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The Chained God Chapter 6: Shades of Red

21st of Acustula, Restatio (Continuation)

I had just managed to reach the little town of Ashbane after days of traveling. Inside the small local tavern, I sat down to study my map and drink a glass of milk by myself, alone. Or so I thought.

So, what are you doing here?” asked Bingo, seating next to me and watching me with amused curiosity.

I raised my map to cover my face and tried to use a fake voice.

I’m afraid I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m just a lonely traveler, minding my own business.”

Seriously, boy…” started Harmand as he also sat down at my table. “You must be the only elf in miles and still you think you can go unnoticed? Just look around the tavern.

I lowered the map a bit to have a peek around. Indeed, all the other patrons had quietly moved to the corner opposite to me and were intently staring at me. As soon as they realized we were all looking back at them, they pretended to continue with their conversations.

I finally put the map back on the table and greeted Bingo and Harmand. Veronique soon sat down as well, quietly, without paying much attention to me.

I…I am glad to see that the three of you are doing well.

Why did you leave us?”  Asked Bingo out of the blue.

Excuse me?

You left us without a warning and you even took the map with you!” Harmand said.

Oh, well, first of all, I didn’t think about the map until it was too late, it wasn’t my intention to steal it from you or anything. Now, about the part of me leaving you…Well, I know this sounds silly but, I couldn’t avoid thinking that everything that happened in Mael, the assassins, the dark elves, the spider monsters; it was all my fault. I knew somebody was looking for me and still, I joined you on this journey, putting you in danger. It wouldn’t have been that bad if at least I was able to defeat them and keep you safe, but in my current state, I’m not able to keep my magic under control or help in a fight. I thought if I traveled by myself and found a way of managing my powers, I would be in a better position to help you.

The three remained silent for a couple of seconds until Bingo finally talked.

So, your way of helping us was by abandoning us?

. . . Well, now, when you put it that way-look, I have been traveling, looking for something to help me be stronger. And I think I could find this in the Scarlet Oak Forest. That’s where I’m heading next.

To the Scarlet Oak Forest?” Veronique finally talked with a tone of incredulity.

“Yes.”

The enchanted forest where King Arctus the First went to gain the blessing of nature?

Yes.”

The one from which no explorer or adventurer has ever returned, regardless of how capable they were?

. . .Again, if you use that tone, of course, it sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud.

Well, it’s a good thing that we are not letting you go alone, right?” Said Bingo.

I don’t see why we should help him. He abandoned us and now he is going on a suicide mission. And all just because he thinks it can help him.” Veronique pointed. It was very obvious that my actions had left her feeling betrayed.

Look, I know it sounds crazy. But I also know there are firbolgs living in that forest. I think I could also negotiate with them, maybe convince them to join us in our fight against Níðhöggr.

So that’s it. You really expect us to join us in this crazy quest because of a gut feeling and the hope that you will be able to convince a group of firbolgs that nobody has seen in centuries to join us?

I don’t expect you to join me on this. I understand it is a crazy shot. But I will admit that I have missed you and that I would love to join you all again and travel together once more.

I got a question.” Said Harmand after drinking the pint of ale Bingo had ordered for me.” Why is that girl staring at you?” He asked as he pointed to a young red-haired girl that was watching us through the nearest window.

Why don’t we ask her?” Bingo suggested as he stood up and run after her. Harmand followed him and soon I did the same, in fear they would get in trouble.

We left the tavern and managed to catch up with the girl.

Hey, who are you?” Bingo called her.

The girl turned around to face us. She was young, probably the same age as Veronique. Her hair, long and curly and red like maple leaves in autumn. Her face was round with gleeful features, green round eyes, fair skin filled with freckles. She was wearing a simple and worn blue dress and comfortable shoes. She looked at us with an amused expression in her face.

Hello, my name is Ancelle.”

Hi Ancelle, I am Bingo. Bingo the Great! Why were you watching us?” The halfling asked.

Well…Because you are the most interesting thing that has come through this town in…Well, ever! Say, are you roaming travelers by any chance?

You could say that.” I said to her.

And are you strong?

Strong enough, why do you ask?” Veronique had caught up with us and joined the conversation.

Well, the thing is…I’m an actress. Well, an aspiring one. But I’m good, believe me, and I want to travel to the north so I can get a chance to audition for the main play at the Royal Court Theatre. People will see me, I will become famous, they will invite me to the parties at the palace. There I will meet with the prince, our eyes will meet, we will fall in love, get married and I will finally get to live in the Alabaster Castle!

We allowed here 5, 10 seconds of silence so she could catch her breath.

Aha…And you want us to escort you there, right?

Yes! That is correct.

And how are you planning to pay us?

Well, not with money, I don’t have a single coin. At least not for now, not until I become famous. BUT I do have this.

She said as she pulled what looked like a polished pebble.

“Oh, I have one too!” Bingo exclaimed as he pulled out the Asgardian stone.

The girl appeared a bit confused but continued.

That´s a nice rock but I´m sure that is not as special as this one.” She said.

Bingo studied the pebble closely and then the Asgardian rock.

I don´t know Ours come from another world, what can your rock do?

Ancelle’s face changed into a smug expression.

Well, this stone gives you very, very good luck.” She said, proudly.

. . .And that´s it?” Asked Veronique.

You don´t understand. So many good things have happened to me thanks to this stone.” She replied, annoyed.

Well, if that is the case then why don’t you ask that pebble of yours to help you get the role of your dreams.

That’s not how it works!” She explained, growing impatient with Veronique.

Let’s do it!” Said Bingo out of the blue.

Wait, shouldn’t we discuss it first?” Said Veronique.

What is there to discuss? It’s in our way already. We will get a lucky stone and a new traveling companion.” Said Bingo, naively.

I agree that there is nothing to lose with this. Plus, with me by your side, there is nothing to fear!” Added Harmand. “But shouldn’t we first help the elf explore the Scarlet Oak Forest?

Wait, did you say…the Scarlet Oak Forest?” Ancelle asked.

Yes, we are planning on going tomorrow and explore it,” I explained to her. The young girl’s expression change to one of gloom and disappointment.

Oh, then never mind. Nobody comes back from that forest, no matter how strong they are…” She said to us.

Don’t worry! We will come back and look for you once we are done with it.” Bingo promised.

“Sure…IF you make it back…” She muttered, before turning around and walking away.

We looked at each other and headed back to the tavern. We ordered some drinks and asked Wanda, the tavern owner, if we could rent a couple of rooms to spend the night.

“I would rather that you don’t.”

Excuse me?” Veronique said.

Oh, I have no issues with you three but that…Thing shouldn’t stay, and honestly, you shouldn’t be hanging with it either.” She said as she pointed at me with disdain.

“Why do you say that?” Bingo asked.

He is a drow. A monster that brings only death with themselves. Haven’t you heard of what happened in Inkereek three weeks ago?

We have heard stories.” Said Veronique.

What do you mean? We were-agh!” Harmand exclaimed as Veronique kicked him from underneath the table.

Even so, you don’t know him. How can you make such a judgment?

Yeah! Plus, he is not, like, drow, drow. He is just half-drow.

Wanda shrugged her shoulders, indifferent to the comments from my friends.

“Be it as it may, I would rather have you far from this tavern as soon as possible.”

Well, no need to worry about that. We will be leaving as soon as we can.” Veronique replied.

Wanda begrudgingly accepted and let us rent two rooms for one night.

22nd day of Acustula, Restatio

We got up early and we had some cheese and bread for breakfast.  Soon after we packed our things we headed to the south west, to the forest. We followed upstream the nearby river, known as one of the Tears of Sarak.

As we were leaving the town, a young woman called to us. We approached her. She probably wasn’t more than 10 years older than me. She was tall with chestnut hair and blue eyes. Her garments, simple but well cared, didn’t hide the fact that she was with child.

Hello, young lady, how can we help you?” Harmand said.

Sorry for interrupting your journey, but yesterday I overheard your conversation with Ancelle. Are you really going to the Scarlet Oak Forest?

That is correct, yes,” I answered.

Ah, that’s great! My name is Angelica and I was wondering if I could ask a favor from you.

What can we do for you?” Asked Harmand.

Well…Have you heard about an herb called Adgana?”

A healing herb. As a tea, it is said to cure any poison. If concocted and made into a plaster, it is said to speed up the healing process of external wounds.” Veronique quickly explained. Angelica nodded.

Indeed, but there is another quality of this herb that many people don’t remember. It is said that if a pregnant woman were to consume this herb, it is practically guaranteed that the baby would survive the pregnancy. My husband and I…We have tried many times to have a child but for some reason or another, it never worked. We finally were blessed with this opportunity and I don’t want anything to go wrong now. I am desperate now. If you manage to find and bring me this herb, I will give you my family’s most precious heirloom, a shield my late father received in Rhas’Aldhaen.

We looked at Harmand while he passed his hand through his beard, pensive.

That is indeed a tempting offer. And I guess I could use a new shield.” Said the dwarf.

But Harmand, didn’t you already spend all your reward money on that new shield not even two weeks ago?” Bingo commented.

Miss! We would be honored to help you. You have our promise.” Harmand declared rather abruptly.

We said goodbye to Angelica and proceeded with our journey.

As we traveled through the valley, we distracted ourselves with trivial conversations and the landscape. It was almost as if I had never left. I could tell they were still a bit hurt from me leaving. I could especially feel that the way Veronique interacted with me was a bit distant, compared to what I was used to in the past. Every now and then I would distractedly touch my mother’s silver brooch attached to my ruana, worried. I really hoped my theory was correct.

23rd day of Acustula, Restatio

It took us a day, but we eventually reached the edge of the Scarlet Oak Forest.

We stood there, in awe. The trees stood tall, proud and majestic. Most of them would have been around 30 meters tall. The leaves, of a beautiful scarlet red, gently moved with the wind. Their trunks, thicker than two adult men, showed no sign of deterioration. These trees were, indeed, timeless beings that could have easily been there since the beginning of time. We entered the forest with the feeling that we were trespassing a sacred place that should remain undisturbed.

We managed to walk in a straight line thanks to Veronique’s keen sense of direction. It was no wonder people would get lost here. It was rows and rows of trees, with no distinctive features. The treetops covered most of the sky, preventing any traveler to use the sun or the start to guide them. At some point Bingo sent his raven to scout while he was carried by Harmand, but still nothing

We were about to give up when a strange fog started to surround us. At first, we didn’t give it much thought. We assumed we were getting close to the lake of Ikh-Sarak and that the fog was caused by the humidity in that area. But then something even stranger happened.

The birds. They were gone. The sound of birds chirping in the forest had just vanished. Not only the birds, but everything was quiet. Unnaturally silent.

I don´t like this…” Before I could continue with my thoughts, the sound of some large winds flopping in the air startled us. We looked up and the figure of an elder sparrow glided towards a high branch. The animal elegantly perched itself on the branch and observed us. We looked at the bird, mesmerized by its mystical aura. It didn’t take us long, however, to realize that the animal wasn’t looking at us, but rather at something behind us.

The fours of us slowly turned around to see something slowly approaching us. From among the bushes, a huge, dark figure emerged. Standing roughly two and a half meters tall on four huge legs, a muscular body covered in what appeared to be thick black fur mixed with feathers of the same color. At first glance one would have thought it was a bear but a quick look to its face would have proved you wrong. Instead of the ferocious maw of a bear, there was a beak, and instead of the hunter eyes of a mammal a set of round owl-like eyes were staring at us.

This would have been enough to shock anybody, but something more was going on. The face of the beast seemed to be partially disfigured by patches of unhealthy red pustules that also spread to certain areas of its body where the fur and feather had shed. Somehow that animal was sick, it was in pain and, most importantly, it was very, very angry.

Before the beast could charge towards us Harmand leaped at it with his hammer and hit it on the side of its head. The beast remained unfazed as it tried to cleave the dwarf with its sharp claws. Luckily for him, Bingo reacted quickly and threw a dagger to the beast’s limp, giving Harmand enough room to move away. With both our friends at a safe distance, Veronique and I cast a series of offensive spells, a mixture of fire and psychic waves, that managed to knock out the beast. It was clear that, whatever disease it was affecting the beast, had debilitated the animal, for it didn’t take us long to defeat it. However, before we could deliver the final blow, thorns started to suddenly sprout from the ground, binding us into place, unable to move.

Stop!” A loud and deep voice, like a mountain, cried from afar. A huge figure, something over 3 meters tall, leaped in the air and stood in our way. In front of us appeared a what looked like a giant man, with long, wild hair, a mixture of blonde and green. His clothes, similar to those worn by hermits or rangers who spend their lifetime in the wilderness. His skin was pale, except for certain rosy areas in the face, especially around his nose, which had a similar shape to a cow’s one.

I need to heal this animal. Stop attacking it!” He ordered. We quickly put our weapons away and showed him that we meant no harm.

The giant man turned around and cast some ancient magic which caused a light, like a moonbeam, to shine over the animal.

“I can’t believe it…” I remember saying to myself. “There ARE firbolgs in these woods.

You know this guy?” Bingo asked.

I…” I wasn’t able to finish my sentence when the firbolg punched the ground in anger.

She is dead…” He turned around to us. “Why did you have to attack it?” He asked, his words filled with rage.

Hey, it attacked us first. Or at least it was clear that it was going to.

Enough! Now, explain the reason for your presence in this forest or I will exterminate you.

Veronique, Harmand and Bingo looked at me, waiting for me to explain why we were there.

Well, the truth is…How can I put this? Long ago I met a group of firbolgs in the forest of Jäthimaesr. They were wise people who taught me much. Now, I find myself in need of help and I was hoping that your people could help me.

Yeah, plus, we are on an important quest to stop a giant snake from destroying the world and becoming an evil god, and we were hoping that you and your people joined us in our fight” Bingo added.

The firbolg didn’t pay much attention to the halfling. He was mostly staring at me and, every now and then, at Veronique.

You´ve met the cousins in the west?” He asked. I nodded, rather nervous.

With a wave of his massive hand, he cast away the thorns and we were able to move once again.

I have no time for this. There is something going on in this forest. Something is corrupting the animals, like the noble beast you just executed. I have been trying to tend to these animals but the most I was able to do is to ease their pain and hive them a peaceful death.

I need to find the source of this illness before it keeps spreading further and yet I’m being distracted by trespassers like you.”

It was clear that the firbolg was concerned about this problem and that he wouldn’t be willing to help until it had been sorted out.

Let us help you.

What?” Said both the firbolg and Veronique at the same time.

“Let us help you, and in exchange, all I ask from you is your wisdom.

The firbolg looked at me, clearly weighing the idea in his mind.

Do as you please. Just make sure you don’t slow me down.

I was about to thank him when Veronique pulled me from my arm.

Are you an idiot? We can’t keep losing time with nonsense like this. We need to prepare ourselves to stop Níðhöggr!” She whispered to me.

I know, I know. But remember what Trygve said. It is good for us to learn as much as we can about how Níðhöggr spreads its influence in this world. Whatever is corrupting these animals, it is bound to be related to it and if we help this firbolg with his problem, we might gather some valuable information.

The young lass thought about it for a second.

I just hope you know what you are doing.” I nodded at her and turned back at the firbolg who was now busy burying the dead beast while Bingo and Harmand watched.

Then it is settled, we will help you find the source of this corruption. My name is Rhyl’Aun and these are Bingo, Harmand, and Veronique. And you are…?

The firbolg finished burying the animal and looked at me.

The Hæroður have no need for names. But if you must, you can call me Rauđur.” He said. He then whistled and the elder sparrow from before came back to perch on his arm. “And this is my companion, Bird.”

That is… A great name! Should we start our journey, then?

Yes, but first I have to ask you something. How are you so comfortable traveling with her?” He said, pointing at Veronique.

Veronique? She is our friend; she hasn’t done anything wrong. I trust her

Rauđur leaned down and sniffed Veronique.

She is clearly tainted. Tainted with something I’ve never seen before,

Clearly you’ve never heard about personal space before, either.” She muttered.

After that, we followed Rauđur to the west, where he suspected we could find the source of the disease that was affecting all the animals.

Because of the trees covering everything, it was difficult to keep track of time, but it eventually became darker and darker, which meant that night had come. We settled down in a safe area, according to Rauđur.

The firbolg was quite adamant about starting a fire so we ate our dinner in the dark.

Rauđur, I was meaning to ask you. Why are you traveling all alone? It seems rather unusual compared to the firbolgs from Jäthimaesr. I remember them living in clans. They all seemed very close, to the point that they seemed like one large family.” I asked the firbolg.

The cousins in the west and the Haerođur are quite different. We, the people from the Scarlet Oak Forest, are very isolated individuals. Once the children are able to fend for themselves, they will bid their farewells to their mothers and travel these forests. We are bound, not by social links, but by our oath to protect these woods.

That doesn’t mean that we never see each other. The Hæroður do meet every 5-10 years, just to see that we are all doing well and that the forest is safe. Oh, and the whole clan tends to meet every 50 years for the “Great Orgy” from where a new generation of Haerođur will spawn.

Every 50 years, you say?” Harmand commented. “And when is the next one taking place?

In 22 years, if my memory doesn’t fail me.

Ah, well. I can wait.

I wanted to ask you as well. I know the matters of the people outside of these woods are alien to me but, I don’t think I have ever heard of humans, dwarves, halflings and dark elves traveling together. Is this a common thing?

Ah, well-

Yes, it is very common. It’s your very standard exploration group.

Indeed!

The firbolg looked at us, unsure if this was true.

Ah…This must be what outsiders call humor.” He said in a rather monotone voice.

Once we finished our dinner, we tried to get as comfortable as possible. Bingo went to sleep on a lower branch on a nearby tree, Harmand sat against another tree and entertained himself by polishing his shield. Veronique wrapped herself in some sheets but I noticed her shivering underneath them, probably due to the lack of a campfire. I looked for a nearby rock and used a simple spell to make it emanate a pleasant warmth and gave it to her.

I then walked up to Rauđur who seemed lost in his thoughts, with his eyes fixed into the ground.

Is everything ok?

He slowly shook his head.

Whatever is affecting the forest, it concerns me. We have managed to protect it for thousands of moons but now, there is something that we can’t even see, hurting it, twisting the innocent creatures that live here. I worry for this land.” He then raised his eyes and looked. “You said you wanted to learn from us. What is it that you seek?

I sat on the ground in front of him with my legs crossed and aware of how small I was compared to him.

I am not even sure if you or your people can really help me.

My father told me that on the day I was born, my mother got hurt. A lethal wound that also threatened to kill me. Something happened, however. Someone saved me so I could be born. That who saved me gave up all her power to keep me alive, sacrificing herself. Since then her power has been mixed with my blood. This power, fae in nature, is the reason I can use magic. However, I wasn’t able to control it and most people thought of me of a threat, an unpredictable source of danger. It was then when I met your cousins in the west. They seemed quite familiar with this power and so they helped me get some control over it, for which I am eternally grateful.

But, despite all their best efforts, I still don’t have full control. This power is chaotic at times and I fear I might hurt somebody, like my friends. I wish to become better, to control it and protect those that are dear to me. I was hoping that your people could help me learn more about this.”

Rauđur stroke his beard, pensive, as if he was carefully choosing his next words.

That what you seek lays within you already. Like the hunter with their bow or the warrior with their sword, it is all in the confidence in your heart. The confidence in your body striking the right movement. You think the hunter worries about what is the best way to control an arrow in the air? No, they pull the string, as a natural movement of their arm, and release it knowing that it will hit its target. That same confidence is what you must have in yourself and in your power.

But how can I have confidence in me when all I have seen is failure?

All that is worthwhile comes with effort. Be patient and listen to what the world has to tell you.”

This conversation vaguely reminded me of what the mysterious woman had told me when we met in Longmill. It didn’t give me a straight answer, but it felt somewhat comforting. I then reached my bag and showed him the silver ores that I had gathered a couple of weeks ago.

I know you might not know anything about this, but I recently gathered these materials hoping I could make something to help me in this quest of mine. Do you think this is possible?

The firbolg extended his hand and grabbed the piece of silver ore, which looked like a pea between his fingers. He examined it closely under the light of the stars and then handed it back to me.

The Hæroður do not deal with metals, but I do sense some potential in them, and I believe that in the hands of the right artisan you might be able to achieve something rather… special.

Thank you, Rauđur. And I give you my word, we will help you find the source of the corruption affecting your forest.

The firbolg then showed a gentle smile in his face. I think it was the first time I had seen him smile in that whole day.

Thank you.

I don’t remember much of what happened afterward, for soon after that I fell into a deep sleep and my memories on that night were rather foggy when I woke up.

24th day of Acustula, Xenephias

We all woke up very refreshed as if we had the best sleep we’ve had in years. We gathered our things and continued to travel with Rauđur westward with no much news. As we progressed, we encountered more and more corrupted animals. Following his instructions, we managed to stop them and prevent them from getting hurt.

Whatever was affecting these creatures wasn’t natural at all.

25th day of Acustula, Militantio

After traveling for hours, we started to notice that the same red pustules that affected the animals in the forest were also showing on the trees and bushes around the area.

We must be getting closer.” Said Rauđur.

We soon reached a small hill. We climbed it and, once on top of it, we saw the most horrendous and nightmarish view I had ever encountered in my life. In front of us there was a large opening with no trees or bushes. Instead, the field was covered from one side to another with the corpses of all sorts of animals. Flies were flying everywhere, circling around the clouds of steam from the decomposition. The stench of death and blood filled my nose and it took all my willpower to not throw up.

All five of us were frozen in place, in shock. There was no noise, no sounds of birds or wind, just the buzzing of the flies everywhere.

Suddenly, something started to move from underneath the piles of dead bodies. As the corpses were pushed away, a giant figure stood up. Tall as Rauđur, it clearly was a firbolg, or at least it used to be. The flesh, rotten, green, bloated, had fallen off from some areas, leaving the bone uncovered. Pus and blood constantly flowing from every hole, every wound and tear in its skin. All muscles had long gone, and his limbs were skeletal. His face, a sight from the realm of the dead, was dry and dark. His sockets, now empty, released a cloud of black smoke. In his right hand, the undead held a staff made of dark wood, like pieces of dead trees attached together with old ropes.

It can’t be…” Said Rauđur, with fear in his voice. “…Kreeh-Mon.”

Who?” Harmand asked.

Kreeh-Mon. He was our leader, but that was 700 years ago.

The undead giant noticed our presence and, with a hollow but loud roar, charged towards us.

Rauđur immediately reacted and charged towards Kreeh-Mon. As he was running towards our enemy, Rauđur’s body started to get covered in brown fur as his body transformed into a giant bear that proceeded to maul Kreeh-Mon with his large claws.

Did you know he could do that?” Bingo asked.

I’m not an expert on firbolgs!” I replied.

Well, you sure seem to know more about them than us,” Harmand added.

Can we just leave the chatting for later and go and help him?” Veronique pointed out.

We run towards the two firbolgs fighting. Harmand, with surprising speed despite the piles of dead bodies and his armor, managed to flank Kreeh-on. The other three, however, stayed behind to assist them from afar.

Despite being dead, our foe managed to keep up with both Rauđur and Harmand and with a wide swing of his staff pushed them away.

Kreeh-Mon, why are you doing this?!” Asked Rauđur, still in the shape of a bear. The undead firbolg lifted his staff and pointed at Veronique.

Vengeance!” Howled the monster. As if awaken by those words, the bodies of two nearby bears stood up and tried to attack us. They, somehow, flanked Veronique, who was putting all her efforts into keeping them away. The three of us fought them for as long as we could but, whenever an undead bear fell, Kreeh-Mon would just raise them again.

Meanwhile, Rauđur and Harmand were pummelling Kreeh-Mon with all they got. Eventually, Rauđur, with a swift move of his right claw, managed to partially severe his opponent’s left arm. Kreeh-Mon staggered for a second and looked at his wound with confusion. Then he raised his staff once again and a dark mist started to flow towards the undead bear, that fell inert once again on the ground. The mist returned to the giant and we saw how his injury unnaturally healed.

Kreeh-Mon, this must end now!” Rauđur screamed as he leaped on him and, in a frenzy, cleaved every inch of the undead giant’s body. Skin, flesh and dark blood went everywhere until Kreeh-Mon was unable to move again.

Rauđur turned back into his firbolg form and knelled to the remains of Kreeh-Mon’s body. He stayed there, silent, for a couple of minutes. We all approached him to try and comfort him.

Why did he want to kill you?” He asked, looking at Veronique.

I don’t know… I really don’t know. I wish I knew.” She said, quietly.

The firbolg sighed deeply before standing up again.

It doesn’t matter, whatever tainted him is different from the taint that surrounds you. Guilty or not, you helped me end this, as you promised. I just have one more favor to ask from you. Help me give these animals a proper sending.

We agreed and helped him a pile of bodies in one place. Then, with his permission, Veronique and I lit a fire to burn all the bodies. Rauđur, in a language I didn’t know, started what looked like a prayer. I stood beside him, in silence. I didn’t say anything, but I noticed his shoulders were shaking. He was crying, for his heart was torn by the tragedy that had taken place today.

After that, Bingo and Harmand looked around for the Adgana herb that we had promised to Angelica. There were some bushes in the edge of the field, enough for her and all four of us. They then proceed to examine Kreeh-Mon’s body, which had melted into a foul-smelly goo that started to seep into the soil. There, however, remained two things. The staff, that somehow had shrunk in size so a normal human could easily carry it, and a pendant, ornated with serpentine figures and a large aquamarine crystal in the center. Harmand grabbed them and examined for any evil traces in it. He reached the conclusion that the staff, although filled with some dark and eldritch energy, didn’t seem to pose a threat to its wielder. The pendant, on the other hand…

There is something familiar in it. Something that we have encountered before. I think this pendant has something to do with Níðhöggr.” He explained.

Well, I will keep it safe for now. Maybe we can sell it!” Bingo said.

I don’t think selling it would be the right thing to do.” Veronique pointed. “Better give it to me. I may know of somebody who might be able to tell us more about it.” She said, extending her hand. Bingo, rather reserved, move the pendant away from Veronique and into his pouch.

Nah, I will keep an eye on it for the time being. You can keep the staff. Unless Rhyl’Aun wants it.

That’s ok, I think you will give it a better use than me,” I said to Veronique, who held the staff very naturally. It seemed to fit her.

27th day of Acustula, Rias

After two days of walking, we finally managed to reach the edge of the forest. As we finally stood outside of the shades of the trees and felt the sunrays warming our skin, we turned around to see Rauđur, who appeared reluctant to leave the forest.

There is still much to do here. I need to inform the rest of my people about what happened here and make sure that the woods heal.

Well, but before you leave.” Bingo aid, taking out the Asgardian rock and showing it to the firbolg. “Any chances of you joining us in the future. Something big is going to happen soon, and it will be good to count on a big fellow like you!

The firbolg smiled, a very gentle and warm smile.

When the time comes, call us and we will answer.” He looked at each of us one more time. “May the wind be kind and your hunt bountiful.

Until the day we see each other again, Rauđur.” I said to him.

The gentle giant turned around and walked back into the forest. His steps thundered through the ground until he vanished among the trees, like a dream.

We started our journey back to Ashbane, rather thoughtful the four of us, with the fresh memory of our new friend, the kind protector of the forest, in our minds.

28th day of Acustula, Restatio

We arrived back to Ashbane with the first lights of the day. A bit tired, we went to see Angelica and gave her the promised herb. In exchange she gave us the shield she promised. It had a beautiful design, clearly elven aesthetic. She explained to us that the shield belonged to the High Elves of Rhas’Aldhaen and that her father, Byleth, had saved the life of some elven soldiers and was given the shield as a reward. Harmand sensed there was some magic in it and decided to keep it, since he was the only one capable of giving it good use.

We then looked for Ancelle, as promised.

You are back, you survived!” She said, rather surprised when she saw us.

All in a day’s work. And talking about work, are you still interested in hiring us as bodyguards for your journey?

You bet ya! Are you good fighters, though?

The best!

We are invincible

I mean…We try our best.

Talk for yourself!”

Well, that’s good enough for me. Plus, you survived the Scarlet Oak Forest, so you can’t be that bad. Here is your first payment.” The young lass then tossed with her thumb the, allegedly, lucky pebble to Bingo who caught in the air quite dexterously. “I will sort everything at home. Just let me know when you are ready.

We then went back to the local tavern and, against the comments from Wanda, we rented two rooms again for the night. Veronique and I were freshening up in our room when we heard a loud cry from next door. We run to the other room and found Bingo and Harmand, panicking.

Get it off me! Get it off me!” Harmand screamed.

What the hell is going on?!” I asked.

Harmand put on the pendant we found and now he cannot take it off!

“And every time I try to grab it, it goes deeper into my skin. Look at it!” Indeed, the pendant was, somehow, sinking into the dwarf’s flesh.

Why the hell did you put it on if you knew it was evil?!

I wanted to see if I was right!

This continued for a good 5 to 10 minutes of screaming and panicking until Harmand finally calmed down. Then, we observed that the pendant would pop out of the flesh once left undisturbed and, every attempt of removing it from any of us, would make it sink again into Harmand’s body.

Well, I guess you will live with that from now on. Not your worst fashion choice.” Said Veronique trying to cheer him up by teasing him.

Harmand wasn’t very pleased with the situation but agreed there wasn’t much that we could do. After all, we just ended up with a, possibly evil, trinket that very likely was linked to the giant serpent whose whole goal was to kill us and destroy our world, now fused to one of our friends.

What could possibly go wrong?

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