Eastbound and Down
It’s 9am on the edge of Turid’s Folly. Rays of sunshine hit my eyes, and they open instinctively. The morning air fills with the beautiful music of songbirds, and my heart, filled with despair the night before, has been restored by faith. She spoke to me last night, in my dreams. This was different than anything I’ve experienced before; in the past I’ve had only inklings that she was guiding me. Last night she actually spoke to me. Her message was brief but potent: our small band of survivors was her last hope. The scourge that destroyed Egersund took an incredible toll on her. She will do her best to guide and protect us, but she is staggered and weak from this abhorrent assault on nature. Her close presence allowed me to save my companions from certain death; something that I’m not sure the most powerful in the temple would have managed.
While we wait for our owl messenger to return, the group continues to package the deer meat from Mari’s kill the day before. I’m saddened that some of the meat may go to waste, but understand my companions’ need to get some semblance of control in their lives; we will all fall back on what we know. As we finish packing the sled, Jensa recognizes the owl whose name is “Flies Higher Than the Rays of the Moon on Wings of Silent Death” return to with parchment attached to her leg.
The wax seal is pressed with Helga’s symbol, but the color is disturbing. The red is deep enough for me to realize that the message contained is dire, and may be the last we receive from Egersund. We open it carefully; it reads:
I read it again, and breath sigh of relief. Our purpose is clear. It will be good to be moving towards something instead of constantly being on the run. There is no debate on what we have to do – just on which path will be the safest. We realize the journey will take months and will be fraught with danger, but the others feel it like I do. Simply knowing our destination focuses our determination.
With the Temple’s note in hand, we realize that going towards Egersund would be foolish. We will have to accomplish our task at hand without their help. I pray to Helga that they can hold out against the undead horde that were once townsfolk. I wonder about the “special” monster that attacked us the last time we tried to approach; do the zombies progress or evolve into those? A sea of quickly moving monsters would certainly require different tactics. Could our group hold out against something like that? Our confidence has been shaken after being swatted around like flies by that powerful wizard. Was “Oliver” really Salithius in disguise? We’ll surely have to come up with alternatives to Hans’ maul as a means of diplomacy.
We decide that we should try to get to the smaller path that parallels the easterly river. This will bring us closer to our destination while avoiding Egersund. We wonder how far the creatures would have ventured from the epicentre of disease, and pray that the plague remains isolated. Our pace reflects our renewed energy, and our spirits are high.
April 27, 1136
One Week Later
We’re relieved to not have encountered any undead for our first week of travels, but are also disheartened that we have not seen any survivors. Mari and Erik have taken the lead on our journey, their field experience proving invaluable. We all do what we can. Hans dutifully pulls our sled for more than his share, Vegard pops in and out of the shadows beside us, Jensa produces wisps of light at will, allowing us to travel for a few hours more a day, and Aija watches over the group ready to step forward should danger arise. Personally, I’m discovering the wonder of Helga’s powers. She often advises through vivid dreams. I feel more connected to her than ever, and am sometimes saddened when I have to wake. For example, I’ve was able to keep the deer meat from spoiling, and am able to produce food and water – when the rangers are not able to find enough food. Though bland, the meals are nutritious, safe, and most importantly, allow us to focus on our march towards Finnsbury.
We get into a familiar routine, which is soothing to the spirit somehow, and I can tell our collective guard lets down a little. And with that, almost on cue, Erik spots what he thinks is movement further down the path. He tells us he can’t discern the shapes, but they definitely are not animals.
“Has the wizard found us?” we all think.
Monotony is a luxury. There is a short debate on how we should handle the situation, but conclude that we should never separate. We move ahead with caution, and, as we approach, the scene becomes clearer. A group, huddled around a smoldering fire.
We call out, to get a reaction, but there is nothing. My adrenaline subsides, and emotions take over. These are the first survivors that we’ve lay eyes on since leaving Egersund. Without proper clothing and equipment, even the hearty couldn’t survive the elements. They are dead – frozen in time. If we had just pushed a little harder – we could have saved them, I think. Then I know what needs to be done – to prevent them from turning into the abominations that we’ve seen the last few weeks. I talk to Hans, who is almost crying, and ask him to help me bury the bodies. The others claim that we’re wasting time, but Hans says what is on my mind. That we cannot forget who we were, who we are, and that our townsfolk deserve a proper burial. I pray to Helga to shield the bodies, and to guide the souls of the three in front of us. With spring only creeping in, the ground is still hard as ever, but we do the best that we can.
Before we bury them, we try to find anything on them that might aid us on our journey. Normally, I would consider this sacrilege, but I’ve become a lot more pragmatic of late. Vegard finds a bag with what appears to be jewels – diamonds. They are huge! I can’t believe that they are real, but Vegard assures me they look authentic. We decide to let Vegard keep them all, since he’ll be able to hide them the best. Perhaps we can use them for faster travel to Finnsbury later on.
Hans and I are sweating as we cover the last shallow grave. Hopefully, it will prevent the animals from eating their corpses, and that Helga’s protection can keep them from turning. With that, we continue our trek hoping to march a few more miles before we lose the sunlight. The days are getting noticeably longer, which is a blessing itself.
May 1, 1136
We quickly fall back into routine, but this time, it’s interrupted within a few days. Our two scouting rangers pick up another fresh trail. Hans immediately urges to the group to push even harder – so we may catch up to them quickly to provide aid. The other’s protest, still wary of dangers, but Hans has convinced me easily, and I’m glad he hasn’t lost sight of humanity. Though he’s been quick to use his maul, he’s also the first to offer a helping hand to those in need.
The others follow quickly – and we push onward in hopes of overtaking the survivors within the day; it takes two.
May 3, 1136
We see smoke in the distance, and we hope that they haven’t succumb to the elements like the others did. That thought makes us move even quicker. Their tracks veer off to the side, and we realize that the smoke wasn’t coming from a camp fire, but a modest cabin.
Whoever we were following must have sought refuge within those walls, and we should probably do the same. At the very least, we could warn whoever resides within those walls of the danger lays behind us to the West. Erik tries sneaking around and peeking through windows, but they are covered. I suggest a easier, more friendly method might be a better approach.
I knock on the front entrance, and we can all hear rustling from inside before the door opens to reveal a massive trapper. He’s greets us with a friendly enough demeanor, though it seems like we’re the first people he’s seen in a long time. We ask him if he’s seen any travelers come this way in the last week, and he says he hasn’t. From behind me, Mari asks if he’s seen anyone infected with a disease, in which he dutifully replies with a “No!” and slams the door in our faces. Smooth Mari, that’s a great opener.
Let’s try this again. We yell through the door explaining that we are survivors from Egersund, and that we are not infected. After a recap of what’s been going on, we try to convince him that we were trying to help and warn anyone that we might come across of the terrible fate of our home. The door remains locked. Aija mentions that I am an emissary from the Temple of Helga, and that persuades him to crack the door open. I show him the my holy symbol, and he this convinces him that we speak the truth. He introduces himself as Blythe and apologizes. We do likewise.
He invites us in to his cabin, and we smell a stew cooking on the stove, causing us to reflexively salivate. He can tell that we are hungry, and graciously offers us something to eat. We ask if we can help in the preparation of the meal, and he insists we sit down at the dining table (which is fairly large) and tells us more about himself. Vegard, as usual, sits in the corner with his back to the wall.
He says he’s been living in this area for almost 20 years, give or take a few, since he doesn’t really keep track of time as much as seasons. Internally, I ask Helga to provide some guidance on Blythe’s intentions, hoping that he is being genuine. Sadly his aura starts radiating evil, similar to some of the books in Salithius’ office. Is the entire world filled with people like this? Have I just lived a sheltered life within the walls of the temple?
Suspicious to what he might be feeding us, I channel Helga’s holy energy, granting me the ability to detect poisons. He starts offering us wine, and it seems to be safe. I drink it and thank him to signal to the others that it is safe, while trying to remain inconspicuous. I turn my eyes to the pot on the stove – and my enhanced vision reveals that it is laced with a poison which would put us all to sleep. How am I going to warn my friends without showing my hand?
Again, I silently pray to my Goddess, and I quickly purge the poison from the stew before it is served.
I volunteer to take the first helping. As Blythe is dishing out the other bowls, I try to make eye contact with everyone. They know something is up, especially Hans and Vegard. I take a sip from both the wine and stew, and the rest follow. I ask Blythe if he is going to join us. He says he’s already eaten and is going to go outside to gather some firewood. We ask if he needs any help, but he insists that we eat up. I thank him, but feign getting sleepy. I suggest that it might have been the previous few day’s hard pace coupled with being indoors that might be the cause. Thank goodness, some of the others follow suit.
I can see that he’s fighting hard to contain his pleasure at our drowsiness, as he says he’ll be back and exist the door to the rear. As soon as the door closes, the rest of my group spins their gaze towards me.
“The stew was poisoned..,” I start to explain. But I couldn’t finish my sentence before Vegard spits out what’s in his mouth. “.. but I made it safe to eat.”
“You could have opened with the safe part,” Vegard replies, wiping stew from his lips with his sleeve.
“What should we do?” Mari asks.
“We should slit his throat.” Vegard offers as a solution.
“I think we should try to get some information out of him” I reply.
Our conversation is interrupted by Blythe coming back in to the cabin. I apologize for being so rude, and explain that I can barely keep my eyes open. We say we don’t want to impose, and that we’ll set up camp outside. He insists that the women in our party use his bed – and says he’ll go gather some more wood to make sure the cabin is warm for the night, then motions to leave. Vegard bolts up and heads towards the door and explains we will help earn our keep. We’ve called his bluff.
He starts to grab something from inside his robe, and pulls out a vial filled with liquid. We all draw our weapons and back away except for Vegard and Hans, who rush to try to stop him, but it’s obvious to all of us that they won’t make it in time. As Bylthe’s arm reaches its apex we all brace for the downward motion; it never comes.
Jensa explains that she’s magically trapped him, but it won’t last long. That woman always chooses opportune times to amaze us. Vegard quickly moves to remove the vial from Blythe’s hand, and frisks him for anything else. Much is found.
Blythe’s outwardly ragged appearance is a perfect cover. Within his robe are a multitude of daggers. I suggest that Vegard tie him down. As Jensa’s spell fades, we can see the fear in Blythe’s eyes. We ask him what he planned to do with us, and why he was trying to poison the group. He is almost like a child, explaining that it wasn’t his fault. That he wanted to save the girls, but his master was going to hurt him.
“His master?” we ask. He explains that his master tells him to do things. To bring human sacrifices to him.
We determine that his master is not simply a figment of his imagination, but a reality.The visions of Mari’s family burning in their cabin all floods to our minds – and we all have the urge to leave the cabin. We decided to investigate the back of the cabin and discover a path that leads to a smaller building.
Vegard searches for any traps that might trigger if we open the door, but finds none. Still, we stay back as he picks the simple lock and opens the way. Immediately, our nostrils are assaulted with the stench of rotting flesh. The floor is covered with blood, some of it fairly fresh. We see bodies hanging on meat hooks, and discover the fate of the group that we were trying to catch up with.
It’s Vegard that notices something even more disturbing. Behind the shed, what can only be described as a giant pile of human remains. The fate of many an unlucky traveler converged to this point. How could this not have been noticed by anyone? Perhaps, spread over 20 years, friends and family may have simply thought their loved ones were victims of a unforgiving winter, instead of by the hands of a madman.
Upon further inspection, the pillars within the slaughter house can be moved into specifically marked locations. No doubt, this is to summon Bylthe’s master. For his crimes, Vegard slits Blythe’s throat, and we burn his home to the ground. Before we light the main cabin a blaze, we do a thorough search. Jensa scans for magic, and I scan for poisons. We almost give up, but we find a trap door in his bedroom. There is a case filled with vials of the same liquid he almost used on us. The poison will put us to sleep. I suspect that upon breaking, the liquid would turn to some sort of gas.
As we head back to the path, to put some distance between ourselves and that horrific site, I ponder the world ahead of us. Perhaps we can give some closure to some families as we travel Eastwards. But would it be better to know a this horrible truth?Blythe was the first person we’ve seen since leaving Egersund, and he was equally as hell bent on murdering us as any undead creature. Outside of the seven of us, who can we trust? The world is obviously not a safe place anymore, and I wonder if it ever was.