[Sojourn: Weak hit] (Recuperate, Resupply: at max health/supply)
I spent that night and the next morning resting up. Aralu’s tea seemed to be doing me a world of good and their company was soothing, but sooner than I wanted it was time to go. It was only just sinking in for me how much of my life had revolved around hating Elves for something they didn’t do. I still resented them a little because dad gave up his life for them, but I also knew that he did it for me too. And I could live with that.
Late morning we gathered our things and set off for the swamps. We were going to have to pass through Raven Wood on the way and Gods only know what the curtain twitchers will be saying to see an Elf wander through with a Warden in tow. I was kinda lookin' forward to it.
The woods were quiet but not so deathly silent as when the ghoul came after me and having Aralu by my side made everything feel a little safer. They didn’t say much as we walked, I still had a lot of questions but it didn’t feel right to ask just then. Poe was still a bit rattled about the bird bone curtains and kept pecking at me, I did my best to reassure him. No Elves were going to make furniture out of him on my watch.
[Undertake a Journey: Strong Hit]
We reached the edge of the woods in good time and stared out at the plains and farmlands west of Raven Wood.
“This the furthest I have travelled from Red Home”, Aralu said, a hint of… was that nervousness?
“Not keen on wide open spaces?", I asked.
“It would appear not. I have never encountered them before so… unavoidably."
“Fair enough”, a few days ago the woods had terrified me, who was I to make fun?, “If it’s any help, the folk here’ll be more fascinated than anything. Most have never actually seen an Elf."
“That’s rather what I am unsettled by. Humans do not react well to the unknown."
“You’ll be fine, you walk with a Warden. The worst you’ll get is curious children wanting to know more about you. I’ll fend them off if that’s too much."
Aralu seemed to settle a bit, took a breath and stepped out from under the canopy onto the plain.
“Not so bad, eh?", I was enjoying this a little too much.
[Undertake a journey: Strong Hit with a Match] (Twist: ?)
We arrived in Raven Wood as the sun was beginning to dip.
“Right, now it’s my turn to be the hospitable one. I can’t offer you tea as nice as yours but there’s a pub up the road that serves good mead.", I looked at them, studied their face to see how this offer might go down.
“Is it wise for me to be so public here?", they looked uncertain.
“Like I said, you walk with a Warden. It’ll be fine and I’ll fend off anyone too curious. You shared your hospitality with me. Now let me return the favour, alright?"
“Alright Zanita, you win this time.", I think I detected a hint of mirth on their lips. Still so hard to tell though.
We made our way to the River Rat, Aralu had to duck under the doorway, poor thing was a good foot taller than any human. It was still quiet inside, the evening hadn’t got going yet and times had been strained of late with the murders and Adda’s arrest. We settled on a table in the corner and I got a couple of drinks in. It weren’t long before curious stares got noticeable.
I wasn’t sure if Elves even drank alcohol so I asked them.
“Do your folk drink mead? or beer? I can get you something else if you’d prefer."
“We do, though I do not know how human fare compares to ours. I will try your mead. I am partial to honey."
“Always a good choice”, I smiled wickedly, we brewed strong mead in Raven Wood. “Try this, our bees mostly scour the plains so it might be a little different than what you’re used to."
They took a sip and for only the second time I saw their eyes widen.
“That is… potent. Thank you”, they sipped at it carefully. I suspected that our mead was a little stronger than what they were used to.
A chair pulled up at our table. I looked over and breathed a sigh of relief as Caersun sat down.
“What’s the news Zan?", she asked, glancing at Aralu.
“Adda told us where we might find the… the uh.. thing. It’s most likely holed up in the swamps. We’ve got directions an all.", I said.
“Need a hand?", she asked.
“Wouldn’t say no. But Caer, it’s an awful thing. You sure?", I was glad for the offer but I wasn’t sure I wanted anyone else’s life at risk for this. This was my job.
“Of course I’m sure, you daft girl. I’m not about to let my best student die in some godsforsaken swamp."
“Well alright, don’t say I didn’t warn you. We’re off tomorrow morning at first light. Meet us by the east gate and don’t be late."
Caersun raised a solitary eyebrow. I was being cocky, it might have been the mead but I was riding a high at the time. Finding dad’s sword and taking Adda in had made me sure of myself. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was how long it’d last.
[Strong Hit+Match = Caersun joins the expedition]
We spent the night drinking, catching up, going over the events of the last week or so and when closing time came me and Aralu headed back to my house near the riverbank to rest up for the night. Tomorrow was going to be tough. But things were going well. I put my hand on the pommel of the sword and it felt warm again. “I’m proud of you, petal”, it felt like it whispered inside my head. I smiled to myself. I could do this. I would do this.
[Undertake a Journey: Weak Hit]
We set off the next morning. Caersun joined us at the East gate as promised and our little trio marched on towards the swamps, carefully following the directions Adda had given me. We stopped for a late breakfast on the edge of the marshlands and surveyed the area. Everything was going well. That made me nervous. I knew my luck had to run out sooner or later.
I took a little time at the edge of the marshes to survey the landscape and had Poe scout out a little ahead. He seemed pretty relaxed when he returned which was encouraging. Time to press on.
[Secure an Advantage +wits: Strong Hit] (+2 momentum)
[Undertake a Journey: Weak Hit]
We trudged on through the mire but it was exhausting. After what seemed like ages we finally found a stretch of nearly solid land and settled for a moment to eat and consider our position. If Adda’s directions were right we were nearly there…
[Reach your Destination: Weak Hit] (Complication? action/theme: capture mysticism)
We crested a rise in the squamous terrain and there it was, half buried in the mire, an old Kotal ruin. Their architecture never sat right with the eyes. It was all weird angles that made your ears hurt. There was a doorway with 5 sides and every angle different that seemed to lead down into the swamp itself. This must be where Adda found the book. The place even smelt off if that was possible ‘round here.
And then we saw the marks, blood, a body laid out at the doors edge. Organs placed neatly around and a rune carved in the forehead. I didn’t recognised her though. As we drew closer I had to catch my breath. She looked a lot like me. Aralu placed a hand on my shoulder and said “It would seem it was frustrated by your escape."
“Who was she though? I’m pretty sure she’s not Raven Wood.", I was rattled but I’d come too far to give up now.
“There’s clans living out here”, said Caersun, “They tend to keep to themselves though, still wary of the old plague."
As I tried to step around the body I felt a pull on my bag, like something was trying to hold me back. I said as much to Aralu.
“It doesn’t want to go back”, they said, matter of factly.
“Fine, I’ll hide the book nearby and we can go in. Let’s get this done."
I found a suitable spot and carefully covered the old tome before returning to the entrance. I took a breath, steeled myself and said to the others, “You’ve come this far with me but this is my quarry. If you want to hold back I’ll understand. We don’t all have to die by this thing."
I felt a hand on my shoulder and then another. To my left I heard Caersun say “Don’t be an idiot Zan, This is what Wardens do, and we do it together or not at all.", to my right Aralu spoke “I have not known you long Zanita but you are my friend, I will not abandon you”. I placed a hand on each of theirs, “Thanks, no lie, I’m glad you said that. Ready?", I felt each hand on each shoulder give a little squeeze. “Alright. Here we go”
We stepped into the dank ruin, the air was musty and thick. There in the gloom I heard its voice for the first time.
“Wellllcoomme huntress, welllcomme friends. Thisss iss a grreaat daay, sssooonn myy brrood shall sprroutt annd thiss lannd willl fallll agaiinnn."
“Not if we’ve anything to say about it creature. Show yourself. This ends now." I tried to say it with as much conviction as I dared but I knew my voice was shaking.
“Ssssooo beee itt”
The Ghoul seemed to appear in front of us all knife-fingers and needle-mawed. My spear was in my hand and my friends by my side. I would end this, once and for all.
[Enter the Fray: Miss!: Burn momentum: Weak hit: Take initiative]
We spread out to get our angles on it, I’d planned to be cautious but the blood in my ears said otherwise. I charged that bastard thing, driving my spear home, hoping to impale it where it stood.
[Strike +skirmisher 2: Weak hit: 4 harm]
I got it but I must have missed the really vital bits as it staggered back, Aralu and Caersun were running interference, keeping it occupied while I angled to get my damn spear back.
[Face Danger: Strong hit]
It lunged at me but Caersun swung her blade and bit into it’s arm as I ducked under, ran in and rose to grab the spear and wrench it from the Ghoul’s chest. The scream it gave will stay with me forever. I ducked again under a flailing arm of razor fingers, rolled and as I came back I tried to drive my spear through it’s chest again.
[Strike +skirmisher 2: Strong Hit: 5 harm]
This one struck perfectly right through where the heart should be. As it screamed I drew my father’s sword, it almost burned in my hand and I could feel the righteous fury of it. I swung for the neck.
[End the Fight: Strong Hit]
Aeddon struck true and clove it’s miserable fucking head from its shoulders. As the body sank to mired ground Aralu set about it, chanting some ancient rite and scattering what looked like a mixture of herbs and bones. The Ghoul began to shrivel and melt into a black ichor that stank of death and rot before it sank into the ground. It was done. Surely?
[Fulfil your Vow: Weak Hit]
As the ichor sank into the swamp in that ruined old building we heard the faintest vestige of a word whisper from the head; “Eograthar”
I turned to Aralu, they looked at me with a sadness I had not seen before. “I fear this is not the end of our troubles. Let us leave this place before we speak further of it."
I wiped the blood off my sword and spear and walked out. Hadn’t I done enough? We recovered the book and set off back to Raven Wood. We would rest and then we would act.
The walk back was quiet. Aralu’s words had stayed with me, dampening my elation. There was work to be done and we all knew it. We arrived back Raven Wood as the sun was dimming. I gave Caersun a hug, thanked her for standing by me and retired to my place with Aralu in tow.
“What was that Aralu?", I asked.
“We were too late to stop its rite. There will be offspring and we will need to track them down."
[Ask the oracle: one? likely: Yes]
“Just one I think. It has not claimed enough victims to make more. But this one will be different. It is made from your people and mine. It will know us better, be smarter, though it is new born and weak for now. We should waste little time in hunting it."
“Agreed, but first, teach me talk to my father. I’m going to need his help."
[New Asset: Blade-bound: -3 xp]
[Swear an Iron Vow: Miss: -2 Momentum] (We have no idea where this thing is or what it knows)