“Really, Abby?” I think to myself. The resulting mixture of laughter and disbelief cause me to nearly lose my balance during my morning calisthenics, but I manage to recover. Abby and Edmund make no attempt to muffle the primal sounds emanating from the bedroom across the hall. If I didn’t know it was them, I would think she was being stabbed by yet another hired assassin. I suppose Mabel must be accustomed to this type of thing – considering who she lives with. In the past, Edmund tended to sneak out to the local pub late at night to satiate his horniness. “Why eat out, when you can dine in?” I can see him thinking. Does Edmund’s ability to detect “poison” also include venereal disease? At least I don’t have to worry about one of them getting their throat slit like I did during the party on Jacob’s boat.
Willard’s disciple has always been a human erection and is obviously overcompensating for something. Somehow, I didn’t think that Abby would ever go there – I definitely don’t know her as well as I thought. I’m the only one in the group that knew her before The Forks was razed to the ground and her brother Francis was slain. That seems like a lifetime ago, now. These days she’s more prone to be impatient and apathetic, and I’m starting to wonder if her behaviour is a result of our extended time “in the field”. That’s one of the primary reasons an operative is required to make regular reports to their handler. But Abby isn’t an agent. “Neither am I,” I have to remind myself.
Ninety minutes pass and the two lovebirds finally descend the stairs and join me for breakfast. I slide in some remarks regarding the household’s promiscuity policy and also a gentle reminder that dehydration is the enemy to all adventurers. Edmund calmly points out that Willard has slept with half of Bastion. Willard The Leisurely, indeed.
We begin to discuss what our plans for the day should be. Rather than theorizing what situations we might encounter and how we might handle them, Edmund’s priority is talking us into a shopping spree at Fahrquars – an establishment that ladies of the night are known to frequent. I hide a smirk when I realize Abby doesn’t recognize the infamous store. And why would she? She’s not from Bastion, and I doubt her visits to her aunt and uncle ever included any detours to Fahrquars. I begin to imagine Abby’s reaction to shelves lined with dildos and feather ticklers… and it’s interrupted by Mabel slapping Edmund upside the head, chastising him for his misogynistic behaviour.
This only forces him to pause for a moment. Within seconds, Edmund suggests we go to Quashie to purchase some bikini’s for Abby in a final attempt to win her over. The only way he could he could be classier is if he sported a monocle over his left eye. After this blatant display of chauvinism, Abby quickly returns to her senses and steers the conversation to more relevant matters; we have to get back to The Elium, find Linnfard, and hopefully talk him out of this ridiculous quest. A quest that neither Mother Jana nor Linnfard have ever adequately detailed to us. As far as I can see, we are babysitting; something I find myself doing much too often, these days. At least Amy is back at Wolf Hill.
Recalled from Nov 13th:
A few days earlier, we tried to get some information from Mother Jana. As expected, it was like trying to squeeze milk from a stone. She responded with her standard vague answers and generalities, all with an utter confidence that we would do her bidding. I remind everyone that, officially, Edmund is the only one with a debt to repay to The Elium. She ultimately provided us with two facts which we could use as a starting point:
1. Linnfard is (as far as anybody was aware) the sole survivor of a mission sent to Kahlunda approximately 15-16 years ago (based on his current age).
2. He was rescued by Brother William, the same Paladin whose chain shirt we found in Salazar’s Keep, a month ago.
Feigning interest in Linnfard’s quest, we cross-referenced the Kahlunda mission manifest with the list of the current residents. The purpose of the exercise, however, was to illustrate how pointless his pursuit was. We filtered the full list to any possible couples sharing the last surname. Since this was a group of religious individuals looking to spread Helga’s word, it is unlikely that a child would be born out of wedlock. We then compared the remaining names to the names of people that currently lived at The Elium; it resulted in final list of 3 people.
1. Constance and Edward Elmer – who were not in The Elium at the time.
2. Winnifred Gasgoine – one of the librarians in The Elium library. She provided us with one of Brother William’s journals dated around the time Linnfard was discovered.
* Brother William’s journal indicates that the settlement was found in ruin – from what seems to be a fire blast (we should have stopped right there).
* Brother William discovered Linnfard with the indigenous population in a nearby village. He is able to discern from them that the village was attacked by a monster, and Linnfard is the only survivor.
So in summary, Linnfard’s quest involves the following:
* Going by going to unfamiliar and most likely a hostile environment
* Finding a village which, as far as we know, was destroyed by an unknown monster, which apparently, has fire in it’s arsenal
* Nature would have reclaimed the area where the mission settled long ago, along with it any evidence of what may have happened
* It will be nearly impossible to communicate effectively with the locals, due to a the language barrier
Why is Jana even humouring him? As always, I got the sense that Jana has an ulterior motive. Does Linnfard think his parents are still alive? I’m uncertain about his motivation. What is the point in hunting ghosts? I preferred the world in which I believed my parents were dead; I can’t shake the feeling that their finding me, after all these years, was more for their own sake than it was for mine.
…back to today.
“Isn’t she in the middle of a school semester? We can’t just take her out of her classes!” I interject, hoping to squash the idea before it can take root.
Mabel dashes these hopes by offering to write a note for the proctors, since she is Amy’s official guardian in Willard’s absence. She prepares a basket overflowing with freshly baked goodies and places the permission slip in the folds of the cloth liner. Fantastic, now we’re going to be babysitting two children. Keeping one from dying is difficult enough, two will be nearly impossible. Edmund advises us that he will bring Abby and I to The Elium first, and then go retrieve Amy.
It took a dozen jumps to get accustomed to the physical sensations accompanied with teleportation, but I will never be able to suppress the pangs of dread that bubble forth when we first blink out and immediately after we re-materialize.
The “fog” lifts, and the world becomes solid again. I survey the room and check that I still have all four limbs. The second it takes to get re-orientated is what I fear the most; it feels like an eternity. It’s less terrifying when we end up where you expect to be… but I know our luck won’t last indefinitely. How do the others remain so relaxed when we jump?
A quick glance around the room reveals that Linnfard is already packed or, more accurately, still packed. There aren’t any new sketches – which implies he’s been too occupied with other duties – probably peeling potatoes, cleaning dirty pots, and taking out the trash. Edmund disappears to steal Amy from Wolf Hill (I still don’t understand why), leaving Abby and I behind to locate Linnfard.
We question a few passers-by on the whereabouts of the young pseudo-paladin. No one knows until we meet a charmingly precocious lass, named Jill, who offers to take us to him. I take a fancy to her immediately; it doesn’t hurt that she’s extremely attractive. Jill doesn’t seem to hold Linnfard in high regard but it doesn’t stop her from asking a steady stream of questions, or from grabbing my butt, for that matter. She certainly feels free to speak her mind and has a youthful confidence. Hah, I think of her as young, yet I’m only a few years older than she is. Her advances would be more than welcome in another time or place, but I have other plans. I can’t see Mother Jana being understanding if I broke Jill’s vow of celibacy. Somehow, I don’t see Jill staying true to declaration of that sort, anyways.
She leads us to the kitchen and we discover Linnfard beside a small mountain of potato peels. Hearing us enter the room, Linnfard snaps out of his daydream (I’m sure one of many) and greets us like long lost relatives, despite the fact we saw him less than 24 hours ago. Noticing Jill with us, Linnfard makes sure to emphasize that we are his friends.
The supervising cook hurries us out and tells Linnfard to bring the organic waste to the garden for composting. On the way to way there, we are intercepted by Edmund with Amy in tow. Always the gentleman, Edmund does not hesitate to start flirting with Jill. I make eye contact with Abby, and mouth the word “really?”
Abby, looking more than a little confused herself, whispers, “I don’t know.”
Before even a token greeting, Amy starts insulting Linnfard. Do they teach students to be little bitches at Wolf Hill? If so, Amy must be the star pupil. With several near death experiences, one would think she would be more humble. One was enough for me. She’s been nothing but a hindrance every time she’s tagged along. Sure, she’s prevented a few wild animals from attacking us (I seem to be the only one who doesn’t have magical abilities), but I’m fairly confident that we could handled them all with ease. Worst case scenario, Edmund fireballs the shit out of one of them – fur, I’d imagine, is quite flammable; not wanting to die is the ultimate deterrent. Linnfard is annoying but he has a genuine soul and doesn’t display the sense of entitlement that Amy does. I just hope his eagerness doesn’t get the group into too much trouble. At least he’s able to heal himself – our supply of healing potions is quickly dwindling.
We ask Linnfard whether or not he has everything he needs. “Of Course!” he responds emphatically, as though it should be a forgone conclusion. Certain that he doesn’t, we insist on returning to our quarters to do a visual inspection of his supplies. The sassy Jill parts ways with us as I try to convince Linnfard that wearing plate armour is ludicrous. I bombard him with the reasons: restrictions to his mobility, how hot it will be where we’re going, the reflecting properties of metal armour (which has undoubtedly been polished and buffed to a mirrored sheen). Most importantly, the racket it makes when he moves; it’s like a child crying in church – everyone notices it.
“WHERE are we going to find suitable armour for a 16 year old, and who is going to pay for it?”, I ask them. Our argument has apparently fallen on deaf ears, as we all notice Linnfard in the midst of clumsily putting on his armour. Another reason we should get him something lighter – donning it is a two person endeavour – at least! Abby and I assist him with the straps that secure his chest and leg pieces.
Edmund pulls out Mabel’s basket laden with treats for Amy. As he unfolds the cloth, Mabel’s note falls conspicuously to the floor. Great, we technically just abducted a 12 year old girl from a the most prestigious ranger school in Atlin that Willard personally enrolled her in. I anticipate the all too familiar pungent odour that signals that Edmund has shat himself.
We all gather around Edmund, mindful that everyone is in physical contact. I instinctively brace myself for the worst, but relax a little when I materialize in the same kitchen I had breakfast in, a few hours ago. Mabel is surprised to see us back so soon, and I volunteer that the fault is Edmund’s. Mabel doesn’t mind and gives Amy a grandmotherly hug. Edmund looks like he’s in deep thought, a look that I’ve associated with him talking to Vinnik, his owl familiar. Only moments pass when Vinnik lands in the window sill, looking more like a small turkey than an owl. Magic must be involved in keeping the bird aloft, since several laws of physics are being broken.
Linnfard’s mouth hangs agape. He is, possibly for the first time ever, at a loss for words.
Vinnik, with the note attached to his leg, bounds from the kitchen table through the window. I give him a 1 in 4 chance of having a heart attack mid-flight. Vinnik definitely won the lottery in the master department.
“It was beside me in the room,” the naive paladin answers defensively. This has already turned into a comedy of errors, and we’re still in Willard’s mansion. We set out to gather supplies for a replacement backpack. I take this opportunity to reassert my objections on Linnfard’s choice of heavy armour. One great thing about having a bag of holding, is being able to over-pack without being encumbered with the extra weight. The downside? It becomes a singular point of massive loss in the event that it’s stolen or destroyed.
“Don’t worry, we have a plan,” Abby reassures me, trying to quell my concerns. “He’s going to have to learn the hard way.”
Edmund pipes in, “Linnfard, make sure you have a lot of water. You’re going to need it,” he says while handing Linnfard all the gear we’d collected. He starts to gather group in a circle to teleport. I make an concerted effort not to touch anyone.
“So your plan,” I say bitterly, “is to let him wear this ridiculous outfit until he becomes so dehydrated that he has to take it off? Then what?! He’s going to be in his adventure in his underwear?!” I make absolutely zero effort to hide my frustration.
Before I can continue, I feel Linnfard’s hand grab my wrist, and hear Edmund’s voice utter “Teleporteliwicz”. There’s barely enough time to see the stupid grin on Linnfard’s face and blurt out a single word.
As soon as we arrive, I dart Linnfard a dirty look, only to see him looking rather queasy. I prepare myself to avoid the vomit that might emerge from his mouth. This is only his second trip via magical warping, so it might take some time for him to get used to it. I’ve never liked this place. The tall grasses are perfect cover for a local predators. I’m confident we’ve been attacked one third of or visits here. Linnfard, seemingly cured from his nausea, is completely enraptured by his surroundings and starts wandering around like a child in a candy store. When will the sweltering heat hit him? Rather than worrying about Linnfard’s equipment choices, I should have been paying more attention to my environment – and the lapse in vigilance almost permits a lion to catch me off guard… key word = almost.
I start a basic defensive maneuver that will position myself underneath the lion’s torso as it soars towards me. A well timed thrust of my blade into its gut, coupled with the momentum from its pounce, will cause the lion to eviscerate itself on the edge of my dagger.
“No!” Amy yells. I’m not sure if she’s talking to me or the beast flying at me; either way, it saves the lion’s life. I tuck away, while the lion contorts its body and crashes into the ground, rolling until it stops. It snaps up, and, after some niceties between Amy and the overgrown cat, we make our next jump.
We arrive in the galley of Jacob’s boat, and while the increase humidity is noticeable, the temperature is markedly less. I motion for the team to be quiet;everyone settles except for Linnfard. He has no off switch! Instead he releases a barrage of questions, his volume building along with his excitement until he’s basically yelling.
There is someone in the head – I can tell it’s Jacob freaking out in there, a side-effect of smoking marijuana all day. Before we can properly announce ourselves, the door flies open followed by a poorly thrown fisherman’s knife. The hilt makes a loud clang off Linnfard’s chest plate and rattles harmlessly to the ground.
“I told you guys!” Linnfard proudly exclaims, “my armour protected me!” he continues, a smug look on his face. For Linnfard, this little incident just solidified in his mind what he knew in his heart.
It takes us a while to calm Jacob down from his pot induced ultra-paranoia. The I entire time I feel guilty; Jacob, is a truly a kind soul. It took a long time for him to earn my trust. He, on the other hand, gave his freely within moments of meeting us. Somehow, I feel like we’ve betrayed him and I can’t help but wonder how he would handle the truth.
The commotion in the boat catches the attention of the bodyguard Jacob hired (as a result of the precarious situation we left him in, no doubt). Fortunately, Jacob assures the bodyguard that everything is okay. We wait until Jacob inevitably dozes off again (another reliable symptom of smoking the chronic) before we make the northward jump towards Kahlunda.
We arrive on the outskirts of the small village that I recognize as Luzige. We cut to the worn path and head towards the Village. Popo, the village elder, greets us, and can’t help but give confused glances at Linnfard’s questionable attire. Being the good host that he is, Popo points to the lake and suggests taking a dip to cool off. To initiate, he removes his loincloth to reveal that he is, to put it mildly, “well endowed”. Kind of like saying Willard has had multiple sexual partners.
“Promise you won’t leave without me,” he begs us like a new hungry puppy. I help him out of his armour, and he eagerly seeks relief in the water.
While the children wade, I fill my water-skins knowing fully well that Linnfard will need more than he packed. We should be moving soon, so I tell the kids to get out, and Amy exits the lake to put her clothes on. Linnfard starts to follow, but then stops abruptly, with the waterline just below his waist.
“I’m just going to stay in the water a little longer!” he yells meekly. We all wait for the cold water’s effects to take hold so Linnfard can avoid any additional embarrassment. The children gather their things, and we begin the trek northwards. The rest of the way will have to be on foot… and I’m fine with that.
The trek has been physically taxing, but I almost relish the hours slogging through the jungle. I enjoy relying on my own faculties again. I forgot how much I’ve missed traveling – the natural way. The vegetation is so dense I have to use my short sword to slice a path through it as we move. I take the point for the entire trip, and think back to the island that Alistaira banished us to. It’s there that Barit taught me how to about nature and the secrets she whispers, if you learn to listen.
I get annoyed at the frequent stops Amy makes to look for tracks in the darkness. What exactly is she looking for? Maybe she’s just trying contribute. I tell her to stop, since it is slowing down the group unnecessarily. Linnfard drinks half the group’s water supply before he concedes and takes off his shell. Edmund provides him some shorts from his pack, and two look like they coordinated their outfits. Linnfard hasn’t learned important skill of pacing himself properly – On the bright side, he’s become so tired that he barely talks.
Using the light from glowing coin – I’m still shocked that Abby can cast magic – I realize that this once spectacular thing hasn’t even phased me. When I was in The Guild, we would enlist the services of magic users only for special situations because of the princely sums they demanded. Now, in a group of 5, I’m the only one without any innate magical talents.
Nov 14 – Evening – Around 10:00 PM Local Time, Near Waterfall, Olduvai
The roar of a massive waterfall dominates the aural landscape. Exhaustion clings to all our bodies like heavy cloaks as the tree line breaks to reveal a cliff. We can make out a path, but even in this dim light, we can tell that it is narrow and uneven – uninviting at best. The sounds of the jungle fall behind us, and no one objects to having Edmund summon the extra-dimensional shelter that has become our mobile home.
Nov 15 – Morning – Around 7:00 AM Local Time, Near Waterfall – Olduvai
We wake up early morning, hoping the daylight will allow us to properly survey the land. The sunlight reveals a valley below and what appears a pattern of unnatural structures. Four pyramids surround a fifth, which is significantly larger than the ones on the perimeter. What looked like a sheer cliff in the darkness is actually a series of switchbacks. The path is extremely weathered and is only wide enough to descend on it single file. Rather than risk traversing the side of the cliff, Edmund turns invisible and flies down to take a closer look.
15 minutes pass and Edmund reappears in the air while descending to the ground to meet us. He confirms that the shapes are indeed man made, and suggest we teleport to the plateau of the centre pyramid, as it will provide us the best view. Having seen the tactical risks in trying to use the switchbacks to descend into the valley, I agree.
After Edmund teleports the group, We all stand perched at the top of the centre pyramid. I scan the valley and see what could be the ruins of the Mission. Before I have a chance to take a closer look, I notice movement in my periphery, and centre my gaze towards it. What I see is a gorgeous, dark skinned girl, who looks to be about Abby’s age – maybe a a few years older. Instincts tell me to be suspicious of her – Where did she come from? Why is such a delicate creature here by herself? I alert the rest of the group that we have company, and we all look down to greet her. She waves for us to join her at the bottom of the stone structure. We are all hesitant to comply.
I trace the outline of her body, looking for any irregularities that may belie a concealed weapon, but I see something I don’t expect. I see the the translucent image of a crimson dragon and am not completely sure what that means; I’m hoping my near future doesn’t include an actual red dragon. I look for any visual or auditory indications that she’s an illusion: depressions or movements in the ground that wouldn’t match her size and weight. I don’t notice anything out of place.
“What’s your name?” I ask, as I take a single step closer. I mentally mark off a 10 foot perimeter from where Edmund stands and position myself 3 feet inside its edge. I’ve already mapped 2 possible escape routes before my backfoot hits the ground.
“Aerunda,” she replies with a noticeable accent. She begins ascending the pyramid and does it with more grace than I expected from her frail frame.
“Do you mind writing your name down to help me pronounce it?” I ask, while pantomiming with the notepad and charcoal nub I’d drawn from my side pouch. I’m hoping that she’ll come close enough to enter the anti-magic field that Edmund has centred on him. She doesn’t; she stops just shy of the field as though the AMF was fully visible. I really hope Edmund has a plan…
We begin to make small talk but everyone involved knows it’s bullshit.
“Here, have a closer look,” she offers, drawing her sword slowly. It’s not glowing, but that might be because nothing magical would work right now. We all need to have a lengthy discussion on what that spell does (actually what EVERYONE can do), and how it affects everything – fuck. This is not going to end well.
“I can’t do that because of the anti-magic field,” Aerunda states a matter-of-factly.
I ready the blades hidden on my wrists in anxious anticipation; someone is about to break this stalemate of ours. As though he could read my mind, Edmund lunges forward…
Aerunda fades and the image that I saw earlier takes on physical form. The metamorphosis is similar to what I’ve seen when Edmund changes. It takes flight, and we must brace against the powerful gusts generated by its massive wings. A wave of terror crashes over my body, and, if the daggers on my wrists weren’t secured, I’m certain I would have dropped them in fear. Everyone shudders except for Linnfard; seeing this 16 year old boy stand so bravely in the face of this encourages me to be more stalwart myself. I’ve seen a dragon before – back when Vi Grunigen sent us to collect an black dragon’s egg. But that dragon was a pet lizard compared to the enormous beast in front of us now.
It levels off approximately 25 feet above us, in attack position. Smart, get to a position where we are effectively powerless, and then it can do what it wants with us. Linnfard seems to think otherwise, as I witness one of the most ridiculous acts I’ve ever seen. Drawing his bastard sword and, wielding it in both hands like a lumberjack coming down on a block of firewood, he hurls it upwards. Seriously?! As any idiot could have predicted, the weapon barely makes it high enough, and bounces off the dragon’s armored hide.
“Edmund, let’s get the fuck out of here!” I manage to scream, never taking my eyes off the dragon’s maw. That’s when I see it start to open and I don’t wait to see what happens next; I already know. I shift my weight, coiling in preparation to spring backwards and praying that I’ve calculated the angles properly. I hope that the stone is thick enough to provide adequate protection against whatever it’s about to do. I do a twisting back-flip, land one level down and hug the wall as tightly as possible. I hear the impact of the blast and feel the intense heat from above. The air crackles and I’m surprised that I’m still alive…
I pop up, already fearing the worst, and even THAT pales in comparison to what I see. All four of my companions are completely naked except for the pieces of clothing that seem to be fused to their skin and the chain shirt clinging to what appears to be Abby. The air is filled with a sickly sweet aroma that I know to be burning human flesh and hair. I can see the muted white that is bone in some places, and protruding tendons in others. The two smaller figures, charred unrecognizably, are reminiscent of what remained of the vampires after Edmund fire-balled the basement. As the ringing in my ears begins to subside, it’s replaced by a wailing that sends chills down my spine. It’s Amy – she’s screaming – she’s still alive. That’s all that matters right now.
“Everyone here, now!” Edmund tries to yell, but it is barely audible. Abby is already carrying Amy in one arm. With one hand, I grab what I can only assume to be Linnfard and as I feel his skin on his ankle slough off when I grab it. I can sense from the twitching leg that my grasp is the source of excruciating pain. As soon as I touch Edmund, we’re gone. I don’t care where we go, as long as it’s NOT here. I’ve never been so happy to teleport in my life…
It’s been nearly a year since I wrote any notes. It was once second nature, but the training never prepared me for how my life would unfold after arriving at The Forks. Waking up in a small fishing boat in Finnsbury, after the group was poisoned in Raglan’s Rain, only emphasized the need for extreme caution. And with Thalen presumably assassinated by The Guild, standard operating procedures and sit-reps no longer seemed important. It would be safest if the only notes I maintained were a mental catalog; that’s how I’ve rationalized it for 12 months, at least. The previous 48 hours have highlighted some glaring deficiencies; I’ve allowed myself to become both lazy and complacent – that’s unacceptable.
To have the people dearest to me literally melt in front of me is as good a wake up call as the come…