A side quest of the Cursed Eight
Accipiter G. Goshawk
Welcome to the fourth episode of this side-quest!
The story continues from where it left off in SQ3: Dragons and Mysteries …
She was standing in front of a beautiful set of iron gates. Behind them, a large mansion sprawled atop of a low hill set in Dereillon’s High Quarter. Her ears twitched, as around her her men gathered in the darkness. Preparing.
She didn’t say a word. Her hand moved up and forward and they were gone, flitting through the night like bats. Their mission: murder and destruction. She strode through the gates, taking her time, savouring the moment. On the hill, fire bloomed; the screams began soon after.
The fleeing servant crossed her path halfway up the hill. The woman was bleeding heavily from a gash in her side, and her eyes contained only terror. A simple horizontal slash to the spine was enough to put her out of her misery.
She entered the flaming building, lost in a sort of trance. She passed familiar rooms, destroyed by fire and littered with the remains of the traitors that had lived there. Her men were waiting for her, waiting by the oak double doors carved in the likeness of the Elder Tree.
She kicked it open, revealing the stern-looking man and the pale woman standing behind the ornate desk. The man said something, but she didn’t listen. She easily dodged his clumsy attempt at a slash and brought her daggers through his abdomen and up past the sternum. He gurgled something; the woman screamed.
She didn’t care.
He collapsed in a heap, and she found her hands wrapping around the woman’s neck, squeezing the life out of her. For the first time since the attack had begun, she wanted to look away, to turn her gaze from the heart-wrenching expression captured forever in her victim’s dying eyes. But she couldn’t.
Something stirred, and suddenly she was outside, staring at the edge of a well. A solitary lock of pink hair floated above it, and she felt herself reaching for her daggers. Then she stepped to the brim and looked down, prepared to strike.
She saw nothing except her reflection.
Noiselessly, she screamed.
* * *
He strode calmly through the library, carrying a stack of books in both hands. He felt at peace, centred in himself.
His attention wondered, and he found himself pausing in front of a bookshelf he hadn’t noticed before.
The origin of the draconic language, by Morrius the Far-Walker ; Lost notions of goblinoid cultural quirks: a treaty by Korthok of Astralia ; Thelas’ Genesis or the Shadow Gospel, by Marvin Marvin…
The titles were unfamiliar, and yet he was enchanted by them. Maybe here he could find a clue, an answer…
A strong smell invaded his nose, and he felt his eyes tearing up as a faint plume of smoke blew past him. He felt hot, and he was almost certain he could hear crackling in the distance.
He ignored his body, ignored the warnings and instead carefully set down his pile of books and lifted the Shadow Gospel from the shelf.
“It is widely known –and accepted- that the Twelve created Syrros, with its two continents, Dersorrah and Quserash, as well as all the creatures that inhabit them. Of these, none are more mysterious and misunderstood than the First Children, the Rimwalkers…”
The smell was growing stronger, and the cleric was having a hard time reading with the smoke in his eyes. He ignored it, steeling himself against the discomfort. Behind him, the bookshelf began to blaze merrily, its flames reaching hungrily towards him.
“Of these, the Tome of the Twelve says very little. It is written that they betrayed their parents –the Twelve- and cast them out of reality, rising up as gods in their stead. What follows is known as the Lost Time. The Tome states that this is due to the fact that almost no written histories were kept during this epoch, and that most of the world was covered in a dark enchantment, crafted to satisfy the perverse machinations of the Rimwalkers. I will not repeat in this book the full list of obvious contradictions that riddle the entirety of the Tome; I will merely assume that the reader is educated enough to know that they exist. Thus if we take them as a given, we can also assume that the contents of the Tome are at best inaccurate and at worst, fallacious. Why then would the Twelve go to such lengths (including: murder, war and reality-altering magic) to preserve a flawed recounting of history? In this book, the author aims to…”
The words were lost, as flames consumed the page. They rushed up his arms, consuming his flesh, melting his bones, until all that remained was a blackened husk.
* * *
The half-orc child was walking alone, lost in a wood of blue-bark trees. He felt compelled to move forward, hating the idea of looking back. Afraid of the things that he’d left there.
The wood opened and two paths diverged before him. The left led to the night sky and the ribbons of colour that swam there. He smelled cold air, snow, and wet fur.
The right path was ruined, burned and littered with corpses. Weapons of every type lay by the roadside; he licked his lips greedily, wondering what he would choose. Past the trees, he could see the towering figure that haunted his dreams, could hear his deep voice calling to him.
Time passed, and he hesitated. Finally, he moved to the left, and the red tinge of the dusk-coloured battlefield melted away as he walked on a snowy steppe, under a star-filled shadow.
He paused, as a group of women stepped from the sky. They were clad in fur and leather, and their eyes glowed with the colours of the northern lights. They parted, and two stepped forward.
The first he did not recognize, although she was taller than the others and brighter. She stood barefoot and bare-armed on the ice, her eyes those of a wolf. She smiled at him benevolently, but he looked away.
The other came to him and held him close. He knew her, the one he could never forget.
Finally she pulled away, and the Lady beside her knelt down to look him in the eyes.
“A choice is before you Grell Islander, and many hardships after that. Only the willing follow my path and only the brave ever reach its end. Be wary of Aurora, little warrior, and you may yet find happiness in this life.”
Around him, reality faded, leaving behind only the eyes of the wolf that seemed to fill and become him.
Dreams sped by: a door beneath a lone mountain, a chained figure in a dark cavern…and always the wolf, calling to him.
* * *
“Leave him alone!” roared Nala, as they came level to the group of dwarves. The bearded thugs looked up, staring emptily at the companion’s weapons. Then, they melted away into the fog, the goblin disappearing along with them.
There was a flash, and the small group was once again in the Blackheart Arena. No crowds filled the stands this time, and instead of a barred gateway, they could see a portal to the Temple of Gerotil, shimmering at the far end of the wide space.
“We…we passed the last test!” murmured Quarij wonderingly, staring at the gateway.
“Yes!” crowed Zal’tat, punching the air.
“Wait…what about the others?” said Nala, twisting around.
“They took the other paths,” said Siloqui mutely, “I’m afraid I can’t find any trace of them here.”
“There is little we can do for your companion in this prison,” said Quarij. “However, once we are out, I think I can find a way of freeing them. But not from in here. So, shall we be off?”
An impatient note had crept into his voice. Alarm bells went off in Zal’tat’s mind and he quickly turned to find his companion’s gaze. Nala nodded imperceptibly and Siloqui twitched, her hands moving towards her weapons.
“We would like to stay a moment longer, Quarij. To make sure that there really is nothing we can do. You understand, don’t you?” said Nala calmly.
The dark elf paused, his hands hanging limply at his sides.
“Yes…yes, I understand,” he murmured. Then his fingers twitched in a familiar pattern, and he raised his head, letting the spell he had been holding for the last few minutes shine through his eyes.
“I understand that you want to stay,” he said hypnotically, “but I really must go. And I’ll need your help too, Zal’tat. Will you help me?”-
The adventure continues in SQ5: Servant of the Netherfare…