Feathers & Glass

the Collector
into the lair

Week 3, Day 3

Glamour welcomes Marjan a little less warmly this time, most likely because she’s busy trying to make Nilrae feel bad for making a witch play babysitter. Nilrae doesn’t seem to notice, or at least react. The Nebayan does thank Glamour graciously and, later, hesitantly asks if Glamour has any advice on identifying Journey’s grimoire, since she assumes the Collector would have several, the book had been taken before they met, and Nilrae’s not very good at reading magical texts to identify spells.

The witch tells her that if the grimoire hasn’t been missing for long, she shouldn’t have much trouble finding it but supposes she could help her more directly and disappears downstairs again. She returns with a small figurine of a hedgehog with a broken ear, smaller than a finger joint and carved from something blue and irridescent. She places the toy on Journey’s forehead for a moment. She gives Nilrae a pouch and directs her to take the figure, warning her that it will radiate with Journey’s magic for some time and that the sorceress will be incredibly upset if it is lost.

Before they leave, Glamour gives them a wrapped bundle and instructs them to trade it to the Collector for a skull that can be found in the Room of Thought. The one she wants will be painted gray to look like a model skull but will in fact be a real human’s head. The witch shoes them out of the house, giving Marjan’s shoulder a covert squeeze as she ushers Nilrae past the tables and shelves.

Nilrae is anxious about the figurine. She’s tied the pouches loops to her belt and shoved the pouch into a pocket, but has already checked on it several times. Marjan crits her lore check to determine what the hedgehog is made of and recognizes the material as a chunk of steatite, its strange color coming from an enchantment that allows it to be incredibly absorptive. The hedgehog shape has nothing essential to do with its function. More likely it was once used by a small child who might like the shape. Magical teachers will often use the stones for purposes like Glamour has—to capture and study the feeling of magic without using the actual spell. It’s very useful for teaching magic that is illegal or incredibly harmful.

It takes about an hour to reach the weather vane Glamour indicated. It points north northeast. As they head toward the area, one of the scouts interrupts, telling Marjan that they are going the wrong way, that last night they went west. Marjan says she can’t explain it but that they must follow the weather vane regardless. It’s harder to follow a straight line once they reach the trees that care little for their path. Somehow, despite keeping an eye out for gaps in the trees that could be your destination, the two adventurers quite literally stumble into the circle Glamour mentioned.

The snow is perfectly smooth and level despite the thick, old branches growing toward the center of the circle far above. The branches are hung wit strange ornaments. Bits of glass, rock, bone, and other things of little value. More oddities cling to the trunks themselves, nestled in nooks or hammered on.

”Supposed to be west,” a crow grumbles.

Three crows remain: Cap, one of the scouts, and one of the crows who had flown into the glowlight and still wants to be near Marjan more than it anything else. They and the humans follow Glamour’s instructions and begin to weave in and out of the circle.

The thrill of seeking a Collector’s attention quickly grows boring as they keep their eyes peeled for anything that could be interesting enough to be an invitation. They make lap after lap, though they only ever follow one set of their old tracks.

When Marjan passes from behind a tree that drips with strings of firecrackers, a glimmer of something finally catches her eye just on the edges of her vision. Looking over, she sees a magnificent crow, its rich, black feathers glimmering wit a sheen of purple, green, and blue to rival the best kept raven, and a small splotch of white plumage on its chest is equally opalescent. The white feathers part to sow a large gem that shines and shifts like fire, and tangled around one foot is an amulet bearing a large drop of godsblood.

The crow perches on a low branch some distance away. It says her name in human tongue, and the sound seems like it comes from right next to her instead of yards away. It sounds warm and familiar. The others seem oblivious to anything but their circle, except for the frightened crow on her shoulder who comes to attention, focusing on something else.

”What frightens you, crow?”
”Not scared. Hungry. See big juicy frog. Pop.”
Cap cranes his neck around. “No see. Where?”
”There. Big frog.”
”But snow.”
”But there!”

Marjan encourages the crow to follow the frog she cannot see and she goes after her own invitation. The colorful crow waits for her to approach before gracefully gliding away to draw out a game of chase.

Nothing seems amiss as she follows after the bird. She chases it through the woods, and suddenly the next step feels like you’ve missed one on a flight of stairs. Her foot lands hard on stone instead of snow and earth. With a blink, she is in near darkness. The invitation is nowhere to be seen, but her real crow swoops at her, squawking and shaking for comfort. The “room” she’s in is smallish and almost musty smelling. There is no apparent source of light, but her eyes are able to adjust well enough to see. Behind her, a hallway continues until it becomes too dark to perceive. The floor is messy with melting snow, mud, and dirt. In front of her, the mess of earth eventually clears, replaced with the mess of Man.

Marjan comforts her crow and as she hears footsteps approach. She sees a bit of movement through the stacks and shelves of things. It seems like a person and moves with what a crow might consider a wobbly walk. She calls out a greeting.

”Hello hel-lo! Have you come to buy? Patrons, patrons, when I have not yet sorted through my newest supply? Usually I have more time,” the voice frets. “How can I be of service?”
The figure moves into view. It is a…man, mostly. He has a preternaturally sallow, sickly greenish-gray complexion and a matted nest of stringy black hair that makes Tiska look like a well-groomed socialite. His nose seems to have been broken many times and never set properly, so it is utterly un-uniform and has difficulty holding up the cracked spectacles that make his eyes look huge, fractal, and altogether insectile. He limps on widely bowed legs. The pant of one leg shines darkly and wetly as if it might be actively bleeding freely. He is scarred, wiry, and a little jittery. Marjan’s father hid her from the likes of such men when they lived in Glass, scaring her into malleability with tales of drug use and cannibalism-induced insanity.
He smiles at her expectantly. Maybe it is supposed to be a salesman’s smile. The few teeth he has are broken and dark. Something pale and wormlike moves behind them. Marjan is unsure it is a tongue.

Marjan is taken aback by him, but asks if she can browse his wares. She says she is interested in trading, for magic, possibly. Grimoires.

The man tells her he can give her power and disappears, eventually returning to hold out a tarnished silver tray to her with a flourish. The tray bears a pair of fingerless leather gloves.

Marjan looks at them a little skeptically. “Power?”
“Peeled from the hands of a corpse,” he boasts. “See how worn the knuckles are? Worn from punching walls and raging impotent against the world. Someone died in these gloves, alone and ineffectual. Someone emptied herself out into them. But you can have them. You can wear them to find the purpose she died without fulfilling. Wear them to find the power to complete it. You’ll tear down the walls that trapped her. Fearless, you may stride through the world, riding high on the strength she died without. You may tear down anyone who throws at you tiny barbs and petty injuries. In return, you must change the world. Take her power to take their power. Be what she could not. Exceed her. Do not let her down.”
“It is not much of a price. Unless you fail.” He laughs.
”I’m…not sure that that is the power that I seek. Is there anything…more bookish? Something spiritual? I want access to the spirit world.”
He frisbees the metal tray and its gloves down the hall. They clatter and ricoche t and cause other things to tumble, setting FrightCrow off again. The main doesn’t seem to notice. “Of course. So foolish. One moment.”

Cap arrives after his own failed hunt and the man returns with the tray—now sporting a flattened edge from the roughness of its impact and what at first glance appears to be a burned stick. The man’s description of it is equally grim, and Marjan sends him away for the third time asking for something that would not change her appearance nor hurt her. He throws his tray again and stalks off.

The Nebayan finally arrives with a curse and a stumble, looking around both amazed and a little distressed. ”This is even worse than your basement.”
”That is uncalled for.”
Nilrae looks at a seemingly empty jar, frosted with…age or something. “I should have asked Glamour for help that wouldn’t require touching.”

Nilrae asks if the final crow will have the stamina to keep circling by itself and says she was starting to flag after the first hour. Marjan’s surprised by the time delay, but the scout crow quickly follows, grumbling misanthropically when Nilrae tries to talk to it.

The man returns and Nilrae quickly hides her reaction to his appearance. He ignores her entirely and bears an envelope, sealed with wax, that will allow its bearer to introduce themselves to a beast in the copper wastes who will protect them for gold, and kill them for their bones if not provided consistent compensation. Marjan is, for some reason, interested. Nilrae looks like she’s having difficulties not resorting to violence. Marjan asks for more writing and the man finally looks at Nilrae, who asks naively for grimoires. When he finally looks at her, he asks if she’s a soldier, and Marjan names her a pirate. The man says that it’s dangerous business and he knows of just the gift and zooms off, this time taking the tray with him.

”I know we can’t kill him but can we…?” She makes a gesture of cracking him over the head, complete with a pop noise. “Uh, help him take a nap? He seems like a pretty old dude.”

Marjan won’t let her. She suggests Nilrae search the room while the man is gone, but they’ll have to wait until the next time. He arrives with the letter of introduction from before, a red ribbon, and a vial of amber liquid.

He gestures to the ribbon first. “For someone who has fought and maybe taken lives. Who has seen horrors or is about to. I have nothing to protect you, but I do have this. Peace of mind for your loved ones, perhaps. Small, and fraying now at the edges. Tie this around any delicate pulsepoint and you will always return home. Walking or crawling. Dragging fragments of bone across the bottom of the sea. Wriggling as pieces smaller than the worms that ride you. You will return. You will always find your way home, no matter what you have to go through to find it again. Even if there is no time for healing when you get there. But you will be there. You will be home.”
Nilrae shivers. “If I can find my spook’s grimoire, I think I’ll be fine.”
He frowns, the eye movement looking wild under his magnified glasses. “But if you cannot find the grimoire, this will be here.”

The vial he bears will cause sleep to flee, replacing it with visions of fluorescent lights and blurred shapes in white coats, the sound of rattling stainless steel and whispers.

Nilrae looks like she’s considering what would happen if she barged past the man and began hunting for the grimoire. Marjan says she’d like to help look for the book while she thinks about what she’d like.

”I have plenty more wares. I can find you many things. I have this satchel of things I have not yet returned with. And this other that I have not yet discovered what they will do.”
”Well, perhaps I will take a look at those while the pirate searches.”
He frowns. “My things are much more interesting than books. I’ve made them so much better than what they were. I’ve spent my whole life on it. Spilled blood and flesh for these things. Not the others.”

Marjan has no idea how he would react if she were to tell him why they were interested in a grimoire. Instead, she asks about the Room of Thought. He tells her that it is deeper inside and holds bones. ”Hard to get into. I have some things from there. Treasures. Very hard to get.”

He will not lead them to the room, as he prefers to keep visitors in the entryway. ”They get too ambitious if they leave here. They don’t want to talk to me anymore. I will bring you something from the Room of Thought.” He zooms off.

Nilrae’s paranoia is coming to a head. ”Why is it hard for the Collector to get into his own stuff? If this is a lair that’s magic enough for him to control who comes in when and to make it too dangerous to kill him?”
”You could ask him when he gets back. After you’re done searching through his junk.” Marjan flinches after she says ‘junk,’ like she’s afraid he might hear.

With a bit of bickering, the two sneak down the hall, going to great lengths to avoid touching anything. They’ve gone some distance, and can see a much larger room widen at the end of the hallway when they hear the man’s oncoming return. They cannot make it back to where they began before he arrives, so they decide to hide. The man returns and passes them, holding what appears to be a strange, mildewed quartz on his tray with the other baubles that were not rejected.

They wait for him to disappear behind the racks and piles before sneaking deeper into the lair. Just as they begin to hear the main cavern, they hear an almost forlorn, ”Travelers?” They do not hear the sounds of being hunted for.

Marjan's Legwork

Week 3, Day 2

After trying to relax with her crows, Marjan looks around the rest of the estate for the rooms the White Ones used. She figures most of them bunked together in two rooms, but there’s one room that likely only had one or two White One occupants and one room that only had a single occupant: Kaj. She mostly only finds extra clothes in the first three rooms. There are very few personal effects in those rooms, and what she does find are small and well hidden. She finds a bit of blood in Kaj’s room, and one of the White One’s cloaks flung over his chair. In the third room, she discovers a thin log, well hidden, that was likely written by Yusra.

Marjan takes it to Glamour to do something about how angry and betrayed she feels. Glamour asks what Marjan thinks of the White Ones and agrees that she is disgusted by their condition as well. She’s upset that she cannot tell which were once witches in life and which were once sorceresses, but tells Marjan all had magic purged from them. Marjan asks if they’re a post-Break creation, but Glamour doesn’t believe so.

”Some cultures tell their children stories of witches who will come eat them if they are bad. As I learned, I was told stories of bright creatures who would come and steal my magic and face and body." She pauses, watching her spoon slowly push circles through her drink. "Some of the events before the World Break would make better sense with the nectar.”
”Could you tell me?”
She makes a meaningless gesture with her spoon. “People acting out of character and doing something to destabilize the region. Usually assassinations. Sometimes something more subtle. They would manage to flee from the authority no matter how incapable of that they should have been. We suspected magical duplication but could find absolutely no evidence of it.”
“Ah.” Frowning, “What led to the catacylsm? Were these cultists responsible?”
“If the cultists were responsible, they would have managed to defeat two sixteen year olds, a comatose mageling, and a frontier witch, don’t you think?”

Glamour changes the subject to what Marjan thinks of the log’s contents and their human emotions. She points out that the one who wrote the log might have kept it in hopes of using it against Kaj and their treatment when they returned home. Glamour heads over to her bookshelf and Marjan asks what Glamour will do with Kaj, and how the Syndic will react. Glamour admits that she is not sure if she will tell the Syndic yet and returns to the table with some blank books. She figures out which is the closest to the log and stacks them and adds an ink well on top. Marjan says she trusts Glamour but would like to know why she wouldn’t tell the Syndic.

She doesn’t answer for a moment as she settles back in her seat and drums her fingers on the books. “If there is a chance that even one of these bodies could have once been a sister to me, I want their remains dealt with respectfully, not being shipped to become a playing of the Syndic’s corpse molesters. More importantly, I worry that she will not believe that I am uncompromised, and I do not want to die.” Glamour sighs. “But I suppose I already made my decision to tell her when I told the town to be on the lookout for anyone behaving unlike themselves. Word will inevitably get back to the new governor, who will report it because they will be new and eager to please her.”

They speak a bit about who the new governor might be and Marjan asks if Glamour has ever heard anything about a Collector. She says she wants to do a favor for Nilrae since she helped and is having a rough time herself with the manor and her sorceress’s curse. Glamour’s interested when she hears something of theirs was taken and wants to know if it was one of Nilrae’s things or Journey’s. She says that a Nebayan could have lost any number of weird or even mundane things to a Collector, but a foreign sorceress seeking one out is likely looking for a lost grimoire, enchanted item, or something incredibly sentimental to her. Marjan asks if a spook would really lose her grimoire that easily.

Glamour shrugs. “The Collector doesn’t lumber out at midnight to steal things like in the stories. It is a crafty thing. And it could have been taken from her in some other way first, by force or a similar curse to what plagues her now. Some sorcerers are strange about fighting over grimoires and stealing them from ‘lesser’ mages.”

Marjan asks if the Collector would have more grimoires. Glamour grins and tells her to pick her items carefully. Visitors are allowed to take three items for free, and any extra items must be bartered for, but that the cost is usually higher than most expect. Glamour tells her to not bring anything into the Collector’s lair that she would not be willing to give up now, because sometimes greed will get people to give up things too dear to them. She also warns her to not try to pay for anything with coin. Money is meaningless to it, so unless a specific coin with sentimental value is being traded, the Collector will see it as trading time, or a full life. Glamour says it has always ended badly.

Marjan asks what would happen if the Collector died, since Glamour says it’s not allowed. “Everything it had Collected would be lost forever. And so would you.” She winks. “At least that’s what the stories they tell young witches say.” She says the Collector can be found following the way a specific weather vane is pointing until a near perfect circle of trees is found. The two of them are to weave in and out of the trees until they spot something worth following away from the circle. That will be their invitation into the Collector’s lair. Glamour does not think they will be ignored.

When asked if there’s anyone who could watch the sorceress while they’re gone, Glamour smiles sweetly and suggests the shaking coward the Osadan brought back but eventually relents as long as Marjan first tells Nilrae that she’ll have to use Spoof to get a rise out of her. She gives Marjan the quick rundown on Spoof and Tiska’s journey thus far and admits that something bad is in Spoof’s future and that it mostly depends on if the captain deals with him before one of the Syndic’s people.

With everything sorted, Marjan’s ready to leave. Glamour offers to let her stay here, but Marjan wants to return home with her crows, so Glamour gives her the old log. “If you’re feeling charitable toward or paranoid about your enemies, you can have your crows set this out on your wall where they made their escape. Make sure it hangs over the edge behind the property; I added my own ward so that only those you explicitly invite, your crows, my owls, and myself can pass through.”

As a last question, Marjan asks if shamans could be turned into White Ones. Glamour doesn’t believe so because the relationship to magic is so different. If shamans are hated, she thinks there would be either a different ritual or they would simply be killed.

Marjan finds Nilrae at the inn near the big fire. Next to her is a smaller girl with the animalistic features Marjan’s heard of. Nilrae is relaxed, a blanket around her shoulders, boots off, face flushed, hair damp, mug in her hands. Her state hasn’t prevented her from bringing her sword and shield downstairs with her. Tiska is in a similar state. They say they’ve just had an extended snowball fight that Tiska won—because, Nilrae says, Rukha told them to stop and Tiska didn’t listen. Marjan’s awkwardness sets in and she ignores the discussion of her potentially joining and immediately tells her Glamour will watch the sorceress. They speak a little about what to expect and Marjan hesitantly agrees to have dinner with them after Nilrae says they’ll be eating in their rooms. Tiska talks about the crows she grew up around and talks too much about the Sadrasi stuff for Nilrae’s comfort. Marjan offers her—and Cap’s—services spying for compensation, particularly help getting to Bells.

Tiska says that she understands animals worse than before, but she’s not sure if it’s because the Dryad is gone or because she’s left her forest. She said she was only able to understand simple concepts until she was able to talk to Stormfeet, whom she calls the Caged Spirit Horse. She says Stormfeet does not want more witches to take his children. Nilrae wants to help him but doubts her father is strong enough to tell the Syndic to shop elsewhere. ”Then the Nebayan must kill the witches to save the spirit horse.” Nilrae is not interested in that path.

Perhaps trying to distract her, Marjan asks about Tiska’s boat ride. The two discover that Tiska actually rode two, as the first one she was on was attacked, and she sneaked aboard the attacking ship to finish her journey to Bells. She’s unable to answer whether either of them were pirates or officials and her understanding of what was on the boats is…frustrating. After additional probing, she says that the first boat had sails, but the second was made of metal. That second would be a pre-World Break ship, and only the Syndic and high ranking Nebayans would have them. She doesn’t know if the second ship took prisoners or goods, just that it left the ship floating in the water. She hid in the empty halls and isn’t willing to continue answering questions while she’s hungry.

Marjan accepts Nilrae’s offer to drive the carriage back to the governor’s manor for her. They talk about Nilrae’s needed efforts to convince Tiska to be less honest about her Sadrasi hunt and they decide that it would likely be better for Tiska’s nerves and everyone’s safety if Tiska didn’t come help with the Collector if they cannot kill it and Tiska hates magic so much.

At home, Marjan has Cap place the White One’s log on the top of the wall as instructed and sends two crows to scout the area Glamour told her to follow to reach the Collector. During the night her crows awake and alert her to a single approaching White One. The figure moves with painful slowness, likely more motivated by injury than stealth. Darkness mars the White One’s midsection, and Marjan assumes this is the White Knight. The Knight eventually disappears behind the wall and there is a long moment where nothing happens but what is perhaps the quiet sound of boots on the wall. The book moves—in the wrong direction—and there’s a thud, and when Cap checks, the Knight has fallen on her back and seems too injured and terrified to move quickly. She eventually rightens herself and tries again, this time successfully getting the log by herself before Cap can help her, though startling him and Marjan in the process. The White Knight attempts to hurry off, obviously expecting an attack. Her back is dark in places too, likely from blood, though the fall should not have caused it and she did not have those wounds when she left.

The scouts report back in the morning. During the night, they saw a figure make circles in the trees, carrying a handful of objects. They said the figure was scary, with too-big eyes, a wiggly nose, and a wobbly walk. The figure sat, ate, and walked with the items before disappearing without any tracks. After the disappearance, they saw nothing of note. They are rewarded with treats for their hard work and strut pridefully among their fellow crows for a job well done.

the White Ones
Marjan's beginnings

It has been over a week since your father’s latest disappearance. While a part of you has perhaps begun to wonder if there is something truly wrong with this time compared to his other wanderings, you have to admit that you have grown accustomed to Kaj’s company, and enjoying it in the more public parts of the manor. Early in the morning, though, he hid himself away as from your tower you spied the figure of your town’s witch ascending the hill to your home, barely after sunrise. Glamour had a task for you: nurse a sleeping stranger at the inn. You were given no real time frame, just a vague answer of until the stranger awoke or her companion took over for you.

That night, your legs are sore from the two trips back and forth you made at breakfast and dinner. Perhaps it would be best to use Kaj’s horse until your father can bring his, even if you want this secret for yourself. Kaj draws you a warm bath to soothe your muscles and you fall asleep quickly and mostly content.

You dream of creaking sounds. You think maybe the dream is of your manor, mostly reclaimed from the ruins after which your town is named, sinking yet another story past the ground, so that only the very tops and the tower show above the earth the way it sometimes looks when the snow gets too deep. You dream of swinging, creaking rope, pulling tighter and tighter, hung from a tree and stretched from your bones.

You dream of dust—the same dust that fills your old, decrepit house and the older, decrepiter toys your father fills it with. You feel like you will die in that dust, and in your dream, you feel like it’s drowning you. You struggle to breathe as the liquid dust pours over your face and dries down into something tight and powdery and ancient and horrible. A shroud of dust. A dusty death mask in this house of your father’s you swore you’d leave.

There are white faces, blank and pure. They peel away the dust and peel away your face with it. You try to scream but they have stolen your voice as well. You fear that they will steal the entirety of you just as you feared you would lose yourself to this place.

You awake to sunlight dancing through the dust motes at the room at the top of the tower. There is no death mask of dust. There are no blank white faces. Your skin is damp with sweat and chilled where the winter air can touch it. You are tucked into the covers like a child, or a doll. Kaj is not in the bed with you. Is this the room you fell asleep in last night?

The Great Retcon of 2017
Rundown and Rambles

A lot of play time got wiped out from March, April, and May, and now the entire site looks significantly more barren. You can find some of the old site contents here.

The story from that retcon was, essentially, I got into a fight with Glamour. She wrecked my shit and sent us back into the past using power from the truestone we found. Chance may or may not have known this was coming, but it seems to me like she and Journey may have had a deal. We found Birdbrains, an orphan girl, by following Chance’s songbird in a city 70 years before our time—50 before the World Break would occur. Birdbrains was eventually revealed to be the child who would grow up to be the Syndic of Glass, and Journey seemed intent on replacing her as that so that Birdbrains—and likely Journey’s dead sister—could have a chance at more normal and happier lives, likely ones less or not at all effected by the World Break.

During this, we were being stalked by the Black Fang, which is both an assassin cult and the eponymous spirit who led them. Journey was captured and managed to trap the spirit within her own body. It really sucked.

There were other plot threads and arcs and characters we were also exploring, but we decided to rewind back to the return trip to Eaves, before anything ever happened, so that we could refocus the game on the place and culture we specifically set out to explore when we crafted our cast of characters. It was interesting to watch the characters react to the cultural and temporal shock of their new predicament, but the characters were hugely shaped by their specific setting, and pulling them away from that cut out a lot of their motivations and sense of completeness.

We also found that the narrative device of time travel created a very specific tone that, while very interesting and surprisingly complex, was frankly a bit too much of a downer for our primary form of escapism. Sending our main characters back 70 years alone meant that any adult they spoke to would likely be dead by the time the gang made it back to their own time, even before the World Break that would likely wipe out any children and scenery they would pass in their travels. The setting took on a tone of nihilism and near-dread as the main characters realized and actively talked about how every new person and their worries wouldn’t matter for the gang, and then profound sadness as they began to care for these new people anyway, despite knowing what was in store for them. I would love to see this thoroughly explored in text, but submerging yourself in it for RP was a little too much by the end of May.

11 the World Below

I take Tiska over to see Naryu, who’s on a bedroll and under a blanket. Tiska complains about the smell of death and poison and chastises Nebayans for not being good fixers. I tell her a little of what happened and ask how much she knows about magic that isn’t the dryad’s. She says she’s only pretending to be an Osadan Nebayan. I tell her about the strange symbols and Tiska says she saw them past the inn. Tiska says that Naryu is still poisoned, but she’s got some magic that will fix it. She says she’ll carry Naryu back to town if I swear to help kill Sadrasi. I remind her that my telling her she should become an Osadan retainer was a pretty serious offer to help kill Sadrasi. Tiska says she’s asking again because since I protected Spoof, she hasn’t seen any help from the Sadrasi yet. She wants me to swear, but I can’t tell if she’s trying to get something awful out of it like getting me to unknowingly swear the fealty of all my potential future children that I don’t want or take the help so far I start another blood war. I make a very specific promise to help her kill Gavril, the Sadrasi who hired Spoof’s men, and any who get in our way to kill those.

While we wait for the guys to come back, I ask her what she wants to do after she’s done killing Sadrasi. She’s not sure and doesn’t want to think that far ahead. When I ask if she’d like to live with another Dryad once she’s gotten her revenge, she tells me that her Dryad was the last one, and that Tiska is the last of her kind as well. I regret standing between her and Spoof. I squeeze her hand and reaffirm my intentions to help her out.

The guys eventually return. Both of them look calmer, though Prask and Tiska start ribbing each other almost immediately. I take Tiska with me to go get Spoof’s brother. Tiska is surprised by the brutality that Spoof’s men were met with. “Not even this one had planned to do this. Not so fun after they die.” She’s careful to not step on any of the glyphs and thinks they’re evil, but doesn’t know anything about them. She won’t go more than half way down the Great Hall because the air smells like poison and doesn’t think we should bury any of the bodies that might have been contaminated with this shit. Before we go back to look for oil, I want to search better for extra statue bits. Tiska complains the whole time that I should check the room with all the rats instead of ”stupid, evil stinky old beds.”

”You’re gonna have to get my spook to use her hot voice if you really want me to crawl through an active rats’ nest that’s as big as that one probably is.”
Tiska snorts. “This one wonders why Osadan Nebayan’s spook pretends to be a dragon.”
I laugh. Tiska looks upset. “What is funny? Tiska did not laugh when she met a dragon.”
“Her hot voice isn’t pretending to be a dragon. It’s the fire of desire, not the real stuff.” There’s extra laughter at how ridiculous my answer was.
“This one thinks she does not know Nilrae long enough to have this talk.” She looks embarrassed.
”Aw, sorry, kiddo.”
She adds, in her sing-song voice, “This one also thinks Osadan Nebayan is very strange for wanting that kind of fire in rat’s nest. Tiska just wants dinner and to go ‘Boo!’ to the little rats. But this one does not know enough about stupid Nebayans to judge.”

I tell her I’ll let her search the nest then. After a bit of searching, we eventually find a crevasse hidden behind some stuff. Tiska says she’ll let me go first. The narrow, zigzagging tunnel threatens to squeeze the breath out of us as it descends deeper into the earth. Near the end, I can hear the tinkle of water. Eventually, we pop out into a small cavern, filled with incredibly old bedrolls which aren’t as disgusting as the ones up above were, even before the crazy happened. A deep pool of water, about 10 feet wide, takes up the southern half of the cavern. Tall wooden boards, old and rotted, lean against the west wall, across from where we squeezed out.

“This one wonders how cave people got their wooden things through twisty tunnel.” We figure it out by moving the wooden boards to expose a wider tunnel. Searching the beds, we also find a brass box the size of a fist with a tarnished clasp shaped like a snake. We’re both interested in what’s going on this far below the surface and continue down the new tunnel.
Loot: brass box

The tunnel gets wider as it slopes downward at a steeper angle. The orangish rock is giving way to a paler green. Tiska sniffs at the air periodically. She grips her spear tighter the further we go. The tunnel starts to turn and flatten out. We can see distant light up ahead, but not from any torch or lantern. It’s a blue that reminds me of the water off the coast of Salt. Tiska wonders if it’s light bugs very deep below the earth and I tell her that my mother says there are fish that light up very deep in the sea.

We sneak towards the light – as we get closer, we realize the light is coming from above the tunnel, as the the tunnel intersects with a large cavern. The ceiling seems a long way above us, and looks like the inside of one of the geodes my father kept from the mine for little Lanochka. I’m not sure where the light is coming from, but it’s being reflected by a ceiling of blue crystals. The tunnel drops sharply, intersecting with the cavern about 15 meters above the floor. A broken stone road runs through tall fungal growths and vegetation that looks like it should be at the bottom of the sea.

Tiska quickly gets distracted by a strange creature moving through the vegetation. On the opposite side of the cavern, I hear footsteps of an approaching party. Tiska eventually loses interest in the thing she can’t hunt from this high up and watches the eastern gateway with interest. Under the archway, a group of six figures, built heavily, marches into the cavern in loose formation. They wear armor of uneven and malformed condition, like it’s creators could not keep their thoughts on finishing it. What spots are still untarnished glimmer bronze under the crystalline sky. They march lock-step in a trianglular formation. At its point marches one with a large tome, bound in metal plates, hanging from it’s belt. They march with strange staves that open out to one end, held mostly horizontally as they walk.

The longer we watch them, the more I realize their lockstep formation march is flawed. They walk like tired soldiers, long without rest. One or two limp with injuries and none of them seem unscathed. Tiska hisses quietly as they pass along the road beneath us. The five that march behind the leader wear heavy packs that bulge with uneven packing. One wears a helmet that has broken to reveal strange features. Gaunt cheeks and dark, mottled skin, with a flat nose. What little I can make out of the eyes marks them as deeply sunken. They are unlike any people I’ve ever seen.

The one with the broken helmet starts to lag behind about halfway through the tunnel. The rest of the group doesn’t stop until, when the gap between them has grown to maybe 10 meters, and they’ve nearly cleared the cavern, the one with the broken helmet collapses face first on the road. The group stops, and parts so that the one in the lead can walk between the ranks, and they reverse formation. Halfway to the collapsed figure, they pause – this time suddenly and not in time with one another. The one in front raises a hand. We start to hear a rumbling approaching from the eastern tunnel. A sense of dread starts to creep into my awareness. A low noise sounds from Tiska’s throat. She slides on her belly a bit further back in the tunnel and I follow suit.

The five figures still standing raise their staves toward the archway as the rumbling gets louder and for the second time tonight, my ears are suddenly assaulted by loud, explosive rapports. Smoke and fire belch from their weapons. The smoke is acrid and black. I hear an insectile hiss and chittering from down the tunnel. Chitinous impacts. The figure on the floor starts to twitch and fidget unnaturally. With the first explosion, Tiska retreats quickly back up the tunnel, but I hold my ground, at least poised to scurry back.

The chittering gets louder, and the figures pause to rearm their weapons. Nearly opaque whitish ooze starts to puddle under the figure on the floor. One of the others notices it, points it out. Panic starts to set in amongst the group. There is movement in the puddle. The group tries to put more distance between themselves and the fallen figure as the puddle grows, and starts to flow slowly in the direction of the steadily retreating survivors. I see long, spindly chitinous legs start to thrust out of the eastern archway, anchoring into stone and dirt to pull whatever they’re connected to behind.

Tiska starts screaming for her stupid Nebayan to move as the chittering reaches a thunderous crescendo and is met by more explosions. I oblige her and we’re both struggling for breath by the time we make it to the room with the beds. Tiska is panicked and twitching. I am, too, but trying to channel it into productivity by replacing the boards in the hopes that whatever’s down there will be fooled by it. I grab her hand and tug her back up to the others. We’re both too scared and run ragged to talk.

Spoof’s bundled up and Prask is prowling when we get back. He says we’ve been gone for hours and neither he nor the Marshfolk could find us. We’re all scared once I fill them in; Spoof especially since Tiska’s acting like him. We’re scared to stay in the caves but scared for Naryu’s health if we leave. I want Chance, and tell Prask I’d rather go chase down a spookfight than ever see any of the stuff down below ever again. I decide that I’m not going to let the Marshfolk potentially get attacked without my being here tonight, Prask decides Naryu can’t travel yet and that he won’t leave her, Spoof says he won’t leave alone, and Tiska says she’s not worse than a wounded bunny, so I guess we’re all staying the night in this god awful cave. I take Tiska to go meet the Marshfolk and clean up.

The Speaker says that long ago is people traded with some people who loved underground. They acted strange, but not like bad automatons like the ones we saw. He’s nice to and interested in Tiska, who is completely uninterested in him. He seems more relaxed during this conversation, but I can’t figure out why. Maybe he’s just glad to know I didn’t get killed somewhere in the caves. When I ask about it, he says that perhaps he’s growing used to being a Speaker who speaks and that our interactions give him no reason to not chill out. He talks to Tiska for a bit and I tell him that she helped with Naryu’s poison problem, which makes me unsure what the black stuff was.

He asks if he can speak with me for a moment and leads me back to the pillar, and Tiska follows, though she’s reluctant to pass the glowing statue. The Speaker says he returned to the room with the statue to clean up the mess that came from Naryu but found that it had vanished. I warn Tiska about what the pillar does and she looks at me curiously, then gasps when she sees it. She takes a couple steps back, mouth still agape. The Speaker watches her reaction, pausing in his story. She covers her eyes quickly and turns away from the pillar, retreating back down the the tunnel.

I tell the Speaker I don’t know why she ran off. ”She knows about some types of magic and has strong feelings about even more.” I excuse myself to chase after her to make sure she’s okay. She’s back near the stream, pacing and mumbling questions and answers to herself quickly, and not entirely in Nethonese. She turns at the sound of my voice, eyes still wide.

“This one should not have seen that.”
”Why not?”
“No, no, no. This one is not ready, did not learn enough.”
She opens her mouth to speak but quickly changes her mind, she shakes her head, “Nothing, Nebayan. This one did not learn it from the Dryad.”
”Who did you learn it from?”
A realization comes over her, her eyes go wide. “That is what Osadan Nebayan made sick Naryu touch?!”
”Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying this whole time. It negates magic when you touch it.”
She starts pacing again, hands on her face. “No, no, no, no. This one is not ready for this.”
She speaks slowly. “This one needs to know if any other of Nilrae’s friends touched it.”
“My spook did. I was going to, but it’s been busy in these caves.”
“No! Osadan Nebayan cannot touch it. No, no, no, no.” She shakes her head, anxious, “What about spook friend? Was spook hurt like Naryu? Blood?”

Tiska’s visibly stressed. She says she needs to be there when Naryu wakes up, but refuses to tell me why. She says I need to trust her, that the pillar isn’t for Nebayans but isn’t evil. She leaves to go take care of Naryu and casually reveals that the Speaker is actually a spirit. I head back to him. He’s worried about Tiska, then for Naryu as he repeats his findings and shows me the spots on the ground where the black stuff fell and left trails in the dust leading to the pillar.

I feel guilty and reckless and while I’m glad the Speaker’s reiterating his promise to not allow his people near the thing, I tell him I’d be tempted to slice my palm and slap it on the pillar in solidarity if Spoof and Prask could get both of us to Eaves. The Speaker obviously doesn’t think that’s a good idea. I’m out of useful things to do for now. “Well, I’m gonna get back to the others and figure out if I’m gonna fester quietly about this or try to pick at something for the rest of the night. Good night, Speaker. Don’t hesitate to distract me with anything you need.”

My companions are obviously fighting, and I hear them well before I see them. Prask and Tiska have their weapons out. Tiska’s crouched defensively before Naryu. Spoof is trying to talk them into putting their weapons away, but it’s only further agitating Tiska. Prask says Tiska was trying to hold Naryu hostage. Tiska says Prask wouldn’t let her near Naryu. Prask says he didn’t want her near her because he didn’t know why she was interested and didn’t know where I was, since I’m the only one with ‘control over her.’ I remind him that I don’t have control over her and simply approach her like she’s not a rabid animal. Prask doesn’t deny that he thinks of Tiska that way and instead says that I don’t know what it was like before I arrived. They continue to squabble. I’m infinitely grateful I have plenty of sisters who can carry on my family line without my direct participation.

“This one thinks maybe angry Nebayan man should be left alone..” Quickly, “Outside the cave, maybe?” She addresses the last to me, hopefully.
”See?! This is what I’m talking about!”
“So she’s got an abrasive personality. So does everyone in this cave except Spoof.”

Prask sighs and says he’s just worried about Naryu, whom he’s known since childhood. I tell him a bit about the rock and Tiska’s knowledge of it and successfully draw the full attention of his agitation. He doesn’t like that I risked Naryu since they have a witch even though we didn’t think Naryu would survive the journey back to Eaves. Tiska doesn’t want to say more about the pillar. She wants me to trust her. I give it to her, for now, and ask Prask if there’s any family members left in town that I’ll have some ‘splainin to do to once we get back. Apparently it’s just her and her dad. Tiska says she doesn’t think Naryu will die, and I remind Prask that that’s better than what we thought before Naryu touched the rock. He switches the topic to watches.

Spoof goes first. Prask gives him his sidearm in case anything happens. I get the sense he’s not really talking about outside threats.

It’s colder when Prask wakes me up for the third shift. I ask if there’s any change with Naryu and he gestures with his eyes to indicate that Tiska’s still awake, staring at Naryu with her arms around her knees, shivering. “I already offered her a blanket or two so don’t put that on me.” I kind of want to anyway, just because he said it before I could think to question him in the first place. He heads to his bedroll to try to get warm. Tiska lets me approach and wrap one of my already warm blankets around her shoulders. At the very end of my shift, I notice a small fleck of snow start to fall. I head over to ask Tiska if she’s good to do her watch or needs me to stay up. She says I look tired, and when I remind her I’m not the one pulling an all nighter, she shakes her head. “This one has a lot to remember.” She regretfully confesses, “Tiska was not the best student for the Dryad.”

10 Tiska and the Bunny
Nilrae feels like a dick a lot

Week 2, Day 6

Spoof fixes Naryu’s bandages again when I bring her back. He and Prask are worried about all of this. I ask if either of them are good hunters, and both are more confident about their chances than I am, but Spoof’s afraid to go out and be left alone in the caves, so I go out by myself. Prask warns me to be careful and Spoof looks guilty about it as I go.

Outside, I find two sets of tracks. One set is smaller, cloven hoofed, and probably belongs to one of the strange bipedal deer that live on the Bells island. The other set is significantly larger and clawed, much like a bear. I know the bipedal deer are pretty good eating, but I want to ask why the bear’s being a dick, so I follow those tracks instead. The tracks lead northeast and eventually run parallel to the road Chance probably took north once she left our camp. It never gets too close to it. It heads into thicker brush, and the cold’s getting worse, and the dampness isn’t doing me any favors either.

After another half hour I start to see the outline of a rundown inn, surrounded by a high wall that’s crumbled in places. In the greenish fog, the place looks like something out of one of my father’s ghost stories, and the bear’s tracks lead straight toward a wide break in the southern wall. I sneak along to follow the tracks to the breach in the wall. I can smell smoke, though there’s no sign of fire. The courtyard is a mess of broken pavers and crates. I try to look around for signs of a bear or a shaman—more tracks, fetishes, maybe a letter that says ‘here’s why I hate Spoof’s dudes.’

Instead I hear footsteps sliding closer behind me like I’ve been spotted. I throw myself over the wall just as a bone spearhead drives itself into the stone that had moments before been opposite my chest. A thin figure bears fangs at me that glint in the Ghostlight. Bright green eyes glare at me from an angular face marked by tattoos. Long, furred ears like a fox’s poke out from under long, braided hair adorned by leaves. Thin, wiry limbs are wrapped in scraps of leather forming makeshift bracers and greaves. It leaps from where it struck from into better position, keeping it’s long spear pointed toward me, and angling itself for a thrust through the breached wall.

I have no idea if she’s is a type of Blight or a shamanic fuckup, though it lacks the chaos of a Blight. I think it’s a she.

I hold my sword defensively and ask her what’s up with her and the bear in a brilliant attempt at deescalation. Her expression is pretty frightening. Teeth are bared, and her eyes are narrow and watching my every move. Everyone one of her movements is efficient and practiced and aimed to take advantage of everything her fast, slight build has to offer. If I weren’t her quarry, I get the feeling my mother would approve. Not attacking doesn’t seem to have garnered me any favors.

She attacks again. I make as if I want to grab her spear, and she yanks back to try to keep her weapon from my obviously more muscular frame, but I just let go and send her landing on her ass with a grunt and a hiss. She tries to whip her spear at me, but I get it under my foot. I show her my sword point again and remind her that I asked nicely.

She grimaces and responds with a low noise in her throat like a cornered animal. When she opens her fanged mouth to speak, her voice is strange and harsh, “This one stops the fighting…” she whines through bared fangs. She eyes my blade with disgust, trying to keep her face as far away as possible. I tell her to toss away her spear and the dagger in her belt. “Get the deathmetal away and these things will be done.” An agitated whine punctuates her sentence. She tries to squirm further from the tip of my blade and I move it back a few inches.

She exhales, breathing hard. She tosses the dagger and spear to the side, though not as far as you’d like. She seems hesitant to put too much movement into the act, lest it bring her closer to the sword.
”What’s up with you and the bear?”
She whines, “This one is the bear, stupid Nebayan…”

She says she’s attacking Spoof’s men because they attacked and killed her mistress, the last Dryad in Nebay. They took other things, too, because of ”Nebayan businessss.” She doesn’t know which Nebayan hired them, but says they had a ring from him. I pull the nasty one out of my pocket and finally get around to wiping all the gunk and gore off of it—or at least enough to see that it’s a Sadrasi ring. She grabs for it when she sees it but I keep her back.

”Stupid name.”
”Stupid family. Are you going to go after them?”
“This one wants everry siiingle stupid Sadrasi dead,” she says in a playfully cruel sing-song.
“What d’ya know, bonding. I want to kill the heir at least.”
She narrows her eyes at you, shakes her head slightly. “This one does not believe Neyban lies.”
“The Sadrasi heir stole the spirit of one of my ancestors. I’m going to kill him and make sure his spirit never gets to be useful enough to go to that fucking ghostwall or give a grandson directions to the nearest outhouse. Like I said before, all of those mercenaries except one are dead. They all died real bad. In a lot of pain. The leader went nuts—started shoving obsidian shards in his body that had been part of a fetish for an ancient devil spirit and started eating this fleshy blob that had grown around a body fueling a golem. Ugly stuff. I crushed his skull. He had this ring on him. You can have it, but I’d rather take it to a witch first to make sure the magic on it is benign.”
Her ears flatten as you describe the cave. She perks up near the end, snapping, “Witch can’t have the ring. This one needs it.”
“How about I let the witch look, let her pop off the spell if it’s bad, and give it to you?”

She doesn’t want me to hand over the ring in case the witch ruins the magic on it, but she thinks the magic is what allows the murderers on the fancy boats and into the city. I let her know that it’s not magic that does that, it’s the family name. She growls at me. I tell her she can take the ring and try to pass herself off as a Sadrasi, which will last about as long as it takes to ask a real Sadras why they have a fox girl with them, or she could say she was an Osadan retainer, which people would be more likely to believe, especially if I was with her. She says I talk too much, but she approves of my plan under a thick layer of suspicion. She says her name is Tiska and I offer to help her up.

Before she can accept it, the ground begins to shake. Debris from the western and eastern sides of the inn tumbles south past us as though struck violently by something. Moments later, a thunderous boom breaks the night silence. It sounds like it originated far to the north. Tiska scurries away to get her weapons. The northern horizon is alight with pastel ribbons. The sky around them bursts with a chain of explosions. The sky behind the lights seems blacker than the nighttime clouds. The sound from the explosions reaches us one of after another after the bursts start to fade. A keening howl follows the booms. My head hurts, Tiska grabs at hers and yelps. The lights and explosions continue to flash against the black patch of night far north from the inn. Tiska looks as though she’s going to bolt south until she remembers the ring and runs up to me, but I’m more than happy to put more distance between us and that spookfight. We run.

We get some distance between us, but we never stop feeling the pain in our heads that peaks with the howls. The light show illuminates the night enough for us to make out the top of the Giant’s Table above the treeline. The light show and the noise continues for another few minutes as we run south when suddenly, the northern horizon flares a blinding white. Everything around us seems silent as the bright flash starts to fade and one of the loudest noises I’ve ever heard rushes in after it. Like thunder if we were cursed to press our ears against the clouds during a storm. The sky goes dark and my ears ring, trying to adjust to the normal nighttime sounds. Tiska’s eyes are wide and she’s jumping at every branch broken underfoot and leaf disturbed.

We run for a bit longer before I ask what she plans to do about Spoof. She wants to kill him, too. I like Spoof well enough, but if he’s working with Sadrasi to kill Dryads, I’m not going to take her vengeance from her. I tell her to let me get Spoof away from my wounded in case he wants to take a hostage and she warns me not to hide him—she knows about Osadan Nebayans now too. I tell her I don’t intend to, but that I might try to talk her out of killing him if he’s too much of a wounded bunny about it. She says she likes the taste of wounded bunnies.

Tiska waits out of sight. I find the gang huddled near the back of the cave entrance and ask Spoof to come out and say Prask can come too. They’re freaked out about the spook fight but say nothing bad happened to them or the Marshfolk. I try to get them both to come outside to see the sky. They come, but Prask doesn’t want to get too far from the cave entrance—or Naryu. But that’s fine, as long as Spoof’s far from my Iuzhenk.

We talk about the spook fight for a bit and my hopes that one of the participants is Chance fighting either my evil spirit or whoever made the blobthing. I ask what Spoof’s band’s last job was. He says they were heading up to the town north of the inn (the one I dreamed of) to pick up a package for their employer. He confirms the employer was a Sadrasi, one they’ve worked a few jobs for, but no one as important as Gavril himself. He doesn’t know what they were picking up or where specifically they’d grab it—their captain’s friend was the one with the package—but assures me it was nothing illegal. He says his other job for the Sadrasi include guarding warehouses by the docks and charting the wilds near Glass for land good for mines and farms. I ask if he ran into any dryads out there and he looks surprised, asks why I’m asking.

“Just wondering. Also wondering if you were asked to kill her or if you all did it for free.”
His face goes pale and his bites his lip, “Look, it wasn’t like that!”
”What was it like?”
“It-it was an accident. She spooked us. There was a lot of confusion. Some ‘o the guys drew steel cause that’s-that’s what they were drilled to do…” He avoids my eyes. I notice a figure prowling back and forth in the brush a few meters behind him. Prask watches the two of us with hard face. When I originally popped the question he looked surprised, but now he’s just watching how things play out.
“Our world is broken. Our environment is fucked beyond belief and we’re getting back worse and worse pieces in little fits and starts and you killed one of the few beings standing between us and starvation and death because she spooked you? What did she do that was worth the life of one of the few dryads we have left?”
He looks down and begins to sob softly, awkwardly. He stumbles over words, “I-I didn’t hurt her. I was – I’m always too scared to when shit starts…you saw that! I didn’t want her to get hurt…”

It’s utterly pathetic. I look up at the broken sky for a moment. “Did you hear that, Tiska? Can I have my little rabbit?”

Prask looks at me curiously. Spoof looks confused, until he hears the twigs snapping and turns to see the bear emerge from bushes. Prask sucks air in, but seems like he was expecting it. Spoof tries to scramble away but trips over his own feet. Tiska approaches slowly, heavy paws thudding into the soft dirt. Prask reaches for his sword slowly. “Nilrae?”

Spoof blabbers about wishing he could’ve helped her, that he never agreed with what they did, that she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, etc. etc. He frantically crab-crawls backwards through the mud towards the cave, blubbering and crying.

I tell Prask about finding Tiska and talking to her and my soft spot for Spoof and ask again for her to not kill him. Tiska roars at Spoof and Prask scrambles to get his shield off his back and himself between her and Spoof. The bear growls angrily and paws at the dirt. She looks at me, her only response to my words. She starts to close the gap between her and Prask, still growling. Prask draws his sword and flashes me an angry look. Spoof is babbling for him to get out of the way, its a fuckin’ bear, you don’t sword fight bears, etc.

Tiska dispels her shapeshift a few feet away from Prask. She spits on the ground at his feet. “This one wants her bunny.” Her words come out slow and measured. I can hear the emotions behind them that she’s forcing down.

Prask looks surprised by her transformation but still pissed off that he’s in this situation. He tells her she won’t touch him and glares at me. “You were going to let her murder him? Right in front of you? He helped Naryu!”

Tiska’s growling. She looks at me with an expression that asks why I haven’t removed this angry man from between her and her prey. Spoof shakes on the floor a few feet behind Prask. His pants are wet and he’s covered in mud. I tell Prask I know what Spoof did for Naryu and that’s why I don’t want him dead, but I’m not gonna deny Tiska’s right to revenge. Though I remind her I think she should agree to abandon the revenge. Tiska ignores Spoof.

“If this one were not pretending to be an Osadan Nebayan, little bunnyyy.” The sing-song creeps back into her voice. I take it to mean that she’s not gonna kill him. Prask is disgusted with us and lets us know we’re fucked up. I tell him that that’s why governors leave folks like him in charge of towns and send people like me out to do the dirtiest jobs. I try to comfort Spoof, but I roll exactly one point over my influence skill. Spoof ‘accepts’ my comfort but is obviously still afraid. Prask tells me to leave him alone, to keep an eye on my ‘pet’ and takes Spoof off to get him cleaned up.
9 Back to the Caves
or "Hey! It's Nilrae!"

The journey is much the same as it was before, simply colder and wetter. Naryu does an admirable job of keeping her liquor in, but the three of us are hurting by the time the sun starts to come up behind the clouds. Obscured, it does little to warm us up, but it gives us light to see by. Prask says little during the journey, and Naryu talks a lot but doesn’t say much of anything, either.

Week 2, Day 6

As we get near the Giant’s Table, we stumble over a body. He’s a middle aged man, his guts strewn about the grass. There are five others spread over the scene. They’ve got the scraps of armor and some poorly maintained weapons. There are large rips in their flesh like they were torn to shreds.

Naryu steps off the trail and into a bush and pukes.
”Tsk. Didn’t even make it to the blob. How’re you gonna win the hand of Sleeping Beauty like that?”
”Fuck you.”
Nilrae kneels to examine the body, face painted with fake confusion. “I thought you wanted my spook?”

I fail my hard first aid check but a perception check suggests they’re from the city. They’re an odd mix of cultures and ages, ranging from late teens to early 40s. Not a single one has a coin purse. The wounds are made from claw marks, about a foot wide from 1st to 4th. I don’t think White Eye had any use for robbing these people. I think it’s the shamanic bear. Prask is doubtful about whether the shamanic bear is a shaman or a product of one. Naryu thinks I’m making the bear up to freak her out. I think I have better things to make up to freak her out when we’re already heading to kill the blob soul of a blight golem in the cave where a devil has been released to wreak havoc on a lost tribe of people.

I tell them we need to go check on the Marshfolk, muttering half-unintelligibly about how I’m gonna turn into a fuckin smileodon to show these fuckin local yokels what a shamanic creature is. Show them what it’s like to have Nilrae godsdamned Osada-Nebay trying to freak them out. This is before we switch to RQ2 and I stop being an animist.

We get to the Marshfolk and I call out “Hey, it’s Nilrae!” in a very loud and abrupt voice so they don’t call me Deathless one in front of the cuties. The Speaker’s surprised but catches himself before he fucks it up. Prask and Naryu probably think I’m totally deranged.

The Speaker tells me that the monster left after we did, and that new people moved into the caverns during the storm. He’s worried for Naiv but glad I came back because one of the men fell into the pool. The Marshfolk have him, but they don’t know what to do with him. I agree to talk to him. They have him tied up in the old Rock Lizard Nest with two guards. He looks utterly terrified, late twenties, dirty, and stripped of arms and armor.

“Who are you? What do you want from me? What are these cave freaks?!”

I tell him about the Marshfolk and the misunderstanding. He’s still pretty panicked and asks if I killed the bear. I cast a look over my shoulder at the other two and ask if it had swirls on its shoulder that could be considered shamanic.

“Yeah, that fuckin’ shamanic bear. Ripped up some of the boys. Fuckin’ layed siege to the caves! Where’d a bear learn siege tactics? From spirits, obviously. The world’s so fucked up. Can’t get a job in Bells but a bear can learn to be a fuckin’ shaman.”
“Are you sure it’s not a shaman that learned to be a bear?”
He looks at you like you’re ridiculous, “Why would it do that?”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Well we got away from it by squeezin into those little tunnels in the entrance.”
“Maybe he’s stuck like that. Serves him fuckin’ right. Who the fuck attacks travellers for no fuckin’ reason. Thought better of him when I thought he was a bear."
“You attacked the Marshfolk for trying to save you from getting digested by gorp. That’s even worse than ‘no reason.’”
“Yeah – cause they’re fuckin’ grabbin’ me with spears and shit and not talkin’. I’ve heard enough stories about apocalypse cults and shit. I ain’t stupid.”
“How’s a bear supposed to talk? Or understand Nethonese?”
“It’s a fuckin’ person in a bear body, you said so!”
“I said what if it was, not that it was.”
“Well if it was, it’d fuckin’ know how to speak wouldn’t it? Fuckin’ amateur hour! I didn’t even go to fuckin’ school and I know more about this shit than some lady with a fancy name. Bet you’ve never been a bear.”
“Bears don’t got lips how are they supposed to speak?”
“It could fuckin listen!”
“If you talk like this all the time I think I’d sympathize with the bear.”
“Bitch. That bear killed some of my friends.”

We eventually get back on track. His name is Spoof. There’s 14 others left alive besides him, some wounded. He was looking for food before the bridge collapsed. He says they won’t attack the gang or the Marshfolk if the Marshfolk leave them alone. We take him with us. The Speaker’s never heard of a bear in the caverns.

Naryu wants to eat the Ilphel’s Crumbs, though she calls it something else. We make Spoof go first so his friends will see him and not attack us. He takes the torch and quickly finds another eviscerated body, this one nailed to the ceiling with one of the bronze spikes from the other room.

Naryu pukes again. Prask curses. A shaking Spoof drops the torch. I pick it up again. ”Huh. A bear probably wouldn’t do that unless it was actually a person.”

Spoof says he fell asleep in the tight caves waiting for the bear to leave so he’s not exactly sure what all happened here. He doesn’t think they pissed anyone off in Bells, but says that everything’s sacred to somebody.

We hear whimpering up ahead, inhuman, but not the blobthing’s. It sounds like something trying to mimic human sounds. I sneak ahead past the torchlight. The great hall is a wreck. The makeshift barricades are destroyed and rubble lines the sides of the passageway. This freaked out, I notice a long strand of string or silk across the passage at ankle height that wasn’t there before, but I can’t figure out what it’s attached to.

I have us go the way Journey and I never checked before to see if it’ll loop around. The tunnel narrows down to the point that we’d need to stoop, and it sounds like rats live there. We turn around to fight the potential spirit.

We gingerly step over the trap and notice a trickle of blood coming down, pooling under some of the debris. The whimpering gets faster, then suddenly stops as we start up. Fast footsteps approach the top of the tunnel. The inhuman voice shrieks and there’s the sound of impact before remnants of the wooden furniture, broken but bulky and sharp with exposed nails, comes rolling down the tunnel. Spoof, Prask, and I try to dodge, though only I get out without a bit of damage. Naryu just sighs and holds up her shield, absorbing the whole impact.

We make it to the Great Hall. There’s no sign of the shrieking maybe-man, but there’s signs of his handy work. Blood is all over the floor and walls in strange patterns. The blightling corpses have been arranged at the tables, sitting in chairs. Two of Spoof’s friends, as torn up as the spiked man, lay in a bed of hay, holding each other, entrails mingling. We find another body near where the bloody designs abruptly stop—handprints on the ground like someone pushed themselves up, the body’s entrails disturbed like someone had been fishing around in them. Spoof starts freaking out. It’s his brother. I tell Spoof we’ll bury him and smear some of the marks to get my point across.

As we approach the end of the Great Hall, the air gets more acrid, like the stench of the blob has spread. Because of course it has. I try to get the vial ready, but it’s a little harder since this time I have to breathe. I crit my endurance roll and shake it off. Naryu passes hers, but Spoof and Prask fail and start coughing like they’re having trouble breathing. A thin layer of growths have started in the passageway between rooms, mostly on the ceiling. The stench is awful and the air is thick, almost hazy. I feel lightheaded but crit a second endurance test. Spoof crits too. Prask fails and flees, Naryu fails and starts coughing.

The blobthing has changed. It’s grown nearly half again. Its side is pockmarked, and two more of Spoof’s men sit at the broken table that now leans against the blob. Their plates hold chunks of it with forks sticking out. Some of the gouges in the blobthing could be bite marks. Putrid fluid pools at its base, running freely from its wounds. Its pores still expel the noxious stuff that fills the air and our lungs. Polyps and smaller colonies of the fleshy mass now grow from various points around the room. The blob continues its slow wheeze, but the new whimpering echoes from down the hall past the shrine. It’s mad and frantic, nearly laughter.

I throw Chance’s vial at it.

It arcs out of my hand and cracks with a flash of white light against the surface of the growth. The vial’s contents run down the skin of the thing, and it starts to smoke, the stuff burning away at it. The smell is foul and the white smoke billows up from the wound and starts to choke the air in the cavern. Polyps wither and fall from the ceiling and walls where the smoke envelops them. The flesh of the main growth melts away from its growing wound. Shrieking echoes towards us from down the hall, but the madman never approaches. Naryu and Spoof look on with horror, Naryu’s coughing exacerbated by the smoke. I can hear Prask succumb to a fit of sickness from outside the cavern. The vial’s contents eats away at the growth quicker and quicker, and at the center of the fleshy thing, I can start to make out the limp figure of a man, withered and black-veined, wheezing, eyes covered in whatever this thing is made from. Naryu flees, Spoof wants to but is rooted to the spot.

The limp figure, its support from the withering blob lessening rapidly, sloughs off the remnants of the thing and crumbles to the floor in a heap, looking a mix between a drowning cadaver, a fungal colony and a victim of some black veined poison. The man still breathes slowly, weakly. The breaths are shallow and wet sounding.

The shrieking from down the hall has been replaced by silence.

Glamour said that these things bloodwights fueled by corpses, so even though this body is still breathing and I don’t know what the blobthing was for (and kind of because this freaks me the FUCK out), I decide to kill this guy extra dead with some oil and a torch. He lights up well. The added smell is even worse.

I tell the gang to hold their breath and Spoof and I drag the others through the room down the hall to confront the awful man. We almost immediately hear a thwack as an arrow’s released and buries itself in Naryu’s thigh. Something has to be wrong with the arrow because she’s screaming. Prask gets a shield up between us, but Spoof looks like he’s ready to rout. I grab his arm. ”I can either help Naryu or make sure that freak who killed your brother doesn’t get out of here alive. Are you gonna help her or run?” I nearly crit the influence roll and Spoof steels himself and takes Naryu’s shoulder.

With Naryu’s shield helping to cover the hall ((we’re still playing RQ6 where dual wielding with a sword and dagger is a feasible option, so Nilrae doesn’t have a shield)), we push up past the shrine break. The obsidian shards are missing and the walls are painted with bloody glyphs. I make Spoof pull Naryu in the passageway but not all the way into the shrine to help her out.

Prask and I push ahead and finally get eyes on him. He’s dressed like he was once part of Spoof’s group, but now he’s covered in gore, painted glyphs, and maybe the fluid from the blobthing. His face looks like raw ground beef. We exchange some arrow fire and he evades out of the way of mine, landing prone. I take the opportunity to change into a smilodon ((because RQ6 animist)) and leap across the stream since he’s taken the brass chain. Now that I’m over, I can tell that his face is so fucked up because he’s jammed every single one of those obsidian shards into his flesh. I crush his skull. He goes limp. I’m suspicious but he’s deffo deadzo.
Loot: a nice ring covered in gross shit I can’t deal with rn.

Back in human form, I take a sack and collect some of the shards and some of the arrows—coated in something thick and vile that smells like the growths. I burn him. I swing back over and tell Prask we’ve got to get Naryu back before she ends up like the governor.

Naryu’s able to stand with Spoof’s help and she’s abe to embarrass him by being a bitch all by herself. She complains about the lack of drink and Prask lets it drop that that’s why the Captain won’t let her join. She shuts up.

I update the Speaker on everything and ask if I can let Naryu touch the stone to negate any of the magic shit inside her. He consents. I drag her in and tell her a bit about the pillar. She’s unsure but touches it. She’s not knocked on her ass, but she is surprised.

The Speaker looks on with surprised concern. Naryu shakes her head. She babbles something incoherent about the gods being as everyone else. She’s started to shiver. Black blood runs down her leg from under her bandages. I sit her down and try to redo her bandages, but it doesn’t work out well, but the black blood starts to give way to red.

I give the Speaker a few more warnings about everything that’s happened and start lugging Naryu back. She remembers that I said I hadn’t touched the stone and calls me a bitch. She’s pretty out of it, and I’m basically the only thing keeping her moving. I ask if she’s this passive in bed or only when she actually wants to sleep. She’s too out of it to respond.

8 Sleeping Beauty
White Eye Returns

Week 2, Day 5

The moon over Eaves is golden when up look up at it. Clouds move in on it from either side, covering it up and letting darkness fall over the village. Darkness intruded on only by the sickly pale green shimmer of the world’s edge that lends an eerie cast to the view. Outside the big house, built to overlook the town it’s sole resident governs, I spy a meeting in shadow and the emerald glint of silver coins against the backdrop of the night’s black agents. Birdsong startles the one receiving the coin. Nearby branches rustle. The meeting’s three participants scatter to the wind.

The wind that rushes, driving upwards as it runs up against the edge of the world and diving back down in response to the laws it follows. The edge of habitable land is often a cyclone, and this storm is particularly bad. Inside the dust cloud, at the edge, twisted steps lead the way up twisting ruins. Crumbling, foreign architecture, tattooed with glyphs and pictograms. Two figures enter the time-lost space, one limping badly. Only the cripple emerges from the hole.

Nearby, the bones of dead soldiers rattle and crack as a sleeping figure stumbles through them, walking blindly toward an altar of feathers and glass. She places two identical old, cracked scrolls upon it and one is turned to ash by a flicker of lightning.

A keening howl pierces the air against the sound of massive wings. A voice unseen whispers the uneven footfalls of the dead.

Thunder drowns out the echoes of the howl.

I wake up to lightning flashing outside my window, and a heavy rain unsignaled by the day’s sky. There’s a cold sweat on my skin and besides the sounds of the rain, I only hear the muffled sound of one or two drunken patrons from downstairs still talking the night away. Light That Blinds has sent me another dream.

I pull on some clothes and head downstairs to see if the barkeep can tell me anything about nearby ghost towns. Bulster’s gone, but a young man’s up, watching the last two patrons. From what I vaguely remember hearing, they’re travelers from beyond Bells who got their cargo stolen. I head to the barkeeper.

He says there’s two. ”One a bit up north a ways, still getting cleaned up. And I think one down towards those ruins people keep bringing up—the ones the Ghostlight just revealed.” The one up north looks like Eaves architecture-wise. The southern one is as different as the ruins there. The northern one’s supposed to have someone overlooking it but he’s not sure. There’s a ruined inn halfway between Eaves and the town a couple days from here. The southern town is near the ruins the governor probably ran off to.

I knock on Naiv’s door to tell her what’s up, but there’s no answer. I realize it’s like 3am and decide to let her sleep and get some myself, too, planning to come back at first light.

I’m trying to drift off to sleep again when I hear some sort of commotion from downstairs. I’m anxious enough to go down and check it out, sheathed sword in hand. When I get to the second landing, I see the front door of the inn land on the wooden floor, scraping by another five feet before slamming to a stop against the bar. The drunks are trying to clamor over the table. I can’t see or hear the boy from the bar. I can’t see the doorway from here, but I’m hoping this will work out the edge in my system as I draw my sword and creep forward to take a look.

Standing in the doorway, silhouetted against the storm, is a hulking, familiar figure. Its head dangles from its clawed hand while the other supports its uneven legs. Lightning illuminates the headless creature, revealing a crimson thing whose once swollen flesh has all but sloughed off, the rest of it’s body covered in seemingly endless blood that pools at it’s feet.

I shout for Naiv to get her ass down here. White Eye rushes up the stairs towards me and snaps the railing to get its bulk at me.

Fight! I eventually fight it back down the stairs even though it grabs my sword and I have to dash to my room for my whip. The Captain and Glamour come, and once the cap and I get it on the ground, Glamour melts the floor to capture it.
Loot: I guess White Eyes’s eyes.

She orders me to pull the eyes from its head. They seem to be stone, and hot to the touch. She demands to know why she wasn’t told the Blight was a golem in the first place. The Iuzhenk captain shrinks under her gaze. I wanna know why she didn’t come to look at the thing that had been plaguing her village or come talk to us herself, but instead I bring her the eyes and tell her we didn’t know and didn’t see her to tell her anyway. She says we could have mentioned the eyes were stone, but honestly, the Blights are so fuckin weird and the caves were so stressful we didn’t know. She says the golem’s a bloodwight that will keep coming back until we find out where its lifeforce is held.

She tells me to go get the “mageling,” because Naiv still hasn’t come down. I ask the barkeep for another set of keys to go check on her. I find the room basically how I left it, though Naiv is face-first on the desk, a scroll spread under her. I wait a tense moment until I see she’s breathing slowly, as if asleep. She doesn’t react to being shaken. I move her onto the bed and take the scroll to Glamour to see if she can help. The magic is older than Glamour knows and the curse has been sent.

”Do you know how to undo it? I like her and all, but not enough for a kiss to count.”

She says she might be able to figure something out with the other scrolls. When I return, she’s berating the Captain and telling him how to watch over White Eye. She takes me to her house, and there’s a shit ton of books. She asks what I found, and I tell her all of it except for the pillar and the undead thing.

Her lips curl into a frown as you describe the tumorous thing you left behind. "Generally, these things are corpses tied to another being’s life force. You find them in tombs, usually. The vessel they’re tied to is generally reburied or put in a heavy sarcophagus. Intruders kill the thing, and get killed by it before they can finish robbing the tomb. I’m surprised your people didn’t make use of them. They were common in the north. I don’t know what exactly that thing you’ve described is, but it could possibly be the life this thing is linked to. I’m not sure why it took so long to reanimate.

I show her the vial Chance gave me and Glamour says it should work because Chance is one of ”Heart’s bitches”. I don’t like Heart, but I do like Chance and don’t want her called a bitch by this cranky lady who really hasn’t done anything for me or this town so far. I tell her about my vision and tell her to keep my spook fed.

I head back to the inn to sit with Naiv for a bit to tell her my plans—including that if they let her starve while I’m gone, I’ll make another ghost town out of Eaves.

The Captain’s trying to maneuver people. He’s understaffed because of the horsemaster’s trip, but he could spare people and thinks I could ask Naryu too. My Stirs*Pot passion crits so I let him know that Naryu was planning to go after the governor. ”After she tried to fuck Journey and fight me.”

>rolls 1d100
>gets a 3 which is a crit for basically anything
>outs this girl for wanting to fuck and fight the new heroes when if this is at all like Salt, both the cap and the priest are like Bogdana and therefore Naryu is tied up in a lot of this small town’s gossipy politics
>watches to see this captain squirm with much personal pleasure for .2 seconds of not thinking about Naiv or this bloatthing

I head to Naryu’s place. She opens the door in a ratty shirt that’s basically a tank top now. She belches and the smell of bad booze overpowers the storm. I ask if she wants to fight. Then what happened, and if she wants to come.

She sighs. “Yeah. But you better help me get laid.”

She thinks Prask, the other man the Captain’s sending with me, is a piece of shit. She won’t say why.

While I wait for her, I head back to the inn, change Naiv into her bedclothes, and keep up a chatter about how she should have realized the blobthing was golem-y after our talk, and what Naryu’s condition is but that we haven’t talked about Naiv’s sex life enough for me to give both good and bad advice to watch the hilarity ensue.

When I’m done tending to my friend, the Captain introduces me to Prask. The man is also not full-blooded Nethoney, but I don’t know what he is. I also can’t tell why Naryu doesn’t like him besides the fact that he’s giving the Captain the professional courtesy of listening to him. Though he doesn’t seem to like the fact that the Captain is handing over an Eaves watchman to a stranger to save the town instead of keeping things in house.

Naryu’s presence doesn’t make him feel much better about going, but then again, she’s not in a position of authority in town or on this mission, and she immediately heads to the bar to get more beer. I warn her that the blobthing will make her puke it all up.

“From the description of the fucker, I’d throw up if I didn’t drink it. Least I won’t be bitching about a headache on the way.”

7 Stormfeet
Victory Bells. Well, Eaves.

Week 2, Day 4

I eventually come to to the sound of my own blood throbbing. My head hurts, and I’m acutely aware of every beat of my heart and the sensation of contact on my skin. I’m under a blanket. It’s daytime. Chance seems to be gone.

Journey is reading, checking the fire every now and then lazily with one eye. The book is blue dyed leather with bright silver along the binding and clasp. I haven’t seen it before. Chance gave it to her so she could learn non-necromantic magic before anyone could ask about her hair. It’s dark, but now that I’ve been with her for a while I can tell she dyes it. She might let it go white once she knows magic that’ll be better received.

It’s colder than yesterday. Eventually we crest a hill and Eaves comes into view. We see Jarsten Goodaxe, Belaryn the Horsemaster, Squelch, and a few armed men. The group leads a chain of horses, most of which I remember from visiting the stables. They wave us down when we get closer and says they thought we died but are glad we didn’t. Belaryn says the horses are going to their proper owner, the Syndic. He tells me about the horses’ bamf-sounding dad. Nilrae would love to be a Disney princess if she could tone down the ultra-violence and crazy-eyes, and Belaryn hints that his wife might let me see their stud if I can prove I respect my elders. They head out with Jarsten and co.

We find the Captain in the Tin Inn where he’s impassively receiving Bulster’s bickering. The brewmaster’s insisting we’re dead and demands compensation for the rooms, and looks up as the sound of our feet and smell of White Eye’s head makes it to them. The Captain’s a bit smug. He takes us back to his house to hear about everything we found. He doesn’t offer a specific bounty for the blobthing but says he’d be in our debt if we could help destroy it.

He plans to tell the witch who will likely want to question us about it. He winces and urges us to not be proactive seeking her out ”She is particular.”

He opens a chest for the bounty and some coin the other villagers pitched in.
Loot: 50W, 800L

The Captain drives White Eye’s head onto a pike planted in the courtyard of the inn. He announces a celebration. I have a drink, but I’m more interested in the horse. Naiv’s more interested in networking and covers for me as I slip out.

Rhuka is still working with one of the stablehands, a Iuzhenk named Aefel, cleaning and doing some maintenance that would’ve been hard with the horses in residence. She’s struggling to raise some lumber up to her younger stable hand. I offer to help and put my 17str to good work. She’s a grateful but a little embarrassed she’s got to have the young ones doing the hard work.

She asks why I’m not at the party and I sheepishly admit my ulterior motives. She says if I finish with the board, she’ll introduce me to Stormfeet. The horse is the gray of roiling clouds in a thunderstorm. His big eyes pass over me appraisingly and he snorts. He sounds unimpressed. For a horse older than me, he seems in surprisingly good health.

The horse seems to understand the conversation, apparently agreeing when Rhuka says she thinks Stormfeet misses traveling, seeming to laugh when I suggest she could take him to Salt. Rhuka lets me give him a carrot to buy time to think about my offer. Stormfeet pretends to attack, but it’s just to see if I’ll flinch. I don’t. The Syndic didn’t either.

Rhuka and her husband used to be adventurers. Belaryn almost died getting a mummy’s sword and Rhuka had a courier service with Stormfeet’s dad. She tries to shoo be back to the party, but I want to stay and hear more stories and help her out. She doesn’t ask twice and shows me her giant list of chores we work through. She cooks a great meal for us and grills me about Salt, and by the end of it, she’s offered me riding lessons. I’ve got 95% ride, but I’m happy to spend more time with this chatty lady.

“Maybe if you prove you won’t break your neck, and keep up this streak of heroics, we can conspire to let one of Stormfeet’s descendants slip free before the Syndic’s buyer shows up again. He seemed to like you.”

I’m so excited to be a fairytale princess on a crazy intelligent warhorse. I head back to the inn with a spring in my step to gush to Naiv, but she’s retired to her room. Several revelers drunkenly ask me where I’ve been. Some are about my age or a little younger and seem interested in keeping me downstairs to hear about my exploits. They’re complaining that Journey was more interested in scrolls she can’t read than us. I agree to drink with them a bit so they don’t feel bad.

The kids seem to be wannabe adventurers. The two main ones are a boy named Athah and a girl named Naryu. I try to convince them to head after the missing governor, who supposedly ran south, because the only one who seems like she’s got experience is Naryu, who also seems a little dumb. Naryu’s also Jarsten’s daughter, and Nilrae’s not interested in letting her get killed. I convince them, but Naryu doesn’t think I have much more experience than she does.

”I’ve been on pirate ships while they were raided by other privateers or official ships. I’ve had a ship nearly capsize under my feet from some sort of sea monster spirit and had to swim to shore in undead infested waters. I was in Glass during and after the Bread Riots and spent a lot of time putting out fires, searching rubble for survivors, and keeping cutthroats away from myself and others. I helped push back a Blighted raid when I was almost fourteen, mercenaried in the Shattered Bay for five years, and I’ve killed Maht in single combat. I don’t remember how many outlaws and highwaymen I’ve seen, but I grew up at the base of a mountain that might house a god of birds and lightning.” She shrugs. “So some experience, yeah.”

Naryu still thinks she could throw me on my ass. She’s Iuzhenk—or at least half with a name like Naryu and her slightly lither build. I demure that I don’t think fighting the steelpriest’s daughter will be a good idea. ”It might undo everything I got from bringing in White Eye’s head in a bag.”

They leave me be so I head up to find Journey. She’s slow to open the door. She’s got the scrolls spread over the table, the other loot shoved to the side. She thinks she could get around 12 grand for the gems and jewelry. When I tell her I think Stormfeet’s sentient, she goes immediately to paranoid plots. The paranoia isn’t enough for her to not want a horse too. “If we’re going to partner together for any length of time, I demand equal representation on the mythic horse front.”

But really, she was just waiting for a lull in the conversation to start talking about her scrolls. She doesn’t know much about them yet, but she’s excited and between them and the grimoire, she’s glad she has time before the Marshfolk need help. She wants to go look at the pillar when we go deal with the blobthing now that my life isn’t on the line.

Glamour hasn’t come to chat yet. Journey mostly just dealt with the loudness of the party and “that Iuzhenk girl’s irritating curiosity.” I tell her Naryu tried to fight me. Naiv says she tried to fuck her. She says if summoning and binding demons or golems was like the stories, she wouldn’t bother with people. They’re both apparently ugly and disgusting. You can at least bathe a Iuzhenk. She’s ready to go back to her scrolls. I ask if she’d rather be Naivara or Journey in Salt.

She pauses. “Journey. Think of Naivara as a token of trust, if you’d like. A thank you for your interference with the Maht. Though if I ever decide to go as power crazy as the Syndic, or even Chance or your Memory, I suppose that places you on the top of my list.” She winks.

I thank her for the trust and tell her that I’m not afraid of her necromancy and I’m still happy to bring her around my little sisters. She says that Chance’s conditions for the grimoire meant giving up her abilities anyway. She says she stole them from her father. The blue grimoire was Chance’s first. It’s enchanted so it can’t be read ahead. The first spell is domination, which should tell us something about Chance and Memory if this was their first grimoire. I ask if she hopes hers ends up being for Dominating Strong Babes. She says she’d rather be alone if Naryu’s personality would continue in the bedroom.

We say goodnight. She’ll show me how to use the godsblood in the morning.

6 Chance Encounters
of the Shamanic Bear kind

It’s bright outside when we finally exit the cave. The sun’s above us, not yet having passed over the Ghostlight. The weather is beautiful but promises a cold not. I’m bored of lugging this chest around, so I use my hatchet to break it open.
Loot: clothing of a strange foreign style, a leather sack yielding 349 clacks, 57 lunars and 2 wheels. You also find the left side of a statue’s head. It looks like the head of a bubble-eyed goldfish with gills and scales. The stone is blue marble with green streaks. The eye socket is empty.

The coloration and size matches the Marshfolk’s statue. I decide take it back to them even though I don’t want to deal with the sadness and guilt anymore. Naiv says I could just sneak it in and drop it off of the base of the statue (that’s in the middle of their fucking cavern) and sneak out again to avoid more awkwardness. I side eye her and just go in.

The Speaker appears, thanks me for it, and leads me to the statue where he has me place the fragment into the hole on the idol’s face. The break line no longer matches, but as I hold it in place, the stone mends itself together. I feel a strong pulse of power wash throughout the cavern from the statue. The light emanating from it brightens considerably until we’re squinting.

I head back out to Naiv, who suggests I open the iron box since I’m already dead.
Updated Loot: a sort of medicine bundle, likely the source of power for the attack on your blade. The bundle is feathers, bones, knots and so on, and worthless now. There are also a pair of scrolls written in that same tongue as the others.

Even though we’ve cleared the caves of everything except the blobthing and the spirit, which can’t be found, Naiv doesn’t want to sleep near here to regain her power. The Ghostwall only extends just past the mountains, and after what we faced, her nerves are a little shot.

A few hours later, we hear large footsteps and the world responding with broken twigs off ahead and to the right. I sneak off to investigate and find a large bear plodding aimlessly through the woods. Its whitish-grey pelt is interrupted on its right shoulder by a swirling design in black. It’s unaware of me. This is the first bear I’ve seen on the islands, though they’re not completely unheard of on the mainland.

I head back. Naiv won’t let me bother the bear or spend all our money on sea passage to take it to Salt. She says it would eat the Marshfolk.

”You’ll let us drag a Demi-bird around for weeks but won’t even befriend your average bear.”
Naivara shrugs. “Average? Didn’t you say it was shamanic? Whatever that means for a bear.”
”It’s got swirls on its shoulder.”
Naivara sighs.

We talk about Conlan’s disinterest in nepotism and rumors Naiv’s heard of his people cracking down hard on some illicit activity on the waterfront. Someone’s been selling something that’s supposed to get you past the Wall and back safely. We both want to wait to see what our dreams are like after the blobthing before we decide if we want to go beyond the wall.

We decide to camp after dark, a decent bit from the road. We find a large outcropping of rock that juts from the ground at a shallow angle forming a lean-to that faces away from the raod. The rock table above will protect if the weather turns foul, and the hollow protects the fire from the wind. The opening faces northwest.

Naiv asks if I plan to retire as soon as possible, but I don’t. She says she would if the right conditions were met because she’d rather do other things that are less suicidal than mercenary work. I tell her that it sounds like she wants to play with the Ghostlight and what’s on the other side of it, which sounds a lot more suicidal than cleaning out bandit hideouts. Naiv likely has a Passion for the Ghostwall/Blight. We get into a pretty deep conversation about Nebayan conspiracies until we hear hooves coming fast.

We peek around to see what’s coming and I feel like I’ve been thrown into one of the books my sister’s engrossed in about knights and wizards and royal romances: a lone rider in all white, a small woman in a flowing, hooded cloak astride a galloping white horse. A long-tailed, crested white bird flies a short distance ahead of her. She slows as she nears us, bird circling toward us before coming to rest on her shoulder and they both look our way.

I wave since I couldn’t befriend the shamanic bear. She smiles and when she speaks, we hear her clearly despite the distance. She says she didn’t expect to see friendly faces in the wild at this hour so close to the border and that she’s heading north. We know there’s another, smaller settlement up there. She has a cute, playful smile and hardly seems older than us. I invite her to rest with us since she could easily circle back if she wanted to fuck with us.

She introduces herself as Chance. I know Chance is the witch in Bells helping to keep up the Ghostlight with Conlan, but I’ve never met her. Chance’s hair is pretty white, but there are still hints of golden blonde to it when the fire hits it right.

Before I can tell her who we are, Naiv introduces herself as Journey. Chance’s eyes linger on me just long enough to hint she knows my Deathless One situation. She asks if we have any injuries that need treatment, and there’s some totally-not-guilty glances exchanged, but we try to pass it off for a while because Naiv’s tense.

She lets us change the topic by asking what kind of news we’ve heard. We tell her about the shamanic bear, the blobthing. She gives us a vial of liquid with a small crystal in it that she thinks might help against the blobthing, though she has no idea if it will actually work. I ask if she has anything to help against recently unbound spirits of ancient devils.

She smacks her lips and sucks some air in, “Nope. Afraid I’m all out of my ancient devil killing crystals for the time being. A bunch of angry young men stole the shipment meant for Glass. They were screaming something or another about liches and inheritances.” She pauses and gives you an innocent shrug. “New world, new problems.”

Then she realizes that I’m serious and asks for the full details. She asks what will happen with the tribe and then asks where I’m from. There’s a hint of relief when I say Salt. She says it’s a safe place she can find easily enough—though she looks pretty grim after saying the last part.

I decide to ask if she knows Memory and find out Memory is Chance’s “bitchy sister” which is hilarious since Memory’s told me that she has a couple of “goofy” sisters. She also tells us news that people have shown up on the other side of the Ghostlight near a port on a newly settled island. They aren’t Blighted and are asking for help because they’ve been attacked. The nobles are squabbling and stagnating over it. We rag on Nebayans and the Syndic and I talk a bit about my Sadrasi mission. She also tells us one of the other frontier towns has fallen to a necromancer pulling up an ossuary.

Naiv’s tense and looks fuming under her academic’s mask despite Chance sympathizing that a city would be in trouble with a spook that powerful regardless of the school. Chance puts a hand on her knee and asks if we’re sure she can’t help us. She won’t tell her sister.

I ask how Memory would react if we went to her instead, since I’m more comfy with the witch I grew up with. Chance says Memory’s risk averse and winces but says she’d still help because she’s a big softie. Chance accidentally insults Naiv when I ask if Memory will feel territorial about Journey coming to visit if I’m fine and Chance says no.

I finally agree to help.

Chance nods, “Good answer. It’s not every day that you get another chance at life, Nilrae.”


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