was working at the anvil, hammering a red-hot chunk of metal.
I slowly approached him, pretending to limp.
“Excuse me, young man…”
The man raised his head while he was cooling down the metal.
“Ah, hello old-timer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before. What can I do for you?”
“Ah, yes. Well, I’ve been traveling for a while now and wanted to get a gift for my granddaughter. You see, the kid seems very good with all this magic stuff, don’t know where it comes from, probably from his father’s side of the family, he was always very odd. Anyways, the problem is that she struggles controlling her power and wanted to find something to help her focus her magic and maybe make it a bit stronger.”
The man continued with his work while listening to me.
“That is a tough request. Sadly, I don’t do any magical items. The same for other crafters here in town. All I know, however, is that many magical items like the one you described are made of precious metals. High purity silver is very commonly used. We used to have some good quality silver coming from the mines up north.”
I nodded and remembered the incidents from yesterday.
“Do you think I would be able to purchase some of that silver if I travel to those mines?”
“Very unlikely.” He said, thoughtful. “Nobody has worked those mines in years, and nobody will go in there, especially since what happened yesterday. You might still find some leftovers there but if I were you, I would avoid that place.”
“What happened yesterday?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“Smith, dear! Are you ready for lunch?” A familiar female voice came from inside the store. A cold shiver went down my spine as I started to recall where I had heard of Smith the smith before.
Frederick’s former wife came out to meet us. She stood next to the smith, holding a bowl of gruel.
“Ah, sorry. This is Olivia, she is currently spending some time with me.”
I tried to remain calm while I gave a slow bow in what I imagined the way most elder men would bow.
“A fine pleasure to meet you, young lady.”
The woman approached me and looked at me with a smile.
“The pleasure is mine. Say, have we met before by any chance?”
A moment of awkward silence.
I turned around and walked away as fast as I could, probably not as elderly as I was supposed to, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.
After buying some additional supplies I left town to travel back to Inkereek, this time by foot.
I abandoned my disguise only when I was sure I was far enough from town, and even then, I was wearing the hood on my ruana most of the time.
I probably took longer than expected on my journey, since I ended up camping for the night. This was probably my fault. While traveling alone I didn’t feel bad when I wanted to stop to study the wildflowers growing around the path and sketching them or observing the birds and other animals and simply sitting down to listen to the sound of the wind and the fauna that surrounded me. That probably slowed me down, but it made my journey more bearable.
Once the sun started to set I decided to prepare myself for the night. Since my eyes are able to see fairly well in the dark, I decided to not light a fire so people wouldn’t see me. I had some rations in the dark while admiring the night sky.
Staring at the night sky, the face of the mysterious woman came to my mind. I wondered where she was and what was she doing. I also wondered what her name was. Next time I met her I needed to ask her what it was. Then my mind started to ponder about her role in all this. She said that her goal was to save all drows but, according to Trygve, these new entities that got involved with our world were here with the goal of becoming the new gods and goddesses. Were her intentions as noble as I assumed? Or were we just pieces in their cosmic game? What if she was just pretending to care about us just so she could achieve her own personal goals?
There was no point in preoccupying myself with such questions without being able to ask them to her directly. Whether her motivations were noble or selfish, Trygve made it quite clear that we needed the powers of all these individuals in order to succeed in our quest If they had any ulterior goals, we would have to deal with them after the snake was no more.
With all these thoughts in my head, I tried to rest as much as my mind allowed me.
2nd day of Acustula, Lumias
“What I saw next rendered me speechless.”Rhyl’Aun
I woke up early in the morning, as the sun was starting to rise in the sky. My body, shivering from the cold. Now I regretted not setting a campfire. Luckily, I had a can of tea leaves with me from back home. I heated some water in a cup with a simple spell and put some leaves in it. The smell of honey and apple filled me with warmth and renovated energies. I drank the tea slowly as I watched the sun lazily start a new day.
Once done with my breakfast I cleaned as much as I could and made sure that I didn’t leave any obvious tracks behind me. Then I set forth to Inkereek.
Inkereek was as we left it. Empty, quiet, eerie. I first looked around the houses that surrounded the entrance to the mines. There was bound to be a smith’s workshop or a storage room. I felt guilty at first for rummaging through other people’s property but, as far as we knew, all the citizens of Inkereek had passed so it was better to put it to good use, especially if it could help defeat those who were behind everything that happened to them. It might even bring some peace to their souls.
After unsuccessfully searching all the nearby buildings for 2 hours, I decided to enter the mines. The stench of blood was still hanging in the air. I reached the main chamber where just a couple of days ago we had fought those monstrosities. I was expecting to see their disgusting remains on the floor again but, oddly, they weren’t there anymore. That could only mean one thing: Someone or something had been there before me and, potentially, they could still be here.
I cautiously entered the side tunnel from which I remembered two of the spider creatures came. There was nothing that could indicate the presence of another living being having walked that same tunnel, but my gut was telling me otherwise.
I walked for what felt an eternity. Even though I still could see almost as clear as in the daylight, I still could feel the darkness swallowing me deeper. After walking for what I thought was an hour I saw a side entrance that was blocked with some wooden planks hastily nailed. That looked promising. With a quick spell I managed to break the planks away without any collateral damage. Inside there was a small room, a storage area. There was some mining gear hanging from improvised hooks, pickaxes and shovels lazily resting on one of the walls and boxes filled with professional explosives, something that made me quite glad that I hadn’t used any fire spells to get rid of the planks blocking the entrance.
On the opposite side of the room, however, there was something covered with a sheet. I pulled it away and found an old rusty mining cart. Inside I discovered what I was looking for. Chunks of rock, somewhere around 8 inches long. I cautiously lit a candle, away from the explosives, and examined the rocks. There were some glittery parts that could be seen under the lights. Silver! It had to be! I thought to myself. I immediately loaded as many rocks as I could in my backpack. It probably was somewhere around 6 pounds of silver ore, something unfortunate for my poor back.
I was about to walk back to Silverscot to get these ores melted and forged into something more useful when I heard something, like a whisper, coming from deeper in the tunnel.
I tried to follow the sound as best as I could. The path kept turning and twisting, the carved stone changed to more natural and sharper shapes. The air was thicker, and the lack of natural breeze was asphyxiating. I don’t know how long must have passed but eventually, I saw a light and an exit. What I saw next rendered me speechless.
A chamber, almost as big as a small village, lit with magical, ethereal fires, like the will-o’-the-wisp the elders used to tell kids about to keep them from going outside in the middle of the night. But that wasn’t the most shocking thing of all. No, the shock came when I noticed what was inhabiting that chamber. Drows. Drows everywhere. A full battalion of armored male and female drows, along with others that looked like scholars or wizards, as well as servants and slaves. I had seen a handful of drows in my life before, counting those that tried to kidnap me, but this was my first time seeing so many together. Was it possible there were so many drows in the world? And, most importantly, what were they doing here?
My shock didn’t last long, though. I soon noticed a couple of drows that were walking in the general direction of the ledge where I was standing. I lied down on the floor and used a spell to change the overall color of my skin and clothes to one closer to the color of the stone.
The two women stopped right below me and started to discuss. One of them seemed quite furious about something. Sadly, I couldn’t understand them. With my father’s resources I had the opportunity to learn Low Drow from books and roaming scholars but the language these two elves were talking wasn’t that. It was most likely High Drow, a language that, from what I have been told, was exclusive to those in a higher hierarchical position and, thus, its knowledge wasn’t as widespread.
Even though it was quite risky, I decided to try something different. Despite the fact that I barely had any training in magic, there were still things I could understand. Like how magic entangled and interacted with the physical world, like millions of arcane threads that run all around us. And sometimes, before casting a spell, I was able to see threads that were a bit loose. I always wondered if, by pulling those threads, I would be able to change some aspects of the spell. I decided this would be a good time as any to give it a try.
Without much hesitation, I grabbed a pinch of soot and salt from my pouch and focused on the spell that would allow me to understand them. As I was focusing, I was able to see the threads, right in front of me. Then I saw it, the loose one. I pulled it.
Suddenly, I was able to understand the two soldiers. It worked! I managed to cast the spell without doing the required hand gestures or chanting the proper incantation. Now I was able to follow the conversation the two drows were having.
“For crying out loud! How long do we have to keep sitting on our asses here? The stench of all those deformed dead bodies that we had to recover earlier are making me sick!” Said one of them.
“Patience, sister, and remember your place. Those drows gained those “deformities” as you call them, through a divine gift. Any drow should feel lucky to receive that gift.”
I could barely see them from my current position, but I was almost certain the first elf had an expression of disgust in her face.
“Maybe for the males, but I am happy with how I look and the power I currently have…” She couldn’t finish her sentence before the second elf slapped her face.
“You would be wise to bite your tongue before I tell one of the priestesses. And believe me, by the time they are done with you, you will wish you had been chosen to grow some extra arms. Now, any signs from those human assassins? Have they killed the target?”
The other woman quickly recovered from the shock and was still standing proud if, maybe, with hidden fury in her.
“No news so far. But it shouldn’t be too difficult. He is young and incompetent with his magic, from what we have gathered. And his companions don’t seem much more threatening. I mean, a halfling, a dwarf and a little human girl? How much damage can they cause?”
“You seem to be forgetting the first rule of the hunt.” Said the second woman as she was lighting a long pipe. “Never underestimate your prey.”
The first elf sighed with exasperation. “Oh please! Don’t tell me you believe those old tales about the Moon Dancer?”
“Old tales or not, he is HER son after all. Believe me, I already made the mistake of not taking his mother seriously. An error that I regret every day.” She explained as she raised her hand to touch the area where I assumed her left eye was. “If I see that boy, I will make sure to make him pay for all her sins.”
As they talked, I grew more curious and tried to get closer. My luck ran out quickly, though. As I moved over the stone edge, some pebbles rolled down the wall that alerted them of my presence.
“Intruders! Kill them, now!”
I stood up and quickly run away. I could hear the soldiers chasing behind me. Every now and then the metallic sound of projectiles hitting on the stone walls echoed in the tunnels. I didn’t bother to look back. I wasn’t the fastest runner back home but at that point, I was running away to save my life, I felt like flying.
I eventually saw the light from the entrance of the mine. Once outside I turned around, I needed to prevent them from following me. I had to stop them.
I grabbed a piece of mica from my pouch and cast the sound burst spell I had used in the past in that very same mine. The translucent bubble of noise floated in the air towards the entrance of the mine as I started to see some dark figures getting closer to it.
“It’s the Moon Dancer! Don’t let him get away!”
But before they could do anything else, the bubble burst, releasing the loudest sound I had ever heard. Like a thunder, the walls and the ground started to rumble and the entrance to the cave collapsed on itself, effectively blocking it.
Once the dust had cleared out, I made sure no enemies were in sight and walked away before they could dig their way out.
Once I was far enough, I sat down and started to plan what to do next. I took the map out and studied it. It was clear that the drows were still looking for me in Mael and I still was far from ready to face them. I had managed to gather the silver but even if I managed to forge something out of it, I still needed to learn how to properly control my magic. As this thought crossed my mind, my eyes landed on the Scarlet Oak Forest, up in the north.
“The firbolgs…” I said to myself.
I hadn’t thought about them in a long time. Long ago, back when I was a young lad, I had traveled along with my father to a merchant post near the forest of Jäthimaesr. One night, I remember clearly, one of the sailors working with my father dared me to go into the forest by myself. Being the easily influenced teen I was back then; I agreed and went into the dense woods.
I don’t know for how long I was lost, it felt like days, but it probably hadn’t been more than a couple of hours. Then they found me. Three meters tall, bodies covered in grey and white fur, bovine noses, and kind expressions. They were a clan of firbolgs, peaceful and wise people that lived for and with nature. They showed me their village and gave me some food. They told me they had sensed something unusual in me. I told them about me, about my mother, about how she died and how I survived my own birth. They called me leanabh sìthiche, child of the fae.
They guided me back to the outpost and I went to see them every night while we were stationed there. They taught me about how to use my power, how to properly listen to the inner voice in my body and how to follow its instructions. For the first time, I was starting to get a grasp on my magic.
I haven’t seen them since then. But I had heard the stories of the Scarlet Oak Forest. A mysterious and magical forest where everybody who dares to go in never comes back. It was in that forest were a legendary and reclusive community of firbolgs lived. They were called the Haerođur. Maybe I could find them. Maybe they could help me learn how to control my magic and give me some ideas on how to use the silver that I had gathered.
The Scarlet Oak Forest was to the north from Mael, far, very far. With luck, there wouldn’t be any drows looking for me there. And maybe I could even go to Whitescar after that and continue with the mission Trygve had given us. Only the former gods knew how long it would take Bingo, Harmand and Veronique to convince the queen of Mael to join us in our quest, might as well save some time by heading there myself.
I ate some more rations and started walking. This would be a long walk.
21st day of Acustula, Restatio
“I remembered what Trygve had said when we first met. About Níðhöggr resting beneath Rhas Gor. That made me wonder if people would one day tell our story, about how we rode through the Sunset Pass. I wondered if there would be any people left to tell the story.”Rhyl’Aun
It had, indeed, been a long and uneventful trip but I had managed to reach a small town close to the Scarlet Oak Forest called Ashbane.
During my journey my rations started to get alarmingly low before I could reach any settlement. At some point I met a strange lady. She made me nervous, but she took me in and made me breakfast. As I gratefully ate the gruel she made, she stared at me with curiosity and asked me:
“Do you come from the land down under?”
“You know…Where the women glow, and the men plunder. Where the drows come from.” She said as she made gestures to point at my skin. I looked down and saw my dark skin. I hadn’t realized that my disguise had vanished. I politely changed the subject. Once done with breakfast I thanked the lady and gave her a couple of coins for her kindness.
I continued walking to the north and the sting of hunger hit me once again. Luckily, I saw a lonely man chopping some wood. He was 6 foot 4” and full of muscles. I approached him.
“Excuse me, I don’t wish to bother you, but I would really appreciate it if you would be so kind as to share some of your bread. I am more than happy to pay in exchange.”
The man didn’t answer. I tried one more time.
“Sorry, do you speak my language?” I asked, confused. The man looked at me. He just smiled and gave me a sandwich. We both sat on the ground and silently ate. While finishing my meal, I heard a rumble from the other side of the mountains. The man stood up and looked at the sky.
“Can’t you hear the thunder?” He asked. “You better run, and you better take some cover. A storm is coming.” I followed his advice and quickly left, not without first thanking him for the meal.
Eventually I, once again, crossed the fortified walls of Featherpost. This time I was hiding for as long as possible with my magic and managed to cross through the guards without them trying to arrest me.
Once on the other side, I undid my journey with Veronique, Harmand, and Bingo. At some point, I saw the lake were barely a month ago we had found Rhas Ardin, where we had been teleported to Asgard and my life had been filled with gods, gargantuan monsters and cosmical conspiracies. I was already starting to forget what my life was before all that.
I went back to Longmill, disguised this time. Everything was the same and all the people we had met were doing just fine. It seemed that now that the threat of the goblins was no more, people were coming back and settling down in the little town. I used this time to buy some rations and continued traveling.
At some point, I saw, from afar, the valley that so long ago I crossed on a caravan and that so fatefully had bound me to Harmand, Veronique and Bingo. I kept thinking about them during all this time, wondering how they were doing. The silence that once was so familiar to me had become very uncomfortable. The absence of their voices, Harmand talking about all his feats and qualities, Bingo trying to explain again and again the rules of that game of cards that he liked so much and that I was completely unable to grasp or Veronique telling me about her favorite recipes, it was all so unnatural now. A pinch of guilt kept bothering my stomach, thinking about how I had left them in such a rush without further explanations. I hoped they were all safe and well.
Soon I reached the Sunset Pass. I stopped there for a while to take it all in. We all have heard of the Sunset Pass, of course, it’s in every single story.
“And through the Sunset Pass they rode…” I remember muttering to myself as all the old stories my dad used to tell me as a kid came back to my mind. The last adventure, a hero’s final quest, the final challenge. Every protagonist eventually traveled there to never return. As I looked at it, I finally understood why.
Far away, in the horizon, on the other side of the pass, there were the Unclaimed Lands, a bare, dark and void of life territory, with nothing to offer, not even light or hope. And right in the middle of all that stood Rhas Ghor, dark and sharp rocks outlined with the last sunrays of the day, like spikes coming out from the back of an ancient creature. I remembered what Trygve had said when we first met. About Níðhöggr resting beneath Rhas Gor. That made me wonder if people would one day tell our story, about how we rode through the Sunset Pass. I wondered if there would be any people left to tell the story.
I eventually reached Ashbane. It was a small, very small village. It had clearly seen better days. But even so, the buildings, rather than made out of wood and other easier materials, they were made out of alabaster. It was clearly poor-quality alabaster, with an obvious yellowish tint, but alabaster, nonetheless.
I quickly and without difficulty found the local tavern, sitting right at the center of the village. The front of the building donned a sign with a badger and a shield and underneath it, one could read “The Badger and the Ash”. My disguise had run out once again and I didn’t have any more energy to cast it again. I decided to try and go inside without a disguise. I was sure that if I laid low and behaved properly, nobody in the tavern would notice my presence.
I sat at a table by the corner and quietly asked the barkeep for a glass of milk. As I waited for my order, I opened the map and studied it. I had to make sure I had everything ready to go to the Scarlet Oak Forest. It would be a dangerous journey, with no guarantee of survival, so I was glad my friends were safe and sound far from here.
“So this is where you were hiding all along!”
This story is part of a Dungeons & Dragons 5e campaign called The Chained God.
You can read the rest of the stories here.